Archive for August, 2008

Classic Vichyssoise. Potato leek soup. Not French.

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

VichyssoiseA disappointing Summer Corn Soup got me thinking about Vichyssoise, a cold potato leek soup that my parents were fond of making when I was young. To my 9-year old mind it was the very apotheosis of French sophistication, a cool, silky delight that seemed to be a great effort to make. I was wrong on both counts. Vichyssoise was invented at the Ritz Hotel in New York City, and the soup is dead easy to prepare. They used Julia Child’s classic recipe from Mastering the Art of French cooking, and so do I – difficulty really is a matter of perspective.

Both potatoes and leeks came from Red Wagon Organic Farm.

Classic Vichyssoise

  1. 3 cups peeled potatos, rough dice
  2. 3 cups leeks, cleaned and sliced thin
  3. 1 1/2 quarts good light chicken stock
  4. 1/2 – 1 cup heavy cream
  5. 2 tsp minced chives
  6. salt, white pepper

Simmer vegetables in stock until tender, about 45 minutes. Pureé vegetables and pass through a chinois or fine sieve. Stir in cream, and season with salt and white pepper. Conventional wisdom (Julia) suggests slightly oversalting, because this a cold dish. Chill well and serve in chilled cups and garnish with chives.

The fine sieve step and use of white pepper are affectations – the soup will taste equally wonderful even marred with lumps and unsightly black pepper.


Red Wagon Organic Farm

Agua frescas. Watermelon lime fresca. So refreshing.

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

Agua fresca means “fresh water”, a traditional Latin American drink that is perfect for hot summer days. Agua frescas are made with many different fresh fruits and even rice (then called horchata), and are often seen on counters and street stands in a colorful array of glass jars called vitroleros.

If you have a blender and some fruit you can make agua fresca. Red Wagon Organic Farm has some beautiful little watermelons, so here we go using a recipe courtesy of the L.A. Times. The recipe calls for a medium seedless watermelon, about 6 pounds of flesh, but I used a smaller watermelon, seeded it, and adjusted the other ingredients by weight. The drink is sweetened with agave nectar, a honey-like elixir that dissolves very easily in water.

Watermelon-Lime Agua Fresca

  1. A medium seedless watermelon, about 6 pounds
  2. 4 cups water
  3. 2 Tb agave nectar
  4. 3 limes
  5. salt, to taste

Combine watermelon, water, and agave nectar in a blender and pureé. Strain through a fine sieve (a chinois, or China Cap, is ideal), discarding solids. Add lime, then salt to taste. Fine tune flavor with additional salt, agave, and lime.


Red Wagon Organic Farm

Okra’s appeal. Southern litmus test. Love it.

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

Fried Okra

There’s no ambivalence whatsoever about okra – people love it or hate it. Two places that love it are the Southern United States and India… maybe it’s something about hot, humid climates? In the US it’s a litmus test – anyone who’ll eat it is probably from the South.

Texture is the problem. Detractors call it “slimy,” and indeed it is if prepared improperly. The classic gumbos are thickened with okra, except for Creole-style which uses filé, ground sassafras leaves. Institutional gumbos certainly can be slimy, as they are made haphazardly and with canned ingredients… “cafeteria gumbo” is undoubtedly the worst single contributor to okra’s poor reputation.

Fried okra is the classic Southern preparation. It’s very simple: okra is dredged in corn meal and fried in some kind of fat until lightly browned. In the old days the fat was always bacon drippings,  but now we use canola oil and a lighter touch.

Fried Okra

  1. 1 pound okra
  2. corn meal (I use Anson Mills)
  3. 2-3 Tb canola oil
  4. salt, pepper

Wash and dry okra and cut into 3/16″ rounds, discarding stem ends. Place in bowl, mix in well a handful of corn meal. Add small amounts of corn meal until no more sticks to the okra. Heat the canola oil until hot but not smoking, then add the okra with a slotted spoon to minimize adding loose cornmeal. Fry for a moment, then toss to coat with hot oil. Do not overcrowd the pan. Cook until a light golden brown, season with salt and pepper to taste.


Miller Farms

Anson Mills

Anson Mills. Organic heirloom grains. Best grits.

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Anson Mills, founded in 1998, is a small mill in South Carolina that is dedicated to supplying the finest organic heirloom varieties of grits, polenta, cornmeal, rice, flours, oats, buckwheat and farro. Especially grits, Anson’s are the darling of so many “New Southern” restaurants around the country: now Shrimp and Anson Farms Grits is almost a menu cliché. Happily, Anson also does a brisk internet business selling to grain lovers everywhere.

This is the source for connoisseurs of grits: Anson’s offerings range from quick cooking varieties to “antebellum” grits that replicate the very grits that might have graced Scarlett O’Hara’s breakfast table. Also exceptional are the polentas, these often much fresher that Italian imports, and the otherwise hard-to-find Carolina Gold rice and farro.

The web site also has a terrific collection of recipes showcasing the various products.

Corn #2. Cool summer soup. Too milky.

Monday, August 11th, 2008

On a cold soup kick, I tried a riff on this Summer Corn Soup recipe from the latest Bon Appetit. The premise is intriguing: corn is stripped from the cobs and sautéed with aromatic vegetables, meanwhile the cob is simmered in milk to extract even more corn flavor. All is combined, puréed, and chilled; I served as small “shots.”

The results were pleasant enough, if a bit too milky for my taste. Next time around I’ll take a more classic chowder-style approach.


Munson Farms

Cherry pie. Fresh from Louisville. No lie.

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

Friends who live in Louisville have a cherry tree in their backyard, and last week the cherries came in. Beautiful sour cherries, perfect for pie, and a practically inexhaustible supply! We drove out for a cocktail and cherry picking party, and came home with gallons of cherries. Most went into the freezer, but The Baker in the family sprang into action and made a pie.

Bakers are not chefs. Chefs are not bakers. Both need skills, restraint, and intuition, but bakers (and, yes,  mixologists) also need to measure accurately – it’s as much physical chemistry as art. For this reason even amateur chefs are generally lousy at baking, and in our house The Baker rules dessert.

The recipe below blithely calls for a “double crust,” a nearly impossible thing to make well. I won’t attempt to describe The Baker’s recipe here, you can’t really write it down.  She rejects any crust made by a machine. Health conscious, yet in search of the perfect crust, she can’t bring herself to use lard and has always made a Crisco crust. This caused her great pain through the trans-fat aware years. Classic Crisco was a trans-fat nightmare: this led to all-butter crusts which taste great but sacrifice a certain lightness. Other experiments were disastrous. Happily, “new” Crisco is trans-fat free, neutral tasting, and the food scientists have done a good job getting the texture back. Don’t cringe too much – it’s only one or two pies a year! But your mileage may vary, make whatever crust you prefer.

Cherry Pie

  1. Double pie crust for 9″ pie
  2. 4 1/2 cups fresh sour cherries
  3. 2-3 Tb quick cooking tapioca
  4. A few teaspoons lemon juice
  5. 1 cup sugar
  6. 1Tb butter

Preheat oven to 450F. Make pastry for  a double pie crust. Roll out slightly more than 1/2 of the pastry into a 1/8″ thick crust. Line 9″ pie pan with crust.

Wash, drain, and pit cherries. Mix cherries with tapioca and sugar. Squeeze on a bit of lemon juice, to taste.

Let stand for 15 minutes. Roll out remaining crust. Cut into 1/2″ lattice strips. Pour cherries in pie pan. Dot with butter. Place lattice strips on pie, alternating in a perpendicular pattern.

Bake pie in oven for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350F and bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes more (check after 35 minutes).


The Blackmon/MacDonald cherry tree, Louisville, Colorado.

Corn #1. Butter or no? Binds salt.

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

CornFresh corn from Munson Farms is here in a big way, and I brought a few ears straight home for an early lunch. Some say that fresh corn needs nothing, no cooking, no salt, and no butter. I disagree, and prefer to boil corn in heavily salted water for 5-7 minutes then add a light coat of butter and a generous sprinkling of kosher salt.

The salt is the key, and the butter holds just the right amount in place. With great corn, and Munson’s certainly is, it’s sheer perfection.


Munson Farms