22 March 2009

The Critical Beet Down; Also, an Ingredient Alert: Swallow Tail Farms

What winter vegetables are you tired of? For me it's beets. There are definitely some ingredients that are best left to the basics of preparation. For me, beets are best roasted. Maybe there's room for gussying them up with some fancy glaze, and borscht is good and makes one pee red, and there's the french classic of boiled beets with a mustard cream sauce, but it still all comes back to roasted beets for me.

But, of course, that hasn't kept us from trying other methods:

Recipe: Grated Beets with Shallot from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian.
Verdict: Almost good. The method of grating and then sautéing beets has a lot to recommend it if you are in a hurry. It's certainly fast, but it's also messy and I don't think it overly enhances the beet. If one is short on time, I recommend the pressure cooker instead, in which large beets, quartered, will take only 10 – 12 minutes.

Recipe: Beets prepared like hummus also from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian.
Verdict: Better than it looks—honestly!—but not something I ever need to make again.

Recipe: Curried beets with mushrooms; yet another offering from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian.
Verdict: Epic Fail!

Recipe: Beets with greens and chèvre, adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone.
Verdict: This was really good. We used the last of the beets we had from Freedom Farm with some baby greens grown in a poly tunnel in Dresden and some chèvre from Swallow Tail Farm in Whitefield (more on that further down).

  • 2 lbs. beets, scrubbed, quartered
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • baby greens
  • goat cheese
Cook the beets until tender (this takes only 10 minutes in a pressure cooker). Grind the garlic. with some salt into a paste. Whisk the oil into the garlic and lemon juice. Season the dressing with salt and pepper. Dress the beets with most of the dressing, reserving enough to dress the baby greens. Saladify.

Cornucopasetic Ingredient Alert: Any Cheese Made by Swallowtail Farms.

Before going mostly dairy free, I tried my share of goat milk cheeses. Here's an anecdote by way of example. As part of my job I get called out, on occasion, to oil tankers and other large vessels that call on Portland Harbor. As the U.S. Merchant Marine is seemingly moribund, many of these vessels are crewed by Greek officers. On one call, I got into a conversation with a Greek captain who insisted that Greece produced the finest goat cheeses available on the planet and, after pausing to have a brief fist fight with his Chief Engineer, he insisted that he would prove this statement true. What followed was a crazy four course lunch in the ship's galley with each course accompanied by a different array of goat milk cheeses straight from Greece. Sure, those cheeses were good. Really good, in fact. But Swallowtail Farms' cheese blows all of them out of the water (no pun intended).

You can pick up their cheese at the Brunswick Farmer's Market now and in the Bath Farmer's Market this summer.

Bonus Recipes
Wash greene Beetes cleane,
picke out the middle string,
and chop them small with two or three
well relisht ripe Apples. Season it
with Pepper, Salt, and Ginger: then
take a good handfull of Razins of the
Sunne, and put all in a Coffin of fine
Paste, with a piece of sweet Butter,
and so bake it: but before you serue it
in, cut it vp, and wring in the iuyce of
an Orenge, and Sugar.
Excerpted from John Murrell, A New Booke of Cookerie; London Cookerie (1615).

I like the usage of "Coffin of fine Paste." I think I shall bake some blueberries in a coffin of fine paste this summer. Too bad my paste making skills aren't up to snuff.

And how about this one, which actually sounds good:
To make Lumbardy tartes.

Take Beets, chop them small, and put to them grated bread and cheese, and mingle them wel in the chopping, take a few Corrans, and a dish of sweet Butter, & melt it then stir al these in the Butter, together with three yolks of Egs, Synamon, ginger, and sugar, and and make your Tart as large as you will, and fill it with the stuffe, bake it, and serue it in.
Excerpted from The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the Kitchin (1594, 1597).

09 March 2009

One of Those Nights; Also, Braised Cauliflower

Ever have one of those nights where nothing turns out right? Well I just did:

The roasted red carrots, parsnips and pears got left in the oven too long. The patties of lamb sausage got burned. The greens fresh from the poly-tunnel in Dresden were nice, but sadlty the dressing broke. The only thing noteworthy was the braised cauliflower, which I'd like to repeat as it could have benefited from better herbs. This was the second of two recipes I tried to commit to memory the other day while leafing through a copy of Alfred Portale's Simple Pleasures. The gist of it is that you sauté some diced onion, bay leaf, garlic and thyme, then add wine and diced tomatoes and reduce. Then braise the cauliflower in the that base plus a lot of chicken stock. Once the cauliflower is tender, it's removed and the sauce is reduced to a manageable amount before olives and fresh herbs are added. Yum.

05 March 2009

Ingredient Alert: Mainely Poultry's Awesome Avians

I haven't roasted a whole chicken in years, but the urge to do so came over me this week. My go to method has always been the one in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking as transmitted to me by my mum. That method has always yielded such good results that it did not seem worth exploring the matter further, but I've often wondered why is there such a fuss over the roasted chicken recipe in Judy Rodger's Zuni Cafe Cookbook?

I have to say up front, that I don't really care for Rodger's book, although I am grateful to her for turning me on to brining pork chops. That said, I just made the best roasted chicken of my life using her method where the bird sits salted for a few days and is then high roasted, untrussed without any additional fat. I'm placing the bulk of the success, however, on the shoulders of Mainely Poultry's amazing chicken. If you're not already treating yourself to their chicken, you can pick it up at the Portland and Brunswick winter farmer's markets or at Rosemont Market & Bakery.

Where else are people getting good local birds? Any recommendations? How about for duck? Is there a Mainely Duck?

The photo was a bit of an afterthought:

02 March 2009

Goodby Old Squash.

The last butternut squash of the year from Freedom Farm was an eight pound monstrosity that apparently no one else wanted. I gave the thing a home and have seemingly been eating it ever since. Part of it was roasted up with the chickpea cutlets below, part of it became baby food and the final vestiges of the thing were roasted and turned into this soup.

Kinda Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Adapted from Alfred Portale, Simple Pleasures (2004)

  • 2.5 pounds of roasted squash—Portale specifically says not to avoid butternut in favor of a kabocha or a pumpkin instead, but what the hell …
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 1.5 tsp. of fenugreek, toasted in a skillet, then ground in a mortar
  • 2-3 cloves, ground in a mortar
  • 1 Tbs. ginger, peeled and microplaned into a pulp
  • 1 clove garlic
  • About 3 Cu. of veggie stock
  • 1 crisp apple, peeled, cored, diced and left to sit in some lemony water
  • A handful of pepitas, toasted in a skillet
  • Chopped chives
The ingredients sort of speak for themselves here. Saute the onion and celery a bit, then add the spices and saute a little further. Add the squash and enough stock to make soup. Simmer it for a while and then go at it with an immersion blender until it is smooth. Garnish with the apples, pepitas and chives.

I just glanced at this recipe, noted the basic ingredients and then made the soup later when the recipe was no longer available to me. I think the amounts might need a bit of tinkering with, but the flavors are a good mix. I see now that adding diced fresh apples as a garnish to squash soup is old hat, but it's new to me. In any event the apples make the whole thing work and the pepitas add a needed crunch to the squash. Also, he might be right about ditching the butternut for a less sweet squash.

With the baby food in the freezer, this monster squash may be with us until summer!

Local Blogwatch

Hey, Portland Food Map, check out Anna Hewitt's new blog (still shiny new).