Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Braised Celery, Burnt Orange and Fennel

Braised Celery, Burnt Orange and Fennel
Serves 4 as a side
These are wonderful plain, but luxury never hurt anyone. Thin a quarter cup of mayonnaise with a couple of teaspoons of fresh lemon juice. Smear the top of each piece with a tablespoon of this sauce.

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, roughly chopped
pinch red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon butter
2 whole bunches of celery
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Remove outside, tougher celery stalks so that about each bunch has about 6 inner stalks still attached. Save the extra celery for another use. Cut the top off each bunch of celery so that each bunch is now 6 inches long. Halve the stalks lengthwise, trim the base and set aside.
Heat a 10 inch heavy skillet over medium low heat. Have all the ingredients at the ready. Add the zest, fennel, pepper flakes to the hot dry pan and stir constantly until the zest begins to toast and the fennel seed become fragrant, a couple of minutes.

Add the butter, once it melts, add the orange juice and 1/2 cup water, place the celery cut side up in the pan, turn heat to medium high. When half the liquid has evaporated from the pan, about 12 minutes. Turn the celery cut side down. The celery is cooked when the liquid has greatly reduced and is slightly syrupy, about 12 minutes. Serve immediately, pour pan glaze over the celery.

Things I Love to Cook with: Porcini Broth in a Cube

This product is a gives great vegetarian umami flavors. It must be all that MSG. But I love it for a quick stock for soup or base for a mushroom risotto.

I found it in the Italian Food Center and I've also seen it in Murray's Cheese on Bleecker Street.

Strong Tip: Microplane Graters

Use a microplane grater. They are like a little choir of razors.

I first discovered this in the 1990's while I was doing side gigs at Cooking by The Book while I worked full time at Martha Stewart. Suzy (the owner of CBTB) had discovered a wood working rasp was an amazing grater. She had some sort of copyright on it. We bought microplanes immediately for the Martha by Mail catalog and Martha gave them to people for Christmas.

I looked, it seems Microplane has some other story about a wood rasp becoming a grater. My guess is the evolution of this tool is most likely a 100th monkey type story.

I think the microplane grater, in all its forms, is one of the best kitchen tools. Microplaning really makes everything easier. I'm all for easier. It has exponentially reduces grating time.And you can avoid the bitter pith when getting zest from lemons and oranges. Plus whatever food it grates comes out in a fluffy curly beautiful mound. It's an irresistible tool.

A bunch of companies make them, but my favorite is this one in the picture. It has two different sized holes for grating, and it travels well,which is important to me for photoshoots. This one is by Cuisipro.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dry Beans in Winter

Makes 2 generous main course servings
or 4 side servings

No matter what this recipe is slow cook. If the beans you buy are older, they may take more time to soften up, so let them simmer longer. They are always better when, after cooking, you let them sit over night in their cooking liquid. The butt of the Parmesan is a wonderful flavor-adder.

1 bay leaf
1 3 inch x 2 inch heel (rind) of Parmesan cheese
2 2-inch pieces lemon rind, yellow part only
(use a vegetable peeler!)
2 stems fresh rosemary
1 clove garlic in its skin
1 cup medium dry beans, soaked in filtered water 8 to 24 hours
11/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons Cabernet or other red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Drain and rinse beans. Bring 6 cups of filtered water to a boil, add the bay leaf, Parmesan heel, lemon, rosemary, garlic and beans. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Remove when the beans are tender, about 45 minutes. Stir in sea salt and vinegar. Let cool and store at room temperature over night, then refrigerate afterwards. Before serving or transforming it into another recipe, remove the rosemary stems, bay leaf, garlic and Parmesan heel. Stir in olive oil and parsley.

Transform this into:
A soup - remove half the beans and puree them, stir them back into the soup, add cooked, drained pasta, some chopped parsley, herbs and chopped cooked vegetables, drizzle with some high quality extra virgin olive oil.

A bean salad - drain the beans from the liquid, add 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro and 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. You may also add chopped red onions and some feta. This is a salad that can grow depending what you have in your fridge.

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Strong Tip: Cooking with the heel of Parmesan

The end of a piece of Parmesan cheese can add a lot of flavor to a dish. I think of it as a the vegetarian version of a ham hock for beans. I always sneak it into the cavity of a chicken before I roast it with herbs and lemon. It's also great to throw into vegetarian soups. You don't eat it! You throw it out like an herb sachet before you serve whatever you're making.

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Quince Poached with Star Anise

Poached Quince
Quince has a lovely honeyed fragrant flavor. It has not been so common in my farmer's market this year. Quince looks like a giant chartreuse and yellow apple that's a bit oblong at the bottom. Sometimes they're covered in a fuzzy dryer lint sort of layer.

There were some beautiful ones at the organic market, so I've grabbed them, they're usually available from October through December. Quince have loads of pectin so they're good for making jams and jellies: they're the main ingredient in the Spanish fruit paste Membrillo(the deep mauve jammy stuff served with Manchego cheese).

Serve this syrup and fruit with pancakes, crepes or ice cream. You can also use it in cocktails using champagne, sparkling water, vodka, rum and/or ice.

8 cups filtered water
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 1 inch pieces Vietnamese or regular cinnamon sticks
2 whole pieces Star anise
1/2 a bay leaf
1/2 vanilla bean seeds scraped + pod
2 quince(about 1 pound) peeled, seeded and cut in 1 inch wedges
a pinch of salt

Place all the ingredients in a saucepan over high heat, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and allow to simmer for 2 hours. Cover and set aside until completely cool. Remove quince and boil the syrup until it thickens a bit. You may store in the liquid for up to three weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Growing Apples

My friend Erin and her father Noel are obsessed with the Honeycrisp apple. They have a wonderful nursery in North Carolina(, where the Honeycrisp won't grow, so I've agreed to grow apples for them upstate. I'm fine with the Honeycrisp.

It's a nice apple, though it's not charming my pants off. Quince does that for me. So we've decided I'll have some quince and some Honeycrisps, I'd also love to have a couple of other pear or apple trees. I'm just not so sure what to grow!

I went to the farmer's market in Union Square, I did a tasting. This confused me further. Each apple had such lovely individual characteristics, it was impossible to decide! I'll go again and talk to the farmers at the market today. If the farmers look friendly, I'll ask their advice, but I'd appreciate your input as well.