Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fool Me Twice

"Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me," the old saying goes. But there's no shame in enjoying the old-fashioned dessert called "fool"--well, it's a shame when you've spooned up the last creamy bite and your bowl is empty, but that's about as far as that goes.

Gooseberries: What the hell? Little hard, green, sour, unappetizing globes that dangle from inhospitably thorny branches--sometimes the berries are armed with thorns, too. You often hear that it was a brave man that first ate an oyster, but to me it's a marvel that anyone bothered finding a use for these odd little knobules that make raw rhubarb taste sweet by comparison.

I mean, take a look at those raspberries, the red and the black, and the gooseberries, and tell me: How is it we call both of these things "berries"?

But in fact, whoever first ate a gooseberry discovered something very good. They need sugar, that's certain, but when you cook them down with about one part sugar to every four parts gooseberries, strain out seeds and skin, and blend the resulting purée into freshly whipped, good, rich, local cream ( Cedar Summit for us, of course), you get something sweet, tart, lush and bracing at once--a wonderful, wonderfully simple, seasonal treat.

The raspberry fool provides a rather gaudy color contrast (and I'm red-green color blind, so I can only imagine how it looks to you "normal" folks!), and another sweet offset to the tangy gooseberries.

The raspberries we picked on the land out at Bide-A-Wee. The gooseberries I gathered on a fishing outing when rain chased me off the water and into the woods for shelter. There I came upon a nice patch of gooseberries, and I set my rod aside and picked a good cup of berries to the gentle drip-drip-drip of raindrops on the greenery, with a fine damp stillness all around. A splendid memory. The foraging life yields so much more than fare for the table.

Gooseberry and Raspberry Fool
serves two generously

1 cup gooseberries
1/4 cup sugar

Wash the gooseberries and place in a small saucepan with 1/4 cup sugar and a splash of water. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and simmer, covered, until the berries are very soft, 8 to 10 minutes.

1 cup raspberries, black or red or both--or blackberries, mulberries, etc.
2 Tbsp sugar

As with the gooseberries, but the cooking time will only be 4 or 5 minutes.

Strain the berries separately through a sieve or food mill to remove seeds. The resulting purées can be made several days in advance.

1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp sugar (or a little less, or none at all, depends on how sweet you like things...)

Whip the cream with the sugar if desired, to until quite stiff. Divide the whipped cream into two bowls, and fold the gooseberry purée into one, the raspberry into the other. Garnish with a sprig of mint, a few whole raspberries. A cookie on the side wouldn't hurt, piece of shortbread or a ginger snap--or the same crumbled over the top.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pootzy's Progress

Or, "What We Did on our Summer Vacation". Since the last Pootzy post, the oven has acquired three more layers. First, I built out the door a bit, so it wasn't just a hole in the side of the oven, and I added another layer of mud around the whole oven when I did so. Then we put on the crucial insulation layer. That's the rough-looking stuff under the wet mud in the photos above and below. It's sawdust mixed with a liquid clay-sand-water blend called "slip" in potters' lingo.

Then we put a finish layer of clay-sand mix over that. And that cracked quite badly in drying, but we patched it up, and it looked pretty good after the final drying. It took days and days of passive drying, then hours and hours of firing before the oven finally looked dry. Without further ado, here's what Pootzy can now do:

That's a Bide-A-Wee version of tarte flambée--bacon lardons, onions, thyme, reduced cream with a little dry vermouth. And here's a chorizo-kale-garlic-gruyère 'za:

We also made a cassoulet à la Bide-A-Wee, beans baked with maple syrup, onions, bacon rind, etc. The oven works great for things cooked long and low.

The whole process of making this first earth oven has been for the fun of it, the hell of it, and to learn how it's done. We've learned a lot about the qualities of our soil for oven building, and we've learned the number one lesson of creating any kind of wood-fired oven: Don't scrimp on the insulation. Because: A well insulated oven oven. And a poorly insulated oven is...a great big wood-fired radiator, heating the great outdoors.

We could have put a thicker layer of insulation on the outside, and should have build a better-insulated base. We sort of took an attitude of, It's just a little oven, it doesn't need all that stuff.... When, in fact, because it is small, it needs that stuff all the more, lacking the sheer heat-holding mass of a larger oven.

But we are very pleased with our Pootzy, overall, and looking forward to our next Bide-A-Wee visit to fire it up again. I'm going to smoke-roast, Pootzy-bake, and grill-finish a slab of pork belly.

Yes, we're willing to go to a lot of trouble for a really good meal.

The other major project of the vacation was the creation of the Bide-A-Wee Zen Gravel Garden and Art Park (ZiGGAP). It took a long, grueling day to construct this little patio, but it was worth
it, for we now have a level spot to place our lawn chairs, something the land conspicuously lacked.

To make sawdust for the insulation I went at a couple of box elder logs with the chainsaw. This left the accidental sculptural pieces that adorn the
gravel garden (and double as end tables...).

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Favorite Drive-In

Last night of our recent Bide-A-Wee vacation. Dinner under the tarp as the long twilight drifts down. On the radio, blues from
WOJB . On the plate, merguez-couscous scramble with green beans, snow peas, shallots, garlic and herbs.

A pile of simple, tasty goodness. Jean-Louis made the exemplary merguez, a North African lamb sausage, and the wonderfully moist and flavorful couscous. That was Sunday lunch when Jean-Louis, Nina, and Georgia, the Wonder Dog, came to visit. They kindly left us the leftovers, which became the base of Monday night's supper.

More to follow from our mid-summer break.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Flame Flavor

It seems as if we're been firing up the grill almost every night, lately. Not because it's been too hot to cook inside, but because it's so much fun to cook outside. With the coolish summer we've had, it's pleasant to stand near a bed of glowing coals as the sun sinks down, and of course the results of cooking great local meats and seasonal vegetables over hardwood coals are fantastic, the taste of summer, of which we cannot get enough.

The meat on the menu one night this past week at Bide-A-Wee was ribs, but not the long, long cooked pork spareribs that I
wrote about recently. Rather, these were beef short ribs, sliced very thin, in what I gather is the Korean manner, though I've also seen them cut this way at Mexican butchers along Lake Street. These particular ribs came from no ethnic butcher, but from our favorite local meat shop, Kristin Tombers's wonderful Clancey's Meats and Fish. And before they came from Clancey's, the ribs came from Hill and Vale farm in southeastern Minnesota, I do believe.

Nor do I mean to short-change the vegetables, for while we can indulge in great local meats year-'round, we gorge on the products of garden and farmers' market with particular glee at this time of year. The carrots are from our garden, the green beans and the patty-pan squash (especially delicious) came from Joe and Laura of
Honey Creek Farm at our market .

So: I was mixing up a bucket of "slip," a clay and water mixture the consistency of very heavy cream, in preparation for putting a layer of insulation on the
"Pootzy" earth oven next day, and it was getting rather late. I called out to Mary the ingredients for a marinade for the ribs:

"Two tablespoons of soy sauce, and...uh, a tablespoon and a half of maple syrup. Some vinegar, two teaspoons [she used red wine; cider or rice vinegar would be good, too], a splash of oil [canola]. Some garlic, a couple good cloves, just sliced--and about half an onion, slice that thin, too."

I stirred and stirred the bucket of slurry, like chocolate pudding before it's cooked.

"Pepper, a few good grinds. And a couple pinches of the espelette [you could use cayenne]," I called to Mary in the cabin.

The ribs got tossed with that in a big bowl, and took up those flavors while the fire died down to good cooking coals. We tossed the vegetables in what remained of the marinade, and grilled those, too. The carrots were small ones sliced in half the long way, blanched for a couple minutes in boiling water. The green beans, too, were blanched, and the squash grilled raw. (Obviously, you need to be a little careful grilling beans and baby carrots--just be sure to keep them aligned perpendicular to the grate; one of those grill pans with the holes in the bottom would be best.)

We cooked up a pot of jasmine rice--not local, of course, and rice is one of the non-local ingredients I would miss the most were we eating dogmatically local, which we're not, and being as how we are hard-core rice lovers that's one of the reasons we're not...eating dogmatically local, that is...anyway: Nice pot of jasmine rice. What's left of the marinade we put in a saucepan, and we added more soy, maple syrup, vinegar, plus a good slosh of the red wine we were drinking, and a quarter cup or so of water to make a sauce--simmer that to thicken it a little, and because the raw beef was in there.

The ribs take no time at all to cook. Keep flipping them over the flaming coals (they are fatty) until they've taken a good char on each side--a couple minutes each side in total. I don't think there's any better testimony regarding the final dish than this:

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

Friday, July 10, 2009

Eat Your Vegetables

So now, all you who dwell in northern climes, as we do, I suggest you fix this picture firmly in mind, to recall come next February, say, because one thing that is certain is that we will not be eating like this then. So fix picture in mind, then take that mental image down to your local farmers' market, or out to your garden, and gather the makings of this assiette de crudités served with a glistening bowl of aioli, Provencal garlic mayonnaise (I'm a bit pendantic about aioli, as can be seen

The vegetables for dipping or slathering in the aioli should be whatever ones are fresh and appealing. On our platter, the yellow summer squash, zucchini, and radishes were raw, the green beans, snow peas, and carrots were blanched in boiling water for a couple of minutes, dunked into ice water to stop the cooking, then drained very well. I like to serve them at room temperature, not cold.

We served this as a first course, though of course you can make it the main event, as it usually is in Provence. In that case some kind of protein is usually part of the meal--chicken, beef, fish or other seafood, or all of the above. Boiled potatoes are also a common component, and with beautiful new potatoes in the market now, you should certainly go for those. Other vegetables you might add to the platter: fennel bulb, celery sticks, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, cauliflower, beets--whatever you like, whatever you think will be enhanced by a freshly made aioli pungent with the season's first garlic, like...cardboard, or shoe leather....

I make my aioli by hand, though you can make it in a blender, as well. Any decent Mediterranean cookbook should have a recipe for aioli. My favorite Provencal cookbook--one of my favorite cookbooks, period--is Mireille Johnston's
Cuisine of the Sun .

Here's my basic mayonnaise recipe. Add finely minced garlic at the end, according to taste and tolerance. I like about three good cloves for this amount of mayonnaise. Your Provencal grandmère would make this with a mortar and pestle, and I've done that a couple of times, but I find the whisk method generally more convenient.

1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp dry mustard, or 1 tsp dijon mustard
juice of 1/2 lemon
couple pinches salt
3/4 cup oil--half olive, half canola, or all olive
finely minced garlic to taste

In a bowl about 10 inches in diameter, whisk together the egg yolk and mustard. Whisking continually, steadily, but not furiously, begin to add the oil VERY VERY slowly, a couple of drops at a time to start with; this is tedious but necessary to keep the mayo from splitting. If you're not practiced at this, it will help to have someone else adding the oil at first while you whisk. Once you see the mayonnaise beginning to thicken, you can add the oil a little more quickly, a slow steady stream--but you never want to just glug it in. The final consistency depends on adding the oil slowly and steadily.

When the mayonnaise starts to thicken, it may become too thick to whisk easily. Squeeze in a little lemon juice to loosen it, continue adding oil, whisking, adding lemon juice to loosen the mayo and to taste, until you've added all the oil. Add a couple good pinches salt, and the minced garlic. Allow to sit in the fridge for at least a half hour for all the flavors to meld.

We served our first-course aioli assiette with crusty bread and a rosé from the south of France, and we had delightful friends to share it with, and one of them was even French, and didn't that just add to the Gallic zest of the evening! It was good.

Another night we tossed together most of the same ingredients with a simple creamy dressing. The chopped summer salad consisted of boiled new potatoes, snap peas, summer squash, carrots, sliced radishes, purple onions and that first green garlic from the market, some dill and thyme from the garden, a nice combination. Everything was raw except the potatoes. Mix this up an hour or two in advance to let everything settle well together.

Lemon-Mayo Dressing for Summer Chopped Salad

1/4 cup mayonnaise (you could make your own, but I used Hellmann's)
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 heaping tsp dijon mustard
pinch piment d'espelette or cayenne

Mix all, toss with veg. It was little bit gloopy, but I wanted it that way. We served it with grilled lobster. I know they're not native to Minnesota's waters; sue me.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

Friday, July 3, 2009

Pig, Spice, Smoke

Summertime calls for barbecue, for barbecue ribs, specifically, and by ribs I mean pork spareribs. To do it right is time-consuming but not difficult. A fairly high tolerance for wood smoke is required. If barbecue isn't bred in your bones--if you're a Yankee, in other words, and one of Canadian heritage, for pete's sake--it helps to have a good guide. Peace, Love, and Barbecue by Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnicliffe is the best one I've found.

In addition to being a collection of the most authentic barbecue recipes you'll find, it's also full of stories, humor, history, and hard-won pit-wisdom. A treat to browse through or cook from. You can peruse it while you enjoy some gracious living by the fire ring.

I've written about the thrilling experiment of
bbq ribs in a cardboard box, which we prepared at Bide-A-Wee last summer. This year we have much more sophisticated equipment:

Yes, that's an actual metal lid, from the little Weber grill we use out at the cabin. The rack of ribs sits under the lid, soaking up smoke in the low, indirect heat from a nice smoldering fire of apple wood. Because we're making a version of the Apple City Barbecue Team's World Champion Ribs, if I neglected to mention it. Amy Mills Tunnicliffe graciously granted permission to pass along the recipes for the "Magic Dust" spice mix, and Apple City barbecue sauce from Peace, Love, and Barbecue, which, with the addition of smoke, heat, and time, turn a humble rack of spareribs into one of the most amazing things you'll ever eat. I'm not kidding; and if you've poked around Trout Caviar at all, you've seen that we eat very well here. These ribs are in a league of their own.

Magic Dust
(I'm giving this in parts form, so you can make any quantity simply--for example, if you're just cooking a rack or two of ribs, make 1 part a teaspoon. If you want to make a larger batch to have on hand , make it 1/4 cup. We don't have granulated garlic in our spice drawer, so I just mince a clove of garlic per rack of ribs, rub it on, then coat with the Magic Dust. Many other recipes in
Peace, Love, and Barbecue use this mix. )

2 parts paprika
1 part kosher salt
1 part sugar
1 part ground cumin
1 part chili powder
1 part granulated garlic
1/2 part dry mustard
1/2 part ground black pepper
1/2 part cayenne

Apple City Barbecue Sauce
makes 3 cups

1 cup ketchup (Mike Mills likes Hunt's)
2/3 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 cup apple juice or cider
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce or Worchestershire sauce
2 teaspoons prepared yellow mustard
3/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/3 cup bacon bits, ground in a spice grinder
1/3 cup peeled and grated apple
1/3 cup grated onion
2 tsp grated green bell pepper

Combine everything in a suitable size saucepan, bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, stirring often, until the sauce thickens slightly. Allow to cool and pour into a glass jar, and refrigerate for up to two weeks. Or you can use it immediately.

Mike Mills notes, "Some barbecue sauce is very thick and just sits on top of the meat. This sauce is smooth and on the thin side, and it seeps down into the meat."

I've never made this sauce exactly as written, though I've come close. I use fresh garlic in place of the powder; I've never made it with the bacon, believe it or not, but next time, I will; I hate green bell pepper, so I leave that out; I use a light rice vinegar in place of the seasoned kind (I'm not quite sure what that is), and a dijon type mustard for the yellow.

When we made the ribs last weekend at Bide-A-Wee, I made the Magic Dust at home, rubbed it on the ribs, stuck them in a plastic bag and stuck that in the cooler. The ribs took up the flavor of the rub for several hours. We were eager to get going, so I decided to make the sauce at the cabin. We don't have a very comprehensive larder there, and the only ingredient I brought specifically to make the sauce was an apple, but I found I had 11 ingredients out of the 14 listed--or a reasonable substitute. I only had a couple little fast-food packets of ketchup, so it wasn't as tomatoey as the recipe. The secret ingredient was our own
homemade hard cider from our own apples, pressed last fall. We also used that to moisten the ribs a couple of times while they were cooking.

The ideal temperature for barbecue is around 200 degrees, and at that low heat it takes hours of cooking, like a good six hours. I use a little cheat that speeds the process somewhat and still produces excellent ribs--and it does not involve a microwave! What we did this night was to smoke the ribs for about three hours, until they were nicely smoked and fully cooked, but not yet tender. Then we wrapped them in aluminum foil and cooked them, with a wee bit more heat, for just over an hour. Finally we took them out of the foil, brushed them with the sauce, and cooked them briefly over direct heat, careful not to let the sauce burn.

They could have used a little more time on the fire, but no one was complaining when we sat down to eat--or if anyone was, it was impossible to hear over all the lip smacking and finger licking, the satisfied moans and groans, the oh-my-gods, and the wow-that's-goods. This picture of gracious living belies the carnivorous, bone-gnawing abandon that ensued.

Oh, we had some carrots from our garden and asparagus from the market that we cooked on the grill, and market new potatoes that we roasted in foil in the coals.

Quantities? Well, one of Mike Mills's mottos is, "Life is too short for a half-rack," but we found splitting a rack of a little over two pounds pretty satisfying. I mean, I won't say I couldn't have eaten another rib or two, but I didn't need to. And, I don't know, maybe if you can get by with a half-rack, you just might live to enjoy a few more nights by the fire ring. It's up to you.

Here's wishing you all a happy Independence Day, and a summer full of peace, love, and barbecue.

Magic Dust and Apple City Barbecue sauce recipes from Peace, Love, and Barbecue, published by the Rodale Press, copyright 2005 by Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnicliffe.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw