Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Carrot and Ginger Soup

I don't know what crazy bastard first thought of putting together the flavor profiles of earthy, sweet carrots and tangy, sharp, spicy ginger, but there should be a statue or something to commemorate the origins of what is one of my favorite, easy soups to make. It really takes very little prep, all of about four ingredients, and maybe three steps. You can make huge batches, freeze them, and warm them up whenever you need a homemade, healthy lunch. Plus, it makes your kitchen smell amazing, which is always a good thing in my book, and part of the delight of cooking.
Tonight, I made a small batch with about a handful of small, skinny carrots that looked like they wouldn't last too much longer, a bit of ginger that I had frozen for a moment like this, and about a half of a red onion that would add a little more texture and sweetness to the soup. Oh, and then there's about four cups of chicken broth, which was also homemade and frozen about a month ago by my bigger half. I think he'll feel that the stock has gone to good use, as this is also one of his favorite soups.
Step 1: Peel and slice up your carrots. Dice your onion. Peel and dice about three good slices of ginger. (I prefer not to use a ton of ginger, because this soup is about balance.)
Step 2: Get your stock up to the boil, add all of your ingredients, and turn down the heat. Simmer for about an hour. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Step 3: Using an immersion stick blender, blend everything into a very smooth puree. If it's too thick, add water. If it's too thin, don't worry, it'll still be delicious.
You're done. Like I said, it doesn't take all that much effort, but almost always you'll end up with a smoothness and sweetness from the pureed carrots, and a slightly spicy bite from the ginger. It's healthy, easy, and simple. Doesn't get much better than that, does it?

Three parts chicken broth
One part carrots
A few slices of fresh ginger
Salt & pepper to taste

Monday, August 29, 2011

Lawton's Family Farms: Veal Chops

Lawton's Family Farms, also the home of Foxboro Cheese, is a terrific little stand that shows up once per week at the Dewey Square Farmers Market. Along with delicious cheese (try the Asiago!), they also often have a selection of their own grass fed beef, sausages, and if you're lucky, there's also a few select cuts of their own veal. It's truly a treat, and just an FYI, the beef at this little stand is just slightly cheaper than a few of the other stands at the farmers market.
My favorite cut of veal to purchase from the stand are the veal chops. The good people at this farm pride themselves on properly raised animals that produce their milk, which you can also pick up as raw milk from the farm stand on premise at the farm. (Unfortunately, there is pending legislation that is taking its damn time in allowing for them to sell raw milk at the farmers market.) Regardless, the veal at this farm is milk fed, and has a ready supply of grass for grazing. They're not pent up in crates, but allowed to roam outside daily, making for happier animals and tastier meat. The other day, I picked up two small veal chops at about four dollars per piece. The kind lady at the farm stand asked if I had prepared their veal before, and when I said yes, she graciously sent me on my way.
Preparation of the veal is just about as easy as it gets. Defrost the meat, salt and pepper both sides. Pour about a tablespoon of canola oil into a hot frying pan, and gently place in your veal chops after the oil is ready. It'll take all of about three minutes on one side, and then three minutes on the other side. The meat will sizzle, and form a beautiful crust on the gentle, pale beef. When it's at nice medium, perhaps still slightly pink in the middle, your chops are ready, and you can remove them to rest on a cutting board for about five minutes to allow the juices to redistribute.
When you take a bite of this veal, you'll immediately notice how delicate and tender the meat is. It is fork tender, and the succulent juices will coat the inside of your mouth. These young bovines have been taken care of. Having only been fed on small amounts of grass when they felt peckish and generous amounts of milk, the meat has not been given a chance to grow deep red and tough. It's almost more of a pork flavor than that of a heavy steak. After peeling through all of the meat, one of the most pleasurable parts of enjoying the chop is to grab the little bone and start gnawing at every last bit of succulent, tender veal. It's fabulous, and fancy. Veal that is raised humanely is really a testament to how delicious beef can be. Kudos to you, Lawton's Family Farms! Look for the large Foxboro Cheese sign, ask the nice lady at the stand if they have any veal available, and give their meat a try the next time you stop by the farmers market.

Lawton's Family Farms and Foxboro Cheese Company
70 North Street
Foxboro, MA 02035

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jaho Coffee and Tea: Kyoto Drip Iced Coffee

I would call my ability to judge coffee at about the same level as my ability to call wine. I can identify major flavor notes, I can appreciate a fine cup of coffee and tell whether it's complex, and I can definitely call out a really shitty cup of joe. As it happens, we are still experiencing a patch of severe weather up in Massachusetts, what's left over from "Hurricane Irene," which wasn't nearly as bad as what we thought we were going to get. But it looks like the power is flickering out all over the state and I'm a little reluctant to fire up the stove and start writing about some hurricane fare. So today's entry is going to be about a really fantastic cup of iced coffee that I had yesterday at Jaho Coffee and Tea on Wharf Street in Salem.
Since everyone was busy ransacking the local Shaws and Stop and Shops for Wonder Bread and milk yesterday, all of the tourist areas in Salem , including the area down by Pickering Wharf were fairly deserted. This was a perfect opportunity to pop into Jaho for a wonderful cup of coffee.
Jaho is kind of a trendy little coffee shop, but it just so happens they also make incredible coffee. Their oldest location is on Derby Street, and is a quick stop on your list of all the tourist spots to grab a coffee and a sandwich. The newer location, located in the old Russian Society building on Wharf Street is much more spectacular. After entering through a small front room, one ventures to the larger back room. The counter is stacked from the front of the room all the way to the back with what looks like contraptions that Mr. Wizard would utilize of to concoct his favorite cup of coffee. They're actually quite beautiful; glass and wooden stacked spheres and tubing that each produce fabulous, robust cups of coffee. The most impressive of the contraptions are the two tall stacks which are used to produce Kyoto-style drip iced coffee.
Kyoto style drip coffee takes hours to make. A large orb at the top of the mechanism carefully and slowly drips out water into a cylinder filled with coffee grounds. As the drops of water make their way through the coffee, they are saturated with the flavor of the beverage, eventually making their way into a container at the very bottom of the device. I had been told that it can take upwards of fifteen hours to make one pot of the iced coffee. But boy was it worth it.
My kind server brought over my iced coffee after pouring the last batch into a tall glass with a healthy heap of crushed ice. It was cold, refreshing, not at all bitter, and this must be attributed to the fact that it took so much time to journey through those tubes and through the coffee grains. The liquid was even a touch sweet without any sugar. It was nutty and rich and robust, while still very earthy with the dark roasted grounds of coffee. This was the finest cup of iced coffee that I've ever had, and also one of the most expensive at about four dollars and change. But, enjoying my iced coffee in a basically deserted setting in the little coffee house, I left a little more relaxed, a little more awake, and generally ready for anything the hurricane could send my way...which luckily for the North Shore, wasn't all that bad. Take some time to get to Jaho and enjoy this beverage while the summer weather, storm warning or not, is holding out.

Jaho Coffee & Tea
60 Wharf Street
Salem, MA 01970

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Broccoli and Garlic Frittata

In preparation for Hurricane Irene, I've been dedicated to listening to the Scorpions for the past twenty-four hours on repeat. I also went out and bought toilet paper, batteries and wine. You could say this makes me uber prepared for any circumstances that might befall our area post storm. Yes, I am a moron. 
But on a more serious note, I'm pretty sure that this storm isn't going to hit Boston with its full force, and therefore, I'm just taking some minor precautions to make sure that I kind of empty out of my fridge of a few of the things that could go bad if we lose power. These items, luckily, include all of the things that will make a lovely broccoli and garlic frittata, topped with a good amount of sharp 2-year aged Grafton Cheddar from Vermont, and some delicious, salty Asiago cheese from the Foxboro Cheese Company which visits the Dewey Square Farmers Market that I love so much.
You may say at this point, why aren't you making a quiche? Why? Because there's a hurricane coming and I'm too lazy to make a pie dough. I hate making pie dough. It's intimidating and a ginormous pain in the butt. So, if you are anything like myself, you can bypass the entire hassle and still make a lovely dish in about a third of the time. So, sans flour, baking powder, etc for a crust, I set out to make my frittata with four duck eggs from Batcheller Hill Farms, about two cups worth of broccoli florets from Kimball Farm Fruit Stand, about a quarter of a cup of half and half from Richardson's Dairy, five big ol' cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, and the previously mentioned cheese.
First thing's first. Set a medium pot of salted water to boiling on the stove. In the meantime you can cut up your broccoli into bit sized florets. I also like to chop up a bit of the larger stems, which have a nice flavor, and will tender up quite well if you boil them with the rest of the broccoli. I minced up my cloves of garlic, and went ahead and grated about 3/4 of a cup of the Grafton Cheddar, and the same amount of the Asiago. At this time, I also whisked up the eggs with a little bit of salt and pepper and the quarter cup of half and half.
When the water boiled, it was time to unleash the florets. Four minutes in the bubbling water, and they were tender enough to drain and douse with cold water to stop the cooking. At this time, I threw the cooled broccoli in a bowl, and in a separate little frying pan, sauteed the garlic with about a tablespoon of butter. Two minutes after tossing those around, I emptied the contents of the frying pan into the bowl with the broccoli and gave everything a good toss. With this step, you're basically ensuring that when you throw the broccoli into the frittata, with each bite of broccoli, you're also getting a little bit of that fragrant garlic, and the butter never hurts. 
Broccoli cooked, it was now time to start the frittata. I took my smallest nonstick frying pan, gave it a liberal dose of cooking spray, and set it on a high on the stove. I also took this time to preheat my oven to 375 degrees. When the pan sizzled with a drop of water, I poured about an eighth of the egg mixture into the pan and swirled it around, basically creating the crust of the frittata. Once the egg had set, I placed in my broccoli and garlic mix, and then poured in the rest of the duck eggs and half and half. I let this heat up on the stove for about five minutes, and then threw it in the oven for about ten minutes.
Jiggle, jiggle goes the eggs... but not too jiggly. With the frittata nearing perfection, it was time to sprinkle on all of that beautiful grated cheese. Back into the oven for about ten minutes. The cheese melted, a fork stuck into the middle of the frittata revealed no liquid egg, and the pan could now be removed from the oven, and allowed to cool. (For a moment, I was distracted by all that bubbling cheese and burned my arm on the inside of the half open oven door. Just be warned, safety first, don't be seduced by the whispers of bubbling cheese.) 
This frittata is delicious. With a higher proportion of broccoli to egg, the flavor of the fresh broccoli, intermingled with fragrant garlic, and the texture of a fiberous vegetable intertwined with bits of fluffy buttery, creamy eggs is pretty fantastic. It tastes like broccoli, which when you have fresh broccoli, there's a really nice vegetable aroma, and texture similar to turnips that I'm sort of at a loss for describing. And then there's the melted sharp cheddar and salty asiago that complements the entire thing, adding a tangy, slightly funky, and overall wonderful decadence to the whole "healthy" dinner. By the way, you won't necessarily miss the crust of the quiche, because the frittata itself has a lovely little egg crust that formed from taking the care to coat the pan with your egg/half and half mixture prior to adding your vegetables. Not too bad for a meal in preparation for a hurricane. The Scorpions would approve, I'm sure.

Approximately 2 cups of fresh broccoli florets and stems
5 cloves garlic
4 duck eggs
1/4 cup half and half
3/4 cup of grated Grafton Cheddar
3/4 cup of Asiago 
Salt and pepper to taste 

Farms that contributed to this meal: Batcheller Hill Farms, Foxboro Cheese Company, Kimball Fruit Farm, Richardson Dairy FTW!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Don't Mess with the Heinz Ketchup

I really love ketchup. I know I'm not alone in this respect for a very American condiment. When I go abroad for long periods of time, the first thing I really seek out after getting settled in my neighborhood is a store that carries Heinz ketchup. I don't want no stinking Hunts. No Del Monte. It has to be Heinz, because Heinz is a real taste of home when you are, you know, really missing home.
But ketchup is more than a taste of home. Think of how many times you've been to a new restaurant you haven't tried before, and there are a bunch of trendy dishes on the menu. You're really hungry, and you know that there's quite a high probability of being disappointed with any number of these braised dishes served on a pile of mushy spinach with some mustard sauce Pollock'ed around the plate. But if you can order something that you don't think they'll screw up, say a burger or a sandwich, and if it comes with fries, then you're good to go. So long as they don't eff up the ketchup.
Today, I went to a restaurant that the bigger half and I frequent often, and I usually order something with fries, because I will not be disappointed with fries, and occasionally the fries are really good fries. But you can go horribly awry. And today, this restaurant did. Despite their pretty standard sandwich fare, I just really wanted some french fries and ketchup. My sandwich arrives, and it's ok. The fries look like they usually do. But what the hell just happened? What is in this red squeeze bottle? It's not my brand. It's not Heinz. The ketchup is altogether too sweet, and too vinegary. There's a funk to it. I don't think it's a made in house ketchup, which I can respect. No, this tastes like Hunts. I was so angry. My dinner was ruined.
Do you know how I felt? I realize this is a hissy fit, but why would you change a sure thing? Is the restaurant saving money by changing the standard ketchup brand? Are they trying to be different? Is the proprietor having a sudden urge to adopt the ways of many a Southern diner that I have visited in Florida and been equally as disappointed as a child in the absence of Heinz and the presence of another brand? I really haven't a clue, but I do know that I won't be going back to the restaurant unless a) they change their ketchup brand or b) I start smuggling packets from McDonalds with me everywhere I go.
::sigh:: What is the world coming to?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Blackberry Red Wine Sauce

Although fresh berries are a delightful, healthy snack to pop here and there throughout the day, and find themselves even more at home when baked up in a beautiful crisp tart, sometimes you have a little bit of an abundance on your hands, and can utilize something both sweet and tart as a decadent sauce to a medium rare, fatty piece of meat, or a tender and juicy pork loin. In our case, we had about a cup of fresh blackberries left over from our berry picking excursion at Russell Orchards and two lovely bone in smoked pork chops, purchased from Karl's Sausage Kitchen.
Smoked Bone In Pork Chops
First for a little background information on this sweet meat. The pork chops we bought at Karl's were both salt cured and smoked in house at their little store. However, they were still raw. Smoked pork chops, largely due to their salty, sweet, somewhat hammy flavor are often used in a dish known as choucroute garnie, an Alsacian recipe in which sausages and salted meats are cooked altogether with sauerkraut and potatoes. For our purposes tonight, these pork chops would be prepared just as you would regular pork chops, and if you decide to cook this pork as we did, the meat should have all the characteristics of a wonderful piece of ham. It'll be juicy due to the salt cure, and there will be the sweetness of the pork, and the extra little smokey flavor produced from the meat's time at Karl's Sausage Kitchen's smoker. Truth be told, they're delicious. They're a plussed version of a regular pork chop, but they are a little bit salty, and therefore, they need something sweet and tart to really cut through that burst of intense flavor. The blackberries are exactly the solution.
So I set out to create a blackberry red wine reduction to complement the juicy smoked pork chop. It was very easy to make. Start with about 3/4 of a cup of dry red wine, like a Shiraz. You'll need a cup of blackberries. Then, there is salt and about three peppercorns, a cinnamon stick, a dash of ground cloves, and maybe a quarter cup of sugar to sweeten everything. 
First, throw your red wine into a sauce pan, and turn heat to medium. When simmering, throw in your blackberries, and give them a little bit of a crush with a potato masher to get the whole thing stewing. After the liquid returns to a simmer, turn to low, and add the rest of your ingredients. Let everything bubble for about fifteen to twenty minutes on the low simmer, and then break out your potato masher again to smoosh all of the blackberries. Check for sweetness and flavor, and when it's reduced to a somewhat thin syrup consistency (lightly coating the back of a spoon), go ahead and cut your heat. Serve in individual ramekins so that everyone has their own little dipping sauce.
The salty, smokey pork, and sweet, tart blackberry wine sauce to really make the meat dance on your tongue. This is a very rich flavor, but sort of harmonizes the whole thing: think of cranberry sauce on your Thanksgiving dinner plate - gotta have something sweet/tart to cut all that gravy, stuffing, and turkey. Just a few extra minutes and your dinner has it's own fresh, delicious sauce. 

1 cup fresh blackberries
3/4 of a cup of red wine (Shiraz)
1/4 cup sugar
3 peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
Dash of salt
Dash of ground cloves

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Headcheese and Shinckenspeck from Karl's Sausage Kitchen

Karl's Sausage Kitchen on Route 1 in Saugus, MA is a true find, and a favorite of locals and expats from anywhere around Central Europe. Beyond some of their fabulous smoked-in-house sausages, and imported goods, you will find a deluxe selection of charcuterie items in the glass case, where I often spend a good amount of time pacing and prowling like a jungle cat ready to pounce. Today, we will feature two of the most incredible sliced meats that you may not think to order had someone not recommended it to you. I urge you, friends, to venture to Karl's and no matter what your order, add a bag of jagdschnitten (a hunter style rye bread that we've spoken of before), a half pound of butterkase (a buttery style cheese with little tiny wholes throughout that tastes similar to provolone), and a quarter pound each of two of my favorite sliced meats: sour headcheese and schinkenspeck.
The Sour Headcheese
Now, I know that the nasty bits scare the bejeezus out of a whole population of regularly righteous consumers. But maybe it shouldn't. Some of these same people will dive head first into a sausage or a hot dog without a lick of fear, despite deeply buried knowledge that the Fenway Frank you are stuffing into your grateful gob includes many of the throwaway things that "you would never eat." I invite the masses to take the plunge with me, and go ahead and take a taste of some delicious headcheese. This is one of my favorite late night snacks, particularly because it's so cheap, and it's unlikely that my bigger half will devour it first (he's a bit timid on the whole subject... see Fenway Frank statement.) Head cheese is produced from boiling down the meat and bits from the head of a cow or pig, in Karl's case, the imported meat is that of pork. The head of the pig is boiled down until the meat is tender and the resulting stock congeals when cooled to produce the characteristic clear jelly. All of these bits of meat and the salty, slick jelly really produce a delicious snack. Now if you are going to try headcheese, you really shouldn't go all in at your local grocery store. If they happen to have head cheese, it's likely spent a bit too long in the deli case, if it's been opened at all. They'll look at you funny when you order it, and then you'll have to do the little "What? Head cheese? No, I ordered the honey turkey and American cheese... because I'm an American." But if you order it at Karl's you're a) immediately confronted with a little bit of a nod that you are in fact one of them b) you're given the option of the sweet or the sour variety c) affirmed of the fact that this headcheese moves quickly out of the glass case, because it's likely that the sweet grandma in line after you is after the same exact thing. When I order, I opt for the sour headcheese, sliced thin. This beautiful meat has a tangy flavor to compliment the rich jelly and the fatty bits of pork. Bits of gherkin are scattered throughout the jelly and pink hammy meat. It's really strange looking, and shiny, but so delicious.
The Schinkenspeck
Alright, so maybe you're still a little gun shy about the headcheese. But I promise that if you can eat pork, you'll be very excited about the schinkenspeck. The schinkenspeck at Karl's is found in the section of the meat case that houses the salami, but on the smaller upper rack that also has items like Black Forest Ham. You'll recognize it, as it's rather small and kind of lopsided. The flavor of the meat itself is sort of a a cross between a very rich, dark ham (think of a dryer prosciutto) and a salty, smokey bacon. You clearly have the lines of fat between rounds of meat, and the color will vary from dark, deep reds to the pink of a boiled ham. It's chewy, and incredibly luscious, a little bit will add a distinct nutty and earthy flavor to any charcuterie plate. I believe that Karl's salt cures and smokes their own schinkenspeck, but I haven't actually asked so I could be wrong, and it may be imported along with some of the other delicacies that they feature in the meat case. Regardless, sliced thin, this pork makes for an excellent open faced sandwich, which is exactly what I am going to do.
My spread
Since I've taken the time to introduce two of my favorite meats, you might well want to know what you can do with them. They're both perfect for snacking, but since tonight, it's dinner for one, I am going to make my own little spread, and prepare two little open-faced sandwiches. I've got a lovely array of fresh, crunchy lettuce, lightly pickled kohlrabi (which my bigger half had made yesterday using rice wine vinegar, sugar, water, Szewan peppercorns and star anise), butter, a few slices of butterkase (the cheese I suggested earlier), and two slices of jagdschnitten (but you could use any equally nutty rye bread, you know something with texture).
Headcheese Open-Face Sandwich
Schinkenspeck Open-Faced Sanwich
Build your open faced sandwiches by buttering a side of the bread. Top with a few leaves of lettuce. Add on a slice of butterkase to each, and add two slices of headcheese to one sandwich, and about three thin slices of the schinkenspeck to the other. Top both sandwiches with a few pieces of the pickled kohlrabi, or any other pickles for crunch and tang. The headcheese sandwich is a treat with the bits of salty jelly, the succulent pork bits, the butter, and the nuttiness of the bread. Likewise, that deep smokey flavor of the schinkenspeck will play off of the flavors of the crunchy toasted rye bread, and is awakened with each little nibble of those slightly spicy, sweet, sour pickled kohlrabi. They're two awesome little sandwiches, and still a fairly light, but deeply satisfying dinner. An exotic, easy dinner for one with two, yet again, very unique and slightly unusual ingredients found right in the heart of Massachusetts.

Karl's Sausage Kitchen
142 Broadway (Route 1)
Saugus, MA 01906

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Quinoa with Toasted Pistacios, Flying Saucer Squash, Kholrabi, and Gooseberries

I've met an awful lot of health food freaks lately who feel that quinoa is the next big super food. I'm not adverse to super foods, in fact, I'm a pretty big fan of vitamins and such. But sometimes if you're just having plain quinoa, I feel a little bit robbed of a succulent side dish. I feel the same way about farina... which sucks. Farina sucks. Don't argue.
Gooseberry - with husk
Gooseberry - husk opened
But quinoa is pretty easy to make, and equally easy to jazz up with little bits of flavor from other miracles of the garden. On Sunday, I had the pleasure of stopping by Russell Orchards in Ipswich, MA. At the farm store, I picked up some lovely little Cape gooseberries, complete with their lantern-shaped husks. Kohlrabi were also in a bin marked "half off," so I couldn't walk away from one of these sputnik-shaped orbs, and at home I had a whole bunch of pistachios, a half of a flying saucer squash, and a handful of olives. These would all work to spice up my quinoa into a delicious side dish.
1) So, quinoa is a little bit of a pain in the butt to make, say compared to just boiling pasta, but it's worth the effort. Start with about 2 cups of the little grain, and wash the buggers thoroughly. This means essentially filling a bowl with water and the quinoa, mixing the whole lot, draining, and then repeating the process. When you've gone through this enough so that the water runs clear, the quinoa is clean. Prior to washing, you can go ahead and set a pot of water with about half chicken stock, and half salted water to boil. When the liquid boils, throw in your quinoa for ten minutes, until almost tender. Drain. Fill the pot back up with about an inch of water, an throw in some salt. Now, with your quinoa in a fine mesh strainer, set this into the pot so that it sits above the water. Throw a moist kitchen towel over the top. Throw a lid on top of everything, and let the quinoa steam for about fifteen minutes until tender and fluffy. Your quinoa is done.
3) While your quinoa is steaming, you can go ahead and shell all of your pistachios. I like to crush the nuts a bit more using a mortar and pestle, and then throw them into a hot pan to toast up. This should only take a couple minutes before the smell of the pistachios fills your kitchen. When they are toasted enough, you can set aside.
4) Now is a good time to dice up the olives. I used about seven big olives, and threw the pieces into a nice big mixing bowl. De-husk all of your little gooseberries, halve the little fruits and add those to the mixing bowl. I also diced up a couple sprigs of fresh parsley and fresh thyme. The parsley went into the mixing bowl with the olives and gooseberries. Likewise, I sliced up half of a flying saucer squash, dicing into little cubes, and peeled the outer skin of about half of the kohlrabi and diced that up into similarly sized cubes. Now, in a little nonstick frying pan on medium heat, I threw in a tablespoon of butter. In went the kohlrabi, the squash, and the minced bits of thyme with a little salt and pepper. Toss for about four minutes, and those will be nicely sauteed, but still with a little fresh crunch. In those go to the mixing bowl.
4) When your quinoa has finished steaming, and you're veggies and herbs are prepped in the bowl, add the quinoa to the bowl, top with the toasted pistachios, and give everything a thorough mix. Salt and pepper to your taste preference, and you have a lovely side dish, ready for dinner, and some leftovers to bring to work for the next couple days (yes, we made a lot on purpose).
This side dish will taste purely of all the flavors that you've added. There's crunch from the pistachios, and the fresh cabbage flavor from those cubes of lightly sauteed kohlrabi. The gooseberries are sweet, and vaguely reminiscent of the savory flavors of little grape tomatoes. The flying saucer squash adds that summer freshness that is always a good thing. Then you have your fresh herbs, and the straightforward flavor of the quinoa. Quinoa, pronounced "kinwa," does not suck as much as farina when treated with care.

2 cups quinoa
1 pint container gooseberries
1/2 kohlrabi
1/2 flying saucer squash
fresh thyme and parsley
1/2 cup of pistachios (after shelled)
Chicken stock and water for steaming quinoa
Salt and pepper to taste

Monday, August 22, 2011

Russell Orchards - Ipswich, MA

Sunday was a beautiful day outside! While there would be some cooking indoors, there's no better way to spend a day than collecting provisions at a nearby farm. Knowing that Russell Orchards, in beautiful Ipswich Massachusetts, was opening it's blackberry patches for pick your own, my bigger half and I headed up the coast to spend a day in the sunshine, mingling with some pretty feisty farm animals, and of course, grabbing a pint each of plump, luscious, tart, and stain-your-clothes juicy blackberries.
After paying the lady at the little stand by the pick your own section of the farm three dollars per container for our blackberries, we headed up the dirt road to the blackberry patch. These blackberries were gorgeous. While some were not yet ripe, showing a vibrant red, versus the deep indigo black hue from which these fruits derive their name, it only added to the fun of delving in each bush and trying to find the plumpest, darkest fruits. Blackberries, which I did not know, do not pull quite as easily from the vine as raspberries do. But a little tug will reveal whether or not the berries are ready to be picked. After about twenty minutes of chasing fruit up and down the blackberry bushes, and an encounter with a family of pheasants that seemed to be meandering among the brush, our pints were full.
Now the enjoyment of Russell Orchards does not end with the pick your own. You can also take pleasure in walking around and petting a few of the animals. There's a very surly hog, which it seems spends much of it's time caked in dirt and taking a load off in his pen. A large sign by the pen warns that the pig bites. Yes, pigs bite. They know that you like bacon. I've been lunged at by a friend's hog in the past. You've been warned. 
There's also a lovely little pony, which was so eager to grab the longer bits of grass that he had not yet nibbled at outside of the fence. This was a very cute little pony, as you can see from the photo. Additionally, a whole flock of different breeds of chickens were scattered around the chicken coup, along with quite a few friendly Nubian goats, and a sheep or two. 
The star of the different animals on the farm, in my humble opinion, was this huge Maine Coon, lazily enjoying the pats and caresses of different farm visitors from inside of the farm store. He had huge paws, and a little motorboat purr, as he relaxed in his wooden rocking chair from behind the wine tasting booth. While at the farm store, you may want to check out a little chilled room of other vegetables they offer at the farm, then there's also the wine tasting area where you can try a variety of fruit wines that they make at the farm, the favorite of which is actually not a wine, but a non-carbonated hard cider, very refreshing when chilled on a hot day. There are some little knickknack souvenirs, and an offering of the farm's own house-made vinegars for purchase.
Then there were the donuts. Cider donuts are available for purchase in this little cupboard. Toss with a little cinnamon sugar at home, and boy do you have yourself a treat. But sometimes the moist cake donuts, don't make it all the way home. 
And so ended my day at the farm. Man, I wish I could start every day here.

Russell Orchards
143 Argilla Road
Ipswich, MA 01938

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Yo, baby, you want some hash?

Canned hash is a nasty business. It doesn't even remotely resemble anything that was once living, and I imagine that if the Soviets had won, we'd be eating this three times a day. Or maybe it's if the Irish won. Or maybe it's if Walmart wins. Meh. Who cares. The point is that great hash can be prepared when using very nice, fresh ingredients, and today I had the pleasure of starting with the cream of the crop.
Every element of this hash has a little story and is a bit unusual. I've got a smallish-sized Asian eggplant that looks like it's only got a few more days before it'll be spent. Then there's my favorite wacky yellow flying saucer squash. I've made sure to try to pick up one of these each time I see them, because not only do they have a pretty darn playful name and shape, but the flavor is sweet, and this variety of squash seems to keep its texture a bit more firm when cooked. I've also got a little bit of fresh flat leaf parsley and some fresh thyme, one of my favorite earthy herbs... a prelude to the mounds of sage and rosemary characteristic of autumn flavors. And then, I've got about a quarter of a chouriço sausage. Chouriço, as I've mentioned previously, is a staple Portuguese sausage of my childhood, and highly regarded around areas such as Fall River and New Bedford. It's rich, bright red with the flavors of paprika and smokey pork, and as you cook it, the red juice that oozes out and flavors all your other ingredients is just as important as the meat itself... as you will soon see.
Adirondack Red Potatoes
But there are two other ingredients that I am really excited to try out. First, I've got some beautiful, fairly newly dug potatoes. These are extra special because they are Adirondack Red potatoes, picked up from Kimball Fruit Farm's stand at the Dewey Square Farmers Market in Boston, obviously my favorite farm stand. This specific potato is a hybrid variety, recognized for its vibrant red skin, and likewise, pink-colored flesh. Beyond being a cool looking potato, it's delicious and rich in antioxidants. 
Duck Eggs
The other ingredient that has me all a twitter, are these beauties! They are duck eggs, purchased from the Batcheller Hill Farm stand at the same Boston farmers market. I've never used duck eggs before, and though I have had a few run ins with quail and ostrich eggs (both so awesome), I felt the need to ask the lady at the farm stand how best to use these. She kind of surprised me, stating that the duck eggs could be used in the same way as any regular chicken egg. The only difference she could really tell was that these eggs would have a slightly firmer white protein, and a larger yolk. I think a super yolky fried duck egg could make for the perfect hash topper, don't you?
Prepping a hash is about the easiest thing in the world. I diced up the chouriço into little cubes, and likewise sliced up my potatoes into slightly larger cubes. The trick is that you want the potatoes to cook up fairly quickly, so I keep them pretty small, maybe about a quarter of an inch cubes. Next I cut similarly-sized pieces of my eggplant and the flying saucer squash, and minced the fresh herbs. At this point, I tossed by eggplant with salt, and set it between two paper towels, topped with the weight of a frying pan to squeeze out some moisture. Before using the eggplant, which was in about ten minutes, I gave them a rinse and dried them off.
With frying pan on medium heat, I added about a tablespoon of canola oil, and my bits of chouriço. In two minutes, the flavors of the sausage had saturated the rest of the oil, and it was an appropriate time to add the potatoes, and toss, and toss, and toss. By keeping the potatoes moving, I prevented sticking, but it only takes about five to seven minutes until they are cooked through enough to add your other ingredients. After tasting and making sure that they are just about done, I added my herbs, my squash, and my eggplant pieces. About three more minutes of tossing everything around, adding a bit of salt pepper, and just a dash of poultry spice, the hash was done. I set it aside in a bowl, the entire room smelling savory like what they must serve for breakfast in heaven, and it's now time to fry up the duck egg.
In a nonstick frying pan, I gave everything a good round spray, and set the heat on high. I like to fry my eggs in a very hot nonstick pan, because I find that then the egg white will cook quicker, giving me a better chance of flipping the egg without breaking the yolk. I tested the hot pan with a drop of water. It made the appropriate sizzling sound, and I broke the egg into the pan. One minute on one side, and then a flip, and about thirty seconds on the other ensures for a nice runny yolk. Out of the pan and on top of the hash it went. 
This was perhaps the most remarkable, savory, unctuous, and yet very simple meal that I've made myself all summer. The preparation was easy, but the ingredients were all extroardinary, and extroardinary summer ingridents are things that must never ever be taken for granted. From the first moment that the beautiful yolk was broken over the hash, all of this natural sauce was allowed to coat the sweet, sauteed squash, the waxy and fresh earthy potatoes, those delicious, creamy on the inside eggplant. Furthermore, all the ingredients were saturated with the flavors of home, the oils of the chouriço. It's the pleasure of breaking the yolk, tossing everything about, and tasting something decadent, and yet also fresh. What a treat.

The Money Shot
1/4 of a chouriço sausage
3 small Red Adirondack potatoes
1 small Asian eggplant
1/2 flying saucer squash
2 sprigs flat leaf parsley
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Salt, pepper, dash of poultry spice
1 duck egg

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Another Route 1 Gem: Pho 888

The Route 1 strip spanning from Boston through Revere and continuing through Saugus into Peabody is kind of a wacky adventure of novelty signs, over the top eateries, and orange dinosaurs. But it certainly does have it's collection of gems. There's the somewhat recently opened second edition of Santarpio's that has landed here. Everybody is a fan of Karl's Sausage Kitchen. And then you have the neon mainstays like Kowloon and Hill Top Steakhouse. But there's one that you're probably going to miss if you don't know it's there. There's no flashy sign, and as far as I can tell, the world of internet food nerds haven't descended upon a real find as of yet. So please, let me introduce you to Pho 888, located on the Southbound side of Route 1 in Peabody, MA. 
My bigger half and I have made it a habit to hit up the 888 on every Saturday where he happens to have the top half of the day off. (Note: To the utter sadness of pho cravers everywhere, they are now closed on Sundays.) Driving past the huge Christmas Eve sign with the big Santa Claus hanging off of it in the middle of August is a bit surreal, but shortly after that it's a quick right turn into a nothing so special strip mall, and you've arrived at Pho 888. It's inexpensive, it's filling, it's something we could never duplicate without hours of preparation and research at home, and frankly, I consider the place my own little sanctuary. You're not coming here for the decor, unless you've got a thing for infomercials and plastic flowers. This place is all about Vietnamese soups, where the flavor of the broth is so well balanced that I think it could give a few of the Chinatown Boston spots a serious run for their money. 
So what to order? Well, there are five greatest hits, where at least two or three will make it on our roster on any particular lunch time adventure.
Chả giò
1) Chả giò: These deep fried spring rolls are absolutely delicious. Crispy little rolls are filled with lightly pickled, sweet shredded onions and carrots. Ground pork is another prime flavor that comes to this party. I realize that they do closely resemble just about any spring roll that you might order from your local Chinese takeout. But they're better than that. Since there are pickled vegetables within each roll, along with the ground pork, and a delightful dipping sauce that tastes of rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, and whatever brine they may have used for the pickled veggies, not only are these rolls crunchy and savory, but they're also tangy, and vibrantly fresh. Crunchy and succulent, these are a wonderful little appetizer to tide you over while you wait for whatever big bowl of noodles you have ordered. 
Phở đặc biệt
2) Phở đặc biệt or Xe Lua (extra large size of Phở đặc biệt): This is the classic bowl of pho, and the first bowl that anyone should order if they've never had good pho before. 888 does an excellent version of this staple Vietnamese bowl of noodles, the broth deeply fragrant of rich beef, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and sweet star anise. It's a very complex and harmonious flavor with each spoonful. The soup will also have layers of thinly sliced, rare flank steak (simply cooked by the hot broth), beef tendon, tripe, and brisket. It's meaty, but still light and with constant new flavors unearthed with each sip of the broth. You also have the typical pho noodles: thin, pretty short and fairly filling, flat noodles at the bottom of the bowl. While eating this soup, I like to add a good dose of bean sprouts and ripped up basil leaves, which your kind server will bring out prior to serving the soup. My bigger half likes to squeeze limes into his soup... which I understand adds additional tang, zing, and freshness to your broth, but I've never been a huge fan of dispelling savory flavors with all too much lime (sue me, I know what I like). After a few tastes of this delicious soup, I also enjoy adding little spoonfuls of the hot pepper sauce located at the end of the table. A little of this goes a long way, but definitely adds another dimension to enjoying your delicious pho. 
Bún bò Huế
3) Bún bò Huế: If you are aching for a punch of spicy, then this is your soup. Warning: despite the note at the bottom of the menu that you can request more or less spicy flavor for your order, this dish is sort of an all in type of soup for those that really crave heat. Wikipedia tells me that Bún bò Huế is a soup famously born out of old imperial capital of Central Vietnam, Huế. The deeply developed broth is created from simmering beef bones for a long period of time, and then adding different spices and flavors including lemon grass and shrimp paste. But beyond having a very well developed broth, the first thing you will notice is the firey red color of the soup. A first taste, and the heat is a little numbing, and then as it saturates your taste buds and the intense heat will begin to subside, revealing the more lighter flavors of the lemongrass, and that delicious fatty beef. The soup is in fact topped with mounds of the fatty beef, perhaps a little too generous at times, since it is competing with the knock out punch of the broth. Further down the rabbit hole, you'll notice that the noodles of this dish are not those of the typical pho dish above. Instead of flat, short rice noodles, what you'll receive are delightful, springy, chewy fat rice vermicelli. They are bout the size of large spaghetti, but add another element of texture to the soup that I actually enjoy more than the noodles of classic pho. Slippery, chewy, and dancing with the heat of the soup, this is another definite must order.
Pho Sate
4) Pho Sate: Let's just say that you like the idea of getting a spicy soup, but aren't too jazzed at the idea of burning up your taste buds with the offering above. You also would like to stick to something that utilizes the same base stock as the classic pho above, but maybe with some minor adjustments. The pho sate satisfies all of these needs. My bigger half tends to get this when he's not feeling the pho or the bun bo hue. It's the same complex broth as the pho, the same flat, small noodles, but the soup is flavored with the addition of peanuts, and tomatoes. Obviously, what's produced is a slightly rounder soup base, and then of course, the nuttiness of the crushed peanuts. The slightly less spicy broth is also just enough to add a little kick to the whole meal. 
Hủ tiếu Nam Vang
5) Hủ tiếu Nam Vang: This is my new favorite order. When the lovely waitress comes around to take your order, if you want something really special, ask for the hủ tiếu Nam Vang, but then ask if you an have the noodles that come with the bún bò Huế. It'll cost about fifty cents extra to get the different noodles, but in my opinion, the change of noodles really makes this a damn near perfect bowl of soup. The soup itself is made of a pork base (I think). It's sweet, savory, and just as complex as the previously mentioned broths that accompany the bun bo hue and the pho, but this time I also get the flavors of a bit of seafood, perhaps a bit of dried shrimp and squid went into the making of this broth. Likewise, the items found floating in the soup include slices of fish cake, lovely spirals of cooked squid, large shrimps, and thin slices of pork. A heaping handful of bean sprouts, and a bit of basil, and you have a wonderful salty, sweet soup. Since you've had the guts to ask for a switch hitter of thick vermicelli noodles, you're going to also be in for an extra treat, with those springy rice noodles, no longer drenched with spice, but picking up the pork and seafood flavors of this very mild broth. Of course, as I delve more and more into the Hủ tiếu Nam Vang, the little additions of the hot chili sauce add another note of enjoyment to the soup. One bite: springy noodles, sliced pork, chewy, fresh, perfectly cooked squid, and that silky, unctuous broth. Doesn't get much better.
By the way, when your check comes, you'll rarely go over about thirty dollars or so. Such a steal. So if you're really a big fan of pho, and all things delicious in the land of soup and noodles, give pho 888 a try, wave to Santa on your way there, and tip your waitress well. Lot of magic in this fairly unassuming eatery on Route 1.

Pho 888
136 Newbury Street, Site 7
Peabody, MA 01960
(978) 535-8339