Tag Archives: Elizabeth Keyser

Great Crab Cakes

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I’m always wary of attempts to define “the best” be it lobster rolls, burgers or crab cakes — unless it’s a spontaneous, in-the-moment exuberance, “This is the best!”
So, let me just say that Rizzuto’s in Westport has some damn good crab cakes. In fact, “cake” might not have any place in this tender morels of lump meat in crisp panko.



Memorable Meals

elm rabbit
One of the best meals I had in the last year was a tasting menu cooked by Chef Brian Lewis at Elm in New Canaan. Mention Elm, and people say, “Oh, it’s expensive.” That is true. But I remember that meal a year later.  This was one of the courses, rabbit porchetta with leek vinaigrette, mandarin mostarda (a sweet-sour fruit condiment), pickled mustard seeds and spring greens.



Scrapple

scrapple

Scrapple’s a love it or hate it thing. I love it – but then my father’s family is from Philadelphia, and I have memories of waking to the smell of slices of it crisping in a cast iron pan. The peppery pork-and-cornmeal loaf gets brown and crisp outside and creamy inside. I recently returned from a trip to Philadelphia, where I was not so thrilled with a breakfast of deep-fried scrapple. It was crisp, but greasy. I think the best way to cook scrapple is in a hot cast iron pan. No additional oil needed. Wait until the slices are crisp brown on the bottom before flipping them. Don’t fuss with them. And watch out that the pieces don’t touch — because they’ll stick together and then your nice squares of scrapple get mangled. Scrapple is available frozen in grocery stores in Fairfield County. I’m intrigued by the idea of making it, with some good quality, pasture-raised pork. Marion Cunningham has a recipe in The Breakfast Book, made with bacon instead of pork parts.



Foraging for Dandelion Salad

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The first dandelion salad of the season! Picked from the pesticide-free backyard. If you revel in the fresh bitter flavor of this rite of spring, dress the leaves in a garlicy, lime vinaigrette made with good olive oil.  To mellow the bitterness, add diced avocado and red pepper and dress them in apple cider vinaigrette. It’s the healthiest thing you can eat today. (Dandelions are a very good source of dietary fiber and vitamins A and C.)

 



Cheesemaking 101

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Homemade aged whole milk ricotta

  The great thing about being a home cook is there’s always something new to learn. When my husband came home with raw milk, it inspired me to make cheese. I set out to make fresh cheese. Though ricotta is traditionally made from whey (the clear stuff that separates from the curds), making whole milk ricotta is one of the simplest ways for a beginner to learn about the steps of cheesemaking.
After the curds drained, however, I wasn’t thrilled by the bland white cheese. So I decided to age it. Ricotta salata is dry, salted ricotta. After molding and pressing the cheese to remove more moisture, I rubbed it with salt and placed it on a high, cool shelf in my drafty kitchen. I checked the cheese frequently, rubbing it with more salt.

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This was the first cheese I made. This is early on in the aging process.

At the end of a month or so, I ended up with a nice grating cheese. It had a pleasing texture, and round, rich, lactic flavors.
Making cheese at home reminded me that there is no great mystery to preserving milk into cheese, but it does require attention and patience. (And, as the books warn us, cleanliness.) The preciousness of homemade aged cheese made me realize why we’re willing to pay $26 a pound for raw-milk artisan cheese.

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A good book for beginners is “Home Cheese Making” by Ricki Carroll. I picked this up at Maltose Express in Monroe, a wonderful shop for home fermenters of hops and grapes. The owners are Mark and Tess Szamatulski. They’re award-winning home brewers who know a ton about craft brews. (I’ve been in awe of Tess’s ability to describe flavors during Yankee Brew News Tasting Panels.)  Tess has made cheese too, and can offer tips. www.maltoseexpress.net



Who’s Hungry

Whos Hungry (2)
This sounds weird and interesting. “Who’s Hungry?” is an experimental table-top puppet theater play that weaves the real stories of five people in Santa Monica, California, who find they must choose between food and necessities. Angel tumbled into homelessness after a prominent career as an interior designer. Mike was evicted during a health crisis. Sharon stayed clean while working as an addiction recovery caseworker. All became hungry. The characters tell their stories through words, dance and music, and a range of puppetry styles. The audience are guests, viewing a banquet; the action takes place on a 24-foot dinner table. Each story has its own aesthetic treatment, and Delft china, Matchbox cars, televisions, rod puppets, Japanese Bunraku-inspired puppets are part of the visual feast.
Information from the press release:
Who’s Hungry is the brainchild of award-winning playwright, composer, choreographer and performer Dan Froot, an associate professor in UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures / Dance. Working in close collaboration with Froot is Dan Hurlin, a nationally acclaimed puppet artist who designed and constructed the objects and sets, and directed the piece.
Performances will be Friday, April 4 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, April 5 at 3:00 pm in Sara Victoria Hall at the Silvermine Arts Center. Tickets are $20 for members and $25 for non-members. Reduced price tickets will be available for community partners. Tickets can be purchased online at www.silvermineart.org or by calling 203-966-9700 ext. 22.



Cooking Sunday Brunch

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Start with potatoes.

Frittata (2)

Add beaten eggs…and whatever you’ve got… leftover vegetables, fresh herbs, ham…… top with cheese and run under the broiler.

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Frittata (breakfast leftovers)

Got leftover mashed potatoes? Make potato pancakes.

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Add a poached egg and creamed spinach.

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Brunch is served.



Bareburger

Bareburger

I tried my first Bareburger this weekend.  What’s Bareburger? It’s a hamburger franchise specializing in organic and pasture-raised meat. There’s a new outlet in Ridgefield, and one coming soon in Stamford. What did I think of the burger? Well, I applaud the use of organic produce and grass-fed beef, and it’s fun that they also offer bison and elk burgers. And the place is cute, with rustic, reclaimed wood and beams. It had the vibe of one of those instantly popular, embraced by the community, sort of places. Bareburger was doing brisk business on a Saturday afternoon.

The menu offers a surfeit of choices — type of meat or veggie burger, bun (brioche, multi-grain, lettuce wrap, or gluten-free tapico rice bun), cheeses, and toppings. So many that it seemed overwhelming. So instead of making a whole bunch of choices, I had the California burger (avocado, lettuce, tomato, pepper relish)with a beef patty.

The burger was really big.  And it wasn’t easy to eat. The tomatoes, onion and burger started sliding out when cut it in half, picked it up and bit into it.  Ah, so that’s why they serve it with a fork and steak knife.  I looked around to see how other people were tackling their burgers. It wasn’t just women who were resorting to fork and knife, men and kids were too. And therein, lies the problem.  I want to pick up my burger, bite into it and get a taste of the whole, meat, cheese, toppings, bun. I didn’t enjoy having a bite of some meat and some bread, and gathering up pieces of onion and tomato from the plate and try to join them back with the burger. I don’t want to struggle with my burger!



Jam and Jelly

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Homemade spiced cherry jam made with local fruit.

This is the time of year when we’re grateful for the jams and jellies we made last summer. Their bright colors and vivid flavors are an antidote to the barren, snow-patched misery of March. I made two kinds of fruit preserves last summer, spiced cherry jam with New York State fruits and wineberry jelly from the wild canes on my property. My favorite is the wineberry. It has a “wild” flavor I associate with beach plums.  I wrote about making wineberry jelly here.

http://belowthefoldblog.com/2013/07/wineberry-jelly/



Entering a Cooking Competition

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Entries in the Sweet Potato Contest at the Westport Winter Farmers Market.

When I saw the sweet potato hash, topped with fried eggs, I knew I was sunk. I’d entered the Westport Farmers Market Sweet Potato recipe contest, and as people began putting dishes on the table, I saw the competition was tough.

I’d spent several nights delving into sweet potatoes, experimenting and testing. I began by roasting them in their skins in a hot oven. You know they’re done when their natural sugars have created a syrup oozing out of the holes you forked in them (to make sure they don’t explode).

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Roasted sweet potatoes, pushed through a seive, and then gently cooked over the stove to remove moisture and concentrate flavors.

After I scooped the vivid orange flesh from the skins, I cut the skins into strips and fried them in olive oil. Sprinkled with salt, they were crispy and light, with a touch of earthiness.

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sweet potato fried

Then I started thinking about making a sauce from a raw, juiced sweet potato. The Westport Farmer’s Market contest rules required locally grown ones. I got some from the Fort Hill Farm stand.

Later, at Whole Foods, I noticed more sweet potatoes. They were from California. They were large and smooth-skinned. The local Fort Hill Farm sweet potatoes had rough skin, and they were older and skinnier. Let me add, the Whole Foods sweet potatoes, which were not organic, were damn expensive. Five of them cost $9!

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I compared the taste of the raw juice from the local Fort Hill Farm and the California sweet potatoes. Fort Hill’s tasted of clove and vanilla. It was earthy and sweet, with a starchy back note.

The California sweet potatoes were sweet. Full-on sweet. And starchy. That was it. No spice, no depth. The local sweet potatoes won the flavor battle hands down.

The starch in the sweet potato juice settled to the bottom of the mixing glass, a thick band of white topped by orange liquid.

The sweet-potato-lemongrass  juice had good flavor, but tasted too raw, so I bubbled it on the stove and reduced it. For final thickening, I added some of the the sweet potato starch from the bottom of the glass.

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I created a complicated and imperfect little dish. The texture of the caramelized slice on the bottom was too soft. The sweet potato puree, flavored with maple syrup and homegrown habenero sauce was probably too spicy. The sauce (there was some beneath the puree), was tasty but got lost. The fried skins were great, but more would have been better. In sum, it was a weird creation.

And then there was that sweet potato hash.  You just wanted to dig in and help yourself.  So, I didn’t win. The sweet potato hash came in second place to Sal Gilberties salad and sweet potatoes.  In the sweet category, the vegan sweet potato tiramisu won first price, and the sour cream coffee cake came in second (Congratulations, Donna Young!)
Entering the contest, roasting, beating, frying, flavoring, piping, juicing the sweet potatoes, and creating a new dish, was illuminating in many ways. Most of all, I relearned that essential lesson: Keep it simple.

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A judge points to Sal Giberties winning baby arugula salad over sliced sweet potatoes.