Category Archives: Vegetables

home cured bacon and frisée aux lardons {charcutepalooza}


It seems as though charcuterie has officially reached an apotheosis- the food world has been incessantly abuzz of late about all things cured, smoked, salted and brined (to the chagrin of some and the delight of others). Although several adventurous food bloggers like Matt Wright and Hank Shaw have been dabbling in meat curing for some time now, things recently reached a fever pitch in the blogging world and on Twitter with the advent of Charcutepalooza, a challenge in which a different type of curing technique is explored each month.

I missed the first challenge, duck prosciutto, but was told that I could “make it up” at a later date (as I write this, the duck is hanging in my basement pantry). The second challenge was something that my friend Kim has been making for a while now, home-cured bacon. I decided to go for it, so I hit up the Bucu family’s stand at Eastern Market and had this gentleman hack me off a 5-lb piece of pork belly.

The cure was simple- just salt, pepper, aromatics and pink (curing) salt, rubbed on the belly and left to work its magic for a week. The belly was then rinsed, patted dry and put in a 200° oven until it reached an internal temp of 150°. This stage was the only “problem” I had with the recipe- it stated to cook for 90 minutes or a temp of 150°, and it took me over 2 hours to reach that temperature, unless my thermometer is really off. But I figured it was better to err on the side of overcooking than undercooking.

As Charcuterie guru Michael Ruhlman suggested in his blog post on bacon, I went ahead and fried up a small piece as soon as it was done (well, after I removed the skin… I’m a pretty die-hard meat lover, but seeing nipples on my bacon was a little freaky). It was saltier than commercial bacon, but I figured that might have been due to it being an end piece.

In the past couple weeks, we have eaten the bacon on its own and incorporated it into several dishes such as Cuban-style black beans and this venison & porcini ragú. Since it’s not smoked, it’s a great stand-in for pancetta. I also made the French bistro classic frisée aux lardons, a salad composed of bitter frisée (a green in the endive family) tossed with vinaigrette, fried cubes of unsmoked bacon (lardons), and topped with a poached egg. There are versions that don’t use the egg, but to my mind it’s the best part, and really makes it a meal. The store Marvin went to didn’t have frisée so we had to use curly endive (possibly the same plant but more mature?), but it was a suitable stand-in. The salad with a glass of Beaujolais and a nibble of Roquefort was a pretty perfect Sunday afternoon lunch.

Frisée aux Lardons
printer-friendly version

serves two; recipe can be multiplied to serve more

2 small heads of frisée, washed, cored and torn into pieces
3 Tbs sherry vinegar or good quality red wine vinegar
about 3 oz. unsmoked slab bacon, cut into ½-inch batons
1 shallot, peeled and minced
1-2 Tbs olive oil as needed
2 eggs
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
optional if you have on hand: 1 Tbs minced fresh herbs such as parsley, chervil or chives

Notes: This salad is great with homemade croutons if you’re so inclined. Add them when you toss the salad so they absorb a bit of the dressing. Also, oil & vinegar amounts are a starting point and will vary according to your volume of salad and how lightly or heavily dressed you like things. Please adjust as needed! Last but not least, although I encourage you all to cure your own bacon now that I know how easy it is, you can substitute cut-up strips of regular bacon and have a less traditional but still delicious salad.

Wash and spin-dry the frisée and place in a bowl large enough to toss. Bring a small pot of water to the boil and briefly blanch the lardons; drain. Heat a small skillet and fry the lardons over medium heat until they begin to brown and render some of their fat. Add the shallot and cook until softened. Stir in the vinegar and deglaze any brown bits from the skillet. Remove from heat. Whisk in olive oil to taste until the dressing tastes balanced (this will depend how much fat was rendered from the lardons). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Fill a medium-sized pan halfway with water and bring to a bare simmer. While waiting for the water, toss the salad with the dressing. Taste and tweak as needed with additional oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Distribute onto two plates or shallow bowls.  (A note here for people like myself with ADD tendencies: poached eggs wait for no one, so make sure to have the table, drinks etc. ready when you put the eggs in.) Poach the eggs for four minutes, until the whites are set but the yolks remain runny. Retrieve the eggs with a slotted spoon, gently shaking off as much water as possible. Place an egg on each salad and garnish with the herbs, if using. Serve immediately.

Advertisements

brussels sprouts with chestnuts for a harvest dinner

I was talking to my mom a couple weeks ago and she mentioned that she wanted to send my blog link to a friend, but it had been “so long” since I had last posted, that she didn’t have the link anymore (she gets the feed through email).  Yikes!  I’m certainly far from the days where I used to post two or even three times a week, but I didn’t realize it had gotten that bad.

The silver lining is that I’ve been occupied with other new and exciting projects, including some freelance writing for these publications, making jam and other treats for my fledgling company Beau Bien Fine Foods, organizing the first-ever (and I hope annual) Detroit Holiday Food Bazaar, and rehearsing and playing shows with Scarlet Oaks.  Are you tired just reading that?  Combined with house-hunting (we found one! More on this later…) and a full social calendar, I have barely had time to cook lately let alone photograph it or write about it.

When my good friend and Beau Bien business partner Molly organized a pre-Thanksgiving dinner at her place, I was determined not to let the opportunity pass since I had to cook a dish to bring anyway.  I had some peeled, roasted chestnuts from the shipment of goodies that Oh! Nuts sent me a few months back and I knew I wanted to incorporate those.  I recalled a recipe in Nigella Lawson’s Feast with brussels sprouts and chestnuts and used that as a guideline.  The combination of pancetta and brussels sprouts was not new for me, but the addition of chestnuts, marsala and a generous amount of parsley intrigued me.

I got up nice and early (8am) to make sure I had plenty of time to run errands, cook, take pictures, get ready, etc, but was foiled by Michigan’s now-overturned law that you can’t purchase alcohol before noon on Sundays… ugh.  That’s not the first time I’ve needed alcohol for Sunday cooking only to have to wait (I never said I was a good planner).  I ended up being about an hour late to the party due to the rushing around, but my stress was soon soothed with a delicious glass of bourbon milk punch made by my friend Todd.  If you’ve never had a milk punch, think eggnog-ish, but less cloying. As an added bonus, the milk was a delicious raw milk from a local cow share.

Dinner was a mix of old and new foods and friends. Molly’s sister and brother-in-law brought a turkey they smoked in their “egg”, with a subtly smoky flavor that didn’t overwhelm the other foods. The stuffing was made from wild rice and sausage, there was a green salad with fennel and orange, a fresh cranberry relish, and a great roasted cauliflower dish with capers and vinaigrette that, I’m sad to say, completely upstaged my slightly overcooked sprouts.  I’m totally cribbing that for the next potluck I attend (don’t worry Evan, Ill give you your due credit!).  For dessert, our friends Noah and Liz made sweet potato pie and apple pie. Where I found room for those I’ll never know, but I do know that if I ever make sweet potato pie I’m making it with graham cracker crust.  Another idea to appropriate.

After dinner we walked across Lafayette Park (erm, there may have been a bit of stumbling along with the walking- see above) in the unseasonable 65°weather over to Supino’s in Eastern Market, where some friends had broken down a pig and were having a party of sorts.  I’m regretting not taking the camera for that portion of the evening, and also regretting not having a second or third stomach to sample some of the treats that were being passed around (slices of pig kidney, anyone?).  Hopefully they will feel the experience bears repeating at a later date.  I still want to make blood sausage darnit!  For now, though, you’ll have to settle for these brussels sprouts… (hey, at least there’s pancetta in there.)

Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts & Pancetta (adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson)

2 lbs brussels sprouts
8 oz peeled roasted chestnuts
about 6 oz pancetta, diced (three medium-thick slices should yield this)
¼ cup marsala
large handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
a couple Tbs olive oil or butter

Notes: The original recipe stipulates boiling the brussels sprouts whole and then adding them to the pan for a quick sauté, but my sprouts were a little on the mature side so I opted for the “shredded” version.  If you have smaller, tighter sprouts, I’d maybe go with the original version as it looks a bit prettier.  However, the shredded version does have a more homey, comfort-food appeal to it.

Wash and trim the brussels sprouts.  Cut in half lengthwise and cut a small notch to remove the toughest part of the stem.  Chop each half crosswise into three or four sections to “shred” them.

In a large skillet, sauté the pancetta over medium heat with the olive oil or butter.  (The pancetta will render some fat, but the additional fat emulsifies with the marsala later to become a “sauce” of sorts.)  When the meat is starting to brown but before it dries out, add the brussels sprouts.  They will release some moisture which will enable you to deglaze the pan.

Sauté, stirring frequently, until the thickest parts of the brussels sprouts are al dente.  Stir in the chestnuts, breaking them up with your spoon or spatula.  Raise the heat a little and add the marsala, stirring well.  As soon as it bubbles away, remove from the heat.   Stir in the parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

sesame soba noodle salad

Confession time: I’m not much for TV food personalities (I don’t even have cable!), but when I was first really getting into cookbooks, I was pretty into Nigella Lawson. There was just something in her breezy “if I can do it, anyone can” manner that was very appealing, and I enjoyed reading her cookbooks as much as I did cooking from them.  Nowadays, I’m at a point where most of her recipes (with the exception of baked goods) are things I could whip up on my own without having to consult a cookbook.  But there are a few dishes that have stuck with me and become part of my regular repertoire.

This soba noodle salad is one such dish.  I’ve made it for countless potlucks and barbecues, and almost always get asked for the recipe.  The two great things about it are that it’s ultrafast to make, and that it’s pretty healthy as far as “pasta salad” goes.  The original just calls for noodles, scallions and sesame seeds (in addition to the dressing), but I’ve taken to add-ins such as the peapods pictured, or carrot matchsticks, or any raw veg you see fit, really, to make it a bit more salad-y and substantial.

Soba noodles are made with buckwheat flour, which can also make this salad a good gluten free option if you substitute tamari or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos for the soy sauce (I’ve been told tamari usually does not contain wheat gluten, but check labels!).  It’s also vegan.  I’m not gonna lie, it’s not really substantial enough to have as a main dish, but it makes a great component to an Asian-style meal.  We had it the other night as part of a Japan-esque motley dinner of salmon sashimi with yuzu juice, an heirloom tomato, tofu and shiso salad from the Momofuku cookbook, and a mess of stir-fried purple-tinged leafy mystery greens we bought from one of the Asian produce vendors at Eastern Market.

Sesame Soba Noodle Salad (adapted from Nigella Fresh, aka Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson)
printer-friendly version

8 oz dried soba (buckwheat) noodles
¼ cup sesame seeds
3-5 scallions, sliced thinly on the bias
6 tsp soy sauce (or sub Bragg’s Aminos for gluten free)
2 tsp honey (non-honey-eating vegans, just sub brown or regular sugar)
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp toasted (dark) sesame oil
optional: 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
optional: additional vegetables, such as peapods or julienned carrot pieces

Notes: The soba noodles I buy come in little 3.5-oz bundles (see photos), so I just use two bundles- close enough. The ginger is optional but a nice touch if you have some on hand.  If you’re using additional vegetables, depending on quantity you may want to lightly salt them or toss them in a bit more soy sauce prior to adding them to the salad.  This recipe doesn’t make a huge quantity of salad, but it can easily be doubled if serving more than a few people.

Directions: Put a large pot of water on to boil.  Toast the sesame seeds in a dry nonstick skillet over low heat, taking care not to burn them. Remove from heat when toasty and fragrant, and allow to cool. Combine all the dressing ingredients (including the ginger, if using) in a large bowl and mix well.

When the water reaches a rolling boil, add the noodles and stir them so they don’t clump.  The noodles will cook VERY quickly- test for doneness after 3 minutes.  The package instructions (and Nigella, in her version) say 6 minutes but in my experience this yields gummy, overcooked noodles. As soon as the noodles are cooked through, drain in a colander and immediately rinse with cold water until thoroughly cooled.  Shake to remove excess water. Toss the noodles in the bowl with the dressing.  Add the sesame seeds, scallions, and any other vegetables and toss again to distribute.  If you have time, allow the salad to sit for 30 minutes or so before serving for the flavors to develop.

how to make chlodnik in 9 days

My start-to-finish process for making a recipe often goes a little something like this…

Day 1 (Friday): Think about what recipes to make over the weekend.  Decide to attempt chlodnik, a chilled Polish soup with buttermilk and beets.  Look at recipes online.  Make a shopping list.

Day 2 (Saturday): Oversleep, miss the farmers’ market.  Instead of cooking, go out to eat later with friends who are in town playing a show.

Day 3 (Sunday): Go to the grocery store in the late afternoon; pick up beets, buttermilk, cucumber, dill, scallions, radishes.  Get home from the store late and too hungry to “cook”.  Make a veggie “taco salad” with romaine, tomatoes, avocado and cut up pieces of a Dr. Praeger’s Tex-Mex veggie burger and call it a night.

Day 4 (Monday): Work late, get home starving, make frozen potstickers and salad for dinner.  Finish too late to really have time or motivation to be in the kitchen.  Try to make some headway on your book club book.

Day 5 (Tuesday): Plan on at least prepping some ingredients tonight, but get an invitation to go to a friend‘s for dinner, and accept. At this point, decide that maybe instead of making the soup for weekday lunches/dinners, you’ll just bring it to a potluck picnic on Saturday.

Day 6 (Wednesday): Go to the gym after work because it’s been, like, over a month. Have another salad for dinner.  Actually get around to doing some prep work- peel and cut up the beets and cook them; set aside in the fridge.

Day 7 (Thursday): Fully intend to do the remaining prep after work, but instead get caught up cleaning kitchen for three hours because of discovery of an invasion of tiny bugs that have entered your home via a bag of cat food.

Day 8 (the following Friday- yes, a full week after the plan has been put in motion): Get down to business.  Cut up cucumbers, radish, scallions, dill; combine with beets and buttermilk, a little sugar & salt, and some sauerkraut for good measure.  Taste.  Beam with pleasure that it tastes as good as how you remember it when you used to work at that deli that makes it.  Refrigerate overnight to blend the flavors.

Day 9 (Saturday): Serve chlodnik with marble rye on the side to friends in an idyllic setting.  Bask in the compliments (hey, it’s no small feat to impress these hardcore gourmands, let alone expose them to something they’ve never tried before!).  Decide that this is going to be your go-to chilled summer soup for the next little while.

NB: I am not making any claims of “authenticity” for this version of chlodnik, other than to say it closely resembles the one I used to eat at Russell St. Deli when I worked there.  In looking at recipes online, it seems there is a great deal of variation.  One of the things I ran across a few times was that this recipe is supposed to be made with baby beets, about the size of radishes, and that you’re supposed to use the whole plant, stems, greens and all.  I couldn’t find any baby beets (see above re: sleeping in & missing the farmers’ market!) but I’d like to try it that way in the future just for comparison’s sake. Other variations include the addition of grated raw turnip, chopped pickles, and quartered hard-boiled eggs.  My only departure from the Russell St. version was the sauerkraut, but I didn’t add so much as to overwhelm the other flavors.

Chlodnik (Chilled Buttermilk-Beet Soup)
printer-friendly version

6 cups buttermilk (if you’re in MI, the Calder brand is good)
1 lb beets + 1 cup beet cooking liquid (see recipe)
1 cup seeded & diced cucumber (½ a large English cucumber will yield this)
1 cup very thinly sliced radishes (3-5 radishes depending on size)
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 Tbs finely chopped fresh dill
1½ tsp sugar
1½ tsp salt
½ cup sauerkraut + ¼ cup sauerkraut juice
optional: ½ cup sour cream
optional: hard-boiled egg quarters for garnish

Notes:
Many of the recipes I found called for some sour cream, which made for a thicker soup than what I had remembered.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you have a good quality thick buttermilk, you may not need it.  If you’re using sauerkraut, use a salt-fermented sauerkraut (the Bubbies brand is awesome) rather than one in vinegar.

This recipe makes a fairly large amount of soup (about 10 cups). If you want to make a smaller batch, just use 1 quart buttermilk (4 cups), and reduce the quantities of the remaining ingredients by about 1/3.  As with many soups, precision is not of the essence.

Directions:
Peel the beets with a vegetable peeler and cut into matchsticks. Raw beets don’t stain much, so you don’t really need to worry about wearing gloves for this.  Place the beets in a small saucepan and add water just to cover.  Cover and cook at a very low simmer until tender (do not allow to boil or they will lose their bright color).  Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid.

If using the sour cream, place it in a large bowl.  Whisk in buttermilk a little at a time until the mixture is liquid and no lumps remain.  Add all remaining ingredients and stir well.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.  Refrigerate until well-chilled.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with a little sprig of dill and a couple hard-boiled egg quarters, if desired.  Pumpernickel or rye bread is good on the side.

mushroom tart for a bordeaux wine tasting

Sometimes I feel like a pretty lucky gal.  You may recall a couple months ago when I mentioned a get-together with some new food friends?  Well, one of these friends, Jarred, was recently able to procure a large amount of Bordeaux for a wine tasting drinking (as Christina & Molly more accurately put it on Twitter!).  There were about 20 bottles of red Bordeaux, as well as a smattering of white wines, hard cider, etc.  Jarred does the wine buying at Western Market in Ferndale, so the idea was to get a bunch of us tasting, and then hopefully buying, the wines in question.  I think it was also to help him narrow down which wines to order from the distributors.

And so, a couple Fridays ago, some of the GUDetroit gang descended on Jarred & Dawn’s Ferndale apartment, bearing an assortment of wine-loving foods.  I knew many people were bringing cheese and/or charcuterie, and Jarred had also snagged some grass-fed local steaks for the grill, so I asked what else I could bring to round out the selection.  Jarred wisely suggested something with mushrooms- their earthy flavors would be a nice complement to the wine.  I immediately thought “mushroom tart!”- some sautéed mushrooms, with some herbs from the garden, would be just the thing.

I started off by making a cornmeal crust- I wanted a little crunch in case the mushrooms made the dough soggy at all (luckily they didn’t).  I sautéed a copious amount of mushrooms with some shallots and herbs and a splash of sherry, adding some dried porcinis for extra mushroomy depth.  I added some cream and egg at the end, not enough to make a quiche-like custard, but just enough to bind the mushrooms and make the tart more sliceable.  A dusting of Parmigiano before the tart went in the oven was the final touch.  The result was pretty much just what I had hoped for.

As for those wines?  Where to begin- I was pretty overwhelmed, and was mostly just taking suggestions from others who were a little better informed or who had thought to bring notepads to take notes!  A few I recall enjoying in particular were Château La Fleur Plaisance (Montagne St-Emilion, 2006), Château Liversan (Haut-Médoc, 2006) and Château Cabannieux (Graves, 2005). (Mind you, I tasted many, many wines and these are just a couple I happened to jot down!)  All of the wines improved noticeably as the evening wore on and they had time to open up, but these are wines to cellar for at least a few more years before they’ll reach their full potential.  (That becomes problematic in my household, where the notion of a bottle of wine hanging around for more than a week or so is unheard of!) For more detailed descriptions of the wines, check out this post by Gang of Pour.

Thanks again to Jarred & Dawn for their excellent hosting skills and to the folks at Western Market for their generosity;  I’ll definitely be heading there next time I have a few bucks to spend on a nice bottle or two. For the size of the store, they are really doing a great job on their wine department, with a focus on organic and natural wines.  This wine tasting (er, drinking!) really inspired and motivated me to start taking more notes and to build a cellar.  I also have to give a shout-out to George & Kim from Gang of Pour and to Putnam, all of whose wine knowledge and enthusiasm is contagious.

Mushroom & Herb Tart with Cornmeal Crust
printer-friendly version

1 pre-baked Cornmeal Tart Crust (recipe follows, or you could use the slightly different cornmeal crust from this post)

1 ½ lbs mushrooms, peeled and sliced (you can use any combination of button mushrooms, portabellas, cremini, etc; I used mostly regular mushrooms with a few portabellas thrown in)
2 shallots, minced
about 3 Tbs minced fresh herbs of your choice- I used sage, thyme & marjoram
about 1/3 cup dry sherry
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
about 1 ½ cups boiling water
a few Tbs butter for sautéing
2 eggs
½ cup heavy cream
salt & pepper
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano or other hard grating cheese

Directions:
Put some water on to boil.  Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them; cover with a lid or plate and set aside.

Melt a knob of butter in a large, shallow skillet over medium heat.  When melted, add half the shallots and half the mushrooms; increase the heat slightly (you need to do the mushrooms in two batches to avoid overcrowding).  As the mushrooms absorb the butter and the pan becomes dry, lightly salt the mushrooms so they release a little of their juice.  About halfway through the cooking, add half the sherry.  Saute the mushrooms until golden and cooked through, increasing the heat if necessary so the liquid evaporates. Remove the mushrooms from the pan; set aside.

Wipe the pan and repeat the process with the second batch of mushrooms.  While they are cooking, remove the dried mushrooms carefully from the water and chop roughly.  (The mushroom liquid may be strained and reserved for use in a soup or to deglaze a pan.) Throw them in the pan. When the mushrooms are close to done, add the herbs and cook for a moment longer. Add the first batch of mushrooms back into the pan and stir well.  Remove from heat.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.

In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs and cream.  Season with salt and pepper (I like to add a little nutmeg too, but it’s optional.)  Pour over the mushrooms and stir to combine (if filling is very hot, wait a few moments so the eggs don’t become scrambled). Put the filling in the pre-baked tart shell.  Grate a light layer of cheese over the top.  Cook at 375° for about 15 minutes or until the filling has set.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cornmeal Tart Crust (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)
printer-friendly version

Makes enough for two 9″-10″ tarts

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks butter
¼ to ½ cup ice water as needed

Cut the butter into small pieces and set in a bowl in the freezer to firm up for a couple minutes.  Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with a few larger pieces remaining.  Add the ice water in a thin stream while running the processor, just until the dough comes together (no more than 30 seconds).  Take care to only add as much water as needed so the dough does not become pasty and sticky. Divide in half and wrap each half in plastic.  Let rest in the fridge for an hour before rolling out.

To pre-bake the crust, heat the oven to 375°.  Roll out the dough and place in a 9″ or 10″ tart pan with a removable bottom.  Place a layer of foil over the crust and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake for about 25 minutes or until crust is just beginning to turn golden.  Let cool slightly before removing the weights and foil.  (This dough can also be used for fruit tarts/crostatas; Martha instructs cooking it for an hour with the filling rather than pre-baking it.)

taking a deep breath… tuscan beans with tomatoes & sage

Folks, I’m taking a deep breath.  This post is about one of the easiest, most laid-back dishes in my repertoire.  While I did snap a few photos, I didn’t stress about the lighting or try to style the food or plating.  I just wanted to do an easy-breezy blog post since it’s been a while.

Most everyone I know has a lot going on- everyone has periods where things get crazy, time is maxed out, and they feel completely spread thin.  So I try not to go on TOO much about how nuts everything feels, because it’s like “boo hoo, you’re not the only one who has a million things to do and no time to do them in”.  But the past couple weeks were frantic even by my standards.  Blogging, of course, didn’t even make the list of things to do during this time, but I hope to rectify that in the next week or two before things get busy again with my sister’s wedding.

The Friday morning of Memorial weekend, I left for my sister’s bachelorette party in Nashville.  I had worked all week and tried to get things ready bit by bit- shopping for gifts, laundry, making sure there was food for the cats, a trip to the library for books on tape and Nashville guides, and all the other little pre-trip things that needed attending to.  Packing and straightening the house, of course, always gets left until the last possible minute.  So, as I was trying to get things together at 10:30 Thursday night, I got an unexpected call from my friend Youn, an old acquaintance from my Toulouse days.  He and a friend were traveling around the U.S. and wanted to know, could they possibly come and stay for a few days?  Of course! I replied, while inwardly starting to panic.  The house was reasonably tidy- I don’t like to come home to a mess- but it was nowhere near “house-guest clean”.  I would have to drive 10 hours, then spend a few hours cleaning Monday night, because I had to work on Tuesday and they were arriving that evening. Also sandwiched into the week’s schedule were two Scarlet Oaks shows, one of which was in Cleveland.

Long story short, I pulled everything together the best I could and we had a nice time (more about their visit in a later post), but coming back from a trip and then entertaining for 5 days left me wiped out.  Sunday I wanted to cook, but I knew I needed to do something hyper-simple.  My mind jumped to this dish of white beans with tomato and sage (one I’ve made many times before) because of the abundance of sage in my herb garden right now.  This is one of the easiest dishes I know, and it goes great with some grilled Italian sausages.  Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate so our sausages were pan-grilled in the cast-iron skillet, but that actually made things even easier.  I threw together a green salad as well as some cucumbers with labneh (thick strained yogurt), scallion, lemon and parsley, we cracked open a bottle of red, and reveled in our simple feast as we breathed a sigh of relief at not having anywhere to be or anyone to entertain.  While I love having guests, a quiet evening with my sweetheart was just what I needed to get grounded and catch my breath.

If your sage is blowing up right now too, check out this post from Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini on 45 things to do with fresh sage!

Tuscan Beans with Tomatoes & Sage (adapted from Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites)
printer-friendly version

This recipe is originally from a low-fat cookbook, and you can certainly choose to make it that way, but I of course like it with generous amounts of olive oil.  Obviously, you can cook the beans from dried, or use fresh tomatoes if in season, but the point is that you can open a few cans and have a pretty tasty and respectable side dish ready in about 15 minutes.  For the vegetarian folks out there, you could certainly serve this alongside veggie sausage or even some risotto to get the complete rice+beans protein combo.

2 15 or 19-oz cans cannellini beans*, rinsed and drained (I prefer the bigger cans if you can find them)
1 28-oz can good quality diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved*
3-6 cloves garlic, depending on size, to yield about 2 Tbs minced
about 25-30 washed sage leaves, to yield 3-4 Tbs minced
olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

*Another type of white bean can be substituted if necessary.

**My version appears more “saucy” because I used whole canned plum tomatoes and just squished them up with my hands as I added them to the pot.  Remember, this dish is all about whatever’s easiest.

Put a few Tbs of olive oil in a medium-sized heavy saucepan over medium-low heat.  When warm, add the garlic, stirring frequently (you want it to soften but not brown).  After a couple minutes, increase the heat slightly and add the sage.  Cook for a couple more minutes, then add the drained tomatoes.  Cook for a few minutes to blend the flavors, then add the beans and cook until heated through.  If the dish seems too dry, add a bit of the reserved tomato juice.  Drizzle a little more olive oil on top if desired, and serve.

buckwheat galettes with leeks & ham, and a meeting

Just over a year ago, I was talking to Stéphane at Zen Can Cook via email apropos this post, in which he and fellow bloggers Claire (Colloquial Cooking) and Marc (No Recipes) smoked homemade knackwurst to make the Alsatian classic choucroute garnie from scratch.  In this email I lamented the fact that, although I know lots of folks who like to cook, I didn’t know anyone who was nearly as enthusiastic and dedicated as this, and expressed my envy that he had this crew of people with whom to embark upon these types of challenging cooking “projects”.

Fast-forward one year and I’m happy to report that through the miracle of Twitter, I have stumbled on a group of folks here in Detroit who may well be just as nutty (and I mean that in the best possible way) for DIY food as Stéphane’s  New York pals.  Detroit is really not that big a town, and these are all people who were only one degree of separation away from me in the first place, but Twitter facilitated the discovery that we had these common interests, and got us chatting on a regular basis.

We decided it would behoove our palates to take our Twitter friendships a step further, so this past Friday I got an invitation to attend a “meeting” that evening.  I knew there would be gustatory hedonism involved, but little did I know the extent to which these guys are committed to their food and drink- after getting the tour of our host James‘s house, I felt like a rank amateur!  This is a guy who, in addition to several casks of homemade wine in his basement, has a few choice hunks of pork casually hanging from the rafters to cure, no big deal.

As well as being hardcore food aficionados, these guys are also serious about their beverages:  Todd and Evan co-author the blog Swigs, and Todd brews his own beer and kombucha.  James, in addition to being an all-around connoisseur of wine and spirits, is the coffee roaster at Great Lakes CoffeeJarred is a wine buyer at Western Market in Ferndale (where, incidentally, he is pushing to get more local, healthy and affordable choices on the shelves).

Due to the last-minute nature of this meeting, I just ended up bringing what I’d planned to make for dinner that night: buckwheat galettes (i.e. savory crêpes) with a ham/leek/crème fraîche filling.  I had some extra Swiss chard to use up so I also made a little chard/shallot/ham filling.  I whizzed up the batter in the blender, brought it with the fillings and my crêpe pan, and cooked them sûr place.

I’m already planning ahead for the next get-together so that even if it’s a last-minute affair I can be prepared with something semi-impressive.  Not that anyone is competitive per se; it wasn’t that kind of vibe.  But I actually enjoy feeling an element of challenge and upping the ante- it’s an excuse to try something that goes above and beyond my usual repertoire.  In spite of their humble simplicity, I think my galettes were well-received though.  In fact, I already got a request for the recipe, so let me oblige:

For another take on galettes, see this post, in which my French friend Youn gives his recipe!

Buckwheat Galettes with Ham & Leeks (Galettes Bretonnes au Sarrasin, Jambon & Poireaux)
printer-friendly version

For the galettes:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
3 eggs
2 cups milk
½ cup apple cider vinegar (see notes)
½ tsp salt
2 Tbs melted butter, cooled
additional butter to grease the pan

For the filling:
3 large leeks
6 oz good quality ham steak, diced small (feel free to substitute lardons or pancetta)
2-3 Tbs heavy cream or crème fraîche
a knob of butter (about 1 Tbs)
a few grinds of nutmeg
salt & pepper to taste

Notes:
If your buckwheat flour is very dark or if you prefer a milder taste, you can use a higher ratio of white flour, such as 1 1/3 cups white & 2/3 cup buckwheat.  Cider vinegar is a traditional Breton twist and will give your galettes a tangy flavor that nicely offsets the ham and cream.  Again, you can play with the proportions, using more or less vinegar (or none at all) according to your taste (if omitting, make up the difference with more milk or water).  For fillings, the sky’s the limit- I often use up whatever bits of meat or veg I have in the fridge to create different fillings (as you can see in the photos, I added some leftover asparagus to these).  Ham and eggs are probably the most popular filling for galettes in France (speaking of eggs, the leek & ham filling is delicious in an omelette if you happen to have any left over).  This is a great make-ahead dish because the batter actually improves as it sits; I love to keep it on hand for quick weeknight dinners.

Directions:
Make the batter: Put the flours and salt in a blender and pulse a few times to combine.  In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the milk and butter; with the blender running, pour this mixture into the flour.  Add the vinegar if using (putting the vinegar in separately will keep it from curdling the milk) and pulse until blended, scraping down the sides if necessary.  Check the batter and add more milk, water or vinegar until your batter reaches the consistency of light cream.  Transfer to a bowl and put in the refrigerator to rest, covered, for at least 2 hours.

Make the filling: Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and slice into thin half-circles.  Place in a bowl of cold water, swishing them around to free any dirt.  After the grit settles, lift the leeks gently out of the water and place in a colander to drain.  Melt the butter in a 10 or 12″ skillet over medium heat.  If using lardons or pancetta, fry them for a couple of minutes (use less butter or even skip it) until they render a bit of their fat, then add the leeks.  If using ham, cook the leeks in the butter until soft, then add the ham to warm it through.  When the leeks are cooked, add the cream, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste (I like to use white pepper for this).

Make the galettes:  Warm your crêpe pan or griddle over medium heat until very hot. Smear a bit of butter onto a paper towel and rub it on the pan. Test the heat with a few drops of batter; they should set immediately. Give the batter a couple stirs in case it has started to separate.  Wipe the pan clean with the paper towel wad, and then rub it again with butter. Ladle batter onto the center of the hot pan (quantity will depend on your pan’s size), lifting the pan off the heat a few inches and quickly rotating the pan so it is thinly and completely covered.  If there is excess batter (i.e. batter that does not instantly set), pour it back into the bowl. Cook the galette until lightly browned on the bottom- about 30 to 60 seconds. Peel it off the griddle and flip it to color the other side.  You want it to color, but not cook so much that it becomes crispy. If making several at a time, transfer it to a plate and cover loosely with a tea towel.

If the first galette seems heavy, thin the batter with a little milk or water. Continue to cook the galettes, re-greasing the pan if needed to prevent sticking.  Pile the finished galettes on the plate to keep warm.  When ready to assemble, spread a few generous spoonfuls of hot filling in the center of each galette and fold each side in towards the middle to form a square or rectangular packet (in the photos I did them in omelette shapes to accommodate the asparagus; you can also fold it in quarters for a triangular “cone” shape).  Serve immediately with a simple green salad.