Keeping the Injuries to a Minimum

I have the plans. I have the tools. I’ve watched the tutorials. I’m limbered up. I’m (moderately) well-rested. Hopefully, I won’t saw anything important off.

YES…there comes that special time in every author-slash-veggie-gardener-slash-blogger’s life when a site redesign becomes inevitable. In short, I am moving to a new hosting venue and, as you might imagine, I’m not all that wildly savvy about the whole bloody process.

WHERE ARE THE GENIUSES WHEN YOU NEED THEM?

So…I’ve been kind of keeping the actual blogging to a minimum while I figure out what the heck a PlugIn is, and a JetPack, and a Theme, and a Box, and a Skin. Eeeks!

If any a’ you out there has any great advice or suggestions, I’m all ears.

What PlugIns work for you?

Any foodie-blog must-haves?

Any pitfalls I might avoid?

Otherwise, I’ll see you about once a week until I come up for air. (I WAY prefer planting and maintaining a 3,000 sq foot vegetable garden all by myself, BTW. It’s simpler and the worms are hella cuter.)

xxx

Goodnight comb and goodnight brush. Goodnight to the old lady whispering hush.

Take your boots off before you come in here!

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Verbless VVednesdays

Trip in to Manhattan. Never a dull moment.

Broke, Hungover, with Guests

Just when you thought it could get no cheaper and no easier than Ramen Noodle soup.

Just when you thought there was nothing more comforting, nothing more humble, nothing better for the day you look in the recycling bin and wonder who exactly (hmm…can’t recall really…) finished that bottle of Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey, just when you thought there was nothing cheaper than a packet of 10 for $1.00 Ramen Noodles, there is Caldo Verde soup.

Caldo Verde is what I serve when the cupboards are bare, my wallet is empty, the whiskey is gone, when I’m in dire need of vegetal liquids, and my kitchen is full of guests.

Since this happens more than once per year, I’ve actually gotten to be quite obsessed with Caldo Verdo. In fact, each year I grow a whole bed of Beira Kale, the official kale used in this, Portugal’s national dish.

Bright and versatile, Beira Kale is one of my very favorite things to grow.

Beira’s nubile inner leaves are gorgeous in salads and as they continue to grow to the size of elephant ears, they are still sweet and delicious. I save the stems for juice or the odd sauerkraut experiment (which often fails miserably).

Kale kraut? Stem juice? Kale mash? What other user-unfriedly things can you do with kale stems?

If you attempt this super-easy recipe, you’ll soon realize that one of the reasons Beira is the Caldo Verde kale of choice is its flat, easy to chop leaf. None of that frilly or nubbly kale for me!

I’m so in love with Beira Kale that I use it for way more than Caldo Verde. Once you learn how to chop it (step-by-step, idiot-proof directions below), your whole attitude about the Cruciferous leaf of the Brassicaceae family will change. You will no longer boil-the-hell-out, you will forever more flash cook.

For all of you corner-cutters like me out there, there is no skipping out on your knife skills here. The only truly necessário step is cutting the kale into baby fine slices. Your CALDO VERDE WILL FAIL if you wimp out with the Henckel.

This is both a humble dish and a luxurious delight. You will find as many variations on this recipe as there are for chocolate brownies but I never switch it up from this, the simplest one. I rarely even add the chouriço and instead go pure green. I look forward to it all year and could eat it everyday for breakfast and lunch.

I prefer my Caldo Verde green and my fatty snausages on the side where I can fully appreciate them.

Olive oil is an important flavor here. Don’t skimp and use the almost-best-stuff you have in your cupboard. If you want to be super-sexy and the wallet don’t mind, as always break out the big bottle of Badia a Coltibuono.

CALDO VERDE SOUP

Serves 4

Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
10 ounces dry or already-cooked chouriço, sliced into ‘coins’ (optional)
6 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
8 cups cold water
1 pound kale (ideally Beira), stems removed, cut into very fine julienne – *see photos for instructions
Salt and pepper to taste

Step 1. Stack and roll the kale leaves into a tight ‘cigar’ shape. (Thighs of virgins optional.)

Step 2. Show your kale cigar who’s boss.

Step 3. With a patience of a saint (black mani-pedi optional), slice the kale into teensy tiny slivers.

Step 4. Admire how excellent you are at slicing.

The slivers of bright kale ‘cook’ instantly with a dousing of the hot broth.

1. In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the onions and cook until they are translucent but not at all brown. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the potatoes, cover with the water, bring to a boil and lower the heat. Cook until the potatoes are almost done, about 15-20 minutes.

2. When the potatoes mash up easily, lightly purée the ‘broth’ with an immersion blender. I usually leave a few chunks. Season with salt and pepper. Keep the broth piping hot.

3. Divide the finely sliced (uncooked) kale into four pretty bowls. Ladle the broth over the kale. If you want to use chouriço add it now on top like a garnish.

Puree a lot or a little depending on the severity of your hangover.

It’s nice to pump up the meal with a little of this and a little of that. More wine always helps.

Did you remember the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day?

Soup is best taken right-side-up, but not everyone understands this.

The banjo makes an evening in The Muddy Kitchen especially lovely and countrified.

Thankfully, a deep and early sleep will be had by all.

Take your boots off before you come in here!

Skinny Girls Eat Fat

I eat as much bacon as I want as long as I’m spending the rest of the day with my work boots on.

My mother is the kind of person who will look at bowl of Marcona almonds glistening under a heavy coat of oil and a generous sprinkling of salt and say, “I can’t eat those..too greasy.”

I did not inherit the “too greasy” gene from her. I think instead that I may take after my grandfathers. My one grandfather would ask for his pound of beef tongue at the deli counter “extra fatty” – a mythic request given that the “less fatty” beef tongue was already a heart-buster. My other grandfather poured half-and-half in his cereal instead of regular or (gasp!) skim milk. I recall him putting half-and-half in his ginger ale too.

Have you ever had a bowl of Raisin Bran with half-and-half? Quite the gorgeous (and fatty) treat.

Yes, when it shines, when it glistens, when it marbles, when it melts hot and solidifies cold, when some part of its name includes the word “belly” and when every doctor on the planet tells you it will eventually kill you, I want to eat it.

A fatty duck breast seared to a crisp in, yes, fat.

Fatty bacon. Fatty tuna. Fatty prosciutto. Fatty goose. Fatty duck. Fatty salumi.

Yes, I love fat.

You’ve got to love a foodstuff called, simply, Lardo.

I put thin slices of Lardo on toast or slap a layer of it on top of a roasting chicken.

What’s a country morning without an egg fried in bacon fat?

The secret weapon in The Muddy Kitchen: pancetta.

When Keith brings over a few chunks of his freshly killed venison, or a bit of the wild turkey who had the misfortune of roaming through his backyard, I’ll stare down at those sorry slabs of my neighbor’s free-roaming, marble-less animal meat and remember that fat is a precious and rare stuff. It’s a true ‘all-natural’ preservative. It makes you full. It makes you warm. It makes the food taste better.

Painfully devoid of any marbling, venison takes a beating at our house.

I think I learned my true reverence for the material when I first made duck confit from Judy Rodger’s six-page recipe-cum-treatise on the subject in The Zuni Cookbook. Buying duck legs was no problem – I went into Chinatown and paid just a few dollars a pound to take home bags of the plump dark nether-parts of recently plucked Pekin ducks.

But I had to travel far and wide to find the fat to cook it in (about 5-6 lbs). D’artagnan sells a dainty few ounces for about $5.99! If I wanted to drive an hour, I’d found a guy who’d sell me a few 5lb bags of the raw material, but I’d have to render it myself – a slightly dangerous and highly messy all-day project.

In the end I bought a frozen bucketful from my local market for about five times the price of the duck itself. I used and reused this precious stuff – through rounds of (fatty) graisserons, (fatty) duck, and (fatty) pork and gizzard confit.

I respect fat. I pay a lot for it. I’m thankful to have the good fortune of having it at the ready.

And then I fry something to a shattering crisp.

If you love fat and fatty bits, you should absolutely get the The Zuni Cafe Cookbook and spend the winter ticking off Judy’s fat-centric recipes. I make confit in batches of 12 legs but working with 4 is an easier way to wrap your head around the process. Whipping up 12 legs of confit is truly a daunting task. While confit is the ultimate fast food once it’s done, making it is not for the faint of heart.

A HIGHLY CONDENSED VERSION OF JUDY ROGER’S DUCK CONFIT

Serves: 4 (or 2 people twice)

4 whole duck legs (legs and thighs attached)
1/3 oz (approximately 2 tsp) sea salt per pound of meat
rendered duck fat, at least 2 cups of fat per pound of meat

1. Rinse the legs well and pat dry, trimming off any ragged edges of skin or fat (save these up in the freezer for making duck cracklings later). Salt the legs all over, a little more on the thick parts and less on the bony legs. Leave no bit unsalted. Arrange the legs in a single layer in a wide glass, ceramic, or stainless container, skin side down. Refrigerate for 18 to 24 hours.

2. Rinse the legs well, one at a time, under cold running water. Massage with your fingers; the flesh should feel firm. Dry the rinsed legs on a clean towel and pat dry. Test for saltiness by trimming off a bit of meat and simmering it in duck fat for 5 minutes. If it tastes too salty, rinse and dry each leg again. Place the legs on a very clean plate and rest at room temperature for an hour covered with plastic wrap.

3. Heat the fat until warm but definitely not bubbling, then add the duck legs to the warm fat. Choose the smallest pot that will fit your duck, to reduce the amount of fat you’ll need. If needed, add (yes!) more fat to submerge the legs completely. Heat the fat and legs to just below a simmer (200°F is perfect).

4. Stand by to adjust the heat, maintaining a steady temperature. Cook for a least an hour and maybe up to two. The meat should feel soft, like a roast chicken, but not falling off the bone.

5. When the meat is done, allow to sit undisturbed for 20 to 30 minutes. Using your mad tong-skills, gently lift the legs out and transfer to a glass or ceramic container, trying not to tear the skin or to disturb the liquid on the bottom of the pot beneath the fat. Skim the fat , and ladle it through a fine-mesh strainer over the cooked legs, again taking care not to disturb the gel at the bottom of the pot. Cover the meat completely — depending on the size of your storage container, you may need to melt more fat — and cool to room temperature.

6. Cover the container well, then refrigerate for at least three days to a week before using. I, in a very messy and unexplainable fashion, transfer my confit 2 legs at a time into FoodSaver bags, making sure each leg is totally surrounded in fat. I put the packs in the bottom drawer of my fridge and use throughout the year. In my experience, confit tastes the most gorgeous after at least three months.

*Yummy duck confit photo courtesy of Burnt Lumpia

LIKE if you love fat!

Take your boots off before you come in here!

Chicken of the Woods

Unlike Hen of the Woods, Chicken of the Woods is hard to miss.

You might remember my stepson, Damon, the Chanterelle Whisperer. Well, it seems he’s also the Chicken of the Woods Whisperer.

Poulet de la Woods? What is that, Jennifer?

Maybe Laetiporus cincinnatus rings a bell? No?

Well, yesterday Damon and his dad, aka my husband, were driving home from their trip to the dump (where, if you don’t know, we here in the middle of Nowheresville must go once a week to part with our stinky garbage) and they turn up the curve in the driveway toward the house and Damon spots something.

Hmm. What could that be?

Polypore mushrooms grow on decomposing trees and look like ‘shelves.’ You can’t eat the ones that grow on conifers or Eucalyptus.

With a chunk of the mystery plant matter in hand, the men continued up the driveway, walked in the door and begin banging around the bookshelves. I heard the commotion and came rushing out from my Muddy Office (where I was diligently procrastinating away posting junk on Facebook and pinning more junk on Pininterest).

My husband had gathered a few of the books we have on mushroom identification and was flipping away at the pages. Damon had that familiar glint in his eye.

He held the strange, salmon-hued chunk out to me and said, “I think it’s edible!”

Here, chickie chickie!

Now with wild mushrooms, “I think it’s edible” is a frightening term; there’s a potentially enormous price on the “I think” part of the phrase. While only 2% of the mushrooms in the world will kill you, you really don’t want to find that out over a nice plate of duck confit, a mess of mushrooms alla poison, and a fine Chianti.

It didn’t help that our mushroom identification books were published around the same time that Euell Gibbons was doing ads for Grape Nuts. The pages of the former library books had all taken on the color of spilled tea and the photos were mostly black and white. Our specimen was bright coral – certainly a key factor in solving its mysteries.

I started looking online. Damon wanted to perform a “spore test” (whatever that was). My husband took out a pair of jewelers glasses for closer inspection. And I, foolhardily, started dreaming about how this oddball thing would taste fried up in garlic and butter.

A book? What am I supposed to do with that?

While my high-powered Muddy Lawyer advises me that I must warn you not to rely on goofy sources like the Worldwide Interweb for your wild mushroom identification, and certainly don’t rely on me as a credible source, but this mushroom, we soon learned, was nearly, almost, 99% sure, pretty much absolutely not poisonous.

It was the prized culinary delight: Laetiporus cincinnatus.

More commonly known as Chicken of the Woods.

While my husband painstaking vacuumed out the stray bits of straw I left in the Suburu after my trip to Dick’s Klinger’s farm (super-super-sorry about that, honey!), Damon and I went out to gather the rest of the ginormous mushrooms at the bottom of the driveway.

Stand back and watch the Whisperer work.

Mushrooms are strange, alien creatures.

We brought the heavy basket o’ shrooms back to the Kitchen, weighed it, estimated its price on the open market ($400-600 maybe) and labored over the pros and cons of cooking up (and consuming) this strange delight.

For the remainder of the afternoon, we played YouTube videos on mushroom identification, checked and rechecked our sources, imagined both the glorious meal we could make and the painful collective death that might occur if we were wrong.

We decided to go for it.

“Just a little bit,” we all agreed.

Hauling the fruit to the house. The ‘shrooms weighed the basket down.

“Okay, so if we showed up at Dean & Deluca with all this how much could we get?”

The various recipes for Chicken of the Woods mushrooms involve cooking the thing up like chicken. Why? Because Chicken of the Woods, seriously, no joke, not in an alligator-tastes-just-like-chicken kind of way, tastes like chicken.

I read a recipe for ‘Chicken of the Woods tacos’ and ‘Chicken of the Woods Chicken soup’ and even mistakenly wandered onto the Girls Scouts website and read about a Chicken in the Woods recipe, but I just wanted to try the potentially lethal stuff, plain and simple: straight up.

So we sauteed it in a bit of olive oil and butter and tossed in some garlic to finish it off.

Does this look like chicken breast or wha?

The men cautiously had two chunks each and I gobbled up about 1/3 of a pound figuring my death-by-mushroom would come more quickly that way. In the morning I knew, if I was still alive and hadn’t accidentally killed off my family, that I’d write and tell you about it.

We decided that dolled up turkey burgers would make a perfect ‘last meal’.

We didn’t skimp on the fixin’s. It was maybe our last-ever meal, right?

Frying up the chicken…I mean Chicken of the Woods.

The men had a dainty bit of mushroom while I gobbled up a lethal dose.

Well, I am still alive and I am still swooning with delight over the wild and delicious Laetiporus cincinnatus fruiting in our driveway.

Now what to do with the ten more pounds of it for dinner tonight?

Chicken of the Woods mushroom living up to its name.

Take your boots off before you come in here!