Sunday, April 27, 2014

Vegetable Sourdough Strata

You could call it strata but really this is a very simple, savory bread pudding: glorified scrambled eggs with the benefit of cream, vegetables and sourdough mixed together into one dish. This is what warm weather dining starts to look like around here. Whatever can be thrown into a bowl, seasoned without much thought and baked in one pan is a winner as the demands of springtime duties increasingly call us out-of-doors. It would be a lie to post a recipe, because there never has been one under this roof, but strata doesn't really need one. The method goes like this:

Preheat oven to 375.
Butter a 9x13 baking dish. 
Cut about 5 slices of high quality sourdough or country style bread into 1 inch cubes and transfer to the buttered dish. 
Place whatever chopped vegetables you own (like onion, garlic, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, summer squash, spinach, cherry tomatoes) in with the sourdough and gently incorporate with your hands. 
Top with crumbled feta or goat cheese. 
Whisk about 5 or 6 super fresh eggs with about 3 cups whole milk (raw if you can get your hands on it) and douse with cream (same as above). 
Season with sea salt and black pepper. Grate in some sharp cheddar. Whisk.
Pour egg mixture over contents of baking dish. 
Bake until center puffs and top is golden. 
Sprinkle with whatever fresh herbs you happen upon.

The end.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Wood Smoked Brisling Sardine Dip

After reading Mary Sue Milliken's recollections in the pages of this month's SAVEUR on her time spent in Mandelieu-La Napoule (on the French Riviera), and her discovery of sardines as a versatile ingredient, I had to try one of her preparations. She recalls picking up fresh sardines at local markets, cleaning and filleting them, then layering them with herbs and salt to cure.
When she returned to the States, she had not lost her taste for sardines, though often turned toward readily available (and inexpensive) tinned varieties to inspire her many recipes.
I learned the term sardine is used loosely to define over 20 different kinds of small, oily fish from the Clupeidae family. This includes pilchards, sprat, and herring, and other foraging fish low on the oceanic food chain.
I have written about sardines before, how they are a wise choice when selecting which seafood to consume, not only in their population stability but they are also low in mercury while still providing essential nutritional properties. Plus, they taste good, not that the rich flavor is for everyone. But for those who enjoy a wide spectrum of flavor provided by the sea, this dip of Mary Sue's is foolproof.  She mentions whipping up this dish for parties, an excellent last-minute and affordable idea. Next time the weather is cool, I will put this preparation in a shallow ceramic dish, sprinkle with panko and heat in the oven until bubbly hot. You can't go wrong.

Wood Smoked Brisling Sardine Dip: 
*1 package organic cream cheese
*1 package smoked brisling sardines, packed in olive oil, drained
*1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
*Tabasco to taste

Place first 3 ingredients in a food processor fitted with a blade. Blend until smooth. Add dashes of Tabasco sauce to taste.
Enjoy on crostini, or with fresh cut vegetables.

*Variation: Place dip in oven safe ceramic crock and cover with panko bread crumbs. Bake at 375 until bread crumbs turn golden and contents are heated through (about 10 minutes). Serve with toasts or crostini.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Creamy Chicken n' Nettles

Though quickly fleeting, we are still flanked by the bony fingers of winter. This is not always an easy transition. The movement and stirring of spring can bring movement and stirring within, which can be accompanied by a fair share of discomfort. What has settled during the cold months, covered in layers of wool and nestled by the fire, is awakened and asked to preform, and even put on new growth. 
This is where wild greens can offer excellent support. Even before our spring gardens produce salads and sweet kales, wild greens are in full force. 
Nettles are a favorite of mine (just cruise through previous recipes). They have a profile worthy of respect. Coming in early, while things are still waking up, nettles offer our bodies the same prospect. All we have to do is harvest (carefully) and prepare. They are vital---full of vitamins and minerals, and have something else about them unlike any other leafy green. Maybe it is the stinging characteristic, but nettles pack a punch.
The primary ethos surrounding seasonal eating is based on this example: by eating what is available within each special moment of the season, our bodies glean exactly what they need, physically and otherwise.
The first day of our local farmer's market resumed yesterday, where freshly harvested, grass-fed meats were available. The chicken I brought home from East Fork Farm accompanied fresh nettles in this dish, alongside a bit of cream, pungent garlic and onion, vegetables and a slow simmered broth made from duck feet. 
Meals like this help us find our sense of place in a remarkable, ever changing environment. 

Creamy Chicken n' Nettles:
*1 small whole chicken (roasted, meat pulled)
*2 tablespoons butter
*1 small sweet onion, chopped
*3 cloves garlic, minced
*3 celery ribs, including leaves, chopped
*1 zucchini, chopped
*1 tablespoon flour
*1/4 cup cream
*1 cup broth
*4-5 cups fresh stinging nettle, loosely packed
*3/4 cup frozen corn kernels
*3/4 cup frozen peas
*sea salt 
*black pepper

In a large skillet, saute onion, garlic and celery in 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add zucchini. Saute until contents are slightly softened and onion is aromatic. Move contents to perimeter of the pan, creating a well in the middle. Add additional tablespoon of butter in well. Stir flour into melted butter to create a paste. Allow to slightly brown. Add cream and broth. Season with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Bring to a simmer. Once liquid begins to thicken, add pulled chicken meat. Stir. Add nettles to pan and stir hot contents over leaves until they begin to wilt. Reduce heat to med-low and cover. 
Remove from heat once nettles are well wilted but still bright green. Add peas and corn. Stir well.  Adjust seasonings. 
Serve hot.