Tomato Cake

TOMATO CAKE – Born of the depression this cake is delicious and can be made with either red or green tomatoes. It’s vegetarian and Vegan, yummy and an excellent way to use up the late summer’s tomato bounty, serves four

WET
11/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 TSP each baking powder and soda
pinch of sea salt
3/4 cup light brown sugar
cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

DRY
1 cup of fresh tomato pulp, blanched, skinned, seeded , chopped and drained well.
1/3 cup virgin olive oil
2 TB apple cider vinegar

Mix wet and dry ingredients, do not overmix.

Place in a baking pan, 91/2 inches works well. Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Eat this yummy treat right out of the oven to enjoy a crisp top crust.

Chicago – Big City Dining

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If ever there was a city on the radar for exceptional dining, Chicago is it right now. It’s home to some of the most innovative and award winning restaurants around (think Alinea, NoMi Kitchen, Next, The Girl and the Goat…) as well as a wealth of traditional eats, such as pizza and hot dogs.

chicago1My birthday week featured dining galore in this fun city with expert steerage from long time friends Diane and Will. We chowed down on the quintessential loaded Chicago dog, shared a great deep dish pizza and shopped a uber liquor warehouse, returning home with a cache of interesting finds. Beyond that, yes, way beyond, were the cutting edge and rather retro cocktails at numerous hot spots after an evening at Steppenwolf Theatre.

I must note a fantastical evening spent at restaurant Elizabeth, on my official birthday. A hand full of very game diners, filled the place, seated family style at three tables. A full dining room seats 24 or so guests with an option of three menus, all with a foraging theme. Owner Iliana Regan, a self taught chef,calls her cuisine “New Gatherer” and offers three menus, the Owl, the Deer and the Diamond. Diane and I choose the middle option, the Deer menu. We strapped in for a four hour, fifteen course crazy ride. The meal was so unusual, so regional and locally sourced ( for instance,one course was named for the coordinates where the food was foraged) that my description will not do it justice. I recommend learning more about this unique dining experience from their site. www.elizabeth-restaurant.com

Food Safari/Cheese Making in Rockport, ME

2013-01-09_14-45-11_472One of the things that I most like about a the slow season in Maine is the opportunity to stretch out a little and consider learning something new. So, with a bit of time on my hands this winter I spoke with Allison Lakin of Lakin’s Gorges Cheese. She’s the creator  of cheeses that I know and learned to love at many of the finer dining establishments around the area. Working presently out of a leased space in the State of Maine Cheese building on Route 1 in Rockport, she turns out lovely fresh basket molded ricotta as well as some aged beauties such as Opus 42, Morgan, Medallion, a smaller aged cheese with a bloomy rind, and my personal favorite, Prix De Diane.

2013-01-09_14-42-21_542Explaining that I had little experience cheese making, I asked whether she’d like an occasional helper.  She said yes and what fun it was! I have made plenty of tofu in times past, and turns out that it’s not so different. Especially from Ricotta cheese making, only I never used molding baskets “back in the day.”

2013-01-09_16-50-02_501Cleanliness is of the utmost importance in this process. You want to cultivate certain cultures, but not others. There are shoe dips, hand washing and hairnets involved. No fuzzy sweaters allowed either I learned.

It all begins with organic Jersey milk from Tide Mill Farm in Edmunds. Jersey milk is noted for its high butterfat content.
2013-01-09_15-35-46_542For ricotta cheese this high quality milk is warmed in a special jacketed piece of equipment then vinegar is added to create the curds and whey. Lots of whey is a by product of cheese and forethought must be given to it’s disposal. When the curds form, it’s like magic. Warm, sweet, steamy milky magic. It reminded me of Junket rennet custard, which those of us “of a certain age” got fed as children. Initially the curds are silky, then tighten up to  very cohesive curds, which mold quickly to the basket, then are turned out after draining.

2013-01-09_14-46-34_966The aged cheeses are a little more mysterious. The curds have a different quality and are ladled carefully, by hand into  their distinctive draining molds.The largest wheels, the 6 pound Opus 42 and the half pound Morgan , both mold ripened cheeses, age for up to three months. The smaller softer bloomy rind cheeses require 4-6 weeks.

All these aged cheeses rest comfortably in their temperature controlled vaults doing what beautiful handmade cheeses do….ripen to perfection under the watchful eye of Ms. Lakin, a master cheese maker.

These artisanal cheeses are available widely in better shops and restaurants or on line at www.lakinsgorgescheese.com

Spring Greens with a Yogurt Mayonnaise

greensAllium tricoccum — also known as the ramp, spring onion, ramson, wild leek, wild garlic, and, in French, ail sauvage and ail des bois — is an early spring vegetable with a strong garlicky odor and a pronounced onion flavor.[1]  Wikipedia

Directions
Steam the fiddleheads over boiling water for 5 minutes or until they are crisp-tender. Drain, then chill in a bowl of ice and cold water to stop the cooking. When they have cooled, transfer to colander to drain.

In a small bowl whisk together the yogurt, mayonnaise, lemon juice, mustard, wild ramp greens. Add salt and pepper to taste, whisking until the sauce is smooth. Serve the Fiddleheads topped with the sauce.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Fiddleheads cleaned
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
  • 3 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped Wild Ramps greens

Maple Syrup Time!

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maple2Few things are sweeter than a little time spent in a sugar shack. Especially when the sap is running and the boil is on! mapleAdd to that a short stack of flapjacks and homemade sausage covered in amber syrup and there you have it…sugaring time in Maine.It is tradition and it is precious family time as well. Given the sunny day, families were out in droves across the state to enjoy breakfast, sometimes al fresco, or even better…. in a haze of sweet smoke and steam.

Potato & Leek Soup

I am always impressed that the humble potato and the equally humble leek provide such a rich flavor. leakSimple and amazingly simple to prepare, these two feel at home after a day getting the garden beds ready for planting.

I guess the chill of Spring sometimes calls for some soup therapy and people respond enthusiastically to this subtle but flavorful combination . I have served this to guests with crusty homemade bread and it always satisfies their soup cravings.

As we move towards Summer in a few months, other soups come into play in my kitchen but for this season of Springtime awakening, try this recipe. For me if it brings me memories of longer days, a longer twilight and the promise of a garden out the back window.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound leeks, cleaned and dark green sections removed, approximately 5 to 6 medium
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Heavy pinch kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning
  • 16 ounces, approximately 3 small potatoes, diced small and peeled
  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced chives

Directions
Section the leeks into small pieces.

In a 6-quart saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the leeks and a heavy pinch of salt and sweat for 5 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook until the leeks are tender, approximately 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the potatoes and the vegetable broth, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and gently simmer until the potatoes are soft, approximately 45 minutes.

Turn off the heat and puree the mixture with an blender until creamy. Stir in the heavy cream, buttermilk, and white pepper. Adjust seasoning if desired. Sprinkle with chives and serve, or chill for later and serve it cold.

Asparagus, Pea, Spinach Lasagna

By this point in the season we’re all anxious for something that comes out of the ground, preferably in our own backyards. Any green sprout, edible or not ,is a welcome sight.

Today I took the fir boughs off my asparagus and raked out the bed in hopes of a sighting. Nothing yet, there’s still frost in the ground. But very soon there will be a thrilling crop of my very own asparagus…….and it took four years to reach this moment!

This is what I will make:

ASPARAGUS, PEA, SPINACH LASAGNA serves 8 -10

INGREDIENTS
4 # trimmed and quickly steamed asparagus, cut into one inch pieces
1 large white onion, peeled and diced, sauteed in a generous amount of.olive oil
3 cups cooked, well drained spinach, chopped
1 cup of stemmed and finely chopped parsley
2 cups of goat cheese crumble OR FRESH RICOTTA, IF YOU PREFER ( Lakins’ Gorges Cheese in Rockport ME makes a fantastic fresh handmade ricotta!)
2 cups or good Parmesan
2 cups of shredded mozzerella
1 quart of your favorite Bechemel recipe, or you may use a jarred white sauce, add a pinch of nutmeg to it.
A cup of heavy cream
Salt and pepper
12 or more no boil lasagna noodles

PREPARATION
Combine all the vegetables, spinach asparagus, onion and peas, with a bit of white sauce and season with salt and pepper

In a greased deep lasagna pan, cover the bottom with white sauce thinned with heavy cream.

Layer in noodles, vegetables, cheeses and sauce until you’ve used everything up OR reached the top of the pan. Finish with a layer of noodles and white sauce, sprinkle on more cheese.

Using your best judgement, add a little more heavy cream in the layering process if you think the lasagna needs it, you don’t want it to be dry.

Cover tightly with parchment lined foil and bake for about an hour at 350 degrees.

Let it rest for 20 minutes, covered ,before cutting. Enjoy with a big spring salad!

Grilled Duck Breasts with Savory Rhubarb Sauce

One of my favorite company “go to” meals in the summer is duck breasts on the grill. I purchase the frozen (fat on) breasts of duck at Curtis Meats or other quality purveyor and simply defrost them overnight in the fridge. I trim the fat but leave a generous pad in the center to protect the meat, which I score. This helps keep the meat moist. I love duck rather rare and generously salted and peppered. Otherwise, leave it alone and focus on the show stopping rhubarb sauce, flavored with lemon and star anise.

While my rhubarb is in its prime, I make plenty of this sauce, which cans nicely, so it may be enjoyed year round. I have noticed that I get better visual results if I make the pieces of rhubarb slightly larger, maybe 2 inches long rather then one.

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Using Sorrel: Soup of Mixed Spring Greens

What’s the first weed you can remember eating as a child?

For me it was sorrel or “sour grass” as we called it. I am speaking about oxalis or wood sorrel. Remember the one that looked like lime green clover with a little yellow flower that turned into something (now I know it was a seed pod) resembling a tiny green banana? It was puckery. But there is garden sorrel too, beloved by the French and originating in France’s southern highlands. It’s in the garden now and widely available year round at specialty markets.

A relative of buckwheat and with broad leaves that remind one of spinach, but more lemony, sorrel’s acidic finish is due to its high oxalic acid content, the same as rhubarb. That makes sorrel a natural pairing with rich or fatty fishes and meats as a sauce. It also makes a nice purée or soup.

In preparation, be sure to use a stainless knife or tear the leaves by hand. Sorrel will discolor a traditional French iron cooking knife as well as erode pots and pans, so use a stainless knife and enamel pot when cooking it.

I like to use an array of spring greens in my spring greens and sorrel soup. Try mixing fresh spinach, sorrel, and arugula with a handful of green garlic leaves for this energy boosting and easy soup. I am making this version a little bit leaner than a traditional French style sorrel soup. Sorrel is famous for turning an off-putting sludgy green color when cooked on its own. That’s why I like to mix in brighter greens like spinach for the soup. Much more appealing!

Herb-soup-garnished

Argentine Foodways

Argentine Foodways

Let’s begin by defining “foodways”. Wikipedia defines this term as “the cultural, social and economic practices relating to the production and consumption of food tied to larger social and economic factors.

100_2834Immediately noted by me, an enthusiastic eater of regular meals, Argentina is a night culture and a cafe culture.Meals do not occur on an American schedule. The Argentine people eat four meals a day, which must be necessary for staying up half the night.

Their breakfast or desayuno is a light meal of coffee or mate, medialunas ( pastry) and jam or dulce de leche, sometimes bread and cold cuts. Mate is worth a discussion. While everyone drinks it and it is traditional to do so,it seems to be considered a bit of a vice. Probably much like drinking coffee is here in the US. Less fortunate folk drink it to excess to stave off hunger, I was told and it’s not uncommon to see working class people carting around their thermos of hot water along with their mate gourd or calabazo and straw or bombilla. While it contains caffeine and is stimulating, it is also relaxing with a deeply vegetal flavor which is quite enjoyable.

100_2643Lunch, or almuerzo, features meat and vegetables or salad. In the larger cities I noted several vegetarian buffets, popular as lunch spots and incredibly good values. Perhaps a rebuttal to the famous Argentine beef, which is heavily favored in most meals, sometimes prepared in the Milanese style, or pounded and breaded.

After work its “tea time”, which means time to linger forever in one of the ubiquitous street side cafes, over either tea or a “cafe solo” and lots of conversation. Maybe you prefer yours “con leche?” At this time tapas- like snacks or little pannini are consumed with gusto. This is a good thing since dinner won’t be until 10 p.m. or later. My traveling companion and I got called “grandmothers” for wanting to eat by 8 or 9 pm. Hey, we’re not even mothers, just can’t sleep on a full stomach. Returning to the cafes …many are associated with particular artistic or literary, political or student groups and are important within the social context of the city. It’s nice to see people giving themselves permission to converse passionately and spend time together with nothing seeming to pressure them. I feel it’s time well spent.

100_2818The people in Buenos Aires love their snacks. I noticed the bakeries doing a booming business at all times of day selling delicious varieties of empanadas (think beef, chicken, seafood,Caprise, mushroom, pork….) and other savory snacks or cookies galore. Like the Alfajore sandwich cookie. They ought to be illegal and are so good with their filling of dulce de leche or jam and chocolate coat. I saw more carbonated water being consumed that sodas, but the show stopper of any drink I had in the country was a fabulous “slushy” of heavily gingered lemonade. Completely refreshing , you can bet I will be making this at home this summer.

Cena, or dinner, is unfathomably late in the evening and is the largest meal of the day. Since Italians settled this place, it’s all reminding me of Rome. You can get Italian bitters like Frenet Branca anywhere after a meal. Even on your mini bar . Oh joy! I ate at some great steak joints and I can tell you that the beef is amazing, thick, juicy, delicious and all grass fed. usually, a steak dinner is offered with salad choices, side vegetables and lots of good red wine. I didn’t notice many desserts eaten in the evening.

If you want a traditional “asado” , or barbeque, you must go into the country where the cattlemen are……. or befriend a traditionalist and hope for an invitation to a family affair. The religion is to cook over wood coals, never flame. 100_2631A full compliment of meats (beef, lamb, sometimes goat, always sausage) will be roasting , often flayed open and whole. Grilled vegetables and many side salads will be offered up as well a Chimichurri sauce.Everything is mopped up with crusty bread, washed down with good red wine and eaten off wooden plates.

Back in the city, those out for the evening will continue drinking and dancing…tango is huge, tho sadly not with the youth so much. But you’d better pace yourselves. Oh, and bring your sunglasses. The younger set strike out after 1am. Things heat up by 3 am and, to our surprise, they’re still at it Sunday morning at 10 am, sunglasses on and piling out of the clubs and onto the sidewalks. Suddenly eating dinner late is making all the sense in the world!

I noticed salmon on most restaurant menus in Buenos Aires and , while on a side trip to Chile, I remembered why. we saw salmon and mussel farms everywhere while traveling thru the fiords of Chile. 100_2981They look innocent enough but the waters, once pristine, are suffering and the eco systems are dying. Most of the world’s salmon is now coming from Chile and while tasty, is it good to remember the cost of farmed fish. I am happy to report that the wild trout are still plentiful and were biting for me! I caught an 18 inch beautiful brown trout, with sweet pink salmon-like flesh.

Did I mention ice cream? It is done in the Italian gelato style and called helado. The ice cream of Argentina is very rich and wonderful and comes in very exotic flavors, Andean chocolate became my favorite ( a mix of bitter chocolate, dulce de leche and Patagonian walnuts), but you can get rosehip too and a variety of other inventive flavors!

100_2746About visiting Argentina in December……..it’s early summer there, the lupines , wild orchids and Scotch broom are in full bloom, kids are getting out of school for summer vacation and it’s Christmas! The farms are also producing wonderful vegetables, nuts and fruits, honey, hops and berries of all varieties, cherries, strawberries, gooseberries and calafate, the mystery berry of Argentina. It’s a type of dark berry from a barberry bush. It’s said if you eat these berries, you’ll return for another stay. I bought some jam which I’ve not tasted yet, but I will keep you posted! I fully intend to return to this beautiful place for further adventure in the Patagonia.