September 2011

Mushroom soup 2 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

9.30.11 Wildly Edible

Oh yes, more mushrooms! And it's raining like the devil in these parts, so probably more yet to come. I'm still not complaining. G found a brilliant orange chicken mushroom growing on the split trunk of the oak tree that crashed through our back fence during Irene and it went right into a pot of soup. I have so much maitake (aka hen-of-the-woods or grifola frondosa) in my freezer—and dried, too—that I'm set for hot pots for the rest of the winter. All this bounty has led me to invent a delicious soup: wild mushroom made with wild mushroom stock. The only other wild thing I had on hand (other than my imagination, of course) was some wild rice, so I threw that in, too. It turned out wildly earthy, nutty, chewy—more of a stew, really. Perfect for these days of incipient fall, and for October 1st which is World Vegetarian Day. In fact, I think I read somewhere that October is Vegetarian Awareness month. Meaning that we're supposed to notice they exist? Whatever, it seems like a good excuse to whip up lots of vegetable-centric dishes. Hey, flavor them with bacon, I don't care. But let's explore a few we may not cook on a regular basis: kohlrabi, parsnips, mung bean sprouts, jerusalem artichokes, turnips, puntarelle. It's a wild world but somebody's got to eat it.
Verbena in the garden 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

9.29.11 T is for Tisane

In yesterday's post, I mentioned the wonderful tisane, or herbal infusion, that concluded my meal at Stone Barns. It inspired me to go out and snip some herbs from my garden to make one at home. (And it didn't cost $15!) I experimented with fresh mint, lavender, Spanish sage and hyssop, all of which made delightfully aromatic brews. As per the restaurant's directions, I did not mix up the various herbs, but savored them separately so as not to muddy the flavors. With cooler weather on its way (eventually), I decided to cut many of these declining plants and dry the leaves so that I can enjoy tisanes all winter long and be reminded of the lush greenery of my summer garden. I recommend you try this, even if you can only get your hands on mint. It's a fun process, and the tisanes are very relaxing and therapeutic. Many of these herbs are restorative, aid in digestion and help calm the spirit.
Stone barns 790 xxx
photos off the interwebs

9.28.11 Stoned Again

It seems that birthday celebrations call for Stone Barns. And not just birthdays—the place is thick with tipsy bridesmaids and full-on wedding parties. You may recall that last January I chose to turn 48 within its glorious confines. G and I dined there recently with a group of friends to fête the marvelous Matthew on the occasion of his 50th. Each of the three times I've been in the last 18 months have been revelatory experiences; not only the food, but the service and the ambiance elevate this restaurant above most others. It's part of a multi-million dollar farming, education and hospitality enterprise, and much of the food served is raised on the grounds or locally. This summer, I was lucky enough to get a little window into the kitchen when my sister-in-law secured an externship as part of her program at I.C.E. In lay terms, that means she worked there. She assuaged my jealousy by religiously recounting tips, techniques and stories from behind the scenes at one of this country's finest restaurants. It was almost as good as eating there...
Fried zucchini blossom2 790 xxx
photos by george billard and gluttonforlife

9.27.11 Flower Child

Squash blossoms are delicate and ethereal, yet somehow sturdy enough to  stand up to a good frying. They're delicious other ways, too, as in this fresh vegetable stew from Mexico, full of flores de calabaza, chiles and herbs. You'll find them fried all over Italy where they're known as fiori di zucca, always battered and sometimes stuffed. One classic version calls for a stuffing of anchovy filets and mozzarella, but mine—herb-flecked goat cheese—is lighter and feels a bit more in tune with these days of Indian summer. Like most fried foods, they're best served fresh from the oil, so they're really not the thing for a big party. But it's lots of fun to fry up a dozen or two for a group of friends gathered in the kitchen, sipping prosecco or rosé and singing the chef's praises. I can't remember where I learned to use masa harina for these, but I'm always on the lookout for gluten-free substitutes for wheat flour. As with my fried calamari, rice flour would probably work well, though the understated corn flavor of the masa harina really does seem to complement the subtle, sweetly vegetal note of the squash blossoms. By the way, zucchini flowers are said to be better than those of yellow squash, which can get slightly bitter. Choose the freshest, perkiest ones you can find. They need to be slightly open. Too tight and the fragile petals will tear as you attempt to pipe in the filling. Ain't that always the way?
Zucchini blossoms 790 xxx
some from the farmers market, and a couple of big ones from our garden

Beaver dam side view 790 xxx
photos by george billard

9.26.11 Impromptu Potluck

Imagine traipsing through the woods early of an autumnal eve and coming upon this sight. Can you imagine anything more inviting? I feel so lucky to spend time at Beaver Dam. (Especially when I'm not going out of my mind waiting for my bathroom to be repaired!) And to come together there with a circle of new friends I have been collecting upstate—people who love eating well, being in nature, just chilling—is such fun. A recent invitation for cocktails turned into a few hours of cooking, foraging and eating, with everyone contributing in a very serendipitous way. We brought squash blossoms and fresh Concord grape juice, and happened to stumble upon some more black trumpet mushrooms en route (!), and there were many more delicacies waiting for us when we arrived. "Peace" vodka from a nearby distillery to mix with the grape juice, a couple of flawlessly executed dishes made with locally foraged mushrooms and a gorgeous peach galette worthy of Alice Waters herself. The best part, though, were the enormous glass doors of Beaver Dam thrown open to the glorious view: the ferns bleaching to a golden crisp, the wheat-colored marsh grasses blushing from the glow of the setting sun, the dank woods smelling of mushrooms and wet leaves. Though it was not cold, we lit a fire as a tribute to the approaching fall.
Beaver dam chimney 790 xxx
the rooofline at beaver dam creates an imposing silhouette against the sky

Michelle eating 790 xxx
photos from the interwebs

9.23.11 Seoul Asylum

In addition to being a style icon, the First Lady is a renowned gastronaut. (This is the word I substitute for the loathed "foodie.") We know she's actively concerned about what the children of this nation are consuming, but she and the President are also really into food. I often read about them dining á deux at various hot-spots around the country, so it was delightful but hardly surprising to hear that, during their recent trip to New York City, Michelle paid a visit to a new hole-in-the-wall that's been getting lots of buzz, Danji in Hell's Kitchen. In fact, they had to close the place down for her the very day before we went, with Secret Service in the kitchen and the whole deal. After a very favorable review in last month's New York Times, this 36-seat place, billed as "modern Korean tapas," went right on my list of essential eating. It's got quite a lot in common with the Momofuku restaurants: relatively short on atmo, but long on intense and memorable Asian-inflected flavors executed with classic techniques. We'll definitely be going back to sample the rest of the menu.
Web 1 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife and george billard

9.22.11 Web 2.0

It's raining again, which probably means there are more mushrooms in our future. I say our future because I can't help but share with you all my mycological finds. Cry uncle if it's too much. In the meantime, recent walks have revealed a frenzy of weaving going on. It's almost as if the spiders are busy luring as many insects as possible so they can chow down and put on some winter weight. Everybody's getting ready for the cold. Their magnificent webs, beaded with dew, glitter in the early morning sunlight. Some creations remind me of those delicate Victorian chain-mail purses; others, more dense and cottony, are like hammocks for fairies, strung between two plant stalks. And if you're lucky enough to find a spider at work, stop and watch. Their skill and dexterity is truly inspiring.
Verrines 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

9.21.11 Vegging Out

Fall is here—already. It's brought with it beautiful cool sleeping weather and that poignant quality, a tender melancholy. This is my favorite season, bittersweet and poised so precariously between the royal flush of summer and the dark abyss of winter. Time now to squeeze every last drop of warmth and sweetness from the world. In the garden, tomatoes, zucchini, basil and herbs are performing a glorious swan song. It's the perfect moment for one of these verrines, a French bistro staple that I learned about in the October issue of Food & Wine, which is dedicated to the new French classics. You're undoubtedly familiar with parfaits, those gorgeous layers of fruit, cream and frozen delights showcased so perfectly in clear footed glasses. Well, this is sort of a vegetable version of that. A fresh, chunky salad topped with a creamy layer of whipped mascarpone, and garnished with a crispy slice of prosciutto. It's an ideal lunch, or a lovely way to welcome guests for a casual dinner party.
G2 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

9.20.11 Concord Territory

If you're trying to eat more local foods, grapes may be something you don't get often enough. All year long, I pass up those gargantuan globes flown in from Chile, so it's quite exciting to see the gorgeous blue-black clusters of Concord grapes at the farmers markets. And to smell them! Their gorgeous perfume attracts the bees even in the middle of New York City. I'm lucky enough to have access to another local grape, grown by our friends at River Brook Farm along the Delaware River. Himrod is a native white grape, a choice seedless variety known for its sweet, floral quality that is quite similar to the related Concord. (This is sometimes called a "foxy" flavor because of its musky intensity.) I love its pale chartreuse color, a last lovely reminder of summer's greener pastures. And I've found that it goes perfectly with gin...
Chanterelles1 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife

9.19.11 Mycology Today

Enough with the mushrooms! Or is it? I have felt myself becoming obsessed this past week. Any free moment I have, I'm stealing into the woods to search for black trumpets, chanterelles, hen-of-the-woods and chicken mushrooms. And I've been richly rewarded! We're supposed to get more rain this week, and I think by Friday a new crop may be sending out its siren song. I found so many maitakes that I gave half of them to my friend Tomo, who is connected to many of NYC's best Japanese chefs. Apparently they're all excited to cook with them! (I'll try to parlay this into an interview, or at least an interesting new mushroom recipe.) By now we've eaten mushrooms on toast, mushroom risotto, mushroom tempura and mushroom soup. I've frozen and dried enough to see me through the winter, but I still fantasize about what might be around the next tree! What's wrong with me??