Monday, January 30, 2012

Fresh Corn Tortillas

The best kind of present is one that arrives out of the blue, a package on your doorstep when you are least expecting it. A couple of weeks ago the mailman left me a tortilla press, a thoughtful early birthday gift from my sister-in-law. I'd never made fresh tortillas before, but now I had a mission. It turns out that corn flour and water are lots of fun to mix, squishing between your fingers, especially if you are four.

Although at first it seems like a crumbly mess, the mixture comes together into a smooth, soft dough. The tricky part is handling it after it has been flattened. You need to line the press with plastic wrap, and avoid pressing the dough too thin. Here again, being four comes in handy because your maximum strength produces a tortilla that's just sturdy enough to peel off intact from the plastic wrap and place onto a hot griddle.

The resulting hot tortillas were pliant and flavorful. We piled them with this tomatillo pork and beans made with Arikara beans from Lonesome Whistle Farm, accompanied by crunchy slaw with cabbage and radishes from Open Oak Farm, and this roasted delicata squash. Making these tortillas is really quite easy and quick, even feasible on a weeknight as a little surprise gift for the whole family.

Corn tortillas
adapted from Rick Bayless, makes about 12 tortillas

1 3/4 cup masa harina (fine corn flour, I used Maseca brand)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup water, or a little more

1. In a bowl use your hands to mix the water into the masa and salt, adding the liquid in several steps, until it comes together into a smooth dough. Cover and let rest for a few minutes. 

2. Heat a large two burner griddle or two skillets, one medium and one medium high.

3. Check that the dough doesn't feel to stiff and add another 1-2 Tbsp of water if necessary. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces, roll into balls, and cover with plastic wrap.

4. Cover both faces of the tortilla press with plastic wrap (or use a plastic bag cut to fit). Place a ball of dough between the sheets of plastic and gently press to form a 1/8 inch thick disc.

5. Gently peel the plastic wrap from the dough, positioning you hand so that it supports the tortilla with your index finger at the top of the center. Hold the tortilla over the medium hot griddle with your hand underneath. Tilt your hand so that the edge of the tortilla parallel to you hand sticks to the skillet and then gently lay the tortilla onto the skillet as you roll your hand out from underneath it. 

6. Cook the tortilla for about 30 seconds until it no longer sticks and the, using a metal spatula, flip it over onto the medium hot part of the griddle. Cook for about 30 seconds and flip again. Cook for another 30 seconds, until both sides browned in parts. Transfer to a basket with a towel to keep the tortillas warm. Keep cooking all the tortillas in an assembly line, stacking them on top of each other to keep warm. Enjoy immediately.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Salsify Sachets

Thanks to our Open Oak Farm CSA, I've been introduced to a vegetable I'd never heard of before: salsify. According to Amanda Hesser's Essential New York Times Cookbook, salsify was last popular in the 1880s, and indeed one of the first items recovered from a search for salsify recipes is a listing of vintage recipes, including instructions for scalloping, stewing, and sauteing. It occurred to me that these gnarly root vegetables might do well baked in foil packets like this. And because they are supposed to have a mild oyster flavor (they are also called oyster plants), I thought they would taste nice with shallots and a lemony dressing, paired with fish.

Like awkward adolescents, salsify roots are gangly and hairy, and they start to blush brown as soon as you try to open them up. But a toss in lemony vinaigrette halted the discoloration. And after 30 minutes of roasting and steaming, they emerged from their foil packets mature and refined, with a delicate flavor more like artichoke hearts than oysters. I'm convinced that this charming vegetable is due for a comeback.

Salsify Sachets
serves two
2-3 salsify roots
1 lemon
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 Tbsp white vermouth
salt and pepper
2 shallots, peeled and sliced

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Prepare the vinaigrette. In a medium bowl, mix together zest from the lemon (a microplane grater works well for zesting), juice from 1/2 lemon, mustard, olive oil, white vermouth, and salt and pepper.

3. Peel the salsify with a vegetable peeler, cut the thicker parts into matchsticks the width of the thinner parts, and quickly toss the pieces into the vinaigrette as you go to slow the browning.

4. On a baking sheet, spread out two sheets of aluminum foil, about 10 inches long. Divide the salsify and vinaigrette between the two foils and sprinkle over the chopped shallots. For each foil sheet, fold one half over the other and then crimp the edges to make a packet. Place the foil packets on the baking sheet into the oven and bake for about 30-40 minutes until the contents are soft and have started to caramelize. Serve warm, pouring all of the accumulated juices over the vegetables. 

Note: If you can't find salsify, this recipe would also work nicely with other root vegetables like parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes, or fennel bulbs.

Pan Fried Cod with Capers
serves two
2 cod fillets
wondra or flour
salt and pepper
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp capers
juice from 1/2 lemon
splash of white vermouth

1. Start heating a skillet over medium high heat. Season the cod fillets with salt and pepper and sprinkle over some wondra flour, shaking off the excess. When the pan is hot, melt the butter. Then add the fillets, press down with a spatula, and let them cook until nicely browned, about 4 minutes. Flip them and cook on the second side until browned and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Remove the filets to warm plates.

2. Add the capers to the browned butter in the pan and saute for a minute. Then add the lemon juice and white vermouth. Let the caper sauce cook down for a minute and then pour over the fish fillets. Serve at once with roasted vegetables and couscous to soak up the sauces.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Barley and Cranberry Bean Soup with Kale

We didn't get a lot of snow last weekend, but enough to assemble a snow duck and enough to inspire a hearty winter soup.

I'd been wanting to try a barley and bean soup with our supplies from our Lonesome Whistle Farm CSA (heirloom purple barley and Vermont cranberry beans). I had a frozen ham bone and a cabbage from our Open Oak Farm CSA that I knew from experience would cook down into a rich broth.

I love the deep, smooth flavors of a slow cooked soup, but I thought it would be nice to contrast it with some bright, fresh greens. So to finish the soup, I sauteed some lacinato kale in olive oil with plenty of garlic and used this as a soup garnish with a light dusting of parmesan cheese, like our recent snowfall.

Barley and Cranberry Bean Soup with Kale

1 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup hulled barley
1 small onion, chopped
1 15 ounce can chopped tomatoes
8 cups water
1 small or 1/2 regular cabbage, chopped
1 ham bone or ham hock
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped
1 cup cranberry beans
salt to taste
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
8 leaves lacinato kale
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
freshly grated parmesan cheese for serving

1. Heat a Dutch oven or heavy soup pot over medium heat. Melt the butter and saute the barley grains for a couple of minutes until fragrant. Add the onion and saute until very soft. Add the chopped tomatoes and a generous pinch of salt and saute for about five minutes. Add the water, cabbage, and ham bone. Bring to a boil and then simmer on very low, mostly covered, for about 2 hours. 

2. Add the carrots, celery, and cranberry beans. Continue simmering on very low for another 2 hours. You could also cook the soup in a slow cooker on low for a total of about 6 hours, adding the carrots, celery, and beans after the first 2 hours.

3. When the beans and barley are soft but not mushy, finish the soup. Remove the ham bone or ham hock, shred the meat from the bone, and return the meat to the pot. Taste and add more salt as needed. Finish the soup with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar (about 1 Tbsp).

4. Shortly before serving the soup, prepare the garlicy kale topping. Cut the kale leaves from the center stem and slice them into 1/2 inch ribbons. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan and when it is hot, add the minced garlic. Saute for about one minute and then add the kale and a pinch of salt. Saute until the kale is just wilted, about five minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

5. Serve the hot soup with a generous spoonful of sauteed kale on top and a sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese.

Other recipes for locally grown beans
Bruna Bönor
Cranberry Beans and Collard Greens
Paprkia Chickpea, Delicata and Kale Salad
Lentil Caviar Salad with Poached Eggs

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Barley Stuffed Cabbage

We received this dramatically variegated January King Cabbage from our Open Oak Farm CSA that seemed too beautiful to shred. The broad leaves inspired me to try making stuffed cabbage and the purple hue seemed to call out for our purple barley from Lonesome Whistle Farm. Many of the stuffed cabbage recipes I looked at simmered the bundles in tomato sauce, but instead I let the tomatoes creep into the filling and simmer with the barley and some end pieces of Christmas ham. For a vegetarian version, one could include pungent dried mushrooms instead.

A cup of barley made enough filling for about eight cabbage leaves, although my cabbage head yielded only four leaves that were wrapping-sized. I'm sure the filling would have frozen well if we hadn't polished it off as a tasty risotto lunch. I softened the cabbage leaves by steaming them on top of the barley and then filled them with the cooked barley and crumbled feta cheese. After wrapping up these charming parcels, I simmered them (same pot, fewer dishes) in some red wine to infuse the cabbage, melt the cheese, and produce a tasty reduced wine sauce accompaniment.

Barley Stuffed Cabbage

1 cup hulled barley
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 leek, white and pale green part washed and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 anchovy fillets
1 cup red wine (divided use)
1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 small chunk of ham or ham hock
1 cup boiling water
salt to taste
8 large cabbage leaves
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

1. If you get a chance, soak the barley overnight and the next morning, remove any loose hulls that floated to the surface and drain. If you don't get a chance to presoak the barley, rinse well and drain. 

2. Warm a Dutch oven over medium low heat, add the butter and olive oil, and saute the chopped leeks until very soft and caramelized, but avoid browning them. Add the garlic and saute another minute. Now add the anchovy fillets, mashing them and cook another minute. Then add 1/4 cup red wine and cook until it simmers down. Finally, add the diced tomatoes, ham, a generous pinch of salt, about a cup of boiling water, and the drained barley. Turn the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the barley is soft, about 90 minutes. Stir occasionally and add more water if it looks too dry. You could also cook this in a slow cooker on low for about 3 hours.

3. Once the barley is soft and the consistency of a thick porridge, lightly steam the cabbage leaves  for about five minutes by layering them gently on top of the barley and recovering the pot. When they feel pliable, remove the cabbage leaves to a plate. Shred the ham and stir back into the barley. Taste and adjust seasoning. 

4. Spread out a cabbage leaf on a plate and spoon in about four soup spoons of the barley mixture. Sprinkle with feta cheese. Now fold the edges of the cabbage leaf up into a parcel. Repeat with the remaining cabbage leaves, until you have used up the barley filling (or transfer the remaining filling to a storage container to use another day). 

5. Add the remaining red wine to the Dutch oven and gently transfer the cabbage parcels into the pot. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes until the cabbage is very soft and the feta cheese inside has melted. Uncover and simmer for another 10 minutes to allow the red wine to reduce. Serve hot with a drizzle of the reduced red wine sauce.

Other cabbage recipes
Pad Thai with Arrowhead Cabbage
Crunchy Carrot, Jicama, and Radish Slaw
Jacob's Cattle Bean and Ham Stew with Roasted Vegetable Garnish
Braised Red Cabbage

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Swedish Oatmeal Pancakes

Some recipes have a wonderful way of following you around like a tenacious honeybee. This is one I clipped from the San Jose Mercury News during graduate school, thinking it might be a hit with my then boyfriend, now husband, because of its reputed Swedish origin. We even made them for his parents, who doubted the providence but loved the pancakes. Then somehow the clipping went missing. Several years later, when we departed the Bay Area to start our jobs in Oregon, my best friend gave us a book of San Francisco recipes, and flipping through I discovered the recipe again, from Town's End Restaurant and Bakery in the Embarcadero. Now in our permanent library, these pancakes have become a signature dish for us. I shared the recipe with my friend Renee, who wrote about how they made her a little more tolerant of combining fruit into baked goods in her great blog Every Pot and Pan.

When our Lonesome Whistle Farm bean and grain CSA came with a bag of Scottish oats, I wanted to see if I could use them in this recipes. The original recipe calls for soaking uncooked rolled oats in buttermilk, but I thought these would need a little more softening up, so I mixed in a small amount of boiling water, and then warmed up the buttermilk before soaking (I discovered that microwaved buttermilk separates out, but you can simply stir it back together). This treatment worked great and the final pancakes had just enough bite inside with a lacy, butter crust and delicious toasted pear and almond finish.

Swedish Oatmeal Pancakes with Almonds and Pears
From Town's End Restaurant and Bakery
(makes about 32 pancakes)

2 cups Scottish oats
1/2 cup boiling water
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup flour (I used Red Fife Wheat Flour from Lonesome Whistle Farm)
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp melted butter
1 or 2 pears sliced
sliced almonds

1. The night before, put the oats in a large bowl and pour over the boiling water. Mix well. Microwave the buttermilk until warm (it will separate) and add this to the oats. Cover the mixture and let stand until it has cooled, the leave it overnight. If using rolled oars, omit the boiling water step and simply soak the oats in cold buttermilk for 30 minutes or overnight.

2. The next morning , stir the eggs and then the melted butter into the oats.

3. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda in a bowl. Stir the dry ingredients into oats.  You can thin with a Tbsp or two of buttermilk if necessary.

4. Heat a skillet and butter lightly. Use a soup spoon to ladle out pancakes, sprinkling first side with almonds and placing sliced pears on top. Let the pancakes cook until bubble on the edges are stable and they have lost their pale, raw batter appearance. Flip them and cook on second side until the pears have browned. Serve warm with maple syrup.

Other recipes for locally grown grains

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Creamy Purple Barley Risotto with Dandelion Greens

Our bean and grain CSA from Lonesome Whistle Farm included this remarkable purple barley. Last summer I had made a nutty barely risotto with grilled vegetables, but for a cozy winter dish I wanted something richer and creamier. I also had on hand some dandelion greens from our Open Oak Farm CSA. A little internet searching came up with a food52 recipe for ricotta risotto with dandelion greens and orange, which I adapted for barley. I also substituted lemon for the orange, which seemed to me a heftier pairing for the heartier grain.

Barley needs a lot longer to cook than arborio rice. You can shorten the time a little by soaking it overnight, but then you miss out on the opportunity to toast your grain in some fat before you simmer it. Instead I think the best strategy is to plan a leisurely weekend afternoon of cooking, bringing your barley just short of tender, and then reheat it and finish it off before dinner. This risotto doesn't require your undivided attention like a classic rice risotto, occasional stirring will suffice. And the lengthy cooking time allows you to concurrently simmer a stock seasoned with the leek greens and dandelion stems. When the barley is finally soft to your liking, finish it off with creamy ricotta and a zing of lemon zest. The final dish is both indulgent and healthy, a good transition from holiday feasting to New Year's resolutions.

Creamy Purple Barley Risotto with Dandelion Greens
inspired by gingerroot

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 bunch dandelion greens (or substitute another green)
1 medium or 2 small leeks
1 clove garlic
1 cup hulled barley
1/3 cup white vermouth
~4 cups stock or water
salt to taste
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta
zest from one lemon

1. To make a quick vegetable stock, or enhance one you have, set a pot of about 6 cups water or a combination of water and stock to simmer. Remove the stems and spines from the dandelion greens and the green parts from the leeks, wash and chop coarsely. Add to the simmering pot. You can add other items from your vegetable bin such as parsley stems, celery, or a carrot. Season with salt to taste. You can keep the stock simmering on very low while you cook the risotto, and it will continue to intensify in flavor.

2. Chop the dandelion green leaves. Peel and mince the garlic clove. Heat a large saute pan or Dutch oven big enough to hold the cooked risotto. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil and saute the minced garlic for a minute. Add the dandelion greens and a pinch of salt and saute until they just start to wilt, about 2 minutes. Remove to a bowl and reserve.

3. Rinse and finely dice the white and pale green part of the leeks. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp butter to the warm pan and saute the diced leeks until they are very soft and have started to caramelize, for about 6 minutes, but avoid browning them.

4. Add the barley and toast in the fat for a couple of minutes until it is fragrant and glistening. Add the white vermouth and allow to cook down. Now start adding the warm stock, a ladle at a time, and stir. You don't need to stir this as continuously as you would a rice risotto, but keep and eye on it, and taste periodically for texture and seasoning. I found that the barley needed about 90 minutes to reach the soft, creamy consistency I wanted. You could plan to cook it partially earlier in the day and finish it off just before dinner time.

5. When the barley is soft but still has some bite, stir in the sauteed dandelion greens and cook for a couple of minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the ricotta cheese and lemon zest. Adjust seasoning and serve immediately.

Other recipes for locally grown grains