Saturday, May 21, 2011

Duck Confit And Lettuce

If there is one truly instant dinner we make, it is anything involving duck confit. I want to say duck confit is fast food, but the truth is it is very slow food that can then be stored, and when you are ready to feast, it is instantly ready to satisfy. It is a cooked duck leg packed in its own rendered, pearl colored fat. Pre-refrigeration meat storage techniques.
When I was pregnant with Colby, Craig's food craving was duck. Mine was lemon gelato. He cooked duck, mostly duck confit, so often that our small apartment acquired a permanent, not altogether bad, crispy duck smell. At some point when I started to feel a little tired of it, Craig told me that duck fat was high in omegas, which I needed for my growing baby. This did not explain why he was craving it and I was not, but I went with it. Sure enough, when Colby was born she had the most luxuriant, thick black hair, and gorgeous, plump cheeks. Her first nick name was, "The Baby That Duck Fat Built." Kind of a long nick name, but what does a new parent have to do but whisper and coo terms of endearment?
So now we are the family that duck fat built. We love it. And used in moderation it does not break the bank, despite its fancy restaurant associations. It is a simple, delicious, good for you meat that has been a staple probably since our hairier ancestors discovered fire.
Some tips:
For this dinner, put the confit in a pan on a low heat. The fat slowly turns clear, glistening and sizzling. After a few minutes the confit will warm through and fall off the bone. Take this out of the pan and slice the meat completely off the bone and lay it over the lettuce. Dress with simple vinaigrette immediately before serving.
The lettuce pictured here is a sturdy selection of small greens the local grower calls "confetti." The name matches the feelings of those who eat it I think, the celebratory feeling of lettuce season arriving makes me want to have a confetti parade.
When you make this with a lettuce that has strength and structure, like a butter lettuce, escarole, or even a young chicory, you can pour some of the fat off the pan onto the lettuce to wilt it slightly, then splash a little vinegar and salt and pepper and eat immediately.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Spring Pesto

How gorgeous is this. We had it on lamb chops the first evening. Mixed into scrambled eggs in the morning. Over pasta the second evening, pictured here. And slathered on fresh bread the next morning. Pesto is surprisingly good with a cup of black coffee for breakfast. But that might just mean it is always good, on everything, morning, noon and night. We need to make another batch.

chives (and their flowers) or young garlic greens finely slivered (you can add some minced young garlic bulb too!)
orange mint finely minced
orange thyme leaves
parsley finely minced
salt and pepper to taste
bit of lemon zest and a squeeze or two of lemon juice
a salted anchovy fillet chopped into paste, if you like
olive oil

the proportions are to taste. mix all with enough olive oil to make a good paste. eat it on everything!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fried Sardine Birthday Dinner

Sweet, sweet birthdays. Even if I am not always excited about the age I am turning, which happens sometimes, I am always excited to have a birthday party. I may love throwing birthdays for other people even more than having my own. Each of the girls' first birthdays had about as much planning as a royal wedding. No detail is too small to mull and consider.
My favorite parties are the ones I've thrown with my sister. We can obsess over everything with both seriousness and enthusiasm. What paper flower garlands to get from the forty or so choices lining the wall at Pearl River in Chinatown, we can discuss the merits and pros and cons of each for hours. There is fun in the details: for the party planner the party lasts days, weeks.
Serena is also really good at sorting out what kind of cake suits the birthday person, the season, the location. She can also figure out how to make anything, which continues to impress me. As the recipient of her thoughtful, beautifully decorated cakes, you feel the world stop for a moment, and smile upon you.
Then there are presents. Over time one of our favorite gifts to give and receive is a special meal. One of the last we shared with my mom and sister was Serena's birthday, she wanted fried chicken, and she got it. This year for Craig's birthday, he wanted sardines, fried sardines. He wanted to make them, so one of my quiet presents to him was to not complain, not one utterance, about the smell.
Craig wanted a quiet dinner this year, and respecting the wishes of the birthday person a critical point in being a good party participant. But, I did wish for more family at the table that night, mom and Serena among them. I wished there were a few more people to enjoy this fresh, rich, tiny fried fish. I wanted more people besides spoiled me and our spoiled girls to savor and celebrate the beauty Craig's life brings ours, everyday.

Mayo for fried sardines

Finely chop some fresh chives w/flowers. Finely chop about a tablespoon of rinsed, salt packed capers. Finely mince a tiny bit of fresh fennel fronds. Add all to a small bowl of mayonnaise. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and mix.

Fried Sardines

Clean and fillet some sardines. Lightly salt the fillets and let rest. Add a dash of salt, some ground black pepper and some finely minced fresh rosemary to a bowl of corn meal or flour. Mix, then dredge the sardines. Shake off excess. Fry in a mix of olive oil and grape seed oil until golden and the skin begins to blister. Sprinkle a tiny bit of sea salt on top. Serve with mayo and more lemon juice, if you like.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Srping Lamb and Fiddleheads

Rack of lamb inspires in me a feeling of gratitude. Maybe because it is usually a special occasion meal, or maybe it is the fact of the bones. The little bones curving up, evidence that this was an alive animal, with a tender rib cage. Either way, this particular spring feast was just because. Just because it was a beautiful day, because Grandma was coming over for dinner, because Donn and Maryrose of Northland Sheep Dairy have such exquisite lamb, and because there was another spring treat besides lamb: baby fiddlehead ferns.
Coral likes to hold her little bone and eat it like a lamb lolly pop. Before long, the girls have fat shining off their chins. Such a little bit of meat, each rib just a few mouth fulls, but it satisfies deeply. The layer of fat, the sweet aroma of grassfed animal protein, it is so nourishing that a little goes a long way. One rack is enough for the five of us.
Greasy fingered and smiling, the talk at the table is of summer. All our plans, our hopes, all the things we are looking forward to. We grip our wine glasses and toast again and again to all that we have recently accomplished. To Colby getting over pneumonia. To Coral learning to pump her legs on the swing. To Craig home from another trip. To Grandma soon to celebrate her 80th. To me, to me for not folding the clothes when I could write, and writing. And another toast, just because, we are so happy at this table together, and we are so grateful for the love and for the joy.

Rack of Lamb:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Take the lamb out of the fridge a few hours before cooking. French the bones (if not done already) and score fat with a sharp knife. Rub salt and pepper into the lamb.
Finely dice a few ramp bulbs (or garlic), a few fresh mint leaves and some rosemary. Put into a mortar, add a tiny bit of sea salt and grind into a paste. Add a few salt packed anchovies (rinsed and filleted), some olive oil and continue blending. When done, rub the paste into the lamb.
Put the lamb into a large cast iron skillet or a roasting pan fatty side up and cook until nicely browned and the lamb is rare. about 25 minutes or so.

Fiddlehead and Ramp saute:
Clean a pint of fiddleheads. Trim off tougher ends. Blanch for about a minute or two then plunge into ice water. Drain and reserve. Clean some (to taste) ramps. Finely dice the white part. Cut the leaves cross ways into very fine ribbons. A handful of chives finely chopped.
In olive oil and a over low heat, cook the ramp whites until softened. Add a tiny bit of sea salt and black pepper. Turn up heat to medium, add fiddleheads and saute until just tender. Toss in shredded ramp greens. Remove from heat and add chives. Serve immediately.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Pickled Ramps on Toast

Things happen all the time to affirm my love for where we live. Being given a jar of pickled ramps by Colby's speech therapist at school was one such moment. The gift filled me with a strong sense of place and community: place because the ramps are a wild harvested plant, seasonal and from the forest floor; and community because this teacher we love and respect is thinking of us beyond the scope of her daily, intelligent work with our precious daughter. I mean, that is pretty awesome. And, I really love ramps, and I really, really love pickled everything.
Craig set them on the counter and we contemplated. First we tasted one straight from the jar, and then we started ruminating. I suggested, more feverishly than lazily, that we could just eat them straight from the jar with an occasional sip of freezing cold white wine while we stared at the blue sky and absorbed the feeling of spring.
Craig took a quieter, longer approach, screwed the lid on tight and shooed me away from the jar. I waited and shouted ideas into the kitchen while playing with the kids. A few in a bowl of ramen. Adorning a plate of grilled hangar steak. A palate cleanser with some fried fish.
Then Craig brought to the table this lovely plate, this sun dial that reads spring. The very necessary, ever present salt packed anchovies. Butter. Pickled ramps. We had fresh ramps so he sliced thin the slender leaves and sprinkled them over the plate. And the bread, the bread, lightly toasted here, is another recent local marvel, Wide Awake Bakery. Crisp, watery radishes are beautifully refreshing with the salty pickles and anchovies. Fresh, easy spring recipes are finally upon us!

Pickled Ramps:

Fresh ramps, cleaned carefully, bulbs and stems separated from the leaves (use the leaves to make a pesto or saute with other veggies.)

Make the brine:
Bring 1 C white wine vinegar, 1 C water, scant 1/2 C sugar to a boil and boil until sugar dissolves.

Blanch ramp bulbs and stems for 15 seconds in boiling water and then plunge them in
an ice water bath until cool. Dry on a towel.

Sterilize small jars and lids and rims as you do for pickles.

To each clean jar add:

1 fresh bay leaf
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
a pinch of red pepper flakes

Fill the jar with the blanched ramps. Fill with pickling liquid. Clean rims and lid them. Put them in the canner (boil with jars submerged) for 10 minutes.