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Friday, June 25, 2010

potato gratin with summer savory

right after we moved into our place in seattle i took a careful tour of the yard, looking for any perennial herbs left behind by previous residents. i found only 7 small plants growing along the front of the house that looked like a less woody rosemary, but the taste indicated they were definitely not rosemary. the flavor was a little like thyme, but with the bitterness and pungency of oregano. i snipped a piece to take with me to the seattle tilth edible plant sale a few weeks later, and compared my sample to their herb starts. that's how i discovered we had 7 small summer savory plants in our yard.

once i'd learned what it was, i had a new critical question-- what the heck do you do with it? all of the online information i could find talked about its use in flavoring beans. it wasn't seeming like a terribly versatile herb, and i had 7 of them. (now we're down to 3, since i ripped out 4 to make the tomato bed.)

a couple of months ago i bought a new cookbook, the herbal kitchen by jerry traunfeld. jerry was executive chef at the way celebrated restaurant/inn, the herbfarm in woodinville, washington, before opening his new restaurant here in seattle, poppy. (maybe you saw him on top chef masters this past season! he didn't make it to the end, but we remain darn proud, just the same.) the bottom line is, jerry is a chef known for his knowledge of herbs, and his cookbook offered a great recipe-- a summer savory potato gratin. we're entering a potato drought for several weeks until the new season crops are ready at olsen farms, and the gratin was a perfect use for my final 2 pounds of yukon golds until later in the summer.

summer savory potato gratin
adapted from the herbal kitchen by jerry traunfeld

2 lbs organic waxy or russet potatoes, like yukon golds or rio grande
1+ Tbsp butter cut into dices, plus some softened for preparing the pan
1/4 cup chopped shallot
1/4 cup chopped summer savory (substitutions: 2 Tbps chopped winter savory or chopped thyme)
1 cup (or more) grated good quality gruyere cheese
3/4 cup milk (we used organic 2%)
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

heat oven to 400 degrees. peel potatoes and slice them as close to 1/16" as you can. (remember when i said you have to get a mandoline if you don't have one? i'm serious. go get one now. you can slice 2 lbs of potatoes in, like, 4 minutes.)

butter a gratin dish (glass or ceramic) and arrange 1/3 of the potato slices around the bottom. top with 1/2 shallots, 1/3 savory, and 1/3 cheese. sprinkle with salt and pepper. repeat twice more, topping with savory and cheese. (season each layer with salt and pepper!) dot top with the diced butter and pour milk over top.

bake 40-45 minutes until browned and bubbly.

yukon gold potatoes-- olsen farms
shallots-- pipitone farm

city come to farm-- our visit to skagit river ranch

a few saturdays ago, we drove 73 miles for a package of sausage. it's the same sausage we buy at the farmers market, and the same sausage we could have bought at the market that day. but we wanted to take a drive to see where our amazing sausage (and bacon, pork chops, top sirloins, ground beef...) comes from. so we drove north to skagit river ranch.

you know those labels in the grocery store featuring sweeping vistas of verdant fields, charming red barns, and words like "farmhouse" and "garden?" (i'm looking at you, hidden valley...) it's what michael pollan calls "supermarket pastoral," and it's so off the mark of reality that it's almost parody. at skagit river ranch, their label shows a rendering of their barn, built in 1918, that stands behind the farm store and next to one of the chicken houses. these guys don't have to market as something they aren't-- they are the real deal.

we didn't stay too long-- most of their animals were off on their grazing rotation around the valley, but we did take a walk down to the river, and met some characters along the way.

before we noticed a way around it, we walked through these guys' pen. there were a couple of sheep in there, too, which made amazingly tandem movements, as if they were one animal. (it was a hilariously clear illustration of the term "like sheep.")

we met molly. molly is perhaps the happiest dog of all time. she has so much land, so many sticks, and so many chickens to chase! on molly's best days ever, the chickens chase her back.

some goats and sheep, on our short walk to the river.

one of the chickens molly took great delight in chasing. these suckers are fast, when motivated!

the beautiful skagit river. reminded me a lot of summer days by the columbia on sauvie island.

BFFs rob and molly play with one of the sticks she hasn't yet chewed to splinters. "drop it. drop it!"

molly destroys another stick.

a chicken house with a view. man, the skagit river valley is gorgeous!

a dog whose name i didn't learn watches over another chicken house.

so, yeah. i like the people i buy food from. i like knowing what their practices are, and being able to meet the animals. and unlike some colossal food corporation cranking out emulsified corn and chemicals and calling it "salad dressing," i have relationships with the people who provide what we eat. the farmer who, when i bought knuckle bones from her grass-fed cows, gave me her own beef stock recipe; the guy whose rust-brown beard is as long as his rust-brown braid which matches perfectly his ubiquitous rust-brown overalls; the guy who, at the opening day of a seasonal market spotted me all bundled under my hoodie against the rain and waved, "good to see you again!" the guys with barns. the guys with molly! these are my people.

phew, sorry about the tangent! for humoring me, here's ol' "wild eyed" mcgoaterson saying "chevre" for the camera.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

last day of spring

dear spring,

thanks for, ya know, all the renewal and stuff. let's totally do it again next year.


Monday, June 21, 2010

shaved asparagus and fennel salad (with slow-roasted halibut)

i've managed to convert rob. he was firmly planted in the "i don't like fennel" camp until this raw salad of shaved asparagus and fennel with a mustard dressing, and now he nibbles on the fennel tops on our way home from the farmers market. we've made it twice now, serving once with the crunchy topped, slow-roasted halibut in the recipe (we, and our dinner guest, thought the fish and salad were amazing), and another time on its own.

fennel is a fascinating vegetable. its bulb grows in a criss-crossing basket-weave pattern, and the stalks are long and slender, topped with delicate, feathery foliage. all parts are edible, and the taste is cool and herbal with a mild flavor of anise. the bulb hides dirt and sand between the outer couple of layers, so pull it apart to wash thoroughly. (it also grows wild all over the place around here, which makes walks around the neighborhood a fun and fragrant treasure hunt.)

for this recipe, the fennel is thin-shaved using the thinnest setting on a mandoline slicer. (you can do this with a knife, but it will probably make you grumpy. if you don't have a mandoline, get one! mine has changed my whole life, for the low, low price of something like 30 bucks.)

asparagus is too skinny for the mandoline, so use a vegetable peeler to shave thin slices from the trimmed stalks, and save the tips for another dish.

slow-roasted halibut with shaved asparagus and fennel salad
(salad is vegan and gluten-free)

4 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbps dijon or whole-grain mustard
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp drained capers, chopped
3/4 lb asparagus spears, trimmed
1/2 cup thinly sliced fennel bulb
handful of fennel foliage, rough chopped

2 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs (i used panko)
3 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbps chopped fresh italian parsley
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
2 tsp fine grated lemon peel
3 Tbps butter, melted
4 six-oz wild-caught pacific halibut fillets (also called alaskan halibut. avoid atlantic, and be cautious of california and greenland! read more on halibut best choices at monterey bay aquarium's seafood watch.)

for salad, whisk together lemon juice and mustard. slowly add olive oil while whisking, and mix in chopped capers.

use a vegetable peeler to make long, thin slices of the asparagus stalks. using a mandoline on the thinnest setting, shave the fennel bulb. toss asparagus and fennel bulb and foliage in the dressing. can be made ahead.

for fish, preheat oven to 300 degrees. prepare a baking sheet with a little oil. mix bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, lemon peel, herbs, and melted butter. season mixture with salt and pepper.

put fish on baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. divide bread crumbs among the fillets and press to adhere. bake fish for 20-40 minutes, depending on thickness of fish, until the center is opaque. (my fillets were almost 2" thick-- one took 32 minutes, the other 38 to cook through. watch it to not overcook-- the fish should be good and moist!) turn on broiler and broil about 1 minute until breadcrumbs begin to brown.

serve fish with salad.

asparagus-- canales farm

Thursday, June 17, 2010

homemade whole-milk ricotta cheese

i finally made ricotta. now that i've done it i feel silly for taking so long. it's super easy, and it makes a ton-- one gallon of milk made almost two pounds of cheese, which is way cheaper than buying ricotta by the 15oz container.

this recipe was from ricki carroll's book, home cheese making. (it's a good starter book, though i've heard from several "in the know" sources that there are better books out there. i'll have to find out titles and post here.) the recipe was good, but not great. i read a lot of recipes before making this one, and will probably try one of those next time. most variations were in the acid used to start the curd and whey separation (lemon juice, buttermilk), and in the draining time. this one drained for 30 minutes, and i found it rather dry. i was using half to make a lasagna, so the texture wasn't critical, and the other half to try a ricotta salata (a firm, aged, salted ricotta). presumably starting the ricotta salata with a dry initial ricotta isn't a bad thing. (only a couple of weeks to go before i see if that attempt was successful!)

the cheese is only as tasty as the milk you start with, so make sure to buy high-quality, whole organic milk. also, ultra-pasteurization is too high a heat process for successful cheese making, so buy only pasteurized rather than "ultra."

whole-milk ricotta cheese

1 gallon whole milk (NOT ultra-pasteurized)
1 tsp citric acid dissolved in 1/4 cup cool water
1 tsp cheese salt, optional (i used kosher salt. do not use iodized table salt)
1-2 Tbsp heavy cream, optional

special equipment:

cheese thermometer
cheesecloth or butter muslin

pour milk in a heavy-bottom pot, big enough to hold the entire gallon. add the citric acid solution and salt (optional) to the milk and mix thoroughly.

heat the milk over low to medium-low heat to 185-195 degrees (do not boil), stirring often to prevent scorching. i started over low heat and incrementally raised the heat until the thermometer read 185. it took close to an hour because i was being ultra careful. i'm sure after another try or two i'll know better where to set the heat to easily reach 185 without risking overheating.

when the curds have separated from the whey it will look like this. the whey is relatively clear and yellow, not milky. the curds won't be especially thick throughout the pot. when separated, turn off the heat and allow to set, undisturbed, for 10 minutes.

line a colander with a single layer of cheesecloth or butter muslin and set it over a bowl to catch the whey. carefully ladle the curds into the lined colander (don't pour). tie the corners of the cloth together to form a hanging bag for draining. hang and drain 20-30 minutes (i'll drain less next time for a creamier texture). i hung the bag from the kitchen faucet to drain.

unwrap, et voila! cheese! stir in the optional cream for a creamier consistency. this is ready to eat immediately, or will last in a container for 1-2 weeks in the fridge.

ricotta is traditionally made from leftover whey, but only the whey from a rennet cheese rather than an acid cheese like this one. so, look for other uses for the whey. i've heard it's good for soaking dried beans to take out some of the gas factor. also, you can drink it (tangy and nutritious!), use it in baking, feed it to your chickens...

anyone with other ideas for what to do with the leftover whey, please leave a comment!

Monday, June 7, 2010

asparagus and goat cheese frittata

we often go out for breakfast on the weekends, mostly because it's rob's favorite meal to have out. but sometimes the refrigerator contents insist on coming together for a sunday brunch at home. in this case, eggs, asparagus, and leftover goat cheese from another recipe became a quick and simple frittata. 

asparagus and goat cheese frittata 
serves 2

6 medium or large eggs, well beaten
10 or so asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1" long pieces
1/2 log goat cheese (about 2oz)
olive oil
salt and pepper
grated parmesan cheese and chopped chives for garnish
preheat oven to 425 degrees.

in 8" saute pan that is also oven proof, heat olive oil to medium. add asparagus pieces and cook, tossing, until still bright green but becoming tender, about 5 minutes. season well with salt and pepper.

pour beaten eggs into pan and cook for a few minutes, lifting up edges for egg to run to the bottom, until the bottom begins to set, about 5 minutes. crumble goat cheese on top and transfer pan to oven. cook until eggs are set, about 8 minutes.  

season with salt and fresh ground pepper, and parmesan cheese and chives. serve cut into wedges. 

eggs-- stokesberry farms 
asparagus-- alvarez farm 
goat cheese-- port madison farm