Saturday, March 29, 2014

First corn of spring

Yes, they have corn on the cob all winter in the grocery store, but I don't buy it, fearing that it will taste like cardboard.  I'll buy tomatoes now and then, knowing they'll taste insipid when raw but will caramelize into something quite nice after 20 minutes in a pan.  And I'll buy eggplant, carrots and celery all winter even though I have no idea where they're grown or how that is accomplished in the cold weather.

But for other produce I'm perfectly willing to wait for the season.  That includes corn.

So yesterday I couldn't resist.  The good news: the corn was excellent.  You might even have thought it was July.  I hope this is an omen that winter is finally over and this summer will be good for the growing things.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Turnip surprise

For decades, the only turnips welcome in my kitchen have been these.

Bethany Uhl, Turnips, pastel

I'm sure I've had turnips hidden in many foods that I've enjoyed over the years -- heck, they're white, who knows what you're eating? -- but the turnip cake at the Chinese dim sum restaurant is the only dish that I have ever knowingly ordered where turnips are the main ingredient.

But wait!  This month I've discovered that raw turnips can be my friends, and I commend this approach to other turnip-avoiders.

Always on the lookout for new ingredients to pep up the daily salad, we've been cutting them into little matchstick pieces and adding them to the lettuce or spinach, where they turn out to be excellent contributors, mild and crunchy without overpowering the rest of the bowl.

        I find that three or four cubic inches of turnip is a good quantity for two people, but you could certainly use more if you wanted.  They'd probably also be good in a cabbage or cabbage/broccoli slaw.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Oxtails my way

When we lived in Germany, we frequently ate at a small restaurant where Ochsenschwanzsuppe (oxtail soup) was on the menu all the time, and I loved it.  It was brown and smooth and rich.  Obviously there were vegetables in there somewhere, but nothing identifiable by taste.  For the last 40 years I've been wondering how you make it, but instead of trying to replicate that recipe I've taken to using oxtails in a very different way.

Oxtails come as two- or three-inch slices of the actual tail, with vertebrae and a spinal column through the middle, protected by a big slab of fat around the outside that needs to be trimmed off before you cook them.

Render a little of the fat, brown the meat, saute a lot of onions and a bit of garlic, put it all into a big pot, add a can of diced tomatoes and a half bottle of red wine, and let it simmer all afternoon.

Yesterday I still had some rosemary in a vase on the kitchen table from just before our first freeze of the winter (what was that -- ten years ago???) so that became the herb seasoning.  You could use any other fresh or dried herbs you have around.  Finally I found some cauliflower in the fridge and added two big hunks about 15 minutes before dinnertime.

The cauliflower got nice and pink from the tomatoes; the most effortless preparation of vegetables you can imagine!  I'm sure many other vegetables could be added the same way.

One thing I like about this dish is that you end up with leftovers that become a fabulous soup.  If there's any meat left, dice it up for the soup.  If not, just use the tomato-onion base.  Add some broth or water and additional vegetables if you want.  My default ingredient is quite a bit of cabbage, using the core and the thickest leaves cut into chunks.