Berry Rejuvenation

My friend Beth of Total Mom Haircut is doing a great segment on her blog where she’ll focus on one local ingredient per week and encourage people to submit recipes. Beth told me that this week’s ingredient would be ‘berries’ but I already had blueberries earlier in the week and there were only a few left that weren’t looking quite as vibrant as they could. For those of you who are coffee drinkers, imagine how you feel when you have to wake up a few hours earlier than normal and don’t have access to coffee. That’s how my blueberries looked:There was a faint possibility that they would be able to rise above their debilitating fatigue, but they would certainly need some help.

Berry compote is a great way to use berries that might not be fresh from the market and it’s not at all hard to make. Essentially, you’re adding some water, sugar, salt and pepper to the berries and simmering gently for around 10 minutes. From there, I add a splash of red wine (also a bit past its prime) and I end up with a dark and rich condiment ideal for serving with poultry, meat, or richer fish like halibut or wild salmon.

If your berries are fresh or you’re lucky enough to pick them yourself, please eat them plain. But if you find them in the fridge a few days later, go ahead and give them a boost. Just as you might enjoy a double fair-trade espresso in the morning, your tired berries will love being cooked into a delicious compote.

Berry Compote

Toss 1 Handful of Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, or cherries) in a small saucepan

Add 1/4 cup water, a tablespoon of sugar, and a dash of salt and pepper

If you have some leftover red wine around, add a splash of that as well

Simmer for around 10 minutes

Of course if you have 2 handfuls of berries, double everything. The recipe is pretty easy going. The compote can be served at room temperature over a piece of grilled or sauteed pork, poultry or fish.

Enjoy and eat well.


Ramp Stamp

There’s something a little sleazy and exciting about the ramp market. I’ve been reading ‘ramp rumors’ online about certain restaurants that have them earlier than everyone else. I even asked about the source of the ramps I recently ate at a Brooklyn restaurant and was told that it was a secret and that they wanted to make sure there were enough for the restaurant. I would call them sexy but there aren’t many foods that belong to the onion family that scream sensuality. Well, at least not for most of us. There was a strange girl I dated in Ohio but that was more an issue of…well it doesn’t matter.

Ramps are finally here. Some farmers describe them as ‘wild leeks’ or ‘very oniony things that are good in pasta.’ I describe them as the short-season little gems that can be hard to find unless you get to the market much earlier in the morning than I usually do or are able to bribe a farmer. Either way, once you get your hands on these guys, you’re in for a treat. They are not cheap and sell for around $3/bunch in Manhattan. Some farmers will sell two bunches for $5.

When scallions are cooked too long, they tend to lose their bite and can even become bland. Ramps on the other hand, can be cooked in much the same way without losing any of their flare. If you haven’t tried them before, I recommend serving them with something neutral like toast or pasta. You really don’t need to do much. Once you’ve gone through the trouble of finding them, you are rewarded with a very easy cooking process. Here’s one idea:

Ramp Crostini

Heat 2 Tablespoons of Olive oil in skillet over medium heat

Add 2 cloves of sliced garlic

Cut ramps in half and add to pan along with a pinch of salt and cracked pepper

Toast 4 slices of crusty bread

Saute Ramps and Garlic for 5 minutes

When toasts are done, drizzle with a tiny bit of olive oil and sprinkle of salt

With tongs, top toasts with ramp mixture

If you’d like, you could add some fresh herbs or shavings of a firm pecorino.

Eat well.


The Bread Crumb Diaries Part I ($1.25/Serving)

I was cleaning my kitchen today and I noticed my cutting board was covered with Bread Crumbs from a loaf of sourdough I had sliced up earlier. As I began to scrape the crumbs into the garbage, I had a realization: Breadcrumbs are useful and should be treated with respect. Hanzel and Gretel certainly wouldn’t have thought of throwing their breadcrumbs away, especially if they were working on a blog about sustainable eating. So with a small bag of breadcrumbs now in the fridge, I’d like to see how many dishes can benefit from a handful or two of breadcrumbs.

Italian vegetable dishes often use breadcrumbs to give them a bit more texture. The American version may be mushrooms stuffed with a huge amount of breading but there is a more moderate (and tastier) way to do it. Start by melting a couple teaspoons of butter from in a skillet and then add a handful of crumbs. Turn the heat to medium/high or so and watch for the breadcrumbs to become toasty. When they start to color a little bit, remove them from the pan and saute whatever greens you have around. I have winter kale tonight (delicious) but you could use almost any leafy veggie. To be honest, I’m more excited to add breadcrumbs to spring and summer veggie dishes but we’ll come back to that in a couple months. For now, enjoy your kale and try not to throw too many yummy things away as I almost did.

Sauteed Kale with Toasted Breadcrumbs

Heat 2 teaspoons of butter or olive oil in a skillet and add a small handful of breadcrumbs

Add extra fat if mixture looks too dry

When crumbs start to color, remove from pan.

Add a drizzle of olive oil and 2 cups of chopped kale. Sautee for 3 minutes or so.

Salt and pepper to taste, add a splash of white wine and cover for 2 minutes or so.

Add toasted crumbs and toss with the kale.

Taste again. This might be a good place to add splash of vinegar, some extra wine, or a few shavings of local, firm, cheese.

Eat well.

Winter Salad

I’ve read a lot of articles about how winter salads are every bit as good as those you find in the summer. I’m still not sure I will ever like anything more than a salad of in-season tomatoes, baby greens, and a few shavings of local pecorino. But there are great salads to be had in the winter, even here on the East Coast. Windfall farms, at Union Square is a fairly expensive but excellent vendor of various radishes and sprouts year round. Most recently, I noticed beautiful watermelon radishes and sliced them thinly along with some blanched kale. With a simple vinaigrette, this is the base of a wonderful winter salad. I also use their gorgeous sprouts when they have them for garnishes at fancy dinner parties. Some of their produce is simply stunning.

Blanching or parboiling are not difficult cooking techniques. I use these methods for everything from winter greens to thinly sliced parsnips. I wonder if we got in the habit of boiling a small pot of salted water as soon as we got home, if we wouldn’t realize that we can eat a lot more veggies than we realized. If you happen to be on the East Coast, buy some root vegetables (parsnips, carrots, celery root, etc), chop them into small pieces and put them into your boiling water. Taste it after a minute and see if it’s too firm for you. If it is, let it go another minute. This is not hard to do. Toss the blanched vegetables with olive oil and vinegar and see what happens. I know I’ve started to enjoy the crunchiness of winter vegetable salads. Those vegetables are delicious and very good for you. They are also cheap. If you can commit to eating mostly root vegetable salads for a few weeks, you can save some cash for those heirloom tomatoes which will be here in a few months. And yes, I am counting the days. : )