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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gluten Free Birthday Cake

My mother's birthday was this week and it was time to celebrate. My brother had a nice Memorial Day barbecue at his place and it was up to me to bring dessert.

I chose Tres Leches cake. I've been making this cake for years. I first found the recipe years ago in my favorite cookbook, Gooey Desserts. I loved the recipe because it was creamy and sweet and so easy to make. I like to think I started making this cake before it became realy trendy. It became my mother's favorite very quickly.

Since it's Mom's birthday and I haven't made her a tres leches cake in ages. I knew she would appreciate one.

I just had one question. Should I keep the gluten-free thing going? Kevin and I definitely cheated on the gluten thing a few times during our vacation. He was finally tested and the test came up negative, but gluten tests tend to be inconclusive, so his doctor suggested he keep up the gluten-free thing anyway. Tres Leches is such an easy cake. Could I adjust my recipe into a gluten-free one?

I decided to give it a try. The question is, what kind of flours should I buy? I went to the store and started buying gluten-free flours without really consulting any recipes. I came up with these.

Rice flour: Because it shows up in so many gluten-free recipes
Potato starch: Ditto
Almond flour: Because I have successfully baked with it before
Coconut flour: Because it just seemed cool!

Of course after I recklessly went out and bought all of that flour, I actually bothered to Google gluten-free tres leches cake recipes and found that I didn't have all of the right flours. Where was the sorghum and the xanthan gum and the other kind of rice flour? Many recipes relied on masa harina, which makes the most sense for a Latin American cake! It's enough to make one's head spin. How do these gluten-free bloggers do it? How do you know exactly what ratio of all of these flours to use?

I decided to devise a recipe using what I had. Tres leches cake is very forgiving after all. The recipe is all about the eggs in the cake and the milk mixture poured over the top.

My ratio was one cup rice flour, one half cup potato flour, and one half cup almond flour.

The milk mixture is a tasty mix of heavy cream, evaporated milk, and Kahlua warmed with eggs for a lovely custardy texture. It's almost like a really creamy eggnog covering the cake.

Most tres leches cake recipes call for a whipped cream topping. The recipe in Gooey Desserts calls for Italian meringue. I decided to stick with that idea. I feel Elaine Corn was very wise to not put a heavy, creamy topping on a cake already loaded down with milk and cream. The light stickiness of the meringue is a nice foil for the heavy, milky texture.

My substitutions didn't end there. I realized after I started baking that I was very low on corn syrup. I needed a cup and I only had about a quarter of a cup. I was not in the mood to go back out to the store at 9PM on a Friday night. I did some Googling and searched my cabinets and came to the conclusion that I could replace the Karo with agave syrup.

I had to tinker a bit with proportions since agave is super sweet and isn't as tasteless as corn syrup. There was a bit of agave-ishness to the frosting, but it wasn't too aggressive.

In general, the cake was really good. Everyone loved it and they were all impressed with the lack of gluten. The texture was perfect. My flour combination was spot on.


I also made my pickle-y potato salad for the barbecue. I found a brand of low-sodium pickles that are surprisingly good.

If you want the original recipe, email me. Here is my adjusted, gluten-free version.

Gluten Free Tres Leches Cake

Cake Ingredients
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1 cup rice flour
1/2 cup milk
1 Tbl baking powder
9 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Milk Filling
3 egg yolks
2 cups cream
5 oz can evaporated milk
14-oz can condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbl Kahlua

Frosting
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup agave syrup
1 cup sugar
3 egg whites

Bake cake
Heat oven to 350. Grease a 9"x13" pan.

Whisk together the flours until well blended. Set aside.

Mix milk with baking powder. Set aside.

Beat eggs yolks with sugar until very light in color. Stir in vanilla. Stir in flour mixture and milk mixture alternately.

Whip egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff. Fold in some of the whites into the yolk to lighten. Then fold in the remaining whites.

Spread into the prepared pan and bake 30-35 minutes.

Make milk filling
Beat eggs well. Bring cream to a boil. Slowly pour the hot cream into the egg yolks and beat well, working quickly so the eggs don't scramble. Beat until foamy and cooled and add remaining milks.

Make Frosting
Heat corn syrup, sugar, water, and agave over medium-high heat until they reach the thread stage (230-234). Whip egg whites to stiff peaks. Continue beating and slowly add the syrup. Continue beating about 5 minutes until glossy and cooled. It should remind you of Marshmallow Fluff.

Assemble
Remove cake from pan to the biggest, deepest platter you have in your kitchen. Poke holes in the top of the cake with the end of a wooden spoon. Slowly pour the milk filling over the top. Don't rush it as you want the filling in the cake! Don't panic if it spills too much. You can spoon it back on, and the cake is going to keep absorbing it as it cools. Cover with frosting in nice, pretty swirls, and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bringing a Bit of Jackson Home

On the last day of my vacation, I found this book in the hotel gift shop.



I bought it on impulse. My vacation was over, but if the food in the area is so good, why not try to make some of it myself at home?

We're home, and I'm one person cooking for two picky people, so I decided to try a very intriguiging chicken recipe containing some of my favorite ingredients: chicken, bacon, brandy, hazelnuts, and garlic.

I made some adjustments to the recipe. It called for both cultivated and dried porcini mushrooms. Since I'm not really into porcini, I skipped them. That saved me some money too. The recipe also called for creme fraiche. I opted for just plain heavy cream. Kevin isn't into tart dairy products and they don't top my list either. The recipe also tells you to saute the chicken in large amounts of walnut oil. Not only is that expensive, but it also seems pointless. The heat would likely destroy the flavor. I did follow the recipe's method mostly, although it seemed a bit weird at times.

My tinkering made for a pretty good recipe. It tasted better than just a pile of stuff on top of a chicken breast as this picture might suggest.


Here is my version of the recipe.

Mushroom-Hazelnut Chicken

Ingredients
2 Tbl olive oil
2 Tbl butter
Salt and pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
5-6 shallots, minced
4 strips bacon, cut into little pieces
4-5 cloves garlic minced
10 oz. fresh cremini mushrooms, sliced
3/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup brandy
1 Tbl fresh thyme
1/2 cup port
1/2 cup heavy cream

Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and brown well on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Remove from pan.

Add bacon and shallots to the pan and cook until bacon crisps. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Remove mixture from pan with a slotted spoon and drain.

If you have excess fat in the pan, drain it off, but leave about 3 tablespoons. Add your mushrooms and cook until they begin to give up their liquid. Toss in hazelnuts.
Add brandy and thyme and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

Add the port and return chicken and the shallot mixture to the pan. Simmer for another 10-15 minutes or until cooked through.

Remove chicken from pan and stir in cream. Place chicken pieces on a plate and pour sauce over the top.

Monday, May 24, 2010

My Wyoming Food Adventures

I'm back everyone! Did you miss me?

I am happy to report that I had a fabulous vacation, filled with some amazing scenery and beautiful wildlife, but also plenty of good eating. Jackson is a culinary goldmine and I never had a bad meal there.

(For non-food photos, click here. Kevin's photos will be on our website soon too. For non-food talk of my entire trip,go here.)

We arrived in town on Sunday afternoon. It was 4PM and we were starving. It was too late for lunch, but early for dinner - unless you're on NY time. We realized we would just have to have a "linner" somewhere.

We ended up at The Cadillac Grille. The Cadillac is three restaurants in one. On one side is Billy's Giant Burgers, a very casual, family-oriented spot. This place is beloved by the locals as the best burger in town. On the other side is the Cadillac Grille Dining Room. This is the more upscale restaurant. In between is the Cadillac Lounge. It's the bar area and it serves alcohol (which Billy's does not) as well as both burgers from Billy's along with some of the appetizers from the Dining Room. We sat in the lounge, which has a rather interesting color scheme.


I ordered a cheeseburger off of the Billy's menu. I'm not sure it's quite as good as its reputation would suggest. It could have been a bit juicier, but I did enjoy it. The french fries that accompanied it were not so good. They were crispy, but had a dry texture. I like my fries to feel a little greasy.

The next day was spent driving all over Yellowstone with a tour guide. It was a very long day and we weren't able to get out for dinner until almost 9. Fortunately Jackson stays open for business pretty late. We decided to try the highly-recommended Snake River Grill. We were very glad we did.

SRG is a lovely restaurant. It has beautiful rustic decor that hides the degree of sophistication in the food.

We both started with a salad of spring greens, avocado, and fregola. It was an interesting combination, but it all worked really well together.

Next I had succulent short ribs on top of an olive oil pomme puree`. The wine reduction was a bit different from many other restaurants serve. It was topped with a lemon-parsley persillade that really made it special.

Kevin had trout topped with a sort of southwestern succotash.

I wanted something light for dessert, so I went for passionfruit sorbet with little almond tuilles on top and a puff of coconut whipped cream.

I wish I had ordered Kevin's dessert. It was brownie ice cream sandwiches covered in chocolate with caramel sauce on the side.

Our server, Paco, was incredibly charming and cheerful throughout the night. He almost seemed to be putting on a show.

We liked this place so much, we nicknamed it Iron Forge West.*

Tuesday we toured Grand Teton. We had lunch at the Signal Mountain Lodge where I ate my first elk chili. I didn't take my camera with me unfortunately. Too bad since the views from the dining room were spectacular. The chili was good, but if you hadn't told me it wasn't beef chili, I wouldn't have known.

Tuesday night we tried Trio American Bistro. It was conveniently one block down from our hotel.

Trio doesn't try to fit in with the Jackson decor with log cabin or cowboy themes. It goes for a minimalist hip urban look.

I started my meal with a nice asparagus salad topped with paremesan, fried onions, and truffle oil.

My entree was a tad disappointing. It was a pork chop with a cherry balsamic glaze garnished with cippollini onions and bits of apple. The problem was that it was just a bit too salty. I don't think the sweetness of the apples or the cherries came though enough because the chef used too much salt. If he had cut back a bit, the dish would have been perfect. I'd say 10 points for the idea, but 7 for the execution.

Dessert was a very nice (and very large) creme brulee` flavored with vanilla and orange.

Kevin had an arugula salad to start, which he said was too vinegary, a piece of halibut that he didn't seem to have an opinion of one way or the other, and an apple tart that he merely remarked was very large. He liked this place less than I did.

Wednesday we started the day with horseback riding, but Kevin wasn't feeling well in the afternoon. For dinner that night we opted to stay close to home and had dinner at our hotel. The Wort Hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places and the bar has an illustrious past as both a neighborhood watering hole and a gambling parlor.

Their restaurant, The Silver Dollar Grille, is simply decorated with works of art from local artists along with the hotel's signature wagon wheel chandeliers and the bar's signature silver dollars embedded into the furniture.



I skipped the first course and opted for a buffalo filet.

This was absolutely delicious. The filet was beautifully prepared with a perfect crust on the outside that held all the sweet goodness of the port-wine and fig reduction that sauced it.

Kevin had root vegetable lasagne in a creamy sauce. Very unlike him, but he says he liked it. Back in NY, I'm usually the one who has trouble with menus because the nicer restaurants are full of seafood. In Jackson, there was never much seafood, but plenty of red meat, which I love, but he doesn't.

Dessert was a sweet huckleberry tart. Just like I felt like I couldn't stay in Jackson and not eat buffalo, I also couldn't stay in Jackson and not eat huckleberries. Nice buttery crust here.

Kevin's dessert had oreos, ice cream, caramel sauce, and I'm not sure what else. It certainly looked good!

Thursday morning we had breakfast at The Bunnery. This place is dangerous! You walk in and you are surrounded by counters full of baked goods. One side is all cakes and beautiful pies. The other side is every kind of breakfast pastry imaginable - plain croissants, filled croissants, sticky buns, cinnamon rolls, almond twists, cinnamon twists, muffins of all sorts - along with cookies, brownies, and lemon squares.

If you sit down to eat for breakfast, you are confronted with too many good choices. They make their own breads, waffles, and pancakes with their signature OSM (oats, sunflower, millet) flour. They have all sorts of egg dishes, including having your eggs with a breakfast pastry (croissant, coffee cake) instead of toast.

I had a Garden Benedict. This was an OSM bun topped with spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions and peppers and covered with fried eggs and hollandaise sauce. Can't say enough good things about it. The orange juice was fresh squeezed.

Thursday night I thought we should try some place a bit more casual than what we had been eating. There are a few Thai places in town and Thai is my favorite Asian cuisine, so we ventured out to find and try one. We ended up at Thai Me Up.

How can I resist a restaurant whose name is a pun and has this silly little vehicle in front?

The decor is pretty cool. I wish this photo captured how the bar was lit a bit better.

The humor doesn't end with the name of the restaurant. You need to read the entire menu all of the way through. You will laugh your head off.

We split an appetizer of spring rolls. We had peanut sauce and a seriously spicy chili sauce for dipping.

My entree was a lemongrass and ginger coconut curry. The menu claimed it was a special dish made via mortar and pestle and that it had limited availablity. I had no problem ordering it. I wanted a change from the usual coconut curry. Although this was advertised as spicy, it was rather mild, but very tasty.

Oh look! They found Bigfoot in the Tetons. Too bad they ended up shooting him and serving up his penis on a plate.

Oops. Sorry. It's just my dessert of a coconut-coated, fried banana. Yummy.

We went back to the Bunnery for breakfast the next morning. We were in a hurry because we were on our way to a Snake River float trip. We went for a takeout breakfast. It was nutritious. Really it was. Take my word for it. Okay. *Quicky turns away and wipes sticky bun glaze off face*

Friday night was our last night so we wanted to go somewhere fancy again. This time it was back to the Cadillac, but in the Dining Room this time.

Once again I skipped the appetizer and headed straight for the entree. I opted for a game mixed grill.



This was an elk t-bone, a buffalo NY strip, and wild boar sausage.

The elk t-bone was good. It mostly tasted like beef, but with just a subtle hint of something else. The buffalo was not nearly as well-prepared as the one I had at the Silver Dollar. It was somewhat gristly. When the server asked me how I felt about the meats, she said many customers said the same thing about the elk and the buffalo. The real standout here was the sausage. It was spicy and delicious - definitely the best meat on the plate.

Dessert was disappointing. I had a chocolate lava cake that was not sufficiently warm. The chocolate did not ooze out properly and the bottom of the cake was cold. It's hard to believe the worst dessert I had all week was the chocolate one.



Kevin had duck breast for dinner and apple tart for dessert. It was hard not to ask him why he never eats duck when I serve it to him!

My trip would have been wonderful even if the food had been horrible, but all of the delicious meals I ate in Jackson really put the icing on the proverbial cake. Not only was the food amazing, but we never had bad service in any restaurant. Everyone was prompt, courteous, and friendly. If you haven't been to Jackson, go for the mountains, go for the shopping, go for the art, and go for the wildlife, but make sure you don't neglect the restaurants!

*For those of you who may be new to this blog and don't understand the significance of the Iron Forge Inn, go here, here and here.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Picky Eater Heads West for a Food Adventure

Warning: Long, rambling examination of a culinary belly button along with more of my famous pointless anecdotes ahead.

My dear TERP Muffins, I will be briefly taking a week's leave of you while I head out to Jackson Hole Wyoming for a week. I'll be scoping out the scenery and the wildlife in Yellowstone and Grand Teton by day, and hope to be discovering new culinary adventures by night.

I've never been to this part of the country before and don't know much about the local cuisine. I do know that there is plenty of wild game to be had. Right now I embrace the adventure. But once upon a time, the idea of eating all sorts of unfamiliar ruminants and their cousins would have scared me, or more accurately, grossed me out.

I didn't grow up eating game. No one in my family hunts. I don't have any hunting friends. Animal lover that I am, I had issues with eating my furry forest friends. I was no dumb kid. From a young age I knew where my food came from, and I had no pretension about the loveable farm animals I was eating. Somehow it never bothered me the way the idea of shooting Bambi or Thumper and carving them up for dinner did. It's just hard to accept things that you're not exposed to.

As I grew older I realized the hypocrisy of saying one animal was too "cute" to eat, and realized that it was no less ethical to eat something caught in the wild than one that was raised on the farm. (On some levels, it's more ethical. What's more "free-range" than something that ran wild in the woods?) My issues related more to issues of simple taste. I know I'm a picky eater. Would I be able to handle meats that were "gamey," that didn't taste as if they were raised to be consumed by humans?

This was reinforced when I was in high school. I went on a school-sponsored trip to Italy. On our last night there, we ate at a rustic restaurant outside of Milan where the food was served family style. On the table was a huge platter of grilled meat on the bone. I assumed it was chicken. I took a piece and began snarfing it down only to find it tasted kind of funny. I kept eating it because my brain kept wanting to believe it was chicken. My taste buds were telling me otherwise. I didn't enjoy it much.

After the dinner was over, some of the adults in our group were wondering exactly what that plate of "roasted game" was. Some said quail. Some said rabbit. As I tried quail years later (more on that to come) and liked it, I believe what I ate that night in Italy was rabbit. I know rabbit is very popular in Italy. At least I can say that I come by my dislike or rabbit honestly and not because of some prejudice against eating cute widdle fwuffy bunnies.

My attitude began to change for two reasons over the years. Thanks to both some postive experience and just plain old logical thinking, I have become more adventurous.

My brother-in-law may be an extremely picky eater (if my husband is Sir Pickypants, his brother is King Pickypants and his son is Prince Pickypants) but I can give him some credit to opening to the gates to a better palate. You see, for many years, my mother-in-law had a winter place in Florida and the family would often congregate down there at Christmas time. Kevin and I always stayed in more modest hotels, but his brother stayed in the swanky Turnberry Isle.

For events like New Year's Eve and Christmas Eve, he would treat the family to dinner in Turnberry's fancy restaurant. One Christmas Eve I had been less than thrilled with the choices on the menu. I could have fish, fish, fish, steak, or a mixed grill. I wasn't in the mood for steak. The mixed grill included quail. I thought, "What the heck. I like duck. Why not quail?" The quail was pretty good. It reinforced that I likely ate rabbit in Italy and that unusual game birds were not out of the question.

The following year we were there for New Year's Eve. This time it was a set, multi-course menu. That night I tried my first Beluga caviar (not impressed), my first foie gras (I had avoided it for years for the same ethical reasons I had stopped eating veal in high school - it was complete crossover to the dark side that night), and my first venison. I remember what it was like cutting into that venison for the first time. What would it be like? What would it taste like? After taking my first cautious bite, I found it wasn't all that different from beef. Maybe it was the wine talking (every course had a wine pairing and the venison was course 4) but nothing tasted unpleasantly strange. The scary food wasn't so scary.

Those two experiences made me just more self aware about my food preferences. I thought for years that I am a picky eater because I don't like seafood. It's true. I can't eat anything I feel tastes remotely "fishy". Fishiness doesn't bother many people, and some people find that mild fishiness is pleasant, or they don't even detect it. I do. I just assumed if I didn't like "fishy", I wouldn't like "gamey." But what is gamey? Many people have told me they dislike foods such as lamb or duck because they're gamey. I love lamb. I love duck. (My love of duck is well noted after all.) I think pheasant tastes like chicken. Just because I don't like fish doesn't mean I'm going to hate any animal not traditionally raised on farms.

This trip is a real "Bucket List" trip for Kevin. It is a belated gift to himself for his big birthday last year (I have a big birthday this year and my Bucket List trip is in the works and quite different from this one). He has every detail for this trip in place, including the restaurants he wants to try. These places offer bison (which I've tried), elk, venison, and wild boar. I say, BRING IT ON! (Well, maybe not the Rocky Mountain oysters though).

I'm still not too sure about the rabbit thing though. Did I dislike it because it wasn't chicken, or did I just dislike it? I'm willing to taste it again, but wouldn't order it in a restaurant.

Can't wait to talk about my adventures - culinary and otherwise - when I come back.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Zalouk! Fail!

Almost two weeks later, I'm still obsessed with the meal I had atTagine Dining Gallery. What can I say? I had some really good stuff there.

Last week I attempted to replicate the delcious dip that was served on my table, charmoula. This time I am attempting to emulate one of my appetizers, zalouk. This was a cold salad made of roasted eggplant seasoned with charmoula.

We know I have a fear of cooking eggplant. It's not my favorite vegetable, and while some restaurants have successfully made it in ways I like, I haven't always had luck making it taste good to me. It's not just about eggplant either. I'm not fond of mushy vegetables in general. All I can say is this salad tasted really good and seemed fairly foolproof.

I decided to re-imagine the whole thing as a hot dish with a tagine-style flair. I don't own a tagine, but I do have a terracotta pot.


This pot has been called my tagine in the past when I season the food I cook in it using Middle Eastern style seasonings. When I marinate the contents in yogurt, this vessel becomes my "tandoori oven". ;-)

I started by sweating chunks of eggplant in salt so they gave off their juices and then I rinsed them off. Then I made a charmoula paste.

I tossed the whole thing with chunks of tomatoes and onions.


I laid a butterflied chicken on top of this in the pot. The chicken was rubbed with a mixture of olive oil, lemon zest, cumin, and ground coriander.


Into the oven at 450 for about an hour and change.

So how was it?


Let's just say there are some ideas that never should see the light of day. I thought having the eggplant roasting beneath the chicken in the pot would give it the same sweet, roasted quality that the zalouk had with the chicken drippings going throughout it.

FAIL! Eggplant was watery and sort of vegetal tasting. I should have roasted it in a pan where the steam wouldn't get to it and then just roasted the chicken by itself in the terracotta pot. The chicken did come out wonderfully moist and fall-off-the-bone tender, as chickens made this way always do.

I served it over polenta tossed with toasted pine nuts and raisins. Couscous would be more traditional of course, but we're still trying the gluten-nixing experiment.

I am reaffirming my need to stay away from eggplant! Eggplant was just never meant to be cooked in my kitchen. I kill it no matter what.

If you make the recipe below, don't do what I did. Cook your eggplant separately.

Chicken with Zalouk

1 4-5 pound chicken, spine removed and flattened
1/2 cup + 2 Tbl olive oil
2 tsp cumin, divided
1 tsp salt, divided
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
3/4 cup fresh parsley
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp parika
5 cloves garlic
1-2 medium to large eggplants (oridnary purple ones are fine), diced
1 pint campari tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 onion, diced
Salt for sweating eggplant

Place eggplant chunks in a colander and toss with salt. Allow to sit at least 30 minutes, until a fair amount of the juices have drained off. Rinse.

Soak a terra cotta oven in water for 15 minutes.

In a blender or small food processor mix parsley, half the salt, garlic, half the cumin, 1/2 cup olive oil, and lemon juice until well blended into a smooth sauce.

Toss eggplant chunks, tomatoes and onion with the sauce. Make sure everything is well coated.

Rub the chicken with remaining olive oil, the other half of the salt and the cumin, and the coriander. Place the eggplant mixture into the clay pot. Place chicken on top.

(If you're smart, you'll put the eggplant on a baking sheet and cook it that way until it's nice and soft).

Place the pot in a cold oven. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Cook for about 75 minutes.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Eureka!

Ever learn a new word and then just love it so much that you want to use it all of the time? I felt that way when I was a kid and learned the word eureka. I tried to incorporate it into much of my speech. I would "discover" things just so I could say, "Eureka!"

A friend recalled once a time we were playing on the swings on the playground (this friend had already managed to tolerate exposure to my random moments of insanity) and I decided to see how high I could swing before being brave enough to jump off midswing. As I landed with a thud on the ground, I bravely declared, "Eureka! I discovered the law of gravity!"

"Okay, Rachel. Get to the point. Why are you once again boring us with your endless anecdotes?"

Oh yes, I do have a point. I had a "Eureka Moment" this week. I learned in school that eureka means, "I have found it." (Or that's what I was told Archimedes meant when he went streaking through the palace).

Well, maybe instead of "Eureka," I should say, "Eu-LEEK-a". I have discovered something I have been looking for!

(Wow classic TERP material: Pointless story and bad pun. I'm on a roll today.)

For the best couple of years I have been trying so hard to find ramps. I have looked at the farm markets. I have attempted to forage for them. One would think that the ample fields and ponds surrounding my barn would be ramp central, but that would be wrong. In the past I have never been able to find a single ramp.

Well, I did some foraging elsewhere - namely Whole Foods - and, lo and behold, found ramps this week. The suckers are grown way upstate (as in REAL upstate - not Westchester), which seems like an odd need when some people manage to find them in Yonkers (which, I repeat is NOT UPSTATE).

So I had ramps. Only half my struggle was over. Now that I had them, what was I supposed to do with them?

To tell the truth, I had no clue.

I had to come up with things I might usually make for dinner, given the current restrictions I've been placing on my meals, and find a way to incorporate the ramps. I promised myself it would be something other than pesto. I had my charmoula this week. I don't need any more pulverized green stuff!

I started to think pork. I bought a tenderloin and sliced it into medallions. Each one was wrapped with a ramp and secured with a toothpick.

They were browned on both sides in a pan and finished in the oven.

I deglazed the pan with sherry and added some fresh sage. Then I finished it with a little cream.


For Kevin I placed a piece of halibut on a bed of ramps and lemon slices, rubbed it with a little olive oil, sprinkled it with pepper and just a hint of salt, topped it with more lemon slices and baked it in a foil pouch.

I served kale chips on the side. I learned a neat trick from Simply Gluten Free to use a little vinegar on them. I took it one step further and used rice vinegar and sriracha to them. This added a bit more flavor so I could cut back on the salt (I used to use tons of salt on my kale chips).

Pork was really good. The ramps gave it a nice flavor. I hope I can find these again next spring.

Ramped-Up Pork Medallions
Ingredients
1 Pork tenderloin, cut in roughly 2" thick slices
Enough ramps to wrap each slice
Salt and pepper
2 tsp fresh sage leaves
1/2 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup heavy cream
Olive oil for sauteeing

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Wrap each pork slice with a ramp and secure with a toothpick. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a pan. Brown the pork slices on both sides. Place in the hot oven an additional 5-10 minutes or until cooked through.

Remove pork from pan. Deglaze pan with sherry and add sage. Allow to reduce down for a minute or two. Stir in cream. Place pork medallions on a plate and top with sauce.

ADDENDUM: I still had about 5 leaves left over this morning along with the bits of bulb and stem. I chopped up the bulb and stem bits and sauteed them in butter and then scrambled eggs in it. Yummy. I grilled the leaves on the side. WOW! Grilled ramps are delicious!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Charmoula!

Last week I had dinner with my father at Tagine Dining Gallery in Hell's Kitchen. I wish I had brought my camera with me. I wanted a picture of the big clay jar filled with short ribs we had that night.

We had a cucumber salad, a dish of roasted eggplant and tomatoes, a lamb tagine, and a short rib tangia (that big jug - relative of the tagine). On the side they served a round of their homemade semolina bread (Kevin wasn't with us, so I had a gluten cheat) and two dipping sauces. One was harissa, which I was familiar with. The other was charmoula, which was a new taste for me.

I was in love with that dip as soon as I ate it. I can only describe it as a light, citrusy, exotic pesto. I could not get enough. I knew I wanted to replicate it at home. I did some research online and came up with my own version.

I used olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, cilantrio, cumin, and paprika. I whirled it around in a food processor and served it over chicken. I'm not quite sure how much parsley I used. I just used this much!
I grilled some boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Now that the weather is warmer, I can open the balcony door and let the copious smoke out. I was only half successful. In fact, I had so much smoke I ended up putting the grill pan out on the balcony until it cleared a bit.


Then I just spread my sauce over my chicken. I think it would have done very well as a marinade had I had the time to marinate chicken that evening.


This is probably the worst food photo I have ever taken. It's even worse than the spaghetti shot in the last blog. No matter how I tried, I couldn't plate it well or get a good angle on it.

Alongside was a tomato, cucumber and chick pea salad dressed with olive oil, vinegar, and fresh mint. I used white balsamic, but red wine vinegar would be awesome (I was out of it).

I'm looking to get over my fear of eggplant and make a version of that appetizer at some point. I have no tagine, but I do have a clay pot which has served as my "tagine" and my "tandoori" at various times.

The best part of this meal is just how easy it is. It's a perfect weeknight dinner and it's very fresh and light.

Chicken Charmoula

Ingredients
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 big handful of parsley
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 smaller handful cilantro
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp paprika
1 Tbl lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients except for chicken in a food processor and process into a paste.

Lightly season chicken thighs. Grill on a hot grill pan for about 5 minutes per side. Top with charmoula.

Now wasn't that easy?

Tomato, Cucumber, and Chickpea
Salad


Ingredients
2 Tbl chopped fresh mint
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbl white balsamic or red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp salt
Few grinds fresh black pepper
2 pints grape tomatoes
2 cucumbers, peeled and cut into chunks
1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained

Mix together mint, oregano, salt, pepper and vinegar. Whisk in the oil. Gently toss tomatoes and cucumbers and serve.