Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In Praise of Country Markets

There's a certain energy to an urban farmers' market, a vibrancy, a buzz. There’s the thrum of traffic, the roar of planes overhead, a clangor of voices, of different languages greeting, laughing, bargaining, all laid against the backdrop of the music coming from the stage, while the sun beats down on the pavement, and buses spew by, a light rail train sings along the tracks.

It can be thrilling, invigorating, inspiring. That was how our summer Saturday mornings were spent during most of the past five years (and our Friday afternoons, for two years before that), peddling our homemade bread sold under the name of Real Bread. Over that time we found that this same tableau can also be…really, really, tiring. Tiring to put it kindly, tiring to the point where, in spite of how much we still loved many aspects of market life--seeing our colleagues, our customers and friends, the look on the face of a new admirer taking in for the first time our baskets of handmade loaves--and with the growing thought, I could be at Bide-A-Wee right now…, becoming more insistent, then one morning, that of July 3, specifically, without warning, or planning, I showed up at the market, set up my tent, made the rounds, and, feeling the parking lot starting to swelter already at 8:30 in the morning, I knew we were done.

The bread business arose from our love of farmers' markets, but ironically (or, maybe, predictably, or both?), over time it came to mean that we could no longer enjoy farmers' markets, at least not in the same way we had before. Also, once you've seen inside the workings of a market's management, be it one run by a growers' association or a neighborhood organization--well, it's a little like what they say about sausage factories and the working of Congress, and I'll just leave it at that.

We’ve gone three Saturdays now without baking for a market, the longest stretch of any summer for the last seven years. I actually miss the baking, a little, the mildly miraculous alchemy of starting the day with flour and water and ending it with a house full of baskets and totes filled with gorgeous, crusty, fragrant loaves. I don’t miss the six hours spent standing in a South Minneapolis parking lot. I particularly don’t miss it when I think about the small and not-so-small Wisconsin markets we’ve been able to visit in the meantime.

We pulled up and parked in the shade along the curb next to a little park adjacent to the Dunn County Fairgrounds in Menomonie a week ago, got out of the car, left the windows halfway down and told the dogs to be good, we’d be right back. As we walked across the grass toward the market, where tents ringed the park the size of a small city block, the first thing that struck me was how quiet it was. But not quiet, exactly, because there was a pleasant sort of murmur of activity, but calm, and calming. I’d been conditioned to believe that a farmers’ market meant noise. More and more, amplified music has come to characterize the city markets of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. I hate it. I mean, I love music, and in it’s proper context, I love amplified music. At a farmers’ market, I hate it.

The calm of the Menomonie market was not just a lack of music, though. It also came from the fact that the market site was off the main drag, on the grass under spreading oaks. The shade, the leafy breeze, the soft, natural surround, all contributed to a feeling of ease that made us want to linger. We were hungry. We went to get breakfast.

In the picnic pavilion a half dozen vendors, all Hmong, were just finishing their set-up and starting to serve. We made the rounds, considering egg rolls, spring rolls, fried rice or stir-fried green beans, even crab Rangoon, and decided on a Hmong sausage and a dish of vegetable pad thai. The sausage, flavored with ginger and lemongrass, had a beautifully handmade, honestly porky flavor and was served with a pile of steamed rice. The pad thai, stir-fried while Mary watched, and while I went back to get a bottle of water from the car, was fresh tasting and flavorful. A hearty breakfast, which actually saw us through lunch, too. The dogs got a bit of the sausage, for being such good dogs.

We made our way around the market, then, chatted with a woodworker, the lamb vendor whose outfit was called “Ewes Rule the Farm,” and a bison producer. We were talking to the meat guys when the baker showed up late. He was the star of the market, the meat guys said. They thought he worked in the kitchen at Macy’s in the Cities, and brought bread to the market as a sideline. He had a line 12, maybe 15 deep from when he arrived until he was sold out of bread, they said. And as they were telling us this, while the baker was still getting set up, the line started to form.

We moved along, passed a woman setting up to play a hammer dulcimer, unplugged, and by the time we got to the other side of the market the bread was moving, the line stretched two-thirds of the way across the market, and I’d say 15-deep was a conservative estimate. Lots of folks were going away with focaccia topped with tomatoes and cheese. There were golden batards and some round rustic grainy-looking loaves. We pardon-me’d our way through the line. This was clearly no time for a baker-to-baker chat--the baker and a helper were doling out loaves as fast as they could--but I’m sure we’ll find a time to talk later in the summer.

We admired slender green beans, fresh white bulbs of garlic, dewy lettuces, adorable little fingerling potatoes. Lots of vendors were selling by the pound, so you could buy as much or as little as you liked. One thing I’ve come to dislike at Midtown and other city markets is a tendency among farmers to sell their vegetables in large, pre-portioned containers. Three dollars might be a good deal for a pound and a half of green beans, but I generally don’t want that much. I appreciate the buy-as-much-as-you-want approach, which seems more considerate and more friendly.

All we wound up buying at Menomonie, other than breakfast, was some garlic. That’s because we had done the bulk of our shopping on Friday afternoon at the little--no, littler than little, tiny--market in Dallas, which I mentioned in a recent post. The Dallas market is just a few weeks old, and no one would call it a destination market--except, I guess, it sort of is, for us. We could shop at any number of markets, but we’ve made a point of visiting the Dallas market. It’s not just the awesome root beer floats (signs on the road into Dallas announce ROOT BEER FLOATS AHEAD!), or the fact that the produce, while not super-abundant, has been utterly top-notch. It’s more the spirit of the whole endeavor, the really, truly grass-roots nature of it, that we find so appealing.

So far there have only been three or four growers at the market, plus an Amish woman with baked goods (as well as hens and chicks, and I don’t mean the plants that go by that name, but real live chickens with a clutch of real live chicks), and those floats made with super-tasty brew produced right there at the Viking Brewing Company run by market organizer Ann Lee and her husband Randy. But it has the feeling of a real community event, of people doing it not because they think they’re going to make a lot of money at it, but because it contributes, it’s fun, and it’s just a good thing to do. It livens up downtown Dallas on a Friday afternoon, and it offers fresh produce to people who might not have easy access to it otherwise.

Who knows where it will go. All new ventures go through tenuous times finding their feet. We wish the Dallas Farmers’ Market and all its vendors the best, and in honor of the Dallas vendors I offer this recipe that we produced out at Bide-A-Wee last Friday night, made almost entirely with produce from the market (only the corn came from a roadside stand in Osceola). It was absolutely delicious (if I say so myself!), and a treat for the eyes, as well.

Dallas Farmers’ Market Confetti Vegetable Sauce on Pasta
serves two amply

I suppose this is a version of the famous past primavera--springtime pasta--invented , so it is said, at Le Cirque restaurant in New York in 1974, but I was inspired simply by the beautiful market produce, not any particular recipe. Don’t fear the cream. It’s just a couple of tablespoons per person, and the rest of your dinner is all beautiful, healthful, delicious vegetables (and, yes, okay, a little cheese--but this dish was conceived in America’s Dairyland; are we going to freak out about a little cream and cheese? I didn‘t think so…). We stop in Connorsville, on highway 64, at
Bolen Vale Cheese for excellent Wisconsin fromage and a chat with Rene Bartz. Our cream of choice, I must admit, is a Minnesota product, from--where else?--the Cedar Summit Farm dairy, Dave and Florence Minar, proprietors.

a fistful of beans--green, wax, or purple--remove stem end, slice on diagonal into 1-inch pieces
1 small zucchini or summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch slices, then 1/4-inch strips, then 2-inch pieces
2 sweet banana peppers, halved, seeded, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips
1/4 of a small red cabbage, shredded 1/4-inch wide
1 small onion, sliced thin
1 ear corn--cut the kernels off the cob
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chicken or veg stock or water
salt & pepper
1/2 cup grated Wisconsin asiago or other grating cheese
a few leaves basil
1 Tbsp unsalted butter (plus a little extra to finish the sauce, optional)
1 Tbsp olive oil

In a large skillet or saucepan heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the banana peppers and cabbage and a good pinch of salt, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the garlic, zucchini, beans, and corn. Cook for 2 minutes.

Add the stock and 1/4 cup of water, partially cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the cream. Taste for salt and add a little more if needed. Cook, uncovered, until the sauce thickens a bit, about a minute. Stir in most of the tomatoes, saving a few pieces for garnish. Tear the basil leaves into rough pieces, and stir them in.

Serve over linguine, spaghetti, or a pasta of your choice. Sprinkle with cheese to taste, and a grind of black pepper.

You can vary the vegetables in this dish depending on what's in season or available. Use snap peas in place of the beans, a small red bell pepper in place of the banana peppers (or use a bit of hot chili, if you like). Go for a nice variety of colors, whatever mix of vegetables you choose.

Leftovers can be chilled and served as a salad alongside a sandwich or bowl of soup.

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Our Week in 'Shrooms

I've been haunting the woods for mushrooms for quite a few years now, and I can't remember a month--well, really, a week--quite so fungi-full as this last one. Foraging for wild foods is a topic that intrigues a lot of people these days, but the subject raises as much trepidation as it does interest, an attraction/revulsion response. On the one side, everyone raves about how delicious and rare wild foods are--they're mysterious, sexy, exotic. Yet, on the other hand, there's the "Dude, that stuff could kill you!" factor. Without a good guide, preferably a mentor, and a lot of woods-time invested, it's not easy to become comfortable with harvesting and preparing wild foods.

"Hedgehog" mushrooms, hydnum repandum

So if you know a little, nail down a few reliable wild harvests, you quickly become looked upon as an "expert," but often it's a case of the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. I've never considered myself an expert; I know what I know, I learn a little at a time, and that's about it. I'm persistent, and sometimes I'm lucky. How little I really do know has been highlighted for me even in this last week of abundant harvests. Given my past experience, I wouldn't have started to look for chanterelles until early August, because that's the earliest I'd previously found them. And mind you, I had looked in July, more than once, and come home nettle-stung, bug-bit, and sweat-soaked, but empty-handed, except maybe for a bit of sulfur shelf, some honey mushrooms I could never ID confidently enough to cook them. I had firmly decided that it was a waste of time to hunt for chanterelles that early.

But the thing about nature, it's quite highly variable. Averages are just that, often the product of wild extremes. In the past few years, late June and July were dry, dry, dry. This year, wet, wet, wet--and warm, and that right there is a recipe for fungus. So I've had something else put in my forager's head, to pay equal attention to the weather as the calendar.

Now I'll wait to see if conditions mean that this season of abundant 'shroomage will be both ample and extended, or short and sweet. Will the hen-of-the-woods be early, too? Things could change radically over the course of a few weeks. If it dries up and stays dry, the end of season could be as big a bust as this early part has been boom.

One thing is certain: We have been enjoying it while we can. Over the past week our dinners have consisted of: omelets with sautéed chanterelles and black trumpets; grilled double-cut pork chops with chanterelles in cream; chanterelle smoked herring bulgur salad; creamed 'shrooms on toast; chanterelle corn soup with black trumpet garnish; hedgehog gruyère pizza.

The soup was really a treat, rich and savory and not too fancy, still a bit rustic with the pieces of mushroom and texture from the corn. If you can't get your hands on chanterelles, use another wild mushroom like hedgehogs, hen-of-the-woods, or try it with regular button mushrooms (call them "champignons de Paris" if you want to impress your guests; that's what they're called in France).

Cream of Chanterelle and Sweet Corn Soup
serves two

6 ounces chanterelles

1 ½ cups unsalted chicken stock
2 ½ cups water
1 shallot, minced
1 small leek, white and very light green, chopped fine
2 ears corn

Take a little less than one third of the chanterelles--the less nice looking ones--and chop them fairly fine. Add to the combined stock and water along with any trimmings from the rest of the chanterelles. Add one quarter of the minced shallot, and the chopped outer layers of the leek--the part you’d otherwise throw away--and a bit of the lighter green tops, chopped. Shuck the corn, and with a mandolin or very sharp knife, strip the kernels from the cob--try not to get big, full kernels, but rather partial ones, as for creamed corn. Add the stripped cobs to the stock, mushrooms, etc., bring to a simmer and simmer briskly, covered, for 30 minutes. Strain the stock, pushing on the mushroom bits with the back of a spoon. You should have 2 ½ cups of stock; add water to make 2 ½ cups if you're short.

When the corn cobs have cooled, use the back of a kitchen knife to scrape any remaining corn from the cobs. Add to stock.

Slice the rest of the chanterelles thin, no more than ¼-inch.

1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp dry vermouth or white wine

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the remaining leeks and shallots and the chanterelles; cook gently until everything is wilted. Do not let it brown. Add the corn and vermouth or white wine, then the stock, and a couple of pinches of salt. Bring to a simmer and simmer gently, partly covered, for 20 minutes.

2/3 cup heavy cream
Black trumpets if you have them

Add the cream and simmer for another 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning. If you have some black trumpets, sauté them briefly in a bit of butter and use to garnish the soup. Make it pretty with a leaf of chervil or parsely, if you like.

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Fine Mess

I don’t have many recipes using chanterelles, or any wild mushrooms, for that matter. My default method, which can hardly be improved upon, is this: Saute in an ample amount of good butter. Serve with soft scrambled eggs or a simple omelet, or on toast. Some salt is necessary, pepper optional. Shallots and onions go well with wild mushrooms; I employ garlic very carefully, as it can overwhelm the unique fungal flavor. At the end of cooking a slosh of sherry or wine, a lashing of cream, these rarely harm the dish. As for herbs, thyme and parsley are all I would recommend. The other best way to eat wild mushrooms is to toss them in to roast along with a chicken for the last half hour.

But sometimes one can encounter mushrooms like chanterelles in abundance:

And when, after a few rounds of the simple treatment, one’s craving for pure mushroom flavor has been sated, one can start to experiment a bit, combine the mushrooms with other seasonal elements.

This bulgur-based dinner salad was inspired by--indeed, provisioned by--three of my favorite places: Lake Superior; the farmers’ market; the Wisconsin woods. One of our rites of spring for many years now has been the first dinner of Fish, Farm, & Forage. That usually involves a brown trout I have caught, some oyster mushrooms picked from a streamside log, and some of the first greens from our garden--young turnip greens or kale, say. This one is a mid-summer, wider-ranging version of Fish, Farm, & Forage.

The lovely little farmers’ market in Dallas, Wisconsin, provided most of the vegetables, and the smoked herring was from
Halvorson Fisheries in Cornucopia. Wood sorrel, which I mentioned in the recent chowder post, grows just everywhere out here--and in our city gardens, too. It is a wild edible anyone can get hold of in this part of the world. Google it for pictures and descriptions. Here are a couple shots of Bide-A-Wee product:

The leaf clusters of three heart-shaped leaflets are about an inch across. For much of the summer what you'll notice first are the bright, cheery yellow flowers. Those are starting to recede now as the plants go to seed.

The chanterelles were not found on our land, but in a Wisconsin woods that I've been harvesting for some years. The funny thing is, I first started scouting this particular spot thinking I might find morels there. As it happens, it's the utterly wrong habitat for morels, but I had the right intuition in thinking that the place felt "'shroomy." And indeed, from mid-summer through autumn it is very, very 'shroomy indeed, producing chanterelles, boletus varieties, some oysters, hen of the woods, sulfur shelf, hedgehog, puffballs, and, to date, exactly one lobster mushroom (that I have found; actually, Mary found it, a couple of years ago).

What sort of habitat is this, then: Among oaks, on rocky slopes, in areas with sandy soil. At least that’s where I find them, and the nice thing is, chanterelles tend to occur in areas where there’s very little growing on the forest floor. Between the thick layer of oak leaves, the steep terrain, the poor soil, not much else gets a foothold there. So don’t waste your time and torture yourself rooting around in thick vegetation, getting stung by nettles and covered in burrs. Although--they do occur near stands of nettles; go down the slope from where the nettles live. Right in the Twin Cities there are spots along the riverbanks that fit this description. And I’ve been finding them on west-facing slopes, FWIW.

You could vary the vegetables in a salad like this, using whatever’s in season. Decide whether the veg need blanching, full cooking, or nothing. I could see adding a bit of diced apple, thin-sliced radish, blanched green beans, diced, salted, drained cukes. You could change the base, as well, turning it into a rice or wild rice salad. Couscous, absolutely. Sure to impress at the next summer pot luck.

Chanterelle Smoked Herring Bulgur Salad
serves two

1 cup bulgur
1 ½ cups boiling water

Rinse the bulgur in cold water and drain. Put it in a saucepan or a bowl with a cover; add the boiling water, cover, and allow to sit at least 30 minutes. Pour the bulgur into a seive and let it drain thoroughly. This makes more than you'll need for this salad; the leftover bulgur would make a taboulleh lunch for one.

7 or 8 good-sized chanterelles, quartered
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 shallot or small sweet onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 pinches salt

A “good-sized” chanterelle, to me, is one that’s 2 ½ to 3 inches tall, and the same size across the cap. Clean up the chanterelles--a pastry brush is good for removing minor dirt and grime. If the mushrooms are dirty enough to need washing, by all means do so; nothing spoils the pleasure of eating wonderful wild fungi more than the grating crunch of sand between your teeth.

Either prepare the chanterelles immediately before mixing the salad, or do ahead, set aside, and reheat just before mixing; deglaze the pan with a bit of the dressing. Heat a small skillet and add the butter. Add the chanterelles and salt, and sauté over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add the shallot or onion, cook another minute, then add the garlic and sauté two minutes more, until the mushrooms are just beginning to brown.

2 cups of the drained bulgur
½ cup sugar snap peas, strung, coarsely chopped
½ cup cherry tomatoes, whole or halved
1/3 cup fennel bulb, shaved or sliced very thin crosswise
½ cup wood sorrel leaves (save a few back for garnish)
2 pickled ramps, chopped fine
1 small red onion, sliced very thin

Half a smoked herring (a 12- to 14-inch one) in large flakes, about a cup of flakes(or substitute another smoked fish you like)

2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (a berry-flavored vinegar would be good here, too)
¼ cup canola or sunflower oil
2 pinches salt
A few grinds black pepper

Mix everything together 30 minutes before serving.

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Screw Christmas. Take a hike, Santa Claus. It's the shank of summer, and Great Nature has begun to bestow upon us her most splendid gifts--chanterelles, black trumpets. Now we'll look for puffballs, hen of the woods, tooth mushrooms. It's the most wonderful time of the year.

The forest floor is just rife with fungi, edible, and not, all remarkably beautiful. Even if you only want to make a photo safari, it's a great time of year to head for the woods. Though there are mosquitoes. And watch out for the nettles--nasty.

More fungal fun to follow. I owe Nate--tweets as homebrewer--and
Martha and Tom thanks for tipping me off to the early fruiting; I usually start to look for chanterelles in early August. From now on, in a wet July, I'll take Bastille Day to mean, Cherchez les girolles!

Golden, gregarious, glorious:

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Lake Trout Chowder

Chowder must be one of the most evocative words in the culinary lexicon. Just hearing it, or seeing it in print, I'm taken to a gray clapboard Downeast clam shack on a nor’easter day, steam glazing the inside of the windows while wind-driven raindrops pelt the outside, and I smell a briny duet of freshly shucked clams and salty smoked bacon, all those flavors seeping in to yielding potatoes in a rich milky broth, and you sit down to that supremely comforting meal wearing a big fisherman’s sweater, and all is right with the world.

The thing is, though, all those comforting images, the steam, the rain, the big fisherman’s sweater, the fragrantly steaming cauldron, they take me to a cold weather place, the shoulder seasons, late October, early March. But I like to eat creamy fish soup in the summer, too. That’s mainly when we have local fish around here.

So I came up with this dish, which is almost like a light, delicate fish and vegetable hot pot. It doesn’t simmer the live-long day, it isn’t thickened at all, and it has no bacon in it. Shocking, that last one, I know. I wanted to taste the fish and the vegetables without porcine interference.

I don’t mind traveling for great food. In fact, I love it. This past weekend, on a mini-vacation out at Bide-A-Wee, we made a day trip up to the South Shore of Lake Superior, popped in to a couple of galleries in Port Wing, took a walk and a swim on the beautiful Cornucopia beach, had lunch at the Village Inn in Corny (whitefish sliders, the Inn’s signature fish chowder). But the main event, and the purpose of the trip, was to stock up on fish at Halvorson Fisheries, down on the Corny docks. We bought lake trout and herring, fresh and smoked of each kind, not pounds and pounds but enough for several meals.

Coming home down Wisconsin 25 we stopped at an honor-system farm stand where we picked up a few peppers, a zucchini, and then passing the Dallas turn-off we saw a sign for the Dallas Farmers’ Market, a brand new venture of Ann Lee (Viking Brewing Company) & friends. On the shaded grass just off the sidewalk in front of the brewery a half dozen tables were set up. An Amish woman sold baked goods and a few vegetables. Our neighbor Tina had carrots and raspberries. Another table had an appealing array of young vegetables--green beans, zucchini, kale, tiny scallions, new potatoes, napa cabbage; vegetable soup in the raw--as well as a few gleaming trays of red currants. Next table down, a young man and an older one were standing behind containers of thrilling red--the first tomatoes of the season, romas and cherries. We bought a mixed pound of those, and picked up something else from most of the other tables.

This modest little market reminded me of what I love about farmers’ markets, what I’m afraid I’d nearly forgotten over the past seven-plus years of selling our bread at one most Saturdays through the summer. And it made me glad that we’ve decided to take a break from the market baking while I work on the book. I’m so looking forward to experiencing a variety of markets this summer, but from the customer’s side of the table, for a change.

Back at Bide-A-Wee in the late afternoon, we lit a fire for cooking--not to grill, this time, just to keep the chowder pot bubbling--and we prepped the vegetables for the soup. The wilds of Bide-A-Wee provided a couple of nice additions to the pot: wood sorrel and wood nettles. The nettles added depth of flavor and some dark green spots of color. The wood sorrel brought tart, lemony high notes and a pretty bit of garnish. For the nettles you could easily substitute spinach, and regular garden sorrel would do in place of the wood sorrel, though wood sorrel is easy to find even in the city--our Saint Paul garden is full of this tasty "weed".

The base for the soup was no fancy stock but pure water we brought back from the spring on the Cornucopia beach. And nothing but the salt came from outside Minnesota and Wisconsin. Each summer for the past few years we've made a road trip--a pilgrimage, just about--to Corny, at least once a summer. Each time I'm just astounded at how good our local "seafood" is. Lake trout is probably my favorite, while Mary is a big herring fan, and we both love the sweet, flaky whitefish, as well. Every year I ask myself, why do we so rarely see this fish in Twin Cities markets? Occasionally the herring shows up, and Whole Foods often has Canadian whitefish. I don't think I've ever seen lake trout for sale here. Maybe there's an answer out there; maybe it will remain one of those vexing mysteries.

This was one of the best things we've eaten this summer. The fresh trout was sweet, tender, and unctuous, and the smoked fish gave it a subtle campfire note. All the vegetables were distinct, and delicious. I was going to add some tomatoes to the soup, but I forgot to do so, and just used the quartered cherry tomatoes as garnish; and now I realize, that's what I meant to do, all along.

You could do this recipe with whitefish or herring. If the fish is impeccably fresh it will be good, though different. Working from the fish markets in town, you could keep it local by using walleye and a bit of smoked rainbow trout. But if you have the chance to make it with great, fresh, local lake trout, and the smoked version of same, well, I can guarantee you won't be sorry. It is as simple as it is delicious, and another illustration of the guiding truth that good cooking is mostly in the shopping.

Summer Lake Trout Chowder
serves two

4 cups water
4 new potatoes, golf ball-size, sliced ¼-inch thick
4 baby carrots, about 5 inches long, sliced on a long diagonal (or equivalent in larger carrots)
1 medium sweet onion, sliced thin
1 small zucchini or yellow squash, in very small dice, ¼-inch to 1/3-inch
A good handful of very young green beans, washed, stem end trimmed
6 ounces fresh lake trout, skinned, cut into 2 chunks
3 to 4 ounces smoked lake trout, in large flakes, about 2/3 cup
40 leaves of wood nettle, washed, blanched, and chopped (or a good cup of spinach leaves)
½ cup wood sorrel leaves (or a few small leaves of garden sorrel)
A few small cherry tomatoes, quartered
3 Tbsp heavy cream
2 tsp butter
Salt to taste

In a large saucepan combine the water, potatoes, carrots, and onions with two good pinches of salt. Bring to a simmer and simmer briskly for 12 minutes. Add the green beans and diced zucchini, and simmer for six minutes. Add the fresh and smoked trout, and simmer for 6 minutes.

Add the blanched, chopped nettle leaves (or spinach) and most of the wood sorrel, keeping a few sorrel leaves back for garnish. Simmer for 3 minutes.

Divide the fish and vegetables between two shallow soup bowls, leaving the broth in the pan. Add the cream and butter to the broth, taste for seasoning, then bathe the fish and veg in this lightly rich broth. Garnish with the reserved wood sorrel leaves and the cherry tomatoes.

If you like, save the skin from the lake trout and crisp it in a little oil in a fry pan, or directly over the coals of a grill. Use the crisp skin as additional garnish.

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Senses of Summer

Chanterelles are my favorite wild mushroom, and raspberries my favorite wild fruit, and in both cases it’s the aroma as much as the taste that I’m drawn to. In the case of the wild raspberries we find at Bide-A-Wee, I’m fortunate to find pleasure in a bowl full of splendid smells, because it’s right difficult to gather any quantity of berries. While we have raspberry canes in abundance, those canes don’t tend to bear a lot of fruit. We don’t have this problem--well, not a problem, exactly, more just a situation--with black raspberries or blackberries, but our red raspberries rarely seem to be well pollinated. Many blossoms simply don’t turn to fruit at all, while others form only partial berries. Here I must note that I was about to refer to the many individual sub-berries that make up a single raspberry as “dem little doots,” but mindful that my friend Teresa Marrone might be reading this, and with her splendid tome Abundantly Wild close at hand, I can report dat dem little doots is properly referred to as globular drupes. Which actually doesn’t sound all that different, when you look at it.

Anyway: When picking raspberries from our Bide-A-Wee patches, one is rarely dropping full berries into the bowl, but rather is usually gathering dem little doots--er, dem glopular droops, I mean, oh, skip it…. Even so, even with the doot-drupe situation of unfulfilled berries, I can collect a small fragrant bowl in just a short while; not enough for jams or such, but plenty enough to appreciate that wonderful smell, and to cook down a bit to mix with some of my friend Mala’s rockin’ homemade whole grain mustard as a glaze for grilled chicken, a condiment to enliven a sausage--mixed grill for another Bide-A-Wee bachelor dinner. Mary’s been subsisting on Maid-Rites this past weekend at a family reunion in, well, where would you expect to find a Maid-Rite, a.k.a., "loose meat sandwich" (Look out! Meat on the loose!)?

Has to be the great state of Iowa.

Oh, and the other thing I like about raspberries: It’s the red.

Raspberry Mustard

1 cup raspberries
1 Tbsp honey
3 Tbsp grain mustard
Pinch salt
Espelette or cayenne to taste, optional

Wine or raspberry vinegar to thin the glaze, if needed

Combine the raspberries with about one tablespoon of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring for two or three minutes, just until the berries become soft. Press the berries through a strainer, scraping the bottom of the strainer to get the thicker pulp. Return the juice to the saucepan with the honey, bring to a boil, and reduce by half. Pour the mixture into a small bowl and let cool. Add the mustard and a good pinch of salt, and the chili if desired.

For a glaze for grilled meat or fowl, thin with a little vinegar (or wine, or beer) if it seems too thick. Brush on at the very end of grilling and watch carefully to prevent burning.

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Lunch à la Dansk

It's heating up here on the first day of July, and the humidity is rising with the temps. And though it's Canada Day today, and our American Independence Day coming up this weekend, I'm thinking about things Danish. I am thinking, specifically, of
smørrebrød, those Danish open-face sandwiches that are so appealing this time of year.

To the Danes, smørrebrød is more than a food, it's a keystone of the culture. But I've also read that it's a fading one. While a
1986 New York Times article reported that 90 percent of Copenhagen's restaurants focused on smørrebrød, a Saveur magazine article of a couple years back was tolling its death knell. Younger people considered smørrebrød quant and old-fashioned, Saveur reported. Most of Copenhagen's smørrebrød restaurants were frequented by tourists.

My forays into smørrebrød may not be wholly authentic, but I'm happy to try to keep its spirit alive. Well, any meal based on bread is bound to find a tender spot in a baker's heart, and the wonderful variety of (usually) cold toppings makes this a perfect sort of food for a summer brunch or dinner on a warm evening.

My smørrebrød lunch today was simply an opportunistic omnivore's treat. I had the end of a loaf of caraway rye (I managed to save us a loaf from the market baking last week; I can't tell you how many times I've gotten home from the market, looked around the kitchen, and realized
there wasn't a crust of bread to be found...). I had a little pickled ramp mayo in the fridge. Some of our home-smoked bacon just begging to be eaten up. And a jar of pickled turnips--nabo encurtido--from Peter and Carmen. The jar says these are "Peter's Pickles," but I'm guessing that Carmen knows a little more about Peruvian pickled turnips than Peter.... (Sorry blurry photo; the condensation on the jar messes up the camera.)

Smørrebrød frequently features pig and pickles. My use of the ramp mayo in place of butter is a variant, maybe a deviant--the base of good butter spread coast to coast on the rye is de rigeur in an authentic smørrebrød, but as I say, I'm honoring the spirit here.

So: the thin-sliced rye, liberally spread with pickled ramp mayo*, topped with the thin-sliced bacon gently rendered to not-quite-crisp, topped with a couple slices of Carmen's lovely sweet & sour turnip slices. A dab of dill** and a little sweet market onion is all it needs.

I poured a glass of Cuvée Bide-A-Wee 2009, our hard apple cider that is coming along wonderfully. Working at home does have certain advantages.


* To make pickled ramp mayo, make
pickled ramps; make mayo, but use just a little lemon juice in preparing the basic mayo, a squeeze or two. When the mayo is finished, add two pickled ramps, chopped fine, and two tablespoons of the pickled ramp brine. Taste for seasoning, and add a little more lemon juice if needed, to balance the sweetness of the brine. You could substitute another sort of sweet-and-sour pickled onion.

** I threw the dill on there at the end just to give a little green contrast to the white turnip--I don't generally add superfluous cosmetic garnishes to my lunch. But you know, come to eat it, the dill really helped pull everything together, just that little bit. The previous few years my garden has been overtaken by a volunteer dill jungle. This year, there's hardly any out there. Weird, weird gardening year.

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw