Monday, June 30, 2008

"Where the Grapes Can Suffer" (But We Don't)

Here's a droll little anecdote I like to relate: I was browsing the shelves at the Solo Vino wineshop in Saint Paul a few years back, and came upon a bottle from the Alexis Bailly Vineyard in Hastings, Minnesota. In spite of my enthusiasm for all things local in the world of food and drink, I had been slow to embrace the offerings of our local winemakers. It was a thoughtless prejudice to which I must confess flat out: I just didn't think that wines from this climate could be any good, and so I hadn't really tried them.

But just prior to my visit to Solo Vino I had had occasion to try some ABV wines, and I'd been pleasantly surprised--their Leon Millot and Seyval Blanc wines had really impressed me as serious, distinctive wines. So upon noticing the Bailly wine on the shelf I picked it up and, turning to one of the store's proprietor's, Sam Haislet, I said: "You know, this stuff is actually pretty good."

Sam sort of cocked his head to the side, raised an eyebrow, and said, "Yeah, it's not bad."

What I didn't know at the time was that among the many hats Sam Haislet wears--wine expert, artist, raconteur, bon vivant--he is also, how one might say, Mr. Nan Bailly. Nan Bailly being the owner and winemaker at, of course, the Alexis Bailly Vineyard.

I'm glad I had something nice to say....

(Here's Nan tending shop on a typically busy day at the open house.)

And indeed, the intervening years have given me many nice things to say about Nan and Sam, ABV wines, the charming vineyard and winery, as well as about Sam's current vinous endeavor,
Sam's Washington Avenue Wineshop . (It usually bores me silly listening to "experts" talk about wine, but I could listen to Sam all day...well, maybe not all day; I get thirsty listening, is the problem. But Sam's unpretentious passion for wine is a rare and wonderful thing.)

The occasion of these current nicenesses was a visit to ABV for Nan's spring open house. We heard our friend Naomi Karstad sing, sampled the current line-up of ABV wines, heard Sam's hair-raising tale of a fall down a cellar staircase that left him with a fractured wrist, played a little bocce ball, petted Nan and Sam's new pup, and just had a wonderful, relaxing afternoon. Brought home a case of wine. A good day.

Nan's website has lots of great info on her wines, so I'll simply say that we have truly enjoyed the current Seyval Blanc and Rosé Noir. Both are excellent wines for summer menus, the Seyval dry, elegant, and refreshing, the rosé a bit more informal, with a touch of sweetness--either would go well with those pizzas I keep writing about. On the red wine front, Nan's new Voyageur has been a resounding success. (It goes really well with Smoke-Grilled Chicken Thighs, recipe below.)

The ABV motto, "Where the Grapes Can Suffer," is of course a reference to the French notion that great wine can only come from vines that face adversity. The Minnesota climate certainly provides that sort of context. Sometime too much so: The Leon Millot wine I mentioned above, which was, to my taste, the perfect wine to match with local gamebirds, is, sadly, no longer made here. Apparently even a grape vine can only stand so much suffering.

Applewood Grill-Smoked Chicken Thighs
Serves two

4 chicken thighs, bone in (about 1 ½ pounds)
Juice and zest of ¼ lemon
1 large clove garlic, crushed & chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
A few sprigs of fresh thyme, chopped (or rosemary, oregano, or sage—what you have and like)
A few grinds from the pepper mill

Either grate the lemon zest or remove it with a peeler and mince. Combine everything but the chicken and salt. Smear the mixture on the chicken. Salt the chicken. Refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight.

Prepare the coals. Natural chunk charcoal is the way to go. Push the coals to one half of the grill. Grill the thighs over direct heat for about five minutes each side, till nicely browned. Then move the thighs, skin side up, to the side of the grill away from the coals. Place a chunk of applewood on the coals. Close the lid and smoke-roast for 25 minutes. Raise the lid and return the thighs to the direct heat to crisp them up, a couple of minutes each side.

Test for doneness: Poke with a skewer; the juices should run clear. Cook a little longer if needed.

We served this over a lightly dressed salad of mixed young garden greens—lettuce, kale, mustard, radish leaves, turnip greens. A spinach salad with the excellent spinach now available at the market would be equally fine. A few sautéed snap peas and a piece of grilled bread will round out the plate very nicely.

Text and photos copyright 2008 by Brett Laidlaw

Monday, June 23, 2008

This Is Our Farmers' Market...

...the Midtown Farmers' Market, upon the summer solstice, 2008.

A bread's-eye view of the Real Bread stand:

Super Farmer Girl Julie Pflaum, a mainstay of the market:

This is Bob's ear as he writes out the creperie sign. The market opens at 8:00, and Mala's line forms at five 'til.

The spring and early summer have been cool. Good for bakers, lettuce, peas, radishes, and the like. The tomatoes and peppers will welcome warmer weather.

These lovely lettuces are from our organic grower, Jackie Kujak of Sylvan Hills Farm near Menomonie, Wisconsin.

These are the hands of Mala, turning market produce into the makings of some truly amazing crepes. You shouldn't be able to get food this good in a parking lot.

This is some more of Julie's beautiful produce:

This is what Mary and I do Thursday night, all day Friday, and from very early Saturday till we leave for the market.

The Solar Oven Society visited.

Susan brought her beautiful Burgundian basket.

The Fireroast Mountain-eers, who keep us in beverages, tasty treats, and good spirits--Lisa and Dave:

This International Man of Mystery visited our booth (that handsome lad is Theo, the son of Super Market Supporters Hillary and Andy).

Another bread shot:

And one more. (Can I help it if I find bread particularly attractive?)

See you at the market~

Brett & Mary

Text and photos copyright 2008 by Brett Laidlaw

The Last Pizza Post

I never would have thought that in the first six months of Trout Caviar I'd do three pizza posts, but there you go. In the previous post I mentioned an idea for a grilled dessert pizza topped with rhubarb compote, and that idea came to fruition so successfully, I have to share the results.

So: You make the
pizza dough from this entry (you need to scroll down a bit). Three-quarters of it you use for the main-course pizza, the rest becomes dessert. (You can make the dough, any of the three options, the morning or even the night before you plan to use it; refrigerate, punch down a couple times till it stops overflowing the bowl, take it out a couple hours before dinner to let it warm up.)

As topping I made this simple, delicious rhubarb compote:

Rhubarb-Honey-Thyme Compote

1/2 pound rhubarb (about six stalks)--cut into 1/2" pieces
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup water

Combine in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add:

A few sprigs fresh thyme
Pinch salt
A couple grinds black pepper (this was a nice touch of spice)
A few drops lemon juice, if you like

Cover and let the thyme steep for at least an hour.

This can then be used on the pizza, on a buttermilk shortcake, over ice cream.

Continuing with the pizza: Shape the remaining dough into a 10-inch round. Brush the top with a neutral oil like canola or grapeseed.
Prepare a glaze: Mix two teaspoons honey with one teaspoon of rum (or brandy, or water in a pinch).

Have your coals ready, as in the previous post. You can, and should, grill the dessert crust right after you're done the main-course pizza, while your coals are still good. Then it can just sit until you're ready to top it.

Brush the grill grate with oil, and slide the dough on. Grill for three minutes, watching to be sure it doesn't burn. Flip the dough over, and bake for two minutes. Then flip again, brush the top (you once again have the original top facing up) with the honey-rum glaze, flip it once more, and cook for another minute-and-a-half or so--BE VERY CAREFUL not to let it burn. With the honey it will burn very quickly.

But a little focused attention will produce something like what you see above, which would be good enough to eat as is, or with a dusting of powdered sugar, like a county fair funnel cake. Topped with the rhubarb compote and some whipped cream, it becomes an elegantly rustic dessert.

You could also top it with strawberries--a strawberry shortcake-type variation--fresh peaches in season, grilled apples tossed with a little more of the honey-rum glaze and a few leaves of fresh thyme or mint. Knock yourselves out.

This really is worth doing. The glaze baked to a lacquered, glossy finish, keeping the dough nice and crisp and light. The compote had the right tart-sweet balance, the thyme and pepper adding complexity, and the Cedar Summit whipped cream--I could eat a bowl of that straight up.

And thus concludes the pizza posts.

Text & photos copyright 2008 by Brett Laidlaw

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Another Springtime Pizza

Because spring just keeps going here this year, and there's still great asparagus at the market, and this was my first experiment with pizza on the grill, and it turned out really well.

When I wrote the recipe for the
fiddleheads and ramps pizza I said asparagus could stand in for the fiddleheads if you couldn't get them. That sounded so good, I had to try it once asparagus made it to the market (ours is the Midtown Farmers' Market , of course). We've been really lucky this year to have lots of great asparagus in the market, first from new vendor Honey Creek Farm, then from our old friend Alvin Schlangen .

I've always thought the idea of pizza on the grill was kind of dumb, to be honest. Pizza should be cooked at 800 degrees Fahrenheit in a brick, wood-fired oven, or at 550 on a stone in your home oven. Cooking bread dough over the direct heat of a charcoal fire seemed a dubious proposition at best. But I kept seeing references to this peculiarly American dish, and with my various interests in bread and in grilling, I guess it was only a matter of time before I gave it a try.

It made a different sort of pizza, but a very nice one. There's no cheese but the cream cheese in the topping you dollop on to melt slightly at the end. The smoked fish really is purely optional--this was really good with or without. Made ahead and then brought to room temperature, this would make an unusual and delicous brunch dish.

Grilled Pizza with Asparagus and Herbed Cream Cheese
serves three or four
Dough for one 14" pizza--use the recipe from the fiddleheads and ramps pizza , or another that you like. (My dough made a fairly thick-crusted pizza; use less of the dough if you like a thinner crust. For instance, take away a quarter or a little more of the dough, and make a mini-pizza with that after you've cooked the big one. How about a dessert pizza, topped with a little rhubarb compote and some good whipped cream? I like the way you think!)
Shape the dough into a roughly 14-inch circle. Place on a wooden peel dusted with cornmeal or on cornmeal-dusted parchment paper on a baking sheet. Brush the top of the crust with olive oil. Let rise while you prepare the vegetables.

Prepare your coals. (I can't emphasize enough the importance of using natural chunk charcoal, or if you can't find that, natural wood briquettes. The smell of lighter fluid and those name-brand briquettes used to be the smell of summer on suburban Saturday evenings; now when that chemical aroma wafts into our yard I think, You would eat something cooked over something that smells like that?)

8 spears asparagus, about 6 ounces
Toss the asparagus in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill, turning frequently, until just tender and lightly browned, four to five minutes.

10-12 medium sized ramps--or an equivalent amount of spring onions or young leeks, about 3/4 cup, chopped (We still had ramps, the wild leeks, when we made this the first time--the second time, with spring onions, it was even better)

Slice the ramps or onions--use only the whites and a little bit of the greens. Sauté in one tablespoon olive oil over medium low heat until soft and slightly brown. Leave them in the pan but set aside.

The cream cheese topping:
2 ounces cream cheese, at room temp.
¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp cream
Juice of ¼ lemon
Some zest, if you like.
1 Tbsp each chopped dill, chives and/or tarragon.
freshly ground black pepper

Blend the cream a little bit at a time into the cream cheese until smooth. Add the lemon juice, herbs and freshly ground pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Once the asparagus is grilled cut it into 1 ½ inch pieces and toss with the sautéed ramps or onions.

Back to the grill: You don't want the coals too hot. You should be able to hold your hand over the fire and say One-Mississippi, Two-Mississippi, Three-Mississippi, Ouch. Make sure the coals are spread out over the whole area the dough will cover!
Brush the grill grate with oil. Slide the dough off the peel or parchment directly onto the grill and cook for three minutes, standing close by to make sure it doesn't burn (a little charring is fine, and to be expected). Flip it over and cook for three minutes more.

Note: If the pizza is getting too brown (i.e., burnt to a crisp), you can place a sheet of aluminum foil between the dough and the grill.

Take it off the grill--put it back on the peel or baking sheet. Add the toppings: Scatter the asparagus/onion mixture evenly over the surface. Dollop teaspoons-fulls of the cream cheese topping around. Return to the grill. Cook with the lid down for about 5 minutes until the dough is done and the toppings are warm.

(Oh, and I mentioned smoked fish above: We had some smoked salmon in the fridge, the odds and ends of smoked sockeye from Whole Foods. We brought that to the table as additional garnish--good but not required.)

With the pizza we had a salad of Honey Creek spinach from the market:
Wash and drain well the spinach.
Render some lardons of good bacon reserving the fat.

Put 1 Tbsp of the fat in a bowl, add 1 tsp buckwheat honey (or other well flavored honey of your choice), 1 tsp grain mustard, 2 tsp red wine vinegar.

Toss the spinach in the dressing, top with the lardons. You can make this a warm salad by using the fat right away, or you can let it cool to make a regular vinaigrette.
The pizza turned out better than I expected. I was quite prepared for the dough to fall right through the grate, or for the pizza to come out half burned and half raw. Mine did get a little charred, but once it rested, even those parts were tasty, and very crisp! The wood coals imparted a pleasant smokiness. The asparagus pieces bathed in that slightly melty, creamy, herby topping were absolutely delicious.

I would actually classify this as more of a tart than a pizza. Or maybe a flatbread with toppings...which pretty much defines a pizza, come to think of it.... Call it what you like, it's worth adding to the summertime rotation. Other vegetables could take the place of the asparagus as their season arrives: summer squash, eggplant, even green beans, and later maybe winter squash roasted in the coals before being diced to top the pizza? Grilled apples and honey on a dessert version? We'll certainly try it with heirloom tomatoes from our garden.

That will depend on summer arriving, as it is currently reluctant to do. That's okay. For the time being we'll say, Vive le printemps!

Text and photos copyright Brett Laidlaw 2008

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Weed is Not a Plant

It is an idea about a plant.

Spring Lamb's Quarters and Dandelion Salad with Chive-Dill Dressing

If you have a garden in Minnesota, you have lamb's quarters. If you have a yard, you have dandelions--unless you poison them with chemicals. In which case, do not attempt to gather salad from your yard. Needless to say, only gather wild edibles from an area you know to be chemical-free.

Gather sufficient young, tender lamb's quarters and not-too-bitter young dandelion greens to feed however many you have to feed. Look for dandelions that have not yet sent up a flower stalk. Taste a leaf. You will know if it is too bitter. It will taste too bitter. The lamb's quarters I used were tiny plants just coming up. Later in the summer you can use the tender top leaves for salad. Larger leaves can be cooked. By that time all the dandelions will be too bitter.
Make this dressing, or another one you like. This dressed a salad for two:

Glug, glug of grapeseed oil or an oil of your choice (a little flavorful walnut oil would be nice)
Splash and a half red wine vinegar (or white, it doesn't matter that much)
Drizzle of honey
Pinch of salt
Grind grind grind fresh pepper-stop, that's enough
Chopped chives and dill, as much as you please (or another herb that you like)

Make a salad. Decorate with a few pansy blossoms, if you have them and you feel like it. You could use other edible flowers--violets, nasturtiums, marigold. Not all flowers are edible, however.

(The lovely bowl is from Utile Mud at the Midtown Farmers' Market )

I got a preemptive email warning from the Weed Police at the Dowling Community Garden where we're lucky enough to have a plot, requesting that I please look into my unintended early spring crop. As warnings from the dreaded Weed Police go, this one was quite pleasant, presented as it was in the form of a limerick which began:

There was a young fellow from Leeds,
Who lost sight of his flourishing weeds....

I'm not sure what Leeds has to do with it. I'm not from Leeds, which I believe is in England. Nevertheless. I was urged to take care of those weeds, which eight inches in height did exceed. I had it on my schedule to visit the garden that week anyway. I'm planting tomatoes and squash there, and with nighttime temperatures in the 40s and highs sometimes mired in the 50s, I'd been in no hurry to plant.

The garden was messy but not too much of an eyesore. I had most of the weeds out in an hour-and-a-half. In the course of which I realized that some of what I was tossing in the compost pile could be considered not weeds but salad. The young lamb's quarters were delicious, more flavorful than most lettuce. And the pansies which had migrated over from a neighboring plot were very pretty, but in this context they were weeds--except that they could also be garnish. With the spring as cool as it has been there were plenty of palatable dandelions to add variety.

In our home garden the dill plants reseed reliably, providing welcome early flavor in salad dressings, sauces, and mayonnaises. But they come up so widely and indiscriminately that when I'm ready to plant those beds they shift from herb to weed.

The chives are just chives. They stay where they're meant to be and don't cause anyone any trouble or epistemological worry. They are just good citizens of the allium sort.

Dinner at our house isn't always a wine-and-candlelight affair. Sometimes a bottle of beer and a grilled-cheese sandwich will do just fine.

(It's Roth Kase Wisconsin "gruyère" and seven-year-old Wisconsin cheddar on our olive oil-sage bread, with a little home-smoked bacon in there for added interest. What, you were expecting Velveeta on Wonder Bread?)

Text and photos copyright Brett Laidlaw 2008