Saturday, May 31, 2014

Boneless Spring Lamb Roast

A while back, we hosted a dinner with a theme that featured recipes from Maryland.  The theme was America in Miniature, which featured recipes that highlight the produce and products of that wonderful state.  I have already posted two of the recipes from that dinner, an appetizer of Shrimp Pâté with Crostini and a Cream of Asparagus Soup.  Now, we have reached the main course ... Boneless Spring Lamb Roast.
The raising of lamb and sheep is an important part of the agricultural sector in Maryland.  There are farms throughout the state -- such as Jehovah Jireh FarmEvermore Farm and Castle Hill Harm -- where farmers raise lamb and sheep in environmentally conscious and humane ways.  There are organizations and associations, such as the Frederick County Sheep Breeders Association, which are devoted to promoting and improving the raising of these animals within Maryland.   Even the University of Maryland has a role, with a program specifically designed to various aspects of raising sheep and goats. 

Most importantly, there are people like myself in Maryland who love to eat lamb.  When I planned our wine dinner, this recipe stood out as a perfect main course.  The recipe is relatively easy to make, with three basic steps: (1) marinating the meat, (2) prepping the meat for roasting; and (3) roasting the meat.  Although you have to watch the temperature of the meat, so as to not overcook it, this recipe allows you to turn to the preparation of other dishes while the roast is cooking in the oven. 

The one slight change I made to the recipe is that, after straining the drippings, I returned them to a small pot and added a little beef stock to the drippings.  I brought it to a boil and reduced it slightly.  This allowed for more "drippings" to ensure that every plate has some of the jus to go with the lamb.

Recipe from Dishing up Maryland, page 68
Serves 6

1 lemon
3/4 cup olive oil
10 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 boneless leg of lamb (3 to 3 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1.  Marinate the lamb.  Zest and juice the lemon.  Combine the lemon zest and juice with the olive oil, 3 of the garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon of he oregano, 1 teaspoon of the rosemary, the paprika and salt in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.  Place the leg of lamb in a large ziplock bag and add the marinade.  Put the ziplock bag into a larger plastic bag or large container to ensure there is no leakage and place it in the refrigerator to marinate over night or for at least four hours.

2.  Prepare the lamb.  Remove the lamb from the refrigerator and allow the contents to come to room temperature.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Combine the remaining 1 teaspoon  oregano and 1 teaspoon rosemary with the sea salt and pepper.  Rub this mixture all over the lamb.  Cut small incisions into the lamb and insert the remaining 7 garlic cloves into the incisions.  Insert a meat thermometer into the roast.

3. Roast the lamb.  Place the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan, fattiest side up.  Roast for 15 minutes.  Reduce the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and roast for an additional 10 to 15 minutes per pound, 30 to 45 minutes, until the meat thermometer reads 140 degrees for medium rare to 150 degrees for medium.  Remove the lamb from the oven, cover it with foil or a lid and allow it to rest for 20 minutes.  Cut the strings from the lamb and transfer it to a serving platter.  Cut the lamb into thick slices.  Strain the pan drippings and pour them over the lamb.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Grilled Soft Shell Crabs

It has been almost three years since I professed my culinary love for the soft shell crab in a post entitled Much Ado about Molting.  My beautiful Angel and myself had just been introduced to Endurance Seafood in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.  We had to depart the Croatan Highway (Route 158) down Colington Road, which ran along the contour of the island.  As we drove down this winding road, we were presented with some of the island's beauty, such as the views of the Pamlico Sound that are otherwise unavailable to those who remain on the beaten path. Turn after turn, we continued our drive until we saw the Endurance Seafood sign. 

A turn down a gravel driveway, a quick drive past a house, and we reached our destination.  Endurance Seafood is a family run operation that sells blue crabs in both of their majestic forms ... hard shell and soft shell.  We made our trip specifically for the latter form of blue crabs.

Endurance Seafood in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina
As we exited our car, we faced a building surrounded on two sides with white tubs.  Those tubs were filled with water and blue crabs in the various stages of molting.  As we approached, we could see people working to box soft-shell crabs for shipment to distributors and restaurants across the eastern United States.  Fortunately, we arrived just in time to purchase some soft crabs.  As the crabs were gathered, we were allowed to walk through the rows of white sinks and see the blue crabs in the various stages of the molting process.  After the crabs shed (or molt) their shells (or exoskeleton), they become soft-shell crabs.  They will remain in this state until that shell hardens once again.  We were able to purchase two dozen soft shell crabs to enjoy during our trip to the Outer Banks. These were the largest and meatiest soft shell crabs that I had ever seen.  Most importantly, they were the freshest soft shell crabs because we got them directly from the source.

The soft shell crabs from Endurance Seafood.
When we arrived at our vacation spot, I sauteed some of the soft-shells for everyone.  One can eat almost the entire crab.  To prepare the crab, you have to remove the eyes, the tail and the gills.  This can be done with a pair of scissors, cutting off the face of the crab, as well as snipping off the tail and the gills.  It is gruesome, but necessary task, in order to enjoy these delicious crabs. 

The easiest way to cook a soft shell crab is to coat it in a light coating of flour and pan fry (or saute) it in a combination of oil and butter.  That is how I first prepared the crabs. However, I had several crabs left over.  I prepped those crabs (that is, I removed the eyes, tails and gills), and then froze them.  Unlike hard shell crabs, soft shell crabs can be frozen and enjoyed later.

This is exactly what we did.  Once we returned from our Outer Banks trip, some of those frozen soft shell crabs began to thaw, despite my best efforts to keep them frozen for our return home.  I decided to cook those crabs in a way that I had never done before.  I cooked them on the grill.  I looked over a few recipes to get some basic ideas as to how to grill soft shell crabs.  I then proceeded to grill them by first preparing a butter that can be basted over the soft shell crabs before they went on the grill.  The butter is melted in a pan and then some garlic and shallots are sauteed briefly in the butter.  The butter is removed and allowed to cool, and then it is ready for the soft shells.  The soft shells cook quickly, needing to be grilled only for about four to five minutes per side.  (Less time is needed for smaller crabs.)

In the end, I have to say that grilling these beautiful crabs is now my favorite way to prepare them.  By grilling them, I used far less oil or butter than the more conventional ways, such as a deep frying or pan frying them.  The grill also crisps them in a way that provides a better taste, one that cannot be replicated in a deep fryer and is difficult to replicate in a pan. 

One last note ... the grilled sot shell crabs can be served by themselves.  Personally, I think that the grilled crabs are perfect for a soft shell crab sandwich (especially if you have guests who may have a difficult time with the fact that you are eating an entire crab, as opposed to a crab cake).  You can use whatever toppings you like.  I kept it simple: lettuce, tomato and onion.  No condiments.  In this case, less is better because you want to taste as much of the crab as possible. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 2-4

6 soft shell crabs, cleaned and rinsed
4 tablespoons of butter
1 shallot, minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
Salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste

1.  Prepare the butter.  Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium high heat.  Add the shallots and garlic and saute for a couple of minutes.  Remove from the heat.  Baste the soft shell crabs generously with the butter.

2.  Grill the soft shell crabs.  Heat the grill to a medium high or high heat.  Apply some vegetable oil to the grill grates to ensure that the crabs do not stick to the grates. Grill the soft shell crabs until they turn bright red and begin to crisp along the edges, about four to five minutes per side. 


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Big Chuck's Barleywine

They were an institution in Cleveland.  From 1979 until 2007.  Chuck Schodowski and John Rinaldi -- known to every Clevelander as "Big Chuck and Little John" used to host late night horror movies on WJW-TV.  They operated out of a studio in downtown Cleveland, hosting the movies before a live studio audience.  I was once a part of that audience when I was a kid.  I have some vague memories of that day, being in the studio and seeing the two television personalities.

People did not necessarily watch Big Chuck and Little John for the horror movies.  The movies were usually of the type that would serve as the backdrop for a Mystery Science Theater 3000 show.  Rather,  everyone watched Big Chuck and Little John for the skits that the two entertainers would perform.  These included skits such as "A Certain Ethnic ________," which played on Big Chuck's Polish heritage, the Kielbasa Kid, a spoof of western movies, and Cuyahoga Jones and the Castle of Doom, which was an obvious play on the Indiana Jones franchise:

Everyone who grew up in Cleveland during the 1980s and 1990s remembers (or should) remember skits like these.

Recently, Portside Distillery brewed a barleywine in honor of Big Chuck, aptly named the "Big Chuck Barley Wine Ale."  Portside is Cleveland's first distillery since Prohibition; however, it also brews beers, including this barleywine.  While I searched for the ingredients, I was unsuccessful, much like Cuyahoga Jones.  However, from the description below, it is clear that some form of roasted malts were used, along with a fair amount of hops.

The Big Chuck Barley Wine Ale pours a dark brown, almost black in color.  This suggests the use of roasted malts, which are often used in darker beers such as porters or stouts.  The malts provide a bready, toasty and almost earthy notes.  The malts also drive the taste of the beer, providing the backbone of the taste, with a dark roasted, bready, malty elements.  There was also some cocoa, coffee or espresso in the taste of the Big Chuck barleywine, which was followed by a very astringent and dry finish, which is where the hops most likely figure into this beer.  The hops most likely accentuate the astingency and dryness brought about by the roasted malts.  Finally, there is a booziness in the background of the beer, which is expected with an ABV of 11.7%. 

The heavy emphasis on the malts would ordinarily suggest an English style barleywine; however, the dark, roasty, coffee notes are not typical of what I would expect or ordinarily find in that style of a beer.  This uniqueness is perfectly acceptable, because Big Chuck (and Little John) were unique in their own way when it came to late-night television in the Cleveland area market.  


Monday, May 19, 2014

National Geographic Live: The Taste of Saison

The National Geographic Society is a long established institution with a long history in geography, cartography and exploration.  Once a year, the National Geographic asks the head brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, Garrett Oliver, to create a beer tasting experience that combines beer with geography and exploration.  I have attended several of these beer tastings.  At each event, Garrett Oliver introduces guests to beers that they have never heard or seen before.  He places each beer in its own context, weaving stories about the brewers and the beers with a combination of facts and humor that keeps the crowd listening throughout the event. 

Each beer tasting has a theme and Garrett Oliver chooses beers that best exemplify that theme.  Previous beer tastings have included "Beers from Where?", a tasting focused on beers from unexpected places, "The Power and the Glory," a tasting focused on high powered beers, and "Mini-Micros," a tasting focused on beers from very small producers.

The theme for this year was a first for Garrett Oliver and the National Geographic ... it focused solely upon one style of beer.  The style was the Saison.  This beer first emerged from the farms in southern Belgium.  According to The Year in Beer, farmers would take part of their harvest in the autumn and brew a beer that could ferment during the cold months.  Once the spring and summer arrived, the farmers had a beer that they could give to their saisonnieres or "seasonal workers." The beers helped quenched the thirst of the workers and, brewed at 3.5% ABV, it did so without causing the workforce to become drunk in the fields. 

As one would expect, each farm had its own recipe for a Saison beer.  The recipes generally were produced with whatever the farms had on hand, plus hops and, in many cases, whatever spices the farmers could get their hands on.  This beer tasting, which featured nine Saisons, provided a good example of the variety that comes with this style.

1.  Brooklyn Half Ale.  The first beer of the night was one of Garrett's own beers, the Brooklyn Half Ale.  It is dubbed a Session Saison, that is, a saison beer brewed as a session beer.  At 3.4% ABV, it clearly falls within the lower alcohol content one expects from a session beer.  Garrett explained that this particularly low ABV was intentional.  The beer was brewed and first released in Sweden (where Brooklyn Brewery recently opened a new brewery).  In order to sell beer in a grocery store, the beer must have an ABV of less than 3.5%.  Most of the beers sold in Swedish grocery stores tended to be of the "industrial variety," i.e., mass produced beers.  Garrett and the other brewers thought it would be a great idea to brew a craft beer that could be sold along side the mass-produced beers in the supermarkets. 

This beer pours a light straw color, with aromas that suggest grass or flowers.  Those aromas also carry over somewhat to the taste of the beer.  There is a noticeable tartness or bitterness, which comes from the fact that the beer has 40 IBUs.  The brewers used Sorachi Ace hops, which principally contributed to the aromas, but also provided some of the traditional hop elements in the taste.  This beer is not yet available in the United States.

2.  Allagash Saison.  The next beer was the Allagash Saison.  I am familiar with Allagash, which operates out of Portland Maine.  I have had several of their beers, including the reknown White and the Curieux Ale.  The Allagash Saison is a brewed with 2-Row blend, malted rye, oats and dark Belgian candi sugar.  The brewers hopped the beer with Tettnang, Bravo and Cascade hops. 

Their efforts produced a beer that has a golden hue, with aromatic elements of spice and tropical spice.  I had a harder time registering the aromatic notes of this beer, but they came through in the end.  As for the taste, the brewers suggest "citrus and a peppery spice," which is a good characterization of the beer."  The beer also had a tartness and a dry finish that I think has become a characteristic of a saison.  With a 6.1% ABV, the Allagash Saison felt like a high powered beer compared to the Brooklyn Saison.  Fortunately, this beer is available in the United States and I have seen it in local grocery stores.

3.  Rue Saison de Lente.  The Bruery has established itself in recent years with some very interesting beers.  One of those beers is the Saison de Lente, a beer that, as its name suggests, is brewed in the springtime.  Unlike the previous two beers, I have actually had this one before ... and I even wrote a review about it.   I have to admit that I did not remember having the beer at the time of the tasting.  I am not sure how that necessarily bodes for this beer. 

Still, the Saison de Lente set itself apart from the first two Saisons by the use of Brettanomyces or wild yeast.  The wild yeast was mild in comparison to some of the other Brett beers that I have had in the past.  The yeast provided aromatic elements of grass and wild flowers, along with some citrus from the hops.   The brewers suggest that this beer pairs well with strawberry salads, turkey burgers and roasted bell peppers.  The Saison de Lente was a nice transition from the first two beers to the next one.

4.  Boulevard Saison-Brett.  This beer took the Brettanomyces to another level.  The Boulevard Saison-Brett featured the wild yeast much more prominently than the Saison de Lente.  This provided a funkiness that was perhaps a throwback to the Belgian farmyards of times past.  When the farmers brewed the beer, they used wild yeast or reused yeast that provided a certain funk to their beers. Boulevard brews its saison with pale malt and malted wheat, along with magnum and amarillo hops.  The brewers also used corn flakes in the brewing process. 

The beer exhibited everything one would expect from a Brett beer ... a certain type of grass and earth that pervades the aroma and taste, only to be complemented by some grapefruit notes from the Amarillo hops.  Perhaps the most unusual aspect of this beer, according to Garrett Oliver, is the fact that Boulevard Brewing referments its Saison-Brett in a keg, as opposed to a stainless steel container or a wooden barrel.

5.  Wild Beer Company Somerset Wild.  "There is something about saying, Wild Beer Company, Somerset Wild, Evercreech, Somerset, United Kingdom."  That is how Garret Oliver began his explanation of the fifth saison beer.  The Somerset Wild provided a nice divergence from the Saison de Lente and the Saison-Brett.  A departure from the wild, barnyard notes provided by wild yeast.  I don't remember the specific malts or yeasts used to produce this beer; however, the Wild Beer Company did use Sorachi Ace hops in the beer. 

This beer pours much like the other Saisons that we tasted to this point ... golden hued, with notices of tropical fruit that provide a tangy and somewhat tart flavor.  The bottle's line -- "Crisp + Zesty + Spicy" -- is accurate.  The beer is definitely crisp, somewhat zesty and does have spice notes that reinforce its saison style and demonstrate how the saison was able to cross the English Channel and emerge in a rather interesting form.  After this beer, the saisons presented by Garrett began to take on a whole different character.

6.  Brooklyn/Mountain Goat Ridgy Didge.  After trying a saison from the United Kingdom, Garrett Oliver took the guests half way around the world to try one from Australia.  Actually, the beer is a collaboration between Brooklyn Brewing and Mountain Goat Brewing.  Mountain Goat is located in Richmond, Victoria, and it is one of the older craft brewers in Australia. 

The Ridgy Didge took the fundamental characteristic of a saison -- the brewing of a beer with what is available to you or around you -- and gave it a distinctly local outback flavor.  The brewers used lemon myrtle and Tasmanian pepper berries when they brewed the Ridgy Didge.  These ingredients helped to contribute to a unique aromatic and flavor profile, one that made this beer smell and taste more like a hefeweizen than a saison.  There were definitely aromas and flavors of clove and banana in this much more amber-hued offering.  Those flavors are probably more the result of the lemon myrtle, as the pepper berries are more hidden in the background and only emerge later as you sip the beer.

7.  Franches Montagnes Square Root 225. The tasting continued on the international leg of the tour, with the next stop being Switzerland.  The unique, individual characteristic of this beer begins with the name.  The square root of 225.  The answer is also the age of the brewery, Brasserie des Franches Montaignes or BFM.  This saison is different from the others that we tasted in that it is aged or matured for four months in Saint Bon Chien barrels.  Those are the barrels that BFM ages its signature beer, the Abbaye de Saint Bon Chien.  The beer is then aged for Like the Ridgy Didge, the Square Root of 225 had its own distinct flavor.  Distinct even from the Ridgy Didge.  This beer was very tart, bitter and astringent.  The tartness was intentional, as the brewers were playing a sort of prank on the domestic market, which they believe is not ready or willing to accept such beers.  I love tart beers, even sour beers, so that prank would not have worked on someone like me.

8.  Saison de Pipaix. As the beer tasting winds down, Garrett Oliver returned the guests to the home of the Saison with the Saison de Pipaix, which is produced by Brasserie a Vapeur.   The brewers describe the beer as being brewed in the traditional Wallonian style of a saison.  Garrett described this Saison that one that confounds people because of the flavor elements that can be found in this golden/amber hued offering.  The brewers describe those elements to include black pepper, ginger, sweet orange peel, curacao, and star anise.  All of these flavors did make themselves known as the beer is sipped.  The brewers also note that this beer has been brewed by Brasserie a Vapeur since 1785.  That would make this beer a very old example of a saison and is a nod to how some brewers may have produced saisons back in the 18th and 19th centuries.  As the first Belgian saison in this beer tasting, it was an interesting introduction to the style as brewed in the country of its origin.

9.  Avec les Bon Voeux de la Brasserie Dupont.  In my opinion, Garrett Oliver always seems to save the best beer for last.  This tasting was not any different.  Garrett introduced everyone to Brasserie Dupont, which is considered to produce the gold standard of saisons.  The last beer is the Avec Les Bons Voeux de las Brasserie Dupont or "With the Best Wishes of Brasserie Dupont."  With an ABV of 9.5%, this beer is like a "super" Saison or Imperial Saison.  The beer was very smooth, with almost a cordial like body.  The aroma and taste of the beer has been described as having a golden color with elements of marmalade and spicy apple and pair aromas.  I have to be honest that, after having tasted eight beers, my smell and taste senses were a little "compromised."  The description continues by observing the taste of the beer as having notes of pepper, dates, sour cherry, earth and spices.  Other descriptions note citrus, bananas and cloves.  While I cannot say that I recall any of those elements, what I can say is that the Best Wishes of the Dupont Brewery was the best saison of the tasting.

In the end, this was a great tasting that that exemplified the variety that falls within the style of the saison.  As always, Garrett Oliver did an excellent job in terms of describing the beers, telling stories about the beers and generally keeping the interest and attention of the crowd.  He also did a great job in terms of selecting the beers, showing that one can taste a wide range of different beers even when the tasting is limited to one style.  

Until next time...


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Baby Chef: T Burgers

Now that our little guy has turned one, the doors to a whole new world have opened.  Most (but not all) of the food restrictions that apply to newborns and infants are gone.  After one year, a baby can eat just about anything, although it takes time to get him or her to accept these new foods.

Our little guy was more than ready for this transition.  Over the past couple of months, it became clear to both my beautiful Angel and myself that our little guy was more interested in eating what we were eating than what we thought he should have.  We accommodated, giving him small bites of our food, which he quickly scooped up and stuffed in his mouth. 

As I look back, I did not cook for our little guy as much as I had hoped or planned.  (To be honest, I did not cook for my Angel and myself as much as I wanted.)  Work has been especially busy and having an energetic and fun-loving little kid also takes up a lot of time.  My hope going forward is that I can cook for him more often, making "kiddie" versions of recipes and experimenting with ways to open our little guy's mind and taste buds to different foods.  

This recipe is the start.  I call it "T Burgers" for "Toddler Burgers."  The recipe is very simple ... steamed carrots, onions and ground meat.  This recipe is the start because iron is an important mineral for young kids.  When they are born, they start out with a lot of iron, but they lose it over time.  Doctors often prescribe iron supplements or suggest certain diets to help maintain iron levels. There are formulas that are fortified in iron.  However, once the child transitions from formula to whole milk, you need to look at ways to ensure that he or she continues to get enough iron.

The choice is between vegetables and beef.  Like most toddlers, green food is not very eye-pleasing or appetizing.  So, vegetables like spinach are "off-the-table."  They can be introduced in time, but I think it is better to start with a little beef.  

In this case, I paid a little extra to get grass-fed, locally raised ground meat.  With all of the news surrounding  industrial cattle production, especially with regard to the use of antibiotics, it is worth the extra cost to get something that is more than likely better for your child.  The only option that I had was 80/20 (80% meat, 20% fat).  With the beef in hand, I decided to add some carrots and onions.  I decided to steam both vegetables to ensure that they are soft and, in the case of the carrots, to ensure that as much of the nutrients remain as possible.  

In the end, the test is whether our little guy will eat the T Burgers.  It took him a little time, but he started to come around.  When introducing new foods, it is a challenge to get the child to like both the taste and the texture of the food.  Our little guy can often be a little apprehensive at first, but he usually comes around and eats the food.  It takes time, but the work in preparing the food and introducing it to our little guy is definitely worth it.

A Chef Bolek Original
Makes many burgers

1 pound of ground meat
3 carrots, peeled
1/2 onion, peeled

1.  Steam the carrots and onions.  Rinse the carrots and onions thoroughly.  Place in a steamer and steam for about 10 to 15 minutes, until both the carrots and onions are soft.  Remove from the steamer and plunge in an ice bath.  Once the carrots and onions are cool, mince them finely.

2.  Make the burgers.  Once the vegetables are cooled and minced, add them to the ground meat and mix well with your hands.  Take small portions of the meat mixture and make small patties, slightly smaller than a slider.  Make as many sliders as you can with the mixture, which will produce about fifteen or sixteen patties.

3.  Cook the burgers.  Heat a pan on medium high heat.  Cook the burgers in batches (adding a little oil if necessary), about 2 to 3 minutes on each side.  It is important that the burgers are cooked to well done.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Cream of Asparagus Soup with Rice

I was never a fan of vegetables when I was a kid.  (Truthfully, I was not a fan of anything green when I was a kid.)  Over time, my views and opinions about green food have changed and evolved.  No vegetable represents that change more than the asparagus.  

The cultivation of asparagus dates back to ancient history.  In fact, the name "asparagus" is Greek for "sprout" or "shoot."  The Greeks gathered wild asparagus for dishes, as did ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians.  However, those wild green fleshing sprouts were especially popular during Roman times.  The Romans were the first to grow and cultivate the sprouts, especially around the Tiber River region.  After the harvest, Roman cooks would have made dishes such as aliter patina de asparagis frigida (Cold Asparagus with Woodock) or other recipes, like the one that appeared Apicius' 3rd century cookbook, De Re Coquinaria.

While the Romans loved those spears, I used to hate them.  I shunned them whenever they made a presence on the plate.  That began to change a few years ago. The principal reason is that I found a way to cook it that really appeals to me ... grilling.  Marinate the stalks in a little olive oil, with some herbs, lemon juice and salt.  After a short period of time, throw them on the grill, turn a few times, and you have a very tasty side dish. A dish that I could eat over and over again.

Recently, we hosted a dinner with a theme that featured recipes from Maryland.  The theme was America in Miniature, which featured recipes that highlight the produce and products of that wonderful state.  One such produce is the asparagus.  There are many farms, such as Godfrey's Farm in Queen Anne's County, that grow the spears.  Indeed, as recounted by Lucie Snodgrass in Dishing Up Maryland, Godfrey's Farm started out as an asparagus farm, cultivating and harvesting as much as 160 acres of the vegetable. The farm sold its produce principally to a plant owned by Green Giant in Delaware.  When the plant closed, Godfrey's Farm began making its harvest available to others, including consumers at farmers' markets.

For the dinner, we made a Cream of Asparagus Soup with Rice.  Asparagus seems to be an odd ingredient for a soup, but it worked.  However, what made this noteworthy was the use of rice.  The rice served to thicken the soup, eliminating the need for heavy cream.  Instead, just a couple of cups of whole milk were required to add that "dairy" element to the soup.  Overall, the soup turned out well.  I would make this recipe again, but, grilled asparagus remains my favorite way to eat those spears.

Recipe from Dishing up Maryland, page 24
Serves 6

2 pounds asparagus
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 cups of chicken stock or vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly black pepper
1/3 cup of white rice
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Creme fraiche (optional).

1.  Prepare the asparagus.  Rinse the asparagus well and pat dry.  Snap off and discard the tough ends.  Cut each of the asparagus spears into three pieces.  Place a dozen tips in a small dish and set aside.

2.  Prepare the base of the soup.  Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and saute, stirring constantly, until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the asparagus pieces and cook and stir for 2 minutes.  Add the stock, salt, pepper and rice; cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove from the heat.  

3.  Steam the asparagus tips.  Steam the reserved asparagus tips in a steamer for 3 minutes.  Plunge them in ice water, drain, pat dry and then slice each in half lengthwise.

4.  Finish the dish.  Puree the soup using a handheld immersion blender (or in batches using a blender), gradually adding the milk until all of it is blended into the soup.  Return the soup to the stove and heat it through.  Garnish each serving with the asparagus tips, chopped parsley and a dollop of creme fraiche if desired.


Friday, May 2, 2014

Shrimp Pâté with Crostini

Recently, we hosted a dinner with a theme that featured recipes from Maryland.  The theme was America in Miniature, and, it was based upon recipes from the book, Dishing Up Maryland. There were four courses for this dinner: an appetizer, a soup, a main course and a dessert.  

When one thinks of Maryland, the first thought turns to the Chesapeake Bay.  And, when one thinks of the Bay, the first things that come to mind are blue crabs and oysters.  I could have made an appetizer with either ingredient.  The dish would certainly be delicious and something to remember.  However, it would be too easy and too predictable to start with those ingredients.   I needed to do something different to start the meal.

The "something different" was a recipe for Shrimp Pâté.  Neither Maryland nor the Chesapeake Bay is known for its shrimp. However, the State is home to Marvesta Shrimp Farms.  Three entrepreneurs -- Scott Fritze, Guy Furman and Andy Hanzlik -- opened the farm in Dorchester county.  They learned everything they needed to know about raising shrimp and doing so in an environmentally conscious way.  Whereas most shrimp farms raise the shrimp outside, using chemicals and antibiotics, Marvesta Shrimp Farms raise their shrimp indoors, using tanks of recirculating salt water.  The young shrimp spend about 90 to 100 days growing into the tanks until they reach the right size.  They are then harvested and packaged for shipment to buyers.

I looked into becoming one of those buyers, but Marvesta Shrimp Farms ships only to restaurants and grocery stores.  In making this dish, I used wild shrimp from the United States, which is generally speaking a good alternative to to environmentally protective methods used by Marvesta.  The combination of fresh shrimp, with cayenne pepper, garlic, Tabasco Sauce and Old Bay, makes for a great pâté.  This dish was a great and different start to our Maryland-inspired dinner.

Recipe from Dishing up Maryland, page 40
Serves 6

1 pound of Marvesta or other fresh jumbo shrimp, heads on, in the shell
4 tablespoons of butter, softened
2 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup of mayonnaise
Cayenne pepper
1 lime, juiced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons of fresh dill, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon of Old Bay or other seafood seasoning
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco cause
1 baguette
2 tablespoons of olive oil

1.  Prepare the shrimp.   Bring to a boil in a large saucepan enough water to boil or steam the shrimp.  Cook them for 2 to 3 minutes.  Remove the shrimp from the water with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking.  Pat the shrimp dry, remove the shells and heads and devein them.  Transfer the shrimp to a bowl of a food processor or blender.

2.  Prepare the Pâté:  Add the butter, cream cheese, mayonnaise, a pinch of cayenne pepper, lime juice, garlic, dill, salt, Old Bay and Tabasco to the shrimp and pulse the food processor several times, until the shrimp has been chopped into fine pieces.  Do not overprocess.  Transfer the mixture to a serving dish and chill for at least 1 hour.

3.  Prepare the baguette.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Slice the baguette into 1 inch thick slices.  Lay the slices on a baking sheet and brush them with half of the olive oil.  Bake in the oven for 5 minutes. Turn the slices and brush them with the remaining olive oil.  Bake for 5 minutes longer.  Remove the bread from the oven and let cool slightly.  Serve the bread alongside the pâté.