Monday, September 14, 2009

The Edible Garden

How this (almost) got past me, I'll never know. I checked me email on Friday and found out that, lo and behold, Sunday was going to be the last day of the Edible Garden at the New York Botanical Gardens. That is so perfectly up my alley that I got our free pass, charged up the camera and off I went.

If you've never been it's definitely worth spending a few hours. For some reason, it always takes me back in time. It's serene and peaceful and you could picture Edith Wharton on a bench scribbling away. Unless of course there's something exciting going on and then it turns into everything you love about New York. All different kinds of people, all different voices and languages, all different types of families and singles. It's quite extraordinary.

And you get to see things like this.

It was the most beautiful purple basil that I've ever seen.

And this is Orris Root which smelled amazing. I kept drifting back to it because it smelled so good.

I'm not sure what these are but I want to own a lot of things in that color. It was so vivid and happy.

There were about a dozen vendors handing out samples on the steps of the big greenhouse. My two favorites were Ayala's Herbal Water and Laloo's Goat Milk Ice Cream. The water comes in really amazing, subtle flavors and was so refreshing. I'm not a big fan of either bottled water or flavored waters but these were so unique and delicious that I see a lot of them in future. Especially the lavender mint flavor. The goat milk ice cream had a wonderful, creamy texture and the guys running their table were so nice. I had the coffee and the mission fig (ahhhhhhh---figs) and both were outstanding. There were also very good dumplings from a company out in Brooklyn but they didn't have any takeaway cards so I signed up for their mailing list. I'll let you know all about them when I hear from them.

The highlight for me was seeing Ariane Daguin, the president of D'Artagnan,in the Conservatory Kitchen. She made a lovely dish of ham and mushrooms over polenta. She's so knowledgeable and interesting and just a lot of fun to watch. I wish I had gotten her photo showing how ducks and geese would fly if their livers were on the side (like all other animals). It was pretty funny.

There was one woman in the audience who seemed to be trying to bait her. First she asked about using nitrates as a preservative. Ariane was terrific. She said, yes, they did use nitrates in some of their products because they had too and there is currently no better alternative. Apparently, some companies are now using celery juice to preserve their products to appear greener but the celery has the same nitrates in it that everyone else uses. The woman also asked about force feeding ducks and geese to grow their livers. Ariane gave a great, very clear explanation of how ducks and geese work. They travel very far distances over mountains and seas so they force feed themselves twice a year to grow their liver and thicken their skin (the two places where they can carry the calories that they need to make it to their destination with no food). So it is in their nature to force feed. Unlike a chicken, which everyone agreed would be cruel to force feed as it is not in their nature.

I recently received some confit duck gizzards as a gift (I have wonderful friends) and asked for her suggestions. She jumped right in with some ideas for cassoulette our lentils. Yum to both of them!

I think I want to go work for her!

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's That Day Again.

Today is the day that I commit to peacefulness and kindess. In a way it's a sort of New Year's Eve for me.

It truly blows my mind (in the best possible way) that the worst of human nature brought out the best in human nature. I will always cherish the spirit in my community in the days that followed the 9/11 tragedy. We showed our true colors, were kind to each other, and offered help and support to anyone and everyone who needed it.

I will strive for that every day.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Summer Soup Rules!

I admire my sister for buying ingredients that she doesn't know what to do with. I come from a long line of good cooks and, the fun part, is that we all have our own styles, our own favorites and our own special techniques. Pop can look in the fridge and make an amazing meal out of any and every kind of leftovers. Granny makes a leg of lamb that you could die for. My grandmother made gravy that was like liquid roast beef. Interestingly, she taught us all the technique to make it but it has taken me a lifetime to get even close to what she could do.

So I was up at Sissy's house the other day and she had a package of tomatillos on the counter. This is not an ingredient that is an everyday event around our houses and I commented on it. She, quite kindly I think, said "I don't know what the hell to do with them. You take 'em and come up with something good." (I have to add that this is very different than what she said to me when I poked my nose in a pan of string beans she was sauteing.)

And so I give you (drum roll please):

Roasted Tomato and Tomatillo Soup

1/2 lb. tomatillos with the papery husks removed
2 to 2.25 lbs. plum tomatoes
1/2 a softball sized red onion (or the equivalent of smaller onions)
1 3 -4 inch jalapeno pepper
olive oil
kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
3 cups chicken stock (this really doesn't need to be the good stuff)
1/2 cup heavy cream

Halve the tomatillos and the tomatoes. Cut the red onion into 4 wedges. Halve the jalapeno and remove most (but not all of the seeds).

Spread the vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle them liberally with olive oil and season them liberally with the salt and pepper.

Put the baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven and turn the temperature on to 400 degrees (no need to preheat for this).

After 30 minutes, give the vegetables a nice mix in the sheet. They will be soft but will hold their shape. Continue to roast for another 15 - 30 minutes (45 to 60 minutes total). Start checking them after 15 minutes. When they are soft enough to collapse, they are done.

Let the vegetables cool for a few minutes and then add them, with all their juices to the jar of your blender. Puree them until they are smooth and then add the chicken broth through the feed tube until the soup is the consistency you like (remember--if you're going to serve this as a cold soup it will be thicker than when it is heated).

Add 1/2 cup heavy cream and blend for just a few seconds to mix.

Serve this either hot or cold.

Damn. I've got to tell you this came out so good! And the roasting vegetables made the house smell amazing. Although there is very little seasoning in this, the flavors really shine through and linger and develop on your palate. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can use vegetable stock and leave out the heavy cream (I just like a little decadence in it).

I happen to like my soup in a wide, shallow bowl. I'm thinking some really sharp cheddar on 7-grain bread under the broiler for a few minutes until it's nice and browned would be perfect with this. I think I'll cut it up into fingers and pour the soup in a shallow layer around it.