Duck Pizza. Yep.

Pizza dough is my canvas.

And duck is my muse.

A pound of pizza dough, either made in minutes at home, extracted with eyelash batting from your favorite pizza shop, or picked up in a sad but serviceable plastic bag from the deli section of the grocery store, is the start of so many delicious, satisfying, crowd-pleasing meals. On an exhausted Friday night, some crushed tomatoes, garlic and mozzarella come together faster than the oven preheats. But when I have a little more time, I experiment with different pizza concepts. I’ve knocked off the fig jam, blue cheese and prosciutto pizza from Figs with great success. I’ve piled mushrooms and stinky cheeses and cured meats from around the world onto a blank canvas of dough. I’ve gone Spanish and Vietnamese, breakfast and brunchy, and made dessert pizza, with ginger-roasted pears, honey, and goat cheese. All so good.

So when I found myself with a pound of ground duck and rainy spring day, a little too cool for playing outside, I started thinking about pizza. And duck. And I though about duck a l’orange, and duck braised in a rich broth, spiked with Chinese five spice powder. And crispy duck with a drizzle of hoisin sauce and a tangle of scallions.

By the time the oven had preheated, I’d assembled some ingredients.

This is heady stuff: anise-y Five Spice, musky-sweet hoisin, garlic, salt, and a bright note of orange zest. Duck is rich and fatty–that is what makes it delicious–but it needs to be paired with big flavors to bring balance. Subtle duck doesn’t work for me.

I mixed and stretched and then schmeared the duck onto the pizza rounds. The duck goes on raw, so don’t overdo it. A thin layer will cook in the same time as crust.

Into the oven you go, my lovelies.

While the baking was happening, I supremed some oranges. I told you about that, remember?

And once the duck pizza came out, with a burnished crust and an intoxicating aroma, I added a little pile of herbs and oranges with a sharp vinegar dressing on top.

Oh. My. Goodness.

Art.

Five-Spice Duck Flatbread with Orange Herb Salad

1 pound pizza dough
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 cloves minced garlic
2 teaspoons Chinese Five Spice
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces Maple Leaf Farms Ground Duck
2 cups arugula
1 cup orange segments
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
salt and crushed red pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide dough into 4 even portions, shape each into a ball, and set aside to come to room temperature while you prepare the topping.

Stir together hoisin sauce, tomato paste, garlic, Five Spice, orange zest, and salt in a mixing bowl, then add the duck and work together with hands or a fork until evenly combined.

Stretch each dough portion into a thin 10-inch rustic oval, and arrange on the prepared baking sheets. Divide duck mixture between the dough ovals, and thinly spread to within 1/2″ of the edges. Bake in the preheated oven until crust is golden and duck is cooked through, 9-11 minutes.

Transfer pizzas to serving plates. Combine arugula, orange segments, and rice wine vinegar in a mixing bowl, then toss to coat. Season salad to taste, then between pizzas. Serve warm, encouraging your guests to fold the whole pizza in half like a giant duck and salad taco.

You should know that the lovely people at Maple Leaf Farms sent me the ground duck for free and asked me to blog about my experiments. But I would make this recipe even if I were paying for their duck. And will. And will order some of their life-changing duck bacon while I’m at it.

Compose yourself.

January. A long, dark month here in the mid-Atlantic, peppered with freezing rain and snow squalls and the occasional polar vortex. I braise and stew and roast along with the rest of the northern hemisphere, steaming up my kitchen with warming wintery aromas and rib sticking cuisine. Sometimes, though, I’d like a little sunshine in my kitchen. I’d like a little freshness, perhaps some non-earth tone food.

Enter the salade composee. There’s much to love about salads composed of leftovers, fresh greens, snappy vegetables, and a puckery vinaigrette: they are rarely the same twice. They should come together in minutes, because (in my unassailable opinion) they ought to be cobbled together primarily from the little nerts stashed in containers in your fridge. They are easy to decomposee if you are 6 and are suspicious of sugar snap peas or harbor a distrust of beets. They are beautiful to the eye, because vegetables are the earth’s snarky answer to the sky throwing down a rainbow. (Take that, you blue-eyed ingenue! Gorgeous, and bursting with fiber and nutrition. When was the last time your fancy-pants arch helped someone poop? ) And they are delicious because of lemon vinaigrette. Ask anyone how they feel about lemon vinaigrette after a month or three of roasted squash and braised kale: they’ll feel great about lemon vinaigrette. Lemon vinaigrette promises that summer will be back some day. And lemon bars, too, but we’re all avoiding refined sugar these days, no?

We ate a lusty salade composee on a dreary evening last week. No one complained that they didn’t like anything at dinner because they served their non-whining selves from a heaping platter of food, and if you didn’t want your potato salad to touch your carrot salad, you were empowered to make that happen. Hypothetically.

There’s no real recipe for a salade composee, but there is a method to making a sublime one, rather than a merely good version. Mix up your vinaigrette. I use 3 parts olive oil to 2 parts lemon juice, about ½ teaspoon of dijon mustard to help emulsify everything, and season generously with salt and pepper. A pinch of sugar can smooth it out….literally, just a pinch….if it is too sharp to your palate, but I prefer a little pucker.

Assemble your elements:

Proteins: A leftover chicken breast, shredded. Cubed tofu. A forlorn garlic sausage, warmed slightly and diced. A piece of fish, leftover or quickly seared, cooled, and thinly sliced. Hard cooked eggs. Some rinsed and drained beans. A few handsfuls of toasted walnuts.

Carbs: For this salad, I tossed leftover cooked redskin potatoes with some of the vinaigrette and some scallions to make a potato salad. You could do the same with any grain, or just rummage around for a leftover grain salad that didn’t go over well with the family the first time. Refresh it with vinaigrette, and repurpose. Cooked pasta, canned beans, toasted stale bread.

Unadulterated veg: Greens, of course, plus things that are wilting in the crisper. Halved grape tomatoes, crisp cucumber slices, red cabbage shreds, coarsely chopped sugar snap peas. Consider cubing an avocado, an apple, or a pear.

Special veg: Dabs of whatever is left over. Ginger carrot salad. Roasted broccoli. Steamed green beans. Roasted red peppers. Sauteed kale. Pickled anything.

Finishing touches: Olives, cheeses (nice cheeses. This is not a moment for preshredded cheddar), sesame or sunflower seeds. Crumbled bacon. Fresh herbs. Diced dried apricots.

Pull together a nice assortment of toppings. Grab a big platter, and a big mixing bowl.

Start with greens: toss about 2 handsful of greens per diner with some, but not all, of the vinaigrette. Arrange on the platter. Then toss the toppings, one at a time, with a little more vinaigrette. The extra step of tossing the elements separately to ensure everything is dressed and seasoned will elevate your leftovers into a harmonious meal, likely tasting better they did the first time around.

Arrange everything artfully atop the greens. I’ve used the traditional Cobb salad presentation in these pictures, arranging everything in neat-ish rows, but reasonable people can disagree on the best way to present these salads. Don’t, though, toss everything in a big bowl. You need the presentation to really get the full sunshine effect.

At my house, this is dinner, as is. Pick up a crunchy loaf of bread and cut up a plate of fruit, and all of a sudden, you have leftovers fit for company.

Some Damn Sexy Macarons


Macarons are so very, very good. The french kind, delicate crisp shells that shatter when you bite into them, giving way to a chewy almond center, sandwiched together with a thin layer of buttercream. They are addictive and wonderful and generally run between $3-4 dollars apiece at fancy bakeries.

But I can make them at home. And so can you. And your friends will love you even more. And you may get marriage proposals: I’ve had two macaron-induced offers.

They aren’t simple. I wish they were, but no, this is an advanced project. I’ve been working on truly mastering them for a little over a year, and I’m a good baker to start with, and I’m just now ready to post about them. Go ahead and try, though…even so-so macarons are better than no macarons.

Start the night before, by separating your eggs. Repurpose the yolks. Leave the whites on the counter, loosely covered, overnight, to age. This allows some of the water content of the eggs to evaporate, creating a more concentrated albumin, which is essential to the unique structure of macarons. I’ve tried a couple of times to make them with fresh egg whites, and they were good, but definitely more meringue-ish and less macaron-ish.

While you are at it, weigh out the rest of your ingredients. What? No scale? Really? Either buy or borrow one. Macarons are finicky and eggs vary in size and powdered sugar has a very inconsistent volume…..you need to weigh your ingredients to get these right. Plus, you’ll use a scale all the time once you have it. I love my OXO version. Also, if you are going the salted caramel route, it is a good idea to make the caramel sauce the night before to ensure that it cools completely to room temperature.

In the morning, leap out of bed like a kid at Christmas. We’re making macarons today! Step one: line two rimmed cookie sheets with parchment. Set up a piping bag with a 1/4″ plain tip (or a reasonable approximation thereof). Make sure your mixer bowl is super clean, since we are whipping egg whites.

Step two: buzz the almond meal and powered sugar together in a food processor. Or whisk really well to get out any lumps, if you don’t have a food processor. The almond meal I buy is a little coarse for macarons, so the food processor step actually mills it down a bit, too.

Now: whip those whites! Using a stand mixer, whip the aged egg whites to stiff peaks, sprinkling in the granulated sugar around the soft peaks point. You want thick, pearly, hold-it-upside-down meringue at this point. Don’t give up too early.

Then: fold in the almond meal mixture. Fold until everything is evenly mixed, then keep going, folding and schmearing against the side of the bowl, until the mixture falls in ribbons, not blops, off your spatula. Remember Newtonian solids? That’s what you are going for….a solid that flows almost imperceivably. You achieve this by essentially beating the air back out of the egg mixture, which goes against baker’s conventional wisdom, but has its own frenchy name: macaronnage. You are such a pro!

Scrape your macaron batter into the piping bag, and pipe quarter-sized rounds onto the prepared baking sheets, actually touching the tip to the sheet and piping at an angle. I found this YouTube video to be a revelation, after several rounds of imperfect piping. My piping is still imperfect, but that’s because I’m not a perfectionist and I like playing “Macaron Matchup” when it comes time to make sandwiches. But the shaping works much better using this tip-on-tray technique, rather than piping from above in a circle.

Age them again. I know. But think of how delicious they will be! And how people will be so very impressed! Just leave the piped trays on the counter for an hour, to allow a thin crust to form on the shells.

Bake ‘em. You need to play with this a bit. In my wonky oven, 300 degrees for 14 minutes is just right, but keep an eye on them. Too dark=too chewy.

Cool the shells on a cooling rack, then match them up and sandwich with about a teaspoon of your delicious and sticky filling of choice. I’ve used jam and ganache, but buttercream—especially salted caramel buttercream—is my favorite. Chill these guys in the fridge, but serve them at room temperature.

So good.

Salted Caramel Macarons
Compiled from many, many versions on the internet
Makes about 30 macaron sandwiches

For the shells:
125 grams almond meal
200 grams powdered sugar
100 grams aged egg whites
60 grams granulated sugar

For the salted caramel buttercream:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

To make the shells, combine almond meal and powdered sugar in a food processor and buzz until well combined, about 30 seconds. In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites to soft peaks. While continuing to whip, sprinkle in the granulated sugar, and whip the mixture to stiff peaks. Fold in the almond mixture with a spatula until well incorporated, then continue to fold and beat the mixture until it is a thick fluid, falling off the spatula in ribbons.

Pipe the mixture onto parchment-lined baking sheets, and set aside, uncovered, until shells are no longer tacky to the touch, about 1 hour. Bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for 14 minutes, rotating once during baking to ensure even heat.

Cool baked shells on a cooling rack.

Make the buttercream:
In a small heavy saucepan, combine the water and granulated sugar. Stirring occasionally, bring to a boil. Once the mixture begins boiling, stop stirring, and just watch it as colors to a deep amber shade. Remove from heat, add cream (it will sputter and spit) and stir until smooth. Stir in the vanilla and salt, and cool completely.

Cream the butter with a stand mixer, then drizzle in the cooled caramel sauce. Crank the mixer and whip until light, about 2 minutes. Pipe about a teaspoon of buttercream onto the bottom of half the macaron shells, then top with a same-sized shell, pressing to spread filling to the edges. Chill to set filling then serve at room temperature. There will not be leftovers, but if, theoretically, there were, store chilled.

‘Tis the Season…..

Ah! My favorite time of year! The holidays have begun, and with them, the best food: Grandmom’s stuffing with cornbread and raisins, lacy-crisp latkes, an entire geometry book of cookies, nut-laden fudge, salt-crusted prime rib, flaky pies, rich and boozy fruitcakes, potatoes au gratin. The list goes on, and on, and I love it all.

Before I know it, usually by early days of December, my holiday belly sometimes tests the limits of my Spanx. I suffer from Butter Fatigue and everything starts tasting the same and I feel a little gnarly. Every year I try to internalize the “10 Strategies for Holiday Weight Loss” articles, but somewhere between the magazine and the crock pot full of party meatballs, I forget the advice to just take one bite of cocktail nibbles, and to nosh on hummus and veg instead of the crabby poofs. “Forget” is the wrong word; I outright reject the advice.

Which means that in between the office fudge platter and the neighbor’s ‘Nogfest, we try to eat seriously clean at home. One of my favorites is Greek Vegetable Stew, a hearty tomato-based pot of health that soothes the most fondue-distended of stomachs. Sometimes I add chickpeas for a little extra protein and bulk, but usually I just oven-simmer together vegetables and aromatic spices, top it at the table with some briny feta cheese, and give thanks for its clean, wintery flavor.

This dish can be made on the stovetop, or probably in the crockpot, but to get broad flavors out of these simple ingredients, taking the time to dry roast some of the vegetables before adding liquid is worth the extra step. The stew is even better after a day or 4 in the fridge, so consider throwing this together on a Sunday while you are in the kitchen doing other tasks (Baking cookies? Brewing limoncello?), and then reheat it mid-week for a restorative, simple meal.

Greek Vegetable Stew
Serves 4-6

1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 medium eggplant, peeled and chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 head garlic, cloves peeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon red chile flakes
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, hand crushed
½ cup red wine
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
½ pound trimmed green beans, fresh or frozen
½ pound small red potatoes, cubed
½ cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
3 ounce feta cheese, crumbled
Crusty bread, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine onion, eggplant, zucchini, garlic, olive oil, and salt in a large dutch oven. Toss to coat vegetables, then roast in the preheated oven, stirring once, until golden in spots, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees.

Move the dutch oven up to the stovetop, and place over high heat. Stir in cinnamon, oregano, red chile flakes, tomatoes and their juices, wine, stock, green beans, and potatoes, then bring to a boil. Cover the pot, return it to the oven, and bake 30-40 minutes, until potatoes and green beans are tender.

Stir in the olives, then ladle into bowls for serving. Top each portion with feta cheese, and serve hot.

Maple Shrimp Tacos for Fall

Most maple sugaring happens in the early spring, when freezing nights are followed by progressively warmer days, and the freeze-thaw cycle gets the sap flowing. But despite being “out of season,” maple is a quintessential fall flavor at my house. I use it in baking, and in our house-favorite mustard-maple vinaigrette. I glaze sticky pork loins with it, and drizzle it on oatmeal with crunchy apples. It is a comfort flavor to me, one that evokes cozy meals in a warm house.

This fall has been exceptionally busy for my family. The kids are at a new school, further from our neighborhood, so they don’t get home until almost 5pm. I’m working 3 days a week, doing legal policy for a food advocacy non-profit, and both Peter and I have been traveling more than usual. Add in homework, piano lessons, sports, and volunteer commitments, and dinner is no longer the relaxed family time that it was when the kids were younger. Oh wait. It wasn’t relaxed then, either, with toddlers popping up from their chairs and fussing about the food, and power struggles over table manners.

Sigh.

I guess we all need a few extra simple suppers in the arsenal. These boldly flavored tacos fit the bill: quick, one-pan preparation, self-assembled at the table, so Certain People who don’t care for shrimp can leave them out of their tacos, and crunchy, colorful vegetables in a creamy, kid-friendly dressing. Plus, on the off chance that you have leftover broccoli slaw, you can tuck it into grilled turkey and cheese sandwiches later in the week for killer Georgia Reubens, perfect for fall.

Maple Shrimp Tacos
Serves 4

For the shrimp:
¼ cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from the canned chipotles)
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined

For the Spicy Broccoli Slaw:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 chipotle chile, minced, or more to taste
3 tablespoons lime juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 12-ounce bag broccoli slaw
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves

To serve:
8 corn tortillas

Whisk together maple syrup, olive oil, soy sauce, and adobo sauce in a medium bowl. Add shrimp, and toss to coat, then set aside to marinate for 10-15 minutes.

To make the slaw, whisk together the mayonnaise, maple syrup, minced chipotle, lime juice and salt. Add the broccoli slaw and cilantro, and mix well. Chill until ready to serve.

Heat a grill pan over medium. Remove the shrimp from the marinade and grill, turning once, until just opaque, about 3 minutes total. Transfer shrimp to a plate and keep warm. Working in batches, warm the tortillas on the grill pan until pliable and browned in spots, about 20 seconds each.

Divide shrimp between tortillas, and top each with a heaping ¼ cup slaw. Serve immediately.

Disclaimer: This post constitutes my entry into the Think Outside the Griddle blogger contest, sponsored by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers.

Oooooooo-Mommy!

Umami. My favorite flavor: round, earthy, bass-notes that make foods taste delicious. If you haven’t gotten your head around umami, think about tomato, mushrooms, steaks, anchovies, soy sauce, miso. It is the difference between ranch dressing and caesar dressing. And the reason that a plate of spaghetti with simple tomato sauce just needs a little Parmigiano Reggiano.

The umami flavor comes from glutamates, a group of amino acids that (among other functions) enhance flavor. Glutamates occur naturally in these umami-bomb foods. But because humans can’t leave well enough alone, we’ve also isolated glutamates to make MSG, and synthesized glutamates to make hydrolized proteins, and added them in copious quantities to processed foods, which makes them delicious. But just as there is a big difference in the way our bodies process natural sugar in an apple versus refined sugar in a cookie, there is a big difference in the way our bodies process natural glutamates in dried mushrooms versus hydrolized vegetable protein in a can of soup. Personally, I opt for the whole foods approach to umami, every time.

Traditional cooks have found many ways to add umami without reaching for the MSG. Kombu dashi, the base stock of Japanese cooking, uses glutamate-rich seaweed to impart soulful flavor with just a few ingredients. In Southeast Asian cuisine, shrimp paste and fish sauce are ubiquitous, adding rich bass notes without actually making food taste fishy. Colonial Brits brought this concept home, brewing Worcestershire sauce with anchovies to enrich the cuisine of the motherland. And the secret to Italian minestrone has always been to toss the rind from a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano into the simmering stock to add a meaty richness to a vegetable soup.

Which brings us to the point: Parmigiano Reggiano. It is a magical ingredient in the kitchen, because of its concentrated umami. In fact, one resource I found (albeit of dubious trade organization origin) lists Parm as second only to Roquefort cheese in glutamates, with levels five times as high as other umami benchmarks like mushrooms and tomatoes. It is my go-to flavor booster for creamy sauces that are too sweet, or a crumb topping that tastes flat. A handful can round out the bitter flavors of dark leafy greens, and its rind…yes, the part you threw out last month, grumbling about wasting an inch after paying 22 bucks a pound at Whole Foods…turns a pallid broth or stock in the stuff of food memories.

In this lovely little treatment, I’ve taken the last (please be the last! My freezer is groaning under the weight of bagged roasted tomatoes, and I can’t face another tomato salad) of this summer’s tomato glut, roasted them with garlic and rosemary, and simmered the concentrated tomato goodness with stock and Parm rind. Then, because we do like our creamy goodness around here, I’ve nestled a pepper-spiked, umami-rich Parmigiano Reggiano flan in the middle of each bowl. This is dinner party food. Or Tuesday lunch with your husband food, if he’s working from home and you are working from home and everyone is wearing flannel pants but let’s have a date lunch anyway. Or rainy Sunday food, because rainy Sundays are the best cooking days of all. Find an opportunity make it, then take a moment to savor the umami of it all.

Rustic Tomato Soup with Parmigiano Reggiano Flan

For the soup:
About 4 pounds assorted tomatoes
2 heads garlic
1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
3 large sprigs rosemary
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups flavorful stock (chicken or not-too-sweet vegetable)
1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 2″x 3″ piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
4 cups stemmed spinach, coarsely chopped

For the flans:
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 1/2 cups half-and half
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, plus more for serving
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
butter for the ramekins

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the tomatoes into roughly the same size chunks, leaving cherry tomatoes whole, halving Romas, and chunking up larger slicing tomatoes. Slice the top 1/2″ off each of the garlic heads. Combine chopped tomatoes, garlic heads, chopped onion, and rosemary in a large bowl. Pour olive oil over everything, and season with the salt. Toss to combine, then pour out onto two rimmed baking sheets, shaking gently to settle everything into a single layer. Ensure the garlic heads are cut side down, then roast in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, until tomatoes are blistered, onions are lightly charred in spots, and the garlic is soft and aromatic. Reduce the heat to 300 degrees after taking the tomatoes out.

Remove the garlic and rosemary from the pans, then scrape the tomato mixture into a 4 quart pot, making sure to get all juices and crusty bits into the pot. Squeeze the roasted garlic from its skins and add to the pot, along with the stock, chile flakes, and cheese rind. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, for at least 15-20 minutes. Fish out the cheese rind, and use a stick blender to puree soup somewhat, leaving plenty of texture. Stir in the spinach, taste for seasoning, and continue simmering until spinach wilts.

While the soup is doing its thing, combine the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese with the half and half in a small pot over medium heat. Stirring frequently, heat the mixture until bubble appear at the edges and wisps of steam escape, then remove from heat, cover, and set aside for about 15 minutes.

Butter 6 1-cup ramekins and place them in a deep baking dish. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, egg yolks, salt, and pepper. Strain the cheese-infused half and half into the egg mixture, then whisk well to combine. Divide custard between the prepared ramekins. Pour very hot tap water into the baking pan so that the ramekins are sitting in at least 1 inch of water, then transfer to the oven (remember, you turned it down to 300?) and bake until set, about 40 minutes.

When ready to serve, run a sharp knife around the edge of each flan and turn out into a wide soup bowl. Ladle soup around the flans, and generously garnish with fresh cracked pepper. Serve hot.

Ooooo-Mommy!

Disclaimer: This blog post constitutes my entry into the Legends of Europe Market Basket Recipe Contest.

Farm Food.

To know me is to know about my parents’ farm up in Maine. I tend to gush…and for that, I apologize. But it really is a very special place, in the foothills of the White Mountains, on a lake, 80 acres for my kids to thump around and explore. And a front porch with breezes and sunsets that satisfy the soul.

And the food. My parents are essentially hobby farmers, earning a couple of bucks selling sunflowers and specialty varieties of vegetables at area farmstands, but predominantly growing for themselves and their friends. We earn our dinner picking raspberries, pulling weeds, building raised beds. Nothing tastes as good as food raised by your own hand. All comers leave the farm with a car full of farm-fresh produce, to nourish them with vitamins and memories for a couple days after their visit has ended.

My family went up for these last weeks of August, this year, for some cousin time, grandparent bonding, and all-you-can-eat veggie buffet. My, oh my, do we eat well at the farm.

Often we grill some of the grass-fed beef, raised on the hay from the front field, and serve it with minutes-from-the field corn and some tomatoes. Or stir fry my dad’s bok choy with still-sticky garlic for a simple supper after a day of shopping and lobster rolls in Freeport. But at least once every vacation, I put together a ridiculously decadent vegetable meal, in which I don’t leave well enough alone, and instead tweak and enrich everything, plying my dark arts of vegetable cookery. This year’s feast was, in the vernacular of the locals, wicked awesome.

Roasted Fennel with a wee touch o’ parm.

Trimmed a few fennel bulbs and cut out about 75% of the core, then sliced into wedges. Tossed with olive oil and salt, then roasted at 400 for about 45 minutes, turning occasionally, until caramelized at the edges. Grated some fresh parmesan cheese over the top just before serving.

Greens and goat cheese.

Mmmm. I stemmed a big pile of greens: chard, spinach, kale, beet tops. Then I blanched them for about 2 minutes in a big pot of boiling water. About 10 minutes before we ate, I sauteed some shallots and garlic in coconut oil, then added the greens and slowly heated though. Once they were piping hot, I crumbled 3 ounces of fresh goat cheese into the pan, seasoned with salt and pepper (taste! That’s how much…) and turned off the heat. The goat cheese softened into a creamy swirl, and was really delicious. Another time, I’d love to use a creamy blue cheese, because I have a weakness for greens and blue cheese.

Southern-style squash casserole.

This totally old-school dish is just so good…I ate the leftovers for breakfast and at least 2 other people took my name in vain for doing so, since they had their eye on those leftovers, too! Here’s the recipe. My only change was to add a few dashes of hot sauce to the egg mixture. The secret to squash casserole is to cook the squash to just-shy-of-mushy, then drain it really well. If you try to be all sophisticated and keep a bite to the squash, you will end up with a watery mess instead of an unctuous, rich casserole. Made of cheese and Ritz crackers. I stand by it.

Roasted beets and potatoes.

In Maine, the seasons are short and hot, and the produce comes almost all at once, unlike the more metered output in southern climates. Beets and potatoes are ready now, in late August, so we eat them tender and sweet out of the ground. Both become more starchy with storage, so try to find local, freshly dug roots for the full impact of this recipe. I promise it will be worth your time.

(Just an aside….as I type, an owl is hooting, and a loon is gurgling. No other place sounds like Maine.)

Peel a couple of pounds of fresh beets and cut into 1” cubes. Toss with olive oil and salt, and arrange on a baking sheet. Scrub some new potatoes, fingerlings if possible, and halve. Toss with more salt and olive oil, and arrange on another sheet. Don’t toss them together or the beets will stain the potatoes. Roast at 425 until crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, about 40 minutes. Cool slightly, then dress with a mustardy mustard vinaigrette: 2 tablespoons dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon coarse grain mustard, 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, ¼ cup olive oil, salt and pepper. I particularly like this salad at room temperature.

Roasted Cauliflower with Curry Vinaigrette.

Again with the roasting…it is my favorite thing to do with vegetables. Cut cauliflower into large florets, toss with olive oil and salt, and roast at 425 until tender and golden in spots, about 35 minutes. Whisk together the juice of 1 lemon, a teaspoon of good curry powder, ½ teaspoon of honey, a pinch of cayenne, and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Dress the hot cauliflower with the vinaigrette, then toss in a heaping 1/3 cup of finely chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley and mint. You could make this a meal by adding in some cooked chick peas and a few tablespoons golden raisins. Mmm.



Green Beans with Sherry Vinegar and Fried Almonds.

Yes, we all toast our almonds to bring out the nuttiness, but I was inspired by Ottolenghi’s mind-blowing spinach salad to fry my almonds in the oil I would have used to dress the beans. I heated 2 tablespoons good olive oil in a small saute pan, then added a big handful of coarsely chopped almonds, and fried until deeply burnished and crispy. I poured the hot oil and almonds over a generous pound of blanched, shocked green beans, then drizzled with some killer sherry vinegar my brother brought back from Spain earlier this summer. A little shower of coarse salt, and this was the sleeper hit of the night.

I wish I snapped a picture of the groaning table–it looked like Thanksgiving. It tasted even better! We were stuffed and happy as we munched our way through this spread. I will not report the bottle count of cold white wine for our visit; suffice it to say that it was hot and we needed refreshing. But the food? No farms, no food, man. Even if you are working with grocery store produce (and I encourage you to think of your farmer’s market not just as a fun thing to do on the weekend, but as the main place you procure fruits and veg), farms add the color to our plates.

Hands on.

In general, I try not be a judgy Mcjudger…there are lots of perfectly acceptable ways to do things in the kitchen, and in life. To each, his or her own. But sometimes I watch people struggle with tongs and forks and pastry blenders and wonder why they aren’t using just their hands. I may be really appreciative that you’ve invited me to dinner, but I’ll silently judge your choice to make such a hot mess with 17 different gadgets instead of just using your hands.

Hands are a cook’s best tool. See, e.g., Ina Garten, Alton Brown, Irma Rombauer.

A non-exhaustive list of kitchen tasks best accomplished with clean hands:

1.Tossing salad
2.Coating vegetables with oil and seasonings before roasting
3.Cutting butter into flour for flakey pastries, like biscuits and pie crusts
4.Determining the done-ness of grilling or sauteing chicken or meat.
5.Determining whether soft baked goods, likes cakes and quick breads are done
6.Shucking corn
7.De-ribbing hearty greens like kale and collards
8.Adding meatballs to sauce
9.Stuffing a turkey or chicken
10.Kneading bread

You’ll need to get your hands into this winner of a salad. I don’t think there is any other way to break down the kale into the crisp-tender incarnation of itself without really getting your fingers in there. And it is *so* good….sweet, creamy, crunchy, verdant……and bursting with clean-eating cred. It’s a very fine way to get your kale on.

Start with a big pile of kale.

Use your hands to remove the stems, then tear or slice into bite-sized pieces. Add to a large bowl, along with an avocado, some salt, some garlic, and a little bit of honey. Squeeze a lemon into the bowl, then go for it.

Squish.


Squash.

Work the kale for a solid 3-5 minutes, until it darkens and shrinks to about half of its original volume.

Toss in some tasty bits- I used walnuts and dried cranberries, but consider almonds and slivers of dried apricot, or crunchy radishes and creamy bits of goat cheese, or sesame seeds and golden raisins and grated beets. Then wash your hands (was that so bad?) and serve….now, or later. This salad holds up very well in the fridge, for a few days at least. It never lasts more than a day or two at my house.


Massaged Kale Salad with Creamy Avocado

inspired by a recipe from my friend Rebecca T.

1 bunch kale
1 ripe avocado
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 clove garlic, finely minced or grated
1-2 tsp honey
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup toasted walnuts

Wash kale, remove stems and chop. Place in large bowl with avocado, salt, garlic, honey, and lemon juice. Massage kale until dark green and tender, about 3-5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and toss together. Serve at room temperature.

Quick Lunch: Kimchi Fried Rice


Kimchi makes things taste good. The so-called “national dish of Korea,” it is a fermented cabbage condiment, spicy, umami-packed, and crunchy. I love it scrambled into eggs, tucked into lettuce wraps with Korean barbeque, and in any number of stir-fried suppers. It is so flavorful that you can skip a few standard flavor bases, like garlic and scallions, and still end up with a rich, bold dish. And it is fantastic for your health, bringing colonies of probiotic bacteria to your tummy to keep things happy in there.

Which brings us to lunch. With Peter and I both working from home these days, it is nice to eat something other than a bowl of nuked leftovers together. At the same time, though, I don’t want to interrupt the day more than necessary.

So yesterday, I chopped up some veggies and tossed them in a hot wok. The veggie drawer gods sent onions, purple cabbage, zucchini, and red bell peppers, but feel empowered to change things up based on what lurks in your crisper. Once they were tender, I added leftover brown rice-most cooked grains would work here-and some chopped up jarred kimchi.* I continued to stir fry until everything was steamy hot, then poured in a beaten egg or two.** Lunchtime!

*I think I should explore making my own kimchi. Lacto-fermentation, I shall conquer you!
**Alternatively, fry two eggs sunny side up in a separate pan, and place one atop each serving, if you don’t have an egg-and-extra-pan-to-clean aversion, as I do.

Kimchi Fried Rice for 2

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 cups chopped veggies from the fridge, in a rainbow of colors
1 big pinch kosher salt
2 cups kimchi, coarsely chopped
2 cups cold cooked brown rice
2 eggs, beaten
fresh cilantro or scallions to garnish, if available

Heat the coconut oil in a wok over high heat until shimmering. Add onion, and stir-fry until just tender, about 3 minutes. Add chopped vegetables and salt, and continue to stir fry until crisp-tender, about a minute. Add rice and kimchi, keep stirring until hot. Beat the eggs, stir into rice mixture, and cook until just set, about 10 seconds. Transfer to plates and serve hot.

Preserving the Harvest

I love my small but powerful front yard garden. It captures a blazing sun all summer, while we languish in the deep shade of the back yard (or more likely, inside in the A/C) and transforms it to food more delicious (and better for both my family and the world) than I can buy.

My learning curve has been pretty steep (Oh! You need to water plants when it is 105 degrees out) and in this third year of vegetable gardening, the garden’s output has been exponentially greater than in my two previous years. I’ve learned what grows well in my conditions, and it if doesn’t grow well, I rip it out and plant something that does grow well. Take that, bolting cauliflower! I also am learning about ways to capture the season’s bounty for later in the year.

I do a little canning, yes, but man, is that a production. Plus, I really like my vegetables on the snappy side, and the canning process overcooks things like green beans, to my taste. Green beans get blanched in salted boiling water, shocked in ice water, and packed into quart-size freezer bags. I also use the blanch-and-shock method for summer squash and snow peas. Sugar snap peas get eaten raw, faster than my plants can produce.

Hearty greens, like swiss chard and beet greens, I sauté with onions and garlic, add some feta cheese and an egg, and layer between olive oil slicked sheets of phyllo in disposable cake pans. After scoring the unbaked phyllo into serving sized pieces, I wrap tightly with foil, then plastic wrap, and stash in the freezer for easy weeknight spanikopita, or as gift-dinners for new moms and grieving friends.

And then, there are tomatoes. These jewels of the garden need a little TLC; they are high maintenance to grow organically, so I take special care to preserve them in a way that captures their sunny-sweet flavor for the darker months. This year, alongside my enormous and craggy heirloom breeds and a stand of sugary orange Sun Sweets, I grew a very prolific hybrid: the Juliette tomato. It is basically a small sized Roma tomato, thick-fleshed and meaty and perfect for sauce. Today my kiddo came in with close to 40 of them, bright red and bursting with flavor. A little internet research led me to David Lebovitz’s roasting method, rich and aromatic with olive oil and rosemary. The smell of these tomatoes as they roasted was insane….something like sticking your nose in the bag of brown sugar as a pot of rich tomato sauce simmers nearby. I roasted 3 whole heads of garlic alongside the tomatoes because I am married to a guy who always moans softly under his breath when he comes across a clove of roasted garlic in his food.

I can’t wait to puree these lovelies with stock and a splash of cream for a quick fall soup supper. Or to warm them with olives to spoon over roasted fish. Or to saute them with eggplant and serve over polenta, with a few nuggets of soft goat cheese.

Oven-Roasted Tomatoes, Suitable for Freezing
Adapted from David Lebovitz
Each full tray of halved tomatoes will yield 2 scant pints of concentrated tomatoeness

Your surfeit of tomatoes, especially romas and their progeny
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 heads of garlic
3 stems rosemary
Several pinches kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Arrange the tomatoes, cut side down, in a single layer on rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle with olive oil. Slice the top of the garlic heads off to expose the tops of the cloves, and place cut side down on the baking sheets. Tuck rosemary sprigs here and there, and season with a few pinches of salt.

Roast for 2 ½ to 3 hours, until tomatoes smell jammy, and their skins have blistered. Remove from the oven and cool slightly. Gently squeeze roasted garlic cloves from their skins.

Pack roasted tomatoes into pint containers, tossing dividing garlic cloves between the containers, label, and freeze for up to 6 months.