Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Classic Carrot or "What's up Doc?" moment at the market

Sometimes I find myself inspired by the smallest things… finding an obscure ingredient sends me on a frenzy of recipe searches, seeing some old, obviously ethnic looking lady, pick through a pile of ordinary food stuffs to find a perfect one, makes me want to imitate her wisdom and knowledge when it comes to ingredient picking…  

This time it was simply colors, the way the light hit the vegetable stand, elevating the most ordinary roots to the picture perfect palate of colors…  There were carrots of all shapes and sizes from strange looking purple to pale whites, which looked more like parsley roots.  I really liked to little round orange ones, I think they match my hair the best.

Carrots are the simplest of things.  We don’t give them much thought, too plain to be part of gastronomic greatness.  I recently read an article that said that carrots are not good for bunnies as they are too high in sugar, go figure as it has been a staple of human diet plans since the day of the flood.   Will carrots be exiled to the land of baby food and Bugs Bunnies forever?
Carrots we eat today have very little to do with the wild carrot plant that is estimated to be 10000 years old.  Edible carrot roots originated in the Middle East and were mostly harvested for the medicinal purposes found in the seeds.  And they were not orange… purple mostly, maybe on occasional pale yellow or white… but definitely not the distinctively carrot color we know today.  The orange carrot was cultivated in Europe long after the carrot has spread around the world. And apparently there are many different types of carrots, distinguished not just by their color but by shape and even taste.  Some are sweeter and tenderer than other, some are pleasantly bitter, some stand up to the cooking and some fall apart at the slightest application of heat.  And they are all delicious, and if you are not a rabbit, they are good for you as well.
The most sold vegetable in the United States (are you ready?) is FROZEN medley of peas and carrots.  And if I can sort of understand the frozen peas thing (they are only available for a short period of time in most places and you do have to (Oh, my God!) shell them by hand), I can never understand using the mushy frozen carrots…   The look, texture, smell and the whole experience would send me straight to 1950s and it’s the frozen TV dinner horror (which they still sell because apparently someone is buying this stuff!). 

Since I couldn’t resist buying all color carrots at the market, and had to figure out what to do with them quickly, I had the "What's up Doc?" moment. You know the one where the Bugs Bunny has a revelation in the cartoon?...ok, never mind... 
I decided to change up a retro recipe to contradict everything that we would expect from vintage peas and carrots side dish.  I wanted to elevate the sweetness of the carrot itself, the grassiness of the carrot tops and I just wanted to give this classic a new life.
Caramelized maple carrots with fresh peas.
10 carrots all sizes, colors and shapes ( You should cut the bigger ones and leave the thinner smaller ones whole, the idea is to have them almost the same size so that they cook pretty evenly)
2 cups of fresh shelled peas blanched for 7-10 seconds in salted water and cooled in an ice bath.
A generous handful of carrot top greens blanched and cooled in an ice bath.  You can do it together with the peas.
1 tbs of chopped parsley
1/2 tbs of chopped mint
3 tbs brown sugar
3 tbs maple syrup (Grade B is nice here it has deeper flavor)
3 tbs of butter
1 tsp of sale de gris or another crunchy coarse salt

Rinse and peel the carrots.  Preheat a heavy bottom skillet to medium heat.  Add the brown sugar, maple syrup and 1 tbs of butter.  Stir to combine and cook undisturbed until a thin caramel begins to form.  Add your carrots and toss them in the caramel.  Add ½ of the salt.  Cook a few minutes, adding the rest of the butter, until the carrots just begin to soften, but are still very crunchy and caramel starts to thicken up.  Turn off the heat and let the carrots cool slightly.
Chop the carrot top greens, parsley and mint.  Combine the caramelized carrots, peas and herbs and toss to combine.  Finish with the rest of the coarse salt.  Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The battle of the sandwiches

This has been going on for some time now.  My husband has declared himself the “King of the sandwich” and it has been annoying the hell out of me.  I love to eat sandwiches, but rarely make them.  I have to consider such things as condiments, ratio of components to bread and to each other, homemade bread vs store bought.  Then I have to consider construction, like a good architect, I have to make sure the mighty sandwich does not fall apart when cut or at first bite.  All these thoughts and considerations sway me from making this essential fast food.  But my household loves them, craves them and the chore falls to the “Sandwich king” – the self-proclaimed master of fast food.  He considers none of the above things, throws whatever he can find on whatever bread related product he can find, uses processed ingredients (agrr..) and his sandwiches come out great. 

It is rumored that the sandwich was invented in England, sometime in mid-1700’s, by John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich.  It is said that during long gambling sessions, he would ask the servants to bring him slices of meat between two pieces of bread.  It was a filling and convenient snack to eat with one hand while playing cards with the other.  It has been quite a journey for a sandwich since… think how far we’ve come from simple slices of meat to fancy lobster rolls, three, four or even five decker clubs with rare delicacies of pates or fancy cured meats.   We have the messy cheese melts, kebabs wrapped in pita, and soft Asian buns stuffed with whatever one can think of putting on a baked vessel.  There are vegetarian sandwiches, lettuce wraps instead of bread for the figure conscious, assortment of flatbreads and condiments galore.  Just browse the mustard section of your neighborhood supermarket and be amazed at how many ways you can spice up this simple food, meant to be eaten on the go with one hand.

All my attempts to dethrone the “Sandwich king” have been weak, I am convinced that I am being judged unfairly by the most bias of all judges… our kids.   After all, they have been eating my husband’s sandwiches for a long time and developed a certain loyalty to them.  He also puts bacon on everything, which I say is cheating.  But I am not giving up, the idea is to use whatever is the fridge already and turn it into greatness. 

 This particular attempt is a leftover steak and fried egg sandwich on whole grain toast with micro greens, tomatoes and a wonderful smoky and spicy sauce that can make any sandwich great. 

I do apologize for the pictures, I know they are not the best quality.

This one was a tie… this is what the “King” made, making me cringe and delighting my children.  His took 3 minutes to make, dirtied up one ramekin and he used one paper plate.  I on the other hand, broke out the skillet, a food processor for the sauce and spent a good 15 minutes on mine… all of which I endured sarcastic looks and  contempt like sounds from the “King”.

Frozen waffles with egg, cheese and bacon… mind you the egg and the bacon were cooked in the microwave.  I do not even trust a toaster to make my toast; I use the skillet as I consider the old-fashioned way makes a better toast.

After the dust settled, we decided to join forces and post our small contributions to all the sandwich makers out there…

My contribution is a
Smoked pepper and horseradish sandwich sauce.
This by the way is great as a veggie dip as well.
Makes about a cup.  This sauce keeps well in the fridge for about 10 days.

1.2 cup of roasted peppers
1.4 cup of mayo (use the Japanese kind if you got it)
1.4 cup of Greek yogurt or sour cream
1 tbs of horseradish ( if using freshly grated, start with ½ tbs and add to taste)
1 tsp of smoked paprika
A generous squeeze of lemon juice
Salt to taste

Combine all the ingredients in the food processor and pulse until smooth.

The “King’s” contribution is the best, fastest and absolutely mess free way of making delicious, crunchy bacon and soft, cheesy eggs.

If you want this to be absolutely mess free, use a paper plate. And if you are really looking to live “green” use recycled paper products.

Line a paper plate with 3 sheets of paper towels, lay out your bacon strips on top in a single layer, cover with 3 more paper towels and repeat the layering if more bacon is needed.  Top the final layer with 3 more paper towels. Microwave on high for 30 seconds multiplied by the number of strips of bacon.  For example if you are cooking 4 strips the zap time should be 2 minutes.  Check the bacon after the allotted time… if more crispiness is desired microwave in additional 30 second intervals.

For the cheesy egg, combine one beaten egg and 1 tbs of grated cheese of any kind in a microwave safe ramekin and zap for 30 seconds….

I think he should consider teaching a college “Fast food at home” to every hungry college students or to every hungry and lazy teenager…
The battle of the sandwiches is not over, I believe that in the end, complexity of flavors, taste and “gourmand” will prevail… more to come.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Spring Peas in a Snap

It has been a tough few weeks, and posting on the blog couldn’t have been further away from my mind.  Now after a few days rest and reflection my desire to live in the moment is renewed.  What better day to catch the fleeting life’s moments than to take advantage of young seasonal produce.  There are things at the farmer’s market that just cream “June” to me… the beautiful local strawberries and blueberries, the rhubarb, the spring onions… So fragile, so fragrant, I love these first young promises of more fresh stuff to come.  But nothing excites me more that the young snap peas.  I love everything about them, the look of slightly wrinkled skins just beginning to dry out.  The popping sound they make when shelled, the sweetness and the freshness, which elevates any spring dish.  Shelling peas is one of my greatest joys in life, I find it not only immensely satisfying but also therapeutic…  It was a favorite childhood chore, I always hoped my mom would get a ton of theses, so I can shell for hours…  I used to make up little stores about the peas in the pod… Imagine them as little families, fat ones were the parents and little ones were the kids.  I felt a little sorry for these pea families, making them homeless, forcing them out of their pods.  I pretended that they screamed “Nooo..!” as their little shell home snapped open….
I had a very vivid imagination….  So when I come upon these in the market I buy a lot… enough to keep me shelling for a long time ( Provided, my daughter does not steal half, she loves shelling peas too… must be genetics thing).  Shelled peas don’t keep very well, so I wanted to come up with as many fresh, very spring dishes as I could.  Here are a few ideas … or you can always eat them raw, they are sweet and fresh and pop in your mouths, think of them as nature’s M&Ms.
Pea Pesto and Grilled vegetables napoleons.  These look as good as they taste.
1 large Zucchini
1 large yellow squash
4 bell peppers ( yellow and Red)
2 tbs of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For the pea pesto
1.5 cups of freshly shelled peas
 4 -5 leaves  of fresh basil
A small handful of fresh parsley
4 mint leaves
1 large garlic clove
Zest of half a lemon
1.2 cup of shredded Peccorino cheese
1.2 to 1 cup of olive oil (amount of oil depends on how thin you want your pesto.  I like mine thick with a lot of texture, so I use a little more than ½ a cup
Salt and Pepper to taste.
Drizzle the grilling vegetables with olive oil, season with salt and pepper.  Grill on medium heat until vegetables are tender but not mushy and you get nice grill marks on them.  Set aside and let cool.
Blanch the peas by cooking them in boiling salted water for no longer than 10 seconds and immediately shocking them with ice water.  This preserves the color, texture and the freshness just taking away the ‘raw’ taste.
Make the pesto by combining ½ the peas and all other ingredients in the food processor.  Pulse until smooth adjusting the amount of oil and seasoning.  When you get the consistency you like, add the rest of the peas and pulse a few times shortly, so that some of the peas are left whole or are just barely broken up.  This gives the pea pesto a very nice rustic texture.
Cut the vegetables in even shapes so they can be stacked together.  Alternate the layers based on color, spreading each layer with pea pesto as you stack.  Top with more pesto.  Take a picture… these are gorgeous.

Peas, Mushroom and Melted leaks tart
1 sheet of frozen puff-pastry (defrosted in the fridge overnight)
1 egg
3 cups of white, button mushrooms
1 large or 2 small shallots minced
1 large leak – white part only, chopped and rinsed of grit.
1 cup shelled peas
3 oz of butter
2 tbs of olive oil
1tsp Herbs de province
2 tbs of freshly shaved parmesan cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400F.  Poke the puff pastry all over with a fork, beat the egg and egg-wash the pastry sheet well.  Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown but not too dark around the edges.  If the pastry puffs up to mush, don’t worry about it, you can always “deflate” it with a few fork pokes before you top it with the vegies.
Make the topping.  Heat the olive oil and 1 oz of butter in a large skillet.  Add the mushrooms and brown them on medium-high heat until they get a nice color.  Reduce the heat to low and add the shallot.  Cook until the shallot has softened up and begins to caramelize.  Keeping the heat low, add the remaining 2 tbs of butter and the leaks.  Add the herbs, salt and pepper and cook on low heat for 15- 20 minutes stirring often until the leaks are very soft and begin to melt into the butter.  Turn off the heat, stir in the fresh peas. 
Top the pre-baked pastry with the vegetables mixture.  Bake for 5-7 minutes, until the edges of the pastry become deep golden.  Top with shaved parmesan and serve warm or at room temperature.
Spring beets and goat cheese salad with Rhubarb vinaigrette.
For the salad.
4 medium size beets any color.  I like the yellow beets in this dish.
1 tbs olive oil
3 cups arugula
¾ cup of freshly shelled peas
¼ cup sliced almonds
2 oz of mild goat cheese
For the vinaigrette.
2 large rhubarb stalks cleaned and chopped
1.2 cup of sugar
1.2 cups of water
Juice of half the lemon
¾ cup of sunflower oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Make the vinaigrette.  Cover the rhubarb with water and sugar and simmer until the rhubarb begins falling apart and the liquid is slightly reduced.  Strain the liquid and let it cool.
Whisk the 3 tbs of the rhubarb liquid (reserve the rest for later use), lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Whisk in the oil.
Make the salad.  Preheat the oven to 425F.  Rub the beets with olive oil and bake them for 20 – 25 minutes or until they just begin to soften and can be pierced with a fork.   Set aside and let them cool.  When fully cooled, peel of the tough outside skin and slice very thinly, preferably on a mandolin.
Blanch the peas by cooking them in boiling salted water for no longer than 10 seconds and immediately shocking them with ice water. 
Combine arugula, peas, beets and almonds.  Dress with the rhubarb vinaigrette.  Arrange on plate and top with crumbled goat cheese.  I also like to add a bit of finishing salt (such as Fleur de gris ) on top.
Spring is a new beginning not just for nature but it can be one for us all.  Take a moment to enjoy little things, after all your state of mind is at the snap of your fingers, or at the snap of a pea-pod.