Monday, April 30, 2012

Some Pig!

I went to Massachusetts Audubon's Drumlin Farm yesterday to take some photos of laying hens for a post I am working on.  When I got to the gate I was admonished not to miss the pig who had given birth to several piglets the previous night.  So straight to Hattie's pen it was.

So many. So tiny.

It was a gorgeous spring day, and for a while I forgot about the chickens and enjoyed the farm in all its glory.  I thought about the the good times I had here with Alex and Chris when they were younger.  This is a great place to bring children, either to wander around and enjoy the animals and the activities that are offered daily or to register for and attend a specific program.
I thought about the spring afternoon Alex, Chris and I spent in the Sheep and Goat Barn watching a ewe successfully give birth to a tiny lamb.

And the day an onery goat stuck his head between the slats of the fence and tried to eat our shirts.

In recent years the farm has expanded, adding among other things, new barns to replace old sheds, more teaching facilities as well as a greenhouse and more diverse vegetable farming.

The animals are entertaining, but at the end of the day, this is a working farm.  Farm products currently for sale include wool yarn, eggs, maple syrup and, yes, a limited selection of frozen meat. Soon spring then summer veggies will be available and the meat selection more varied come fall.




Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fresh Spring Rolls with Tofu and Mint

2nd Try
As I was writing about Carbondale and Phat Thai I began to crave  "FRESH SPRING ROLLS with TOFU mint & cellophane noodles herbs | sweet chili sauce".  If I were still in Carbondale, I know where I'd go for dinner. However, since I'm ~2,200 miles away, I decided to try to make them myself. Having just a vague idea about the wrapping and no idea what "cellophane noodles" are, I looked to Google search for help.  For buying rice paper (and even learning how rice paper is made) and detailed instructions and options for wrapping spring rolls,  I found Viet World Kitchen very useful.




1st Try
After just two tries, this is still a work in progress. The bad news is as a beginner it is not easy to get perfect looking rolls every time.  The good news is, as Viet World Kitchen points out, "If you mess up, remember that rice paper is forgiving. Plus, an 8- or 12-ounce package contains plenty of papers for you to practice with in your initial forays. Boo-boos are yours to eat!"  As you can see from my photos, I'm still in the "boo-boo" phase; however, though the rolls may not look perfect, they are still very tasty. 


I got all the necessary Asian ingredients at Whole Foods: Galettes de Riz Spring Roll Skin (6 " diameter, Vietnam), China Bowl Cellophane Noodles (Taiwan) and Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce (Thailand).  Not much of a choice so I took what was available and hoped Whole Foods had done some vetting.  Next time I am in an Asian market I plan to try to find some Three Ladies brand rice paper (bánh tráng).   


NOW THE  "RECIPE"    
Makes ~ 10 rolls

8 oz extra firm tofu**

Remove the 16 oz block of tofu from the container, cut in half lengthwise and return 8 oz to the container and reserve for future use.  Place the 8 oz piece on dishtowel, cover and place weight (I use a brick covered with aluminum foil, heavy cans work too) on top to squeeze out excess moisture. Let sit ~30 minutes.

In a small pan half filled with boiling water place:

1 7/8 oz. (half a package) cellophane noodles *

Turn off the heat and let the noodles sit for 10 minutes.

While noodles are soaking prepare the herbs. Phat Thai's spring rolls are strong on mint and also contain other "herbs".  While I mostly remember the mint I think the other herbs included cilantro and Thai basil. Since Ed is not a big mint fan, I use less mint and more of the other herbs.  Adjust quantities of each according to availability and personal taste.    

REVISED 30 APRIL 2012 - The first two times I made these rolls, I coarsely chopped the herbs (herbs left, photos of rolls above), subsequently I have left the leaves mostly whole, as I recall Phat Thai does.  The first time, I did not roll the rolls tightly enough; they looked okay but they were impossible to eat as they fell apart after the first bite. I have found rolls made with the whole leaves and rolled tightly hold together very well, and also I think their appearance is superior to those made with chopped herbs.


Assemble:
~ 2 oz mint leaves
~ 1 oz cilantro leaves
~1 oz Thai basil (I did not have so used regular basil) leaves

Be sure that all stems are removed from the herbs as they will puncture the thin skin of the rice paper. I learned this lesson the hard way.  Tear very large leaves in half, leave most or all whole.  Divide evenly into 10 "portions" weighing ~0.2 oz (~6 grams) each. 

When it is well drained cut the tofu into 10 equal pieces perpendicular to the longest dimension. When the noodles have soaked for 10 minutes, drain.  

Fill a pie plate half full of tap water.  Dip

1 piece rice paper (10 needed altogether) 

on one side then on the other.  Shake off excess water and place the rice paper on a plate or cutting board.  Let rice paper sit for  30 - 60 seconds until it is pliable and transparent. I work with two pieces of paper at a time.


Place a few noodles, ~ 1/2 one "portion" of the herbs, a tofu strip, a few more noodles, and then the remaining herbs in the "portion" on the bottom half of the rice paper circle, far enough down so that when the bottom lip is rolled over the filling, half of the circle remains. The long length of the leaves should parallel the rolling axis.   It looks like a lot of filling, but if you press the leaves down when rolling they will really condense. 


After rolling the bottom up over the top, fold in each side (photo at left) Then continue rolling until all the rice paper is wrapped around the filling. Be sure to roll very tightly, compressing the leaves as much as possible. For excellent photos of this process see Viet World Kitchen.



Not yet having my own recipe for dipping, I used the Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce which is similar to the sauce made at Phat Thai.

© 2013 Edward C Kern, Jr.
* March 2013 Update: Ed and I just got back from Colorado and two visits to Phat Thai. Green Chicken Curry is as good as ever.  Spring Rolls (photo left) good too but a bit different than I remembered.  Piece of tofu is comparatively large and is wrapped in a few small tender leaves of Boston/Butter lettuce along with a bit of basil, cilantro and mint and some shredded carrots. No cellophane noodles noticable. Since then I've made with lettuce instead of noodles, tasty and a step easier.


** January 2014: Super-firm tofu, a relatively new product, does not require pressing and can be used directly out of the package.

Reivewed 5/15/17

Monday, April 16, 2012

Carbondale

© 2012 Edward C Kern, Jr.
Situated in the lower part of the Roaring Fork Valley at the confluence of the Crystal River, Carbondale, Colorado is defined in part by  Mount Sopris (photo at left - also in distance, third photo down ) which towers to the South.  When gold and silver were discovered at the head of the valley in 1879 potato farms and then sheep and cattle ranches sprung up in Carbondale to feed the miners in Aspen.  The Victorian town center dates from this era. Though the rampant development of the 1990s and early 2000s took some of the farmland, many ranches remain (pasture of one in photo at left).  While Ed and I love Carbondale, we have yet to really take advantage of all it has offer.  Mostly there in the winter, we enjoy walks along the Roaring Fork River, x-country skiing at Spring Gulch and dinners at two of our favorite restaurants.

Six89 is a delightful restaurant located in a renovated Victorian house at 689 Main Street.  Its menu, which purports to serve "seasonally based artisinal comfort food locally sourced whenever possible", also contains a fair amount of coastal seafood.  On a visit earlier this winter Ed and I both enjoyed Carpaccio of Ahi Tuna with wasabi aioli, sweet soy, wonton & scallion salad. I followed with a small plate, plenty for me, of North Fork Goat Marsala | Roast Tomato, Shrooms & Greens  with truffled chevre agnolotti, reggiano which was excellent. Ed had  “Dal Bhat”, curried vegetables, lentil & spinach broth & crisp Arborio rice cake; pappadum.  Ed, who has spent much time in India, declared it the best Dal Bhat he has had to date. On other occasions we have enjoyed pomegranate Braised Colorado Lamb Shank which was not on the menu this trip as well as Crisp Gnocchi Salad | Roasted Wild Mushrooms & Butternut Squash with truffled with oregano vin which was. (See Mushroom - Arugula Salad).  Though not advertised on the menu, Six89 offers a three course prix fixe dinner (small plate, large plate, dessert) for $26.89.

The owner-chef of Six 89 also owns Phat Thai located a few blocks down Main Street at number 343. The Asian inspired menu incorporates "organic and sustainable ingredients sourced locally whenever possible and prudent" as well the chef's own sauces. While Six89 may get more critical acclaim and recognition, I really like Phat Thai.  The Fresh Spring Rolls with Tofu, mint & cellophane noodles, herbs | sweet chili sauce are exceptional  as is the Kaeng Kiew Wan - spicy green curry of chicken japanese eggplant, thai basil | coconut, basil. That said, we've yet to order anything we didn't like.



For shopping we like Crystal River Meats on North 4th Street. We often get the flat iron steak, a cut not readily available to us in the East, and pork tenderloin, also excellent though not always available. Recently, in addition to local grass fed beef, chicken, pork, lamb and eggs they have added artisan olive oil, spices, particularly those complimentary to their meats, local cheese and produce as available.  The Milangro Ranch, also in Carbondale, supplies all of the beef for ten Aspen Ski Company mountain restaurants.  This year as last Ed and I enjoyed the great hamburgers at Ullerhof.



© 2011 Edward C Kern, Jr.
And to work off all the calories from this tasty food?  We go to Spring Gulch and enjoy approxiamately 21 kilometers of very well groomed, both for traditional and skate skiing, cross country trails.  The trails climbs about 175 meters (574 feet) from the parking area to  Finlandia Trail and Paul's Point, some in the open, some (the higher trails) through aspen groves, many with great views of Mount Sopris and other mountains and ranges. Some of the trails are flat or gradual grade others much steeper. Circles, squares and diamonds indicate their relative difficulty.






© 2012 Edward C Kern, Jr.
While we drive about half an hour to Buttermilk-Tiehack or a little longer to Snowmass and Aspen Mountain for downhill skiing, when it comes to ambiance, shopping and restaurants, we stay in Carbondale.









March 2013: Sadly Six89 closed in October.  This trip, we often stopped at Tortilleria La Roca to pick up awesome, still warm corn or flour tortillas.  The former we used for soft Tacos (photo right), the later for Fajitas.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Green Chopsticks Potstickers

Fast food! Starting from scratch is seldom the easiest method and, for me at least, sometimes not the best.  A few months ago Costco had a promotion with samples of Green Chopsticks Potstickers and dumplings.  I liked both the chicken and pork  but decided to buy  2 bags of the chicken potstickers as they were much lower in fat* than the pork ones.  I choose the potstickers over the dumplings as I preferred their filling to dough ratio.

I have made potstickers and dumplings in the past but from a traditional recipe.  The ingredients in the filling of the Green Chopsticks potstickers are an imaginative combination of chicken breast, tofu, onion, sweet potato noodle, green cabbage, green onion, leek, shitake mushroom, oyster sauce, evaporated cane juice, soy sauce, salt, garlic, ginger, and jalapeno. Nom! The potstickers contain no msg or preservatives and the chicken is noted to be hormone and antibiotic free. The dough is thin and delicate, unlike the heavier, tougher dough found in varying degrees in most other packaged potstickers or for that matter restaurant potstickers.

The package gives three cooking options: boiling, frying or microwaving.  I use a combination of two, first microwaving on high for 2 minutes per 6 -7 potstickers and then frying the potstickers in peanut oil. I use a flat bottom frying pan large enough to hold all of the potstickers, flat in one layer and heat just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. As the oil is heating I sometimes add scallions (see below for preparation) and then when the oil is hot add the potstickers.   Perhaps because the dough is thin and less sticky these are not pot stickers; in fact just gently shaking the pan will cause the potstickers to slide back and forth.  When the potstickers are lightly browned (about 3-5 minutes), remove them from the pan and use a paper towel to remove excess oil.  Serve with dipping sauce.

[UPDATE:  Right after I posted this, I called one of the larger Whole Foods in Massachusetts to check on availability as my supply is running low, and I could not find them in our local Whole Foods or Costco. When I found they were not available there either, I called  Green Chopsticks, which is located in California. I was told their products are "in the process of being introduced on the East Coast"  :-(    So references to availability at Costco and Whole Foods in the last paragraph in the above link do not currently apply in many regions.  Hopefully soon.  Stay tuned.]

DIPPING SAUCE
Although this too can be purchased ready made (bottle of one of my favorite dipping sauces at far left in photo), I usually make my own version.

Mix:
1/4 c soy sauce
1/4 c rice vinegar (I buy the Marukan sodium free, sugar free)
1/2 - 1 t red pepper flakes, to taste
1 t sugar

1/4 c scallions, thinly sliced
1 t ginger, grated

Sometimes, especially if I am going to save some of the sauce, I combine the first 4 ingredients and then add the grated ginger and scallions to the individual dipping dishes.


PREPARING THE SCALLIONS
Wash and remove the roots of the scallions (~2 scallions per person).  Thinly slice some of the green end and reserve for the dipping sauce. If the scallions are small, slice greens in rings; if larger cut in strips then slice.  Cut the rest of the scallion in half lengthwise and then in half crosswise close enough to the white end so that the pieces in each half remained joined. Dry the scallions before frying.  Even dried, the scallions contain enough moisture to cause a great deal of spattering of the hot oil.  I think they are tasty enough to warrant the mess.

1.5 g/100g or 4 potstickers - no saturated or trans fat

Reviewed 5/15/17

Friday, April 6, 2012

Pasta Puttanesca

"It is not known whether the Italian ladies of the night (the puttane) who gave their name to this racy pasta sauce did so because they were short of time or cash or both.  In any case, puttanesca is quick and cheap and we hope it offends no one's memory to say so."* The version of this recipe (sorry, can't find the source), which I first made several years ago described the puttane leaving a crock with fresh tomatoes and other ingredients on a sunny window sill for several hours to let the flavors blend, and to make the sauce readily available. Since I first made this sauce based on this technique (sun verses stove simmer) I've always thought of Pasta Puttanesca as a sauce to make in the heat of summer when tomatoes are ripe on the vine. Earlier this winter when having dinner out I ordered, "Fettuccine 'alla Puttanesca' with Black Olives, Capers and Artichokes". While the execution was not that good, it made me think that this hearty dish would work equally well in the winter.

A DIGRESSION ON MEASUREMENT

By habit, except for baked items (cakes, cookies, breads, etc.),  I usually cook by eye and taste. This blog has forced me to quantify amounts, which on many occasions I have found to be difficult and in many cases arbitrary as I tend to like food spicier than most.  Quantifying ingredients and quantities for Pasta Puttanesca is particularly difficult. The basic recipe  consists of garlic, diced onion, and anchovies first sauteed in olive oil and then mixed and simmered with chopped red chili, olives, capers, diced tomatoes, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste.  The variations in both ingredients and quantities are many.  Even the recipe (main dish) in the  The Silver Palate Cookbook  differs in both in ingredients and substantially in quantities from the recipe (appetizer) in The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook. Needless to say other recipes vary even more.  The recipe that follows is a suggestion for a quick dinner; adjust quantities and ingredients to individual taste and ingredient availability.

RECIPE - WINTER VERSION
Serves 2 as main course; scale accordingly


Boil in salted water according to package instructions :

8 oz pasta**

While pasta is cooking, in a medium skillet, saute until garlic is soft and slightly browned:

~1 T olive oil (heat first)
~2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
~1/2 c Kalamata olives, sliced
~1 T capers
Then add:

1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (I like the Muir Glen fire roasted)

Simmer until the tomatoes are heated through.

Serve over the hot pasta, garnished with:

Freshly grated Parmesean cheese



VARIATION - WINTER VERSION

Add to the sautee mixture any/all to taste: dried red pepper flakes, finely chopped onion, anchovies

Add to the simmer mixture any/all to taste: chopped parsley, fresh or dried oregano

RECIPE - SUMMER VERSION

Mix together in a medium size bowl with cover:

~1 pound ripe tomatoes, chopped

Follow the instruction above for the simmer mixture, adding:

~4 anchovy fillets, coarsely chopped

Add the sauteed mixture to the tomatoes, stir well, cover and let sit in the warm sun for several hours, stirring occasionally.  Serve at room temperature over hot pasta. Garnish with Parmesan cheese

VARIATION - SUMMER VERSION

To the tomato mixture add either/both: ~1/4c parsley, finely chopped, 1 T fresh oregano leaves

* Page 72, The Silver Palate Cookbook (original version) preface to the recipe for Pasta Puttanesca.


February 2013: Quick after-ski version:  Use diced tomatoes plus 1/4 c (chunky) black olive tapenade.  Garlic optional.


**  May 2017: I find I am using less pasta and more sauce these days. 6 oz of pasta would be plenty for Ed and me. For more guidance see HOW MUCH PASTA TO COOK (bottom of post)




Reviewed 5/30/2017