October 28, 2009

Exploring The North Fork

This past Saturday, when deary weather had moved into NYC, I headed to the North Fork of Long Island, where the weather was - to my surprise - sunny and beautiful. The North Fork's location between the Long Island Sound and the Peconic Bay brings great weather; Cutchogue, in fact, has the most sunny days per year of any town on the east coast. The trip was organized by Chef Rich LaMarita, one of the terrific instructors at the Natural Gourmet Institite. There were about 36 of us in all - students, alumni, instructors, administrators, friends and family - enough to fill a Hampton Jitney.

Our day began with a tour and tasting at Macari Vineyards in Mattituck. Macari is a family-owned winery that has pioneered organic and sustainable wine-making in Long Island and employs biodynamic methods. After tasting a variety of the Macari wines, I decided on a bottle of their Dos Aguas, a blend of 45% cabernet sauvignon, 36% merlot, 15% cabernet franc, and 4% malbec. Dry and slightly spicy, it will be perfect with Thanksgiving dinner.

We toured the fermentation facility with its huge stainless steel tanks...
...And racks of red wines aging in French-made oak barrels.
Wine-making sure isn't cheap; each barrel costs about $800. Barrels can be reused several times; the flavor they impart to the wine changes with age.

An enormous oak fermentation tank.

The bottling machine -- able to bottle, cork, and label up to 2,500 bottles in a day.

Next on to Catapano Dairy Farm in Peconic to taste their award-winning goat milk cheeses - and of course visit the goats. I could not resist taking home some of their delicious, tangy fresh chevre, thick goat milk yogurt, and unbelievably creamy goat milk fudge (I am not ordinarily a big fan of fudge, but theirs is fabulous). They also sell goat-milk-based soaps, which are made on-site from fresh goat's milk (unlike other goat soaps which are made with powdered milk) and other all-natural ingredients.

The goats were adorable.

Chomping on a tasty wooden bench...

Lenz Winery, also in Peconic, was our next stop, where we picked up champagne before heading to Widow's Hole Oyster Company in Greenport. Widow's Hole owner and oyster cultivator Mike Osinki has supplied succulent bivalves to some of the best restaurants in Manhattan, including Le Bernardin and Esca, since 2004.
Oyster seedlings are transported from the hatchery to Widow's Hole when they are about 5 mm in length. They are placed in fine-meshed containers and submerged below the dock, so water can freely circulate around the tiny oysters but they will not fall out. When they have grown to about 1 inch in length they are transferred to larger mesh cages and moved to an area off shore, in waters 5 to 15 feet deep, where they live for about 1-1/2 years until they are ready to be harvested.

Cages that house the oysters during off-shore growing. Each cage holds about 150 oysters.

The dock.
After a lesson in the history and practice of oyster cultivation from Mike (an interesting tidbit: oysters change sex during their lifecyle. Male during a bad year and female during a good year; apparently it requires more energy to be female), we savored freshly shucked oysters, all of five minutes out of the water, with glasses of Lenz champagne. A perfect afternoon treat.
Widow's Hole oysters are tender and delectable, with a sweet, oceany, and slightly mineral-y flavor.

Then back to Lenz Winery for a tasting. Tom, our knowledgeable and engaging host, gave us a well-rounded lesson on wine-making in the North Fork area. The region's variability in temperature and precipitation present viticultural challenges, so the makers really have to know what they are doing. Lenz makes some impressive wines; I took home an Alsatian-style Gewurztraminer, dry with a lovely bouquet and delicate floral notes.

Then off to our final stop of the day, Sang Lee Farms, a certified organic specialty vegetable farm on Route 48 in Peconic. The farm was founded by the Lee family in the 1940s as a wholesale distributor selling mostly to Asian markets. Nearly 10 years ago the current owners, Fred Lee and his wife, Karen, began transitioning from conventional to organic farming methods. They have also greatly reduced the wholesale portion of their business, and today about 99% of their sales are retail -- direct to customers at the farm stand, local farmers markets, and CSAs on Long Island and in Brooklyn.

What a day! My first venture to the North Fork, and definitely not my last. I can't wait to go back.
For more on visiting the North Fork, check out this great post from fellow blogger Christine at Fresh, Local and Best.

Have you been to the North Fork? What are your favorite places to visit there? I would love to hear your comments and suggestions!

October 27, 2009

Soba Noodles with Arame and Shiitakes

I have lots of dried sea vegetables in my pantry (aka seaweed, but the term sea vegetables sounds tastier, don't you think?). But I often forget about them. This needs to change, because not only do sea veg add wonderful flavor to a variety of dishes, they are also incredibly nutritious: a rich source of iodine, as well as calcium, magnesium, and other trace minerals. My goal is to incorporate them into my meals several times each week.

Kombu (kelp) is a great addition to a pot of simmering beans; it adds minerals, a touch of salt (I still add salt later in the cooking process), and helps tenderize and make the beans easier to digest. There are also hijiki, wakame (a frequent addition to miso soup), nori (as seen in maki), arame, dulse, and many more. Arame is a great place to start, especially for those who are not used to the oceany taste of sea vegetables. It has a mild flavor and complements a wide variety of dishes, from stir-fries, salads, and soups, to noodle dishes and grain and bean combinations.

Thin Japanese soba noodles, made with wheat and buckwheat flours, are delicate and lighter than semolina or white flour pasta, and yet also more satisfying.

Soba Noodles with Arame and Shiitakes
This soba dish makes a nice vegetarian main course, and would also be great served with grilled or broiled fish, chicken, or tofu.
Serves 2 to 3 as a main course

2 Tbsp sesame oil or extra virgin olive oil (the flavors in the sauce are intense, so the taste of the XVOO, if you use it, will not come through)
1/2 lb green beans, stem ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, fibrous stems removed, caps sliced thinly
1/4 cup dried arame, soaked in water for 10 minutes and drained
4 oz soba noodles (or more, depending on how noodle-y you'd like the finished dish), cooked for 6 to 7 minutes in boiling salted water until al dente, and drained
2 Tbsp tamari or shoyu (traditionally fermented Japanese soy sauces)
2 Tbsp mirin (sweet rice wine; look for one without added sugar)
2 Tbsp Japanese rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp minced or grated fresh ginger (peeled)
1 Tbsp minced garlic (about 1 large or 2 small cloves)
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
Sesame seeds or gomasio (a Japanese condiment of crushed sesame seeds and sea salt) for garnish (optional)
  • Heat oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat, then add green beans and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add shiitakes and saute for another 5 minutes. Then add rehydrated arame and cook for a few minutes more.
  • In a bowl combine tamari or shoyu, mirin, rice wine vinegar, ginger, and garlic. Add mixture to vegetables. Cover and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes, until sauce has reduced a bit and vegetables are tender.
  • Add cooked soba to pan, drizzle with toasted sesame oil, and toss well to combine.
  • Garnish each serving with sesame seeds or gomasio.

October 19, 2009

No-Knead Sourdough Rye Bread

If I had known that 100% rye bread doesn't require kneading, I would have made it a long time ago. Not that kneading can't be fun; but I have approximately 3 square feet of counter space in my New York City "kitchen" (which is really one wall of my living room). And it just doesn't inspire me to knead. Lucky for me, rye dough does not rely on the development of gluten in order to rise, like wheat dough does. Rye contains a different type of protein that, without kneading, is able to trap the gases produced by yeasts.

Last weekend I was reading the bread section of Sandor Ellix Katz's Wild Fermentation (I can't say enough good things about this book!), and decided to try a sourdough starter (for more on that, read this). Miraculously, the starter thrived (must have been the 7 grapes!). After 7 days of fermentation and souring, it was ready to be transformed into my first loaf of bread. I made a half recipe of Sandor's onion caraway rye, minus the onions and with the addition of a little blackstrap molasses - so it was sort of a cross between rye and pumpernickel. Brookley, my sourdough starter (I've heard starters must be named), is now hibernating in the fridge. I will continue feeding him a little flour every day or two to keep him alive, and next time I plan to bake will take him out, feed him, and let him sit in a warm spot for a few hours till he is bubbling and ready to go.

Caraway Rye Sourdough Bread
Yield: 1 loaf

1 cup rye sourdough starter
4 cups rye flour (divided)
1-2 Tbsp caraway seeds
2 Tbsp blackstrap molasses
1/2 tsp fine-grained sea salt
1-2 tsp olive, coconut, or sesame oil (NOT toasted sesame oil), for pan

1. Make the sponge:

-Combine sourdough starter, 2 cups of rye flour, 1-1/2 cups warm filtered water, 2 Tbsp of caraway seeds, and 2 Tbsp of blackstrap molasses in a large bowl. Mix well.
-Cover and leave in a warm place for 8 to 12 hours (or more) until very bubbly. Stir every couple of hours. The sponge, bubbling away after a few hours...

2. Make the dough:

-Add salt and another 2 cups of rye flour to the sponge (I added about 1/4 cup of flour at a time; it might require less than 2 cups, or a bit more).
-When the dough becomes quite difficult to stir with a spoon, it's rising time. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and leave in a warm place for 8 to 12 hours, until it has risen noticeably (it will approximately double in size).

3. Proof the dough:

-Rye dough is moist and sticky. Rather than turning it out of the bowl and trying to form a loaf, I found it easiest to spoon the dough it into a lightly oiled loaf pan and then smooth the top with wet hands to even it out. Leave in a warm place to proof for 1 to 2 hours, until the dough has risen somewhat.

4. Bake the loaf:
-Bake at 350 degrees for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. The loaf is done when it sounds hollow when you knock on the bottom.
-Allow to cool on a rack for 30 to 45 minutes before slicing.

The final loaf: a crunchy, hearty crust with a dense yet moist interior. Excellent sour and tangy flavor with a wonderful richness from the rye. Terrific sliced thinly, toasted, and spread with butter.

October 18, 2009

Warm Lentil Salad with Apple and Currants

A Sunday night pantry search: what to do with French lentils, an apple, a small onion, and leftover fresh herbs? Put them all together in a warm lentil salad. This was ready in half an hour, and turned out surprisingly delicious. I paired the lentils with toasted and buttered slices of homemade sourdough rye bread. This would also make an excellent main course with a whole grain, such as quinoa or brown rice, and would be a nice side dish with roasted chicken.

1 cup French lentils (larger green or brown lentils would also be fine)
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme, plus 1 tsp minced thyme leaves (separated)
1 sprig fresh rosemary, plus 1 tsp minced rosemary leaves (separated)
2 Tbsp plus 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (separated)
1 small onion, chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1 apple chopped (about 1/3 to 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup dried currants
1 tsp apple cider vinegar (or freshly squeezed lemon juice)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
  • Rinse lentils in a sieve, and pick through to remove any pebbles or other extraneous matter. Transfer lentils to a medium sauce pan and add cold water to cover (3 to 4 cups). Add bay leaf, rosemary sprig, thyme sprig, and 1/2 tsp salt. Bring to a boil, then simmer partially covered for 20 to 30 minutes, until lentils are tender but still hold their shape. Drain lentils and remove bay leaf and herb stems.
  • While lentils are cooking, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Saute onion with a pinch of salt until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Add apple and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the apple pieces are tender but not falling apart.
  • In a medium bowl combine lentils, onion and apple mixture, parsley, currants, and chopped thyme and rosemary. Dress with 3 Tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp apple cider vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

October 15, 2009

Gingered Beef Soup with Shiitakes

Another delicious soup that is guaranteed to warm you all the way to the tips of your toes! The rich beef bone stock is full of minerals and gelatin - excellent for overall health, and especially for maintaining and rebuilding bone. Ginger, garlic, and shiitake mushrooms are some of nature's best medicines. Their antiviral properties make them excellent cold and flu busters, and they are great to have on hand throughout the winter. 
The rich, smoky flavor of shiitakes is a perfect addition to beef soup. I used fresh shiitakes in this recipe, but you can used dried as well. If using dried shiitakes, reconstitute them in hot water for about 10 minutes before adding them to the soup. The soaking liquid can be added as well, but strain it first -- it can contain grit. Be sure to remove the stems (fresh or dried) - they are very tough and inedible.

Gingered Beef Soup with Shiitakes
Yield: 6 to 7 quarts

2 lbs beef shanks (2-3 pieces, depending on size and how much meat you'd like in your soup)
2 lbs marrow bones
Splash of apple cider vinegar (2 to 3 Tbsp)
2 to 3 Tbsp minced fresh ginger (peeled)
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
1 to 2 carrots, cut into 1/4 inch dice (about 1 cup)
2 cloves of garlic, minced (about 1 Tbsp)
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, tops sliced into 1/4-inch strips (about 3 cups)
1 serrano chili, stem and seeds removed, finely chopped
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Garnish: thinly sliced scallions
  • In a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, brown beef shanks and marrow bones. When well browned on both sides (about 10-15 minutes total) add cold water to about 2 inches below top of pot. Simmer covered for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, skimming any scum that rises to the top. Remove bones from pot and remove meat. Pull apart meat into bite-sized pieces to add back to the soup later. 
  • Return bones to the pot, add a splash of cider vinegar, and continue to simmer for 6 to 8 hours, or longer if you prefer. (Some people simmer for 24 to 48 hours; the longer you simmer, the more nutrients are extracted from the bones into the stock.)
  • When your stock is ready, strain it, rinse the pot, and return stock to the pot. Add the ginger, onion, carrot, garlic, shiitakes, and serrano chili, and a big pinch of sea salt, and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add reserved meat to pot and simmer another 5 minutes until heated through.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper, and garnish each serving with thinly sliced scallions. 
  • This soup is even better the next day; resting overnight in the fridge allows the ginger to release more of its flavor into the broth.

October 13, 2009

From-Scratch Chicken and Rice Soup With Escarole

Over the last couple of months, I've been buying whole chickens and cutting them up myself, both for the economics of it (lower price per pound) and to freeze the necks and backs for a future chicken soup. Then I kept seeing the ziploc-bagged parts in the freezer and thinking: when am I going to get around to using these? It was summer, so I wasn't really craving hot soups.

But as September turned into October a chill arrived in the air and I came down with my usual change-of-seasons cold. And then I was very glad to have random chicken bones in the freezer. (And actually wished I had saved more of the bones from the chicken parts I had cooked.) Using homemade stock as the base for chicken soup...well, there is no comparison to the stuff in the carton or can. Truly amazing flavor, and it must have superior healing qualities as well. I'm addicted - the following weekend, I made chicken soup again, this time with a whole chicken (basically the same technique; use a whole chicken if you want lots of meat in your soup).

Cooking the rice in the stock adds body to the soup, since the rice releases starch while it cooks. Brown basmati is my favorite; it imparts a buttery, nutty taste and wonderful aroma to the soup.

Chicken and Rice Soup with Escarole
Yield: 6 to 8 quarts

Chicken backs, necks, and other assorted bones (or a whole chicken)
Splash of apple cider vinegar (2-3 Tbsp)
1 cup brown basmati rice, soaked for 6-12 hours in water with 1 tsp apple cider vinegar, and drained
1-2 carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Bouquet garni: 10 to 15 parsley stems, 1 sprig fresh rosemary, 1 sprig fresh thyme, 5-8 whole black peppercorns, and 2 bay leaves wrapped in cheesecloth and tied with twine
3 cups escarole, rinsed well and chopped
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Chopped raw garlic (about 1 clove per serving) for garnish, optional
Chopped parsley for garnish, optional
  • Place chicken bones or whole chicken in a large pot and cover with cold water. You can add a large pinch of sea salt at this point if you like (this would be on the way to making a broth; classically stock is not seasoned). Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer and cook, covered or partially covered, until meat is falling off the bones (if using whole chicken about 2-1/2 hours; with bones that have meat on them, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours). If foam/scum rises to the top, skim off with a strainer or slotted spoon. 
  • Pull meat off bones, pull apart or chop into bite-size pieces and reserve for soup; return bones and cartilage to the pot.
  • Add a splash of apple cider vinegar to the pot, and continue to simmer bones for as long as you like (8-12 hours is ideal, or up to 24 hours if you can - this makes for a more mineral- and gelatin-rich stock).
  • When you are ready to make soup, strain the stock to remove bones and other bits, rinse pot, and return stock to pot. Add rice and a large pinch of salt, cover, and and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until rice is very tender.
  • Add carrot, onion, garlic, and bouquet garni to pot. Simmer for about 20 minutes, until vegetables are tender. 
  • Stir reserved chicken meat and escarole into soup. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until chicken is heated through and escarole is wilted. Remove from heat and add lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.
  • Garnish each serving with chopped raw garlic and parsley, if desired. Serve with thick buttered slices of hearty bread.

October 12, 2009

Sourdough Starter Day 3 - It's bubbling!

I have wanted to make my own sourdough bread for a while now. Finally got motivated over the weekend and decided to try Sandor Ellix Katz's recipe for sourdough starter from his book Wild Fermentation.

Sandor's recipe is very simple: combine 2 cups of whole rye flour and 2 cups of filtered water in a medium-size bowl, and mix well. Then add a few pieces of unwashed, organic grapes or berries (fruit with an edible skin - the "bloom" on the skin provides beneficial yeasts and bacteria to get the fermentation started). I stirred in 7 organic green grapes (I have a somewhat unfounded belief that 7 is my lucky number). Then cover the bowl with cheesecloth, so air can freely circulate but flies, etc., can't get in, and leave in a warm spot (mine is sitting on top of the fridge). Stir vigorously each day, and in about a week the starter should be ready for bread-baking.

When I checked my starter this morning, it was bubbling (I guess the 7 grapes worked!) so I think it's alive! With additional luck from the fermentation fairies, I will be baking sourdough bread this weekend. Sandor's book has a recipe for an onion-caraway rye sourdough that looks really good, so I'm planning to try that.

Note: I checked on the starter later in the day and it was even more bubbly and fruity-smelling. Then I looked at the recipe again and saw that the fruit should be removed once yeast activity is apparent. (So I might have left the fruit in a little too long.) I removed the grapes with a slotted spoon and fed the starter with 2 Tbsp of rye flour, stirring well. I'll continue to feed it with a couple of tablespoons of flour every day for the next few days until it is ready to bake with.

October 8, 2009

Butternut Apple Soup with Lemon-Herb Yogurt Drizzle

This comforting autumnal soup is inspired by the bounty of squash and apples at the farmers markets right now. I used butternut squash, but delicata would work really well too - or any squash that is easy to peel raw. The apple's tartness (I used Granny Smith) is a nice complement to the earthy sweetness of the squash, and the lemony, herbal yogurt drizzle adds a tangy zing and (hey, I'm a girl) - it's pretty too.
I pureed the soup in a regular blender (my immersion blender doesn't manage to get soups quite as creamy as I like), and it was so smooth I didn't even need to strain it.

(Blending hot liquids safety note: I always puree hot substances in small amounts, with the blender container no more than half-full, and usually only one-third of the way full. This time I let the soup cool for a few minutes and then blended it in 3 separate batches. Also place a folded towel over the blender lid and maintain firm pressure on it while blending - so you don't end up with a volcano of scalding-hot soup!)

Butternut and Apple Soup with Lemon-Herb Yogurt Drizzle
Serves 4 to 6

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, roughly chopped (about 1/3 cup)
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeds and pulp removed, and cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
1 large Granny Smith apple (or other tart apple variety), peeled, cored, and cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 1-1/2 cups)
Bouquet garni*
sea salt (I love fine-grained Celtic sea salt - unrefined and full of minerals)
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp minced fresh parsley
1/2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp minced fresh thyme

*I was out of cheesecloth, so I used 1 sprig fresh rosemary and 1 sprig fresh thyme, wrapped really well with twine so the leaves wouldn't escape. If I had cheesecloth, I would have added a bay leaf and a few whole black peppercorns. You can add parsley stems, too.
  • In a heavy-bottomed pot (I love my enameled cast-iron faux Le Creuset pot from TJ Maxx!), heat olive oil over low-medium heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt and saute for 5 minutes until softened.
  • Add squash to pot with onions and saute for 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Add apples and cook for 5 minutes more.
  • Add cold water to just cover squash and apple mixture, a large pinch of salt, and the bouquet garni. Simmer, covered, until squash and apples are tender, about 20 minutes.
  • To make lemon-herb yogurt drizzle, combine lemon zest with minced parsley, rosemary, and thyme.
  • Remove bouquet garni from soup. Puree in several batches in blender (or with an immersion blender) until very smooth (test - if at all gritty, pour soup through a fine strainer to remove). Transfer pureed soup to a pot (if it's too thick, add a little more water and then reheat over low flame). Add lemon juice and more sea salt, if needed.
  • Drizzle each serving with the lemon-herb yogurt.

Getting Through Cold and Flu Season

A bit of a hiatus in post-writing lately, since I was laid low by a nasty cold virus. This presented the opportunity and inspiration to make lots of soups, but then I was too tired to type up the recipes. So over the next couple of days I will be adding posts for a delicious chicken-brown rice-escarole soup and a ginger-beef-shiitake soup (both with homemade bone broths - yuuum!) - as well as a creamy winter squash and apple soup. I was almost good as new within a few days, which I attribute to consuming copious amounts of the two bone-broth-based soups, along with:
  • Lots of raw garlic. I showered chopped garlic over everything I ate, plus chewed raw cloves (yes!).
  • Herbal tea. Two new favorites: Yogi Tea's Throat Comfort and Chamomile, with tons of fresh ginger juice and lemon.
  • Echinacea tincture. A couple of dropperfuls of alcohol-based tincture (apparently alcohol is vital to draw the good stuff from the echinacea) every 2 hours for the entire duration of the cold. I think it would have worked even better if I had started 2 days earlier, at the first hint of getting sick - but I waited until the sore throat kicked in.
  • Warm salt water and grapefruit seed extract gargle. This was great for soothing my sore throat. Grapefruit seed extract is naturally antimicrobial and is also good for early cases of strep throat and tonsillitis. However it's extremely potent and can burn mucous membranes if applied full-strength. Mix 2 to 3 drops in 3 ounces of warm water for a gargle (also check directions on the GSE you purchase), plus a teaspoon or so of salt. Gargle every few hours.
  • Plenty of rest (this should be #1 on the list, really. Without rest, the other techniques won't be nearly as effective.)