7.01.2015

ENGLISH MINT SAUCE // the local food report

Good morning. Although it is 9:38am, Sally and I are in bed and it is pitch black outside. Thunder! Lightening! None of it seems to bother Nora, who's napped through the whole thing. But it has put a damper on my plans to make you fresh mint sauce, in an effort to get some pictures for you. The kitchen is pitch black, and picking the mint means venturing outside. Here's a photo of a nice day in Helen Miranda's mint patch instead:


Helen is the reason we're talking about mint in the first place. She grows five varieties: plain old mint, spearmint, peppermint, orange mint, and lemon balm or balm mint, also known as Melissa. She used to have a fuzzy invasive mint, too, but she's weeded that out, and she also grows catnip (for fun for cats) and hyssop, for chest colds. 

One day this spring she showed me around her garden, and talked me through what she likes to do with each of her mints. Orange = smoothies. Melissa is good for tea and salads. Plain old mint she says you'd use for mint juleps, and she also likes it in salads. Peppermint is tea too, and maybe ice cream. Spearmint she dries for middle eastern dishes, and also uses for a fresh mint sauce and mint jelly. 

Bah, I thought when she first told me about mint jelly. Not my thing. So sweet! So fake green. But of course Helen doesn't make it that way. She does something really cool. She makes apple jelly, which means the sweetness and pectin comes from real fruit. Then she adds mint at the very end, just for flavor. In her words:

"Mint jelly, two ways.

1) Make mint tea with lots of leaves, no stems, as usual. Don't let it sit too long. 10 minutes max... it can get dark and bitter. Strain out leaves. Add apple jelly, made beforehand, until it melts.

2) Make apple jelly as usual. At the stage where the slices of apple have simmered and become soft.

I add a LOT of whole mint leaves (again, no stems) and let them sit in the liquid for about 20 minutes, no heat. I like to use organic apples so that the skin can be included which gives it a nice rosy tinge, if the skin is red."


As for the fresh mint sauce, it's simple. Helen uses good red wine vinegar, sugar, and finely chopped fresh mint leaves. She lets the mixture sit for about an hour before it's time to eat (preferably, lamb). She told me to check the Joy of Cooking for the recipe, so here it is, a little more officially. 

ENGLISH FRESH MINT SAUCE

The Joy says that in England, roasted lamb with fresh mint sauce is as traditional as mint jelly is here. This sauce is nice—not so sweet, not so jiggly—instead a thin, bright liquid that goes splendidly with a nice cut of meat. 

1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons boiling water
2 tablespoons minced fresh young mint leaves
8 to 10 tablespoons white wine, rice wine, or red wine vinegar

Stir the sugar and water together in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Add the mint and vinegar and cover. Let sit for 2-3 hours before serving to let the flavors come together. The sauce will keep for a few days, but be aware that the mint will turn brown after a night in the fridge.

P.S. For audio, check in tomorrow! I'll post a link. P.P.S. Soon-mint juleps! With maple syrup! So, so good.

6.22.2015

STRAWBERRIES & CREAM // elspeth

It's been a while. I've been trying to get back here. I made a pea salad that I thought I might share with you, but then it turned out to be totally unremarkable. We made and devoured these strawberry-rhubarb popsicles, but I'd already mentioned them. (Make them! Soon!) We took a trip to Maine, had the best fish chowder I've ever tasted, and have been unable to recreate it since. In between, we've been eating leftovers and at the restaurant and cereal. There was nothing much to report for days.


But then! The girls and I got up early Saturday morning and went strawberry picking in Falmouth. The fields looked terrible. There were weeds everywhere and the berries were tiny, and one older man picking near us spent the entire time complaining about "young people these days" and how they "don't call them the greatest generation." Apparently he thought the latest generation of farmers should have spent more time weeding their fields, and he might be right. But the very nice young woman at the farm stand said their berry plants were severely damaged by frost, and I suspect she and whoever else is running the show there did a cost-benefit analysis and figured there wasn't much use spending a bunch of time weeding plants that were hardly going to produce anyway.

At any rate, I should have thanked the man on the way out, because when I first arrived and saw the state of the fields, I felt the same way. But Sally was thrilled, and despite the fact that the berries were few and far between and incredibly tiny, they were also incredibly sweet. And in between the older man's bouts of complaints, Sally kept piping up with "This is so much fun, isn't it, Mama?" and "I love strawberry picking!" And so after about five minutes I realized we weren't really there for the berries, but for the experience, and I changed my mood accordingly. Nora pluncked down in between some weeds and some berries, and Sally and I spent an hour hunting around for tiny red jewels quite happily. 

I wish I had a picture of the girls leaving the farm, because they were both completely covered in dirt and berry juice, and they looked exactly like old photographs of me and my sister leaving Prout's Neck after berry picking near where I grew up in Maine. We came home with somewhere in the neighborhood of six quarts of strawberries and four quarts of sugar snap peas, and on the ride home we snacked until we got silly. 

I asked the young woman as we left about next year—whether they would be replanting, or if they were letting the fields go—and she said they would be putting in new rows. Maybe next year we'll have enough for jam, or even freezing.


In the meantime, we've been eating our berries the best way I know—sliced up and sprinkled with just a tiny bit of sugar, and then drizzled with heavy cream. Sally requests it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and until the berries run out, I think that's okay. 

6.04.2015

ONE RED // elspeth



Today, as usual, Alex and I were attempting to sleep for ten extra minutes while Sally picked out a piece of fruit from the bowl on the counter and played in the living room downstairs. This sometimes works, often doesn't, but is always worth a try. (Nora is the late-riser around here.) We heard the screen door open, and then things were blissfully quiet for about a minute and a half, and then we heard Sally patter back up the stairs. 

"Mama, Daddy!" she exclaimed. "I have some very exciting news for you this morning!"

She held up the first ripe strawberry, bright red. She decided it was too special to eat. So instead she brought it into school in her Easter basket, passed it around at circle time (where her friend Jacob apparently took a small bite out of it), brought it home, checked to see if I thought it was still okay, and then ate it. Big day for a little strawberry.

Finally, we checked for more ripe berries since the sun was out all day, and we found two! more!

Happy June, friends.


P.S. We're planning to make these strawberry-rhubarb yogurt pops the moment we get our first big haul. YUMMMM !

5.26.2015

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER AND RICOTTA SPAGHETTI // elspeth


Hi. Still recovering from the weekend. So much movement! So many people. But in a good way. And in the aftermath, I do have this to share: a roasted cauliflower and ricotta spaghetti from Real Simple. So good, so easy. And perfect for using up the last of the tomatoes from the freezer. My goal for tomorrow is to get in this year's plants—grafted tomatoes and eggplants—from our friend Joe. Thank you, Joe, for being a more organized gardener than I am. 

In the meantime, things march on. The strawberries are still green but getting bigger, and the raspberries and black raspberries are forming tiny heads. The peas are halfway up their trellis, the arugula's ready to pick, and the rhubarb is already forming seed heads. And asparagus! I am almost sick of it.

I hope all is well in your neck of the woods.



ROASTED CAULIFLOWER AND RICOTTA SPAGHETTI

This recipe is simple and tasty to boot. It serves 4.

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 pound spaghetti
2 cloves garlic, chopped
28 ounces of diced tomatoes
6 anchovies
fine-grain sea salt and black pepper
1 cup ricotta
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Arrange the cauliflower on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and roast about 25 minutes, or until golden and tender.

Meanwhile, put on a pot of water for the spaghetti. Bring to a boil and cook according to the maker’s instructions.

Heat the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, anchovies, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20 minutes.

To serve, put a serving of pasta in each bowl. Top with sauce, ricotta, cauliflower, and pine nuts. Taste and add salt as needed. Enjoy hot.

5.14.2015

GREY BARN FARM // the local food report


If you have a moment, click on over here to listen to this week's Local Food Report on Grey Barn Farm. In a nutshell? Eric and Molly Glasgow raise cows on grass, gather the milk, have their cheesemaker Jacqueline Foster curdle it, and turn the curds into high-end cheese. Then they feed the whey to their pigs, which eventually get turned into pork. It's a pretty cool closed-loop system.

Oh! and Molly's a designer, and takes stunning photos of the operation, as you can see above and below.


Next week: we'll talk cheese!


5.05.2015

ASPARAGUS & ARUGULA SALAD // elspeth


The other day the girls and I were in the car, going to meet Alex at the Shack so that he could take over kid duty and I could go to work. Sally was dressed up so that she could "help" for a few minutes before they went home to have dinner and take a tub. As we were crossing Railroad Ave, she piped up from the back seat. 

"Sorry, Mama," she said. 

"Why are you sorry, Sal?" I asked.

"Sorry, Mama. You have two kids!" I asked her why this made her sorry. "Well right now Nora's a baby, Mama," she explained. "But when she grows up you're going to have two kids! Two kids is a lot of work."


I have no idea if she came up with this on her own, or if she overheard this sort of refrain from me or another adult. Either way it was a good reminder: two kids is a lot of work, and it is also exactly what I've always wanted. 

I told myself this story again this morning, after a night when Sally wet the bed and Nora spiked a fever and my Tuesday that was planned for daycare and working on a new radio show turned into a day that is sure to be filled instead with nursing and laundry and drying tears. But I have two sweet, healthy girls, and nothing is more important. 

I don't have long before Nora wakes up again. But before I go there's one more thing I'd like to share. The asparagus is up, and we've picked it twice. It is everything that winter is not: green, snappy, pungent. Blanched and salted and cut into two-inch lengths, then tossed with peppery arugula, creamy Parmesan, and a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice, it tastes like relief. I think spring is finally here, friends.

ASPARAGUS & ARUGULA SALAD

This is so simple it seems a bit silly to call it a recipe, but here it is. It really only works with very fresh asparagus—we cut it right before dinner, so the stems are still snappy and supple. 

a handful of asparagus spears (about half a bunch that would be sold in a store or market)
several handfuls of arugula (about 1/4 pound)
Parmesan, for shaving
juice of 1/2 lemon
good, strong olive oil (I like unfiltered best)
sea salt and pepper to taste

Cut the asparagus into two-inch lengths and place in a shallow saucepan with water. Bring the water to a boil and steam for 1-2 minutes, or until the asparagus is barely fork-tender. Drain and plunge into ice water.

Meanwhile, arrange the arugula in a salad bowl. Use a carrot peeler to grate Parmesan ribbons over top. Add the asparagus, squeeze the lemon juice over top, and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, then toss gently and serve at once.

4.23.2015

BUTTERNUT SQUASH WITH TAHINI SAUCE // elspeth


We have recovered ourselves. It helps that is it spring; somehow the fact that the peas and asparagus and rhubarb are up if not anywhere near harvestable makes it okay that we keep eating butternut squash and storage onions and kale. The light at the end of the tunnel and all that.

It also helps to do it up right: to cut the squash into wedges and roast it with red onions in the oven and serve it all with a side of kale and fried eggs and douse everything in a sauce made from lemon and tahini. In other words, it helps to consult the great Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. As usual. 

The recipe in question here is from Jerusalem, a few pages over from the spiced chickpea and summer veggie salad I couldn't stop talking about last week, only more seasonal. I went right by the squash the first time I paged through, but once I got that summer fever out of my system, I started noticing that there were all kinds of excellent (and new and exciting) looking recipes for late winter/early spring dishes in the veggie section too. 

And so I pulled out a lingering butternut squash, pared it down and cut out the seeds, and went through the process of preparing yet another yolk-orange fruit. I did the same for the red-sprouting-green onions, and then I cranked the oven as high as it goes and cooked them down until they were caramelized and slightly burnt. 

The sauce was easy: whisk tahini, lemon juice, water, garlic, and salt. I skipped the parsley garnish, skipped the topping of toasted pine nuts with za-atar (though it sounded good), and served the squash and onions as they were: piping hot, with thick tahini sauce on top. The next morning we did it all again, only with eggs and kale and toast. 

My advice? Do it both ways, and do it soon. The asparagus and rhubarb will be here soon enough.

ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH & RED ONIONS WITH LEMON-TAHINI SAUCE

This recipe is adapted, or more accurately pared down, from the excellent Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. It serves four.

1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4" by 2 and 1/2' wedges
2 red onions, cut into 1 and 1/4' wedges
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, plus more to taste
4 tablespoons tahini paste
scant 2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1 large clove garlic, minced

Arrange the squash and red onions on a baking sheet, drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, and season with salt to taste. Toss well and roast for 30-40 minutes, or until the veggies are tender and have taken on some color. 

Meanwhile, make the sauce by whisking together the remaining olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, water, garlic, and salt to taste. You want the sauce to be the consistency of honey; if it's too thick, add water, if it's too thin, add more tahini. Serve the veggies hot, drizzled with the sauce. If you don't eat them all in the first sitting, they reheat nicely. 

P.S. (When the rhubarb and asparagus do arrive, I will be ready. Next up the in kitchen: this rhubarb almond cake where you keep the stalks whole for dramatic effect, and some sort of pan seared fish with this fennel and asparagus salad. )

4.16.2015

WITH RECKLESS ABANDON // elspeth

Suddenly the snow melted, and we no longer light a fire every morning. Instead we're skipping naps left and right to play at the park after school, to plant peas, to drive to Eastham to get an ice cream. Sixty degrees and sunny feels like a birth right. It feels owed, exhilarating. 


It also makes me feel like cleaning. As the weather warmed up I went through every drawer, every shelf, every closet. In the process, I found a lot of interesting and not particularly useful things (seven pairs of goggles, anyone?!). I also found an old polaroid camera—a minolta instant pro I haven't used since Sally was a baby, a camera I love. I stopped using it because getting film was expensive, then impossible, then possible again but not quite the same, and then better but wildly expensive, and so I finally stopped shelling out. Somehow, though, I did so without using up my last two boxes of expired film. I found them, along with the camera, in a box tucked away on my office shelves last week. We used up an entire box in an hour, and it felt like a spending spree, something akin to emptying a bank account or eating chocolate cake with reckless abandon. It felt good. 



We've had the same attitude toward meals recently. Since Nora was born, I've been meal planning. Because of the season, most of these meals have centered heavily on things like grains and beans and potatoes and kale. And frankly, I am sick of grains and beans and potatoes. I am even sick of kale! I want mint and tomatoes and cucumbers and eggplants. And so this week, we cheated. I went to the grocery store and bought tangelos and eggplants and the fixings for a spiced chickpea salad from Jerusalem and a cilantro-avocado salad from Smitten Kitchen. (Holy shit good.) The tomatoes were grown in a hothouse in Maine, but I suspect had they been from Mexico, I would have bought them anyway. We needed some spring.


The last winter farmers' market is this Saturday, and I fully intend to hit it up, bags and baskets and (wintery) shopping list in tow. But I am glad it is the last one. The Orleans summer market opens May 9, and the Wellfleet Market opens with a plant sale May 20th. The Shack opened last night, P.J.'s opens today, and the Flying Fish will have pastries and coffee starting Saturday. We're almost there.

SPICED CHICKPEA, EGGPLANT, & FRESH VEGETABLE SALAD

You could wait until the cucumbers and tomatoes and radishes and cilantro start showing up at the markets or pouring out of your garden to make this. In all likelihood, it will taste better then. But you could also go ahead and make it now. It's been a long winter, friends. I am not in a position to judge.

This recipe is adapted from Jerusalem by Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi. It serves 2 in my house, though is says it serves 4. Maybe that's as a side dish?

1 small cucumber (about 1/3 lb)
2 large tomatoes (about 3/4 lb)
a handful of romaine lettuce, chopped
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 red pepper, diced
1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves and stems, finely chopped
a handful of parsley, finely chopped
8 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 and 1/2 tablespoons balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1/2 large or 1 small eggplant, diced
Greek yogurt or sour cream, for serving
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

Toss together the cucumber, tomatoes, romaine, red onion, red pepper, cilantro, and parsley in a serving bowl. In a jar, combine 5 tablespoons olive oil with the lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, and sugar. Shake well and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the salad and toss gently.

Warm up the remaining olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, combine the spices in a wide, shallow bowl and mix well. Add the eggplant and chickpeas and stir to coat. Add the whole mixture, beans, eggplant, spices and all to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the eggplant is tender.

To serve, put a scoop of salad and a scoop of eggplant mixture side by side in a salad bowl. Top with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt and dig in. Pita bread makes a nice accompaniment.


4.09.2015

IN BRIEF // elspeth

I miss being here. Things have been hectic, and I'm very much looking forward to a quiet hour when I get to sit down and write. I'm not sure yet when that's going to happen. In the meantime, I have been taking pictures: Nora's decided she likes food after all (especially coconut curried chicken with sweet potatoes and raisins), the girls and I took a trip to the Vineyard to learn about cheese and rare ducks (hear all about it on this week's Local Food Report!), we made hot cross buns for Easter, and the restaurant opens next weekend. Be back soon. xx







3.30.2015

P'TOWN BEAN SEEDS // elspeth


Do you remember Uncle Phil's P'Town Beans? Peter Burgess has seed available again. He wrote me an email this morning:

"Hello Elspeth,

I have several gallons of the P'Town beans available for seed. They have a 94% germination rate, and have been grown properly to avoid hybridization. I'd be happy to give them away again. I ran out last time because they flew away all around the country. If you'd like to promote them again, it's $2 and SASE to: Peter Burgess PO Box 212 North Truro MA 02652.


' . . . it's been a long cold lonely winter . . .
it seems like years since it's been here . . .
Here comes the Sun - dah dah dah dah . . .
And I say, 'It's all right'.'"

I couldn't have said it better. Happy Monday, friends.

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