Archive for Appetizer

Deviled Eggs

 

Initially published in the Virginia Wine Gazette On-line…. but deviled eggs are always in season.

Bring out a platter of deviled eggs at a party and they disappear. They are the perfect party food: you can make them ahead and in quantity, they are easy and people cannot resist them – especially when made with eggs from pastured hens allowed to forage en plein air, eating grass and bugs: those yolks are bright, nutritious and taste like eggs should. Those shells are firm, making boiling a cinch.

Deviled eggs certainly leave room for plenty of variations:  you can make them as homey or as trendy as you care. In fact, I just heard of some made with curry powder and crushed pineapple. Are you still allowed to call them deviled if they aren’t spicy? I was told recently by a gentleman from Alabama that they simply call “dressed” where he comes from.

A few tricks that I use when making deviled eggs: Read more

Spring Salads

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Every spring , without fail, I become almost tear-eyed that we are eating great bowls of arugula, spinach, mache, sorrel, chicories and the very first of the lettuces – all planted last fall, all growing again with the milder temperatures… and the rain.Brave greens braving the still chilly weather, they show us winter’s over.

Greens make wonderful companions to fried eggs, poached eggs, omelet, lard-fried croutons, bacon, lardons, duck-fat fried potatoes, duck breasts, thinly cut steaks, any meat really… any thing really. Early spring greens are just glorious, so alive. And I am glad I have them, because, I have to wait at least 30 days before I’ll be able to harvest from the just planted seeds. And with spending so much time out, we definitively need a lot of those quick lunches.

One of my favorite quick meals is a green salad topped with warm breaded goat cheese on a croute (a croute is a French crostini – or vice-versa). I like to marinate the goat cheese ahead of time for added flavor – and I’ll often marinate a lot more than what’s immediately needed – they’ll keep well in the fridge for a few weeks. In a pinch,  if you did not marinate the cheese but want that salad right now, just brush the freshly cut rounds with oil before breading them. Read more

Winter Pickles: Sunroots aka Jerusalem Artichokes

Undemanding. Vigorous. Pretty in a blowzy sorts of way. Tall. You could almost be talking about me. But not quite: Helianthus tuberosus is what I mean. You know: Jerusalem artichokes, sunchokes, sunroots, earth apple, tobinambours. Look at them in that somewhat blurry September picture, towering over the arches of the cold frame  – well over 8 feet tall (the arches top at 4 feet tall and the ground is sloping up, so the prospective is somewhat distorted). But tall they will grow in decent garden soil, and that only from spring to fall as they are an herbaceous  perennial –  impressive, no?

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The bright yellow  flower is cheerful and pretty too, in an unsophisticated care-free sorts of way – although small when compared to the overall plant size. Nothing like its fat headed cousin the annual sunflower.

Some people actually things sunroots are “invasive”. Well… for those of us on the Eastern North American seabord, that’s impossible: Helianthus tuberosus is native to Eastern North America (from Quebec to North Florida and as west as North Dakota). How can something native be invasive? Read more

The Soups Of Summer

Hot. Muggy. Summer in Virginia. Finally. Sigh…

I can’t really complain, July having been relatively cool, but now it’s hot. It’s time for cold lemonade, lots of ice teas, dishes that do not heat up the kitchen (it’s being heated enough with canning)… like cold soups. You know, either the ones to which you never have to apply heat (think Gazpacho) or the ones that you can throw together from precooked ingredients, especially from left over, and a few garden fresh things – like my Sorrel Vichyssoise.

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Many people are not familiar with sorrel in the United States. A shame really, because it is one of the few perennial vegetables for temperate climates, very easy to grow, and pretty much care free. Yes, it can look a little raggedy in the summer, but it’ll perk up in the fall providing nice tender leaves for salads again. In summer, the leaves get a little tougher faster than in cool weather, but are still eminently usable, especially when pureed for sauces or soup. I often use it in my cooking workshops, introducing a new taste to students, and every body opens big eyes at the taste, loving it. Read more

Making Rillettes

It’s funny how some posts draw comments… and what for…Like my post on spring salads prompted requests for the recipe of the potted meat I served with it!

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Which, of course, one should rightly ask for the recipe, because it is simple, simply delicious, can be made well in advance, will keep in the fridge for quite a while and requires nothing more than a fresh green salad and a chunk of crusty bread to transport you to a little lunch nirvana. Yes, it will take several hours from start to finish, but most of it is not active time: the pork is slowly (slowly – I say) cooking while you go do something else. When it’s cooked, you let it cool enough to handle, and you use your hands to shred the meat (how fun is that?), pack in pots, cover with melted fat, refrigerate for a couple of days… et voila! Serve it and look like a genius!

(and since I can’t find my pictures of a pot rillettes, and it’s late, this post is without picture. You can always look here…) Update: not the picture I remember, but I found one…

So here’s my picture-free recipe for Pork Rillettes. Read more

Lovely Lemony Sorrel

There are indubitable signs of springs out there (besides the 2 minutes of additional daily daytime we are getting now).

For once, the snowdrops are nodding their tiny white bells in the still blustery gusts of wind and then, then!, yellow IS swelling the buds of the early daffodils. But for the ever hopeful kitchen gardener, a much surer sign that spring is coming is what’s budding, swelling, germinating, pushing up or otherwise showing signs of life in the vegetable garden.

Is there something fresh I can sink my teeth in – or at least wake up my taste buds (pun intended) with? Something green? With a little bite? Something… live? I have talked about reliable mache growing outside in winter, but a few other denizens that grow happily enough in a cold frame provide fresh taste at this time of the year: spinach, cutting celery, parsley, arugula, and sorrel are among them. They do not need a cold frame per se, but the protection provided by a cold frame allows them to send forth new leaves much earlier than their unprotected brethren, left totally outside in what is otherwise a generally bleak landscape at this time of the year.

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Sorrel might be less well known on the list, so let’s talk about it, a little, shall we? Read more

Of Apples and Apple Soup

Gala, Crispin (or Mutsu), Fuji, Honeycrisp, Rhode Island Greening, York, McIntosh, Jonathan & Jonagold, Stayman Winesap, even Golden Delicious (one of MY favorites), Red Delicious & Granny Smith: those are just a few of the cultivars of apples available for pick up at our local orchards. As the season continues, the late apples will come in, such as the Black Arkansas and the Lady apple, a small perfumed apple that will keep well into February.

Trio of applesThe names dance in a litany of languages – there are more than 7,500 cultivars of orchard apple, Malus domestica. Some were bred purposefully, such as Jonagold, a cross between Jonathan and Golden Delicious developed in 1943 in New York. Others were chance seedlings judged good enough to be propagated, such as Golden Delicious discovered on the farm of Anderson Mullins in Clay County, West Virginia in 1912, and the official apple of the State of West Virginia since 1955. The Rhode Island Greening is an old, historic American apple variety that originated in 1650 in Newport, Rhodes Island: it’s – surprise! – the official apple of Rhode Island. The Spitzenberg that originated in Esopus, New York, in the mid 18th century was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson: it’s still grown at Monticello, and is sometime available at farmstands in Virginia.

But while we think of apples as “American”, the fruit was brought to the new world by settling Europeans whose ancestors had received it hundreds or thousands of years before. Apples originated in the central mountainous provinces of Eurasia (where they still grow wild in an incredible array of shapes, forms, colors and tastes) and were spread over 10,000 years ago, by nomadic population of hunters/gatherers who “settled down” as they started to cultivate crops. The apple made its way to China, India, the Middle-East and Europe thousands of years ago. Remains of apples were found in excavation of Jericho and dated to about 6,500 BC. Dried apples sliced were placed in royal tombs of modern Southern Iraq around 2500 BC to be found by modern archeologists. Homer mentions apples in the Odyssey. The Romans cultivated apples extensively (the Lady apple is thought to come straight from that ancient time when it was known as Api apple – it’s still called Api in French today, the “pomme d’Api”). The Romans disseminated the apples to the far corners of their empire including the British isles where only crab apples (different species altogether) where known until then. And the British brought it to their American colonies.

When one picks up an apple, one picks up more than just a fruit: one picks up a piece of our human story that dates back to before records were written and a piece of our common heritage.

Now you want a recipe? Oh… Ok, but there is no picture – yet.

How about apple & carrot soup, linking two important fresh produce of fall? It’s one of the recipes I taught on my recent “Cooking with Apples” workshop. Read more

Tomato Tatin

For the last few weeks, I have been making lots of Savory Oven Tomato Preserve (or is that Savory Oven-preserved Tomatoes?). After cooking for several hours in a very slow oven, the tomatoes acquire a very intense flavor that’s quite addictive. We’ve been eating them mostly on sandwiches and adding them to already cooked rice for a quick mock-risotto. I have also frozen some. The tomatoes are not truly preserved for long term storage so they keep only a couple of weeks in the fridge and must be used fairly quickly. As the San Marzano tomatoes (which are ideal for this dish) keep coming, I keep making the preserve. So, I needed other ways to use them.

Tomato Tatin (Upside Down Tomato Tart) works very well. I know, I know… that’s another recipe name with which I am taking liberties, but it perfectly conveys what the dish is in one remarkably economical word: upside down tart of slow precooked fruit with a golden crust. After all, technically, i.e. botanically speaking, tomato is a fruit (actually, a berry, if we want to be 100% accurate), even though in 1893 the U.S. Supreme Court declared it a vegetable! Less you start to wonder if the Supreme Court was reordering the Linnaeus classification, rest easy: it was done all to avoid paying tariff taxes under the Tariff Act of March 3, 1883, and for no other purposes. The Justices came to that rationale because the tomatoes is generally served with dinner and not eaten as dessert. Want to read more about that? Wikipedia has an entry on it in the Nix v. Hedden case!

As far as the “Tatin”, it is more correctly known as Tarte des Demoiselles Tatin (The Misses Tatin’s Apple Tart) – but often shortened as Tarte Tatin. This upside-down apple tart, with its caramelized apples and golden pastry, was named after the Tatin sisters who ran a restaurant in the early 1900’s in Sologne (in the Orleans/ Loire River region), an area of France known – even today – for its good hunting grounds especially for ducks and other fowls and its dreamy landscapes of low forests, marshes and abundant waters.

So Tomato Tatin it is!

By using the Savory Oven Preserve Tomatoes, there’ll won’t be quantities of tomato juice released during the cooking and the pastry will not become soggy.

First, line up your preserved tomatoes in a pretty pattern at the bottom of a pie dish, cut side up. Pack them, laying them quite close to one another.

Tomato Tatin Step 1

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Of Summer Melon, Virginia Ham & Combava

Twice this past week-end, I prepared a simple dish combining a few very much local ingredients: easy, lots of flavors, nice colors, great smell, happy eaters… and no need to apply heat: as far as I am concerned, the perfect summer party dish. What was it? Melon & Virginia Country Ham Salad with Combava (Kaffir Lime) Leaf Dressing.

Both times guests were really intrigued by my “secret ingredient” and were trying – unsuccessfully to place it- until I told them what it was: Kaffir lime (aka Combava). The Oxford Companion To Food recommends that the traditional name “Kaffir lime” be replaced by “makhrut lime” or “makrud lime” (makhrut/makrud being the transliteration of the Thai word) because Kaffir is a derogatory term for a black person in South Africa . But very few people do it and Kaffir lime is by far the more common. However I have also seen Combava lime (which is one of its French name). Since I like the deep musical sound of “combava” and the word reminds me of my years in France, that’s the name I’ll be using to describe what is known botanically as Citrus hystrix.

Combava leaves (also known as Kaffir Lime or Makhrut Lime)

Combava is a citrus plant originating in South East Asia, where its leaves are used in cooking. Many people in the US have encountered Combava when eating at Thai restaurants. The leaves are roughly hour-glass shaped, or rather, one leaf looks like two leaves put together end-to-end. The fruit is small, green, round and has very little juice. I grate the rind (that is when I am lucky enough that my tree gives me fruit) and use it to flavor drinks and many dishes; slice the fruit very thinly and mix it with chili peepers, garlic and other spices to make a fresh chutney/salsa to serve with fish and rice. The fruit can also be candied producing an interesting sour/slightly bitter and yet sweet confection – a little like candied pomelo rind. The plant is tender here in the Northern Piedmont (and in most of the US), but as with many citrus, it can live happily in a large pot, that spends the winter in a cool sunny room.

The leaves are what I used for my dish. But although the flavors were similar, the presentation of the dish was not because there were two very different meals. Yes, I know, I am getting to specialize in “obscure leafy ingredients” in the words of David Lebovitz. But it’s easy to grow, you can buy it frozen in markets specializing in South East Asia ingredients and it is really good! By the way, don’t use dry leaves: they have a very different texture, the taste is fainter and they will not give you the appealing bright green flecks that you get with the fresh leaves.

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