Sunday, April 27, 2008

Ramps, Two Ways

Ramps are a sign of spring. And spring is truly here, with wild warm days that have helped my soul crawl out of the drudgery of winter. Spring has reminded me how great the world can be when it is actually sunny and warm and green everywhere. A kind of wild leek, ramps appear in early spring and don't stay in season for long. I was thrilled when I saw them at the Greenmarket last week and snatched them right up. They can be used in place of onions or garlic, and they are also traditionally eaten with bacon and scrambled eggs.

Since I've already used up my bacon allottment for the month, I chose to pep up my eggs and ramps with butter and a cheddary cheese. Together with a sourdough rye (also from the Greenmarket because I was too busy to bake bread last week), it was a perfect hearty breakfast. Ramps have a very distinct flavor, which is a little more earthy and pungent in smell and taste than onions or leeks. When I rinsed my ramps, I found they had a weird film at the bottom which I peeled off. Also, FYI, you can eat the white bottom part and the green leaves (unlike leeks, of which you can only eat the white part).

Scrambled Eggs and Ramps
1 tbsp butter
1/2 bunch ramps
5 eggs
1 tbsp milk
2 tbsp cup grated cheddar cheese

Rinse the ramps and chop off the very bottom. Chop into small pieces and sautee over medium low heat in butter until wilted. Meanwhile, slice your bread and place in toaster. Then, whisk eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and cheese in a small bowl until combined. Once ramps are wilted, add egg mixture and stir continually until eggs are just cooked through. Butter your toast and plate with scrambled eggs and ramps.

For dinner tonight, creamy orzo with lemony shrimp and greens and the pungent taste of ramps. I think feta cheese would kick the whole dish up a notch, but I was too cheap to buy it after so many recent grocery purchases.

Orzo with Shrimp, Ramps, and Swiss Chard

1 cup orzo
15 small shrimp (I used frozen, cooked shrimp with tails already cut off for ease)
1 tbsp butter
1/2 bunch ramps
1/2 bunch swiss chard
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese

Place orzo in a pot of salted water, bring to boil, and let simmer about 5 minutes, until orzo is tender. Drain in a colander and set aside.

Meanwhile, place shrimp in a bowl of water and let sit for about 10 minutes until defrosted.

Rinse and chop off bottoms of ramps and chop into small pieces. Sautee over medium low heat with butter until wilted.

Rinse and chop swiss chard leaves into small pieces, discarding stems at bottom. Add swiss chard, salt, and pepper to the pan and continue to sautee until wilted.

Add shrimp, orzo and lemon juice to the pan, and stir to combine. Cook another couple minutes until shrimp are heated through. Grate parmesan over top and serve.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Dark Days Challenge Final Week: Skate, Lemony Kale, and Fries

This is a variation on an old standby of ours: fish, kale, and oven-baked fries. I picked up skate instead of flounder at the Greenmarket because it was cheaper and I wanted to try something new. We thought we could just pan fry it - but instead it took forever, stuck to the pan, and fell apart, and the texture is much chewier than flounder. Next time I would do some research on a better way to cook skate. Except there probably won't be a next time, because I don't think Jesse ever wants to cook with skate again.

As for the kale, I cooked it for about 15 minutes in a tablespoon of butter, a half cup of white wine, the juice and zest of half a lemon, and some freshly dried rosemary. It turned out very lemony, but it gave it a nice kick, similar to that of the balsamic vinegar I usually use for cooking kale. I thought toasted almonds would add a nice crunch, but for some reason the almonds were barely discernible among the forkfuls of leafy greens. While this kale preparation was fine, it was nowhere near as good as the kale with bacon and currants I cooked last week, which was just amazing. Now I'm wondering how long I need to wait, for my waistline's sake, until I can buy bacon again.

And we overcooked the fries, which stuck to the pan and fell apart in the oven. All told, not our finest meal, especially since Jesse was feeling sick and rested on the bed while I ate alone.

I also roasted several beets and tossed them with toasted almonds, olive oil, and an Italian Country Vinegar, a mix of red wine vinegar, garlic, and herbs. It will be nice to have those beets handy in the fridge as a snack this week.

My Urban Garfunkel Garden

In just spring, when the world is puddlewonderful.
- e.e. cummings

Yesterday was such a beautiful early spring day. The sun was shining, New York City was bustling with people and plants and life, and I was in an unusually good mood. I've been feeling perpetually grouchy lately, but the warm day filled me with promise of brightness and warmth and happiness before me. As my fried Jessica put it, the day lent a nostalgia for what we knew was to come as in summers past: lazy hot days, sipping cool beers in gardens, lounging around lush parks, walking in warm twilights and nights.

I started out the morning with visits to both McCarren Park and Union Square greenmarkets. The little trays of herbs and plants at the market called to me, and I was determined to make today the day I finally got my urban garden going. My mom is an ardent gardener, and I grew up surrounded by beautiful lawns and flowers, and ate fresh broccoli and peppers from her vegetable garden. But personally, I never had any motivation to get down with the dirt and manual labor of gardening.

Until I started to explore local eating, and realized that the most local way of all is from your own backyard. Or in my case, from a container garden on my miniscule deck. I feel lucky enough in Brooklyn to have any outdoor space at all past a fire escape - ours is a little wooden deck with a grill and a rusty chair, used mostly when cigarette smokers visit. As well, I can walk out onto a small roof space from my window, where the warmth of the black tar will be good for tomatoes and basil later this summer I think.

Without meaning to, I selected flats of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme from the Blew Farm stand, just as in the Simon and Garfunkel song. Back at home, I was lucky enough to have potting soil left over from the previous tenants. And I had some indoor plants that were on their last legs, from the dry heat in our apartment and the ravages of our dog's teeth. So I pulled out the old plants and gently potted the new baby herbs and set them out on our little deck.

I also had a packet of mixed greens seeds that were a Christmas gift. I was too lazy to start the seeds inside a few weeks ago, so I planted them directly into a container bought at Home Depot. Now I cross my fingers and hope that the seeds will sprout, and that I'll be able to enjoy homemade salads before the oppressive New York summer heat kills them.

And so now, I wait, for nature to run its course. For fickle, blustery early spring to warm around the edges, for plants to sprout, for fresh crunchy vegetables to appear in the farmers market, for my herbs to grow tall. And in waiting, must not forget that I need not wait for warm weather to feel alive.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Dark Days Challenge Final Week: Kale and Chicken with Bacon and Currants over Rice

In thinking of a way to use up the bacon I bought last weekend, I thought back to the kale salad with bacon vinaigrette that I had at Diner not so long ago. I loved that salad, with its delicate chiffonades of kale and crunch of bacon and breadcrumbs.

But I didn't think that the tight little leaves of kale I get from Garden of Eve farm would suit a salad. So I decided to cook the kale on the stovetop and make use of the bacon fat. For Jesse's benefit, I added in chicken (big strong man needs protein) and served it over rice (a complete meal must include a starch).

I also added currants, which was a nice touch. I think currants may be my new favorite pantry item. I bought them on my last stock-up trip to Fairway because they were the cheapest dried fruit by far (about $2/box compared to $8/box for blueberries etc, thinking I would use them to make homemade granola. Well, I haven't gotten around to making granola yet, but the currants were perfect in with kale and bacon - providing a nice salty-sweet complexity to the dish.

And while I was initially opposed to adding carbs to my green leafy-heavy meal, I think the rice also really benefited the meal, since bites of sweet black rice tasted wonderful with crunchy bacon. (Thanks again to Jesse's mom for the colorful rice!) The chicken breast, a lucky find at the farmers market a few weeks ago, was not the star of the show, and I would only include it if you have a craving for meat, or, like me, have a big strong man around who requires meat. And as for the shallots, you could subsitite onions as I normally would have, but I was lucky enough to get free shallots at the farmers market for having exact change :-)

Kale and Chicken with Bacon and Currants over Rice
3/4 cup rice
1 1/2 cup water
4 strips bacon
2 shallots
1/2 lb chicken breast
1 large or 2 small bunches kale
heaping handful of dried currants

Combine rice, water, and a pinch of salt to a small pot. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for about 40 minutes until rice is tender.

Meanwhile, lay bacon in a large pan and cook over medium heat, turning every few minutes, until crispy. Remove and let drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

Mince shallots and cook in bacon fat over low heat until softened. Meanwhile, slice chicken into fairly small pieces. Add to the pan and turn heat up to medium to allow the chicken to brown. Turn chicken pieces over after a few minutes to brown the other side.

Meanwhile, rinse kale and chop into very small pieces. Add to pan and lower heat to low. Let wilt a little. Then add 1/4 cup water and cook, covered, for about 10 minutes. Tear bacon into bits and scatter bacon and currants over pan. Add salt and pepper and combine. Serve kale mixture over rice.