Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Behold The Mayo

When my brother-in-law Dave fantasizes about making a meal from scratch, he means literally from scratch. Like the BLTs  we concocted for lunch last Saturday. Actually the project (yes, at our house, lunch can sometimes be a project) began the week before when Dave began curing a pork belly he had purchased from Tim Rocha at Kellie Brook Farm near Portsmouth.

First, Dave cured the pork belly in the fridge for five days, using a blend of pink salt, kosher salt, dark brown sugar, and maple syrup, a recipe from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. Then he smoked the pork over maple wood for six hours in his electric Bradley Smoker, one of the top ten best inventions of all time.

Now that we had a beautiful hunk of bacon, we were ready to head off to the Seacoast Grower's Market in Portsmouth in search of the rest of the ingredients for our ultimate summer sandwich. In anticipation, Dave had already prepared the dough for his special sourdough bread, which was rising in a warm spot in the sun room.

At market, we chose arugula from Nelson Farms and bought some green zebras from Garen of Back River Farm. When the time came to make lunch, we washed the lettuce, sliced the tomatoes and just-baked bread, and fried up the bacon. Then came the final task: whipping up some homemade mayonnaise, made with an organic egg purchased that morning from Charlie of Stone Wall Farm.

While I know all about the dangers of eating uncooked eggs--and only recommend that you do so with eggs you can trust--until you behold the taste of homemade mayonnaise, you won't believe the astonishing difference it makes with any sandwich, even if you haven't gone to the trouble of making the bread and bacon yourself.

Best of all, it's easy.We used the recipe for instant mayonnaise from Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, also by Michael Ruhlman, a fabulous reference book that every devoted home cook should own. Though we used the immersion blender, we whisked it at the end to incorporate just a little more air.

Michael Ruhlman's Instant Mayonnaise
(Works best with ingredients at room temperature)
1 large egg yolk, preferably organic or farm-raised
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup canola oil (or more as you need it, adjusting the lemon juice accordingly)

Combine the yolk, water, lemon juice, and salt in a 2-cup Pyrex measuring glass. Buzz it once with an immersion blender to mix. Add a few drops of oil, holding the blender to the bottom of the cup and blending until an emulsion forms, 2 to 3 seconds. With the blade running, pour the remaining oil slowly into the cup, beginning to lift the immersion blender up and down to incorporate all the oil. Once you start blending the process should take 15 to 20 seconds.

If you don't have an immersion blender: whisk the mayonnaise in a large bowl, with a dish towel twisted around the base to stablize it. Begin whisking the yolk, then drizzle in a few drops of oil, while whisking until the emulsion forms. Then whisk continuously, adding the remaining oil in a thin stream.

If the emulsion breaks: simply pour the mixture back into the oil cup, add a teaspoon of water to the empty bowl and a little more egg yolk, if you have it, then pour the broken mayonnaise drop by drop into the water, while whisking or blending to reform the emulsion. Continue to add the broken mayonnaise in a thin stream.

Makes 1/2 cup

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Just Fritterin'

For years, my family had the same exact meal for Christmas and Easter as we did at Thanks-giving.

This was not due to any lack of imagination on the part of the women who cooked it -- Nana, my grandmother, and her two daughters, my mother and aunt. Rather, it was to insure that no one got an easier meal to prepare than anyone else. While all three were able cooks, none was particularly eager to spend time in the kitchen. (My mother was an incredibly enthusiastic proponent of convenience food in all forms.)

That's why I see the corn fritters that Nana made every year for my birthday as a true labor of love. And, though there have been a few of improvements to the recipe over the years -- substituting corn oil for Crisco, for instance -- I am especially delighted that my sister, Robin has continued this particular birthday tradition.

Nana began with corn fresh from my father's garden -- looking for older ears, with bigger kernels. Robin and I do our shopping at the Heron Pond stand at the Seacoast Grower's farmer's market in Portsmouth, NH, so we have to work a bit to find ears of the right maturity in early September.

Because we prefer our fritters with kernels in them, Robin cuts the corn off some of the cobs and scrapes the kernels off the rest with Nana's Pennsylvania Dutch corn cob grater, a kind of wooden plank with two sets of metal teeth set in the center. (See below.)

We like to say that while my aunt inherited Nana's jewelry, we got the corn grater, which to us, was the better end of the deal. Robin adds some fresh thyme and sage to the batter along with the traditional salt and pepper. Otherwise, these corn fritters are pretty much the way Nana made them -- a little complicated, maybe, but outrageously good.

Nana's Corn Fritters
1 dozen ears of fresh sweet corn, older, fatter kernels are better than younger
1/2 teaspoon each of thyme and sage
1/2 teaspoon, plus pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of cream of tartar
2-3 tablespoons oil to cover bottom of skillet, preferrably corn
1. Cut the corn off five ears, then grate six ears, using corn grater. If you're not lucky enough to have inherited one, use a box grater to scrape off the kernels at half their depth and then, using the back of a knife, scrape off the remaining pulp on the cob. Depending on the ratio of corn to batter you prefer, you can either grate or cut the kernels off the remaining ear. (NOTE: We're freezing the cobs to make a corn stock for chowder sometime later in the fall.)

2. Beat the egg yolks into the corn batter.

3. Add a pinch of salt and cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat until stiff peaks form.

4. Add oil to cover the bottom of a fry pan (we use a 14" iron skillet); then heat until just shimmering.

5. Mix in 2/3 of the egg whites, then gently fold in the remaining 1/3.

6. Put a generous 1/4 cup of batter into the oil. Don't crowd -- in our 14" pan, we make four at a time. Sometimes the corn has more moisture in it than others, and the batter can get too runny. If that happens, just stir a tablespoon of cornmeal or flour into the batter and continue.

7. As the fritters cook, they'll puff up and get brown at the edges. Nudge them a bit to make sure they're not sticking. When they have cooked enough to hold together, it's time to turn them. Put a insulated sleeve on the hot pan handle, then use a spatula to flip them. (Watch for spattering!) Swirl the pan to make sure the oil is covering the entire surface, and cook for a few minutes more. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don't burn, but don't rush them, either -- they take time.

8. Carefully remove cooked fritters and put them on cookie sheets in a 200 degree, so they crisp up.

9. Repeat, adding more oil, if necessary.

For some reason, the first batch frequently falls apart. If that happens, carefully remove the bigger pieces before proceeding. They make great snacks, but remember, they're hot!.

This recipe makes enough to serve six as a side. We made the full recipe for the three of us and heated up the remainder in the toaster oven for lunch the next day.

Full of Beans

"Help!" said my friend Laura, "I've got beans coming out of my ears." Well, at least she had them coming out of her garden.

I thought immediately of one of my favorite bean salad recipes. I'd found it in Cooking Light about eight years ago and I've tried to make it a couple of times a summer ever since. The thought of it made me wish I had a garden full of beans.
Lucky for me, it was Copley Square Farmer's Market day and the people from Silverbrook Farm in Dartmouth, MA still had some tasty-looking beans, both green and yellow. I also bought some cherry tomatoes and some basil from them. (Normally, I grow herbs in window boxes on my balcony, but this year's plants succumbed to overwatering, courtesy of Mother Nature, during Boston's near-record wet July.)

This recipe is ridiculously easy to make, but it's both delicious and unusual. One key is to find a mild feta -- you don't want this to be too salty. I'm going to use one of my favorite goat cheese fetas from Brookfield Dairy in New Hampshire.


4 cups of water
3/4 pound of green beans
3/4 pound of yellow beans
2 cups chopped tomatoes (I used quartered cherry tomatoes)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
1/2 cup (2 oz.) crumbled feta

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Cook beans in boiling water for 5 minutes or until crisp tender. Drain and rinse with cold water. Drain again.
Combine next 4 ingredients (through pepper) in a bowl. Divide beans evenly on 8 plates. Top each serving with 1/4 cup of the tomato mixture. Sprinkle each serving with one tablespoon basil and 1 tablespoon crumbled cheese.