Archive for April 2012

Rhubarb, Ahoy

April 25, 2012

My rhubarb is taking over its corner of the garden, its leaves hugely extravagant, its stalks brilliant crimson, thick and meaty. This is a problem for a person who doesn’t eat sugar, as rhubarb is one of the sourest things you can put in your mouth and live to tell the tale.

But I remembered reading somewhere that in some culture (guess I didn’t read it very carefully, did I?) they eat sliced raw rhubarb dipped in salt. Hoping against common sense, I tried that, and now I’m here to say: don’t under any circumstances do that yourself. It’s actually a rinse your mouth out right now combination as far as I’m concerned, and that was after just the tiniest nibble.

Undaunted, or at least only partially daunted, I continued to search online for savory rhubarb recipes. And Bingo! I found an Italian recipe for Faraona Brasata con Rabarbero e Cipolle Rosse. Doesn’t that sound mouth-watering? Translated as Braised Guinea Hen with Rhubarb and Red Onions it still sounded good, so I waltzed out to the garden and twisted off a thick stalk of rhubarb. That’s one stalk down, forty to go, but still.

I tweaked the recipe a little to make it even lower carb, and because guinea hen is just plain unavailable in these parts. You can see the original recipe here, and my adaptation follows. It’s a slightly sweet, slightly sour, silky and tender concoction with an intriguing flavor profile. Even Shel, a confirmed rhubarb-hater, thought it was delightful. It’s so good that now that I have discovered this dish I’m going to freeze a lot of my rabarbero so that I can make it all year round. And when I get back to France I’m definitely going to try it with guinea hen, which I find delicious. I can only imagine that made with faraona this dish will be even better than it already is, which is saying quite a lot.

So try it, even if you think it sounds peculiar, surprise yourself.

Chicken With Rhubarb And Red Onion

6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1/2 lb diced rhubarb
salt and pepper
4 T olive oil
5 T butter
1 small red onion, chopped
2/3 cup dry white wine

Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan. Generously salt and pepper the chicken. Brown the chicken in the hot oil until golden brown on both sides. Remove the chicken to a plate and drain the oil from the pan. Do not wash pan.

Melt the butter in the pan, then add the red onion and a pinch of salt. Cook the onions over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft. Pour the wine into the pan and scrape to deglaze any brown bits. Return the chicken to the pan along with any juices accumulated on the plate, reduce heat to low, cover pan, and simmer for 25 minutes, turning chicken pieces once or twice during cooking.

Stir in the rhubarb, add another sprinkle of salt and pepper, cover the pan again, and continue to cook for about 20 more minutes, until the chicken is meltingly tender and the rhubarb is tender but still holding its shape. This makes a lot of delightful sauce, so if you do eat carbs, serve it with mashed potatoes or polenta to soak up the sauce. If not, do as I did and just eat the sauce with a spoon. It’s that good.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

April 21, 2012

I love Shel, and Shel loves chocolate chip cookies. So when I saw these tiny little pecans, labeled Native American Pecans, only about twice as big as a regular chocolate chip and tasting intensely pecan-y, I knew it was time to bake him some cookies. Normally I just use chopped regular pecans, and so can you, unless you happen to see these adorable miniature ones, and then I recommend them just for their extreme cuteness and the fact that you can leave them whole.

If you’re a person who likes to eat cookie dough, you’re going to love this dough, which tastes at least as good unbaked as it does in its more traditional format.

This recipe, based on my tweaks to one I found online about 15 years ago, has a huge chip-and-nut to dough ratio. Don’t be tempted to use less, there’s plenty of dough to hold it all together, even though it might not look like it. Picnic weather is finally here, and these are a perfect take-along. Just don’t forget the milk. These cookies will make you very popular.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup softened butter
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 1/2 oz chocolate chips
4 1/2 oz toasted pecans

Preheat oven to 350°.

Place the two sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer, add the butter, and beat on medium speed until very creamy, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and continue to beat until the mixture is fluffy and light, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the vanilla.

Turn off the mixer and add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. I don’t see any need to mix the dry stuff together beforehand, it’ll all mix in evenly and it saves one dirty bowl. Since Shel also does all the dishes, this is a Good Thing. With the mixer on low, blend the dry ingredients into the butter mixture until it just comes together. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the chocolate chips and nuts by hand.

Using a Tablespoon cookie scoop, place the dough on ungreased cookie sheets. If you use a half-sheet pan, you will need two. You should end up with about 27 cookies. Bake for 9-10 minutes, just until the cookies are a light golden color. Do not overbake, on pain of losing the soft melting quality of these cookies.

Calling All Collards

April 15, 2012

It’s spring, and young, tantalizingly tender greens are finally here! Yesterday at the annual opening of our farmers’ market my sweet farmer Rebecca had a heap of the freshest, most delicate collard greens ever. Considering that I’ve had a gorgeous smoked ham hock in my freezer for a couple of weeks, just waiting, the collards arrived none too soon.

It’s funny, because although Shel is the Southerner in our family, collards leave him cold. But the minute I saw that ham hock, nestled among other farm-fresh pork goodies at my favorite butcher shop, I had a sudden, mad craving for collard greens with ham hocks.

Collards like these, so irresistible that I’ve now eaten them two days in a row and still have enough left for another meal, hallelujah and skip the cornbread. I’m sure that back in the hollers where collards are everyday fare, they’d scoff at my raving about first-of-the-spring greens, and my artisan raised and smoked ham hock. They’d probably laugh their heads off at my recipe, which includes

an excellent sherry vinegar that I brought back from Spain, in place of the usual cider vinegar, and my most favorite hot sauce Secret Aardvark Habanero, in place of Tabasco. Let them scoff. If you use the absolutely best ingredients you can find, this humble dish will surprise you by being transcendentally delicious. You may not have exactly what I had, but seek out the best you can get, and your efforts will be well rewarded.

Abra’s Gentrified Collard Greens

2 lbs tender spring collards
1 large smoked ham hock
3-4 quarts water
1-2  T sherry vinegar, to taste
1-2T Secret Aardvark sauce, or your favorite hot sauce
salt and pepper to taste
2 T butter

Place the ham hock in a large saucepan and cover with the water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, covered, until tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Meanwhile, remove the ribs of the collards by pulling the leaves off, discarding ribs. Slice the collards into a medium chiffonade.

When the ham hock is tender, add the collards to the broth, cover, and simmer. Traditionally you’d cook the collards for a couple of hours, but with these young collards one hour was enough. Towards the end of that hour add the vinegar and hot sauce. When the collards are meltingly tender remove the ham hock from the pan and pull off all the meat. Sliver the ham and return it, along with the bone, to the pot. You want to have lots of the delicious “pot likker” left, but I removed the lid at this point, raised the heat a bit, and simmered it all together for 20 minutes or so to reduce the broth even further. Just before serving stir in the butter and let it melt. You’re good to go.

People who eat cornbread will want to make some and dunk it in the pot likker. People like me, no carbs people, will want to drink it straight from the bowl. It’s almost worth making just for that final moment of slurping up the spring-green nectar at the bottom of the bowl, but luckily for you, you get to eat the ham and collards too. So quick, rush out while the collards are at their finest, treat yourself to this green gift, and slurp away, with my blessing.

Cheese Whizzes

April 9, 2012

Friends, ovines, cheese lovers, lend me your ears. I’m here to tell you that there’s damned good cheese being made here in Washington State by some 40 artisan cheesemakers, and that endorsement’s coming from a person who has wholeheartedly sworn allegiance to French cheese. My perspective changed on the day before Easter, when we went to the first Washington Artisan Cheese Festival, a benefit for the Cascade Harvest Coalition.

Entering a cavernous room we discovered that the walls were lined with cheesemakers handing out endless samples of their wares. Every cheese was numbered, and later one could (and this one certainly did) buy their favorite cheeses to take home, by the numbers.  There were definitely too many cheeses to remember without a numbering system, probably about 100 different cheeses to sample, with Washington wine, beer, and cider available to help clear the palate between tastes.

Some folks had their cheese samples ready to go, and the visitors just filed past and grabbed tidbits.

Others, like these two ladies from Mountain Lodge Farm practically hand fed you. They were also responsible for transforming Shel into a fiend for fresh chèvre spread on a thin gingersnap. He even went back for seconds, which is very unlike him, so I suggest you give it a try as soon as possible.

You could chat with the cheesemakers, to the extent that your conscience allowed chatting when there was a whole line of impatient tasters behind you, and it was interesting to hear their explanations of how a very small cheesemaking operation does its thing.

There were also a few cheese auxiliary foods like bread, crackers, and jam. The limpa got especially high marks from my group.

I really liked a lot of cheese, but I’d have to say that Tieton Farm impressed me the most. Click the link to take a look at their website, they have a praiseworthy and diverse farming and production process, as well as producing exciting cheeses.Their Sonnet could pass for French, as could their Cendres. Their cider-washed-rind Venus is just delicious. I know I’ll be happily eating and serving their cheeses from now on.

Willapa Hills Big Boy Blue is one of the creamiest and most appealing cow milk blues that I’ve had in a long time

and Pluvius, their aged cow cheese is especially pretty to look at.

Samish Bay Cheese had a lovely lineup, and I wanted to take home some of everything. I did get some of their queso fresco-style Jalapeno cheese, which is stuffed full of juicy bits of fresh pepper and is just crying out for a Mexican salad lunch. I might also have to emulate their Black Mambazo by lightly coating some mild cheese with a mixture of cocoa and ground chipotle. Yum!

There were several spicy offerings but I was especially taken with River Valley Cheese for their awesome pepper jack. Their ale-washed-rind Naughty Nellie sneaked into my sack as well. They give cheesemaking classes in Seattle too – yowza, I am so going to do that.

So all in all, Washington sheep, goats, cows, and their people, good job!