Monday, October 20, 2014

Toast To The Small Farmer

Sporting colorful tattoos on both arms, the farmer picks out a ripe persimmon. Would I like to taste it? I do, yes! He peels it open and gives it to me. My eyes light up when I bite into the dripping sweet flesh of this local persimmon. It tastes anywhere between a ripe peach, a sweet apricot, and a juicy orange. The friendly eyes of the farmer shine even smilier too when he listens to our enthusiasm for the fruit. This is why I love going to the farmers market: it is the personal interaction, the questions answered: where does this fruit grow, what is the local name, how old is the chicken, how come the egg shells have a light green hue, what is special about these Bay shrimp, where do you bake your bread, did you slaughter the duck yourself, what did the pig eat, will you have goat shanks next week, or generally, just chat.
In the summer, in Quebec, I sometimes drive to a nearby organic farm. It is a beautiful spot. The farmer is quite a character, borderline brusque. It is kind of amusing "or is it", if you know what I mean. This particular day, he was even more curt than usual. "What else?" rushing his customers mid-way in making a decision between one or the other, or "I've been to the field already, I'm not going again" in response to a request for fresh field spinach. And meaning it, too! When it was my turn, I inquired after Swiss chard that I'd seen tall and ready in the field, but got a "no". He did, however, offer to go get field spinach, since "the other lady is making me go again." The lady and I glanced at each other, suppressing a giggle: we felt reprimanded like school kids. Surly or not, he still got me my gorgeous spinach, wild chanterelles, rainbow carrots, the crispiest fresh lettuce, summer rhubarb and a dozen fresh eggs, and I walked away happy as a chicken in a farm yard.
the Friendly Farmer shares a slice of paradise
For small organic farmers, their livelihood depends on so many factors they cannot control. The depend on rain but not too much of it. Sunshine but not to hot. Nature, not chemical nurture. Pest control but, again, nothing chemical. Have a good harvest but now how to make sure it is sold. Persevering with heritage seeds and breeds. There are so many hurdles on the organic small farm path. And yet, they plow on, even against all odds.

We consumers have access to great-tasting organic produce because of it. Even though we share in none of the worry, none of the hard work, none of the downsides. So here's to the small farmer!

October 24 is National Food Day! Houston celebrates this day with Houston Digs Real Food: citywide kids, parents, coworkers, friends, families, schools, companies and organizations are invited to plant veggie-seeds to support fresh produce and eating local (more info)
Knopp Branch Farm, west of Houston. They come to the Eastside Saturday Urban Harvest Farmers Market too!
Just a couple of area farms in Houston you could visit (with prior contact).

Knopp Branch Farm: help out on the farm in exchange for a great farm experience. You can even book a farm stay!
Blue Heron Farm: dairy goat farm hosting hugely popular events like a farm dinner, and educational tours. 
Oaks of Mamre Poultry Farm: Lovely chatty farm lady talking about her free-ranging poultry, what it eats, and that they slaughter humanely onsite. I made her chuckle when I said I'd seen Chicken Run. When you call, you can arrange a visit.
The Barry Farm: I came across this farm when visiting artisanal ice cream maker Fat Cat Creamery.

Plant It Forward organizes urban farms, some of which have a farm stand on the weekends. One is down the street from the Menil Collection.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Food Insecurity, A Post For BlogAction Day 2014

Have you seen A Place At The Table? It is a documentary that follows different people in different parts of the US who have one thing in common: food insecurity. The statistics shown are incomprehensible. In this country of food abundance well beyond the point of wasting, there are 50 million people not sure of a daily nutritious meal. That is three times the total population of the Netherlands, or almost double the entire population of Texas.

I was struck by the girl in Colorado, roaming the country roads around her house trying to ignore the pain of an empty stomach, and failing at school because she cannot concentrate. The food donation boxes they receive contain non-perishable snacks and junk foods that don't sustain them. It was the best they could do, explained her teacher, herself a childhood victim of food insecurity.

Then there is the rancher, herding his cattle: struggling to make ends meet, he still needs a second job cleaning schools after-hours to provide for his family. Yes, a cattle rancher and he can't feed his family. What restrictions and regulations are strangling his livelihood, you wonder.

The film follows a young mother in Philadelphia, trying to support her two young kids in a lonely struggle to survive. Eloquent and energetic, she manages to land herself a job. The sad part is that the job does not pay enough to sustain her family, yet her earnings place her outside the food support range. Back to square one, the last image of this young woman has her crying a silent tear of despair.

The pain of hunger. I've heard my dad describe it. He was one of those children you see in photographs of the winter of 1944 in the part of Europe not yet liberated at the end of WWII. His part of the country was under siege, and all food supply was cut off. People ate boiled flower bulbs, melted candle wax, warmed up wall-paper glue, and scraped the insides of the communal soup pot, fighting over the last drops. Anything to stop the gnawing hunger pangs.

What on earth went wrong in the US today, with all of its wealth and all of its resources, that a young girl in Colorado experiences the exact same hunger pain on a regular basis? And with her, millions of others?

The documentary highlights how budgets to relieve food insecurity are being shifted from "one side of the plate to another". It's like being a parent with money in the bank, but not spending it on your kids' meals.

Alternating between big city and rural areas, the film also takes us to the South. It literally draws a picture of an impossible long commute to get groceries. It takes an hour or more to drive to the nearest food store. The bus takes even longer. Aside from extra gas money or bus fare, how can you manage the time?

Food Freedom
Odds are a small family farmer just up the road is struggling to sustain his farm because he can't afford the cost of transportation and distribution. What if communities in rural areas with no immediate access to food stores, have the freedom to sell/buy or trade what is grown on local land? Relief the rural food desert with the freedom to buy or trade directly from small local producers, including cottage-farms and even homemade products.

To illustrate with the much-quoted Joel Salatin:
“The first supermarket supposedly appeared on the American landscape in 1946. That is not very long ago. Until then, where was all the food? Dear folks, the food was in homes, gardens, local fields, and forests. It was near kitchens, near tables, near bedsides. It was in the pantry, the cellar, the backyard.”

A Place At The Table moved me to tears. I cannot begin to fathom what it must feel like not being able to feed your child a healthy meal. And this in a country proud of its status as world leader and super power. Yet, there are over 50 million people in the US who don't know where their next meal is going to come from. Kids who can't concentrate in school because of hunger pangs in their stomach, or kids that battle with illness and obesity because junk food is the only food available to them. Food insecurity is an inequality that stems from so many other inequalities: inequality of income, inequality of living conditions, inequality of opportunities, of prospects, of hopes and dreams, and... of care.
For more information on the documentary: A Place At The Table.

Houston has an increasing number of grass root organizations working to a sustainable solution for the urban food desert. Acres of abandoned land are turned into urban farms. On another level, grass root organisations are working with schools to teach about healthy eating, and fight childhood obesity. Some of those grass root organizations in Houston are:
Plant it Forward
Last Organic Outpost
Edible Earth (Planted: Houston)
Recipe For Success

This post was written for BlogAction Day 2014, a global initiative to discuss an important issue. This year the topic is: inequality.

I would love to hear your thoughts! And please, share if you care...

Monday, October 6, 2014

Labor And Landscape: The Buffalo Bayou Shrimp Festival

On the grassy banks of the Buffalo Bayou, in Houston's historic East End, where the bayou widens and Houston's downtown skyline silhouettes undisturbed in the distance, the organizers found the perfect spot for the first Buffalo Bayou Shrimp Festival. 

“Sometimes something that is dirty can still be something we appreciate”. The speaker on the small stage is talking about the Buffalo Bayou, and its unappealing murky water. Buffalo Bayou helped build the success of Houston. In 1917, Houston's landscape was forever changed when the bayou was dredged and widened to create the Ship Channel. It opened up a waterway leading directly into the Galveston Bay. The Port of Houston took over the lucrative position as busiest port from Galveston, and Houston developed into the big oil capital it is today.
The shrimp festival is organized by the Shrimp Boat Projects, an arts research initiative to rediscover the landscape and find an identity that reflects a connection with labor, landscape, and culture. The initiators bought a shrimp boat and spent several shrimp seasons to learn about the landscape through the trade of shrimp fishing. Shrimp fishing (‘shrimping’) depends heavily on a healthy native ecology, and is very much tied in with traditions and culture. 
Shrimping and the landscape. Houston can amaze sometimes, with its many hidden treasures. Buffalo Bayou here in East End has uninterrupted views, hiking and biking trails, and an accessible stretch of water that is perfect for a kayak, canoe, and, as demonstrated, dragon boat: the dragon boaters armed with paddles are getting ready, adding to the excitement of movement and activities.
The festival is a celebration of labor and landscape: the shrimp were caught fresh that morning, and boiled on site. The landscape is all around for us to see. From the centerpiece shrimp boat floating sculpture down on the bayou to the silhouetted skyline up in the distance. 

The festival terrain is set up as a big picnic with tables in the middle, and a small stage where local bands perform live. The lines for the shrimp boil are unrelentingly long, but hey, the weather is great and the scenery entertaining. People share picnic tables, eat, chat, drink a local craft brew, listen to the bands play, and even dance. The smells coming from the cook-off stalls (organized by Urban Harvest) are mouthwatering. $1 tickets get you a taste. 
In that landscape of grassy banks, bayou water and skyline beyond, a guy in the back of a pickup scoops out fresh shrimp. He hands them to a guy clad in bright orange, who in turn adds them to the hot stock in a large pot. Time and patience, a shrimp boil is a labor of love. No long lines or festival pressure is going to change that. 

To my surprise, one of the guys brings a shrimp over to us. We’ve made it to the front of the line. "Try it!" I pull of the head, and the juice squirts out. The shrimp is naturally sweet and juicy, and I tell him so. "If y'all don't like it, blame these folks," the guy shouts over our heads to the long line of people waiting behind us. We walk away with our red-and-white checkered paper tray full of shrimp, corn, and skin-on potato.
The Buffalo Bayou Shrimp Festival is part of Transported + Renewed, a community-based arts project organized by Houston Arts Alliance, and focused on Houston’s East End. From September 1 – November 30, 2014, Houston’s East End, the city’s historic transport hub and neighborhood hugging Buffalo Bayou and the Houston Ship Channel, will be infused with a series of concerts, performances, visual art installations and more (www.houstonartsalliance.com).
Read more about the Shrimp Boat Projects here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

October Awareness In My Kitchen

October is a month of awareness in my kitchen. Coming up on October 16 is BlogAction Day. It is a day when bloggers virtually come together to discuss an important issue. This year's topic is inequality, and Life In The Food Lane has a BlogAction Day post in the making. October is also the month for National Breast Cancer Awareness, and in my kitchen I will make my pink ribbon salad. It is a recipe I developed a couple of years ago for Breast Cancer Awareness, and have been making since every year in October. As I slice the ribbons, peel the beetroot, mix the ginger and spices for the marinade, I think of the brave women (some of them friends) who battle this sneaky disease. This October, back in the coastal region of the Gulf of Mexico, I think the curled pink ribbons should come with local Gulf shrimp.
Speaking of seafood, October is also following a debate on salmon that has been going on in my kitchen between my son and me: if farm-raised salmon is prone to environmental issues, and wild salmon is struggling to survive, is saying "no" to salmon the answer? It is according to my son, who visited a salmon hatchery near Seattle as part of a school trip. In return I argue that you could buy only certified-sustainable wild-caught salmon. The discussion continues in a post for October, where we take a closer look at the issue of salmon together.
wild Sockey salmon run in Alaska (see post here)
Another food awareness approach in my kitchen, and not just for October, is to keep food waste to a minimum. Trying not to buy or cook more than we can chew (pardon the pun). One favorite way to avoid food waste in my kitchen, is to use any leftovers. Not as a "reheat and eat" leftovers, but upscaling them into a new dish. It is what I did, for instance, with Braised Quail & Marinated Zucchini Salad, or Beetroot Polenta Croquettes.

What am I not wasting this month?

A whole smoked duck! We brined it. And smoked it in the good company of a dry-rubbed pork shoulder: not wasting space over the smoking charcoal. It took almost 4 hours for the duck to be done. Carefully slicing along the carcass, legs and breasts came off, and we wrapped the succulent, tasty duck meat with quick-pickle red cabbage, grilled tomatillo and koriander salsa, and fresh diced mango in soft shell tacos.
What leftovers in my kitchen, then?

The carcass. There was still a whole lot of bones and bits of meat to use. I cut up the carcass with a cleaver, put it in a stock pot with aromatics and - waste-not-want-not - chopped beetroot stalks, the neck and innards.

All in all, the carcass and innards yielded a good full cup of duck meat. Stock and duck meat. In my kitchen are now the beginnings of a smoked duck and mushroom gumbo. Let me know if you want the recipe.
 reducing food waste:
the carcass of a smoked duck, its innards, and the cut-up stalks of beetroot make for great stock.
And finally, more October awareness in my kitchen with cooking nose-to-tail, or rather: tongue! The tongue came from a local ranch, and the scientist-in-my son was happy to tackle it. He fished it out of the stock, peeled the rough, hard outer skin, apologized for damaging it a little in the process, but ultimately handed me a beautiful piece of velvety soft tender meat. If you have never had it: try tongue! (here's an older recipe, also outlining the basic preparation).
 junior tackling beef tongue: not bad for a first try!
In My Kitchen is an inspiring series initiated by the fabulous Celia@Fig Jam And Lime Cordial. Be sure to have a good look around the kitchens of fellow foodbloggers! 

Also in October: my upcoming visit to Slow Food's Salone del Gusto in Turin, Italy.

If you like this article, please subscribe to Life In The Food Lane, or follow me on Facebook for more.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Memories Of Miri On Bellaire Boulevard




stirring the water, making the shrimp jump out (photo©raymond franssen)

On the coast of Sarawak, close to the border with Brunei, is a town called Miri. It is where I lived for four years. We lived in a bungalow in tropical surroundings. Hornbills woke us up in the morning with their piercing cries. Bullfrogs kept us up at night croaking loudly after a rainstorm. It was 200 meters from the beach. Not your seaside-resort beach, this one was often littered with dead fish and debris from the logging industry. Call it a working beach. When the sea turned pink from the tiny shrimp feeding in the shallows, fishermen armed with nets, sticks and baskets gathered to catch them. Wading knee-deep in water, they stirred around in the shallow water with their sticks, creating a whirlpool of shrimp squirming up and under the waves. Carefully, they dragged their nets. Then they walked back to the beach, emptied their nets and went back into the water. For weeks, the shrimp dried out in the open, filling the air with their fermenting smell. Hard to imagine something so putrid can be so delicious. 
back to the beach to dry the catch (photo©raymond franssen)
Life in Miri was an eye-opening gastronomic adventure. I loved the local market. From the malodorous durian, fresh slaughtered jungle wild boar, to the delicate slipper lobster, you'd find it at the market. I attempted to chat with vendors, learning that food connects, even if language fails. I bought midin (jungle ferns). Tofu sheets that looked like parchment paper. I saw bundles of horseshoe crabs, a creature said to be a living fossil. They come ashore to mate. I nearly stepped on one walking on the beach one day. I bought whole duck, pale head dangling on the long neck, webbed feet attached, every bit considered a delicacy. The pork section was behind a tiled wall, also in the open air. The most vivid nose-to-tail display, ears, snouts, intestines, organs, trotters and tails, everything of the pig was butchered and sold. Coupled with the humid heat of the tropics, the market was quite an assault on the senses. I often miss that hotpot of exotic smells and sights. But I miss the food more.
shrimp fishing, a stone's throw from our house when we lived in Miri (photo©raymond franssen)
It is why in Houston, a favorite pastime is to go for lunch at Banana Leaf on Bellaire Boulevard, and then for groceries to the Chinese supermarket next door. The food brings back memories of life in Miri. It is a nice place, too, decorated with bamboo and palm-thatched booths. Last time lunch was succulent grilled chicken satay, piping hot fresh roti canai with a mild curry sauce. We had nasi lemak. It is a staple in Malaysia, and the national dish, really. The "fat rice" (literal translation) comes surrounded with a variety of condiments, usually including ikan bilis (tiny anchovies, usually fried crisp), kacang (roasted peanuts), telor (boiled and quartered egg), and above all: sambal belacan, a chili sauce made with crushed dried shrimp. I always ask for extra at Banana Leaf. There was Mee Hoon goreng (flavorsome fried Singapore vermicelli noodles), and, a dish he loved living in Miri, my son chose Char Kueh Teow, stir-fried flat band rice noodles. Bellies full, we quickly shopped next door at the supermarket for longans, rambutan, king oyster mushrooms, rau ram (Vietnamese herb), a bunch of lemongrass, and a big fat pomelo. 
clockwise: char kueh teow, satay, nasi lemak, bee hoon goreng, and sambal belacan
Malaysian Restaurant Banana Leaf Houston: www.bananaleafhouston.com


You may also like Sarawak Indigenous Food Treasures


Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Pass, Houston!

Oh My, The Pass. Through the wall you go, in a classy ambiance you arrive. At the end, the pass. Chef at the ready, brigade buzzing. It was good the moment we walked in.

A champagne trolley is wheeled to our table. Celebrating (always something), we go for a full glass of Marc Hebrart Brut Rosé 1er Cru. The table next to us is nearing the end of their dinner, and I see them lick a lolly.

We opt for the 8-course tasting menu with wine pairings. The other option would have been 5-course. There is no other menu at The Pass: the chef takes you on a journey through the kitchen and its creativity.

Modern dining. Fine art on a plate, the food is intriguing and entertaining to the senses. There is an element of surprise, a teaser, an unexpected taste. Throughout the evening, different kitchen chefs appear at our table, explaining a dish, an ingredient, answering a question, slicing a component, pouring a liquid, bringing a final touch.

The Pass has a different menu as seasons come, and kitchen creativity blooms. This one is from almost a year ago, when we visited the restaurant for the first time.

In a hay-like nest sits a duck egg, filled up with chawanmushi, a custard made with gingko nuts. It comes topped with salty dashi flaked granola. Visual pleasure versus bland custard, it is rather oddly paired with foie gras framed in brioche toast. In the pairing, we went for the refreshing and fruity 2011Tokaji sec, which pleasantly mingled with the foie gras. The other pairing option was the Junmai Ginjo "Bride of the Fox" sake. It would perhaps have lifted the custard and dashi granola somewhat.

The house smoked trout floating in creamy brandade is plate-licking good. Flavors are rich, deep, with licorice hints of tarragon. Even a small spoonful is sheer delight, especially when the flavors mix with those of plump salmon eggs bursting. The dish is accompanied by a wood box full of paper-thin reconstructed potato crisps.

Culinary entertainment arrives with a salt-and-coffee crusted, black-charred baked rutabaga: its crust is carefully cracked at the table to reveal a deep orange, steaming-hot naturally sweet rutabaga, its flesh gently infused with the salt and coffee from its crust. Slices naturally savory-sweet rutabaga join a plate with brilliantly tender venison, and nutty wheatberries, fragrant with orange. More than a pretty picture, the aromas of coffee and orange, against the meatiness of the venison, the heartiness of the wheatberries and intense flavor of the baked rutabaga made for a perfect fall dish. It married well with the 2007 Chateauneuf du Pape.
Predominantly a savory person, it isn't often that I rave about a dessert. I do here. Stunning in presentation, amusing in surprise discovered, and delicious in taste (even if a little numbing), the ice-smoking, flash-frozen slices of apple and beetroot spooned from a carved pumpkin, lit for extra effect, is a wow-ing dessert, and well-paired a Riesling Auslese. Yet it is the dessert that comes next, that has me wipe a little happy tear of culinary emotion. It is a truffle risotto.
vanilla risotto with shaved truffle-infused chocolate, a stunning dessert.
Apologies for the blurry images, IPhone pictures and wine pairings are not the best match
I had been wondering about "truffle risotto". It had to be sweet, given its ranking in the menu. When one of the pastry chefs arrived at our table, carrying a black towel with a big, black truffle in one hand, and a truffle shaver in her other hand, confusion mounted. Then the dish arrives. The aromas wafting from the plate give us a clue. Sweet aromas, with a hint of vanilla, this is a creamy, lush sweet risotto. And the truffle in the black towel is made of bitter chocolate, infused with fresh truffle, and reshaped into this beautiful knobbly chunk of deliciousness. Amused by our stunned delight, the chef gently shaved slivers of the dark chocolate truffle over the risotto. Paired with a Perle d'Arche 2005 Sauternes, heaven came to our table right that very moment.

Wine pairings were original and spot on, and while pouring some great wines, other pairings were equally intriguing, from a specialty cocktail, sake to microbrew beers. The evening ended with another trolley wheeled to our table: a sweets cart. Lollies, marshmallows, mini madeleines, brittle, wrapped candy... all made in-house, and best of all: you didn't have to pick, but instead you're encouraged to try them all!

The Pass. Can't wait to try another journey.

The Pass is the intimate, fine dining counterpart of The Pass & Provisions. Provisions is the convivial part, with annexed bar for some outstanding cocktails and local beers. Plates are often intended for sharing, although you can gobble it up all by yourself. Food is tasty, fresh, and creative in its own right. It is, after all, cooked under the same culinary roof as The Pass.  

website: www.passandprovisions.com




Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Cooking With Kohlrabi


hello you beauty!
Kohlrabi is as versatile as celeriac, turnip, beetroot, jicama, and what other bulbous vegetable you can think of that slices nicely, is tasty and crunchy raw, and equally delicious cooked, braised, or roasted. The little beauty in the picture is a kohlrabi still in the ground, moments away from being picked fresh from the field at the farmhouse in Maine where I was staying (link). You can eat the leaves, too! The larger ones may be a tad tough, but cook them like you would kale or collard greens. If you find the greens, that is: on the manicured vegetable shelves in many a supermarket, the kohlrabi comes trimmed and stripped. The name, by the way, is of German origin and points to the two vegetables this bulb is reminiscent of: cabbage (kohl) and turnip (rübe). Below are three recipes featuring kohlrabi.

The first recipe is for Coconut Ginger Kohlrabi Puree. Smooth and full of flavor, I found it a perfect bed for seared scallops. Next, is kohlrabi "carpaccio" style. Sliced thin and marinated, it makes a pretty picture with dark, crunchy kale chips. The flavors of the roasted, savory kale, the crunchy kohlrabi and its hints of lemon, ginger, spice, and herbs literally will whet your appetite, making it a great appetizer. Of course, it is even better with lump crab meat, plump shrimp, a good goat cheese, smoked duck breast, should I go on? The final recipe is a simple red coleslaw that builds on the pure flavors and textures of kohlrabi and celeriac. Celeriac is one of my favorite roots, especially as a simple salad of thin cut julienne celeriac tossed with a lemon and mustard mayonnaise. You could do the same with kohlrabi!

Bon Appetite!

Coconut Ginger Kohlrabi Puree (gone before I took a picture)
1 cup coconut cream
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp grated lime peel
 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
2 medium kohlrabi, diced

Cook the kohlrabi in the cream and ginger until soft. Strain (keep the liquid!!!) and mash into a puree adding the coconut-ginger liquid as you go until it is creamy, smooth, and slightly runny to your liking (you may not need all the liquid). Add the lime peel, taste and adjust if needed.

Marinated Kohlrabi With Crumbled Kale

1 medium kohlrabi, peeled and thinly sliced carpaccio-style (use a mandoline)
1/2 cup kale chips*
marinade: 
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp shredded herbs**
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp (or to taste) finely chopped (minced, really) fresh green chili
1 tsp raw cane sugar (or honey)
  • Mix all marinade ingredients, and let stand for 30 minutes to infuse all the flavors
  • Add the sliced kohlrabi, and leave to marinade for 30 minutes up to 2 hours.
  • Take the kohlrabi out of the marinade (save the marinade), and arrange on a platter in a circle
  • drizzle the marinade over.
  • Crumble the kale chips over OR leave the kale chips whole and arrange alongside the kohlrabi slices
*Kale Chips: you can buy them in a store, or very easily make your own. This is how I usually make them: preheat the oven to 350F, tear the (washed and dried) kale leafs into chip-size pieces. Toss with a little olive oil (a few drops) and a pinch of sea salt (basic kale chip). Spread on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, and bake until crisp and dried (12-15 min).

**the herbs: I used fresh basil because I had it, but you can use other herbs if you like. Mint works, so does tarragon, for instance. 
Red Coleslaw with Kohlrabi and Celeriac
1 kohlrabi, peeled
1 celeriac, cleaned and peeled
1 red cabbage, outer leaves removed
dressing
2 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tsp sharp mustard (Dijon)
juice of a lemon (or to taste)
1 tbsp finely chopped spring onion
1/2 tbsp finely chopped parsley, and if you have, some fresh tarragon
  • Celeriac raw is delicious, but can be tough to chew if not cut thin. I usually cut it by hand in julienne (thin strips). Put the strips in a colander and sprinkle some coarse salt on. Leave for up to 30 minutes, then drain. It softens the celeriac. Proceed to use in the salad.
  • Cut the kohlrabi in thin strips, and shred the cabbage thin.
  • Make the dressing by mixing all ingredients together. Mix through the vegetables, and leave to infuse for up to 30 minutes (it keeps well overnight)

thank you New Moorings in Maine!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Houston's Urban Harvest Abundance In My Kitchen

I escaped the summer heat in Houston for six weeks. A luxury, I am well aware. I spent it picking vegetables fresh from the greenhouse, digging clams on the beach, and cooking happily in my holiday farm kitchen in Maine. Then on to Quebec, where I went to the local farmers market, cooked with wild mushrooms, zebra cherry tomatoes, beautiful goat meat, fresh sweetbreads, and even samphire, or as the farmer called it: sea asparagus. Twas a summer so full of delicious fresh food, I almost forgot the farm-fresh abundance I can find right here in Houston. Almost, but not quite: soon as I returned to Houston, I went to the weekly farmers market. In My Kitchen I am now busy preparing a farmers market menu. 
Crisp Fresh Squash Flowers
Look at that beautiful bunch of squash flowers, fresh like cold morning air! Tis not even half of the amount in my kitchen. Similar to a recipe for zucchini flowers, I stuffed them with goat cheese, dipped them in a tempura-style batter and fried them crisp. The fresh goat cheese comes from Vermont Creamery, where we made a visit-stop en route to Boston Logan Airport. Delightful fresh goat cheese, but I must admit: passing by the market stall of local Texas cheesemakers like Blue Heron Farm, I felt a little regret I had all that goat cheese already. I better finish that goat cheese in my kitchen (yum)!
Galveston Bay shrimp
He caught them the day before, said the vendor with the ice chest full of fresh shrimp. Galveston Bay shrimp are like the teenagers of Gulf shrimp, feeding in the Bay before they venture out into the Gulf of Mexico. These babies are tender, succulent shrimp. I bought a good batch, and steam-boiled them in a Cajun style court-bouillon spiced with tabasco. I saved the court-bouillon, soaked now with flavors of shrimp, for a creamy bisque that I'll make later in my kitchen.
yard eggs in my kitchen
Multi-Color Yard Eggs
The farmers market menu in my kitchen so far has court-bouillon boiled shrimp, goat-cheese stuffed squash flowers, roasted okra and Yellow Roma tomato salad. On to dessert. Never did a custard taste better than made with these farm-fresh beautiful eggs. Such a pleasure watching yard egg yolks whisked with sugar come together with lemon-infused cream-and-milk in a silky-smooth custard to go with colorful fresh figs.
Figs Galore In My Kitchen
The green figs are ripe, the farmer assured me. These were Strawberry Figs, he said. Green on the outside, red inside, the figs are absolutely delicious. Biting into the delicate bulb of green revealed a strawberry red heart of sweet fig-ness. Unable to resist the 3 for 12$ offer, I came home with a variety of fresh little figs. Including the Texas Everbearing. The color of caramel and honey-sweet in taste, these really are better-than-a-bonbon figs. The medley of figs grace the silky yard egg custard tonight. And tomorrow in my kitchen, the rest of the little gems are caramelized and served with creamy goat cheese over grilled pork chops from a local farm.
better-than-a-bonbon fresh figs caramelized with local Texas honey, a sprig of thyme, and goat cheese

This post comes with an appreciative fig-wink to Celia. In My Kitchen is a monthly "peek into kitchens around the world" series initiated by Celia @ Fig And Jam Cordial

Houston, the farmers market in this post is, of course, the fabulous, weekly, year-round Urban Harvest Eastside Farmers Market, website: www.urbanharvest.org

Saturday, August 30, 2014

At Vermont Creamery

One of the first American cheeses I tasted when I moved to the States, was a Bonne Bouche. A fresh goat cheese from Vermont Creamery. A lover of aged, ripe artisanal cheeses, I was delighted with the rich savory soft goat cheese. It rapidly became one of my favorite cheeses, especially the riper one oozing deliciously under its wrinkled rind. Bonne Bouche ages on the shelves at Vermont Creamery for 7-10 days. After that, it continues to ripen in its individual little box for up to 80 days. A very young Bonne Bouche has deliciously firm snow-white fresh goat cheese, while one pushing the sell-by date, and my favorite, comes out runny and ripe. The wonderful characteristics of an artisanal cheese.

A detour off the I-89 en route to Boston airport for our flight back to Houston takes me to Vermont Creamery. It smells of fresh milk, even outside. Goat milk, collected from local family farms. Cow milk, churned into cultured butter. The wafts of dairy and a picture of an old 10-gallon milk container bring back memories of when I was young, helping out on a dairy farm pouring milk raw and foaming from the milking bucket into a container just like it. Peering through the glass window to look at a system of vats, drain tables, and cheesecloth bags, I listen to Aged Cheese artisan Joey Conner explaining the process of collecting, pasteurizing and culturing the milk before the resulting fresh cream is drained to separate whey from curds to the desired consistency. Or goes to the churner for butter. 
"wrinkles are beautiful", a ripe Bonne Bouche wriggled free from its little wood box and onto my cheese board
Goût de Terroir
Cheesemaker and co-founder of Vermont Creamery Allison Hooper learned the secrets of artisanal cheesemaking in France (Brittany). Impressed with the notion of goût de terroir, the "taste of a place" became one of the most determining elements in cheesemaking at the Vermont Creamery. Quality starts with the origin of the product, or in this case the milk: goat or cow, milk comes strictly from selected local family farms, in a region abundant in green, seasons and fresh air. And my god, it is green, Vermont. I drove the I-89 from the Canadian border down to New Hampshire and green was all we saw. Green mountains, green pastures, green shores around rivers and lakes reflecting green.

The cultured butter produced at Vermont Creamery is rich: it contains 86% butterfat, the kind that makes you purr. Making cultured butter started with an old churner found abandoned in a farm field. The old churner with its big moving blades operated until just three years ago, when it was replaced with a modern churner to meet growing demand for the rich golden pure butter goodness. It comes unsalted, lightly salted, salted with grey Baltic sea salt, and one that had my son imagine hot homemade pancakes, and me seared bison steak: a butter enriched with pure maple syrup.

For the size of its market today, Vermont Creamery is a small operation, and a substantial part of the process is still done by hand. Proud of their artisanal fresh goat cheese, their rich cultured butter, what the company seems most proud of is the fact that for more than thirty years and counting, it sustains a solid local network of small farms and creamery artisans.
Vermont Creamery has a small team of creamery artisans. Here the butter man carefully
hand-packages a new batch of Vermont Creamery 86% cultured butter 
butter goodness under a checkered cloth: you want it, I know you do
Geotricum-rinded Cheeses
Vermont Creamery was the first to make “geo-rinds” (using pasteurized milk) in the States, and have perfected it in their aptly named Bijou (made in the style of crottin de Chavignol, a young Bijou has a creamy texture, and as it ages it gains in sharpness), Coupole, and of course, my favorite Bonne Bouche. Geotricum is a fungus, or yeast. It creates that wrinkled rind around the cheese that comes with blemishes, blots, and a moldy-looking appearance. None of it harmful, it adds to the flavor and overall delicacy of the cheese. You'll find this kind of cheese all over Europe, many of them in fact made from raw milk. In the US, any raw milk product is bound by strict regulations, including artisanal raw milk cheeses. To me it doesn't make sense why you would restrict artisanal raw milk cheese, yet have processed cheese with the taste and texture qualities of candle wax so unrestrictedly available by the buckets. Not to end on a rant: thank cheese heaven for the cheese artisans around the US dedicated to making good quality cheeses.

Vermont Creamery is a Certified B-Corp: Be The Change, these are small corporations that "meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Read more here

Further reading
Developing Geotricum-rinded Cheese In The States (by Allison Hooper, VC cheesemaker and co-founder)

You may also like
A Short Story Of Alpine Cheese
Slow Shepherds And The Cheese Resistance
Dreaming Of Cheese: Dutch Artisanal Cheeses

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Lean Goat Marries Full-Bodied Priorat

You are what you eat. It goes for goat, too! Just had goat from a local farm in the Quebec Laurentians. Gone was the odoriferous quality I came to associate with goat meat. Grass-fed, this goat meat was tender in taste and smell, and rightfully so likened to veal by its farmer.

Don't get me wrong. Even with a certain rankness, I've had some wonderful goat. Simmered in a spicy curry. Gentled with ginger, sweet soy, chili and lime in my favorite Indonesian Satay Kambing. Whole goat roasted asado in front of a blazing wood fire, and served in crispy thin slices. Goat just had this undeniable taste, I thought.

Natural Taste
Not the goat meat I bought at La Maison des Fermiers in Saint Jovite (Quebec). It looked lean and smelled fresh. Putting it to the test, we simply grilled the delicate rack of goat in all its naturalness. It was velvety tender with a pure red meatiness that I'd place between veal and venison. Rubbed with Moroccan spice and braised slowly, the goat shanks came out falling off the bone, deliciously meaty and amazingly: very little fat.

La Maison des Fermiers in Saint Jovite (Quebec) sells local farmers specialty meats, eggs, and dairy products. Their blackboard lists oie, canard, bison, and chevreau. Translating the bunch for the benefit of my son, I had some fun explaining also the variations of "chev" as in cheveaux, cheveux, cheval, chevreuil, chevreau, and how not to mix up horse and hair at the hairdresser. We tried goose burgers, bought duck legs for confit, and of course: the goat meat from their own farm nearby in the Laurentian mountains.
What's in a wine label
Red ants crawling all over the black and white label. I thought of The Label Project I participated in: how important is the label in choosing a wine. It isn't, well, not if you know what you want. Priorat is a small wine region inland from the Catalonian coast in northeastern Spain. Known for its full-bodied wines, it is a wine that swirls wonderful with rustic meat dishes. Locking flavors quite happily, the match between Formiga DOG Priorat and my braised goat was no exception (tasting notes here).




Moroccan Spice Braised Goat Shanks
recipe for 4
4 goat shanks
1 large onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 can peeled cherry tomatoes
1 glass red wine
2 tsp coarse salt (or to taste)
1 tbsp olive oil

spice mix
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground paprika
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp fennel seeds
  • preheat the oven to 350F
  • lightly toast the seeds (coriander, cumin, peppercorns, fennel) and pound fine. Mix all spices together. You may need all (store the rest)
  • rub the spice mix and coarse salt onto the shanks. 
  • heat the olive oil in a casserole (ovenproof with lid), and brown shanks on all sides. Careful not to burn the spices. 
  • take the shanks out, and gently soften the onions in the same pan. Add ginger and celeriac after about 5 minutes, cook for another 2 minutes
  • turn up the heat, add the red wine, reduce to half the amount
  • add the cherry tomatoes, bring to a boil and add the shanks
  • Cover and cook in the oven for 2-3 hours, or until meat pulls easily when you tear it with a fork. 
I served the shanks with creamy polenta, roasted rainbow carrots and New Zealand spinach fresh from a local farmer in the area.