Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Chocolate Milk Pudding

With a toddler needing my attention just about every minute, there is precious little time to invest in fancy stuff. To be honest, I'm not so fancy to begin with. As I've stressed in this blog, if it's not easy I just won't bother. And this, my friends, is one of the easiest puddings I've ever made.

We were in the health food store the other day, and my son, who enjoys tearing off without me and then grabbing expensive items he wants me to buy, had something in his sticky hands. He happened to pick up some Ronnybrook chocolate milk, which at $1.25 was just fine with me. Thing is, once I opened it on the bench outside, with a bendy straw and everything, he decided he didn't want it. I wasn't totally surprised, this guy doesn't really like chocolate. But it is mind boggling. I think it surprises him, too. He always asks for it, then realizes he doesn't really care for it.

Once home, I thought, "should I just guzzle this thing down? Save it for Steve?" Nahhh. With a bit of leftover cream in the house I thought chocolate milk pudding would be the answer. I adapted this recipe from the Joy of Cooking. It is soft and creamy, not very rich or chocolate-y, which shouldn't deter you from this simple, home-cooked pudding.

Once, at a garage sale, I bought some pudding ramekins and the woman selling them to me sighed that no one made pudding any more. I do! It's such comforting fare, and if you serve them in little four ounce canning jars, you can stash them in your snack bag with a little spoon and have it at work, a picnic or at the playground.

Yield: 4 four-ounce jars and one little bowl for tasting right away!

1 cup Ronnybrook chocolate milk (or any good, local whole chocolate milk)
3/4 cup of heavy cream
1/4 cup of sugar
pinch o'salt

Heat over medium-low heat until it reaches just below a simmer. Meanwhile, mix up these ingredients until smooth:

3 tablespoons of cornstarch
1/4 cup of milk

Add this mixture slowly into the heated chocolate and cream, stirring constantly until it almost simmers again. Turn down the temperature and stir well, you will see it start to thicken and get to that pudding consistency. Turn off the heat and add a good teaspoon of vanilla. Mix well, and pour into your jars. Let them cool down and then put them in the fridge with lids on them. If you don't like a skin to form on your pudding, put plastic wrap on the surface. 

I haven't tried this yet, but I'll bet these would make darn good pudding pops. You know, frozen pudding? Hmm...

Still life with rain, tulip and chocolate pudding.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Garlic Mustard Soup

It feels so nice to have something so bright green to eat! Especially when it's from my yard. Nothing in my garden is ready yet, but that doesn't mean that green isn't filling up everywhere. I love it when the skeletal trees begin to fill up with a haze of green (in this instance, Robert Frost said it best), and all the houses and cars slowly begin to disappear from sight, until one day you can't imagine that anything is near you at all, bowered by a soft curtain of green leaves.

I decided to pull a large lush green bed of the invasive plant, garlic mustard, and make some soup with it on this rainy day. Eating an invasive is such a good idea! Try to pull the root out when you're foraging for it. Not only are you taking one for the team, but you're helping the poor ramp, because, not surprisingly, they are on the wane from being over harvested.

I love it when the outdoor cutting board starts to look like this again!
 This soup is very easy, but be warned: it is quite bitter. Not horribly bitter, but still. Do you like chicory and broccoli rabe? Then you'll like this. But if you don't like bitter greens, then you might want to cut the garlic mustard with some other greens that are more mild. It was a perfect after a long weekend of indulgent holiday eating. My family was in town for Easter, and we ate and drank a goodly amount: there was Italian antipasto, German charcuterie, lots of wine and an amazing roasted lamb. A spring time tonic was just what my weary system needed to get back on track.

In your soup pot, saute a crushed garlic clove in some olive oil. Add two large handfuls of garlic mustard greens that have been cleaned and put through the salad spinner. (I'd guess the greens loosely filled a quart measuring cup.) They will wilt down quickly and considerably. Add two large potatoes, peeled and diced. Toss to mix everything. Add two cups of water, and return to simmer. Then add two more cups of water. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat so it simmers, covered, for about a half hour. When the potatoes are sufficiently soft, puree with an immersion blender. Season with a good amout of salt, a dribble or two of cream if you like, and if it's on hand, a dose of preserved lemon syrup. Serve with a good hearty bread.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Asparagus Bed

Why do I feel so good?

I don't believe I've ever come out of the garden feeling worse. In fact, I think I can safely say that 99% of the time, I walk out of the garden feeling much, much better. It's true that my back might ache, the bugs can be vexing, and the work can be totally exhausting. What I mean is this: if I'm feeling anxious or ungrounded, spending even just an hour in the garden can fix that pretty much immediately. (Check out this great article about Why Gardening Makes You Happy and Cures Depression.) And after a long, cold winter, being in the dirt is exactly what I need. I never realize it when it has me in it's clutches, but I get into a stone cold funk starting about February. This year it was longer and deeper because our winter was longer and colder. But now, although it's still chilly and tempestuous, warm one hour, cold the next (no one really described April better than T.S. Eliot), it's still spring, and I'm out there in the dirt. Feeling much better, thank you.

Two trenches with dirt in the middle to gradually add back as the plants grow.

Yesterday, I spent a good while starting asparagus beds. I made trenches five inches deep (digging deeper reduces yields, or so I've read) and topped with two inches of soil and compost, to be hilled up as the asparagus grow. I'm not a huge fan of asparagus, otherwise I would have planted them five years ago when  we moved in. I am, however, a huge fan of my husband, who loves asparagus. So, I finally broke down and planted 16 Purple Passion asparagus plants. Not that digging is awful, but because digging on my particular soil is awful. I have the rockiest soil imaginable. I do believe unearthed a small quarry from my garden beds. Halfway through digging the deep trenches I started chanting: I will never have to do this again, I will never have to do this again. Because I won't. The asparagus will be fruitful for upwards of 25 years. And if they die? I'm not doing it again!

The perennial garden.
Now I have a huge perennial bed: a row of vigorous rhubarb, a strawberry patch, and now, asparagus. Did you notice that this bed isn't fenced in? It helps that it's right next to the road, by a dangerous curve, so the deer stay away. But deer don't eat rhubarb or asparagus (generally, although they've been known to surprise me!), and so far the strawberries have been unmolested. There's nothing nicer than having a garden that produces for years and years, after only planting once!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pickled Horseradish

You could also call this prepared horseradish. Either way, it's the way to bag the store boughten stuff. And really, this is ridiculously easy. Get one of those scary looking horseradish roots that can be fodder for many a joke. I used to work the dreaded brunch shift and one of the opening tasks was to make the bloody mary mix. Needless to say, hung over waiters are not one to hold back on a ribald joke involving horseradish. So. Are you familiar with fresh horseradish? You should be! It's so good. 

I found this simple preparation in the Joy of Cooking. You clean your root, then peel it, then grate it. I grated it with a Microplane which didn't take too long, but I guess you could do it in the food processor. It might be a bit too coarse, though. Beware! Horseradish is fierce. I had to walk away a few times because I got a good strong whiff, and it just about burned my nasal passage up to my brain.

Grate it into a glass bowl filled with a cup of white vinegar and a 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Pack it into a clean jar and keep in the fridge. I'm hoping for at least a few months for this big jar. Might have to whip up a Bloody Mary brunch party soon...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Smoked Trout and Canadian Bacon

This is the fourth month of Charcutepalooza, and I'm still in the game. You know what I have to say about Charcutepalooza? I have now made all of these things that I always had plans for but hadn't yet gotten around to it. There is so much that I jump right into, but for some reason my plans for charcuterie had been more daunting than most of my endeavors. And let's hear it for Charcuterie, the guiding tome. You know what? I finally got my copy in the mail! Finally!

As a new comer to smoking, it took me a while before I compartmentalized smoking foods into those two simple categories: cold smoking and hot smoking. Cold smoking foods does not cook them, but imparts the smokey flavor, and as such it is important to use a curing salt because cold smoking invites bad bacteria as the temperatures are less than 100 degrees F. Hot smoking, however, utilizes higher temperatures (above 150 degrees F.) and thus cooks the food, while imparting the smoke flavor, and in my mind, it is not quite so important to use curing salt. (The book recommends using curing salt, or pink salt, in all cases unless you are hot smoking at 300 degrees F.)

Cold smoker.
Last summer, my father in law brought me a smoker. This was a Little Chief, with an electric element, and I later found out, a cold smoker. You know how I found out? I smoked some trout in it, and it took six hours, and it was still not done so I had to bake it off in the oven. I will definitely return to this smoker to make cold smoked salmon.

Hot smoker.
The trout that I cold smoked wasn't very smoky. I didn't brine it. I did it all wrong, but at least I cooked it fully. (This may be why jumping into meat curing isn't the brightest idea. You've got to have some bit of knowledge, and that's why Charcuterie, the book, is so great.) Undaunted, I pestered a friend to loan me his smoker that was stuffed in a storage space. He graciously delivered it to my house, seemingly shamed by it's neglect. (He will be repaid in Canadian bacon, I assure you.)

You wouldn't mind being paid in bacon, would you?
So, the second time around I got four whole trout, brined them a few hours and let them sit over night. It was a chilly night, about 33 degrees, and I locked the porch doors hoping rodents wouldn't get in. I then hot smoked it for almost two hours at 180 degrees with alder wood.  I used this Alton Brown recipe for the trout. There is one in Charcuterie (look under the recipe for trout rillettes--yum), but I didn't want to use pink salt, and didn't feel it was necessary for safety (because it was being hot smoked, and fully cooked at safe temperatures) or taste (this was a guess, but I was right). A little bit of knowledge and suddenly I'm a know it all, huh?

Can I talk about the pellicle for a second? Do you know how much I enjoy that word? I especially love how essential it is to smoking anything. The pellicle is formed when the once brined or cured meat is patted dry and allowed to completely dry, and get a little sticky, before smoking. I think the word sounds like oracle. And when my trout had sat over night in a nice chilled evening with a light breeze it formed a wonderful pellicle and I knew, as if it were an oracle of future goodness, that my trout would rule. Or maybe I was just smoking something. Regardless, I like that word. But dang, that trout did rule.

Oh, goodness.
Because I wasn't satisfied with just smoking fish, I opted to make Canadian bacon, too. I was able to order a local pork loin via my supermarket, which was convenient. Because I still had a big bag of that Morton's Tender Quick, I figured why not use it? So I followed a recipe on their site. It was very simple and not quite a brine, a rub that made it's own brine as it sat, much like making bacon. I let it cure for three days and then smoked it with hickory wood for almost three hours at 225 degrees, when the internal temperature reached 150 degrees. When I pulled it out, I felt immensely proud of myself! And, whoa nelly, it was freaking good! Four pounds of Canadian bacon is a boat load of the stuff, and let's be honest, I probably won't make this again any time soon. Although, wouldn't it make a super cool Christmas present along with some good maple syrup? With the rest of the bacon, I sliced it and put it in the freezer to pull out on special occasions.

Pickled green beans and pickled green tomatoes. 

I had some friends over for dinner last night, and I decided to make a few small plates with my smoked goods. It was all very simple and very tasty. Here's what happened.

Smoked Trout Dip

1/4 cup of cream cheese
1/4 cup plain yogurt
one to two whole smoked trout, depending on your tastes, skin removed
a tablespoon of capers

Let the cream cheese sit out and soften. Then add the yogurt and whip them together (I used a fork, then an immersion blender) until smooth. Add the flaked trout and capers and fold them in. Serve with crackers.

Canadian Bacon and Leek Frittata

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a large cast iron pan with a small bit of olive oil to coat it. Saute a half of a cleaned large leek, sliced thinly, until wilted and golden. Remove leeks to a plate.

Can we squeeze a veggie in here?
Add a spot more oil, leaving pan on medium heat. Layer slices of Canadian bacon to cover the bottom of the pan. Add 6 eggs, beaten with a splash of milk or cream, and about 4 ounces of grated cheese (I used a nice sharp cheddar) and cook until the sides seem set but the center is still very wobbly. Put the pan in the oven for about ten or fifteen minutes, until the center seems set. Remove and let cool a bit.

Using a knife, cut around the edges and using a spatula check to see if the bottom is sticking. If all looks good, put a plate on the pan and invert, so that you have an upside-down canadian bacon pie when you're done. Serve slightly cooled with a bit of chives, in thin pie wedges. No forks needed.

After. Slightly 1950's Better Home and Gardens?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

French Lentils with Onions and Preserved Lemon

I love little French lentils, don't you?

Right now the weather is finally turning towards spring, but there's still a bit of nip in the air. It's been a real cold spring. After a day of transplanting, making the garden bigger, digging dirt and planting seeds, your wind-reddened cheeks want to sit down to a meal like this. Very hearty, satisfying and filling.

A loaf.

And throw in a loaf of bread, while you're at it, would you? I used this recipe, and while it's not the most delicious loaf you've ever had, it does produce two huge loaves in short order. And that's saying something when you've spaced out on making bread and need some on the double. There's only one rising on this one. It makes a good piece of toast, too.

Save celery leaves and freeze them for times like this.

1 cup of French lentils
2 cups of water

Boil the lentils in the water for about twenty minutes, until the lentils are tender.

Meanwhile, saute two medium onions (I like to slice them into thin wedges) in some olive oil until soft, and browned. Add the cooked and drained lentils (save the cooking liquid).  Dice a half of a preserved lemon, without the flesh (I like to reserve the lemon flesh for salad dressings--somewhat milder and just as lemony). Mix well over medium to low heat. Add about a quarter of a cup of the reserved liquid and simmer on low. To finish, I sprinkled a good pinch of salt, and a handful of chopped celery leaves (parsley is fine, too).

Duck fat - the answer to your prayers.
I served the lentils with potatoes roasted in duck fat: I like small yellow potatoes, sliced in thick rounds. I put a large baking tray in the oven at 400 degrees. When the tray gets a little warm, I drop a tablespoonful of duck fat and return the pan to the oven to melt. Then I put the potato slices out in a single layer.

The lighting is off, but I wanted you to see the potatoes. I like them soft, not crispy.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Suet Pastry Dough

 Oh, my god. Did I just make Hot Pockets? That's crazy. I don't think I've ever even had one. I just remember that comedian saying "Hot Pockets" in a high voice and it made me laugh. Well, Hot Pockets weren't the original idea. They were born of pasties (not the ones for nipples, people!). Little pockets of pastry filled with savory goodies, like meat and cheese. I think most cultures have them. In this instance it was ham and monterey jack cheese. And the pastry dough? Made from grass-fed local suet, baby. Yes, it's not just for tallow anymore, folks! Actually, it never was, but that's besides the point.

I'm super excited about this because I haven't had or made such an incredibly tasty pastry dough in a long time. Or maybe since I made pop tarts...Anyway, when I went in on a split of a steer I was offered some suet and not one to turn down anything free and vaguely edible, I accepted. It took me a while to get to it, but it all came together the other day.

I based my recipe on the Beyond Nose to Tail cookbook and this recipe from Epicurious. The dough was very dry and crumbly, maybe because I used the suet straight from the freezer. To prepare the suet, which by the way, is the thick, hard fat that surrounds the kidneys of a cow, I picked through it and removed what little bits of meat I could find. Then I put it in the food processor and pulsed it to a consistency like coarse cornmeal.

Suet Pastry Dough

1 1/2 cups of flour
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of cold, finely chopped beef suet (I used a little extra)
1/4 to 1/2 cup of cold water

Combine all the ingredients, holding the water. Then, add the water 1/4 cup at a time, slowly, until you get the desired pastry dough consistency. After the dough is formed, let it sit, covered in wax paper, in the fridge for up to two hours. Let it come to room temperature before rolling.

My dough was very tough to work. It isn't, in my limited experience with suet pastry dough, very elastic dough. I used a large circular lid I had to press out circles. I didn't roll them very thin. I filled them with chopped ham and grated cheese---about 2 cups of ham mixed with a cup of cheese. I didn't add anything else! Bake these in a 375 degree oven for about thirty minutes, until light golden brown. They were stellar right out of the oven. This recipe made eight large pastries that will probably disappear by the next morning.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fools' Fool

I swear I didn't do this on purpose. Last night I took some blueberries out of the freezer. I then curled up on the couch reading Deborah Madison's Seasonal Fruit Desserts and Beyond Nose to Tail by Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gellatly (both great books).  I was inspired by a few recipes to make a fool, which is basically lightly cooked fruit folded with whipped cream. The simplest thing ever. And one of the most delicious.

Now a bit of snow was predicted for today, so this morning I was figuring on how to make the whipped cream without heavy cream. Ha! I didn't feel like going out. The cockamamie idea I had for whipped cream was based on my buttermilk smoothie, and how thick it was. (I've been obsessed with buttermilk, lately, of all things.) I put a cup of buttermilk plus a half cup of low fat yogurt in the blender with some confectioners sugar and lemon syrup. Once that was well whipped I let it strain, separating the whey from the solids. (By the whey, (ugh, sorry!) there's a great post on the many uses of whey right here.) The result was a soft, very light and almost foamy cream. You know, I'm just telling you this because I found it interesting. It was really good, but I'm not sure if I'd do it again. It was an interesting experiment. Sane people can always use plain yogurt or even better Greek yogurt. Or how about plain old whipped cream?

So, half way through the day I realized it was April 1st. And I was making a fool. And it was snowing, for crying out loud! All very silly indeed.