Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Grilled Bread Broccoli Rabe and Summer Squash Salad

Can I confess: I don't particularly care for salad. I find lettuces, for the most part, boring. I get tired of carrots and radishes and cucumbers. I just don't think I would do well on a raw diet. So I was delighted when I received this latest cookbook from Food 52 because I am always looking for ways to up my salad game.

And so I begin my foray into Mighty Salads with a fantastic grilled bread salad chock-full of grilled veggies and spectacular dressing made from the mayonnaise marinade. Yes, you heard me right. Mayonnaise marinade. Okay, maybe this salad is not the healthy-eating alternative I was longing for, as we kick off summer. But I still consumed about 729% more vegetables in this salad alone than I did the entire month of May. It's summer, and lordy, people, I have got to get this diet back to salads and soups and smoothies and healthy eating. Because lately it's been cheetos and chocolate. And this is just the cookbook to do it.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of the salad, let's talk about the book, since it is a new acquisition. Gorgeous, slightly moody photography from James Ransom. Spectacular color choice for the introduction pages (I am a sucker these days for gray/green). Sixty recipes. Clever organization (Leafy Salads, Less Leafy Vegetable Salads (my section), Grain and Bean Salads, Pasta and Bread Salads, Fish and Seafood Salads). Yep. I am sold. It's looks like it's salad season for me.

From Fresh Corn Cakes with Crab-Tomato Salad, Farro and Golden Beet Salad with Chive-Sage Dressing, Steak and Tossed Salsa Verde Salad, to even Radiccio and Caulifloer with Currant-Anchovy Vinaigrette (see even one with leafy greens), I am excited about digging in, fork first.

So I did with Grilled Bread Broccoli Rabe and Summer Squash Salad. As I said, the mayonnaise marinade is a miracle. It means you need no dressing for the salad once the broccoli rabe (or in my case, baby broccoli) and the zucchini come hot off the grill. Just toss with the grilled bread, the pine nuts and the fresh herbs. May I recommend a fizzy little white wine with this? A hot June day? And a backyard? Because that's how we did it, and it was not a wasted afternoon, I promise you. 

Now I just need to crack the spine to peruse the Leafy Salads section. Maybe I'll come around.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.


Grilled Bread, Broccoli Rabe, and Summer Squash Salad

Adapted from Food 52's Mighty Salads

Serves 4

1 cup full-fat mayonnaise
½ cup olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, mashed
1 Tbsp Kosher salt
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
1 tsp Aleppo pepper or ½ tsp red pepper flakes

1 tsp Spanish smoked paprika
1 large bunch broccoli rabe or young broccoli
3 summer squash, cut into rounds (I did long slivers and survived)
¼ cup olive oil
4 thick slices of crusty bread, such as ciabatta or sourdough
salt and pepper
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
handful each of torn basil and mint
Freshly squeezed lemon juice for drizzling

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, cumin seeds, Aleppo pepper, and paprika until smooth and fully integrated and emulsified.

2. Trim the broccoli rabe stalks. Cut any stalks that are more than ½-inch thick lengthwise. Add the broccoli rabe and summer squash to the marinade and toss to coat. Let marinate at room temperature for about 30 minutes, tossing occasionally.

3.  Heat the grill to medium. Brush clean grates with olive oil. Working in batches if necessary, arrange the broccoli rabe and squash in a single layer on the grill. Grill until they are tender and blistered in some spots--a few minutes per side. Transfer the vegetables to a baking sheet and spread in a single layer.

4. Evenly coat both sides of each bread slice with the olive oi Season with salt and pepper. Grill the bread, checking it frequesntly, until charred in spots but soft in the center, a few minutes per side. Move to the edges of the grill if they are charring too quickly. Let cool, and then cut into ½-inch cubes.

5.  Place the bread cubes, broccoli rabe, and summer squash on a large serving platter. Scatter the nuts, basil, and mint. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Banana-Pecan Bread in Round House // Cook Your Books

In this Cook Your Books series, I have chosen 15 books to read in 2017 based on somewhat arbitrarily chosen categories. My theory (bogus it might turn out to be) is that all 15 of these books will somehow connect to food. And I plan to write about that food.  And it turns out that these entries are a sort of long-form blog-post. So settle in. This fifth installment is National Book Award winner.

In a world going increasingly mad, reading seems to be an increasingly political act to me. And so it is with the inimitable Louise Erdrich, who has always been a political writer. Such is no more evident than in her National Book Award winning novel Round House.

The book opens with 13-year-old Joe Coutts digging out tiny trees whose roots have attacked his parents' house at the foundation--a laborious activity he engages in with his father. In perhaps a beleaguered metaphor, within pages we learn that Joe wants to root out the mystery of who has damaged the very foundation of his family--someone who has raped his mother (and murdered another woman). Erdrich, herself, wishes to root out injustice through this book, particularly the injustices done against women, against America's indigenous peoples, and against those without power, money, or prestige. And so she takes it all on in this coming-of-age book filled with scatological humor, with the sexual grotesqueness of just-barely teen boys with surging hormones, with ghosts and legends, and with intricate laws surrounding jurisdiction on and near a reservation, particularly if the perpetrator of a crime is Indian or non-Indian. 

Such is the overarching narrative of this ambitious book.  And I have to tell you, there is so much food in this book. It's everywhere. There are hot dogs roasted over the fire at the sweat lodge (36), pickle and peanut butter sandwiches (63), fry bread (70), a bag of potato salad (98), hamburger soup (111), maple ice cream (122), raspberry jam (150), baked chicken (151), and cornflakes (162). That's all followed by oatmeal cookies (164), beer-battered walleye (165), fried venison with mustard and onions (178), white sheet cake with whiskey-laced sugar frosting (206), cold meatloaf sandwiches (215), bowls of fresh peas (240), fried shrimp (265), and fried egg sandwiches with horseradish mayonnaise (296). And that's just some of the pages I dog-eared (my very organized method of marking pages that mention food).  

So you see, definitely, there was not a shortage of food. But, I wanted to choose something that had some weight--something that mattered to the book, because as we have established in Fun Home, characters eat. Sometimes in meaningless ways. 

However, there were some pretty meaningful moments with food in this book. For example, there is a funny and sweet 
manipulation from Bazil Coutts (Joe's father), as his father tries to rouse his wife, Geraldine from bed and back into the world of the living after the trauma of her rape. He makes a terrible stew of "sour turnips and canned tomatoes, beets, and corn scorched garlic, unknown meat and an onion gone bad" (35).  Bazil announces that "very little is needed to make a happy life" and Geraldine frowns and gamely attempts to eat this offering. She concludes that "she should start cooking again" (35).

Which she does until Bazil startles her a mere seven pages later and she drops a far more edible casserole onto the floor (42-3). From that moment, she steps "over the mess on the floor and walk[s] carefully away" (43).  What results is the "frozen suspension of feeling" of deep depression that consumes her for a good chunk of the book.  

Joe spends his time trying to heal his mother by finding her rapist and trying to bring him to justice. It is not until much later when she declares to her son that the now identified murderer and rapist is "trying to eat us, Joe. I won't let him, she said. I will be the one to stop him" (248). Instead of being eaten, of being consumed--by grief, by the perpetrator, by incomprehensible and unjust laws--she declares that she will do the consuming.

However, it doesn't turn out quite that way.  Instead, it is Joe who must do the consuming. In part because he is younger and will receive a lighter sentence than his mother if he is caught meting out justice. In part because he is 13 and has an adolescent's grasp on how justice should be enacted. In part because Erdrich is making a point about a failed federal legal system that hobbles tribal lands from bringing justice through proper means and that leaves a tragic and vigilante justice in the hands of a 13 year old.

Which brings us to the banana bread.

This is going to take some background, so bear with me. Bazil, a tribal judge, had once heard a case of Linda Wishcob, a white woman who was abandoned as a child due to birth defects and who was subsequently adopted as a baby into the Wishcob family on the reservation. Now grown, Linda works at the reservation post office.

Linda visits the Coutts house, wanting to pay her respects to Geraldine and to bring whatever healing she can to Geraldine. She brings what she can do best--banana bread: Joe narrates, "She had a little package in her hands, probably some of her banana bread--she bought black bananas and was known for her bread" (113). While she's visiting Geraldine, Bazil wants Joe to "trap Linda" and pump her for information about her twin brother, Linden Lark, a shady character if ever there was one.  

Joe begins by complimenting her bread, and she reveals she uses "real cinnamon" that she buys in "jars not cans. From the foreign food section down in Hornbacher's, Fargo. Not the stuff you get here. Sometimes I use a little lemon zest or orange peel" (114). Joe butters her up by telling her that he has previously stolen slices of her banana bread for breakfast from his parents because they have been "hogging it all" and Linda, whom Joe at one point described as "a drenched hobbit" (113), gobbles up the attention. She promises to bring two loaves next time she visits. Joe pounces and draws her story out of her.  But he realizes that "I really did like the banana bread, and that I was surprised I had, because the truth was usually I hated banana bread. What I mean is suddenly I forgot my father and really started talking to Linda. I went past pop eyes and sinister porcupine hands and wispy hair and just saw Linda, and wanted to know about her, which is probably why she told me" (114-5).

And her story is hard. Born second to a fully formed boy, she "slid out half dead" with a crumpled head, arm, and leg. Her mother, wanting only one of the twins, allows Linda to be adopted in to the reservation by the Wishcobs. Her new parents shape her and stretch her and celebrate her, telling her that her "soft spot stayed open longer than most babies. That's how spirits get in" (116) and she comes to view herself as beautiful, even if others tell her she is "so ugly she is cute" (117). Years later, after her Indian parents die and her brothers and sisters have either moved off the reservation or closer to town, her birth mother tracks Linda down to ask her to be a kidney donor to her twin brother, Linden Lark. She does, and he mistreats her, laughing at her, insulting her, calling her "disgusting" (125). It is then Linda realizes who her real family is--her family on the reservation, who includes the extended healing powers of Geraldine and other community members who "got [her] on [her] feet again" (127).

So that initial banana bread exchange certainly is a way to bring healing or at least community and connection to Geraldine, but it also allows us to glimpse into the life of a woman who was meant to be dead from the first moments of her life. However the kindness of the delivery room nurse rescues her. Linda is this unassuming woman with physical disabilities. She was not meant to live. She is monstrously objectified and derided by Joe, laughed at by her own brother, used by her birth mother to save the chosen twin. Yet there she is, making bread, offering it to Geraldine in a moment of connection, despite anyone else's manipulation of her. And the bread is good, despite whatever preconceived notions one has about banana bread or about her. 

Fast forward to much later in the book, Joe has been learning to shoot a gun with his best friend Cappy. He brings a bag of bananas to Linda at the post office. He had kept them in his room, tending them closely so that they "were soft and spotted but not black" (261). When he gives them to her, "she took the bag with her chubby little paws, and when she opened it her whole face glowed as though I'd given her something precious" (262). His derision is still palpable, even though he has grown up considerably in the 140 pages since our last encounter with banana bread. Linda asks if they are from Geraldine, but Joe corrects her, saying they are from him. She flushes "with pleasure and wonder" (262) and promises him a loaf of bread. Again, he's manipulating her, playing to her desire to be loved, accepted, and all Joe wants is to pump her for more information about her twin brother. But Linda sees the bananas as something more. Humble, decaying, these bananas are the fruits you might throw out as rotten, unwanted. But Linda knows how to transform them into something desirable (precious even), despite anyone else's intentions (manipulation, etc). 

The next day, she comes out to the Coutts house and gives Joe "the familiar foil brick" of the banana bread (262); she hands another off to his father. Linda settles in to talk about the weather with Bazil as Geraldine, now no longer bed ridden, makes tea to go with the banana bread. Joe is ever patient, and he pretends to fall asleep as Bazil and Linda discuss the intricacies of rain and hail and all of their nuances (admittedly, it does sound like a snooze-inducing conversation); he imagines he will rouse and then ask more questions about her estranged twin brother and his golfing habits (important plot detail). However, his ploy backfires; he really does fall asleep, and his mother wakes him an hour later and Linda is gone. Instead of feeling disappointed in not learning more from Linda, he feels  "the childhood sensation of [his mother's] hand stroking his ankle" and hears his mother's voice and he is "flooded ... with peace" (263). This banana bread inadvertently brings his own mother back to him, and it brings back the moment when "I allowed my consciousness to sink to an even younger hiding place where nothing could touch me" (263).  Try to manipulate Linda all you want. She just brings the safety and comfort of warm banana bread. Again and again.

And then later again, after justice has been meted out against his mother's rapist, Joe goes to visit Linda, this time at her home. He has questions, and again he's using Linda, pumping her for information about the rifle he has hidden beneath her front porch and about any knowledge of her brother's death. And what we learn is that Linda, the only women who has not been sexualized in this book (although she has certainly been objectified due to her physical disabilities), knows everything she needs to know about Joe: that he has protected his mother so that she can "pick bush beans all day and nobody [would] bother her" and "give her colander a shake" to settle her freshly picked beans and do so without fear (294). Linda knows that Joe has done what he has needed to do, even if he does not fully understand why. 

But Linda does understand why. She understands much more than she has ever let on, and more than a 13-year-old boy can understand. Instead of returning the rifle in question to him, she has already dismantled it and spread it across the Plains states on a road trip from Georgia to North Dakota. She hands him a last brick of banana bread, and she also gives him the final screw to the rifle, asking Joe to give it to his mother. Linda knows that this final screw is the freedom from something sinister, if even only for a moment. And as he bikes home with the banana bread tucked into his armpit, he throws the screw into the ditch. He doesn't give his mother the pleasure of throwing out the screw or saving it in her jewelry box or burying it (as Linda suggests). But Linda and Joe have given his mother the freedom of a tenuous security in a country that sexualizes and victimizes women and denies rights to the marginalized citizens of this North Dakota reservation. This is justice, yes, but a hard-fought and shaky one at best.

So the banana bread: Joe has all these ideas that he's manipulating Linda through the banana bread, but it turns out that she has other, more powerful ideas. Ideas that go well beyond this manipulation. Ideas of connection, and true community. And not to get too pat--because the ending of this book is not pretty. (As if I need a spoiler alert here, given that I have pretty much given away most of the plot of this book): We have justice delivered by the hands of adolescents in a country that cannot deliver it by more formal means. But we also have a family whose bonds transcends that of blood (in the case of Linda) and that of violence (in the case of Joe). 

This is no feel-good book. But it does delineate who are closest communities are. And it delivers it in the form of food, particularly banana bread. 


Banana-Pecan Bread

"She was so happy we liked the banana bread that I thought maybe Dad wouldn't need me to get her to talk, but he said, Wasn't it good, Joe? And then I said how I'd eaten it for breakfast and how I'd even stolen a piece because Mom and Dad were hogging it all" (The Round House 114).

Adapted from Blue Chair Cooks with Jam and Marmalade by Rachel Saunders

Not going to lie: this is a pretty fancy banana bread, complete with orange marmalade, slow-roasted pecans, and plump golden raisins. But I am not a huge banana bread fan, and I wanted to try this recipe anyway. So here we are. There are other great and more traditional banana breads out there (try here and here and here). But this is a spectacular banana bread when you need something a little special and unexpected slice with a cup of tea or coffee in the morning. You might be accused of hogging it all.

1 5x9 inch loaf


2½-3 medium overripe bananas
½ cup citrus marmalade (I used a pretty typical orange marmalade)
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp kosher salt
Large pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup golden raisins
1 cup very finely chopped baked or roasted pecans*
10 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
⅓ cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350℉. Butter a 9 X 5-inch loaf pan and line with parchment paper. 

2.  In a small bowl, mash the bananas with a fork and stir in the marmalade. Set aside.

3.  In a medium bowl, whisk both flours, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. Stir in the raisins and pecans. Set aside.

4.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with a mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition. On the lowest speed, beat in the banana mixture and then then flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

5.  Bake until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool the bread in its pan on a wire rack before slicing and serving.

*Saunders recommends slow baking your pecans (about 1 pound) for an hour in a low-heat oven of 225℉.  Spread the pecans on a baking sheet, dot them with 4 Tablespoons of butter and bake away. Then add a generous pinch of salt. You can also roast them quickly in a dry pan, but I have to say, if you have the time slow bake the pecans the night before. You won't regret it.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Cherries in Red Wine Syrup

It's cherry season!  That short window of spring that begs you to buy as many cherries as you can, spend an afternoon sitting on the back deck pitting them, and then eating them as many ways as possible. Mostly straight from the bowl.

But here's one way to preserve your cherries so you can savor them come December, if necessary. (But we both know you're not going to make it to December with these jars of cherries. We will all be lucky if we can make it to July with any jars left.)

In the latest entry in Marisa McClellan's Mastery Challenge, I give you McClellan's own Bing Cherries in Red Wine Syrup. Or at least my version of it. 

(This mastery challenge has been great fun, and this month is cold pack preserving.  Admittedly, lately, it has been hard to keep up, but I believe this is mostly a function of the end of the school year.  Be prepared for summer, people!

Right. Cold-pack canning.  It's relatively simple.  Take some raw fruit or veggie and stuff it into a jar. Cover it in hot liquid high in acid or sugar. Can. Set. Repeat.  Want to learn more about why you should start cold pack preserving? See here.)

Reminiscent of sangria, this syrup is sweet and warm and floral--and while I often think of sangria as a summertime drink, if you can make it to the winter with these jars, these cherries beg to be brought out for the holidays. There's a aromatic, deep, and almost wintry quality to these fruits once you soak them in wine and oodles of vanilla. I want a fire. Perhaps some twinkling lights. And maybe some evergreen boughs.

No matter the time of year, the cherries and a little of their syrup is perfect for topping over ice cream or pound cake. But the syrup also works like a charm in a glass of sparkling water. Or drop a singular cherry into an Old-fashioned or a Manhattan. Or play around with a Mojito until you have created your own singular cereza mojito. I suspect you will not be able to go wrong with these.

I sent two jars (along with one jar of these preserved lemons) up the coast with a foodie friend of ours from Seattle who is currently engaged in a road trip with the husband to see one of their favorite late-80s, early-90s band. That means I still have four jars left. I guess that will get me to June.


Cherries in Red Wine Syrup

Adapted from Marisa McClellans's Food in Jars

Makes about 4 pints


2 cups red wine (any relatively inexpensive but drinkable red wine will do).
1½ cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and the seeds scraped
zest of 1 lemon
4 pounds of cherries, pitted (I used both Bing and Rainier)

1. Prepare a water bath and 4 regular-mouth 1-pint jars and their lids (see below). 

2.  In a medium saucepan, combine the red wine, 1 cup of water, the sugar, the vanilla bean and its seeds, and lemon zest. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the vanilla bean.

3.  Pack the pitted cherries tightly into the prepared jars and pour the hot syrup over the top, leaving ½ inch of headspace. Gently tap the jars on a towel-lined countertop and use a chopstick to pop any air bubbles. 

4.  Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 25 minutes (see below).

To Sterilize the Jars:
1.  If you're starting with brand new jars, remove the lids and rings; if you're using older jars, check the rims to ensure there are no chips or cracks.

2.  Put the lids in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring them to a simmer on the back of the stove.

3.  Using a canning rack, lower the jars into a large pot filled with enough water to cover the jars generously. Bring the water to a boil.

4.  While the water in the canning pot comes to a boil, prepare the cherries and wine (or whatever product you are making).

5.  When the recipe is complete, remove the jars from the canning pot (pouring the water back into the pot as you remove the jars).  Set them on a clean towel on the counter.  Remove the lids and set them on the clean towel.

To Seal the Jars:
1.  Carefully fill the jars with the cherries (or any other product). Leave about ½-inch headspace (the room between the surface of the product and the top of the jar).

2.  Wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, damp paper towel.

3.  Apply the lids and screw the bands on the jars to hold the lids down during processing. Tighten the bands with the tips of  your fingers so that they are not overly tight.

4.  Carefully lower the filled jars into the canning pot and return the water to a boil.

5.  Once the water is at a rolling boil, start your timer. The length of processing time varies for each recipe; for the cherries, cook for 25 minutes at a rolling boil.

6.  When the timer goes off, remove the jars from the water. Place them back on the towel-lined counter top, and allow them to cool. The jar lids should "ping" soon after they've been removed from the pot (the pinging is the sound of the vacuum seals forming by sucking the lid down).

7.  After the jars have cooled for 24 hours, you can remove the bands and check the seals by grasping the edges of the jar and lifting the jar about an inch or two off the countertop. The lid should hold in place.

8. Store the jars with good seals in a cool, dark place. And jars with bad seals can still be used, just do so within two weeks and with refrigeration.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Candied Lemon Peel with Thyme

My husband's paternal grandfather was a huge fan of candied citrus peel, especially if it was dipped in dark chocolate. In fact, I believe he had an aching sweet tooth, given that he owned a sweets shop on Coney Island in the mid-20th century. Funny, though: the husband never developed a sweet tooth. Lucky for him (and his waist). 

I, on the other hand, love sugar. 

Especially if it is sugar paired with something tart and something savory. Enter in Candied Lemon Peel with Thyme.

Making candied citrus peel is a great way to use the rest of the lemon or orange or lime or grapefruit after you have squeezed or juiced or suprêmed the fruit. 

In my fantasy kitchen, nothing goes to waste (in my reality kitchen, I often throw out the peels). 

Pairing your candied peel with something savory--thyme, basil, even lavender--boosts this classic to a new level. Which is just what you need for garnishing cakes, cupcakes, ice cream with addictive blasts of pure citrus flavor

Or just for plain snacking. 

Which, I will admit, I did with the remainders from dressing up this cake. And I don't regret it. 


Candied Lemon Peel with Thyme

Adapted from Valerie Aikman-Smith and Victoria Pearson's Citrus: Sweet and Savory Sun-Kissed Recipes

Makes about 1 cup


3 Meyer lemons
3 cups sugar, plus more to coat
3 cups water
½ tsp baking soda
3 sprigs of thyme

1. Wash and dry the Meyer lemons, and cut into ¼-inch pieces of slices ¼ inch thick.

2. Bring a saucepan filled with water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the peel, reduce the heat to low, and gently simmer for 45 minutes.

3. Drain the peel and set aside. In the same saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn the heat to medium and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved completely.

4. Add the baking soda and stir well. Add the reserved fruit, adjust the heat so the sugar is barely simmering, and cook for 45 minutes, until the fruit is translucent.

5. Have a wire rack set over a sheet of parchment paper. Using  a slotted spoon, remove the fruit from the pan, shaking off any excess syrup, and spread it on a single layer on the rack. Let the peel dry at room temperature overnight.  The next day, spread some sugar and the thyme leaves on a sheet pan or shallow bowl and roll the peel in the sugar to coat. Store the eel in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 months. 

Admittedly, I did not put these in a single layer.  This I came to regret.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Duck Confit

Many years ago, the husband made duck confit for cassoulet, and lordy, did my life become filled with questions. Why wasn't there more duck in it? Could we make duck confit? Where can one buy duck confit? How could we use duck confit? Is it wrong that I want to eat duck confit everyday?  I don't have answers, but I can at least show you how to make duck confit.

Confit of anything (garlic, onions, chicken wings) is simply slowly cooking said anything in fat. Wait a minute... that sounds like frying. Well, close. It's the temperature thing that sets this apart from frying, and because you do this at such a low temperature, it means you're doing this for a long time, in hopes of producing a food that will keep for a long time. Which is not surprising, since the word confit comes from the French confire, which simply means to preserve. (Want to learn more?  Don't hesitate to turn to food genius, Kenji Lopez-Alt.) 

If you use Ithai Schori and Chris Taylor's simple recipe from their delightful book Twenty Dinners, duck confit is truly easy. It is an investment, yes, of about three hours. But the active time with this recipe is quite short, and what you get in the end is succulent, luxurious duck preserved in fat.  

Sure, procuring duck fat within which you submerge the duck legs can be expensive and tricky. However, rest assured, you can do this all in olive oil or some combination of duck fat and olive oil if you so desire. And afterwards, you have the most amazing fat. Seriously, saute any potato in duck fat and you'll wonder why you ate potatoes any other way.

I recommend making four legs, rather than two, so that you have some to use right away (for example, in Schori and Taylor's delightful Duck Confit and Tagliatelle recipe) and then have some to use later. In all kinds of dishes.

Do you need some examples of what to do with duck confit, rather than warm a little of it and eat it with a fork? Here you go:

Uh-oh.  Looks like we better make more than four legs. Surely then we will be able to come up with more answers to life's duck-confit-related questions, right?


Duck Confit 

Adapted from Ithai Schori and Chris Taylor's Twenty Dinners

Makes 2 duck legs, but you'll want to double this for leftovers. Trust me.

2 duck legs
2 quarts duck fat, or as much as you can get and supplement with olive oil
4 sprigs fresh thyme
¼ head of garlic
1 bay leaf
small handful of whole black peppercorns

1. Preheat the oven to 225°F. 

2.  In a shallow sauté pan, season the duck legs all over with salt an cover completely with duck fat and olive oil until they are fully submerged. If your duck fat is congealed solid when it comes out of the fridge, heat it gently in a pan to melt it before adding to the legs. Add the thyme, garlic, bay leaf, and peppercorns.

3.  Loosely cover the pan with foil and put it in the oven. Cook until the meat is falling-off-the-bone tender, about 2½-3 hours. Remove and let cool.

4.  Pull the meat off the bone and use now, or if you want to save some of the duck for another time, strain the fat while still warm (not hot) through a sieve to remove the aromatics, then store the duck submerged in the fat in the fridge. It will keep for at least a few months this way. When you're ready to serve, reheat it as slowly and at as low a temperature as possible to avoid cooking the duck further.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Celery Shrub

Can we talk about shrubs for a little while? No, not the vegetation in your front yard. I want to talk about drinking vinegars. Wait. Don't go. They're really quite good.

So, March was Shrubs month over at the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge. And due to our move across town(s), I have been a bit behind on posting. However, I want to be very clear--these shrubs quenched a good deal of thirst this spring, as I packed boxes, threw out clothes, and cursed the sheer amount of books I have accumulated in my 20-year teaching career.  (Seriously, how many copies of Heart of Darkness does a person need...? Don't answer that.)  Shrubs have been a fixture in our home these past two months.

A shrub is an old-fashioned drink that is making a heady comeback, in part because of mustachioed barkeeps who are looking for new (old) things to stir into their fancy drinks. Lucky for all of us. 

Shrubs originated as a frugal way to ensure you didn't have to throw out your turned wine or as a way to sterilize potentially suspect water. In fact, Roman soldiers would drink posca (a mixture of sour wine and herbs) daily in order to stave off scurvy and to stay hydrated. 

Fast forward a millennium, and shrub shows up as a medicinal drink, intended to help you gulp back what will cure you. By the 17th century, shrubs boasted being a spectacular way to preserve some fruit (or even vegetables) in acid, and thus prolong the life of one's agrarian labor. And many an adventurer would blend a syrup of citrus and sugar with a little rum or brandy: the perfect recipe for a seafaring chanty. By the time shrubs settled down in the American colonies, Martha Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson could be caught tippling from the vinegar barrel as long as it could be mixed in with a little hooch. However, by the time Prohibition came around, the teetotaler could go back to mixing fruit solely with vinegar for a sour kick to one's carbonated beverage. 

But sadly, enter refrigeration post Prohibition and exit the shrub. Until recently, that is.

Nowadays, you cannot enter a hipster bar without walking smack into some sort of shrub-based drink on the menu. Splash a little shrub with some prosecco or top off a whiskey drink, and you've got yourself something nuanced, complex, sweet, sour, and sometimes unidentifiable. In the good way. But I promise you that there are other ways to utilize a shrub. Shake it up with some olive oil and salt for a spectacular salad dressing, swirl it into your lemonade for a pucker-punching drink, or use as part of a marinade.

And shrubs are easy to make and they are wickedly forgiving. According to Michael Dietsch, whose shrub book I snapped up for guidance, "You can fly by the seat of your pants while making shrubs and still have something delicious to sip." My kind of recipe. 

So, I made some shrubs this March and again in April, including a celery one. At first I was skeptical, too, but Dietsch promised it would taste somewhat reminiscent of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray, a drink I never had, but one the husband says he could get on hot summer days down at the Tastee-Freeze in Kansas. Originally a tonic meant to soothe the stomach and calm the nerves, Cel-Ray is the drink of choice with a hot pastrami sandwich from any Brooklyn delicatessen. I love pastrami, calm nerves, and Midwestern nostalgia, so I was sold. Gratefully so.

This is a blast of zingy, botanical, savory freshness; it's the perfect thirst quencher when mixed with a little sparkling water. But don't shy away from splashing a little into your next Bloody Mary, or even atop a refreshing gin and tonic. Or do as I did: gin, shrub, and sparkling water. 

See, suddenly drinking vinegar doesn't sound so bad after all.


Celery Shrub

Adapted from Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times

Makes about 2 cups

1 pound celery, leaves still attached
1 cup sugar
1 cup apple cider vinegar

1.  Wash the celery, scrubbing with a vegetable brush if necessary.  Rough cut into 1-inch pieces.

2.  Add the celery to the blender and cover with ½ cup of water (or so.  This is a forgiving recipe.)

3.  Start the blender on low, and as the celery starts to get chopped up, turn up the speed. If, after about 30 seconds, the mixture is still quite thick, add some more water.

4. Place a fine-mesh stainer over a bowl. Pour the celery mixture through the strainer. Press the celery puree to squeeze even more juice into the bowl. (This makes for a cloudier shrub, but simply shake it before you use it.)

5.  Pour the celery juice into a jar. Add sugar and cider vinegar. Cap the jar and shake to combine. Refrigerate, shaking well every other day or so in order to dissolve the sugar (if there is still some left and you don't drink it all!).