Friday, September 9, 2016

Aloo Baingan

Indian food is my favorite food. I've been known to stake out all the good Indian places within a 25-mile radius of wherever I am living, and when we lived in Missouri I was a loyal patron of our local Indian restaurant at least once a week on my lunch break. For awhile, here in rural Maryland, we went to the only Indian place in town, which was a Mexican restaurant run by an Indian man who cooked a not-well-publicized-and-thus-semi-secret Indian menu as well. The place had its ups and downs--first they took items off the Indian menu, then they took away the Indian menu altogether, then people complained so they put it back on, then they started taking items off again, until finally...

The entire restaurant closed, and just didn't reopen again. No Indian food in our entire county!

Well, desperate times call for desperate measures, which is how I ended up cooking this Aloo Baingan recipe tonight. It was so delicious that I knew I just had to return to the food blog to share it. As is the case with all recipes I cook from food blogs, I prefer to link to the original blog itself rather than reprint the recipe. So go give this blog some traffic, and enjoy some delicious Indian food!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Ramp Primer

Anyone who has been following my Facebook page for the last week has seen a number of posts on ramps - and I'm talking about the vegetable, not the inclined plane. But I realize that a lot of people have never seen a ramp, let alone tasted one. So my goal here is to tell you the basics of identifying, locating, cleaning, storing, and preparing ramps.

Identification and procurement
The ramp (Allium tricoccum) is a wild onion or leek native to North America. They are most closely associated with Appalachia, but they grow across most of the eastern half of the US and Canada in shady forest areas. Their flavor is a mix of garlic and onion with a pronounced funk (some people say cheesiness) - the last bit is much more noticeable after they are cooked. They usually grow as 1-3 leaves from a white or red-tinged stem, and at least around here they have a habit of growing under rocks and on steep hillsides. The bulb and stem are scallion-like, while the leaves are more similar to leeks or garlic.

The most reliable way to get your hands on ramps is to forage them. They grow exceptionally slowly - one source I saw estimated that they can take 6-7 years to begin proliferating if you transplant them into your garden, which means that you have to wait that long to start harvesting. That makes asparagus look easy. This should also make it clear that over-foraging is a real concern - the only estimate I have seen is to harvest no more than 5% of a patch per year, but keep in mind that that covers the total harvest for that year, not just what you are taking.

If you're going to forage, try to go with someone who has done it before. While there are no widespread toxic mimics in the US, all foraging is best done with a teacher at first. And foraging is an oral tradition, so this way you can pass it on to others later on.

Ramps are one of the very first spring vegetables - here in Maryland, they are ready for harvest 4-6 weeks before asparagus and rhubarb. And you only get 3-4 weeks to harvest them, so you can't dawdle or you'll miss them. After that period, the leaves die back and they flower and go to seed.

Alternative to foraging: if you live in New York, ramps show up in huge quantities at the Union Square Greenmarket for a few weeks every spring. They're pricey but very fresh and delicious. I do recommend talking to the vendors and finding out what their foraging practices are like - again, sustainability is an issue here.

Cleaning and storage
I went foraging with a friend last week in [REDACTED] - she asked me not to share the forage location. I came back with a 5-gallon bucket full of ramps, or somewhere around 3.5 pounds. Ramps are extremely perishable - somewhat more so than fresh spinach, for a reference point. If you plan to use them within a week or so, you can hose off the roots and wrap them in a damp paper towel. If you want to eke out another few days, skip the hose just wrap the roots, dirt and all. I put my wrapped ramp bundles in a gallon plastic bag with holes poked in it for ventilation, then put them in the vegetable drawer of my fridge.

When you're ready to use your ramps, preparing them is somewhat labor intensive. If they are still covered in dirt, fill your sink or another large basin with warm water, dump the ramps in, and swish them around to get the dirt off. I find the next step easiest if the roots and bulbs are facing away from you. Ramps (like most other Allium members) are covered in a thin slimy membrane or netting on the bulb, which you will need to get off. An easy way to get this off is to break the root end off the bulb, then run your hands down the bulb toward the root until you pull off the membrane. Then break off the bulb from the leaves and put them in separate bowls, as you will often want to prepare them in different fashions.

Once all of your ramps are clean and ready to use, you have several options:

1. Eat raw. My friend likes to eat them raw with beans and cornbread. Ramps are sweeter than raw onions and delicious raw, but a lot of people (me included) get mild stomach upset from eating raw alliums. So try a little bit first and see if they get along with you.

2. Pesto. You can blanch the ramps first or not - the pesto will be much stronger if you don't blanch, but the flavor is fantastic and like nothing else. I made pesto with about 12 ounces of raw ramps (bulbs, stems, and leaves) and a handful of walnuts to mellow it out a bit. Some of the leaves are a bit fibrous, but you'll see which as they just won't process very well. Just pull those out and toss them. The pesto emulsified very well without adding olive oil, so there must be some kind of natural emulsifier or saponin in the plant - I just added a little olive oil to round out the flavor. I got around a pint of bright green pesto and froze it in four portions for future dinners. It is very strong, very garlicky, and exactly how spring should taste.

3. Pickling. You can pickle the bulbs just like any onion - the leaves won't pickle well. Either vinegar or lactic-acid pickling should work.

4. Preserving in oil. While this is delicious and will leave you with some fantastic ramp-flavored oil, there is a theoretical risk of botulism. If you want to do this, I recommend researching online - there are a number of recipes and methods around that should reduce the botulism risk via prolonged exposure to heat.

5. Frying. This is how I'm preserving most of my ramps. First tear the leaves into 1-2" pieces, then wilt them in a hot frying pan with some olive oil, butter, bacon drippings, lard - whatever you want, really. Chop the stems and bulbs and add them to the frying pan once the leaves are wilted, along with more fat if you need it. I usually fry mine for 15 minutes or so, or until the ramps begin to brown. Then cool and pack in small containers. They will last a few weeks tightly sealed in the fridge, or quite a long time in the freezer. For freezing I recommend packing small portions in sandwich bags, then sealing them in freezer-safe Ziploc bags and getting as much air out as possible. You won't get a ton - 10-12 ounces raw will get you around a cup of finished caramelized ramps - but they're great for adding to any stir-fry, stew, or soup after that.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Happy Holidays from FBTS!

Welcome back to the blog! As usual in my struggle to become a regular blogger, much has happened since my last post. Most notably, Noah and I bought a house, and enlarged our family by two cats!

Meet Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbrige Stewart (Brig), and Stormaggedon Dark Lord of All (Stormy).

We here at FBTS would like to take this opportunity to wish you a very happy holiday season! Here are some latkes we made to celebrate. We topped them with homemade applesauce, and plain yogurt from a local farm.

As a bonus feature, here are some photos of this salad, which we made a modified version of this week. We roasted everything together (and roasted the potatoes instead of boiling them), but the general idea was the same.

Here's to some great winter festivities, and I hope we'll be able to spend 2016 cooking and eating together!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

My New Favorite Soup!

Like many people who love cooking (or, more truthfully, like many people who enjoy looking at food and imagining cooking it), I have a large folder of saved recipes on my computer. Currently, that folder has...only 322 recipes on it, just waiting to be cooked. I may have a slight blog-reading/recipe-hoarding problem--I'm planning an upcoming post with food blog recommendations, since I might as well use my blog hoard for the greater good. Within my recipes folder, there is a subfolder entitled "Tried", with all the recipes I've actually cooked. This illustrious folder contains a grand total of 17 recipes, most of which have become staples at our house. There's kale with fried eggs, and my absolute favorite potato salad, both recipes which can reach once-a-week proportions depending on my current level of obsession. There's the summeriest iced tea that I can make straight from my garden, and two breakfasts that I could eat nonstop. There's even recipes for when you need a quick dessert or an easy drink.

Last week, I moved another recipe over to my "tried" folder: this Immunity Soup from the lovely 101 Cookbooks. I was beyond excited to make the recipe, and it turned out even better than I had imagined it would be. There's really nothing like a garlicky, gingery, mushroom-infused broth to cure anything that has ever ailed you. We didn't have any tofu to add, but hey--more room for mushrooms! Our version also included some delicious greens--we used radish and turnip greens, since we got such good-looking ones at the farmer's market this past week. In the end, even though it was a quick-simmering soup, the carrots had deposited so much of their carrot-y essence into the broth that they were almost translucent, and the mushrooms were still fairly firm but had created kind of a mushroom stock in the pot. I've been eating this soup as often as I can, and I'm sure it'll be a mainstay all throughout the winter.

I wish you all happy recipe-hunting! No sooner had that recipe been moved to my "tried" folder that another 4 were added to the list. :-)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pupusas at Dutterer Park (Westminster, MD)

And now, for something completely different: a food review of a food stand so informal that it doesn't even have a name!

I was first introduced to the pupusas at Dutterer Park by one of my coworkers. During one of our work days, she asked me if I liked Latin American food. The answer being "of course!", she casually informed me that every weekend in the spring and summer there was a soccer league that played at a local park, and one of her neighbors had set up a stand to sell her homemade pupusas. Sure enough, when we went to check it out we found the Carroll County Hispanic Soccer League and one or two tents selling delicious homemade Latin American food. Carroll County can be fairly white-washed as far as racial breakdown goes, but all of a sudden I found myself in a position I've been familiar with on my food adventures in many urban metropolises: the only white person around. Very rarely, if ever, do I get the experience of being immersed in a different culture while in Carroll County, so this was very welcome. 

Usually the pupusa tent is busy with throngs of soccer supporters, and once you wend your way to the front of the line there is normally a bit of a wait for food. No matter; there is always a great soccer game to watch! I prefer to sit slightly back from the main group of spectators with their lawn chairs, on a bench where it is easier to balance my food. There is always an enthusiastic group and lots of young soccer players practicing their skills on the sidelines while you wait for your pupusas to be ready.

You can get pupusas filled with shredded meat, white cheese, or both--there is possibly also a version with beans, which I don't believe I've ever tried. I usually prefer mine with plain cheese, though it is definitely a lactose overload! The pupusas come topped with a refreshing cabbage salad which goes perfectly with the fried cornmeal dough and mountains of cheese. And it's really as simple as that--a quick and easy snack to enjoy while watching the soccer game.

If you'd like to catch a game and enjoy some pupusas, the Carroll County Hispanic Soccer League plays on weekends throughout the spring and summer at Dutterer Park.

Dutterer Park
Monroe St. and Pennsylvania Avenue
Westminster, MD 21157

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Cow (Westminster, MD)

The Cow is a cute little stand on 140 Boulevard that sells frozen custard and soft serve-type ice cream. Noah and I have been meaning to go there for awhile now, but we never seemed to be available when it was open. After a trip to Hanover, PA for sushi (look for a review in an upcoming blog post!), we decided now was finally the time to stop by The Cow.

We ordered a regular chocolate frozen custard, and it was great! It's a little difficult to write about soft-serve ice cream, because it either tastes like it should or it doesn't--not too much nuance out there unless you're going for some kind of gourmet soft serve (which we weren't). The atmosphere is also just right; a small stand with people milling around outside in the parking lot, with only a couple picnic tables to sit on.

The Cow also serves various ice cream-based desserts, and claims to have gelato, which I definitely will have to taste to believe--not a lot of gelato around here. We'll definitely be back!

The Cow
473 Baltimore Boulevard
Westminster, MD 21157

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Garryowen Irish Pub (Gettysburg, PA)

For the Fourth of July this year, Noah and I decided to take a bit of a mini-vacation and spend the weekend at a B&B near Gettysburg, about 30 miles away from where we live. When we mentioned this to my parents, who visit Gettysburg a couple times a year due to my dad's job, they suggested an Irish pub in town that was very good--but they couldn't remember the name. Not a problem, because a Google search for "Irish pub Gettysburg PA" essentially brings up a full page on only one restaurant--the Garryowen Irish Pub.

Garryowen boasts an impressive menu of traditional Irish fare, as well as a strong beer list and a whopping selection of 55+ different kinds of whiskey to try. We sat at the bar even though there wasn't a wait, which might have been the right choice; not ten minutes after we sat down customers started pouring in, and suddenly customers who arrived not long after us were faced with upwards of half an hour's wait. Service was still friendly and moved at a good pace, and customers who arrived later were directed to another, upstairs bar where they could wait.

For dinner, Noah had bangers and mash, and I tried the fish and chips. Both were excellent--I remember Noah's meal being particularly strong, but I also thought the fish and chips were well above average, especially the quality of the fish and the fact that it wasn't completely fried to a crisp like many fish and chips can be. For me, though, the standout was when we got to dessert. Instead of having a traditional dessert, I opted for an after-dinner whiskey. I love whiskey, but have not had the chance to try many different brands. Because of this, I know how to describe what I like, but not how to pick the best whiskey that fits the description. Garryowen's whiskey menu helpfully gives descriptions of each whiskey, but since whiskey appears to be what they do here I asked the bartender for help. I like to drink whiskey that is not too smooth; as I described it, I like "a whiskey that kind of punches me in the face". One of the whiskies I was considering was the Jameson Gold Reserve, and after consulting with Noah and with the bartender we settled on that as the best option. I haven't had many different whiskies over the years, but this one was the best I've had; it starts out with that nice hit (the "punch you in the face" feeling I requested), but afterwards the flavor of the whiskey bloomed really nicely. Drinking it was definitely a pleasurable experience. It's an expensive whiskey to buy, but not so expensive that it wouldn't be appropriate for a special a Christmas gift. *wink wink*

Garryowen Irish Pub
126 Chambersburg St.
Gettysburg, PA
Open 7 days/week, 11AM-2AM

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Hickory Bridge Farm is a restaurant and B&B tucked way back in Adams County, Pennsylvania. Florence and I are staying for July 4 weekend near Gettysburg, so we thought it would be great to try Hickory Bridge for dinner. Getting there was an adventure - it's only 25 minutes away, but it's deep in the country and many of the roads are unsigned. We found it without having to call, but it was pretty close.

The place itself is a classic country restaurant - the menu is fixed and the price is by the person. The food is served family-style, and there are a lot of options. When we were there, they had crab imperial, oven-fried chicken, and pit beef for main dishes; scalloped potatoes, glazed carrots, broccoli with cheese sauce, corn fritters, and baked apples for side dishes; and bread, spiced peaches, and salad to start.

The quality of the food varies - the crab and chicken in particular were excellent. The corn fritters, potatoes, peaches, and apples were very good, and the pit beef was good but for an unusual glaze - I think raspberry, but I'm not sure. The other food was okay, but I just had a taste and focused on the better items. They'll happily bring you more of anything if you want, so I didn't waste space eating food I didn't love.

We also had a delicious bread pudding for dessert. Typical bread pudding in every way, but very well-made - and I think that describes the rest of Hickory Bridge as well. It isn't adventurous, but it is quite tasty.

Hickory Bridge Farm
96 Hickory Bridge Road*
Orrtanna, PA 17353
Dinner price as of 7/4/2014: $25.50/person + tax/tip

*Google dropped us off at the corner of Hickory Bridge Road and Jack Road. The restaurant is actually about 1/4 - 1/2 mile south of there.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Drink of the Day: Flying Dog Bloodline Blood Orange IPA

If you're looking for a fruit beer, Bloodline probably isn't for you. It isn't sweet or mild. If you want a fruit-influenced IPA along the lines of Stone's Grapefruit Slam IPA, however, this is an excellent choice. Like all of Flying Dog's beers that I've had, it's fairly strong (7% in this case) but very well-crafted, with enough body to offset the significant bitterness. The orange is subtle - if I were tasting blind, I might not even notice it. It adds a slight fruitiness to the bitterness of the hops, and I like it a lot.

I think Bloodline is seasonal, so you probably won't be able to find it for long. If you drink a lot of traditional American IPAs, this is worth a try for something just a little bit different.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Bamboo Garden (Brooklyn, NY)

Flushing, Queens, used to be the undisputed home of dim sum in New York. Dim sum is a style of Chinese food that involves eating small portions of many dishes. It differs from tapas and other styles of small-plate dining in that you don't order food - there are several carts wheeling around the restaurant, and they stop by your table and you pick what you want to eat.

Most of Queens' dim sum restaurants have either closed or gone significantly downhill in the last few years. My parents and I used to frequent Dong Yi Feng on 37th Avenue, but that too has declined recently. So it's been awhile since I've eaten dim sum. This brings us to last weekend, when Florence and I were staying with friends in Brooklyn. Sunset Park in Brooklyn is rumored to be the new home of dim sum in NY, so we looked up the best places on Serious Eats and decided on Bamboo Garden. Inside, it has the classic look - a huge and chaotic dining hall with many carts, and a stand at the front where you check in and get a number. We only waited about five minutes, which is impressive for a Sunday morning.

As soon as we sat down we were accosted by several carts. In fact, Bamboo Garden had more carts than I've ever seen at a dim sum restaurant - at least five stopped by our table within a few minutes of us sitting down. The weakness of dim sum is often that the food is not too fresh by the time the cart gets to your table, but Bamboo Garden was crowded and the food was flying out the kitchen. Everything was fresh, hot, and very, very good.

The standouts were the tripe and the water chestnut cake cake, both of which were easily the best I've ever had. The tripe was perfectly cooked, not rubbery as tripe can sometimes be, and not funky at all. It was the "white" style (I don't know what it's called in Cantonese) with ginger, garlic, and scallions. The water chestnut cake was the star of the morning - it was piping hot and perfectly cooked. The bottom was pan-fried, which I'd been hoping for, but you don't always see that in dim sum restaurants as it takes extra work from the kitchen. The combination of the crunchy bottom with the jellylike texture of the cake was fantastic.

The only thing that wasn't great was the chili sauce - it was a slightly-alarming bright red and tasted vaguely of chemicals. However, the food was so good that I didn't even miss it.

Bamboo Garden
6409 8th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11220
Expect to pay around $10/person, which is pretty typical for dim sum in NY