Friday, June 22, 2012

Grilled Squid with Garlic and Dill Potatoes and a Spring Sorrel Salad

Have you ever tried fresh sorrel? It’s the green ingredient in Eastern European Sorrel soups and that’s the only way I’ve ever eaten it. But with the scorching weather NY has been experiencing I’m craving fresh food and wanted to see how this green would hold up in a salad. Sorrel has a very strong lemony flavor, so I worried that it would overpower a salad. That was until I spotted tiny sweet strawberries and plump blueberries. Then it occurred to me. A sorrel salad accentuated with berries and dressed with a honey balsamic dressing and crumbles of goat cheese. Just chop the greens, add the berries and dress with honey, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a dash of sea salt mixed in a small bowl. To this add some crumbled goat cheese and you’ve got yourself a delicious and super nutritious salad. The dressing and the berries definitely cut the strong lemony flavor of the sorrel and the combo worked very well together.

To complement the dish I added some baby Yukon potatoes with garlic and dill. The potatoes are steamed until tender and then crisped up with butter on a cast iron pan. While the potatoes steamed, I prepped some minced garlic and chopped dill both of which I added to some softened butter and seasoned with sea salt. Once the potatoes finish cooking I place them into a bowl, cover with the herbed butter and mix. If you’ve never had potatoes in this, please do try them; they’re indescribably good.

I thought this light dish would work well with seafood. Walking past the fish monger I spotted the squid and visualized their grilled bodies, complementing the freshness of the sorrel and the berries. I rinsed the squid and dried it of moisture. In a bowl I mixed some olive oil, finely minced garlic, lemon juice and salt into a dish and allowed squid to marinate while making the salad. I heated the cast iron grill pan over medium-high heat, placed the squid on to char a few minute per side, sprinkling with a bit of sea salt and pepper, and transferred to a warm plate until all the bodies and tentacles have been cooked. If you want a squid that’s a bit juicier, dress it with a little drizzle of olive oil, a dash of salt, and a sprinkle of fresh parsley – that’s my preferred way.

I served the dish with little lemon wedges that could be used on both the squid and the salad.

Light, flavorful, and just the right thing for a humid 100 degree day! How are you battling the heat and what are your innovative ways to use sorrel, squash blossoms and other spring and early summer treasures?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A quick and easy dinner

My son and I were both craving burgers. The benefit of buying meat in a share is that we always have ground beef in the freezer. The meat is packaged and frozen in little one pound packages which makes it super easy to defrost under a bit of water.

Since I’m watching my gluten, I tend to eat my burgers over a salad and other veggie sides. Over time, my husband has mostly followed my lead as well. However, our son still prefers to have his burger in a bun, but not just any bun, for a perfect burger he prefers a fresh brioche.

I placed my trusty cast iron pan into the oven and allowed it to warm to 300 degrees. While the oven warmed and the meat defrosted under a slow stream of water, I whipped up a crunchy green salad. I had two Kirby cucumbers, a few handfuls of snow peas, and a bunch of arugula. I chopped all the veggies into large chunks and dressed them with a dressing of very well crushed and chopped garlic with some sea salt, e. v. olive oil and the juice of a small lemon. To this I added some crumbled goat cheese and tossed to distribute. Always save a bit of goat cheese to crumble on top of the salad before serving, just for the presentation.

My husband requested some broccoli as a side dish, so I prepped a streamer basket in a small pan, cut the broccoli crown lengthwise into quarters and steamed it for just a few minutes until the broccoli is a deep emerald color. Really fresh broccoli is sweet, requiring very little to taste good, so for this dinner I left it plain.

To make the burger patties I add a dash of smoked sea salt, a dash of smoked spices, a dash of garlic powder and a tablespoon of coconut oil to the defrosted ground meat and mixed. Once well combined, I shape the meat into patties, thinning out the middle and leaving the edges a bit thicker, this allows for more even cooking of the meat.

Once hot, the cast iron goes onto a medium flame and coated with a swirl of coconut oil. The burger patties are placed on the hot pan and allowed to brown, first on one side and then the other. The patties brown for about 2 minutes per side and then finish in the hot oven. Since our beef is 100% grass-fed and very lean, I prefer to cook it slow and moderately low. This allows the meat to stay juicy and tasty. Shortly before removing from the oven I topped the patties with a mix of cheeses and placed back into the oven to melt.

This was totally spot on for our burger craving, but we weren’t left feeling heavy and greasy; a quick, delicious and nutritious dinner. What’s your favorite burger dinner?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Slow and Low Roasted Fresh Ham, with Garlic Goat Cheese and Parmesan topped Avocado Squash and Classic Bruschetta

The farmers market is a rainbow of gorgeous produce. From beautiful tomatoes of all sizes, to summer squashes of various shapes and colors, then vibrant greens that range from the sweetest to the most bitter of taste. It's a haven for a lover of real food like me. I grabbed too many tomatoes (my boys don't believe there ever could ever be too many tomatoes), bunches of basil that always goes so well with everything this time of year, and bags of different squash. One variety of squash looks just like an avocado and it's actually called avocado squash because of its similarity to that delectable fruit.

I ran home from the market so that I would have plenty of time to roast a fresh ham I marinated the day before. I've already mentioned in the past that I'm not a fan of conventional cuts of pork, preferring the odds and ends that others discard. But, we have half a sow to work through and my husband loves pork, so prepare it I must. I decided to cook it the same way I prepared the meat for my "famous" pork tacos (ask me about them if you want to know more). For cuts of meat that I consider tough, I like to roast them slow and low. In this case, I preheated the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and placed the marinated roast onto a foil and parchment lined baking sheet (for supper easy cleanup). I let the roast come to room temperature while the oven warms. Then I slide the roast into the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 300 degrees F. The roast cooks in this way for an hour and a half. At this point I needed to run out to pick up my son from school, so I turned the oven off, figuring it will stay relatively warm for the hour or so that I'll be out. Upon my return home, I turned the oven back on to 275 degrees F and continued to let it roast for another two and a half hour. At this point, I removed the baking sheet from the oven and tented the roast with foil until dinner time.

The smell coming from the kitchen was incredible, but reminiscent of a cold winter day. Considering it's the middle of June, I knew the sides I chose to make had to be fresh and summery. This was the perfect opportunity to try the Avocado Squash. I raised the oven temperature to 375 and cut the squash into quarter inch slices. Layering the slices onto another baking sheet, I drizzled some nutty toned e.v. olive oil over the slices, topped them with a sprinkle of sea salt and slid them into the hot oven.

For color and freshness I decided to throw together a quick bruschetta. So while the squash slices baked I cut up cherry tomatoes, crushed and chopped a few cloves of fresh garlic, chopped up some basil and dressed the salad with some e.v. olive oil, a dash of salt and a squirt of balsamic vinegar. Toss the whole lot and let it rest until dinner.

I checked on the squash and it was just tender, so I took it out of the oven. Tasting a slice, I loved the firm yet creamy texture that was very reminiscent of an avocado, but something was missing. Digging through the fridge, I came upon a garlic and rosemary goat cheese log and a block of parmesan. This was the missing “something”. So I crumbled the goat cheese onto the squash slices, then sprinkled them with freshly grated parmesan cheese and placed them back in the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheeses. A few minutes later, I sampled a slice again and it was a heavenly bite that I knew perfectly complemented the pork.

The pork released quite a bit of fatty deliciousness during the cooking and resting period. So as I sliced the pork, I placed each slice into the juice prior to plating. This provided added succulence and flavor to an already tender and delicious meat.

Now we’re thinking about the leftovers. Since we don’t often have or eat leftovers, and rarely do sandwiches, I’m thinking of a warm plate of pork slices surrounded by fresh greens and quick pickled veggies. What do you think?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Demand to know what you're eating

We all have a basic right to know what is in our food and how it is produced. Food labeling laws exist in nearly 50 countries, providing essential information about the food consumed. It is agreed globally that genetically engineered foods are different from traditional crops and long-term health effects of consuming GM containing ingredients are not known. The citizens of California worked tirelessly to ensure that this issue will be on the ballot in November. The support of voters is currently high, and this is why corporate front groups are spending millions to ensure this ballot measure does not pass. Educate yourself and those you know on the issue and demand to know what is in your food.

An excellent explanation of why it is so vitally important for California to vote for GMO Food Labeling can be found at the Vital Choice website. To see the heavy hitters who are working to ensure you disregard this very important issue, read Meet the Corporate Front Groups Fighting to Make Sure You Can't Know What's in Your Food. This is an issue for you even if you live in another state or outside of the United States and believe this doesn’t affect you. The reason is that the state of “California has the eighth largest economy in the world” and as a result can impact national and global marketing and production decisions similarly to a federal regulation. Producers will feel the burden of exposure and hopefully pressure the industry to refrain from planting and using GMO crops. If nothing else, everyone deserves to know what is going into their bodies and to make the choices appropriate for themselves and their families.

It’s an issue that cannot be ignored and I encourage you to read both articles. Additionally, I encourage you to choose Real Food. If it doesn’t come in a package then there’s no label to read. If it comes from a small family grower who attempts to grow heirloom produce then it’s unlikely to be an adulterated version of its former self. Enjoy fresh, quality food and encourage others to do the same. At the same time, demand to know what you are purchasing and eating.

You can get even more information on the Label GMOs website.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Maple and Thyme Infused Pork Chops with a Hemp Seed and Coconut Oil Pesto on Heirloom Tomatoes and Green Summer Salad

What’s better than fresh, succulent heirloom tomatoes with basil? So when I prepared to make this evening’s pork chops and spotted boxes of colorful tomatoes and huge bunches of fresh basil at the market, it wasn’t difficult to decide what the accompaniment would be. Tie this all together with a green salad and the colorful meal became pleasant to the eye as well as the taste buds.

Pork is a meat we don’t eat as frequently as beef, and when we do I take special steps to prep it. Even though we purchase all our meat right off the farm and know the health and methods of care of each animal we eat, I still take special precautions when it comes to pork due to the effect it has on our blood. If you’re interested in hearing more about this topic just drop a comment and I’ll write a post about this.

Now back to our meal. Last night, I placed the pork chops into a brine solution of apple cider vinegar, grade B maple syrup, sea salt, fresh thyme and water. I like pork to marinate for at least 12 but preferably 24 hours; not only for health reasons but also to infuse it with flavor.

Today, prior to preparing the rest of the meal, I removed the pork chops from the brine and placed them on a paper towel lined plate to dry and come to room temperature. I also set the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and set my cast iron grill pan in the oven to warm up.

While the pork chops rested and the oven and pan warmed up, I started on the pesto. My ingredient choices for the pesto were both decided based on health reasons as well as what I had in the kitchen to work with. Before I started prepping I realized that my olive oil supply was down to a few tablespoons, and I really needed it for the pork. Always having a good supply of coconut oil in the pantry I decided to give it a shot and see how it holds up to the other ingredients. So into the blender I layered two handfuls of basil leaves, a handful of fresh kale leaves, about a half a cup of coconut oil, six cloves of young green garlic (which is a bit milder than when it is mature and dry) and a handful of freshly ground parmesan cheese. I blend this mixture until it’s just shy of the consistency that I like, add about a third of a cup of hemp seeds, a few pinches of sea salt and blend again until almost smooth. We like our pesto to have a bit of texture; if you like yours smooth just blend a little longer. Pour the pesto into a ramekin, pop in a spoon and remember to taste with a variety of veggies to savor the delightfully dancing flavors. I must say that the coconut oil worked really well with the hemp seeds, complementing each other in texture and flavor.

Now on to the green salad. The first of the season cucumber looked perfect at my favorite market stall, so I couldn’t pass it by. Additionally, it is peak sugar snap pea season and they are green jewels of sweetness, perfect on their own but also go well in any salad. Watercress is a green that has exceptional health qualities, so I like to include it occasionally, and I must admit to a fondness for its peppery tang. I chopped all the greens into similar sized pieces, dressed them with a dash of sea salt, olive oil and a few drops of apple cider vinegar. The dressing mellows out the bite of the watercress, so it’s good to allow it to stand a bit before serving.

By this time, the pork is ready for the hot pan. I pull the grill pan from the oven and place it on a medium flame. The pork chops get a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of sea salt and pepper on both sides before being placed on the hot pan. Allow about 3 minutes per side for the sear marks to form and for the meat to get its initial heat, and then place the pan in the hot oven to continue cooking.

While the pork finishes in the oven, I thick slice the gorgeous tomatoes; I chose a beautiful Cherokee (which was incredibly sweet) and some sort of a striped variety. Each slice received a dollop of Ronnybrook Dairy crème fraiche and then topped with a spoon full of the delightful pesto.

By this time the pork chops are ready to come out of the oven. I move the chops to a warmed plate, place a sliver of salted butter on each chop and allow them to rest a few minutes while bringing everything to the table.

This dinner received huge praises from both the boys, and even though I’m not a big fan of pork chops, I must admit this came together rather well. The tomatoes and the salad were a nice refresher to the chops. The chops themselves had a nice hint of maple and thyme that presented itself ever so lightly.

Tell me, how do you enjoy your pork and do you have any interesting variations for pesto?

This post is featured on Fat Tuesday.

Motivation for the day...

“Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

-- The Dalai Lama’s response to being asked what surprised him most about humanity.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Strawberries and Cream

It’s strawberry season!!! Why the excitement when strawberries are available at the local grocery store year round? Because you have not tasted a strawberry unless you’ve had one only hours, minutes, or even seconds after it is picked. The intense flavor explosion that develops in your mouth can only be enhanced with a dash of pure sugar and a smooth coating of farm fresh (and preferably raw) cream.

This past Sunday morning we ran to the local orchard for the first of the season u-pick strawberries. We were so excited that I completely forgot to take a photo of the process, but promise to provide a peek this coming weekend when we return for another round. While we devour the fresh berries soon after we returned home from the orchard, we also enjoyed a delicious smoothie of nothing more than a blender filled with fresh picked strawberries and fresh raw milk. I also shared some of the pickings with my friends, in a farmer’s market fresh spinach and strawberries salad dressed in a honey/balsamic dressing kissed with coconut oil and farm fresh goat cheese.

But the true star of this week’s bounty was an unexpected accident. My plan was to make a small batch of home-made strawberry preserves. In the morning I cut up a few cups of strawberries and layered them in a bowl. I lightly sprinkled evaporated cane sugar on each layer of these beautiful red jewels. I let the bowl sit on the counter to extract the juice with the plan to cook the berries down into a delicious preserve, that could be used to top our yogurt, crepes, or for my boys to enjoy simply on a country baguette with a thick layer of butter topped with strawberry goodness. However, each of us found it difficult to walk by this ruby red concoction without dipping in for a taste. By dinner time only half the already small bowl was filled and I decided to skip the preserve making this week and instead serve a simple yet ethereal dessert.

While the final product looks impressive, it is nothing more than a serving of the sugared berries, dressed with just a tablespoon (or two) of fresh raw cream that I scooped up from the top of our milk jug. This is incredibly simple, but utterly delicious. Just promise me that when you make this, you will sip the creamy syrup at the bottom of the glass, close your eyes, and experience the brief ecstasy that ensues . . .

What are your favorite ways to use farm fresh strawberries?

Gary Taubes revisits salt

Another case for most things being enjoyed in moderation, but more importantly it is the quality of the ingredient that’s most important. We see this again and again, with salt, saturated fat, and animal protein as just examples. The most important consideration in what we choose to eat should be what has been enjoyed by our ancestors for generation after generation. I will delve deeper into this philosophy in the coming posts, but for now read the renewed insight into the consumption of salt.

Salt, We Misjudged You by Gary Taubes Salt in the diet should be avoided, right? No, not really.

In addition, I highly recommend Taubes' books, Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It and for a deeper examination into the causes linked to the "diseases of civilization" Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bacon Wrapped Tilefish on a bed of Salted Calamari and Fresh Watercress Salad

Cod season is officially over, but my birthday boy is a cod fish fanatic. He just loves that meaty and flaky white fish, regardless of how I prepare it. So the market fishmonger recommended I try a tilefish fillet as a substitute. I’ve actually never had it before but decided to give it a go. While at the stand, I also noticed the squid and the abundance of squid legs -- the little man adores those squid legs. I decided to put three of the little guys favorite ingredients into one dish and came up with a Bacon Wrapped Tilefish on a bed of Salted Calamari and Fresh Watercress Salad – if you haven’t guessed, the favorite ingredients are bacon, fish and squid.

The bacon wrapped tilefish was inspired by a bacon wrapped chicken dish I found while browsing for ideas. I like the idea of anything wrapped in bacon but could never make that particular chicken recipe, since I would never buy a package containing only chicken tenders; preferring instead to purchase a whole bird and utilize all its parts (my only exception is when I purchase otherwise unpopular parts like feet, necks and wing tips to make my bone broth, the details of which will be featured in an upcoming post).

This meal is again ridiculously easy. Heat the oven to 300 degrees F. While the oven warms, I cut the tilefish fillet into two inch wide strips and dress them with a touch of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Then use very thinly sliced bacon and wrap it around each piece. Prepare all the pieces so that they can be added to the pan at the same time. Leave a few slices of bacon and chop into small pieces to add to the squid. At this point I also prep the squid for the calamari. The fish cooks very quickly and the squid should be ready and waiting to be quickly sautéed in the pan as soon as the fish is removed.

To prep the squid, rinse the legs and bodies, drain, and place into a bowl. Take each body, slice down the middle to open and slice into approximately one inch long slices. On the inside of the flesh, score the squid in a criss-cross pattern, this will not only create a nice aesthetic quality but also allows seasoning and flavors to permeate the flesh. Add the prepped pieces to the legs in the bowl, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with a generous amount of quality sea salt and add a nice squeeze of lemon. Set the squid to the side and start on the fish.

Heat a large pan on medium heat, drizzle and warm a generous amount of olive oil on the pan and sear the bacon wrapped fish pieces, turning carefully as the bacon fat renders and flavors the fish while cooking it. The fish cooks very quickly, so only about a minute per side – this is why the bacon must be really thin. Remove the fish into an oven safe plate and let it finish in the oven for just a few moments while the squid gets a turn in the pan.

Add the chopped up bacon pieces to the hot pan, allowing the fat to render. Then add the prepped squid. At this time you may additionally season the squid with a bit more salt, pepper, dry or fresh herbs or even a bit of minced garlic. But, because this meal was being made for a very special individual who likes to taste the intricacies of his ingredients, I left the squid minimally altered, the way he prefers. Sauté the squid for a few minutes, stirring until it turns opaque and the pieces and legs curl up. This too should only take a few minutes, so quickly prep the plates.

Before beginning the seafood, I made a quick salad of chopped up radish, sweet peas and watercress. All fresh from market finds of the day. I dressed the chopped veggies with a drizzle of olive oil, a squirt of lemon and a sprinkle of sea salt; fresh, simple, and delicious.

Each plate received a serving of salad and salted calamari then topped with a few pieces of the bacon wrapped tilefish. The birthday boy was ever grateful for the abundance of his favorite ingredients and polished off his meal with an ear to ear grin. It’s seeing the joy that is radiated by your loved ones that makes this all worthwhile.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Remember the duck?

So if you remember, last week’s market finds included a gorgeous duck breast from the Hudson Valley Duck Farm (HVDF). You know, the one I rushed to cook, forgetting to take any photos until it was prepared (and I had time to snip pieces, here and there, to savor before serving to my guys). So I’m long overdue on telling you about this meal but will share it now.

The beauty of the HVDF is their exquisite product. These ducks are happy living their duck lives, on 200 acres in the Hudson Valley of New York – not far from our place in Warwick – without the use of cages, hormones or antibiotics. They raise two types of ducks, the Moulard and a heritage breed called Lola. As HVDF describes them, Lola is “a cross of Pekin and heirloom mallard, and is leaner with more game-flavor” while the Moulard is “a cross of Pekin and Muscovy, this traditional favorite is the cornerstone of Gascon cooking.” Of the two, the Moulard is my favorite. It has a fattier layer that renders in the pan providing both exquisite flavor for the duck, as well as a perfect base for roasted vegetables and fried eggs – I’m literally drooling as I write this and recall the aroma and taste. The Moulard is also a larger bird, thus one larger sized breast can feed the three of us, particularly when served with a variety of vegetable sides. For this dinner, I decided to serve the duck with baby bok choy and a side of spicy green salad, accented with a first of the season heirloom tomato. Are you following me? It’s a dish I can devour over and over without it getting old.

To prepare the duck, I preheated the oven to 400 degrees F. While the oven warmed, I created a criss-cross pattern on the fat of the duck breast. Using a sharp knife, I scored the skin, through the fat, careful not to cut into the meat below. Then the breast is seasoned with some sea salt and pepper and placed skin side down onto a cold pan, turning it on medium to medium-low heat. I use my trusty cast iron pan to create the necessary sear that only a cast iron can provide. As the fat renders, use a spoon to siphon the liquid gold that’s otherwise known as duck fat. Trust me; you’ll want to save every drop of this deliciousness. After about 15-18 minutes I turn the breast over and drizzle a fine stream of honey onto the crispy skin – just enough to ensure an even distribution, without it being overpowering. At this point, try to remove as much of the fat as possible from the pan. You will still have a nice flavorful layer to keep the breast moist yet not greasy. Then flip the breast back onto the skin side and slide the pan into the now hot oven. Let the duck continue to cook for another 4-6 minutes. I prefer my duck still pink on the inside (medium rare), but my boys prefer it just a tad it more cooked (medium), so I usually end up getting the center cuts of the breast and they go for the ends.

When the timer goes off, remove the breast to a warm plate and tent with foil for about 10 minutes. You want the juices to redistribute making the breast exquisitely tender. While the duck rests I prepare the sauce. To the bits in the hot pan I add a splash of balsamic vinegar to deglaze. In the past, I’ve used a delicious sherry vinegar as well; so be creative and daring. Once I scrape up the bits, I add a spoon of pastured butter to add a rich glaze consistency. At this point, I slice the duck and drizzle the glaze over the slices and tent to keep warm while I flash sear the baby bok chop (which have been sliced in half lengthwise). For this particular meal I just wipe down the cast iron pan with a paper towel, add a drizzle of duck fat and very quickly sear the bok choy on high heat, giving just a sprinkle of sea salt to accentuate the flavor.

To plate I distribute the spicy greens, add slices of the beautiful tomato (with a dash of sea salt), followed by a serving of duck, and surround the entire presentation with the seared bok choy. That’s it!!! You have an incredible gourmet meal in around 30 minutes of cook time. But your senses are awakened with the sight, smell, and taste of this cornucopia of Real Food.

Don’t fear the duck, savor it!!! And don’t forget to share your culinary adventures with me as well.

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