We moved last month, to a house we looked at once and fell in love with. We weren’t even really looking to buy a house, but this one went on the market and a friend drove me by and insisted it was perfect for us. Back at the office, we pulled the listing up online. “Too small,” I said. “Go look at it,” he advised. “The location is great, but we wouldn’t really be trading up in terms of size,” I explained. “Go look at it,” he repeated. “It’s probably a better house for a young single person. Or, like, a really really old person,” I offered. “Just go look at it,” he insisted. So we did. Then we bought it.
There were actually quite a few steps between the looking and the buying, all of which were unbearably nerve-wracking. Early in the process, people warned me that buying a house is stressful, and I nodded politely while secretly thinking, “I’ve bought stuff before. How hard can it be?” Here’s the difference: when you buy regular stuff, you click add to cart and a few days later the UPS guy shows up with something pretty; when you buy a house, the bank calls you several times a day to say comforting things like, “I’m reviewing your loan application and I have to ask: do you have any other money?”
But now we live here, in an adorable little mid century ranch with a river for a backyard and a kitchen twice as big as our old one.
There are a handful of things I’ll miss about living at our old house, and the farmers market is one of them. The market in our new town doesn’t start until the end of the June, so yesterday I drove back to our old town to get my fix. Guess how many of those things I bought just because they’re pretty. Hint: four. I was particularly captivated by the flowering arugula, which I’d never seen before. Evidently the flowers are nice in salads or scattered over soups or deviled eggs. Any other ideas?
The fudgies ate all my vegetables!
I know that in high season, if you don’t get to the market by 10 you’ll miss out on some good stuff. But there are a lot more people up north now than there were a week ago, and this morning we missed out on almost all the stuff! When we got to the market a little before 10, my favorite farmer was already sold out and packed up. Everyone else just had lettuce and spinach, which I still have left from last week. The good news is that quite a few farmers had strawberries, and there’s still a bit of rhubarb around.
The other good news is that all these visitors generate revenue that ultimately ends up in my paycheck, so I’m happy to share my farmers with them. Still, I guess my Friday nights should consist of a little less Buffy and a lot more sleep so that I can get my lazy ass to the market earlier.
You’d think a blog with the word salad in its title might occasionally feature a salad recipe. In the case of this blog, you’d be wrong. To date, When Harry Met Salad features only one recipe for salad, a late spring salad that also highlights asparagus. The truth is we don’t eat much salad worth mentioning. Chris doesn’t like it (!!!) and I generally can’t be bothered to do much more than dress greens with vinaigrette for just me. But last weekend I fanned my farmers market purchases out over the dining room table and arranged them to photograph. I nestled a bunch of tiny pink radishes in alongside bright green stalks of asparagus and admired the graceful curve and deep purple-greenness of wild mint, and when I looked through the viewfinder of my camera I immediately thought salad. This is that salad.
I sliced the radishes and asparagus into coins and drizzled them with olive oil, lemon juice, and a little honey. Then I tossed in a handful of chopped mint, seasoned the vegetables with salt and white pepper, and carefully folded in crumbled bits of incredibly creamy local feta. And because I was also in the middle of a chive blossom vinegar project, I finished the whole thing off with a smattering of chive blossoms. Sometimes I get a little carried away.
“Hmmm, that looks like something I wouldn’t like,” Chris observed when I emerged, crunching, from the kitchen. And it’s true: he wouldn’t. But you might. With or without the chive blossoms, this salad is really lovely. It’s fresh and crisp and pleasantly vegetal. The sharp, peppery flavor of the radishes and the tender greenness of the raw asparagus mingle with the sweet, aromatic notes of mint, and all this bright freshness is beautifully balanced by the creamy tang of goat’s milk feta. It’s a salad that’s delicious in its simplicity, a salad that captures the fleeting flavors of early summer and hints at the bounty yet to come, a salad that’s totally worth making for just you.
Asparagus, Radish & Mint Salad with Feta
1 lb. fresh asparagus
2 bunches radishes
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
½ tsp. honey
3 Tbsp. mint, chopped
4 oz. feta, crumbled
salt and white pepper, to taste
2 chive blossoms (optional)
Slice the asparagus and radishes into thin coins or discs, slicing as thinly as you can. (I tried this with both a mandoline and a knife — the knife was actually faster and easier.) Transfer to medium bowl and drizzle the olive oil, lemon juice and honey over the vegetables; stir to combine. Fold in mint and feta; season with salt and pepper to taste. If using the chive blossoms to garnish, separate the individual florets from the large blossom and scatter over the salad. Serve immediately.
I left for the market this morning with the intention of buying asparagus, rhubarb, and fish. You can see how well that plan worked out. A thunderstorm blew through around dawn and I guess a lot of farmers decided to stay home, including those with rhubarb and asparagus. It was pretty quiet at the market, which is how I ended up with all these leafy greens: my favorite farmer kept tucking spinach and kale into my basket as we chatted. I have no idea what he charged me for and what he didn’t. Or what I’m going to do with all that spinach.
Asparagus, finally! That wild mint is especially beautiful, isn’t it?
Sometimes I have good ideas. This is not one of them. It is a good idea — it’s a fantastically brilliant idea, really, but I can’t claim it. This recipe is a gift from the Google gods. I wanted to do something savory with rhubarb for a change, and a chef friend had recently mentioned how delicious rhubarb is with fish. But I’m a skeptic at heart, even when faced with overwhelming expertise, so I googled just to be sure. Judging by the sheer number of search results returned, rhubarb is indeed a proper companion to fish.
But the thing about Google is that it still takes a human to cut through all the crap. For there, amid multiple ho-hum recipes for fish with rhubarb sauce, was this delicious little gem of a recipe, which I promptly re-created in my own kitchen. “Rhubarb salsa?” Chris lamented, sporting his best yuck face. But rhubarb salsa is bright and tart and assertively zippy, and it’s difficult to maintain a dour demeanor in the face of such brazen freshness, particularly when that zippiness is paired with sweet, crispy cornmeal-coated strips of freshly-caught Lake Michigan whitefish. So difficult that I suspect we’ll be eating this at least once a week for as long as rhubarb is around.
For the salsa
1½ cups rhubarb, diced
¼ cup red onion, minced
2 tsp. lime juice
¼ cup finely minced scallions
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
2 tsp. honey
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne
Fill a medium bowl with ice and water; set aside. Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the diced rhubarb, blanch for 10 seconds, then scoop out with a slotted spoon into the ice water. Place red onion in medium bowl and drizzle with lime juice. Remove rhubarb from water batch and blot with towel to dry, then transfer to clean medium bowl. Add rhubarb to red onion and toss with scallions and jalapeño. Whisk vinegar with honey until combined, add to salsa mixture and season with salt and cayenne. Refrigerate.
For the tacos
¼ cup yellow cornmeal
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2/3 pound whitefish, skin removed, cut into 2-inch strips
1 large sweet onion, sliced thin
6 5-inch corn tortillas
1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro leaves
Heat oven to 200°F. Place the cornmeal in shallow bowl and season with salt and cayenne. Dredge the fish strips in the seasoned cornmeal. Add 3 Tbsp. oil to a large skillet and sauté the fish over medium heat, turning, until golden and crispy, one to two minutes per side. Remove to a heatproof dish, and place in the oven. Heat the remaining oil in the skillet. Add the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring, until golden brown and slightly caramelized.
Warm the tortillas in a cast iron skillet about 30 seconds on each side; hold in warm oven if necessary. When ready to serve, place two or three pieces of fish in the center of the tortilla, top with some of the caramelized onion and finish with about 2 Tbsp. of the salsa and a sprinkle of cilantro. Serve any remaining salsa alongside.
I didn’t intend to buy more rhubarb this week, but my favorite farmer ran out of ones so we agreed that I’d just take my change in rhubarb. Pretty good up-selling strategy. Think he learned that in farmer school? Also, DUH, I should have taken my change in extra morels!
For much of my life, the approach of summer signalled a season of blissful slackness — a languid three-month-long stretch free of responsibilities and obligations and schedules. Then I became a grown-up, a grown-up with year-round responsibilities and obligations and schedules that, because I live in a resort town, seem to multiply rather than diminish as summer approaches. Fortunately, there’s gin for that.
This time of year, at the pinnacle of pre-summer stress, there’s also rhubarb. And, as we’ve already established, gin and rhubarb are really quite lovely together. For this year’s version I added another layer of aromatic astringency with a few sprigs of rosemary. The sweet, piney notes of the herb mingle with the subtle botanicals of gin, softening the sharp edges of bracingly tart rhubarb to create a cocktail that’s smooth and dry and delightfully assertive.
And if your equally assertive husband insists that you quit worrying about things and spend the afternoon sitting on the deck sipping gin while the newly opened apples blossoms sway delicately in the breeze, I suggest you listen. I also suggest that you don’t embrace the relaxation thing so fully that you find yourself five cocktails in at 4 pm, but that’s entirely up to you.
2¼ cups water, divided
2 Tbsp. + ½ cup sugar
½ cup fresh rosemary leaves
3 cups diced fresh rhubarb
6 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1½ cups good gin
Place 1 cup water and 2 Tbsp. sugar in small saucepan and simmer, stirring frequently, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add rosemary leaves. Cover and steep for 5 minutes. Strain through fine-mesh sieve, pressing on leaves to extract liquid. Cool syrup to room temperature, then chill for 4 hours.
Puree 1¼ cups water, ½ cup sugar, 1 Tbsp. lemon juice and rhubarb in blender. Strain through fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl. Squeeze the remaining rhubarb pulp to release as much liquid as possible. Chill the juice for 4 hours.
Mix the rosemary syrup, rhubarb juice, remaining 5 Tbsp. lemon juice, and gin in a pitcher or large jar. Pour over ice and garnish with fresh rosemary sprigs, if desired.
Leftovers (ha!) should keep in the fridge for 2-3 days.
This the third week of the farmer’s market and the first week there was any fresh produce for sale. Here’s what I bought. Not pictured: a cookie for Chris because, as he explained to me, “I came to the farmer’s market with you. And I didn’t complain!”
It started with the pan. Last year, around this time, I added a lovely swirled bundt pan to our wedding registry and Chris said what he always says when I attempt to acquire something new: “Don’t we already have a bundt pan/sofa/shower curtain/cat?” In this case, we did already have a perfectly serviceable bundt pan, but I hypothesized — on the actual registry — that I’d bake five times as many cakes in such a pretty pan.
And then, a few days before our wedding last August, Chris’s mom gave him the bundt pan for his birthday, with the understanding I’m sure that it would soon be filled with cake batter. Preferably chocolate. Since then, I’ve baked exactly zero cakes. Much to his credit, Chris hasn’t said a word about the superfluous pan or the lack of baking. That man really deserves a cake — a pretty cake, a cake filled with the sweet, mapley promise of spring.
I know most people associate maple with autumn, but maple is now. Sap runs as snow melts in the early, barely-warm days of just-spring. Before buds burst on branches, before blades of green poke up through the soft muddy ground, before watercress and wild leeks and asparagus and morels there is sap, the Earth’s first gift of spring.
The pure, clear sweetness of maple syrup is the perfect flavor to build a cake around. Here, the syrup is mixed with butter, flour and chopped pecans to form a sweet filling that bakes up crunchy and gooey inside a surprisingly light cake with a moist, tender crumb.
It’s exactly the kind of cake you want to eat in the pre-green days of late March — light but not fluffy, moist but crumbly, rich and golden and tender with a sweetness that whispers of the coming spring.
For the Filling
1 c. all-purpose flour
2 T. butter, softened
1¼ c. chopped pecans
½ c. grade B maple syrup
½ t. cinnamon
For the Cake
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
9 T. butter, softened
¾ c. superfine sugar
1 c. sour cream
1) To make the filling, place the flour in a medium bowl and cut the butter into the flour using your fingers or a fork. Add the pecans, maple syrup and cinnamon and mix to form a sticky paste. Set aside.
2) Preheat your oven to 350°F. Sift together flour, baking soda and baking powder. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, then add flour mixture. Beat until incorporated and then fold in sour cream. The batter will be thick and sticky.
3) Grease a bundt pan and spoon a little more than half the batter into the pan. Spread the batter up the sides and funnel about an inch – you’re creating a little indentation in the batter to keep the filling from leaking out. Spoon the filling into the indentation as evenly as you can. Cover carefully with remaining batter and smooth out the top.
4) Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar to serve.
Grade B maple syrup is darker and more flavorful than Grade A syrups, which results in a stronger maple flavor here in the cake.
Superfine sugar is often used in cake baking to yield lighter, more tender results. If you don’t have superfine sugar (or don’t want to buy it for just one recipe) plus regular granulated sugar a few times in a food processor to grind it more finely.
I know I said I had everything under control in terms of cooking real food, and I did. Briefly. But then I decided to renovate our little log cabin — a rather ambitious project that involves messy, time-consuming things like drywall and terribly inconvenient things like gutting the entire kitchen (the entirety of which is a mere 62 square feet, but still). And a couple of months ago, Chris popped into our not-yet-gutted kitchen to announce that he wanted to be with me all the time forever, so I’m also planning a wedding. It’s a very small, very casual wedding (as far as weddings go), but still. Then there is also the small matter of my actual job and the fact that I’m pretty obsessive about pretty much everything.
These are not the sort of conditions that foster creativity in the kitchen. These are more the sort of conditions that foster major meltdowns in the grocery. I know this because I recently had such a meltdown. It involved a box of Rice-a-Roni, which is pretty much rock bottom for me. I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy Rice-a-Roni. Actually, yes, I am saying that. You shouldn’t buy Rice-a-Roni. I shouldn’t buy Rice-a-Roni. Nobody should buy Rice-a-Roni. Real food is important, and it is really really easy to make rice. Sometimes we buy Rice-a-Roni anyway. I get that.
But I firmly believe that is it just as easy to make good food as it is to make bad food, and it generally takes about the same amount of time. Lately I’ve been making asparagus. I bring a basketful home from the Farmers Market every week and delight in figuring out how to turn those pretty green stalks into dinner. Asparagus pesto is an old standby, but my favorite of this season is an asparagus bread salad. It’s bright and fresh and hearty all at the same time, with dainty slivers of asparagus and tender white beans nestled in among chunks of crusty grilled bread. The bread soaks up a bit of the lemony dressing without becoming soggy and the whole dish is accented with bits of parmesan. All of this comes together beautifully and quite deliciously, in a way that says, “Oh yes. Food. How lovely to see you again.”
Despite the home renovation and the wedding plans, I intend to do more with this blog than pop in every four months to announce that I got too busy to cook anything worth mentioning but I promise to be good from now on. A girl can only do that so many times (two?) before she starts to look silly. Plus, maintaining a blog about seasonal cooking helps discourage me from buying packaged crap.
Asparagus & White Bean Bread Salad
adapted from Gourmet
I tossed in a handful of salad greens, but I think the salad is actually better without them. The greens appear in the photo but not in the recipe. Feel free to add them if you like.
1 lb asparagus
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ c. + 2 T. olive oil
1 15 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed well
½ t. finely grated fresh lemon zest
2 T. fresh lemon juice
½ t. salt
¼ t. black pepper
4 slices thick, crusty bread
4 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano
¼ c. chopped parsley
1) Trim woody ends from asparagus and slice on the diagonal into ¼” thick slices.
2) In a large sauté pan, heat ¼ c. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus and sauté for about 1 minute. Add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds. Stir in the beans, lemon juice and zest, then season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
3) Brush both sides of the bread with remaining 2 T. olive oil and grill (or broil, if you’d prefer) over high heat until nicely browned, about 3-5 minutes. Cool slightly and tear the bread into bite-sized chunks.
4) Spoon asparagus & bean mixture into large bowl, add torn bread, and toss to combine. Shave cheese over salad, sprinkle with parsley, and toss again before serving warm.
When I discovered beets in my CSA basket this week I figured I had two choices: toss them directly onto the compost heap or bake them into a cake.
I don’t like cake and I don’t like beets, so I’m not sure what made me think I would like a cake made out of beets. Possibly it was the assurance that “even confirmed beet-bashers will love this cake” in the introduction to the recipe or the fact that my foodie friend Katie mentioned that she’d tried it and liked it, but I suspect it was the chocolate. Of all the ingredients on this earth, chocolate seems the most likely candidate for transforming beets from a mouthful of musty dirt into something that people might actually want to eat.
My to-do list is kicking my ass. And not in the normal boy, am I busy way, either; it’s kicking my ass in more of a it’s 10:00 — do you mind if we just have pickles for dinner? way. My point here is that it’s been a busy week — the sort of week in which last week’s clean laundry languishes unfolded at the foot of the bed and dust bunnies gather in corners to plot their eventual takeover of the living room and minor concerns like eating and sleeping slip to the bottom of the priority list. After a week like that, a girl really deserves a cocktail. Or seven. Preferably in a warm, sandy spot near a large body of water, but the important thing is the cocktail.
On an unusually warm afternoon in the summer of 1980, my sister and I wandered into a little thicket of shade created by enormous ruffly leaves curving out from bright red stalks just tall enough for little girls to play beneath. Elated at such a discovery, we raced home to collect our buckets and shovels and then, for reasons intelligible only to little girls, spent the rest of the afternoon happily digging in the cool dirt amid those leafy stalks. I’m not sure if this memory has stuck with me for nearly thirty years because that patch of shade was such a lovely place in which to play or because of the boatload of trouble we got into when our favorite digging spot turned out to be the rhubarb patch of a neighbor lady whose Navy husband significantly outranked our father.
I spent a significant portion of my life steadfastly maintaining that mushrooms were for trolls. Most kids would have been content to simply wrinkle their noses and refuse to eat mushrooms, but I built up an elaborate justification for my distaste: namely that mushrooms are squishy and grow in wet, woodsy places. Where trolls live. And, what with my not being a troll and all, I couldn’t reasonably be expected to eat them. Of course, then I became a vegetarian, so I couldn’t reasonably be expected to eat cute little animals who had lived lives of suffering and misery either.
I can be rather difficult at times, which is probably why those who knew me in my troll-food days feel particularly vindicated when I call them to enthuse about an upcoming mushroom festival or to describe the day I spent helping a farmer inoculate logs with shiitake spawn or to report that I’ve just eaten an entire morel and asparagus pizza and boy was it yummy.
For months now I’ve flipped wistfully through magazine after magazine, mooning over photos of dark green stalks and oohing and ahhing at recipes as I daydream of Spring. I’ve repeatedly paused beside the co-op’s local produce cooler, glancing from turnip to, well, turnip and heaving great put-upon sighs before wending my way listlessly among the monotonous aisles of pantry staples. I’ve attempted to cheer myself up by flirting with spinach and chard and other leafy greens as they’ve appeared, but I’ve remained inconsolable. I’ve been waiting for asparagus.
What I hadn’t counted on, despite the praise heaped upon them by every publication from Bon Appétit to National Geographic, was ramps. Wild ramps, by virtue of their very wildness, are a hallmark of culinary hipster-dom, the food world’s equivalent of skinny jeans and high-top Chucks and loving that band long before you’d ever even heard of it. But that’s no reason not to try them. Ramps grow in moist, wooded areas across most of the US and parts of Canada and are easily distinguished from their lily of the valley look-alikes by their ridiculously oniony smell. I found mine not far from the asparagus — in the produce cooler, safe and sound inside a clear plastic bag bearing a handwritten sticker that identified them as wild ramps. I suspect this makes me a bit of a poseur, but as long as I steer clear of broken-in chinos I’ll probably be okay.
I’m rather fond of putting eggs on top of things. For a long time I merely slid them onto tried-and-true platforms like toast or hash browns, but these days I also like to scramble them into fried rice, crack them onto pizza dough, or fry them up with strips of stale tortillas and toss the whole mess with salsa and sliced avocado. I’m not alone in this enthusiasm; Bon Appétit recently predicted that anything with an egg on top would be 2009’s dish of the year.
Having spent the better part of my morning carefully poaching, breading, and then deep-frying an egg, I’d like to nominate this particular preparation for 2009’s egg of the year. Or something like that. Because a deep-fried poached egg rocks. I mean, you probably don’t want to have one every morning unless you’re on some sort of Homer Simpsonesque weight-gain regimen, but the combination of crispy crust, tender white and soft, runny yolk is fan-freakin’-tastic.