March 31, 2012 Chervil Avgolemono

Attempting to move my menus and cooking to a more seasonal focus can be difficult this time of year. The farmers markets aren’t open yet and our garden’s offerings are quite modest now. I’ve been looking for ways to use the chervil that has seeded itself throughout the garden. Chervil is a very delicate herb with a licorice flavor. Heat essentially renders it flavorless, so it is best in vinaigrettes, or a last minute addition to a sauce or sprinkled over a fish or chicken dish. After spending some time researching my possibilities I came across a recipe that intrigued me, Chervil Avgolemono in chef Jerry Traunfeld’s book, The Herbal Kitchen. Mr. Traunfeld was the chef at The Herb Farm, a restaurant and kitchen gardens near Seattle Washington.

His first book, The Herbfarm Cookbook is one of my favorites. I own hundreds of cookbooks, few are as well worn and falling apart from use as this one. Not only are there recipes, but a guide to growing, cooking, harvesting and storing fresh herbs. It’s my go-to book especially in the summer when the herbs are plentiful in the garden.  His recipes for pesto, ice creams, and breads  are just some of the recipes I’ve gone back to countless times. I really hadn’t used many recipes in the second book, but was confident that it would be a good starting place.

Avgolemono has been on my cooking “radar” for many years. I passed by the recipe many times while using The Silver Palate cookbook. So I decided this required a little more research. Avgolemono, which means egg and lemon is classic Greek comfort food.  The most basic version is just good chicken stock, eggs, a good amount of lemon juice and either rice or orzo. The rice or orzo is cooked in the chicken stock, a healthy addition of  lemon juice gives it a tang and the beaten eggs give it a creamy consistency. It can also be used as a sauce without the addition of rice or pasta.  Because of it’s simplicity, the recipe demands the freshest ingredients. I had homemade stock , fresh eggs from the Pennsylvania Dutch market, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and of course, chervil picked fresh from the garden. I decided on orzo for my soup, but rice would work equally as well. The result was a very soothing soup with a lemony flavor softened by the creaminess of the beaten eggs. The anisey flavor of the chervil sets off delicate flavor of the soup quite nicely.

Chervil Avgolemono

adapted from The Herbal Kitchen and several versions from Epicurious

serves four

  • 4 cups homemade chicken stock
  • 1 cup orzo or rice
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • Juice of 2-3 lemons-depending on your taste
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped chervil plus some whole leaves for garnish
  1. Bring chicken stock to a boil. Add rice or pasta and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes
  2. During the simmering process whisk the egg whites in a medium bowl to medium peaks. I did this with a hand mixer.  Add the egg yolks and lemon juice to the egg whites.
  3. When the rice or orzo is finished cooking, transfer 2 cups of the hot stock in a slow steady stream to the egg and lemon mixture. Slow and steady will prevent the eggs from curdling.
  4. Take the soup off the heat and and whisk the beaten mixture back into the pot. Stir in the chervil.  Taste and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with additional chervil and serve immediately.

March 26, 2012 Garden Beginnings

Chives are the first herb to appear in the garden.

A spring that started several weeks before the end of winter has brought some welcome surprises to the garden. Prolific chives are the first herb to appear. Short and spindly now, their lavender blossoms will appear in May. A surprising amount of lacy chervil has come up. This delicate herb will be gone with the summer’s heat so I plan on infusing it in vinegar and oil. It is also part of the herbal quartet known as fines herbes; parsley, tarragon, chives and chervil. Fines herbes is delicate in flavor, best complimenting foods such as fish, roast chicken or even an omelet. Maybe this spring I will be fortunate enough to have all the herbs coming up in the garden at the same time. Cilantro that has come up in the circle garden makes me want to pull out some Thai or Mexican recipes. There are some vegetables appearing as well. Leeks that wintered over are a welcome addition to soups and braises. They will need to be used before the summer heat forces them to go to seed. A few carrots, dug up while weeding, were added to a roasted vegetable dish The kale plants that survived the winter have “greened up” and are producing more leaves. I will use them in a mussel, sausage and kale stew and possibly some kale chips. Here and there a little “pioneer” lettuce plant is poking up in the stone walkways of the garden. Of course, Joe has started the spring planting. Peas, both snow and sugar snaps are poking out of the ground already. Some of the pea plants are used exclusively for cutting the tendrils for stir fries and salads. Cold frames shelter the radishes, lettuces, spinach and cooking greens that were planted, though not much shelter has been needed this past week. After an amazing 80 degree Friday in March we have been jolted back to reality with a drizzly damp Sunday, a very windy Monday and the possibility of a freeze this evening.

The first sprigs of tarragon were revealed after weeding the herb garden.
The delicate herb chervil is a member of the carrot family.

March 24, 2012 Quick Chicken Saute with Asparagus, Peppers and Tomatoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t wait for the produce to start appearing in the farmer’s markets and in our garden. Until then I will have to make do with what looks reasonable in the supermarkets. Last night’s dinner was inspired by a recipe on the Fine Cooking  magazine website. The original recipe was titled, Quick Chicken Saute with Asparagus, Cherry Tomatoes and Lemon Pan Sauce. A good foundation that I would make some changes to.  Quick sounded good to me, I could have all the elements ready and just wait for Joe to tell me he was on his way home. The recipe called for chicken breast, I chose to use chicken thighs. I have found that chicken thighs are moister in a sauteed dish. I doubled the asparagus, added a julienned yellow pepper and substituted readily available cherub tomatoes for the definitely seasonal cherry tomatoes. Any leftover vegetables, and there were not many, could be added to the next morning’s omelet or runny egg dish. The dish also called for some minced fresh basil at the end, but I would prefer to wait until it is really in season. I substituted sun dried tomato pesto to amplify the tomato flavor.  The result was a quick, tasty weeknight dinner. The only change I would make next time would be a grating of fresh Parmesan cheese to the finished dish.

Quick Chicken Saute with Asparagus, Peppers and Tomatoes

Serves two

  • 3 boneless chicken thighs, cut into 3/4 inch chunks
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 T plus 2 t  olive oil
  • 12 small “cherub” tomatoes
  • 12 medium asparagus spears, trimmed and cut on the diagonal into 2″ pieces
  • 1 yellow pepper cut into julienned strips
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 c low sodium chicken broth
  • 3 T fresh lemon juice
  • 2 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 T  sun dried tomato pesto
  • Fresh Parmesan cheese to grate over the dish
  1. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 1 T oil in a medium saute pan over medium high heat. Add the tomatoes, pepper and asparagus and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have softened, and asparagus and pepper are golden brown around the edges, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and keep warm.
  2. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the pan and add the chicken. Cook, turning occasionally, until the chicken is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add chicken to the vegetables.
  3. Reduce heat to medium and heat remaining 2t oil in the pan. Add garlic and cook until golden brown, about 1 minute. Add chicken broth and lemon juice and use a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits in the pan and blend into the sauce, stir in the sun dried tomato pesto.  Simmer sauce for three minutes, reduce to medium low and add the butter. Stir in the chicken, vegetables and the juices that remain.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. Grate a little Parmesan over the dish if desired and serve immediately.

Notes-the cherub tomatoes have a tougher skin than cherry tomatoes so they may need to be “coaxed” to burst with the tip of a sharp knife. Other vegetables may be added or substituted, zucchini, mushrooms etc.

March 21, 2012 Slow-roasted Pork Shoulder with Carrots, Onions and Garlic

The first time I decided to make pork shoulder it wasn’t met with great anticipation by my dear husband. “Shoulder? How do you cook it?” I explained it is roasted in a 300°F oven for about 4 to 4 1/2 hours. “Spice rub? he continued. I told him no, just salt and pepper and refrigerate overnight. “Marinade or a sauce?” he continued. No, I said, I’ve read it is good just as it is. I was going to serve this as simply as the directions conveyed. I think he was planning on some back-up meat, just in case but the wonderful aromas and succulent meat made a believer out of him. I used the recipe from Fine Cooking magazine and it called for a boneless pork shoulder but I could only find bone-in which in this case is the shoulder-blade. Roasts always seem to benefit from cooking on the bone.

Later shopping trips to make the recipe again revealed that a boneless roast is more than double the price so I have always stuck with the bone-in roast and just added a little cooking time (very little). Pork shoulder is also known as Boston Butt, which is a misnomer, it is not from the butt end of the animal but the upper shoulder of the hog. It consists of the neck, shoulder blade and upper arm  and contains quite a bit of connective tissue. According to the National Pork Board the name came from pre-Revolutionary war days when people wanted to live “high off the hog”,  the less desirable cuts, such as the shoulder were packed for transport in casks or barrels known as “butts” This cut became a favorite with Boston chefs, hence the name. I use the largest shoulder I can find, which in this case was about 9 pounds. The recipe calls for 1 medium onion and 3 medium carrots and every time I make the recipe I increase the vegetables. This time I used a 1 pound bag of carrots and 4 onions and I still could have used more. Other vegetables such as potatoes, fennel and squash could be added as well. I make scalloped potatoes, garlicky white beans and sautéed broccoli rabe to accompany this dish.

Recipe from Fine Cooking #97

Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder with Carrots, Onion and Garlic

Serves 8 with leftovers

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 8-9 lb pork shoulder roast, also known as Boston Butt
  • 4-5 medium sweet onions, peeled, cut into 1/2 inch rings
  • 1 lb medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2 x 1/2 inch sticks
  • 10 or more cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 cup of dry white wine
  1. Combine 11/2 Tbs salt and 2 tsp pepper in a bowl. Rub the mixture all over the pork. Put  the pork, fat side up in a large roasting pan. Cover and refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days.
  2. Let the pork sit at room temperature for an 1 1/2 before cooking.
  3. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F (I use a convection oven). Uncover the pork and roast until tender, about 4 to 4 1/2 hours. Add the onion, carrots, garlic, wine and a cup or so of water to the roasting pan and continue to roast, stirring occasionally, until the pork is completely tender, about 1 hour more.
  4. Remove the roast from the oven and raise the oven temperature to 375F. Separate the meat into about 8 to 10 chunks using tongs. Spread the meat out in the pan. Add a little more water if necessary. Return meat to oven and roast so that the newly exposed surfaces are browned, about 15 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and transfer meat and vegetables to a large serving platter. Tent loosely with foil and rest for 20 minutes. Skim excess fat from the juices and serve the juices with the vegetables and meat.

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March 16, 2012 Braised Beef Short Ribs

 

 

Boneless short ribs ready to be browned

Braised short ribs are the basis for two of the recipes in Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc At Home, Beef Stroganoff and Catalan Beef Stew. Although his recipes have more steps than many versions of these dishes, they can be completed ahead of time. In fact, as he also attests, the flavor improves with time so the short ribs are best cooked a day before you plan to serve them and up to three days ahead. Although he calls for one piece of boneless chuck short rib, I could only find this already cut into smaller portions, about one pound each.  The parchment lid he calls for in step prevents the surface of the meat from being caramelized and  lets steam out without letting the stock reduce too quickly during the long cooking process. My copy of the cookbook is missing the page of instructions for making the lid. No worries, it is as easy as a very basic paper snowflake without the extra cuts. Michael Ruhlman’s video on YouTube is helpful too.

Braised Beef Short Ribs

From Ad Hoc At Home

Red Wine Reduction

Ready for the red wine braise

 

  • 1 750ml bottle of dry red wine
  • 1c diced yellow onion
  • 1c peeled, diced carrots
  • 1c sliced leeks (white and light green part only)
  • 1 c thinly sliced shallots
  • 1c thinly sliced button mushrooms
  • 3 thyme sprigs
  • 6 Italian parsley sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 t black peppercorns
  • 3 large garlic cloves, smashed, skin left on
  1. Combine all the ingredients for the red wine braise in a large heavy pot, Le Creuset is my personal favorite. The pot should be large enough to hold all the meat comfortably.
  2. Bring to a simmer over high heat, reduce the heat to maintain the simmer, cook for about 45 minutes, or until the wine is reduced to a glaze.

Beef Braise

  • 2 1/2 lbs boneless chuck short rib
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • All purpose flour
  • Canola oil
  • 1 c diced onion
  • 2/3 c peeled, sliced carrots
  • 1 1/2 c sliced leeks (white and light green part only)
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed, skin left on
  • 3 thyme sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Enough beef stock to cover-about 5 cups

1. Trim any excess fat and sinew from the short ribs. Season all sides generously with salt and black pepper and coat with flour, shaking off any excess.

2. Heat oil over high heat in a large saute pan and add meat, fat side down, reduce heat and brown for 3 minutes. Turn meat over and brown other side. Transfer meat to a tray.

3. Preheat oven to 350F.

4. Add onion, carrots, leeks, garlic, thyme and bay leaves to the red wine reduction and toss together. Cut a piece of cheesecloth 4″ larger than the diameter of the pot. Moisten the cheesecloth and wring dry. Place over the vegetables and fold over the edges to form a nest for the meat. This prevents bits of vegetables from clinging to the meat. Put the meat on top of the cheesecloth and add stock until it comes to the top of the meat. Cut a parchment lid and place it over the meat.

5. Transfer the pot to the oven, reduce the heat to 325F and braise the beef for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the meat is very tender.

6. Transfer the meat to an heatproof container. Strain the braising liquid and strain it again as you pour it over the meat. The meat can now be refrigerated for up to 3 days. I used this in the Beef Stroganoff preparation, but it can also be used in beef stew, or sliced with its own juices.

 

Last year’s garden is providing “wintered over” leeks.
Browned short ribs nestled in cheesecloth
Lifting the parchment lid

 

Recipe-ready braised beef.

March 15, 2012 Beef Stroganoff

Photo courtesy of Dr. Kathryn Lee

Sundays are time with our families and most weeks that includes Sunday suppers. In the summertime most meals are from the grill and winter meals revolve around comfort foods.I  often  turn to Thomas Keller’s cookbooks for inspiration.The “Stellar Keller” as he was referred to on the CBS Morning show video I watched is one of the most re known chefs in the country. His restaurants, French Laundry and Bouchon in northern California and Per Se in New York are some of the toughest reservations to get, trust me, I know. So I do the next best thing, I like to reproduce some of Keller’s signature dishes at home. His book, Ad Hoc At Home is a collection of “delicious approachable food, recipes that are doable at home.”

The slightly stained pages of this coffee table sized volume bookmark two of our favorites, whole roasted chicken on a bed of root vegetables and crispy braised chicken thighs with olives, lemon and fennel. This week I chose his beef stroganoff recipe.

Beef stroganoff is a dish that originated in the 19th century, named for a Russian count, Paul Stroganov. It typically includes thin slices of tender beef, onions and mushrooms finished with a sour cream sauce.  Sunday is typically a very busy day so I liked the fact that I could complete many of the steps of this complex recipe a day ahead. I had beef stock from a previous cooking session in the freezer so step one was done. Pricy short ribs are the beef of choice in this dish although he says that  beef sirloin tips could be substituted. A red wine reduction is simmered to a glaze and the browned  meat is nestled in the pan, protected by cheesecloth, not allowing bits of vegetable to stick to the meat. A parchment lid rests on top of the meat during the braise which takes about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. After cooking, the meat and the strained braising liquid can be stored for up to three days, a real time saver. I also prepared the mushrooms and the cream sauce ahead, cutting down the time for cooking the day of serving. Mr. Keller suggests that the stroganoff be served with homemade pappardelle, but since my resident pasta maker was otherwise occupied I used Wegmans store bought. It was a reasonable substitution and I don’t think it affected the dish negatively.  We served the Stroganoff with roasted asparagus, green beans and a salad.

Beef Stroganoff

From Ad Hoc At Home by Thomas Keller

Serves four, I doubled the recipe

Cream Sauce

  • 1 lb cremini mushrooms, cleaned and roughly chopped
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 2/3 c chopped onion
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • Sachet of 1 bay leaf, 3 thyme sprigs and 10 black peppercorns wrapped in cheesecloth
  • 1/3 c creme fraiche

Mushrooms

  • 4T unsalted butter
  • 2T canola oil
  • 1 lb medium cremini mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

 

  • 2 1/2 lb Braised beef short ribs, chilled
  • Pappardelle
  • 2 T unsalted butter at room temperature
  • Coarsely chopped Italian parsley
  • Sea salt or grey salt
  1. Chop the mushrooms for the sauce in a food processor and transfer to a bowl
  2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Add chopped mushrooms, increase heat to medium high and cook until all the liquid is evaporated, about 10 minutes or so.
  3. Pour in the cream and add the sachet, bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer  for about 30 minutes, reducing the cream by 1/3 and infused with the flavor of the mushrooms.
  4. When the sauce is ready, discard the sachet, pour sauce in a blender and blend until smooth. Strain the sauce back into a saucepan. Reheat the sauce and add the creme fraiche.
  5. Line a baking tray with paper towels and place a cooling rack over the tray. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the butter and oil. When the butter melts add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook until brown on one side, then flip and brown mushrooms on other side. Transfer cooked mushrooms to baking tray to drain. Reserve 1/4 of the sauteed mushrooms and add the rest to the sauce. Keep sauce over low heat
  6. Cut the chilled beef short ribs into 2 inch square pieces. Heat some oil in a oven proof frying pan over medium high heat. Add meat, presentation side down and brown for 2-3 minutes. Transfer meat to the oven and heat through, about 10 minutes.
  7. Cook pappardelle according to package directions. Drain pasta and toss with butter.
  8. Toss the pasta with the cream sauce. Add half of the sauteed mushrooms to the noodles and arrange on a platter. Arrange the short ribs and top with the remaining mushrooms. Sprinkle with sea salt and garnish with parsley.

March 8, 2012 Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Turkey and Fennel

 

I often turn to the cooking magazines I subscribe to for meal time inspirations. I follow all the websites for my favorite cooking publications but I still enjoy having the magazine in hand for casual reading when I am in the car (as a passenger, of course!), at bedtime and when I am cooking in the kitchen. We are still in a post vacation semi-South Beach phase now, so I am looking for recipes that can be adapted to this style of cooking. Fine Cooking magazine’s February/March issue featured a stuffed cabbage recipe in the article, Big Buy Cooking that I made some changes to.  I used ground turkey instead of lamb, and a cup of sauteed fennel in place of the rice, which reduced the cooking time. I blanched the cabbage using separated leaves instead of the whole head and baked the cabbage in a casserole dish.  It also gave me the opportunity to use our wonderful roasted tomatoes from last year’s garden.  As a first attempt, I must say we were very pleased with the results.

Turkey and Fennel Stuffed Cabbage

Loosely adapted from Fine Cooking magazine # 115

Serves 6 or 2 with several days of lunch leftovers

  • 1 large head green cabbage outer leaves discarded and cored
  • 1 1/4 lb ground turkey
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped fennel
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese (regular or low-fat)
  • 1 t dried chopped oregano
  • 1 Tb fresh lemon juice
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • 1/2 t fennel seeds crushed in a mortar and pestle
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • olive oil as needed
  • 1 quart bag of roasted tomatoes (from our garden)
  • or 1 15 oz can crushed tomatoes (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • fennel fronds reserved from the chopped fennel
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cut the core out of the cabbage and carefully pull off the leaves, keeping them as whole and unbroken as possible. Save the smaller leaves for another use. Blanch the cabbage leaves in the pot of boiling water until pliable, 3 or  4 minutes. Run the blanched leaves under cool water and pat dry.  Cut the center vein out of the leaves, this will make them easier to roll up.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saute pan and add onion and fennel. Cook onion and fennel until softened but not browned.
  3. In a large bowl, combine ground turkey, sauteed onion and fennel, egg, feta, oregano, lemon juice, cumin and crushed fennel, 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper.
  4. Coat the bottom of a 9×13 casserole dish with 1 T olive oil. Arrange the blanched leaves on a work surface, so that they run lengthwise away from you. Put about 1 1/2 T of the turkey mixture on the end closest to you. Fold in the sides toward the turkey, and roll away from you to enclose the meat. Place rolls in the casserole seam side down as you make them. Repeat with the remaining cabbage and filling, arranging the rolls in a single layer
  5. For the roasted tomato sauce; drain liquid from the tomatoes and measure out 2 1/2 cups tomatoes. Combine tomatoes, chicken broth and about 1/2 cup fennel fronds in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. Remove fennel fronds after cooking. Once the tomatoes have cooled, puree in a medium setting food mill.
  6. Pour tomato sauce over cabbage rolls. Bake in a 350 oven for 40 minutes  rotating pan halfway during cooking. Serve.
    Beautiful Roma tomatoes from last year’s garden

 

 

 

 

 

The tomatoes are cored and halved before placing on parchment lined baking trays.
The tomato skins slip off easily before freezing in quart-sized bags.