Wednesday, November 30, 2011

5 autumn vegetables

This one came together fast as I was planning Thanksgiving dinner. I was shopping at Whole Foods for the annual feast, and I saw Jerusalem artichokes. I didn't have any of Ted McLaren's Jerusalem artichokes left, and I wasn't sure the general availability of them throughout the year, so I figured I better get on it.

The other four Autumn vegetables were all things I knew I could pretty much get anytime. Butternut squash. Leeks. Parsnips. Celery root.

About celery root. It's sort of ugly.

But it cleans up nice.

The first time I had celery root was at a grand tasting at the Epcot Food and Wine Festival in 1999. Tom Gray, the chef at Bistro Aix in Jacksonville, was there and served a mashed potato and celery root puree with seared halibut. I immediately loved the taste of the puree, and decided I would, henceforth, ALWAYS puree celery root with my mashed potatoes, because it was so good.

I've tried it a bunch of times. Never really got it right. Invariably, I don't cook it enough and it ends up chunky and texturally unappealing. I've tried other dishes where it is roasted, and it just never seems right. It always seems undercooked.

So imagine my surprise when I read the directions for this dish, and there is no step in which the celery root is cooked. It is cut in julienne, and thrown in raw.

And it was the first time I've ever made celery root where it tasted right. Go figure.

The other thing with this dish was it called for goat cheese ricotta. No one here has that. Well, except the Dancing Goat lady at the farmer's markets around here, but i didn't have a chance to get to a market she was at before Thanksgiving. I have made goat milk ricotta before, and it would have been perfect for this application, but my cooking timeline didn't really have room to add "make ricotta." So I looked for alternatives.

My favorite cheese store makes ricotta, and that would have been a good choice. More on that later. That store also had a very fancy brand of goat cheese that I had not seen there before, one that is oft suggested in the book. It isn't ricotta, but I figured I'd splurge and use that. I got two packs of it, for a total of about 8 oz., and about twice that many dollars.

So the dish is ready. I had anointed the salad with pumpkinseed oil that was also about twice as many dollars as it was ounces. I got the toast off the grill and opened the fancy goat cheese. It was brown. Like, grossly brown, with warts. Maybe this cheese is sooo fancy that it has a rind, I thought. So I cut the edge off. Still brown. Then I cut it in half. Brown all the way through. Took a sniff. Lost my breath. Opened the other package. Repeated every step. Was distressed. Tore apart refrigerator and my cooler looking for the ricotta that I thought I had in reserve. Couldn't find it anywhere.

Guests were arriving in about 15 minutes. It was a holiday, so Publix, the closest supermarket, would be closed. While I finished everything else, Pam and Cyndi ran out to Winn-Dixie and bought a carton of ricotta and a small log of goat cheese. We mixed equal parts of the two and spread them on the toast. It wasn't remotely fancy, but it tasted fine.

And that's how Winn-Dixie contributed to this project. Will probably be the last instance. But thanks!

Between the goat cheese that I pitched and the pumpkinseed oil, this might have been the most expensive dish of the project. Certainly the most expensive without meat. Of course, truffle season is here. And there are two truffle dishes I need to do.

As for the salad itself, I liked it a lot. All those vegetables at the top? Here they are all chopped up and ready to go: 

Loved the celery root (remember, best way to cook it: don't). That was the primary flavor, I thought. Everything else was good. But I'll remember this as a celery root dish.

Oh yeah, the toast with goat cheese. Here it is with that. 

Up next: Not sure. Still trying to catch up on those pork chops.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

pork tenderloin with jerusalem artichokes

A couple of months ago, we were doing a photo shoot at the house for a story I was doing for work, and my friend Ted was here. He knew about this project, and has eaten some of the results. He was looking through the Babbo cookbook, and he got really excited when he came across this recipe.

"I'm growing Jerusalem artichokes! You want them?"


Ted grows a lot of stuff. I try to grow stuff, and have had a little bit of success with things like greens and tomatoes.

Ted grows Jerusalem artichokes.

At the time, he didn't know what would come of them, if they would be usable. I shrugged. My alternative was to wait to see when Whole Foods got them, so I was happy to wait out Ted's attempt.

They came out fine. 

The Jerusalem artichoke, also called a sunchoke, is the root of a sunflower-looking plant. So there was a lot of cleaning going on. That's a photo of them at the top of the post (taken, with permission, from Thanks!)

This what they look like when they come out of the ground:

And this is what they look like after they are trimmed and cleaned:

The recipe calls for the chokes to be packed in salt and roasted. Here is what that looks like: 

OK, it looks like a bowl of salt. 

I suspect there is science involved with the salt roasting, but I don't really know what it is. When you salt roast fish, the salt is in sort of an egg slurry and it gets all hard when it cooks, and seals in juices or something. This was dry salt, and sunchokes aren't juicy. I suspect that the salt, being a rock and all, heats up fast, and the direct contact with the food probably applies heat to the food more evenly, and probably more quickly.

But that's a total guess.

Otherwise, we had a pork tenderloin that was rubbed in sugar, chili pepper and porcini powder. Rub anything in porcini powder and it gets better. Don't think about that too hard. The pork gets grilled. I have experience with grilling pork. All over it.

I followed the directions for the cinzano vinaigrette, but I felt like I mostly just got olive oil with a little sweet stuff in the bottom. Luckily, I use really good olive oil. There were blanched green beans.

It was a good dish. Liked the pork a lot. Still not 100 percent sure what to make of the sunchokes, but I'd eat them again. I wish I had had a better balanced vinaigrette. Could have used a little more punch. I probably needed to get rid of the oil in the pan before adding the vinaigrette. Don't know.

FYI: There is one other Jerusalem artichoke dish.

Up next: grilled pork chops w peaches.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

steamed cockles with habanero chive broth

I could almost say this was an easy one. I mean, it's steamed shellfish. How hard is that?

Here's the thing: cockles are little clams. They're kinda cute. But they grow in New Zealand. Technically, right off New Zealand, but you know what I mean. I live in Florida. In Florida, we have clams growing right off the shores. So we get those. Cockles, not so much. I was ready to unapologetically make this dish with Florida clams.

But I've had clams in a few dishes in this project. So I wanted to at least try to get cockles. When I was planning a trip to DC, I figured that was a good time to try. Big city, they probably get all sorts of seafood in from all over the world, right? And this wasn't a complicated cooking procedure, so I felt confident that if I found them, I could cook them there without trying to bring them home.

I was sort of right.

I found them almost immediately. My pal Carol told me to try Black Salt, which is where she gets a lot of her seafood. I called them, they said they had it, told me the price. But then I ran into a problem I never have in Florida. I couldn't really get there.

It was only a few miles from where we were staying, but we had no access to a car that day. And the Metro in DC didn't go there. And there would be multiple bus transfers. So my pal Melanie set to work looking for an alternative that we could actually get to. She found a place in Bethesda, Md., A&H Market, that was actually farther away than Black Salt, but it was near a Metro stop. Turns out it wasn't really as near a Metro stop as they said, but after a half-hour or so on the train we were there. They had cockles, and we were in business.

Other key ingredients:
Habanero. They are right there in the title. So they must be important. My colleague Chris  had given me a bag full of habaneros from his garden, so knowing I was going to try to make this dish, I brought them with us. I put them in checked luggage. I doubt you can carry on habaneros.
Basic tomato sauce. Sure, I have a freezer full of officially sanctioned sauce at home. But I wasn't at home. And I didn't really feel like bringing tomato sauce with me on the trip. Luckily, Jeremy had this in the kitchen:

That works, right?

From there, it was all just steaming them open and dressing it up with some chives.

The broth was super wine-y, which is good. And the cockles were tender and sweet. And there was a kick from the habanero, but it was subtle.

I bet this dish would be awesome with Florida clams.

Note: We had this dish when we were at Babbo in the spring. And they have the recipe on the website.

Up next:
pork tenderloin with jerusalem artichokes.