Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Restaurant rave--Route 7 Grill/Great Barrington, Massachusetts

The Route 7 Grill in Great Barrington was quite literally the very first new restaurant I tried in our area after my husband and I committed to moving here (i.e., after we bought our house, about the biggest commitment I am prepared to make to anything or anyone.) When my son and I flew out here together, without his dad or sister, to look at schools and close on the house, I took him there for dinner our first night. It was early March and a little blustery, and Route 7's warm fireplace and earnest comfort food hit the spot for us both. We've been going back ever since for the pulled pork, burgers (my son's favorite--he's six, after all), fries, daily greens, ribs and pretty much everything else on the menu, too.

I have only one quibble, with the biscuits and the cornbread, which should be better than they are: the cornbread is too sweet, and the biscuits too dense. Being almost southern*, I have particular opinions about such things--sugary cornbread is an abomination, and I expect restaurant biscuits to be at least as good as the ones I make at home with only White Lily flour, sweet butter and milk.

Make that two quibbles, the second also routed in my southern quasi-heritage: the pulled pork is dying for a real North Carolina-style vinegar and hot pepper sauce. But it's good as served, with a sauce that feels more Memphis or Texas in its inspiration, sweet and tomato-ey, mercifully not catsup-y or too thick.

Picayune complaining aside, Route 7 is a delicious, dependable restaurant that gets extra credit for serving nearly all locally-sourced ingredients. They make a point of using meat and vegetables produced within Berkshire and Columbia counties, and now their receiving some big time recognition for their slow food efforts. Today's Boston Globe featured this great review/article--read it, and check out Route 7.

*I lived in Tennessee as a child and in North Carolina for bits and pieces of my college years, but alas, born in Chicago, I will forever be labeled a Yankee.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Cucumbers and radishes and squash, oh my

This week's bounty (sorry, no picture--it was hurled into the house yesterday as I rushed around to make dinner for us and guests) is so heavy on cukes, summer squash and daikon that I am contemplating an adventure in pickling. My son, who prior to our "You wanna make pickles?" conversation in the car yesterday never realized that "sweet" is a pickle category (he loves him some Kosher dills, though) is having visions of sugar dancing in his head, but I'm a little leery. I'll be breaking out my 1948 Kerr's Canning cookbook tomorrow for inspiration. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the list:

10 cukes
10 summer squash (including some pattypan)
one head of redleaf lettuce
one head of Chinese cabbage
one bunch of daikon (three big ones)
one bunch of turnips

Like I said, heavy on the squash, too. Maybe I can pickle that as well? A childhood summer of too many giant zucchinis makes the sight of my produce drawer overflowing, literally, with last week's squash and this week's too, a little nauseating. I'm thinking a gratin might be in order.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Hide the veggies

My children, aged 2 and nearly 6, are confirmed vegephobes. No amount of enthusiastic discussion of the provenance of green things, nor age-blind inclusion in their preparation, will entice either of my kids to eat much more than a single bite of (only) broccoli or carrot. Every odd moment, a piece of lettuce crosses one or the other's lips, but that's it.

So I find myself concocting ways to camouflage grown things in acceptable disguises. My turkey meatloaf is always a big hit, and the chopped zucchini and carrots folded into it have never deterred either child. (Not true, by the way, of the onions I add to my black beans--never again will I commit the sin of coarsely chopping them.)

These meatballs are similar to my meatloaf, but designed to use up some of the bounty from this week and weeks past. Serve them with any pasta, or alone, or atop other steamed vegetables (great for adults) or in a sandwich.

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
serves 4

1-1/2 lbs. ground beef, turkey, pork, veal or combination thereof
2 eggs
1-1/2 c. fresh breadcrumbs
1 t. Maldon salt
1/2 freshly ground pepper
1-1/2 c. minced fresh spinach
1 T olive oil
1 can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch or smaller dice
2 carrots, cut into 1/4 inch or smaller dice
2 T tomato paste (optional)
2 T agave syrup or sugar to taste

Combine ground meat, breadcrumbs, eggs, spinach, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix thoroughly--best is to just use your hands.

Form into meatballs about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. You should have about two dozen.

Heat the olive oil for a minute over medium heat in a skillet and add as many meatballs as can comfortably fit in one layer. (You may have to do this in two batches. Don't let that deter you.)

Brown the meatballs on all sides. For kids, in particular, it's ok to let them get crunch on the outside. When they're browned and just cooked through, remove to a plate. When all the meatballs are cooked, begin the sauce.

Return the skillet to medium heat and add the garlic. Stir for a couple of minutes until it begins to brown, and add the zucchini and carrots. Continue sauteing until the vegetables begin to soften--around eight minutes. Add the canned tomatoes, and cook at a nice simmer for ten or so minutes. Meanwhile, put water on to boil for pasta, if you're making it. Stir the tomato paste and agave or sugar to taste into the sauce. Continue cooking as long as you like--as with most tomato sauces, short of burning the stuff to the pan, it's pretty impossible to overcook. But you can also serve it as soon as your pasta is done cooking. Just add the meatballs back to the skillet and reheat for ten minutes or so.

Serve as desired atop pasta, veggies, solo or in a sandwich.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Real Simple

Sometimes, the best thing you can make is a salad. This is especially true when your refrigerator is bursting with CSA produce. I made a valiant effort to clean it out today, and ended up with this variation on a favorite salad of mine. Sometimes I throw in avocado, if I have it; the turkey is optional, or could be replaced with roast chicken, beef or even good ham; and it really is just about your personal tastes. It's not even a recipe. But I am writing it down to remind myself that there's nothing easier to make for lunch than a greens-based salad, so why not do it more often?

1 head romaine
1 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 c. whole raw almonds
4 oz smoked turkey, sliced
2 small kohlrabi, peeled, sliced thin, and cut into 1/2 wide pieces
1/2 c. cherry tomatoes

2 t. best quality you can find extra virgin olive oil
1/2 t Maldon sea salt

Put the lettuce et. al. in a big bowl. Drizzle with the oil. Sprinkle with the salt. Toss gently. Devour. Serves two hungry people for a generous lunch.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

High summer

For the first time so far, I managed to pick up my share on time today. This meant that I got to peruse the list of my fellow share-holders as I checked off my name on the list and gathered the farm's weekly newsletter and recipe sheet. Apparently, I'm in good company. A fellow member known only as "Governor's Mansion" had already collected their bounty.

This week, Gov. Spitzer and I will be enjoying:

1 bunch of kale
1 bunch of broccoli
1 head of red leaf lettuce
1 bunch of red scallions
1 bunch of heirloom globe carrots
4 summer squash
6 cucumbers
1 pint of those strawberries--already, the last of the season!
1 bunch of beets
1 bunch of red kohlrabi

Those last two, like the turnips, present a challenge for me. As delicious as the first week's beets were, roasted, then served with a dijon vinaigrette, I couldn't finish them. I still have last week's left, along with the turnips, and I fear a similar fate for the kohlrabi. The irony is, I like these vegetables. Why do I fail to see their potential? Can anyone help?

Sweet Pea

An influx of wonderful old friend (or, as I now prefer to say, friends-of-long-duration) houseguests left me with much less cooking time and energy this week than I would have liked. I was especially disappointed because I have been poring over the latest issue of Gourmet like some kind of Mesopotamian scholar presented with a long-lost cuniform tablet. I want to cook it all, which I think speaks as much to the joy of summer ingredients as to a particularly good issue of my favorite (food) magazine.

For one set of guests, I did make a version of a spinch and strawberry salad, similar to the one in the issue--handfuls of deep green, really flavorful spinach from last week (so much better than the bagged grocery store stuff that even I was surprised), sliced strawberries from our CSA (by way of the inimitable Thompson Finch Farm) the whole drizzed with olive oil from the egregiously expensive but totally worth it David Rosengarten EVOV "club", cheap balsamic (the good stuff, which I am out of--oh Surfas, how I miss ye!--would definitely have taken this salad to a higher plane), sprinkled with Maldon and lots of fresh ground Tellicherry pepper. I was expecting little, and it's definitely a subtle salad (as, I find, all spinach salads are--I'm an arugula junkie) but a delightful one.

Another set of friends inspired me to make the roast chicken stuffed with ricotta and herbs from the magazine -- definitely a repeat-worthy recipe. With it, I concocted an emergency side dish, partly to use up the pounds of peas I had accumulated over the last two weeks' CSA shares.

Italian Couscous with Fresh Peas and Herbs
Serves 4

2 lbs fresh peas in their pods
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup Italian couscous
salt & freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup each finely chopped parsley, dill and mint
1 T sweet butter

Shell the peas. Enlist a friend, or a small child, or both, to help. Pull the string, then use your fingernail (small child) or paring knife (adult) to slit the pea open; pinch the ends and pull the peas out. It's a whole lot of work for seemingly not a lot of reward; two pounds of pea pods gave me around 1-1/4 cups of fresh peas.

Heat the chicken stock to a boil, and add the Italian couscous. Boil between 8-10 minutes, or until the couscous is al dente. You want some of the stock to boil down during this time. Remove from heat.

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat and add the peas. Saute three minutes or until just tender.

Add the couscous and some liquid (drain some off if it seems too soupy) to the peas in the skillet and heat through over medium heat. Remove from heat, stir in the chopped herbs and and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve, and receive compliments, probably more than you're expecting, given the simplicity of the dish.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Share Day

Share day sounds like something they make you do in the psych ward. Or at least, at sleepaway camp. But here in rural-land, it means the day I pick up the goodies.

This week's ingredients:

1 bunch rainbow chard
1 bunch red scallions (really beautiful)
1 bunch of a special kind of turnips, the name of which, I cannot remember
1 head of lettuce
3 zucchini
3 summer squash
1 bag of peas in the pod
a quart of those amazing berries

I'm open to suggestions!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Just Desserts

Diners, the roadside kind, abound in my little corner of rural America. Directions to my home often begin with "Turn right at the diner" and it seems that I keep discovering new ones throughout the county.

I wish I could say that their meals were transcendent counter fare experiences. Mostly, we go to these places for breakfast; the one closest to our house makes a perfect poached egg and really good pancakes, though you have to ask for real maple syrup instead of the packets of Kraft high fructose nonsense lying on the table. Lately, though, we've had several diner lunches and dinners which were competent, but trying too hard to reach some never-wished-for imitation of finer rather than diner. But perhaps the just-ok entrees and salads were intended as mere prelude. What I learned this week is that the other course where small town diners can excel is dessert.

Our neighborhood joint makes a Boston cream pie that looks and tastes homemade, with moist yellow cake, perfect pastry cream, and a thin layer of chocolate icing. Ditto the place one town south that offers a chocolate peanut butter cake, made by the owner. (She makes the pies, too, but I have yet to try any of them, not even the French silk, which apparently is so common here that you're supposed to know that "French silk" is fancy talk for "chocolate cream pie." Am I the only one who's never heard of such a thing? I'm part Southerner, which means my oddly named pie knowledge is confined to chess, and vinegar.) The cake is rich, maybe a hair too sweet, but a nice salty bite to the peanut butter center keeps it from being cloying. And the casual Italian restaurant my kids beg to go to (not a diner, but definitely a small town, family style place) has carrot cake that is as good as my homemade. At first, this was upsetting --I am, after all, incredbly vain about my cooking--but now I've embraced the fact that I can have my cake without baking it, too. As a fine cook said to me tonight at dinner, in cooking, you have to know where to take the shortcuts. True of cooking, and country navigation, too.

And what about those CSA boxes, anyway?

I started this as a way to track what I'm receiving from my local farm's Community Supported Agriculture share, but I've been so busy getting this up and running, cooking, and generally trying to keep my life together that I haven't gotten around to listing what we've been receiving, or what I've been making with it.

Week 1, we were in New York City on Thursday (our veggie day) and I forgot to go pick up until late Friday afternoon. The CSA I joined is attached to a large farm that also has a retail store, so one of the clerks took me backstage, so to speak, to find my produce. I was so late that my share had already been disassembled, but he was kind enough to piece together most of what I would have taken home. I found myself with two large bunches of dill, a bunch of turnips, a head or two of romaine lettuce, some rainbow swiss chard and probably a few other things I'm forgetting.

To use the dill, I made a delicious potato salad (ok, so I bought potatoes and red onion at the store, sue me.) The turnips joined carrots and parsnips in the chicken stew that is the basis for my chicken and biscuits. The chard went into a version of the lentils and kale with sausage (yep, made and ate it twice, it was that good) and also a pasta with sausage, raisins and pine nuts. Good salads, too, thanks to the flavorful, crisp romaine.

The second week, variety increased. More chard, a big bunch of beets, a bag of fresh peas in the pod, some garlic scapes, parsley and loads of fresh spinach. We missed our fruit share the first week, but just as well, because last week and this, the fruit was strawberries. This week's went into another batch of frozen yogurt. The scapes, chard and beet greens went into a delicious pasta with local goat cheese, the parsley was combined with basil left from my strawberry picking/farm stand excursion in a wonderful pesto, and I am planning on making spinach quiche to freeze tomorrow. Maybe some gnudi, too, if I can find good ricotta.

Recipes for all to come. Promise.

And more strawberries

I still had berries left after the yogurt experiments. Some we picked, some a donation from a dinner guest (also local, also delicious.) I have never been a fan of strawberry pie, as it usually seems to come with a gelatinous glaze and those kiwi-size berries that look vaguely unreal. But I'd been wanting to try a rhubarb recipe, and with all those berries about to start to turn, I conquered my suspicions.

I looked at a couple of different sources for a recipe, and none of them seemed exactly right, so I borrowed a bit from Mark Bittman, a bit from Gourmet, and even from La Martha. This is what I came up with.

A note about pies:

I grew up with a pie baker. My mother makes the best pie I've ever eaten, anywhere, any time. As a result, I make my own crust, which is not as good as hers, but is getting better, every year. This is not to say you should feel badly if you can't handle the concept of crust-- you're in good company, and let's be honest, we all have our personal food-prep phobias. For years, the only meat I could prepare competently was a roast chicken; I can't handle deep frying. If the thought of making your own crust makes you shiver, ok. But trust me when I say, you can handle it. Let me amend that-if you have a food processor, you can absolutely handle it. But the choice is yours.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

1-1/2 - 2 c. rhubarb, strings more or less removed, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
3-3-1/2 c. strawberries, washed, hulled and halved
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. flour
1 t. freshly ground (in a mortar and pestle) cardamom seed (tough pods removed)
1 t. freshly grated nutmeg

Combine all of the above in a non-reactive bowl, toss together, and macerate at room temperature for an hour or so while you get your crust together.

For the crust:

1 stick cold (refrigerated) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 stick cold (refrigerated) no-trans fat vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2 - 1/4 c. unbleached all purpose flour
1 t. kosher salt
2/3-3/4 c. ice water
1 egg, separated, and the yolk lightly beaten

Put the flour, salt, butter and shortening into a food processor and pulse together until it resembles coarse meal.

Pour the water in slowly with the motor running and process just until the dough comes together.

Turn it out onto a floured counter and shape into a soft ball. If the dough is sticky, you can knead in just enough flour to make it easier to handle, but no more. Too much more flour and too much handling will make the crust tough.

Divide the dough into two pieces, place on and wrap with plastic wrap, and shape into 1 inch think discs. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

When the dough is chilled, roll the first piece out on a floured piece of wax paper until it's1/4 inch thick and large enough to fit the bottom of your pie pan. (I like to spray my pan first with canola oil spray to avoid sticking. It's not traditional, but it saves your pie.)

Fit the dough in, and trim the edges so there's a neat disc that reaches the bottom of the pan (I use a deep dish) and to the edge of the rim.

Paint the bottom of the crust with the egg white, and then pierce eight or ten times with the tines of a fork, across the bottom and around the sides.

If the fruit has exuded a great deal of liquid, you can drain some off. Usually, this is not necessary because the liquid is absorbed by the flour.

Turn the fruit into the pie plate and prepare your top crust. Roll it out to 1/4 inch as with the bottom crust. You can either place the whole crust on top, and cut some decorative vents in it, crimp the edges and bake, or you can cut strips and weave a lattice on top. Brush the top crust and rim with the beaten egg yolk, and bake for 50-60 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling beneath.

Good warm, cold, with or without whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Strawberries, ad delirium

As mentioned in my last post, a fellow foodie invited me strawberry picking last weekend at the beautiful, all-organic Thompson-Finch Farm in Ancram, NY. The kids came, too, and in spite of heat and humidity, we all had a blast. We only lasted about an hour, but that was enough time to fill our baskets and mouths with terrific berries. (As a side note, for someone used to the giant berries that dominate commercial growth in California, the super sweet, smaller berries at Thompson Finch were a welcome change.)

We came home with quarts of berries. We brought some to friends, but still had more left that we could reasonably eat just as-is. I remembered reading a post over at 101 Cookbooks about homemade frozen yogurt, which she described as rivaling Pinkberry's. (Pinkberry, for the uninitiated, is a frozen yogurt chain that's taken Los Angeles, and now NYC, by storm, but is currently embroiled in Seinfeld-ian scandal, accused of actually not selling a yogurt-based product, but instead a milk-powder based froyo--or is that faux-yo? Sorry-- I couldn't resist.) Anyway, I decided to clean out my fridge, already full of delicous sheep's milk yogurt from the local Old Chatham Sheepherdering Company, as well as Fage TOTAL Greek-style) and use up the berries at the same time. The combination of tangy yogurt and macerated berries worked well--my only tip is to not be overly afraid of sugar, or long-term (even overnight) soaking for the berries in their sugary juice. The yogurt is very tangy, and the added sweetness keeps the final product from being sour. If you want to cut back on sugar but still up the sweetness, you can substitute agave nectar for all or some of the sugar, using some when macerating the berries, maybe 1/4 cup, and then adding more to taste before freezing the yogurt.

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt ala Heidi & The Perfect Scoop

1 qt. fresh, sweet strawberries, hulled and sliced in half
1/2-3/4 c. sugar (I used organic, evaporated cane juice, because that's what I had)
1-2 t. vanilla extract (optional)
500 grams (one large size package) Fage TOTAL yogurt (I've used both full fat and non fat, and both were delicious, though the full fat version has a slightly creamier mouth feel, as you'd expect)
4 cups Old Chatham Sheepherding Company Plain Sheep's Milk Yogurt (now, obviously you can use any combination of yogurts here, though if I didn't follow this exact recipe, I'd probably do what Heidi suggests in her version, and drain all the yogurt before using it. With this combo, I didn't drain anything.)

Combine the strawberries and sugar and toss gently to combine. Add the vanilla if you're using it. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours to overnight.
If the berries have exuded a lot of liquid you may want to drain some before combining them with both yogurts. A lot of juice in the mix can make your yogurt a bit icier in texture, but will by no means ruin the result.
Combine the macerated berries with the yogurts and stir to combine. Chill the whole mixture one hour.
Freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Italian Sausages with Kale and Lentils, ala Millie and the Waverly Inn

This week brought unexpected adventures both culinary and anthropological, with a trip to Graydon Carter's subject-of-much-grousing remake of the once and perhaps future downtown legend Waverly Inn. Leave it to me, apparently socially unaware, to not know just how hard a table ours was to score. We were the guests of regulars, and the scene more or less lived up to the hype--we met Ron Perelman, aka the provider of Ellen Barkin's recently auctioned treasure trove, and Congressman Harold Ford (now that's a sighting) was in the booth next to ours--but the surprises were the food and wine, which were both really lovely.

In L.A., my newly former home, celebrity hangouts are wildly uneven when it comes to both food and service. Les Deux Cafes anyone? At that fine establishment, when my husband asked for another bottle of overpriced San Pellegrino, an indignant busboy sniffed (imagine the ponderous French accent, s'il vous plait) "I do not do wat-err."

Granted, at the Waverly, we were there with our own famous friend. Even so, I got the feeling that the food we ordered was the real deal, consistent, unfussy, delicious and not just to impress our hosts. My salmon--just seared on the outside, perfectly cooked medium within, was served on a bed of finely chopped kale mixed with tender lentils, the whole with a buttery richness that made it addictive. My husband's sole was similarly simple and perfect, as were the giant steak frites. (And, as an aside, Sam Kebab, the sommelier, couldn't have been more helpful or clever in choosing our Pomerol.)

Since that meal, I've been puzzling over how to recreate my entree. Yesterday's strawberry-picking excursion provided an unexpected opportunity.

More on the berries tomorrow, but suffice to say that in addition to delicious, fragrant organic berries, Thompson-Finch Farm also sports a small stand with just-picked, all organic veggies and herbs and similarly slow & healthy meats. Perfect, pale green kale gave me the motivation to try to make the lentil and kale from the Waverly, and my friend Millie, when she saw the (local, organic) sweet Italian sausages I also found there, encouraged me to forget the salmon and serve the side with grilled sausages. She was right, and the meal couldn't have been easier.

Grilled Sausages with Kale and Lentils du Puy
Serves 4

1/2 c. dried lentils (I like the small green French du Puy lentils, but the black beluga ones--often available at Trader Joe's--are delicious, too)
1 bay leaf
2. T. extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 bunch kale, tough stem ends trimmed, all chopped into 1/4 inch (give or take) dice
1/2 c. chicken broth (homemade, of course, is best, but boxed is fine, too)
1/2 T. unsalted butter
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 lb. good quality sweet Italian sausages, either turkey or pork

Rinse the lentils thoroughly and check for stones. Place them in a small saucepan and cover with water so that about 1-1/2 inches of water are above the top of the lentils. Add the bay leaf, and bring to a slow boil. Lower the heat to bring to a simmer, and cook uncovered until the lentils are just tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat, drain, and toss with 1 T. olive oil. Set aside.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a dutch oven over medium high heat for one minute. Add the kale and garlic and saute unti the kale begins to wilt. Add the chicken stock and simmer until the kale is tender, about 15 minutes or until it's to your taste, and the stock has cooked off. (If you find you need more stock, add it a bit at a time--you don't want to drown the kale in liquid.) When it's cooked to your liking, season with salt and pepper to taste and remove from heat.

Heat your grill to high or a frying pan (best is cast iron) and add the sausages. Cook over medium-high heat until nicely browned on all sides and cooked through, probably about 12-15 minutes.

While the sausages are cooking, Return the kale to low heat. Stir in the lentils and the butter and bring the whole mixture up to temperature. Season again with salt and pepper, and serve the sausages atop a bed of the lentil and kale mixture.

This is delicious with a nice fruity red wine, like this one.

The Intuitive Cook Reaps Bounty

Not the paper towels. I'm a 7th Generation girl, myself. But having just moved to the upper Hudson Valley, I find myself in the cradle of great eating, a little Alice Waters, a little diner, a whole lot of organic produce and neighborhood pork, poultry, beef and dairy.

To fully enjoy the abbondanza, I joined a local CSA. And I'm taking every opportunity to visit local farms, eat neighbors' chickens' eggs (and, hopefully, soon, my own--uh, chickens' eggs, that is) and cook up a storm with whatever is local, in season, and carefully grown or raised. To that end, Trip to Bountiful. I hope we'll all enjoy the ride.

I will try to tell you what I'm getting from the farm, and how I'm preparing all or some of it, each week. While not everything will be a masterpiece, hopefully it will help me (and you) figure out how to eat what's best and freshest in this glorious season.