August 2008 Archives

 


While the recipe for these treats appears complicated and multi-stepped, the truth is it was incredibly simple compared to last month's challenge. Yet, the eclairs were at least as delicious as the Filbert Gateau. A little less nuanced, perhaps: while the cake had many subtle flavors, each contributing a note to a rounded whole, the eclair had one blasting loud tone: that of silky, creamy chocolate.

I did have one stumble here, when I undercooked the eclairs ever so slightly, leaving them a touch soft and flat. So it was a good thing that the chocolate glaze and pastry cream were so flavorful and rich, as they really provided the punch for the dish. Certainly the contrasting bite of a firmer eclair would have been even better, but there were no complaints.


The cream puff pastry was so interesting to make, and also so fast to put together, I can imagine making it for all sorts of applications: with fruits and whipped cream, or ice cream and chocolate sauce, or a savory appetizer with sausage and cheese.... The interesting aspect is that the dough is made on the stove, a little like a roux. The result is smooth and buttery, and pipes out and fluffs up like a dream. If you don't feel up to melting, whipping and juggling 14 ounces of chocolate, and a cup of cream, I highly recommend trying this dough and pairing it with just about anything.

 


I am sad to say this marks the last official One Local Summer post. I'll be continuing to eat a lot of local foods and post about them, though!

This week I made a recipe from The Herbfarm Cookbook: Braised Lamb Shanks with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Orange, and Rosemary. Except with fresh tomatoes and not sun-dried. And turnips instead of carrots. And dried herbs instead of fresh. And I'm beginning to sound like the comments on Epicurious here. It turned out well, but I think it would have been better if I had, you know, followed the recipe. But it's hard to mess up braised lamb, to be honest - the meat was tender and silky, with a strong tang of wine and orange cutting brightly through the rich lamb flavor.

I suppose you shouldn't really braise lamb before Labor Day, but hey, we're almost there... and I promise to have a fall BBQ to balance out my unseasonality.

Ingredients:
Tomatoes, garlic, onion from Red Fire Farms, Granby, MA
Turnips from the Union Square Farmers Market
Lamb shank from Stillman's at the Turkey Farm, Hardwick, MA
Blueberry Merlot from Nashoba Valley Winery, Bolton, MA

Not Local:
Oranges

 

As the proofreader, hand model, dishwasher, sous-chef, and First Husband of Brave Potato, I am honored to be making a guest post. Even better is that I get to write about making my favorite snack food: the pretzel.

I eat a lot of them. In high school, I could polish off a six-pound bag of hard pretzels in less than two weeks. For Christmas, Erica gave me a huge box of gourmet pretzels from SE Pennsylvania, the American pretzel mecca. (The perfect companion bevvie comes from that area, too.)


I've wanted to make soft pretzels ever since Erica got the The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion. They give two pretzel recipes: classic pretzels, which are the chewy kind you'd get from a street vendor, and hot buttered pretzels, which are softer and more like what you'd find at a mall. I decided to make the latter because it required less time. Erica was busy all weekend making me an oh-so-amazing birthday picnic lunch and needed the kitchen a lot. She helped me make these pretzels, too.


The pretzel recipe is a cousin of the bagel recipe: it started with very dense dough that the Kitchenaid kneaded for five minutes. The dough then sat for 30 minutes. Instead of making the eight pretzels the recipe described, we made 16 mini-pretzels. With a smaller string of dough, we started making single knots and figure-eights, but towards the end we were able to create a few with the classic pretzel shape. [Ed: Greg forgot to mention that you get to dip the shaped pretzels in warm water before salting and baking - fun!] They baked for about 12 minutes at 500 degrees. When they were done I brushed plenty of butter on them.

They turned out great! They were different than I expected. First, they were lighter in color. Apparently many soft pretzel vendors cure their pretzels in food-safe lye to give them their glossy brown appearance. Our pretzels also had a distinct bagel taste, which is not surprising given the similarity in the recipes.


If you want a good soft pretzel and don't live in NYC or Philly, try this out if you're willing to spend about an hour making them. They're much better than SuperPretzels. (However, the pun in the title came from their website.)

 

...my name is Erica, and I am an addict. A produce addict. Seriously. Even with the fridge already over-full of CSA veggies, when I went to the farmers market this weekend, I came home with this:


Thats potatoes, muskmelon, eggplant, broccoli, leek, green beans, peaches, pickling cucumbers, shallots, mint, raspberries, turnips, and a shank of lamb, if you're curious.

Ostensibly, I went to the market to get my knives sharpened, and even though I came away with excessive amounts of produce as well, the sharpening was the best money I've spent on the kitchen in a long time. I was watching a couple episodes of The French Chef, and seeing good ol' Julia Child (the spy!) thwacking through some fish heads made me realize that lately I'd been feeling like I might have more luck cutting things with those fish heads than any of my knives.

After bringing home my freshly-sharpened knives, all of this weekend's cooking was like a dream: a dream of potatoes, tomatoes, turnips, chicken and melons made of butter, falling apart at the mere touch of the knife. I highly recommend it. Now if I could just get a better handle on the use of a sharpening steel, I might be able to enjoy this dream a little longer. Until then, here are a few more photos from the market:

 


Tonight's dinner marks the beginning of my personal recipe challenge. As I mentioned before, I use plenty of recipes for baking and special occasions, but in my day-to-day cooking, I often operate on habit and instinct. This makes for perfectly tasty meals, but not much culinary growth or excitement. So I've decided, after assessing my recipe collection, updating my cookbook shelf, and cataloging my freezer contents, that I will make one worknight dinner from an honest to goodness Recipe with a capital R, chosen in advance, each week. The recipe has to be something new and exciting to me: no sautéed chard with garlic or soy-glazed chicken.

The project is off to an excellent start, as this kefta mkaouara (meatball, tomato and egg tagine) is the best thing I've made in quite a while. The recipe, from Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco by Paula Wolfert, was as quick and easy as most of my standard meals, but produced something as good as or better than any Moroccan food I've had in a restaurant. Recipes, who knew?! (Feel free to point and laugh now.)

Ingredients:
Tomatoes, onion from Red Fire Farms, Granby, MA
Ground beef from Houde Family Farm, St. Johnsbury, VT
Eggs from Clover Path Garden, Acushnet, MA

Not Local:
Couscous, parsley and spices

 


School-yard epithets to the contrary, there is nothing derogatory about the word lard. Lard, along with saturated fat, has plenty of monounsaturated fat, vitamin D, and stearic acid (and while I don't happen to think there is anything wrong with saturated fats, no one can complain about those other components). Like beef and poultry, pork has diet-dependent Omega 3:6 ratios, so a well-fed pig will produce Omega 3-rich lard. Lard also has a low smoking point, making it an excellent cooking fat. Lard is simply not the demonic force it has been made out to be. In moderation (as with any food) lard supplies many essential nutrients. At least fresh, straight-from-the-pig lard — hydrogenated lard, found on your supermarket shelf and full of trans fats, is a different story.


Until fairly recently, fresh lard and other unprocessed animal fats were an important part of the human diet, sharing the fat stage with oils from olives, nuts and seeds. However, a series of technological and medical advances have given us a strange, fickle relationship with fats. To vastly oversimplify: First we figured out that we could improve the shelf life of fats by hydrogenating them. Then we all came to believe that animal fats were bad and got a big crush on olive oil. Now, we find that trans fats created by hydrogenating are not so hot. All this back and forth is one of the things that has led me to take up this rule of thumb: have humans eaten it for a couple thousand years or more? If so, I am pretty sure our bodies are equipped to handle it. If not, I think twice about making it a staple.


Where am I going with this? Fresh lard is an excellent, and healthy, cooking fat. And if you want fresh lard, you've pretty much got to render it yourself or pay $6 a lb at a fancy greenmarket stand. Guess which I thought would be more fun?


The process for rendering is simple enough: you simply heat the chopped fat slowly, letting it melt, and then strain out the fried solids. You can do it either over the stovetop or in the oven. The temperature will affect the taste, as will the type of fat. Leaf lard, the tender fat between the pig's organs, is best for pastries, while back fat is best for savory cooking. Lower temperatures are supposed to make for a milder-flavored lard. For my lard, I ordered a giant package of pork back fat from my meat CSA, and, after chopping it, put it in a roughly 300 degree oven for about 6 hours. I'm not sure it was entirely done at that point (Did I mention it takes forever?), as only about half the cracklins had sunk. but I needed the oven back. Lastly, since fresh lard needs to be frozen (or refrigerated for shorter periods), I poured the clear golden lard into muffin tins and canning jars to freeze, where it turned a beautiful clean white as it cooled and solidified.


Rendering lard also has the reputation of being very stinky. Very, very stinky. I didn't have that experience, but it being my first try, and having stopped it early, I honestly can't say whether it was a fluke or not. I was so sure that it would start stinking before all the lard was rendered that I later cooked and re-cooked the cracklins, giving them another 4 hours in the oven, fully expecting them to start stinking any minute. Near the end, I did experience a strange but mild nose-stinging sensation somewhat like when you cook a great deal of chilies. That could have just been from sticking my nose in the oven repeatedly. And I only got about a half cup of lard out of the second cooking, so maybe I was pretty close to done the first time around. Or maybe you just can't really render things in two stages. Next time, and there will definitely be a next time, I'll make sure I let it run its course.

 


Great food can make for great memories. A good appetite, a fresh breeze, and a beautiful view don't hurt. But add in friends and loved ones with a reason to celebrate, and then you have something magical. Extra points for champagne, a dance floor, and a DJ equipped with Freebird. As you may have guessed, I am talking about weddings, and the one we attended this weekend was a doozy.

Held in beautiful Vermont, featuring impeccably chosen food, music and flowers (of course, the bride and groom made their most excellent choice when they picked each other), and packed to the gills with some of our favorite people, I know it will be a meal, and a night, that I will remember for a long time. The afterparty, however, is already a little hazy, thanks to a gentleman by the name of Mr. Jack Daniels.


The day before the wedding, enjoying the fine weather and beautiful landscape, I took a bike ride around town and came back laden with shopping bags. Among my finds: a delicious local raw goats milk cheese, a peppered pâté, a mini baguette and a split of prosecco. Who could ask for a better picnic!

In addition to rolling green hills, fantastic cheeses and picturesque barns, Vermont is also home to Ben and Jerry's. At their factory in Waterbury they offer cones, cakes, tie-died tees and a fun little tour.

 

It's another seafood week at The Brave Potato: fresh local halibut and Connecticut Blue Point Oysters!


I threw together a quick soup with the halibut and all the vegetables hiding in the corners of the fridge: cabbage, green beans and leftover grilled corn. I started with a bit of pork fat heated in the pan, then I added the raw cabbage and water. When the cabbage was tender, I added the halibut and cooked vegetables. I let the soup simmer until the fish was cooked and the broth was flavorful. I tossed some parsley in near the end and salted it well. I was doubtful about the combination of ingredients to start, but it made a solid summer combo: fresh, mild and light. The touch of pork fat gave the broth a little richness, but mainly the soup took on the sweetness of the vegetables and the halibut. I only wish I had thought to put some saffron in.


And the oysters, the oysters! Even after sending a flake of shell into my eye while trying to pry one of them open (a professional shucker I am not!) they were absolutely delightful. The perfect way to add something decadent to an otherwise simple and frugal meal.

Ingredients:
Green beans from the Union Square Farmers Market
Cabbage and corn from Red Fire Farms, Granby, MA
Halibut from Massachusetts and Blue Point Oysters from Connecticut New Deal Fish Market in Cambridge, MA

 


More honeycomb? Yes, I admit it, I am enjoying a passing obsession. While this Cadbury Crunchie doesn't employ the best chocolate, and the edges of the honeycomb are disappointingly dense, it nails the chocolate-to-honeycomb ratio and provides a satisfying fix for those of us with honeycomb addictions.

 


One of my challenges as a cook is my love-hate relationship with recipes. I love reading, drooling over, and collecting them; I hate actually pulling them out and using them. Once I learn a technique, I rarely feel like working from a recipe variation of it, and in a weeknight dinner situation, I am much more likely to turn to a comfortable technique than broaden my horizons with a new recipe. Add to this the unpredictability of CSAs, which makes planning meals in advance a little more challenging, and you can see why so many of the meals I end up posting about sound so similar.

So today, my project was to survey, organize and refresh my recipe collection. I'm reviewing everything, then ditching books I never cook from and clippings I'll never use, and ordering a few new books that promise to provide challenges and inspiration in equal measure. Goodbye, boring Cooking Light 20-minute meals, broiled tilapia and chicken with soy marinade! I was raised on soy-marinated chicken and could cook it eight ways in my sleep - why did I clip those to begin with!? Auf Wiedersehen, musty Frugal Gourmet paperbacks that smell too strongly of used-book store mildew to even open!

I'm also thinking about setting up some challenges for myself to increase the number of recipes I try. Maintaining a blog is a great motivator when in comes to challenges, so of course you'll be seeing the fruits of this project here soon!

 

Two very similar local meals this week, both so good I couldn't choose between them: t-bone steak with summer tomato salad and spicy broiled veal heart with a purple-tinged salad.


A while ago I tried making beef heart with mixed success, and I am happy to report that this veal heart was a different experience entirely. Not only is the veal heart smaller and easier to handle to begin with, I followed the internet's advice and broiled the meat with a spice rub. (I was going to grill, but wouldn't you know? The middle of August and it's 55 and raining!) For the spice rub, I combined achiote paste, cumin, turmeric, garlic, chili and cayenne powders, and a splash of vinegar. The resulting flavor was milder than I expected, supplying just a little kick to the otherwise mellow heart. Broiling left the meat perfectly tender and smooth. I suspect that beef heart would be delicious and easy with this method as well. I also broiled some purple peppers and Greg made us a salad of red lettuce, white and purple carrots and peppers.


Steak and tomato salad isn't the most exciting meal, but it's one of my absolute favorites. There is nothing like a nice, juicy, perfectly browned steak with a side of tomatoes, still warm from the vine, tossed with cucumbers, basil and balsamic vinegar.

And no, I am not on a low-carb diet! We ate both of these with a side of Iggy's bread, which is locally made, if not locally grown, and delicious.

Ingredients:
Ciabatta from Iggy's Bread in Cambridge, MA
Tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, lettuce, peppers and carrots from Red Fire Farms, Granby, MA
Steak and veal heart from Houde Family Farm, St. Johnsbury, VT

 

A while ago I ran across Nigella Lawson's recipe for granola, which replaces oil with apple sauce. The next time I made granola, I tried this substitution, using a few apples chopped and cooked until soft rather than jarred sauce. I found that the cooked apples make the perfect adherent - they create large, crunchy clumps of oats, give the granola a subtle sweetness, and make unpleasantly oily oats a thing of the past.


Since then, this method has become my standard. I've also tried using nectarines instead of apples, which works great since they cook down so quickly. I imagine that any stone fruit would work equally well. I've found that three to four apples or nectarines make enough fruit sauce for about eight cups of oats. To that I add a half-cup to a cup of brown sugar, a few handfuls of flax, sunflower, pumpkin and/or sesame seeds, and a couple cups of nuts. After toasting this mixture in the oven at 250 degrees until it is golden-brown and crisp, I mix in dried fruits.

So far, my favorite combination is dried unsweetened cherries and pecans. Cashews, almonds, raisins and cranberries are other common additions. I often add cinnamon, nutmeg or other spices as well.

 

Three mysterious candy finds for your consideration:


Sen Sen, the nation's oldest breath freshener, immortalized as a sign of Trouble in River City in The Music Man, is still sold online and in a few little shops here and there. The mystery? How this acrid, licorice-tinged mint survives on the patronage of its tiny cult following.


Remember honeycomb candy? Here's another example, coated in chocolate. The mystery here is how they created the airspaces. Unlike traditional honeycomb, where the bubbles are created by baking soda and acid and form a random network of toffee, this piece appears to have had air machine-injected somehow. Still tasty, but the traditional kind has a much more satisfying crunch and chew.


Finally, these fascinating rice paper pockets filled with tiny sugar spheres. The bland pastel packets crunch under the teeth but dissolve on the tongue, loosing the chewy Dweeb-like candies inside. Odd, but surprisingly good, I have no idea what to call these rattling candies. Anyone have a clue?


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