May 6, 2015

Why I love cookbooks

Deborah Madison
Literary Treasure, Culinary Luminary

There are people who see cookbooks as instructional guides, manuals to making a descent meal. And there are those of us who love to read cookbooks. As a teenager I discovered Joy of Cooking on my mom's crammed cookbook shelf, started to thumb through the pages and was hooked. I'd tuck it into my book bag to read like a novel when I should have been studying and later, in college, when I felt lost or homesick, I turned to cookbooks for they both sooth and entertain. Beneath a cookbook's lists of instructions and steps to follow lie tales as rich and deep as any to be found in fiction. They are forays into families' homes and glimpses into far off lands redolent with garlic and rosemary, saffron and cardamom. Recipes are stories with happy endings, of being sated and cared for in a way that feels gentle. I'll even suggest that the intentions of a cookbook author are the same as those of a novelist, to use both creativity and format to transmit an experience to the reader.

Last night Deborah Madison spoke at a gathering for the University of Minnesota's Library Foundation and celebrated the Kirschner Collection of cookbooks. She told of how cookbooks guided and informed her on a lifelong journey as chef, cooking teacher, gardener and writer. Drawing deeply from the volumes written before her, Deborah saw how to lift up vegetarian cooking to satisfy even the most stubborn omnivore. Through cookbooks, she realized she could make meatless meals taste good, by recreating a classic meat ragout into one with meaty-tasting mushrooms. The illustrations and photos in classic cookbooks helped her create gorgeous meals of beautiful plates for her ground-breaking restaurant in San Francisco, Greens. Later, she relied on cooking and gardening books to transition into the different phases of her very successful career.

Through reading and using cookbooks, Deborah found her voice -- warm and inviting, confident, inspiring. Deborah's books invited you into the kitchen, into the garden, as you stand at her side learning to make a lovely stir-fry or hearty soup, while you hear stories of her remarkable life. 

So. whenever I'm feeling lonely or flat, I turn to cookbooks, especially Deborah's. Her recent work, Vegetable Literacy is a masterpiece as well as a very dear good friend

May 5, 2015

Spring Love & Radishes

Radish Butter
Photo by Mette Nielsen 

Perky red, peppery, crunchy and utterly delectable, radishes add spice and snap to spring meals.
It's early yet, but with the warming weather, we should soon see those pretty French Breakfast radishes with white tips as well as the big, marble-like bulbs. Members of the mustard family, radishes grow quickly from seed, about 4 to 6 weeks. So plant them now. 

The best way to eat radishes? Sliced thin and layered on top of pumpernickel smeared thickly with cultured butter and finished with a sprinkle of coarse salt. Ignore suggests of cooking radishes, they turn limp and loose their crisp, spicy bite with heat.

Radish butter makes a fabulous spread for crostini and sandwiches and a pretty addition to the bread plate. Make it ahead, it will keep, covered in the fridge about a week. Let it soften a little before serving.

Radish Butter
Makes about 3/4 cup

1 stick unsalted cultured butter, softened
1/2 cup finely chopped radishes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a small bowl, work all of the ingredients together. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator about a week. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.

April 10, 2015

SPRING ! Scrambling to keep it light!

photo by Mette Nielsen

It's THAT time of year. The season of in betweens. What to wear?  What to eat?  I'm weary of dark grays and black and wool, yet not quite ready to shuck my coat (or reveal my winter pale, puffy arms and legs).  If radish were a color, I'd be wearing it now. There's not much green in our gardens, so but thanks to our innovative growers, I can still eat fresh greens and crunchy radishes and salad turnips, all fine in the pan as I scramble to lighten up.

It wasn't until I started working with Birchwood's recipes, that I began to appreciate tofu. In Chef Marshall Paulsen's capable hands, everything tastes good. But the guy's a tofu guru. See how Mette's gorgeous photo captures the color and energy on this beautiful plate. Just be sure to marinate the tofu, then it's a quick one-two into the pan. Toss in a few beauty heart radishes, some kale and scallions. Good to go.

Tofu Scramble
Serves 4 to 6

This is such a simple marinade that I make it in batches to use in scrambles, sandwiches and grilled tofu. Use extra firm tofu and be sure to press and drain it first.

1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed and seeded
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup rice bran oil
2 teaspoons salt

Put all of the ingredients into a blender and puree.

Drain & Press Tofu
Place the blocks of tofu in a perforated pan and set into a larger pan and put a sheet or pan over the tofu and weight it down with a heavy pot. Place in the refrigerator to drain for at least 6 and up to 24 hours before marinating.

To make the scramble, simple drain the tofu from the marinade and cut into cubes. Lightly film a pan with rice bran or sunflower oil and set over medium-high heat. Toss in the tofu, kale (or any green you choose) and cook until the tofu is heated through and the greens are wilted, about 5 minutes. Then serve with diced beauty heart or any crunchy radish you choose. 

March 29, 2015

First Local Food of Spring - How Sweet !!

Maple Syrup!

Maple sugaring is our sweet farewell to winter. Crews of friends head into the woods to tap maple and birch and boil the sap to thick liquid gold. It's all-consuming work that requires hours of standing and stirring over open kettles, faces flushed with the steam, sipping maple coffee, maple hot toddies, and tossing syrup on snow for crackling candy. Syrup is the first real harvest of the season that can see us through the year.  

Nothing compares to the slightly smokey flavor of real maple syrup boiled over an open fire. In these two simple recipes, the flavor shines.

Maple Mustard Vinaigrette
Makes 1-1/2 cup (easily doubled)

I keep big jars of this on hand for salads (especially wild rice salad), to baste roast chicken, or drizzle over pork chops as they come off the grill. 

1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 shallots, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon coarse mustard
1/2 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup vegetable oil

Put all of the ingredients into a blender, except the vegetable oil and process. Gradually add the oil in a slow steady stream.

Maple Frango
Serves 6 to 8

It's really important to use great maple syrup in this very simple old fashioned dessert.

1 cup maple syrup
4 eggs, separated
2 cups heavy cream

In a medium sized saucepan, warm the syrup, then whisk in the egg yolks one at a time. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, over low heat, stirring constantly until thickened (it will lightly coat the back of a spoon). Remove and allow to cool.

Beat the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. Whip the cream. Fold both the egg whites and cream into the maple mixture; don't overmix -- there should be streaks.  Pour this into individual glasses or into an 8 x 8-inch pan. Put into the freezer to chill until very firm but not frozen and cut into squares to serve. (You can make this ahead, freeze, then remove from the freezer to soften before cutting and serving).

March 16, 2015

Spirited Corned Beef!


St. Patricks Day, the favorite dish is corned beef, cabbage and potatoes. And while, it's not a traditional feast dish in Ireland, it is tender and delicious and about the easiest cut to cook, perfect for a crowd. The only trick is to cook it long enough on a low simmer with plenty of pickling spices and a bottle of beer -- a good stout (Guinness or a Harp Larger works well).  Once the beef is cooked, remove it and drain off most of the liquid, then remove the meat and glaze it with a little honey and mustard before serving it up. Add sliced potatoes and carrots in the pot to steam in the leftover cooking juices. Slice and serve the meat on top with lots of soda bread and plenty of beer.


Corned Beef Dinner
Serves about 8

2-1/2  pounds corned beef brisket
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon peppercorns
3 to 5 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cardamom pods
1 bottle beer
10 to 12 cloves garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1 small head green cabbage, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 leek, white part only, sliced into coins
2 carrots sliced into coins
1 parsnip cut into coins

Put the brisket, cinnamon, peppercorns, cloves bay leaves, mustard seeds, cardamom, beer and garlic cloves into a large pot and add enough water to cover by about 3 inches. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer, partially cover, and cook for about 3 to 4 hours or until the meat is very tender.
Remove the meat and set on a baking dish. Rub the mustard and honey over the top of the meat. Bake in in a preheated 350 degree oven about 7 to 10 minutes, or until the meat is nicely glazed.

Drain off all but about 10 inches of the cooking liquid from the pot. Add the cabbage, leak, carrots and parsnip and return to the heat. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 5 minutes.

Slice the meat thin and serve on top of the vegetables.