RSS Feed

Category Archives: Real Food

“Ramp” ing It Up

Posted on

It’s that spring ritual for me. If it isn’t asparagus, it’s ramps. If it isn’t ramps, it’s morel mushrooms. And, when they are done, it becomes garlic scapes. Etc. Etc.

I post every year about those fleeting specialties that grace our table in all their glory.

Ramps, last year, for example. That post also mentions the fresh morels from Jenny’s Market. Yesterday when I saw the signs on route 32 for the market, they highlighted the seasonal goodies like the mushrooms.

I have also written many posts on asparagus, and on garlic scapes, but today I want to show another simple preparation with the ramps that were still available at the Silver Spring farmer’s market.

Ramp pesto.

I found a recipe in Laurie Lundy’s amazing book on Appalachia. The book is called Victuals, pronounced viddles, according to the introduction. I also grew up hearing it pronounced at vittles. No matter, it is a very complete collection of recipes and their history in the Appalachian communities.

I ended up using her guidelines for ratios, but using what I had in the pantry.

4-5 ounces of ramp leaves. Three large bulbs. I blanched the leaves. Wrung them out after their ice water bath. Put them and the bulbs in the food processor with about 1/2 cup of pistachios. Added 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese. Poured in the olive oil while watching it emulsify. A little salt and pepper to taste. I used this pesto on pasta, and on flatbreads. Added it to an omelet with sautéed potatoes. Put a little on a freshly baked potato. I made it twice already in the past two weeks.

Ramp season is fleeting. They are wild, and not agreeable to cultivating.

An interesting fact I recently heard on the newest Parts Unknown. The West Virginia episode that premiered last week. The farmers in West Virginia are paid $2 a pound for ramps that are taken to New York City where they fetch up to $32 a pound. Talk about a markup!

We pay about $4 a bunch to the West Virginia farmers who frequent the Silver Spring market. Those bunches weigh about 5-6 ounces so they are getting around $12 a pound by selling direct to customers here. A big difference in price.

If you get the opportunity to buy from the local communities, they do far better than selling through distributors.

Now, I just need to head up to Jenny’s and get some locally sourced morels.

 

The 2018 Spargel Season

Posted on

The first asparagus in my garden this year were recorded 26 days later than a year ago. This cold wet spring is doing a number on the growth and readiness of our favorite spring “heralders”. I picked a half dozen spears on the morning of the 26th, and saw about a dozen that I should be able to harvest tomorrow morning. Contrast 2018 to 2016, where we also had a late spring.  The numbers were closer to what we are seeing now.

But, I still had 27 spears by the 26th then. I had a whopping 54 in 2017 by this date. I keep records of my garden, just like most farmers do for their crops. Bud break, first harvest, length of harvest, total numbers, total weight, etc.

I still only have a few annuals in the ground. My perennials, like the rhubarb and the herbs, are slowly awakening.

Spargel season is fleeting. White asparagus is a special treat in the spring, and we had our first ones at Lupa last week. Lupa is a new restaurant in downtown Columbia. Owned by the same people, Tony Foreman and Chef Cindy Wolf, that gave us restaurants in Baltimore, and replacing Petit Louis Bistro on the lakefront.

We shall see if Italian fare does better in that location than the former French bistro. We were impressed with the freshly made pastas, including the fettucine with spargel and mushrooms that I had for my dinner. They also featured a white asparagus salad that I had been tempted to try, but I ended up enjoying perfectly executed calamari as a first course. For pizza lovers, there is also a white asparagus pizza on the spring menu.

I like Lupa, with its reasonably priced courses. My husband’s gnocchi were delicious, as we brought home a small amount of leftover pastas which graced our dinner table on Wednesday. We will try and visit the gelateria when the warm weather finally arrives. Having that little area off the dining room become a place to enjoy homemade gelato and sorbet in the summer is another nice addition to the dining options on the lake.

Where else have you seen asparagus featured? Do you like to cook with asparagus? Are you waiting for them to arrive in our local farmer’s markets, and at Jenny’s Market? Jenny’s is supposed to open later this week, and I can’t wait. My go-to right up the road food stand. Where I run to when I need one extra ingredient missing, as I am cooking. I always seem to run out of scallions, or onions, or citrus, and I love that they aren’t 7 miles away. For six months of the year, Jenny’s helps us stay sane with her great selection. She has promised that there will be asparagus when she opens, for those who love cooking seasonally.

Some of my favorites with spargel?

A simple mixed grill. Whatever looks freshest, brushed with oil, seasoned lightly, and served with something easy like kebabs, fish, or steak.

Maybe a frittata. Chopped asparagus, added to the egg mix, with herbs and greens.

Pasta primavera. My favorite pairing is peas and asparagus, with flavors enhanced with sautéed spring onions.

I have to admit, I have been really looking forward to retiring all those root vegetables from my diet, and getting into spring cooking.

 

Winter in the Spring

Posted on

It’s only fitting that on the second day of spring we get smacked with eight inches of snow. Heavy wet snow. Tree branch breaking snow. After all, I did just post a few weeks back about our unseasonable warm weather, and look where we are now.

Our CSA is also still stuck in winter mode. If I see carrots on the newsletter Friday night, I may finally reach my limit and give them to people on street corners. Ten weeks running. Every color. Some of them downright weird.

Mutant ninja carrots, even.

Then there are the vegetables on steroids.

The 2 and 1/2 pound red beet. It was split, roasted and diced for salads. Many, many salads.

Followed by the next delivery with this “little” treasure.

There were two sweet potatoes that week. Total of more than 5 pounds. Far too large to roast. I gave one away, the little one, to a friend and the other, the behemoth, will become an ingredient in another adventure in lasagna. Maybe this weekend.

I cannot wait to see real baby greens on the list for my weekly pickup. I am so tired of winter, and want to get my garden going. Bring on the arugula, the pea shoots, the spring mix. Bring on the local farmer’s markets where I can get something light and refreshing. And put away those humongous root vegetables.

 

Moroccan Meatless Monday

I have to admit that dinner tonight wasn’t intentionally meatless because we just planned to have the leftover soup from a cooking spree.  It also isn’t 100% meatless because it had chicken stock in it. So, it was almost meatless, and it could have been if I had used vegetable stock in the soup when making it.

The latest Cooks Illustrated arrived with a almost vegetarian version of harira, a traditional dried legume and pasta soup with a boatload of spices. Many versions of this soup contain lamb, which would probably elevate it to a whole new level.

These are just the dried spices. It also includes fresh ginger and garlic.

Why is all this so significant to me? Because, the soup was made by my husband who decided he wanted to start making soups this winter and picked a very unique one to begin with.

The soup begins with the onions, celery, garlic, ginger, some cilantro and parsley, the spices, the lentils and the chickpeas simmering away in a 50/50 mix of water and chicken stock. Not all that hard except for all the chopping and grating involved. Later, the container of strained tomatoes and the orzo get added with a slow simmer allowing the flavors to develop. Almost at the end, you add the greens. We didn’t have chard so we substituted collards.

The finished product gets fresh parsley and cilantro on top before serving, and a squeeze of lemon.

I admit. This would really rock with roasted lamb cubes in it. But, all by itself it is a hearty filling soup and I’m glad my husband decided he wanted to try it.

 

Roots

Posted on

Four ways.

As in ancestors. Veggies. Stores. And markets.

Trying to tie up some loose ends and get out a post, I realized that the word roots pops up more than once.

In the winter, I tend to dig into my Ancestry tree, and try to follow the links. It’s a cozy way to spend an evening when it is brutally cold out there. It dawned on me that since so many of my ancestors immigrated from Germany (or countries surrounding it, border changes notwithstanding), I can understand my interest in cooking and baking and buying from the Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Hence, the interest in the Roots Country Market and Auction in PA. We haven’t gotten there this winter but I love poking around the market and the outside flea market. It’s where I found a treasure trove of Time Life Cookbooks last year.

As for our local Roots Market, part of Conscious Corner, I headed there last week after picking up my winter CSA (full of root vegetables). They are the closest to us in terms of distance, when it comes to looking for organic goods. I needed greens, since my life does not 100% consist of root vegetables. I wanted spinach, arugula, bibb lettuce, parsley and I needed organic citrus to zest.

All for this.

Raisin Caper Vinaigrette.

From a new cookbook that is my go-to for CSA items. Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden.

Here’s a quick way to make this. You can then dump it all over those winter root vegetables you get from your CSA. Like these.

Last week’s haul from our winter CSA. I roasted the Hakurei turnips and drizzled the vinaigrette all over them.

The vinaigrette. Simple to make. Take 1/3 cup of raisins. Marinate them for half an hour in balsamic. Enough to cover them.

Meanwhile, food process three garlic cloves and a tin of anchovies and three tablespoons of drained capers. Add the raisins. A few squirts of lemon juice and about 1/4 cup of olive oil. At least half a cup (or more) of fresh parsley.

Springtime in a bowl. To cover those root vegetables. Tonight we served it over pierogies. Later this week, over potatoes. You know, all those root vegetables out there.

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Veggies

Posted on

CSA’s and Markets. The places to get really fresh local vegetables in the winter. Not that easily decaying slimy stuff from the grocery stores.

I mentioned in my last post that I wanted to bring back discussion of local winter sources, like my year round CSA, for vegetables and farm fresh staples.

Lora clued me in on her source, which I hadn’t seen before. Open Book Farm Share. I would love to try this, but it isn’t local to me.

I have been a member of Lancaster Farm Fresh for eight years now. 48 out of 52 weeks a year, I can pick up farm shares with vegetables as fresh as one day out of the ground. Picked on Monday. Packed that night. Delivered on Tuesday.

In the winter, though, many vegetables are root veggies. Picked before bad weather and stored in optimum conditions. We all know that root cellars existed just to keep these vegetables fresh all winter.

Our shares include the standard items like carrots and onions, turnips, potatoes. We also get fresh mushrooms, and last week from the high tunnels, cilantro.

I love the mushrooms. I used two of them to make crab stuffed mushrooms. Thanks to Boarman’s for crab cakes. I also picked up mushrooms at the Catonsville Market, and made mushroom soup.

The classic way. Using Julia Child’s recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Rich. Decadent. Perfect with tomato pesto smeared toast.

I  also have a grain and flour share.

Last week we got a new cornmeal. Prompting me to use up the last of the old cornmeal to make ribs over polenta.

Castle Valley Mill supplies our CSA with grits and cornmeal. This is a cold weather, “stick to your ribs” rib dinner.

I also get cheese, biweekly.

Cheeses that work as an element on toasts. As a complement to wine. Served over salads. Grated on top of soup.

I know that there will be repeats weekly, at least for the first four or five weeks. Like carrots.

A few pounds of carrots last week. Organic. All you need to do is wash them. Don’t need to remove the peel. I have a favorite method for carrots. Cut them into coins. Boil them for about 10 minutes. Drain them. Put them back in the pot with  butter and honey and cumin. Let them get glazed.

Today, they were used to make beef stock. Winter veggies with beef bones and water. Slow cooked. Ready to make beef barley soup tomorrow night.

It’s soup and stew season and my veggie share is the perfect place to start.

The Yeast Beast

Conquering yeast breads. One of those “bucket list” type items on an old list of things I wanted to do in retirement. With the challenge in my cookbook club this month being “Genius Recipes”, this one had to be included.

The famous No Knead Bread from Jim Lahey. Catapulted into the limelight more than 10 years ago by Mark Bittman in the New York Times. According to his website, it is one of the top ten recipes that are visited there.

There are many variations. The ratios, though, are fairly constant. The one from the book is a bit different in that it calls for active dry or instant yeast. As I learned later, every other recipe calls for instant yeast. It works with active dry as that is what was in my pantry at the moment, but I think it would be better with instant.

Here is what I did. Twice, now. Once plain. Once with dried rosemary added. First, I invested in a digital scale and made this recipe using weight, instead of measuring with cups and spoons.

Not a fancy scale, but certainly useful. Zeroed out with the bowl in it. Started with 400g of bread flour. Added 5g kosher salt, 1g yeast (I just used a 1/4 tsp for the yeast as it was so little change in weight). I thought it was interesting in the recipe that the 1 1/2 cups of cool water (55-65 degrees F) to be added used 360g for the measuring.

You mix it all together and then let it sit covered with a towel in a warm corner of your kitchen, out of direct sunlight. I let my first one rise for 12 hours, the second one for 20 hours. The longer rise gave me a bread that was definitely different. This scientific approach, although simple, is really quite educational and erased my trepidation with using yeast.

After the first rise, you flour a board. Dump the wet, sticky dough and pull into a round shape. Recommendations to use parchment paper for this will decrease the messiness of using a floured towel. This second rise or 1-2 hours wrapped loosely in the towel will just about double the dough ball. I used cornmeal for my first bread, and flour for the second.

Here is the first bread.

The crunchy cornmeal coating added to the flavor. It was crusty on the outside and dense, chewy, but with lots of air bubbles inside.

The directions call for you to use a heavy covered pot, like a Dutch oven. I used a Pyrex baking dish. It has to have a lid because what you are doing is creating an oven in your oven. The dish has to be preheated for a half hour at 475 degrees before dumping the dough from the towel into it. It will spread across the bottom. If you want a higher small boule, you need a pot that size.

This was my rosemary bread, dusted with flour. It was baked, covered, for 30 minutes, and uncovered for an additional 15 minutes. I have convection ovens so that last timing with the cover off will vary for those without air circulation. The recipe calls for 15-20 minutes uncovered.

The rosemary bread rose a bit more than the first bread.

Fresh from the oven, lifted out of the pot with a large spatula. Be careful as that pot is screaming hot at 475 degrees.

I will be making this easy recipe every chance I get. I do want to try some of the variations, like using a drizzle of olive oil, and adding sliced olives. Or, making a sweet bread with mini chocolate chips and chopped walnuts.

Google NoKnead Bread, if you want to mess around in your kitchen. Me, I need to get some instant yeast and see if it makes the bread rise more than mine. The slow “fermentation” of that 18 hour rise time makes this bread. It is almost foolproof.

Thanks to the Genius Recipe book by Kristen Miglore for rekindling my interest in baking bread, without fuss.