Thursday, January 28, 2010
Mary had a little lamb. I had some, too. Tranche de gigot "La Boutarde," pan-fried leg of lamb slices the way they cook it at that Parisian bistro. It looks like Mary and I will be having a little more lamb in future:
That's our half a Sheepy Hollow lamb, dressed weight around 26 pounds. Sheepy Hollow is our Midtown Farmers' Market lamb vendor. Anne Leck is the woman behind Sheepy Hollow, which produces the best lamb around, in my opinion. Our friend Lynne arranged our lamb buy, and took the other half. She kindly let us have the offal: heart, liver, kidneys, and tongue. I am not at all sure what I'm going to do with that stuff. I'm excited about the opportunity to work with offal that's this fresh and lovely. And I am filled with trepidation, at the same time: I want to really like it, but I'm not sure I will; I want to do it justice, but I have almost no experience cooking this sort of thing. I think I'll let Fergus be my guide.
Another part of me, the Joycean part, is inclined to take this passage from Ulysses about Leopold Bloom's gustatory preferences, and just wing it:
"Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods' roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine."
You can be sure I'll give a full report, whatever I do. Forgive me for getting ahead of myself--having all those lamb innards in the fridge has me a little preoccupied.
The lamb leg cutlets were fantastic. The recipe, from Patricia Wells' Bistro Cooking, adapted from La Boutarde in Paris, is simplicity itself. That was exactly what I was looking for, because 1) I didn't want to go to a lot of trouble, and 2) I wanted our first taste of this lamb to highlight the flavor of the lamb, rather than showy cooking technique. The accompaniments were equally simple, a mixed mash--potatoes, carrot, celery root, and parsnip--a slice of fresh bread, a glass of red wine (the bargain brouilly we opened was halfway to vinegar; a four-dollar Argentine syrah saved the day).
This meat was simply wonderful. It was dense and a bit chewy, but supremely juicy, with a depth of flavor that's rare to find in meat these days. Mary and I agreed that the flavor was almost more like that of grass-fed beef than run-of-the-mill lamb.
A recipe in pictures:
Take two five-to-six-ounce boneless slices of lamb leg, about 3/4- to 1-inch thick. Salt and pepper the meat (I also added the lightest sprinkle of piment d'espelette, because I just can't help myself).
In two tablespoons of olive oil, soften six to eight cloves of garlic in their jackets over medium low heat. This will take around eight minutes. Do not let the garlic get too brown, or it will be bitter. When the garlic is soft, remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat, and spoon in some of the garlic oil. Add the lamb and cook three minutes per side for medium rare. Toss in a few sprigs of thyme halfway through the cooking.
When the lamb is done, remove it to a warm plate to rest while you make the simple pan sauce. Add the garlic to the sauté pan. Pour in about three tablespoons of water, and scrape with a wooden spatula to deglaze. Add one-quarter cup dry white wine (you could use red instead, but the recipe called for white and that's what I used here). Simmer until the sauce thickens a bit.
There should be some juice on the lamb resting plate by now. Pour that back into the sauce, and serve.
For the mash, we peeled two small russet potatoes (about lemon size), one small carrot, one small parsnip, and one-quarter of a small celery root. Quarter the potatoes and cut the other vegetables into 3/4-inch dice. Bring a pot of water to the boil, add the vegetables, and simmer briskly until they are very tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the vegetables and mash them with a fork or potato masher. Add a good tablespoon of butter, salt to taste, and a bit of the cooking liquid, if you like, to achieve your desired texture. In this case, I'd say I added a good half-cup of the cooking liquid.
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw
Friday, January 22, 2010
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
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Alternate title, a la Updike: "Rabbit is Rich." Wild rabbit, like this one I shot out at Bide-A-Wee last week, is indeed rich. Tastes like chicken? Not a bit. But then I don't think a good farm-rasised rabbit, which I also relish, tastes like chicken, either. That said, the wild thing is in a class by itself.
One thing rabbit has in common with chicken, or any other fowl, is that some parts cook more quickly than others; some parts take to long cooking better than others. On a bird you have legs, which can take a lot of cooking, and the breast, which goes dry very easily. Rabbits don't fly (except in Monty Python...), so there's no breast meat to speak of. But like many another mammal, they have well-developed loin muscles, running right along the backbone. The loin from a wild rabbit is some of the finest meat you'll ever eat, in my opinion--tender, toothsome, savory, rich, just gamy enough. As to how to cook it, just think of how you'd prepare a pork loin, a good steak, a lamb loin chop--medium rare is best, to my taste, rare if you prefer; anything beyond medium is...too much cooking, I think (not to attribute moral imputations to one's preferred doneness of meat...!).
What I did with this bunny: Broke it down into its significant components: Separated the back legs(at the top) from the carcass , then the front legs (bottom). Trimmed up the sort of "flap meat" hanging down along the rib cage. Trimmed up the "saddle," the back of the rabbit, leaving the loin on the bone (middle).
All trimmings, including the head, I chopped up and browned in a bit of oil, added carrot, leek, onion, garlic, thyme, black pepper, celery root trimmings, white wine, water, and simmered for stock.
For garnish I rendered some cubes of homesmoked bacon. In that fat I browned cubes of parsnip, celery root, carrot, and squash. Set all that aside for later.
Browned the legs, tossed in a half an onion sliced, some cider, some of the rabbit stock. Cover and braise a good hour and a half.
Oh, those jowls, or cheeks, of which I have "tweeted"--I did indeed confit those, along with the heart, tossed them in some Sichuan five-spice salt to cure for a while, cooked them slowly in duck fat for a couple of hours, with a little chopped leek. It was just a rich couple of mouthfuls by the time it was done, served over a round of sourdough, but let me tell you, it nearly stole the show.
Toward serving time, brown the loin well in a bit of oil and butter, stick it in a 350 oven to finish, six to eight minutes. Let rest while we strain the braising liquid, add a little more stock to it, then the cubes of precooked bacon and vegetables to warm through.
Serve on soft polenta. We usually cook polenta in plain water. This time we used one-third each water, rabbit stock, and milk. It was excellent in its own right, but in the context a bit rich, like buttering the foie gras (a culinary version of gilding the lily...!).
If you hunt and like to eat, go get yourself a wild rabbit. If you don't hunt but know someone who does, implore him or her on your behalf. Invite the hunter to share the meal. Everyone wins (okay, everyone but the rabbit). Another good thing about rabbit: In Wisconsin, and I suspect it may be the same elsewhere, if you're hunting on private land, there's no closed season. You have to observe the daily bag limits and possession limits, and have a small-game license but that's it. Rabbits are plentiful, they get to be pests. Do your duty as a top-of-the-food-chain predator, and enjoy the perks.
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw
Friday, January 15, 2010
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The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down,
Of the big lake they call "Gitche Gumee"....
"Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings, in the rooms of her ice-water mansions...". I can't think of that song without getting goosebumps: "The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay if they'd put fifteen more miles behind her...".
But let us not dwell on past tragedy. Let's think happier thoughts: Let's think about fish. Of which Superior has plenty, and excellent fish, at that. But our own inland sea is an underappreciated resource, it seems. We splash out big bucks for Alaskan salmon and halibut, Atlantic striped bass, what-have-you, while we seriously underrate some of the best and freshest fish around--Lake Superior whitefish, herring, and lake trout.
It's not entirely our fault. From the Twin Cities we can crest the Superior height of land to gaze down on Lake Superior and the port of Duluth in about two hours' driving, but it's generally easier to find Norwegian cod than a fresh bluefin herring in our local fish markets. Things are getting a little better. We find Superior herring pretty regularly at Coastal Seafoods and the Seward Co-op during the season; Whole Foods often has wild whitefish. Smoked fish from theDockside Fish Market in Grand Marais, MN is sold at Coastal; Seward carries product from Northern Waters Smokehaus in Duluth; and smoked fish from Everett Fisheries in Port Wing, WI is available here, too. By the time it gets to the metro retail outlets, Lake Superior fish is not quite the bargain that it is when you purchase it from the source on "the shore," whether north or south, but it's still relatively cheap, worth looking for.
Still, there's nothing like getting it at the source. We've made a trip each of the past two summers from Bide-A-Wee up to Cornucopia, WI, for a meal at The Village Inn and a stop at Halvorson Fisheries for fresh and smoked fish. We stroll the long beautiful beach in "Corny," take a swim, wander the backroads, mosey home to grill a piece of lake trout over the fire, or put together an utterly satisfying, totally local fish chowder.
As much as I love the rugged North Shore on the Minnesota side, I've really come to appreciate the more pastoral, mellow feeling of Wisconsin's South Shore. It has a laid-back, relaxing vibe, and the scenery, though less dramatic than the North Shore's, is no less beautiful. And there are orchards, berry farms, wineries, whitefish livers....
While the general feeling along the South Shore is relaxed, that wasn't the case at Halvorson's when we stopped in last August. The next day was Cornucopia Day, which meant fish boils galore, and the whole crew was hard at work at the fishery, filleting whitefish and herring, fresh off the boat, as fast as ever they could. Which was pretty fast, believe me. Quite a scene.
Our experiences with Lake Superior fish in 2009 made me appreciate that resource all the more, and made me want to do more with these wonderfully flavorful, versatile fish in 2010. I'm resolving to get up to the South Shore more often. And one day we might just strike out east from Bide-A-Wee, follow highway 64 all the way to its end, and see what Lake Michigan has to offer.
Back at the cabin from our Corny visit last summer, I made a grilled fish chowder, coloring the fish and vegetables over the coals before combining them in the soup pot. Here's a stovetop version that we made recently at Bide-A-Wee using Superior fish--fresh herring, smoked lake trout--that we purchased in the cities.
Lake Superior Fish Chowder
1 thick slice bacon cut into 1/4-inch lardons
2 tsp butter
1 small leek, white and light green parts, slit, rinsed, sliced
1 small carrot sliced thin
1/2 a small onion, sliced thin
1/2 a small celery root in small dice (about 1/2 cup), or one rib celery, chopped
2 small potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 cups chicken, fish or vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup cream
1/4 cup dry white wine (optional)
2 tsp flour
salt and pepper
couple sprigs fresh thyme
2 bluefin herring filets, about 1/2 pound total
1/4 pound smoked lake trout, skin and bones removed, broken into chunks
Render off the bacon over medium heat, remove from pan, reserve. Add butter, onion, leek, celery root or celery, pinch of salt; cook slowly until the onion is translucent. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir with a wooden spatula to mix the flour into the fat. Cook for about 30 seconds.
Add a bit of the stock while stirring with the wooden spatula to deglaze and dissolve the flour into the stock. Add half the remaining stock, stirring. Add the rest of the stock. Combine the milk and cream, and ladle some of the now hot stock into that mixture. Slowly pour the stock-milk-cream mixture back into the pan. Add the carrots, potatoes, thyme, and a pinch or two of salt, couple grinds of pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook partially covered for 20 minutes.
Add the white wine if using, the fish, and the reserved bacon. Simmer for 10 minutes. Serve.
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
After a hard day toiling in the orchard or the sugar bush, a man needs a drink. A woman, too. I mean, yes, a man might need a woman, it's true, and a woman might need a drink. And a man. Or a fish. And a bicycle....as that old saying used to go, as you might remember.
Anyway, sometimes a man or a woman might need a drink, and fortunately, the land provides. I haven't quite settled on a name for this drink, but I'm leaning toward "Highway 64 Revisited." Wisconsin state highway 64 runs east and west across the state, from Hudson to Green Bay. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources's reckoning, it divides the state into northern and southern sectors (according to my sense of things, too). It takes me to some of my favorite hunting grounds, and a number of fine trout waters.
More significantly, for our purposes here, it runs just south of Bide-A-Wee, which produces the maple syrup and apple cider that flavor the drink, and through New Richmond, where is made the 45th Parallel vodka that gives it its guts. This is good stuff, this Badger State vodka. I used to be of the opinion that "vodka is vodka," but I've had to admit that that was a benighted view. Now, I don't think vodkas are ever going to have the character or variety of single malt scotch, but I've come to recognize that there are significant differences in vodkas, and to my taste 45th Parallel is among the best. It's clean, crisp, and slightly sweet, slightly viscous on the tongue even when not iced. Just as important as what qualities it has is the one it lacks--that sinus-scorching cleaning fluid aroma often found in lesser vodkas. I don't mean to seem to damn with faint praise, not at all--when I want to sip iced vodka neat with my trout caviar on Tata's rye rounds, this will be the one.
Enough exposition, here's the drink:
Highway 64 Revisited
for each drink
2 ounces 45th Parallel vodka
2 Tbsp unfiltered fresh apple cider
1 tsp pure maple syrup
1 capful dry vermouth (I like Martini & Rossi)
1 sprig fresh thyme (optional but very nice)
Put some cracked ice in a martini shaker. Add all above. Shake or stir? Well, I kind of swirl, let sit a few seconds, swirl again. That's more like stirred, I reckon. I should try it shaken. Maybe tonight. Strain into a martini glass. I like to let a few shards of ice drift into the drink. Garnish superfluously with a slice of pickled crab apple, if you have it, or a wedge of fresh apple, or a maple leaf, whatever makes you happy. Sip and savor.
For added enjoyment and sophistication put on our friend Will Agar's wonderful classical guitar CD, Suenos Ibericos, definitely one of our musical highlights of 2009. Contact Will at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to purchase a copy. Highly recommended.
Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw
Saturday, January 9, 2010
You may note, just off to right side of the page here, a new section that shows Trout Caviar's "followers." Click on the "Follow" button to become one. You probably know better than I do what that actually means. In my mind, it means you've joined the Trout Caviar Righteous Eaters' Army*--a prestigious distinction, indeed!
Happy New Year, everyone. May your gardens grow abundantly, your farmers' markets thrive, your foragers' baskets overflow with bounty, this year and throughout the new decade.
I've been slow getting on to the 2009 Food Highlights. The new decade sort of took me by surprise, I guess. But it was a remarkable year in food for us, and I want to note a few of the more memorable experiences from last year over the next couple of weeks.
Last year was our first full year with Bide-A-Wee, and we spent a lot more time in that cheesy state just east of the Saint Croix and Mississippi Rivers. We added the term "tree crops" to our vocabulary, and then we added our own tree crops to our pantry and table.
We tapped maple trees for syrup for the first time last spring. That was tree crop number one. That was really good fun, and it was amazing to see how much sap a tree could produce on a good day, and to taste it straight from the tree--cold, clear, slightly sweet, a touch woody. Absolutely delicious, a spring tonic. And it was a challenge to figure out how to reduce that sap by a factor of 40 to turn it into syrup. Lot of boiling. More boiling. Boil it some more. We'll get us some better equipment for the task this year. We got a decent amount of syrup, but it wasn't a great year for sugaring--it turned too warm too soon, breaking the freeze and thaw cycle that really gets the sap flowing. We also tapped some of our birches, for you can make birch syrup too (it takes even more boiling!), but we never got enough sap to even begin.
Through the spring and summer we harvested many kinds of wild fruit, some of which we’d never tasted before—nannyberries, highbush cranberries, haws. We picked all the blackberries we wanted for a good five weeks, a remarkable run. Wild plums, black cherries, elderberries, wild grapes—it was indeed a very fruitful year.
But really, 2009 was the year of the apple at Bide-A-Wee. We didn’t know it at the time, but last spring provided perfect pollinating conditions for fruit trees of all kinds. We were kind of disappointed when the blossoms didn’t last as long as the previous year, but now I think that they blew away early because, once the flower had been pollinated, the blossoms weren’t needed anymore. And then we watched as the trees started to fruit, and were amazed at the difference from the previous year.
Many apple trees have a biennial habit; 2008 had provided a fairly meager crop, but in 2009 almost all of our trees were “on”, and how. We started picking apples in August, and I foraged the last basket at the end of November. I was surprised at how much frost the apples were able to withstand. Several times temperatures dropped into the ‘teens overnight, and in the morning the frost-covered fruit appeared frozen solid. But as long as the temperature rose above freezing in the course of the day, the apples recovered with no lasting damage.
Nor was a coating of snow a problem. An October surprise turned the valley white. Annabel strikes a call-of-the-wildish pose:
There was no way we could pick even a small fraction of the apples that bowed the branches of the trees by early autumn. We’ve been doing “triage pruning” for two winters, just getting a start on rehabilitating some of these several dozen long-neglected trees, but many of them are still untouched. Picking apples is difficult on the steep, brambly hills where most of our trees grow. Some trees were completely inaccessible within thickets of blackberry canes. Some trees made repulsively scabby apples. A few trees, heavily laden with beautiful fruit during one of our weekend visits, had suddenly dropped almost all their apples by the next weekend.
In spite of that we had a bountiful harvest, and we’ve been exploring all the many aspects of the apple, a remarkably versatile food crop. We’ve made apple jam and jelly, apple sauce and butter, apple cider and syrup, apple relish, ketchup, and pickles. We’ve eaten apples at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all times in between. We braise meats in apple cider, and sauté apples to serve with meat and fowl, fish and game. We grate apples into pancakes and breads. We have apple cider fermenting in carboys and bottles, and I’m experimenting with apple cider vinegar, too. We use dried apples to pep up granola, to sprinkle over salads, or just for snacks. Since we discovered that Annabel and Lily gobble dried apple slices enthusiastically, I haven’t bothered to bake dog biscuits. Apple salad, apple salsa, apple "kimchi", what the hell?
We invested in a cider press, the Happy Valley Ranch "Homesteader." Thoroughly old-fashioned technology, still quite effective. The press produces apple juice, or sweet cider. That juice we ferment to "hard," alcoholic cider, reduce by boiling to make versatile apple syrup (more tart than sweet; better in salad dressings than over pancakes), or freeze for drinking fresh through the winter. We haven’t bought orange juice in more than a year, start the day with a glass of apple cider, just like Thomas Jefferson did.
Of all the various uses to which we have put the versatile pome, I can recommend a few with particular enthusiasm.
--Braising in cider: There are classic preparations using cider in cooking, a lot of them from the French regions of Normandy and Brittany, where apple trees grow more readily than grapevines. In these dishes the cider, sweet or hard, serves the same purpose as the wine in a coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, etc., a flavorful, tenderizing (because acidic) liquid that mellows in the cooking and the mixing with the meat juices and melting fat to create…man, really, really tasty food. Game birds, chicken, and pork are particularly suited to this kind of cooking. When it’s cooked for a long time, the fruitiness and tartness of the cider recede into the background. The end flavor is distinctive, but not necessarily apple-y. That's country-style pork ribs braised in cider, with apples and chestnuts, above. Here’s a chicken dish with cider and cabbage, and here’s grouse in cider cream. But you can adapt a lot of recipes that call for wine, stock, or even beer as a braising liquid, subbing cider in their place. Give it a try.
--Pickled crab apples. I’ve been absolutely tickled with these pickles, which are pictured at the top of the post. Whole crab apples cooked in a wonderfully fragrant-spiced sweet and sour syrup. Serve these with roast pork or game, chop them to add to dressing for a winter cabbage salad, garnish a cheese plate with them. I tinkered a bit with a recipe from Linda Ziedrich’s excellent The Joy of Pickling, adding some star anise, black peppercorns, and a good deal of fresh ginger slices, to the original recipe’s cinnamon, cloves and allspice:
Pickled Crab Apples
Makes two pints
1 ½ pounds crab apples, stems on
One 2-inch stick cinnamon
1 tsp allspice berries
½ tsp whole cloves
1 whole star anise
6 slices fresh ginger, 1/8-inch thick
½ tsp black peppercorns
1 cup sugar
¾ cup water
1 cup cider vinegar
In a large, non-reactive (stainless or enameled) sauce pan, combine the water, sugar, vinegar, and spices. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and let cool.
Pierce each apple in a couple of spots with a metal or bamboo skewer (this is supposed to keep the apples from exploding, though a lot of mine cracked anyway; no matter).
Add the apples to the syrup and bring the syrup to a simmer over medium-low heat. Simmer the apples until they start to look translucent, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let stand overnight.
Next day, use a slotted spoon to transfer the apples to sterilized canning jars--one quart or two pint jars. Strain the syrup to remove the spices, then return the syrup to the sauce pan. Bring it to a boil, then pour the hot syrup over the apples in the jars to cover. Seal with sterilized two-part lids. Process in a hot water bath for ten minutes (or just whack the lids on and refrigerate; they will keep indefinitely in the fridge).
Save any leftover syrup in a jar in the fridge. It’s great used in dressing for beet or cabbage salads. Likewise, use the liquid from the canned apples this same way.
--India relish: I acquired three new cookbooks this past fall—used, but new to me: Hollyhocks & Radishes, Joy of Cooking**, and…a compilation of recipes from The Country Journal magazine, can’t recall the exact title. Weirdly, each one practically fell open to a recipe for “India relish” the first time I picked it up. I had never heard of India relish; India relish calls for a lot of apples; I was intrigued, nay, compelled to try it. It’s great—delightful on a hot dog, a cheese sandwich. Last weekend at Bide-A-Wee we had a lunch of grilled ham (Grass Run Farm, purchased at Seward Co-op) and cheese (Roth Kase "gruyère”) on homemade natural leaven brioche with India relish. Yay, lunch!
I’m not going to give the recipe because, well, it’s in pretty much every old-timey cookbook out there, apparently. In Joy (the old one, mine was printed in 1964)it’s called Indian relish, and it’s on page 785. This is one for next fall, as it also calls for green tomatoes. So if you have a garden, and access to an apple tree, it’s basically free. I always cut back the sugar in traditional recipes like this by 20 or 25 percent. (Also in Joy I’ve just come across a recipe for sweet and sour baked beets and apples, page 264. I have beets and apples! I’m gonna try it.)
So there you go, that’s my exultation of the apple. I think we tend to take the apple for granted, consign it to the obligatory role of the piece of fruit in the lunch bag, or the plop of apple sauce beside the pork chop. But in fact it is an extremely important food crop, and a cook’s delight in the range of its uses. And then, of course, there’s all that cider bubbling in the basement. Will report when we open the first bottle.
Duck confit with crabs and cabbage.
Cider sipper Mary.
*--I was originally calling this the TC Toxic Zombie Cult, because I've noticed that zombies and cults seem to be really hot these days, and the "toxic" part just made it super extra edgy, which people also go for. But it was suggested to me that the whole concept didn't really fit the Trout Caviar zeitgeist, and upon further reflection, I had to agree. But if you'd like to be part of the TC Toxic Zombie Cult, I could probably still manage to make up some membership cards.
**--That is the correct title, Joy of Cooking, no "the" to be seen. Never noticed that before....
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw