Saturday, April 27, 2013

Flaky Kefir Biscuits with Ramps

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Flaky Kefir Biscuits with Ramps:
*1 1/2 cups high quality AP flour
*1/2 cup whole wheat flour
*1 teaspoon sea salt
*1 tablespoon aluminum free baking powder
*1 cup fresh whole plain kefir (for instructions on how to make at home click here)
*3 ramp leaves, chopped fine

Preheat oven to 425.
Mix dry ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl. Cut in the butter and work into dry mixture with fingertips until well incorporated. Pour in the kefir. Add chopped ramps. Mix gently with a fork until dough forms.
Turn dough out onto a floured work surface. Gently form into a ball and flatten into a disk with palms of hands. Roll disk out into a 1 inch thick disk with a rolling pin. Cut out biscuits with a biscuit cutter. Reshape remaining dough and repeat. Place biscuits on a baking sheet 2 inches apart.
Bake until golden. Serve hot with extra butter.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Homemade Pimento Cheese

Transplants to the South have come here for a variety of reasons. Natives remain for similar reasons. Pimento cheese is one of them.
Processed versions can be found almost anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon, but the homemade stuff will give even a hurried yankee cause to linger.
Pimento cheese is simple to prepare and an excellent staple for drop-in company or mid-day snack served with celery sticks or homemade crackers. If you really want to go all out, make it with house-made mayo. Then just sit back with an iced tea in hand, and watch it disappear.

Homemade Pimento Cheese: (Adapted from Martha Stewart)
*3 cups high quality sharp cheddar, shredded
*1/2 cup mayonnaise
*1/3 cup chopped pimento (you can find these roasted and jarred in most groceries)
*1 tablespoon pimento juice
*sea salt
*fresh ground black pepper
*dash of cayenne

Blend all ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl. Store in airtight glassware. Serve with high quality crackers and/or veggie sticks.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Sochan (Rudbeckia laciniata)

My woodland dwelling friend brought over a heap of wild greens, introducing me for the first time to Rudbeckia lacinata, known by the Cherokee as Sochan. It is a very sweet, pleasant tasting green (lacking any bitterness), branching out of the forest floor in early spring with substantial leaves and tender stems. She suggested a quick simmer in boiling water before sauteing the wilted leaves in butter and garlic. It made a bright accompaniment to a fresh fried egg and slice of local sourdough. Excellent sprinkled with sea salt or feta cheese.

For tips on identification, check out this great informational video from Juliet Blankespoor of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medecine right here in WNC. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Spring Nettle and Leek Soup

A fellow food-loving friend recently sent me a page from Ode magazine with an article on wild foods. This being a topic dear to my heart, I was happy to read words of encouragement for foraged fare, though disappointed when the author limited the world of wild foods to little more than "extra seasoning" on one's plate, claiming what the wild offers in quality, it lacks in quantity. Ahem.
Here I must tell tale of a dinner with friends Friday evening which included a spring nettle soup bountiful enough to feed five hungry adults, one hungry toddler, and enough leftovers to bring us into the beginning of the week.
The paper bag which I filled with fresh nettle to make the soup was a mere fraction of what I could have harvested, had I wanted to also then bathe in creamy nettle soup post dinner party. And her mention of finding the random morel mushroom lacked the stories of seasoned morel hunters. I have known individuals who would gather up to seventy pounds in one season, taking the location of such harvests with them to the grave.
Although wild food does nourish an under appreciated aspect of the palate by "seasoning" our plates with the less familiar, certain harvests can easily feed a hungry crowd while connecting us with something heady and grand.
The world of wild things should never be underestimated.

Spring Nettle and Leek Soup:
*aprox 14 cups (or 1 paper grocery bag 3/4 filled) fresh young nettle shoots
*5 tablespoons quality unsalted butter
*2 large leeks, rinsed well, chopped (white and light green portions only)
*5 garlic cloves, minced
*2 celery stalks, chopped
*6 cups quality chicken broth
*sea salt
*black pepper
*1 cup quality cream (optional but recommended)
*plain whole yogurt for garnish

Prepare a large bowl filled with ice water. Set aside.
Bring a large soup pot filled with water to a boil over high heat. Place fresh nettles in boiling water and stir gently. Blanch for 2 minutes. Remove nettles with a slotted spoon or tongs and plunge into ice water.
Discard blanch water and return empty pot to stovetop reducing heat to medium. Melt butter in pot. Stir in the leeks, garlic and celery. Season with sea salt and pepper. Saute until tender, about 4 minutes.
Drain ice water from nettles and squeeze out any excess water. Chop nettles and place in pot. Saute briefly. Add chicken broth. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Cool slightly.
Blend contents of pot with an immersion blender or place in food processor fitted with a blade and puree in batches until very smooth. Return pureed nettle mixture to soup pot and adjust seasonings. Stir in cream and rewarm over medium-low heat.
Serve hot with a dollop of yogurt and an additional sprinkle of course sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ultra Easy Eggplant Pie

After a full day outside, this dish happened out of necessity rather than through careful planning, but was perfectly satisfying.  Inspired by a spread in this month's SAVEUR on a the Republic of Georgia's native cuisine, the eggplant I had rolling around in the fridge was yanked from its slumber and simply sliced and browned until tender in good olive oil. The slices were then casually layered in a pie dish, lightly doused with store bought marinara, sprinkled with panko and topped with soft cheese. A quick broil fused the ingredients together under a crunchy molten layer of bread crumbs and cheese. Though a rich walnut sauce and scattering of pomegranate seeds may have been a truer tribute to a Georgian's palate, this preparation adequately served its purpose, alongside sauteed greens and a glass of red.

Ultra Simple Eggplant Pie:
*1-2 large organic purple eggplant, sliced lengthwise
*olive oil
*1 jar quality marinara sauce
*1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs (can be omitted for gluten-free version)
*1/2 cup soft cheese of your choice

Preheat oven to broil.
Place a large cast iron pan over medium heat. Coat liberally with olive oil. Brown eggplant slices, working in batches so not to over crowd the pan. Turn each slice once, adding more olive oil to in between. Do not be afraid to add plenty of oil, the eggplant soaks it up quickly and will need enough to brown properly. Brown until slices are tender but not mushy. About 3 minutes per side.
Spoon enough marinara into the bottom of a pie dish to coat. Begin adding browned eggplant slices to pie dish in layers, spooning more marinara between layers. Finish top layer by adding more marinara and sprinkling with bread crumbs followed by an even layer of cheese.
Broil until cheese is bubbly and slightly golden.
Slice and serve hot.