The taste-buds of toddlers, even the most omnivorous of ones, seem to grow pickier near the age of two. That’s certainly been the case with Theo. We depend upon green smoothies, fortified with kale and carrots, to get vegetables into him now. He tends to favor plain starches, bananas and peanut butter, granola and other sweet items these days. So we were delighted to discover he had a taste for lamb kidneys and liver, and tripe soup, at a recent special Greek diner menu at our beloved Trattoria Athena here in Brunswick. I was also happy to discover I had a taste for kidneys, after my unpleasant experience with rabbit ones a while back. And pleased to discover Apple Creek Farm in Bowdoinham sold delicate lamb and goat kidneys at my Brunswick farmers’ market for an affordable $3 a pound. Apple Creek farmers Jake and Abby said the only other customers who ask for them are mothers inspired by Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions.
I’ve bought lamb and goat kidneys twice from them now and found them delicious. I think the goat ones had a more off-putting barnyard aroma, but by eating time, I got confused which was which. To remove the kidneys’ urine flavor (hey, urine is sterile anyway:)), I soaked them in heavily salted water and then some beer the first time and sweet vermouth the second time I made them. For a recipe, I adapted Mark Bittman’s one for breaded veal kidneys sauteed with shallots and sherry, from his How to Cook Everything. I drained the kidneys and discarded their liquid, removed tough white membranes, sliced them into tender medallions, salted and peppered them, then dredged in flour and pan-fried in butter. I kept them warm in a 200 degree oven while I sauteed shallots with more butter in the pan, and then deglazed it with sherry and sweet vermouth and a touch a maple syrup for sweetness. That sauce goes over the kidneys. Serve warm with crusty bread.
Unfortunately, now-finicky Theo refused the kidneys both times at home. Mama sure enjoyed them as an appetizer, but their richness, like liver but with a sweeter, less metallic flavor, meant I couldn’t make a meal of them. A little goes a long way with offal. Let’s hope this kid becomes omnivorous again when he turns two in June. What happened to my keen sardine eater?
I’m totally spent, after appearing on local TV for the first time, and banging out a cover story for The Portland Phoenix’s pig issue, plus my side column take on Jews and pork. I attended a whole hog butchery workshop (lung was delicious, spleen was gross) and have tracked down numerous chefs, pig farmers and butchers. I remain indebted to Oregon for teaching me how to cure my own guanciale and to seek out meat CSAs and heritage Red Wattle hogs. Now, for some recipes (previously discussed on our latest WBOR radio show on food waste).
First, pig ears, normally considered dog food/dog chew toy. Perhaps they should stay that way. I’m all for crispy pig ears at restaurants, but I found them a bit gross and not worth the effort to do at home. I worried about ear wax and hating shaving the ears of hair. For a recipe, I consulted the trusted Michael Ruhlman, a charcuterie guru with a new book out (with co-author chef Brian Polcyn, whom I interviewed) on the porky art of Italian dry-cured Salumi. He recommended prepping pig ears confit-style.
So I rubbed the ears with salt, pepper, garlic and Chinese five spice powder and let them cure overnight (well, ok, they were left in the fridge for a few nights). I was thinking crispy pig ear banh mi. That never happened. I confited them in a super-low oven in grapeseed oil (didn’t have lard). But when I tried to fry them up, they were chewy and gummy and not that crisp. I now see I ignored Ruhlman’s advice to roast them, weighed down between pieces of parchment in a 425 to 450˚ oven. My bad. I missed his note that “a serious issue with frying is that water remaining in the skin can cause them to pop and splatter in hot fat.” Splatter they did.
The pork roast, really an uncured bone-in ham, recipe I tried from Tamar Adler‘s An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace proved far more satisfying. I got to taste a little roasted bone marrow, which tasted just like that fancy restaurant appetizer. The next day, I made a good ole New England pot of baked beans, flavored with the bone and pork scraps, inspired by a recipe in a recipe from the revamped classic Cooking Down East. Here’s Adler’s recipe…you definitely want to try to brine the ham first, to tenderize the dense muscle. I added molasses and liquid smoke to the brine, to make the meat, well, more ham-like.
Meat brine (from Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal; roast follows)
1/4 cup salt
1/2 tablespoon sugar (I used molasses too)
2 bay leaves
2 whole dried chiles
1 teaspoon juniper berries
4 sprigs thyme
1 teaspoon peppercorns
Combine the salt and sugar over low heat with 1/4 cup water. As soon as the salt and sugar have dissolved, take it off the heat. In the container in which you’re going to brine the pork leg roast, combine everything with a few ice cubes. Mix it all well. Once it is cool, add the meat and water to cover. Brine, before meat is added, stays good forever.
Brine a three-pound pork leg roast (preferably bone-in for flavor) overnight in the refrigerator. Cover the meat with a plate that fits inside the container and weigh it down so that it doesn’t float. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the pork from the brine and pat it dry. Heat a cast-iron pan or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Brown each side of the meat over medium-high heat. Let each side turn caramel brown. This will take 10 to 15 minutes.
Once the pork is browned, put the pan or pot directly in the oven. Cook the meat, untouched, until it’s medium-rare. In an oven, this will take about 20 minutes per pound. Pork will need an internal temperature of 165 degrees when you pull it out of the oven, and will go on cooking once you remove it. Err on the side of under-cooking the meat. Check it with a meat thermometer at its thickest part until you get good at telling doneness by pressing on the meat.
Remove the meat from the pan and let it sit on a cutting board. It needs to rest for at least 20 minutes. Sliced earlier, the outside of the pork may taste salty; if there is still a bone in the cut, the meat along it will still be bloody.
Slice the meat thinly with a sharp knife. If you can avoid it, leave the serrated knife for bread and use the sharpest straight blade you have.
Serve with a big green salad.
Salad Perfection: Roasted Celeriac and Roasted Exotic Mushrooms with Shaved Radish (or Turnip) and Buttermilk Dressing
I don’t usually run photos this large, but this is an unassuming salad with big flavor. It’s inspired by a truly memorable one I just had at Fore Street, perhaps this Portland’s hottest restaurant. Chef/owner Sam Hayward is Maine’s answer to Alice Waters. My parents took us to his Street& Company on a visit to Maine years ago, but I’d yet to eat at his flagship spot, just above his renown Standard Baking Co., which bakes the chewy fougasse I devoured with my appetizers at Fore Street.
Now, Fore Street is famous for its protein, its house-cured-and-smoked charcuterie, fresh Maine seafood and spit-roasted meats. So this simple salad especially stood out. The menu described a turnip and exotic mushroom salad with roasted celeriac and a light buttermilk dressing. Mushrooms on a salad usually stand out as a rare ingredient. I assumed the mushrooms would be pickled or marinated and shaved. But Fore Street is known for its wood-fired cooking. It turns out the mushrooms were quickly roasted, to seal in their juices and concentrate their flavor. How had I, long a slave to mushrooms in the sautee pan, never thought of roasting them before? So I sliced up some locally-cultivated King Trumpets and shimejis (smaller clumped ones like big enokis), rubbed them with olive oil, Maine sea salt and pepper, and into the 450 degree oven they went, along with the cubed celeriac. The buttermilk dressing, with Kate’s legit buttermilk from Maine’s Old Orchard Beach, came from a Vermont locavore cookbook. Recipe to come.
It wasn’t hard coming up with my “Meals We Loved” pick for today’s radio show (our second) I taped with fellow Brunswick food writer, Michael S. Sanders. The topic was sustainable seafood. Visit the Table Arts Media page for a soon-to-be-posted podcast of the show. We have a lot of kinks and technical glitches to iron out, but hey, it’s college radio. And as Michael reminded me, James Beard Award-winning chef Sam Hayward’s first restaurant experiment in Maine–22 Lincoln right here in Brunswick–actually went under after a 10-year-run. But, to the delight of diners everywhere, that sure didn’t stop him.
It wasn’t hard coming up with the “food I loved” for the new “Fresh from Maine” radio show I launched today with veteran Brunswick food writer and cookbook author Michael S. Sanders. It was a simple, Silver Palate-inspired winter borscht, a velvety broth with beets, tomato and braised cabbage, held together with a meaty short rib broth. Michael served it for lunch as we pulled together the show last week. Hands down best borscht I’ve ever had.
It turns out Michael’s discovery of these short ribs discounted at Shaw’s (the large grocery store with the best meat selection) led to not one, but three distinct meals. Talk about frugal gourmet. First, they slow-braised the short ribs in beer, plating the fall-off-the-bone morsels atop polenta. The recipe came from Michael’s lovely Fresh from Maine cookbook, he thought from the Portland restaurant, Vignola Cinque Terre. Or was it the “Stout and Chili Braised Short Ribs over Parmesan Polenta” recipe from the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport? The only expensive thing was the gluten-free beer required for braising to accommodate a guest’s dietary preferences. Meal #1.
The braising liquid and bones Michael and his wife, Amy, then boiled down into stock with the requisite veggies. The resulting rich elixir yielded the most delicious borscht. No tough chunks of meat here but more umami-rich and savory than the still-good, vegetarian Moosewood version. Meal #2.
And Meal #3 was today to celebrate our first radio show (for now on Sundays at noon…live-stream it!) on WBOR, the Bowdoin College station. Michael and Amy graciously invited us to join them and their neighbors for an impromptu, quite convivial meal embodying the best of the Slow Food ethos. Amy, who is busy as an AP English and creative writing teacher at the high school, still managed to whip up a batch of homemade ravioli, putting the leftover short rib meat to good use. But don’t let the “ravioli” label fool you. These were more Slavic, almost like pirogis or Russian pelmeni, than Italian pasta. No coincidence here, since Michael and Amy speak Russian, and he used to import rugs from there and the Ukraine. A light horseradish-creme fraiche sauce perfectly complemented the sweet short rib meat. The ravioli reminded me of my Nonny’s kreplach, which I have yet to recreate. Here’s to more short ribs and homemade ravioli (and kreplach) in 2013!
I have nothing against Ocean Spray. I’m even a fan of their canned, jellied sauce, mostly for its gelatinous texture and the way it lies flat on a turkey and stuffing sandwich. But if you have access to fresh berries, it’s worth making your own cranberry sauce. And you don’t even have to occupy a precious burner on your crowded Thanksgiving stove-top. My favorite cranberry sauce recipe, which I’ve made for years now, is raw, and better yet, sugar-free. This sauce is sweetened with only oranges, apples and dates and whipped up in a blender (preferably a high-powered one like a Vitamix). I often punch it up with orange zest, vanilla extract, cinnamon and nutmeg. I never knew the source of the recipe (see below), but it appears to come from Rose Lee Calabro, an old-school raw foodie. I wish I could remember which dear friend or magazine turned me on to this effortless approach.
I’m excited to receive a pound of local Maine cranberries in our Small Wonder Organics CSA box next week. They’ll be from Sparrow Farm in Pittston, which I also hear has been growing fresh ginger for years. Maybe I’ll finally try Mama Stamberg’s infamous cranberry relish this year.
by Rose Lee Calabro
2 C fresh cranberries
1 C dates
water for consistency
Process cranberries, orange, apple and dates in a blender and serve.
Susan Stamberg Ivy Manning
I love Community-Supported Agriculture (CSAs), though I was hardly an early adopter. I used to think they’d be too confining and limit the spontaneity of buying what one stumbled upon at the market. But CSAs are economical and efficient. They’re all about the paradox of choice. Having a fixed set of ingredients to work with makes dinner preparation faster and in many ways, more enjoyable. You’re allowed infinite freedom and creativity under these restraints. You also spend less time wandering aimlessly around the market.
We did our first CSA, a winter share, last year through the Willamette Valley’s Open Oak Farm. We learned that eating truly local through the winter means embracing more bitter greens, such as escarole. Last spring, we also dabbled in a start-up cured and fresh meat CSA. Now we’re doing a wonderful fall CSA with Small Wonder Organics here. But we’ve never before had the opportunity to become a member of a Community-Support Fishery. Until now.
Coastal Maine is home to Port Clyde Fresh Catch, the nation’s first community-supported fishery. But I found the start-up Salt & Sea C.S.F. even closer to home. Fish is supplied from medium-sized trawlers and small gill-netters run by the Odlins, a fourth-generation old Portland fishing family, their cousins and other local Portland fisherman. Salt & Sea’s Justine Simon, who married into the family, says the experience for members mimics how fisherman share fish with their families when they come home from trips, trading recipes and fresh filets. The goal is to create new markets for more sustainable, but often less appreciated and unknown, varieties of fish. Simon says all their species are plentiful in the Gulf of Maine. Like monkfish.
I picked up my first installment, a pound of monkfish, at the weekly drop-off site at Morning Glory Natural Foods in Brunswick. We need more members to keep this drop-off site viable, so tell your local friends! It was so fresh, with no fishy aroma. For those who are squeamish about fish (do those people, who are not vegan or vegetarians, even still exist?), Salt & Sea included a cute little packet of spices to simmer in a small pot before you start cooking your fish, to combat fishy aromas.
They also included a recipe card for “Roasted Monkfish,” to take the guesswork out of how to cook this new fish. The recipe came from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. I dredged the monkfish steaks in a mixture of flour and chopped herbs, salt and pepper and preheated the oven to 450 degrees. I seared the fish in a hot skillet, browning on all sides to develop a crust. I added broth to the pan and then transferred it to the hot oven to cook until it was tender. And tender and sweet it was. Now I just have to ask Salt & Sea how to get my hands on monkfish liver, a Japanese delicacy I once enjoyed at a cute Brooklyn sushi spot, whose name now escapes me, with my sister-in-law, Julia.
I had never cooked with fresh, baby ginger before. I remember seeing local ginger once in Oregon, at the Eugene Farmers’ Market, at the Groundworks Organics booth, I believe. But Maine is not Oregon. Artichokes, and even citrus such as Meyers Lemons, are relatively easy to grow in temperate Oregon. It rarely snows during the Willamette Valley’s mild winters. In Oregon, the garlic seed sends up green shoots by November, vegetation that reminds you spring is coming throughout the wet, grey winter. But in Maine, the fall-planted garlic doesn’t poke up until April or May.
So I was more than a little surprised to chance upon locally-grown ginger at the farmers’ market in this harsh clime. At least half a dozen farmers in Maine are growing the niche crop in their unheated, underutilized greenhouses throughout the summer. Leading ginger producer Freedom Farm will speak on a panel about “New Crops [winter-sprouting broccoli, raspberries and ginger] in Tunnels” at MOFGA’s upcoming Farmer-to Farmer conference this weekend.
I first chanced upon ginger at Morning Glory Natural Foods in Brunswick. It was from the Koubek family of The Good Shepherd’s Farm in Bremen, which planted the rhizomes for the first time this season. The Koubeks also supplied Chef Aaron Park (who grew up in Eugene, Ore.!) of Henry and Marty Restaurant here. Park, whose sister lives in Corvallis, pickled the rosy young ginger into the Japanese sushi condiment, gari. He also shaved it over ocean perch and grated it into a beef short rib marinade for Korean kalbi.
The best thing about young ginger is it doesn’t require the painstaking step of peeling before use. Its pink bud-scales lend pickled ginger its natural pink hue. My former KLCC “Food for Thought” show colleague Jennifer recommends throwing in a slice of raw beet to stain the slices a punchier pink. And here’s a shout-out to my former “Food for Thought” colleagues! Eugene Weekly readers recently voted it their second favorite radio show in town.
For pickled ginger recipes, I recommend consulting this one, from my friend Linda Ziedrich, a food preservation guru and cookbook author who homesteads in Scio, Ore. I also drew on the “pickled fresh ginger” recipe from Old Friends Farm in Amherst, Mass., which pioneered the growing of New England ginger back in 2006. Ginger seed supplier East Branch Ginger is another good source of baby ginger recipes.
Alas, the fresh ginger season has come to a close. I’m out of product. Next year, I hope to candy my own crystallized ginger. And I’ve always wanted to try naturally-fermented ginger beer. Oregon master bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler has this recipe. You can even use the gnarled spent mother-roots of the baby ginger to make the “bug,” so nothing goes to waste.