Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘flavor’


Almost a year ago I got into an accident which broke my collarbone, put my dominant arm into a sling, and forced me to give up cooking anything that was too physically demanding. All last fall and winter I was surprised at how much I missed cutting up apples and slicing into fresh pumpkins to make pies and cakes, and at how deprived I felt of those lovely flavors. I know, I could buy other people’s creations, and I did. It wasn’t the same. I wanted to taste my own recipes. And what surprised me most was that I actually craved the process of making them, the actual work, just as much as the tastes.

I met a new friend recently who put it perfectly: She said making things yourself makes you feel like more of a person.  And to put an even finer point on it, I think it’s the labor-intensive stuff that does the job the best. After my accident I lost the ability to do lot of what made me feel like a person. I like the physicality of cutting into a cheese pumpkin. I like feeling—through the resistance of a chef’s knife—the difference between a crisp Empire apple and a soft Macintosh. I was amazed at how much the work I put into baking flavors the pie.

My shoulder and arm have been strengthened in the past year by physical therapy and theatre therapy (in other words, crewing shows, mostly recently one that required me to lift antique gramophones that weigh as much as a Chevy Impala), and I have been swooning with excitement at the thought of working with fall fruits again. So a couple of days ago I got started with the above. It’s a hot sandwich that I made with apples and a sharp Jack cheese.

Take an apple. Wash it well, cut it in half, core it, and cut half into thin slices. Eat the other half while you work. Grate or slice up some of your favorite cheese.* Take out two slices of your favorite bread and put them side by side on a plate. Heat up a pat of butter in a wide skillet** over medium heat and swirl it around. Put half of the cheese on one bread slice. Top with apple slices. Put the rest of the cheese on top of them. Put the other bread slice on top.

Using a spatula and your hand to balance, lower your thing of beauty into the skillet. Let it sit there for about 30 seconds. Then slide the spatula carefully underneath it, put your hand on top of it, and invert. Give yourself points if nothing falls out. Gobble up whatever does fall out. Let the sandwich sit on the heat for another 30 seconds, then slide it onto a plate, cut and keep eating.

For gooier fun, make a panini*** using the low tech method: Find a brick, wrap it in parchment paper, and plop it on top of your sandwich while it’s cooking. It’s way, way cheaper than one of those fancy-schmancy presses from Williams-Sonoma, you don’t have to clean it, and it can live in your oven. Pressing the sandwich flattens it a bit and melds the apples and cheese together into a most appealing crunchy/oozy combo.

This is the simplest of sandwiches. It celebrates one of the season’s iconic flavors, and in my case, regaining the ability to cook the way I love.

Can’t wait to work with pumpkin next.

Standing by.

*The sweeter the apple, the sharper the cheese it can take. It’s like a spirited debate between friends. Go for an aged cheddar or something along those lines.

**Don’t get cocky (like me) and use a little saucepan and burn your ring finger and pinky while flipping the sandwich (like me).

***This is actually the plural of the famous pressed sandwich. Panino is the singular. Whatever.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Peach blueberry pie, Red Bank.

Mid-April. We turn our winter weary selves to the strengthening sun and take deep breaths of the sweet air. The world is yawning, stretching, and growing greener. Another spring.

The predictable sameness of the supermarket isn’t going to cut it this time of year. A farmers market is. Hat, small bills, some cloth shopping bags (French housewives know the stretchy mesh kind are best because they can always fit one more onion), and off you go. Ride that spring momentum.

Like New York City during Fashion Week, the farmers market is a seasonal showcase; specifically, for the local and the just picked. This is what’s in fashion from the earth, right now. Produce sold there is going to be more nutritious, more flavorful, and often cheaper than whatever the supermarket has recently misted with water and glossed with wax.

Young cheese, Red Bank.

This is an opportunity to try stuff you’ve always wanted to, or to try stuff you’ve never even seen before. The blog you’re reading says ‘open your eyes’ at the tippy top for this very reason. If you’ve only ever shopped at supermarkets, going to a farmers market is like entering another galaxy—albeit one right at home—and in the best imaginable way. It’s a way to make your life bigger. Sniff the freshness of lemon verbena now, be dazzled later in the season by the explosion of sweetness in an heirloom tomato. Take in the greens and golds, the deepest, plummiest purples.

One of the best things about farmers markets is of course that they feature farmers. And bakers. And other people who are invested in what they’ve grown or made for you. They’re excited to talk to you about it. Questions are good. (Once a supermarket cashier held up the greens I had put on the conveyor belt and asked me what kind they were. This is not good.) You can talk about butterstick zucchini with the guy who planted it, tended to it, and picked it. This bin of zucchini is his labor of love, not just his job. And the man can give you recipes in his sleep.

Introduce yourself and get his name. After you take the zucchini home and cook it, go back and tell him how much you dug it. Or tell him you fouled the recipe up, if you did. He’ll give you pointers on how to get it right. It’s hard to beat that kind of attention and service.

Local brown and white eggs, Asbury Park.

Collards, Atlantic Highlands.

Ask for a taste. (You can do that there.) Prepare to be surprised. Ask more questions. You’ll find out oddball stuff, like if you add a teaspoon of almond extract to peach pie it will make it celestial. Think about what an almond looks like in its shell and what a peach pit looks like. Pretty similar, right? It’s because peaches (and nectarines, and cherries) and almonds are all cousins. Because of that, they have a natural affinity for each other.

Have you ever bitten into a strawberry that was picked three hours ago? It’s still warm. Chances are it’s also smaller than the ones you’ve seen at the supermarket. Often those are dipped in chocolate—and a good thing, too, because on their own they taste like wet cotton balls. Big strawberries are bred to 1) wow you by their size 2) sit on a shelf for a week. Flavor? Niente.

Taste one that’s small and local. That means it’s bred for flavor, which further means it’s never going to be sold in a supermarket. The farmer grew this variety because he knows he can pick these little guys, pack them in the back of his flatbed and get them into your hands inside a day.

Red cabbage, Asbury Park.

Hot pepper jam, Asbury Park.

If you come across a table behind which stand an elderly woman and her son, and you can’t pronounce their last name, and they make old-style sour rye bread, please buy one.  Ask the woman how long she’s been making bread and why she still does it. She wants to talk about it.

Last summer I met a portly man whose parents taught him to make focaccia and fresh bufala mozzarella, in his hometown of Rome, 50 years ago. I could tell you how good this bread and cheese tasted, but you’ve probably already guessed.

Many of these purveyors are keeping ancient traditions alive. One taste, and both the flavor and the link from past to present will astonish you, bring tears to your eyes if you let it.

Heirloom tomatoes, Asbury Park.

Everyday life can make our heads spin. But farmers markets can bring us back down to earth, literally and figuratively. The growers chatting, your neighbors browsing and tasting along with you, the pooches scooting along beside them—all make a farmers market a bustling place. But paradoxically, it can also give us a sense of peace. The handmade, the homegrown, and the people who offer it have the power to soothe the overwrought spirit as well as to make us feel more alive. It can make us want to stretch along with spring itself.

Read Full Post »