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Posts Tagged ‘potatoes’

I’m one of those irritating tree-huggers who loves every season (at least at the beginning), but Fall and I go way back. Birthday and all. Piles of apples and squash at the farm. There will be cooking, my friends. Lots of it. This is how I get ready.

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On the wall rack:

Saigon cinnamon (there is no other), allspice, nutmeg (the whole little guys), cloves, ground ginger, hot red pepper flakes, cardamom, almond extract.

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I posted this last year on Facebook with a caption: ‘My pumpkin is going under the knife today. Please keep it in your prayers at this difficult time.’ For all of you who did, thank you. It was delicious.

In the fridge:

Local apples, grains, all-purpose and whole-wheat pastry flours, Grade B pure maple syrup, almonds, walnuts, crab apple schnapps, bottle of vodka containing vanilla beans at mid-steep (in a couple of months it will be a killer, and far less expensive, extract than the teeny Foodtown bottles).

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Long-cooking tomato sauce from local, organic plum tomatoes. You can see it has cooked down by an inch—getting richer than Scrooge McDuck.

In the freezer:

Bread, whatever I baked for breakfast this week, preserves (right now mulberry, on the horizon crab apple), chicken stock, butter, tomato sauce, quince syrup, yeast, bread crumb bag (all of the crusts I don’t eat, blitzed for toppings), Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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Red quinoa, drying at the farm.

On top of the fridge:

Sugars (granulated, confectioner’s, dark brown).

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Quinces from a super-secret tree I found last year.

In the bottom of the armoire that I keep in my kitchen because doesn’t everyone:

Onions, garlic, potatoes. I keep them in a three-divided wooden unit that I found at the antiques shop downtown.

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Garlic.

In the closet I call ‘the garage’:

This is the coolest spot in my place. It houses winter squash. All kinds. Cheese, Luna, butternut, Cinderella. I line them up on the floor.

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Cinderella and cheese pumpkins, fantastic for pie.

Equinox, I’m ready.

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Most tales that include cold-cured marinated brisket evoke joy and good will. Not so this.

I mean I made sure the story wrapped up on a good note, but there was the cost which whirled away down the potty, don’t think that didn’t hurt, and the time I’d spent each night giving the meat its massage of spices and salt. If I knew what I did wrong I’d just kick myself and learn and be done with it, but I don’t know what I did wrong. And what really got me bummed was missing out on the flavor that Laurie swooned over.

I know, I always get ahead of myself.

Let’s make like Julie Andrews and start at the very beginning: years ago I became enthralled by a recipe for Spiced Beef, a traditional Christmastime treat in the UK, in More Home Cooking. The book was written by Laurie Colwin, who passed away suddenly some 20 years ago, who I’ve never met, and yet miss like a best bud. We’re cut from the same cloth, as two of the 11 people on Planet Earth who champion English recipes. Hers was Elizabeth David’s version. I saw a recipe for Spiced Beef again in a vintage collection of UK recipes I bought at a used book sale. And there was a version of it on Nigella’s site, and another on boston.com. This looked Promising.

Laurie’s recipe made too much (it feeds 8-10), so I went with the recipe in my vintage cookbook instead. Whole Foods kindly sold me 3 lbs. of lean brisket, and I snatched up black peppercorns (1 tablespoon), whole allspice (1 tablespoon), dried juniper berries (1/4 cup), dark brown sugar (1/4 cup), and coarse salt (1/4 cup). It was a combo I had never tasted, and it sounded wild. Laurie called it magnificent. Game on.

The recipe said I was to coat the meat with the brown sugar, place it in a casserole dish, cover it, and let it sit in the fridge for two days. Then I was to crush the spices and salt, then scatter and press a tablespoon of it into the meat every day for 12 days. This dry rub would act as a preservative to seal in freshness*.

I followed the recipe to the letter. I’m a good listener. Okay, one thing—I finished in 11 days and not 12 because the rub ran out. But I coddled that meat like a flat pink newborn. I also took three more precautions:

1) To be sure it would keep four weeks after cooking, as it said it would, I called a butcher for a professional opinion. Went straight to the top—Lobel’s, NYC, five generations. Evan Lobel, who I saw a few years ago on television talking beef with Martha Stewart, picked up. I read the recipe to him and he disagreed with the longevity, thinking it would keep 10 days, tops. I found another opinion online that said 4-5 days. Fine, we’ll polish it off in a week.

2) I had a feeling my oven thermometer was slowly going on the fritz, so I replaced it.** I was right.

3) I set the pan on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, all the way in the back where it’s coldest.

Yesterday was cooking day. You take some or all of the spices off, drain off the liquid in the casserole dish, put the meat back in, add 3/4 cup of cold water to the dish, and cover it. Then you cook it on the middle rack of the oven for 3.5 hours at 275 degrees F. This is how it looked just before cooking time. I swear I sang little songs to it.

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Can you tell anything’s wrong? Me neither.

After a half hour, I could smell it. That’s when I started to worry, and that’s when it started and ended—right there with my nose. It wasn’t horrible, just…off. I went through all of the question marks in my head.

Will it smell better once it’s finished cooking? Does it smell this way because it’s coated with sugar and a mix of spices I’ve never cooked before? Should I taste it?*** Do I lose my mind now, or wait until I have the meat nicely settling on a cooking rack?

I didn’t even throw it away immediately. Almost went through the last steps of weighing the meat under a board and letting it press down overnight. With as much as I pampered this brisket, it felt like it should be interred, maybe with chanting and a few carefully chosen words, not just tossed away. I put it in a Hefty freezer bag first, which isn’t the same as interment after a soak in myrrh, but decent.

Reliving this has been less than enjoyable. For you, too, right? Let’s bring on the holiday cheer.

I am a stage tech in my down time, and we learn to be problem solvers. If we don’t, we can at the very least foul up the show; and at the very most, get hurt or hurt someone else.**** And yesterday, after it hit me that the meat was gone, I was in a state: I’d eaten half a 72% blueberry-chocolate bar to drown my sorrows, so I was hopping. Plus I have a very big problem, in general, with failing *entirely*; if I fail at something, I want either to fix it or to wring the best out of it, and that’s on me to make happen. So I thought about it.

Replacing the brisket and starting over entirely without the benefit of knowing what went wrong—obviously that was out. I knew I wanted to taste what I should have tasted, that strange primitive combination of flavors with meat. THAT I could do, in a different way.

Night had fallen and it was still raining—had been all day. I put on my coat and turned my collar to the cold and damp. Then I went to the store and bought fresh ground turkey.

When I got home, I formed three patties and into them pressed 1 tablespoon brown sugar. Then I covered the pan and set it on the cold shelf of the fridge to soak overnight.

This morning with my mortar and pestle I crushed 1 teaspoon each of juniper berries, whole allspice, black peppercorns, and salt, pressed it into the patties, and set them back in the fridge for an hour. I sliced a wedge of seeded semolina bread for a roll, which is about as English as baklava, but so what, and I tossed some potatoes from the organic farm with some fresh horseradish from my friend Peggy, who grows it for Passover and always ends up with a yard full. Nigella said the beef goes well with horseradish potatoes.

Then I cooked everything, and then I ate everything, and it was freaking spectacular. I’m not even BSing you to make up for the lurid saga above. I got to taste those flavors. Serious happiness. And tomorrow’s and Tuesday’s burgers will probably be even better because they’ll have had a chance to marinate in the spices more.

Yes, I am going to try Spiced Beef again sometime. And if any readers out there have made it and have pinpointed where I screwed up, speak right up and help a girl out.

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*I sound like a Gladware commercial.

**My oven’s 25 degrees off. The joy of cooking, indeed.

***This was the toughest to resist. You will be glad to hear I did not taste it.

****Or God forbid, hurt the set.

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I’ve always been fascinated by things that make no sense on paper. Like meeting someone and feeling an immediate and inexplicable connection. Or one day feeling absolutely compelled to go to Mexico.* Or this: A week or so ago I picked corn—off a cornstalk, that is—for the first time. And I loved it, just as much as I loved digging for potatoes.** Which was especially great because I’d been wanting to make a recipe I’d accepted for my year-long cooking project, one from a friend who was raised in Ohio and now lives in Maryland.

I’ve never had corn fritters before, let alone made them, but I figured using local, organic corn I’d picked that afternoon could hardly foul up the recipe.

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Not as high as an elephant’s eye. But maybe a well-fed hippo’s.

I’d read that to test of an ear of corn for ripeness you’re supposed to peel back a little of the husk and pierce an end kernel with a fingernail. If corn juice squirts out, you’re apparently good. Here’s a simpler method: If the ear’s fat, it’s ready.

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Really beautiful, and I didn’t see any children. Bonus.

When I got home I set about the less-than-enjoyable task of stripping the kernels by standing ears upright in a bowl and scraping them down with a chef’s knife. This is a task that at the very least means searching for 92 errant wet kernels that have ricocheted out of the bowl, and at the very worst means assassinating your bowl by impalement. The first happens every single time, the second not yet. I need a better idea. Send ’em if you have ’em.

I’ve never cooked with lard, although I’m not afraid to. It has a murky reputation—people have the idea that it’s horrible for you—but it actually has less saturated fat than butter. Finding it isn’t as easy to come by in suburban New Jersey as you’d think. Kidding. But I’ve read that New Jersey was once comparable to Parma when it came to pig production, and specifically fine hams. Would that it were still the case.

Not today. And I found just one variety, but it was so processed that it didn’t need to be refrigerated, which grossed me out considerably. Finally I went with a pat of butter. And it was good, but I’m not giving up on finding decent lard. The flavor’s got to be outrageous.

This recipe does not call for salt. I put a pinch in the batter and liked it, but as we say in publishing, this is purely a style issue. Add it or don’t. On the whole, the recipe is wonderfully Midwestern, reflective of the many Midwesterners I am proud to call friends—straightforward, unfussy, honest and utterly free of pretension. These fritters are not meant to impress. They are simply meant to taste good, which, quite frankly, matters a whole bunch.

And if you get the opportunity to pick your corn off the stalk…please put on your boots and jump at the chance. There’s nothing like it.

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Corn Fritters

6 ears corn kernels, cut fine (I mashed a few with a potato masher and left a few whole because I like texture. Again, a style issue.)

1/2 c all-purpose flour

1/2 c milk

1 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

1 tbsp lard

Mix, drop by half-cupfuls into hot fat, and fry. Flip when browned. Serve hot. (Medium low heat will work to cook the inside; meanwhile the outside will brown up all pretty pretty.)

Jo Grundy

Sykesville, MD

Thanks, Jobo!

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*The first has happened to me. The second happened to my uncle, decades ago. He went down the church steps with his family one Sunday and casually said, ‘I think I’ll go to Mexico today.’ And he WENT. That was the kind of guy he was.

**Silverton Farms in Toms River, NJ allows customers to pick almost anything, which is insanely cool. I asked the young student who works there if any other customers dig for potatoes besides me, and shocker, she barely blinked: ‘No, just you.’

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The past month was at once great (crewed two shows back to back and had a raging good time) and hellacious (less-than-enjoyable correspondence with my more-than-schmuck-like landlord). So, looking back at July, I’d sum it up with ‘tiring’.

There are those who, when tiring happens, get a seaweed wrap and later curl up on the futon with the remote and ‘Supernatural’.  And there are those who take naps to catch up on sleep and then regroup by digging in the dirt.*

Recently I saw the post on Silverton Farms’s (Toms River, NJ) Facebook page that customers were invited to dig for potatoes. My heart raced. I don’t know why I’m wired up like this, but I am. I couldn’t wait.

Elena, dauntless future farmer, handed me a plastic bucket and showed me where to look for russets. (That’s a dried brown potato stem in the pic above.) And after the woman picking blackberries** in the nearby patch had left, I had the area to myself.

The thing that surprised me most was how simple it was. I thought I’d be DIGGING digging. Instead, I more or less moved dirt around a bit and there the little guys were.

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Another young worker there, Christine, loves harvesting potatoes. She once grinned, ‘You get to dig like a dog.’ But for me it was like hunting for Easter eggs, and so surprising that I kept giggling. You keep finding them, you see. Some were the size of plums and others as small as hazelnuts. It’s a crack up. It’s hard to stop.

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I did stop once my fingernails were completely caked with dirt. Great feeling, but turns out the next part was almost as good a time as picking. Elena pointed across the yard to where I could wash my hands—not at a sink, but at a pump. Red, and positioned next to an ancient barn, like in a production of The Miracle Worker. ‘Pull down the handle and take off the hose before you wash,’ she said. And I thought I was low tech.

As I washed my hands and dried them on my jeans, Tom, who owns the place, ambled over. ‘Makes good drinking, too,’ he said. ‘Is this well water?’ ‘Yep!’

I leaned over and pulled down the handle a little too hard, half expecting to be blasted back across the Parkway, but I wasn’t. And the water really was fantastic—like drinking from a pond in the middle of the Appalachians.

When I got home I set the oven at 425 degrees F. Then I washed Toms River dirt off a few potatoes, cut them up, tossed them with olive oil, and set them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet to be oven baked. Here they are pre-chopping. The droplets look cool in shadow.

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I amuse easily.

Then I put them in the oven for 15 or so minutes, then tossed them a bit, then put them back in for another 15 or so. I like ’em pretty brown and toasty. They go on a plate and are sprinkled with kosher salt. Then, intensely creamy on the inside, some popping their skins as you bite into them, they’re eaten—quickly enough that I didn’t take a picture.

*Normal I ain’t. Oh, and then I watch Doctor Who.

**…while inexplicably wearing fancy little flats. I will never understand how women can go to a farm to pick produce and yet insist on looking like Grace Kelly from the ankle down.

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