Monday, 25 May 2009

WILD GARLIC...Do I smell ramps????


For those of you who worked with me at Olivia or Stella's restaurant, ate at the restaurants, or came over for dinner at my home, you well understand that I am obsessed with ramps.  Ramps you say, what are they?  Some call them wild onions or wild leeks, a southern buddy who cooked at the restaurants once said, "Your cookin with yard onions???"  To me and many others they are simply an amazingly flavourful wild plant, with beautiful garlicky greens that is available in spring time for just a few weeks.  

Living in Northern England has had many pleasures, but after visiting an ex Stella's chef's restaurant in the D.C. area this spring and being sent out amazing appetizers including ramps...i was heart broken.  No ramps for me to cook with this spring...no ramp pesto, no pickled ramps in Gibson martini's, no ramp risotto, no grilled ramps over short ribs with ramp infused jus, no three way ramps with a nice piece of seared fish, no, no, no...

I came to appreciate Ramps while working for Dan Barber, at Blue Hill in NYC back in the turn of the 21st century ( I like saying turn of the century, don't you...don't feel old, feel new!!!).  Dan got fresh ramps from foragers who showed up to the restaurant in the morning, and by afternoon we had ramps all over the menu for days to come.  It was amazing to see farm to table eating move all the way from picked to pickled in a matter of moments, from a "weed" in the woods to a green on the plate  of one of the finest restaurants in NYC  within hours.  Of course this is what happens when you work for an amazing whirlwind of a chef (and recently voted the James Beard best chef in the United States)... he rubs off on you like turmeric on your hands, or ramp shoots on your breath...it lingers and you end up with the same obsession for fresh, seasonal,simply prepared food!!!

Unfortunately, here in the north east of the UK, I had not met anyone who knew of ramps.  But while enjoying a wonderful bbq the last week, a friend showed me their lone shoot of wild garlic in their yard.  Hmmm...looks a bit like ramps, tastes like ramps, wow...a long lost family member.  I am so happy that they exist ( albeit in a form with lighter leaves, thinner shoots, and more beautiful flowers), but am again saddened that this is the only leaf i may eat this year.  

So sad, what to do, but go on a nice hike to take in the beauty of spring time in Durham.  We walk, we sniff, we look around... wondering where this potent garlic smell is coming from???  We look and see a patch of wild garlic, like manna from Heaven!!!  So we went home, grabbed some bags and scissors, and headed to the forest floor to do some shopping.  

video

Hopefully  you too may be able to find wild garlic or ramps at your farmers market or food stand, in the woods, or maybe in your veg box/csa box.

Unfortunately I cant give a lone ramp/wild garlic recipe.  There are just to many options, too much green, too much fun and flavour.  So let me give just a few ideas of how one can enjoy the bounty of the season as we did in our restaurants  in years past, and how my partner Lauren and I are doing so with our fresh picked wild garlic this week...

NOTES OF CAUTION

Firstly, if you are going foraging for ramps, wild garlic or any other product, please do your research, take along a guidebook and a  knowledgeable friend.  Don't plunder all the produce of the forest, as their are lots of shoppers besides you ( deer, raccoons, fox's, etc) and try to leave the area as you found it.  

Secondly, make sure to wash everything before you eat it, as you will invariably encounter lots of dirt.

Thirdly, use your imagination and cook seasonally. Ramps/wild garlic is a great example of how you can use one product in 1001 ways.  

RAMBLING WILD GARLIC ( RAMP) RECIPE THOUGHTS

Ramp Pesto 
 What better way to use ramps then to blanch the cleaned leaves for 10 seconds in boiling water, refresh in iced water and then puree in a food processor  with evoo, salt, and some toasted almonds ( cheaper then pine nuts)...the ratio should be a couple cups ramps, a pinch of salt, a 1/2 cup almonds, and enough oil to keep the ramps moving in the food processor/blender.  Often times I also squeeze a touch of lemon juice in for a brighter flavour, fold in Parmesan for added body, or mix in arugula or basil for an even deeper balanced taste.
 
Ramps and eggs 
A nice way to start the day.  Saute some ramp leaves, and serve on some toasty bread smothered with ramp pesto and then slide a couple poached eggs on top.

Roasted potatoes and ramps
I like to roast small pieces of potatoes ( tossed in evoo and a bit of s,p) in the oven till browned and then simply toss in a pan of just lightly sauteed ramps and serve this with a nice hunk of roast anything ( we had roast pork belly with it last night...)

Rhubarb and ramp compote
A perfect topper for the pork belly last night.  Simply cook down a finely chopped large stalk of rhubarb( 1 cup) in a saute pan till soft, but not mushy, add a diced shallot, a splash of white wine, and 1/4 cup sugar and let thicken.  Toss in 1/2 cup fresh diced ramp leaves, fold in and let set off the heat. ( Some people like to add some chili peppers to balance the sweet and sour, your call)

Ramp and potato salad
Boil up some new potatoes and when cooked, toss with your ramp pesto and some fresh diced ramps.

Ramps and rice
Spice up your plain old brown rice or any other grain by tossing in some fine diced ramps just before serving.

Ramp Risotto  
Again simply toss some fresh chopped ramps into your finished risotto( check upcoming blog posts for in depth recipe of how to make risotto) , garnish with wild garlic flowers, and  serve with a nice roasted portabello  mushroom that is glazed with the wonderful wild garlic/ramp pesto.

Grilled Ramps
With your heartiest toughest stalks of ramps ( wild garlic here in the UK seems a bit more spinach like and not hearty enough for this) drizzle with a touch of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and throw on the bbq for a few seconds, turn, and then serve as a side to whatever is coming off the Q.

Wild Garlic Salad
The UK wild garlic is so tasty and delicate one can simply tear up some leaves, toss in some of the flowers, mix with your regular salad greens, a few fresh veggies, a vinaigrette made of ramp pesto thinned out with a bit of lemon juice and thats it.

Scallops wrapped in ramps
Yes simply blanche your ramps/wild garlic and then tie a nice "rope" of a ramp around each scallop, season, sear and serve on top of you guessed it...ramp pesto, ramp mashed potatoes, saute of ramps...or serve with a nice hunk of pork belly for the ultimate take on scallops wrapped in bacon!!!
  
Tis the season.  Like all seasons, to enjoy what is fresh, local, and abundant.

Yes I could keep going, but I just wanted to give you a taste of simple things to do with your seasonal produce.  Of course, by all means toss the ramp pesto and saute of ramps with your pasta.  By all means slather your burger with ramp pesto, fresh grilled ramp greens and some Parmesan shavings.  By all means pickle the root ends and toss in a martini on a nice hot day. Most importantly, invite some friends over and enjoy the bounty of spring with others!!!

Friday, 22 May 2009

GET YOUR VEGGIES

Okay, we all know we can saute, steam, roast and bake our vegetables, but some times I just don't want to cook, ( maybe its that we just moved to east london and are still finding the farmers markets...i will be there today!!!) but I don't want a pile of carrot sticks for dinner either! What I have been doing lately is making very simple marinated vegetable salads that are flavourful, have all their nutrients intact and are great additions on top of fresh greens, under a nice piece of grilled fish, tossed with a saute of shrimp, or just served alongside some lentils and rice ( no I don't make Lentils and rice very often, but my partner does make them for us almost weekly, and they are amazing, just wait, i will give away her recipe soon enough!!!)

PREP
1 zucchini, small, and sliced into super thin rounds
12 radish, sliced into very thin rounds
12 cherry tomato's, halved
6 button mushrooms, sliced very thinly
2 oz red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 c fresh herbs
2 oz EVOO
s,p

WHAT TO DO

In small bowl whisk olive oil into the vinegar, garlic and herb mix until well blended.

In large bowl mix all other ingredients.

Gently mix dressing and bowl together and let marinate in refrigerator until ready for meal.


MORE DISHES TO WASH

Obviously you can adjust the vegetables to what you have lying around your house or garden,just attempt to cut all to the roughly the same size ( i left tomato's much larger so they would not fall apart, and they have a different consistency) and look for a great compliment of colors, flavours and textures.

Here are a few other takes on this simple marinated vegetable salad...

Bread Salad...toss some stale bread chunks into the salad moments before serving for a fresh picnic snack

Change the vinegar to fresh lemon zest and juice and add a fresh fennel and tarragon and serve with your cured salmon or grilled salmon.

Use lime juice, vegetable oil, ginger, garam masala, and black onion seeds for a curry compliment.

Mix toasted cumin seeds, more garlic, lime juice, cilantro and olive oil to help spice up your summer grilling of fajitas.

I HAVE THE CURE...for salmon that is

Okay, I am no doctor, but i can cure a mean side of salmon.  Its so simple and amazing.  One simply uses a great piece of sustainably, caught or farmed salmon a few ingredients, and waits 12 hours and you have perfectly cooked fish...cured that is.  This is a process of "cooking"  a piece of fish with salt.  The recipe is technically a form of gravlax, which is a northern European method of curing fish.  Often times people make this recipe and let it cure for many days, which is fine, and the fish will last longer, but the beauty of a 12 hour cure is the flavour of the salmon cure is complemented by a soft perfectly cooked piece of fish.  

Before you begin, please realize there is no "cooking" involved here, the salmon is cured simply by the act of salting it...don't be afraid, its perfectly healthy, please just use super fresh fish, not frozen!!!!  You may also be asking why do this???  Just try it, and you will soon realize how wonderful gravlax is, and how easy it is to make little appetizers of gravlax and herbed cream cheese on cucumber rounds, gravlax and eggs for breakfast, a nice filling for sandwiches, a wonderful protein rich addition to salads,etc...

You may also be thinking...12 F!$?!$ ing hours i don't have the time...hold on...read below and realize that it takes all of about five minutes of active work and 12 hours of sitting in the refrigerator.  So please, just trust me, and get ready to find the cure...

PREP

1 pound of fresh salmon, skin and bones removed (tail sections will cure faster as they are thinner)
1 Cup kosher salt ( i like the feel and taste of a slightly gritty salt)
1 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon 
zest of 1 lime
zest of 1 orange
couple 2 -3 sprigs of fresh dill or fennel fronds
2 T fresh grated or super fine diced ginger
1 T coriander, toasted  and ground
1 ounce gin
saran wrap
a heavy object?!?!?!?

WHAT TO DO
Mix the cure: salt and sugar, zests, herbs and spices in a large bowl

Lay out a large piece of saran wrap and spread 1/2 the cure mix on the saran wrap in an shape that mimics the size of the salmon piece (or pieces...yes you can use scraps but they cure much faster)

Add the piece of salmon gently on top of the cure.

Sprinkle gin evenly over the  top of the salmon.

Add the rest of the cure on top of the salmon in an thick even coating.

Place another piece of saran wrap over the salmon and seal into a packet.

A couple more layers of tightly wrapped saran wrap around the fish curing packet will help to hold in the juices( as the salmon cures, the juices will leach out from the salmon).

Place fish packet in a shallow flat dish and weigh it down with a heavy object         (bricks, canned food, etc) and let sit in the refrigerator for 12 hours.

Remove the fish from cooler, unwrap, gently rinse off the salt cure and voila....you have grav( grave) lox (salmon)!!!  

I suggest slicing with an incredibly sharp knife with long slow, angled slices.

MORE DISHES TO WASH
First of all, their really were no dishes to wash!!!

So many things to do with cured salmon...diced in a cured salmon tartare ( with lots of fresh herbs, EVOO and fresh lemon juice), wrapped around blanched asparagus, tossed in scrambled eggs, used as a garnish on top of grilled salmon, did i hear bagels and cream cheese...on toast with tomatoes and sour cream.

So as it  gets warmer out we should all start thinking about these types of no stove dishes. Why heat up the kitchen everyday when you could stay cool, go to sleep, and wake up to a nice piece of cured salmon.  And check out the next blog post for some other non cooked dishes...




 

Me and my Mussels

Living in the Northeast of England has been wonderful with its plethora of fresh cod, sole, scallops, Scottish salmon, samphirre and mussels...oh how I love mussels.  I want to explain how easy it is to make a quick( they cook in a few minutes), healthy ( high protein, rich source of omega 3 fatty acids, and low in saturated fats),   Eco friendly ( sustainably farmed), and  cheap ( go to your fish monger, you will be amazed) meal with  mussels...

PREP

Broiler on high

For this meal you simply need to prepare a nice big salad, grill some bread, and make a big ole bowl of mussels.  So check out the salad dressing blog post for hints on vinaigrette's, and buy some nice crusty bread...and leave the rest of the work to the mussels.

Mussels, 3-4 pounds, rinsed in cool water and beards removed ( The connective fiber that sticks out of some mussels that you can quickly pull off with one smooth yank...but if you don't fancy that bit of work and want a bit more rustic of a meal then leave them...don't worry it wont hurt ya)

2 onion, peeled, and thin sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled, and fine dice
1 leek, thin sliced whites
1 cup white wine
1 head of arugula, cleaned and chopped
Fresh herbs

Baguette, long thin bias cuts
Olive Oil
s,p


WHAT TO DO

Once you have your salad veggies cut, salad dressing made, baguette slices drizzled with oil, s, and p then you can grab a big pan /pot (with a lid) and heat it up over medium high heat on your stove top.

Add a bit of butter or oil to the hot pan.

Add your onion, garlic, and leeks and let sweat( cook with out browning) down for one minute.

Add all your mussels to the pan along with the cup of wine, shake the pan, put on the lid and let steam till mussels are all open...shaking occasionally.

At same time placed your slices of bread in broiler and let cook till a golden brown.

When bread is done and mussels have opened, toss arugula and fresh herbs in with mussels, taste  the broth for any issues ( need some salt, a touch of olive oil, maybe a squeeze of acid in the form of lemon juice???) place in serving bowl and serve with salad and bread.


MORE DISHES TO WASH

Okay, so that was easy right???  Now how many ways can we make mussels?  Thousands, just use your imagination...here is just a few other ways to enjoy them...

Make some fries/chips and some home made aioli ( garlicky mayonnaise) and serve alongside the mussels.

Cook some pasta and serve your mussels over the pasta with a little of the reserved mussel liquid ( strain the liquid and quickly reduce it by half over high heat, to strengthen the flavour)...add some tomatoes to the initial vegetable  saute, finish with some basil and maybe a nice sprinkle of Parmesan.

Add curry paste to initial onion mix, add some lemon grass, ginger, fresh chiles and kaffir lime leaf  for steaming and then toss in some coconut milk( in place of most of the wine) and you have a simple  Thai curry flavour

Add fennel and fennel fronds to onion mix, deglaze with Pernod, finish with tarragon and you have a nice anise feel.

Make a nice pesto ( simple puree of fresh greens traditionally made to a paste with garlic, olive oil, s, and Parmesan cheese) with any nice fresh green  or herb...ramps, spinach, arugula, basil, etc., and  toss the cooked mussels with a few heaping spoonfuls...and happy days are here again... added point...never cook pesto you will lose the wonderfully vibrant bright green color faster than you can swear about it!!!

Saute off some zucchini and yellow squash with any of your onion family, toss in some thinly slice wedges of citrus ( rind and all)...follow same directions...

Want to save em for later...cook the mussels as described above, strain the liquid ( freeze and use at later date for many a nice fish soup), chill the mussels in the fridge and toss them in a nice salad, or in your next simple pasta dish.

I could go on and on, but simply put, mussels are a cheap way to make a fun meal fast.  So buy some fresh mussels, use them that day, invite some friends over, and show off your mussels...


Saturday, 16 May 2009

MEAT COUNTER MAYHEM / Please check out THE MEAT SHEET at bottom of the blog

Oh yes, I know all about it, people having friends over for dinner, a bbq, a Sunday roast, and they head to the grocers meat aisle and their eyes glaze over. So many choices, so many names, and in the end you go with old faithful...burgers, or tenderloin, or chicken breasts. Not to say their is anything wrong with these cuts, but there is so many choices, so many options, everyone just needs a lil help in deciphering the coded language of an animals big old body!!!

I think we need to think of the cuts of a beef, pork, lamb, chicken, etc as what they are, parts of a living, breathing animal. What does this mean?

If a part of an animal works hard, such as the legs it walks on or the belly that holds in all its innards...these are strong, tough items and they may need a bit more Tender Loving Care to make them Tender and Loving to Eat. If a cut of meat gets no workout all day, such as the tenderloin protecting the spinal column, then it will start out very tender...but watch out...as quickly as it starts tender it can become the most hard and unfriendly piece of meat you ever tried.

Why is this??? The more tender cuts of meat from the tenderloin, rib roast, etc..have less connective tissue and sinews, where as the hard working muscles of the legs, shoulders, belly, etc...have tougher, more dense strands of muscle. Just think of what happens when you go for a long run and feel those calve muscles ( shanks in cookin terms)...lots of tension due to lots of hard work. Even more so is the strongest muscle of all, the heart, pumping all day long for a life time. If you ever have a chance to cook one you will realize the density and darkness of this muscle mass ( and yes the darker the meat the more tlc it may need...this is not some issue of it being filled with blood and such...its due to use. The non flying chicken walks on its legs, but the duck can fly...this is one reason a duck breast is much darker than a chicken breast...but I digress)

Please check out the bottom of the blog for the little chart "THE MEAT SHEET" that I made which I hope will help clarify your meat selections at the butchers counter next time you are there. I have tried to simply organize all the major cuts of meat into categories of cooking as follows...

HIGH AND DRY: grilling, broiling, pan frying techniques that are cooked rather quickly at high and dry heat. High is the temperature, and dry means it is not cooked in a liquid. These cuts usually are not in need of marinades to tenderize, but of course you can do so for flavour purposes, but often the dry rub of spices works wonderfully on these cuts.

ROASTS: Longer cooking techniques, often on a high heat to start ( whether initially seared in a pan, high heat in your oven, or on the hot part of your bbq) but then once your initial browning/searing has occurred its time to lower the heat ( in oven or cooler section of your bbq) and let the meat slowly cook to the temp you desire.

SLOW AND LOW: my favorite...braising time...check out the lamb shoulder blog entry from last month for an example. but this is a slow cooking of a tough ( and usually cheap) cut of meat in a liquid until so tender and succulent that you would think there was never a need to invent the knife.

QUICK TIPS:
1. Relax. Sounds simple, but every time you move your steak around on the grill, keep turning your browning short ribs in the pan, all you are doing is slowing down the meats efforts to get a good sear and cook itself. So the golden rule on the grill for example when cooking a nice steak...season it liberally with salt and pepper, clean your very hot grill, and set the steak down...after two minutes turn it 90degrees...in two more minutes flip it, in two more minutes turn again 90 degrees...more time between each turn for more well done, less time for more rare. The idea is getting some good char marks. Same goes for a piece of fish in a pan...please stop the endless shaking of the pan for 5 straight minutes, it does not help...simply make sure the fish does not stick and then relax...

2 REST. Again sounds simple, but everyone sees food come off the grill and wants to eat it...STOP . Let the meat ( any meat, fish , bird, etc..) rest for 5 minutes to redistribute the heat and juices. You do this with your turkey for thanksgiving, why don't you do it each and every other time you eat...

3. REWARD YOURSELF. Remember that the act of eating is not simply about physical nourishment, and each and every time you cook for friends and family you should remember how important this simple act is for you and those around you...the friends, the farmers, the grocers, the ranchers, the list goes on and on...but truth is that you are never cooking alone...so cheers to you!!!


Friday, 15 May 2009

SALAD TIMES

After spending a long but fruitful week in London, looking for a flat, a job, and some sunshine all i have wanted to do was cook a nice salad with a simple vinaigrette. The salad dressing or vinaigrette is one of the easiest things to master in your kitchen, but everyone has powdered mixes, bottles of store bought chemicalized dressings, and for some an absolute fear of the simple salad dressing...

The idea of a salad dressing is very simple. Its an emulsion of acid and fat. What that means to you and me...vinegar or citrus juice and oil. The ratio is the important part, and unless you want you greens to taste like straight vinegar, then hold to the rule of a minimum of 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar!!! Some people push it all the way to five parts oil to one part vinegar, but I think you get the gist...its not all vinegar with a splash of oil...no matter how healthy you are trying to be. Being healthy is no excuse for bad food...neither is eating a fat free salad dressing an excuse to drown your lovely salad greens!!!!

So below is a quick recipe for a basic salad dressing with very standard quantities of an acid (lemon juice), a fat (olive oil) , and a binder (mustard and garlic) that can be altered in hundreds of ways...and i will describe a few after the recipe...


Basic Vinaigrette

PREP
1 lemon, juiced ( about 4T)
1 garlic clove, smashed to a paste
1 t Dijon mustard
s,p
3/4 cup EVOO ( use less extra virgin and more vegetable oil for adjustments in cost and calories)
Fresh herbs, fine dice

WHAT TO DO

1. Mix all ingredients but olive oil in a large bowl.
2. Slowly drizzle in oil as you whisk the dressing ( circular motion, back and forth...fast, fast)
3. Continue slowly drizzling oil into the dressing until emulsified (creamy texture).
4. Taste the dressing by drizzling a bit on some salad greens...does it need more fat, s,p...
That's it!!!

But now the key part is to toss your freshly washed salad greens( and dried) in some of the dressing. Use just enough to coat the leaves...no leaves swimming in a pool of dressing.
The mark of a great salad is that the dressing is there to assist the flavour of the vegetables, not the reverse. So buy fresh vegetables, wash them, cut them with care, and toss gently in the vinaigrette so as not to smash em up before you eat them...

MORE DISHES TO WASH

With the above recipe you have the base for many items, below are a bunch of lil ideas that you can test out...

Add an egg yolk to the beginning mix, and follow same steps and you will have mayonnaise.

Or...Temper the egg yolks ( slowly heat over a double boiler till change color but don't let em scramble), eliminate the mustard and garlic and lemon juice, change oil to clarified butter and you have the basis for a simple hollandaise sauce.

These are the simplest sauces, that seem to cause such anxiety...so next time you want to make salad dressing follow the directions above and then think of some changes such as...

Change the acid component to soy and rice wine vinegar, add fresh ginger and green onion, use sesame oil and veg oil...and you will have an Asian inspired vinaigrette

Use lime and cilantro with dash of cumin for your fajitas veggie salad...

Want the dressing creamy...use a bit of the h0me made mayonnaise as a base, or try roasting a tomato, puree it, and use this instead of the mustard...

Light and creamy...use yogurt, with fresh mint, lemon juice, and puree of cucumber and then the same ratio of EVOO...or mix tahini with yogurt and hit it at end with fresh toasted sesame seeds...

Just remember: acid (vinegar, citrus juice), fat (veg oil, olive oil, sesame oil, etc), binder (such as egg yolk, mustard, garlic puree, roast tomato puree) and some salt, pepper, and fresh herbs...

So take the 2 minutes to make your own dressings...buy some good olive oil, some fresh citrus and herbs, and stop buying jar after jar of processed dressings...you can make them cheaper, faster and healthier...

p.s. Next time you are at your favorite restaurant, ask if they make their own dressings. Its so cheap and easy, if they don't you may want to ask for oil and vinegar instead. And then think about what else they either don't know how or don't care enough to make themselves!!!





Wednesday, 6 May 2009

MILLET, TOFU, and spring Greens...Three things that should be your good friends!!!

Tofu
Okay friends, I know, many of you are afraid of tofu ( its nicer than saying your a hater!!!)  I was to, but after having lived in Ithaca ( yes its where the moosewood  is) and having wonderful tofu loving kitchen staff to work with, I became a convert.

Millet
I know that you only put it in your bird feeder.  Well if you spent a couple years living in western Mali you would love it as much as I do.  Now I find it to be the easiest, healthiest, quickest protein rich whole grain I can make morning (who needs oatmeal), noon (yes take a break and eat a meal sitting down), and night ( make a double portion and save for morning)...

Spring Greens
Here in northern England we are getting what i think is babyish collards that saute up real quick and are great as a healthy side that lets us all get our meals well balanced and on the table in less than an hour, with leftovers and time for a glass of wine!!!

ROAST FENNEL CRUST TOFU, HERBED MILLET, AND WILTED SPRING GREENS

PREP

OVEN AT 350 F ( 175 C)

TOFU:
1 pound tofu( extra firm), cut into 1/2 inch deep slices and then pressed in a dish cloth to remove moisture.  Yes you can press it overnight at well, but i have a very small fridge and it likes to keep space for legs of lamb and such, not pressed blocks of tofu ( sorry...its true!!!)
2 T fennel seeds ( toasted then crushed in coffee grinder, mortor and pestle, or ziploc bagged and hammered!!!)
2T tomato paste ( or harissa, or ketchup in a pinch...or turn it more to the east with some hoisin)
4 T sugar ( we are trying to get a glaze...so anything sweet...sugar, honey, maple if you want that feel)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 T fresh ginger ( 1 inch piece) , minced
s,p

MILLET
2 cups millet
s,p
EVOO
3 cups water, boiling
Fresh herbs, fine dice

SPRING GREENS
1  head of greens, washed, and then cut super thin ( roll up the leaves together, real tight like a cigar and then cut across the grain into super thin, shreddy strips...this is a nice way to  cut up basil as well)
1 onion , peel, halve and then cut in super thin slices ( as usual...red onion, white onion, lots of shallots, leeks, you choose)
4 garlic cloves, smash and chop
2 tomatoes, halved, seeded ( if you must), and large dice ( 1/2 inch)
1 cup white wine ( or veg stock, or water laced with some spices...paprika, s,p, for example)

WHAT TO DO

Firstly  as we will be cooking three items at once, i will give instructions in the order they all should be done to maximize time, as opposed to each item separately.  Obviously as you get faster, I would always suggest chopping vegetables as your starch is cooking ( Millet can simmer as onions are being chopped for example and a baked potato always will take longer then all the slicing and dicing you need to do). As we want to make this dish in under an hour and  we want slow roast tofu... we will be searing it on the stove top and then tossing it in the oven and letting it slowly cook down ( if you have more time...lower the oven temp and cook for longer depending on how dense you want it)

Liberally sprinkle both sides of tofu slices with s,p, and powdered fennel.
Boil 3 cups water.

Place 1 sauce pan on stove top over medium heat with millet in pan...let grains toast slightly as you are waiting for water to boil.  When boiled, pour over the millet, bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer and cover and let cook.

Place a saute pan on stove top over high heat, and when good and hot...add 1 T veg oil( GOLDEN RULE...HOT PAN THEN COLD OIL...WHY...you want to cook your food with oil, not cook the oil for its own smoky sake..), make sure it coats the pan evenly...and then gently add the tofu to the pan making sure you set each piece in the pan AWAY FROM YOU, not toward you for maximum hot oil splatter effect.  Make sure they all have space and are not crowded.  One layer only as we want to get a good golden sear, not a mushy steaming tofu mush. When after a couple minutes they are nicely browned, then flip em...

Repeat cooking till tofu is browned and then turn down burner to medium and add tomato paste, ginger, garlic, sugar, and a few spoonfuls of water if necessary...gently shake pan and make sure as sugar is melting that tofu is getting an even coating ( you can move east again by adding hoisin and soy sauce instead of tomato paste and water/white wine)...

Once your have golden tofu and a syrupy sauce...place either the pan ( if oven proof) in the oven, or transfer to a baking sheet and let roast in oven.  After twenty minutes flip tofu and spoon ever thickening sauce glaze over the top.

Back on the stove

Check your millet and heat up another saute pan on medium high heat. (Has  the millet soaked up all the water, is it starting to dry out a bit and stick to the pan...turn off the millet, recover and let steam while you wait for the tofu to cook)

Now for the spring greens...in the hot pan, add 1 T oil, spread around pan and then add garlic and onions and cook till golden and slightly wilted  ( about 2 minutes).  

Add tomatoes to pan and let cook down for another minute and then deglaze pan with white wine and let this reduce by at least half...

Now add the whole of the spring greens, and toss around a bit to coat with the oil and wine. While you are at it, i would give it a  good pinch of salt.  

Keep stirring as the greeens begin to cook down.   Turn down heat a touch, adding a bit of water as necessary to prevent sticking ( yes, water is your friend in the kitchen...speaking of that...its tiring cooking...drink a glass!!!).

Okay...so now we have our greens wilting, our tofu roasting, and our millet steaming...whats next...

Seasoning...
Millet:  fluff with a fork, taste em, toss in some fresh herbs, a grind of pepper, a shake of salt and i like a drizzle of EVOO...taste...DONE

TOFU:  take from oven, scoop up any extra glaze and spoon over tofu...DONE

GREENS:  taste, add salt, pepper, and EVOO and taste again...

FINISHED and I think it takes longer to write this blog  then cook this healthy meal.
so please try it this week as you search for good midweek meals to sustain you...
...and if that's not enough to do...

MORE DISHES TO WASH

Okay, so for breakfast I say use some of your leftover, unseasoned millet and simmer it in milk  to make a porridge.   I like to have this with  in-season berries and sunflower seeds ,  a quick saute of local apples with walnuts, or caramelized bananas and pecans for a real treat.

Leftover millet.  Hmmm, lets think Fried rice  but  use millet for a healthier option. I say saute up some veggies: carrots, onion, leftover spring greens, zucchini, whatever you got, add some ginger and garlic...then the  millet...finish with a bit of soy and garlic-chili paste...give it a wok fried egg...and that should help empty out the fridge.

And lastly, why not cube up your leftover tofu really small, and toss with a simple vinaigrette (I will deal with this next blog...and then we can all stop buying powdered dressing packets, corn syrupy salad dressings, and absolutely gooey and over priced bottled vinaigrette's!!!), some fresh lettuce, a bit of your leftover millet, and any chopped fresh veg that's around...that's lunch!!!  

I hope you enjoy the food and take all my recipes as they are meant to be...guides to help you enjoy your food as opposed to hard fast rules to live by.  I say you should read these recipes, like I read cookbooks...like novels that have great ideas that i keep with me, but not ever in need of memorization or quoting. We need food to live, we should enjoy it and allow it to be a source of relaxation, enjoyment and good fun...dont take it too seriously.  This is cooking,  not rocket science.  Let cooking, eating and relaxing with the finished product be fun, and put it in the perspective that it should be...its not the end of the world if you burn your tofu or set off the smoke alarm, but it would be a truly sad day if you cant laugh at it, move on, and not enjoy the now HERB SMOKED TOFU!!!












Monday, 4 May 2009

BRAISIN LAMB AND BLOGGIN

There is something beautiful about braising. One just puts a large joint of meat, from a hard working part of an animal ( think lower legs and arms...shanks, oxtail, shoulders, short ribs,etc) in the oven...decide to format your new blog...forget about the meat...and three hours later... Voila...its not burnt...its not overcooked...no...3 hours without opening the oven...and about to go to sleep...and that lamb shoulder is absolutely perfect!!!

But seriously, I do usually check on it at least once...but putting the blog up into the world got the best of me...i kept writing and changing colours...and luckily my lamb shoulder just kept getting softer and softer, more tender, developing richer flavours...and now this week i have a nice shank to serve whole, and i decided to shred some of the shoulder to maybe serve later in the week with a nice warm hummus, and i will make a nice soup as well...its that easy...okay...i don't think its good to forget about your food in the kitchen...but with a braise of a big joint of meat...you are in the land of forgiveness...

Basically braising meat is cooking a very untender cut of meat covered in a liquid, at low simmer, for a long amount of time to break down the product and increase the tenderness. One begins with a sinewy, bony, fatty cut of meat that you wonder why you bought...and end up with the most flavorful and tender meal ever ( and you wonder why the butcher sold it to you so cheap...yes the braising cuts are the cheapest you can buy...why...because they don't cook in five minutes!!!)

PREP

Oven at 360 F( 180 C)

1 lamb shoulder ( mine included the shank, and some ribs, but you can do this as said above
with any hard working cut of meat...shoulder, shank, spare ribs, short ribs, tail, neck, etc...don't forget the wonderful coq au vin...braising an ole chicken works the same way...)

s, p, dried ginger and paprika ( spices to coat your meat with...sometimes i toast off fennel seeds, and then crush em in my mortar and pestle...some people like crushed thyme.. just use that coffee grinder if need be to get the right consistency...find a theme and go with it...repeat the same spice and flavor themes throughout your meal)

1 large onion, skinned and quartered

1 large carrot, peeled and cut in a 2 inch chunks

1 large stalk celery, cut in 2 inch chunks (These last three elements can be cut very small as well, but they will then be mush by the time you are finished cooking...which is okay if you are just using them for flavouring, as we often did in the restaurants, but if you want them to hold shape and be edible after 2-3 hours of cooking...then leave them quite large, as well, as always...if you don't have one of these ingredients, think of substitutes...leeks for onions, parsnips for carrots, fennel for celery...please, just cook...)

1 Head garlic, sliced in half through the middle

2 T tomato paste ( or one large tomato, diced)

Ginger, 1 inch peeled and quartered

herb stems, 1/4 cup ( parsley stems and leek greens i never toss away, i toss in the freezer and save for stocks and braises)

1 T Cumin seeds ( or fennel, or peppercorns...whole) these are for adding a bit of depth of flavour

Red wine ( or white, or beer, or ole school coca cola...not diet, the fake sugar really shows its true colors in cooking!!!!)

Water ( or veg stock, or veal stock)


WHAT TO DO

Firstly, you will need one large saute/fry pan to brown your meat and a somewhat deep casserole that is capable of holding all the products mentioned above ( they can be somewhat snug, but not jammed up).

Dry off the meat with some paper towel and then season the lamb shoulder ( you can brown the entire joint, or ask your butcher to cut it into manageable portion sizes) with the s,p, dried ginger and paprika ( or any other s,p and spice combination you like)...don't be shy...these spices will help develop the flavour and colour on your meat.

In the very very hot fry pan, add a thin coating of oil and then add your lamb shoulder. The meat should never crowd the pan if you are trying to brown it...and we want brown...to sear in flavours, moisture, and it looks beautiful. Crowding the pan will give a more steamed effect as opposed to searing...SO set the meat in the pan, setting it in away from you to keep hot oil from splashing onto you...and now let the meat and the pan do their work...don't start moving the pan and meat around...let them just do their thing...after 1 minute or so...take a look at the underside...is it getting brown( then if you like the colour flip it over ) ...is it burning ( yes, turn it over)...is nothing happening ( oops, wrong burner???)
Once the meat is browned, transfer it to the casserole dish.

In the same pan, add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, ginger, and cumin seeds to the still hot pan. ( Let these as well brown up, turning as needed)
After 2-3 minutes, add your tomato paste and stir it around with a ole school wooden spoon.

Now deglaze the pan ( which means to add a liquid into the pan to get all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan and also to add another layer of flavour) with a nice full glass of red wine.

Pour all the veggies, wine, etc over the lamb shoulder in the casserole pan.
Put the pan back on the heat and add water or stock ( the amount should be enough to come up about 2/3 of the way to the top of the products in the casserole...for this i am assuming 2-3 cups...as well some people keep this hot on another burner of the stove during this process)
Pour the boiling liquid over the lamb...cover the casserole with lid or foil...and put in the oven

After an hour, take a look in the pan, flip meat over, add a bit of water if none left...just make sure liquid is at a low simmer ( small sporadic bubbles are good), and the meat is cooking ( the meat will contract in the early stages of cooking...no don't worry...you did not over cook it...let it go...over time you will start to see it in another hour begin to stretch out like some type of salutation to the sun in yoga...the meat will begin to come away from the bone, the fat will melt into the liquid, and you will be left with a fork tender piece of meat...and remember...you can do this for cuts like chicken thighs, in about an hour...but same general process...)

Remove meat from pan, take out any vegetables you want to save and then strain the liquid into a small sauce pan (Throw away whats left in strainer). Only remove the meat from oven when it is fork tender. We want it to have the ability to fall off the bone, but not having fallen already off!!!

Simmer the sauce on the stove till you start seeing the fat lightly bubbling along the top. This is the time to skim the fat.

Fat skimming...Stir a spoon or ladle in a clockwise direction in the pan while it is still at a very low simmer. Second, use the whirling action of the liquid and now skim layers of fat liquid from the top in the reverse direction ( counter clockwise, eh)...Another option if you have time, is to chill down the liquid, the fat rises to the top, let it get cold in the fridge and scoop off the hardened fat later ( I would suggest using it as added flavoring for cooking, but many people find lamb fat a bit strong tasting, and not the healthiest option i could give)

Reduce the defatted liquid... braised dishes are great the next day...so i say, keep your sauce on the stove top and reduce the liquid by half by letting it simmer for a while...and when it is done it will be a bit thicker, and stronger tasting...yes taste it...after it has reduced to your liking...does it need salt...maybe a nice squeeze of lemon to pick it up ( you will be amazed what a little acid does to sauces and soups...at end of cooking)...now you can either cool the sauce and use it tomorrow or pour it over your lamb and serve...

Reheating braised meats... simple...put your oven back on a medium heat, and in a pan heat up a bit of the braising liquid, add the meat and when the liquid is hot, put the covered pan in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the meat is nicely hot and even more tender. If you want you can toss it under the broiler at the end of this heating process to crisp it up, swirl a lil pat of butter into the sauce to give it a nice gloss and shimmer, toss some fresh herbs in, or thin out with a touch more water if necessary...


MORE DISHES TO WASH

As written above, I most definitely left my lamb in the oven for hours and that was fine. I have wrote previously, i am trying to cook slow food, but fast. Once a week I spend the extra time braising something that will give me food for a few days...turkey legs, lamb shanks, pork belly, oxtails...but the key is that these seemingly long cooking times require no observation or time in the kitchen...Once you got it in the oven...clean up, walk away, read a book, play with your kids, take a nap, whatever...it is done... and you are not bothered.

And what did we do while cooking the lamb??? We made Red Lentil Dal, steamed brown rice, broccoli, and raita. Okay, I confess, Lauren made dinner tonight , I didn't... one of us makes this every week...its our favorite comfort food dinner and also we make enough for the next few lunches.(Don't worry you will get her Bangla recipes soon enough...the techniques are shockingly simple, the flavours have infinite layers, and the taste is amazing) Besides making a wonderful dinner, we read the NY Times, we ate dinner, we marinated some steaks in chimmichurri for Cinqo de Mayo, we formatted the blog, we just relaxed to the point that we forgot about the Lamb...poor lamb...we forgot you, and you still come out of the oven tasting like heaven...its almost not fair...

So now for the next few nights we can just whip up quick sides ( mashed root veggies, warm hummus, rice...saute spring greens, crisp salads...)...thats it...you now have meals that can be ready in no time at all...

Some say time is money...but in the case of the cheap cuts of meat ( needless to say all the cuts i speak of I buy from a local farmer...ask them what cuts to braise, ask me...) the time spent in the kitchen is low, the money is half what you pay for steak...and the result...well, you tell me!!!




Friday, 1 May 2009

RATATOUILLE


To have with your wonderful lamb meatballs, as a fresh and tasty sauce over some pasta, or just as a nice chunky bowl of soup like goodness…ratatouille always hits the mark…Its a simple preparation that can be done with huge chunks, or small dice…three veggies…or thirteen…strong or subtle…hell…left chunky, or whirled in you food processor if you really have something against wonderful arrays of color and texture?!?!?!?

Below will be a simple recipe based on what was in my fridge the other night…most times I would add eggplant to the mix, but I did not have any ( if you are very insistent…then go buy some…but remember to salt your chunks of eggplant after cutting to pull out the bitterness and excess moisture, wait about ten minutes, and rinse off the salt…counter intuitive, but it works…)

WHAT YOU NEED…OR WHAT WAS IN MY FRIDGE the other night…

I cut the veggies small in this dish to quicken the time of the recipe, make it more of a sauce then a stew, and for the visual effect…feel free to make it chunkier, but obviously adjust the amount of time it takes to cook.

Olive Oil

1 LEEK ( No dark green bits, cut in half length wise and then finely slice)

3 SHALLOTS ( or one onion, either way…cut very fine…)

4 cloves garlic (smashes, crushed, diced, whatever you like…smaller is stronger, bigger chunks cooked slowly will have a deeper softer taste)

1 carrot, peeled and fine dice

2 SMALL ZUCHINNI, fine dice ( 1/4 inch cubes roughly…just make sure everything is same size!!!)

1 green pepper, seeded, and fine diced

2 portobello mushrooms, chopped fine

4 TOMATOES, fine dice

1 lemon, zested and juiced

Balsamic Vinegar ( sherry, red wine vinegar, use what ya got)

Fresh Herbs, finely chopped ( basil, parsley, green onion, chives, etc)

s,p


BOLD METHODS


Heat up one large saute pan ( medium heat) and one small saute pan ( high heat) on stove top

Add a small amount of olive oil to both pans

In large pan add garlic, leek and shallots and let cook down slowly without browning

In small pan saute carrots till tender…and then toss them in large pan

In small pan continue cooking each vegetable in the order they are in the recipe till just tender, and then transfer into large pan ( Yes, if you like you can do this in one large pan, but you will have less control over the exact cooking of each product…you can also use four pans and make yourself very very busy in a short amount of time.) But remember, take your time, and enjoy the cooking.

Once all veggies are cooked and in large pan, allow them to cook down a bit till soft and incorporated…you may need to add a splash of white wine or water to the pan to deglaze the bottom if it is sticking…this is okay…its all helping to develop the flavours…

Now is the time to add the zest of lemon, a squeeze of the juice, and a splash of balsamic…taste…what does it need…more acid, some salt and pepper, a nice drizzle of olive oil…don’t be afraid to add things slowly and in small amounts, this way you can keep correcting the flavours…until they are how you want them.

Take the ratatouille out of the pan…put in a bowl, fold in your fresh herbs …and enjoy with the lamb meat balls, or however you like.

…this recipe freezes very well, and can easily be a soup if thinned out a bit with vegetable stock and served a nice grating of Parmesan, and with some crusty bread …but simply put…use what you have around the house, this is something that can be easily made while working on rolling meatballs, cutting veggies, preparing some sangria, or cleaning the kitchen ( i know i know…why clean when you are still cooking…because its harder to cook with all kinds of shit around…keep some hot soapy water in the sink( or in a large bowl next to sink) while cooking and all gets done before and not after cooking)…this way people are happy you cooked, and not worried about the mountain of dishes they will be forced to clean as payment for your wonderful prepared meals…