February 29, 2012

Greens!

BIG GREEN


"The perfect vinaigrette is so easy to make that I see no reason whatsoever for bottled dressing." -- Julia Child.

It's the time of year I need such certainties. And color. Especially greens. Thanks to places like Future Farm and Dragsmith Farms, growers of organic lettuces and microgreens, in Wisconsin, I can have my local lettuce, and eat it too.

A pound of salad greens serves about 6 -- as much as a large head of Boston lettuce. They are so readily available, it's easy enough to buy them in bulk. Those closed prepackaged lettuces make me a little nervous. They may have spent several weeks out of the field -- in transit and back of a warehouse before they even get to the grocer's shelf and then to my crisper.

With good oil and nice vinegar a  really good salad dressing is so quick and easy to make. Keep in mind the proportions -- 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil. BTW, the same as a good martini. It's all about balance, right?

Basic Vinaigrette
Makes about 1/2 cup

Vary the ingredients, playing with different oils and vinegars or substitute lemon or lime or orange juice for the vinegar, taste and adjust. Add fresh herbs just before using for the best flavor. They will not keep long after they're mixed into the vinaigrette.

1 small shallot, chopped
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Pinch salt
Pinch sugar (or honey)
2 tablespoons vinegar (balsamic, champagne, red wine, apple cider, or lemon juice)
1/3 cup good cup good quality olive oil or sunflower oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Put all of the ingredients into a jar with a lid and shake like mad. Taste, adjust the seasonings, adding more vinegar. 

This will keep, covered, for up to 3 days. 




February 21, 2012

Alone with an Egg

ALONE WITH AN EGG

There are precious few nights when it's just me at the table, solo. Secretly, I covet those singular feasts in the silent sympathy of my sweet dog and the company of a good book. When I take my time and pay attention, the most ordinary foods taste surprisingly good. Like eggs. 

Last week, I was gifted a carton of eggs from a friend who raises those pretty Peruvian Ayacuna chickens profiled on kitchen posters. The eggs -- celadon green and pale gold -- are sunshine itself. Their yolks are brilliant orange, the whites, firm and springy. These eggs taste creamy, nutty, buttery and chickeny. They are perfect eggs.

Many years ago, when I was single and living in New York City, an older friend presented me with a well seasoned omelet pan. "If you are going to be independent, it won't do to live off frozen dinners or out of a can," he advised. "Learn to make a good omelet and eat well. Like the French women do. Don't forget to pour yourself a glass of good wine."

So, if you find yourself alone in the kitchen on a wintry night, here's what to do.

Winter Omelet
Makes 1 omelet

This recipe is easily doubled or tripled. Just combine all of the egg ingredients and ladle out about 1/2 cup of beaten eggs per omelet.

Along with the cheese feel free to toss in cooked vegetables, canned tomatoes, tinned sardines, chopped olives, whatever you choose. 

2 large eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs or 1/2 teaspoon dried (parsley, basil, rosemary, etc.)
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
2 to 3 tablespoons shredded cheese (Cheddar or Parmesan or whatever you have)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs with a pinch of salt or pepper, until the yolks and whites are combined but not foamy. Whisk in the herbs.

In an 8-inch heavy duty skillet set over medium-high heat, heat the butter and swirl to coat the pan. Pour the eggs into the pan and with a flexible spatula scramble the eggs gently, using small circular motions until soft curds start to form, about 30 seconds and spread them out in the pan. Allow the omelet to begin to firm. Scatter the cheese and any other ingredients you'd like over the omelet, leaving a scant margin around the omelet's edge. Use your spatula to press gently to incorporate the filling into the omelet.

With the spatula, fold one third of the omelet over the center. Lift the pan up and tilt it and, using the spatula to hold the omelet, turn the pan over so that the omelet flips over itself and slides onto the plate. 

And do pour yourself a nice glass of wine.

February 13, 2012

Oh Honey!

OH HONEY!

Oh honey. As morning's soft sunlight smooths February's raw early hours, open Valentine's honey, golden and innocent. Slather it over oatmeal, muffins, toast, your first word -- honor Pooh Bear and Piglet, and taste sweetness, all day long.

Honey Butter
Makes 1/4 cup

Wonderful on pancakes, muffins, cornbread, toast.

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch salt

Work together the butter, honey and cinnamon with a spoon until thoroughly combined, then add a pinch of salt to taste. Turn into a crock or shape into a ball. Cover with waxed or parchment paper and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Honey Mustard Basting Sauce
Makes 1 cup

Keep this handy to baste roast chicken, pork, root vegetables. 

1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
1/4 cup sunflower oil

Whisk all of the ingredients together. Baste meats and vegetables with this the last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking. 



February 10, 2012

Pizza 
from a February Kitchen

Thursday night. Temperatures dipping, wind howling, running late. February breaks your heart with harsh beauty. The morning's brilliant cardinal and then the full moon on a silver lake. On a freezing and hostile night, our hungers were ranging and I was out of time and the will to get to the store. Down to a few potatoes, a little salami, scraps of cheese, several great onions, good olive oil and some tired parsley, plus yeast, salt and flour, what could I make?   Pizza! 

As a cook, the only rule I cling to is that recipe rules were made to break. When it comes to pizza dough, forget the rising times and the endless kneading. No doubt you'll get a richer flavor and denser crust, but, such nuance doesn't matter for this carrier of cheese, vegetables, herbs and such. Here's the recipe for speedy, rich crust with suggestions for toppings. 

FEBRUARY PIZZA 
with Caramelized Onions, Roasted Potatoes,
and Parmesan Cheese

Crust
Makes 2 to 3 crusts

1/2 package dry active yeast (about 1/8 ounce)
3 cups white flour
2 teaspoons salt
5 tablespoons olive oil
12 to 16 ounces warm water

In a large bowl, stir together the yeast, flour, and salt. Stir in the oil and enough water to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead for about 1 to 2 minutes. Shape into a ball and set in a bowl greased with olive oil while you continue with the rest of the ingredients.

Caramelized Onions
It's ok to put onion slices on raw, but if you saute them first a little while, they'll provide a mellow, sweet base for the pizza.

2 onions, sliced thin
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch salt and pepper
pinch brown sugar

Heat the oil in a medium skillet and saute the onions over medium-high heat until they soften, and keep cooking and stirring occasionally until they begin to brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle in a little salt and pepper and a pinch of brown sugar.

Roasted Potatoes
Do this while the onions are cooking. It doesn't take long. Again, it's nice to have the potatoes a little crisped before topping the pizza.

1 large potato, scrubbed and sliced thin
1 teaspoon olive oil

Lay the potato slices out on a roasting pan and roast in a 400 degree oven (you'll want the oven preheated for the pizza anyway). Roast until the tops begin to turn a light caramel brown, about 15 minutes.

To Assemble the Pizza

Divide the dough in half. If you're only making one pizza, wrap the 2nd half and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. It's will develop mellow, sour dough flavors.

Roll out the dough and then lift it onto a lightly floured pan and stretch the dough to fit the pan.

Top the pizza with the Caramelized Onions, Roasted Potatoes, strips of salami or whatever cured meat you have, shredded cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and chopped parsley (or dried herbs are ok, too, but use a light hand).

Bake the pizza for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and the pie is throughly cooked through.

OTHER TOPPERS: Roasted squash, roasted garlic, chopped green or black olives, sliced kumquats (really interesting with sharp cheese), cooked chickpeas or white beans ...