My strawberries

My harvest every three days

My Strawberry patch
My strawberry patch

After two years on the waiting list, I finally received a plot at the Anthill Village Community Garden near the University of California, Irvine campus.  When I chose the plot in February of this year, it was a weedy mess with a few things to salvage including a dismal-looking strawberry patch in one corner.  I was hoping I could somehow get the strawberries to produce fruit that did not get eaten by bugs and critters but never did I imagine that my strawberries would do so well.  I am harvesting a basket every few days from a patch no bigger than 10′ by 3′.  In order to overcome the snails and rollie-pollies, I put small mesh nets over the berries and propped them up off the ground with wine corks.  Now I am just enjoying the fruits of my labor.

 So I’ve had this love/hate thing with steakhouses.  On one end, I can’t stand the rape and pillage philosophy of their wine mark ups but I love the bone in cuts, crusty exteriors, and depth of flavor that I couldn’t quite replicate at home….until now. Thanks to an episode of Good Eats and an impulse to buck the system, I went for it and aged my own meat.  Needless to say, it was extremely easy and the benefit was more than worth it.  Before starting the process I purchased two identical steaks (grass fed rib eyes, 2 lbs. each).  I ate one immediately and aged the second steak for consumption 1 week later.  The cooking technique was the same, 18/10 stainless pan cranked high and mighty with the protein only receiving a pat down and a healthy dose of sea salt. The outcomes were worlds apart.  The aged steak had a deeper beefy flavor but was more tender than the straight from the butcher cut.  Given how simple the rig set-up for the aging process was, this is my new go-to technique for a steakhouse quality steak without the ridiculous markups.  Now I can save the steakhouse wine tax while drinking a Barolo and adding an additional bottle to my Barolo collection.  Give it a shot…you’ll be amazed and your wine cellar will grow in the process.  Here’s a link to the Good Eats recipe.

Basically, you take your steak, wrap it in a paper towel and place it on a rack that you created by pushing some skewers through a pie tin. 

Drying rack

 You place your contraption in the fridge and the refrigeration process draws moisture from the meat.  Every day, you replace the paper towel.  By the 7th day, you have a bona fide aged steak.  Fire it up (I’ll let you figure out your own cooking method…Good Eats went with the chimney setup but an ultra hot pan worked for me), rest the meat, and enjoy.

This Thanksgiving, with a much smaller number of mouths to feed (10, rather than the usual 20-30 at my family’s house), we opted for a different take on the traditional turkey.  I called Marlow & Daughters a few weeks in advance to see what options they had for the upcoming holiday.  Upon the first utterance of the word “capon”, I was sold.  A capon is a is a rooster that has been castrated at a very young age.  The end result is a bird that is less gamy in taste and much more moist, tender, and flavorful than a hen or rooster. This recipe, adapted from Thomas Keller, worked out beautifully.  Gremolata butter also works universally for making a variety sauces and seasonings, or even spreading on toast.

Gremolata-butter (from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home):

1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, zest of one lemon, 1 large garlic glove, grated or minced, 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.

To make the butter, crush the peppercorns in a heavy duty bag with a heavy pan. Add the lemon zest and garlic and mash to a paste. Put the butter in a medium bowl and mix in the pepper mixture, followed by the lemon juice. Stir in parsley and salt.

Roasted capon:

1 large capon (8-10 lbs) for 8 servings, 1 head of celery, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, 4 tbsp canola or vegetable oil, 6 garlic cloves (smashed, skin left on), 1 bunch fresh thyme, 1 lemon (used above, cut in half), fleur de sel.

Rinse the capon and dry well with paper towels. Season the inside with salt and pepper. Leave any fat at the neck attached, and trim any other excess fat. Starting at the cavity end of the capon, carefully run your fingers between the skin and flesh of the breasts and the thighs to loosen the skin. Spread about 1 1/2 tablespoon of the gremolata butter under the skin of each thigh and about 3 tablespoon under the skin of each side of the breast.

Truss the capon (tug under wings and tie the legs). Let it sit at room temperature for 30 min (or alternatively, store covered in refrigerator for up to 2 days and let come to room temperature before roasting).

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Place capon in a roasting pan atop several celery stalks, brush with canola oil and sprinkle with salt. Stuff the garlic gloves, thyme, and lemon halves inside the capon.

Transfer to oven and roast until the juices run clear and the inner temperature of the chicken is 165 F (approximately 2 1/2 hours).

Let the capon rest for 20 minutes before carving. Sprinkle with fleur de sel.

Rye whiskey, Benedictine, and lemon juice- the only ingredients necessary for the perfect Frisco

Following this article in the NY Times a few months ago, my boyfriend and I began experimenting with an old but seemingly forgotten cocktail… The Frisco. The article discusses several different ratios and combinations that result in subtly different flavors, but after a lot of discussion and several hangovers, we finally found what we believe to be the perfect recipe. And the best part is, it’s REALLY simple. The end result is a drink that’s reminiscent of an Old Fashioned, with a slightly darker edge and acidic undertone. It’s likely the only thing I’ll be drinking for the next several months.

The Frisco (Brooklyn-style)

2 ounces high-quality rye whiskey

1/2 ounce Benedictine

1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice

* Combine ingredients- stir or shake over ice, as you desire.

The Frisco

This incredibly easy bread soup from Jamie Oliver’s book, Jamie at Home, is all about celebrating the changing seasons and the king of winter veg- cabbage. It’s layered a little bit like a lasagne, with grilled bread and cabbage in stock, and as it cooks it plumps up like bread and butter pudding. I used swiss chard from my workshare, but it would also work great with kale or cavolo nero.  This dish will make any guests happy on a crisp fall evening with a bottle of wine to help warm up.

Italian Bread and Cabbage Soup with Sage Butter

Ingredients: 3 litres vegetable stock, 1 Savoy cabbage (stalks removed, outer leaves separated, washed and roughly chopped), 2 big handfuls of swiss chard (stalks removed, leaves washed and roughly chopped), about 16 slices of stale country-style or sourdough bread, 1 clove of garlic, unpeeled, cut in half, olive oil, 12–14 slices of pancetta or smoked streaky bacon, 1 tin of anchovy fillets in oil, 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary, 200g fontina cheese (grated), 150g freshly grated Parmesan cheese, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, a couple of large knobs of butter, a small bunch of fresh sage.

Directions: Preheat your oven to 350ºF. Bring the stock to the boil in a large saucepan and add the cabbage and swiss chard. Cook for a few minutes until softened. Remove the cabbage to a large bowl, leaving the stock in the pan.

Toast all but 5 of the bread slices on a hot griddle pan or in a toaster, then rub them on one side with the garlic halves, and put to one side. Next, heat a large ovenproof casserole-type pan on the hob, pour in a couple of glugs of olive oil and add your pancetta and anchovies. When the pancetta’s golden brown and sizzling, add the rosemary and cooked cabbage and toss to coat the greens in all the flavors. Put the mixture and all the juices back into the large bowl.

Place 4 of the toasted slices in the casserole-type pan, in one layer. Spread over one third of the cabbage leaves, sprinkle over a quarter of the grated fontina and Parmesan, and add a drizzle of olive oil. Repeat this twice. Pour in all the juices remaining in the bowl and end with a layer of untoasted bread on top. Push down on the layers with your hands.

Pour the stock gently over the top till it just comes up to the top layer. Push down again and sprinkle over the remaining fontina and Parmesan. Add a good pinch of pepper and drizzle over some good-quality olive oil. Bake in the preheated oven for around 30 minutes or until crispy and golden on top.

When the soup is ready, divide it between your bowls. Melt the butter in a frying pan and quickly fry the sage leaves until they’re just crisp and the butter is lightly golden. Spoon a bit of the flavored butter and sage leaves over the soup and add another grating of Parmesan.

Though I haven’t quite gotten around to making everything I set out to do since my last workshare, I have had time to play around with the watermelon radishes I brought home.  Having eaten several of the raw (I eat them like apples), I decided to preserve a few for future use (read banh mi sandwiches). I took Thomas Keller’s recipe for basic pickling liquid and spiced it up a bit, using a vinegar my mom and I made last year with sage and raspberries.

Watermelon Radishes from Clagett Farm

Pickled Watermelon Radishes with Sage and Raspberry

Ingredients:  the equivalent of 2 large watermelon radishes (trimmed, halved lengthwise, and cut into thin half circles), 1 cup red wine vinegar or vinegar infused with raspberry and sage*, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup water.

Method:  Combine the vinegar, sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the liquid.  Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator.

Place the radishes in a canning jar and pour the pickling liquid over them.  Let stand for 20-30 minutes, then cover and refrigerate for up to 1 month.

* To infuse vinegar with sage and raspberries, combine 1/2 cup sugar and 1 1/2 cup vinegar in a stainless steel saucepan. Heat, stirring occasionally, until hot but not boiling. Pour mixture into a glass bowl; stir in1 cup fresh raspberries and 5-7 fresh sage leaves. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a cool place 6 to 7 days. Pour through a fine mesh sieve then through cheesecloth. Transfer to vinegar bottles.

Pickled Watermelon Radishes with Sage and Raspberry

This weekend I did another workshare at Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. You can see my previous post for more details about the incredible farm and amazing people that work there.

As we begin to enter Fall (my favorite season), we are seeing some great and exciting produce coming out of the farms in and around the this area. Here is a list of things I brought home with me after a hard day’s work:

  • Nova Scotia garlic
  • Green tomatoes (baby ones and big ones)
  • Swiss chard (just beautiful!)
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet potatoes (and sweet potato greens)
  • Okra
  • Watermelon radishes
  • Daikon radishes
  • Turnips

The things I am most excited to experiment with this week are sweet potato challah (to make french toast and paninis), baby fried green tomatoes (perhaps with a ravigote sauce), and a take on Jamie Oliver’s Italian bread and cabbage soup. I’ll report back soon with photos!

Oh, and my favorite part of working this weekend was nurturing these baby heads of bibb lettuce. They will be so beautiful in a few months: