Farmer’s Market Moments

We’re still working on getting back into blogging, particularly the finding time photos, type part of the equation. For now, a few shots from this week’s farmer’s market.

Milk

Tomatoes

Squash

Busy

It’s been a rather busy week in our house. Lots of errands over the weekend, three dinners out planned for this week. For now, a glimpse of a favorite meal from this last week, eaten at La Mexicana Bakery and Taqueria.

Quesadilla
Chicken Quesadilla – flour tortilla, marinated then grilled chicken, and cheese

Torta
Carnitas Torta – marinated and fried carnitas, lettuce, tomato, lime-flavored mayonaisse, black beans on fresh-made bread

Getting Back to It

It’s been a pretty busy year in our house, with me finishing up my last year of college and Matt putting up with me finishing my last year of college. But, we’re going to get back to food blogging real soon. Really, we are. More recipe posts, more easy meals (made by me), and maybe even a few posts about meals prepared outside our home. Come back soon, we’ll be around.

Peeled Tomato

Gratin with Swiss Chard

Food

Another Shot of Dinner

Finished Product

Maryland Crab Cakes

Homemade Crab Cakes

I grew up in Maryland and, because of that, I have some strong opinions about crab cakes.  I’m even inclined to voice these opinions to anyone who’s willing to listen.  When we lived in California, I had a number of conversations about crab cakes with coworkers who promptly thought I was a bit obsessed about the whole thing.  That continued until another person who had lived in Maryland joined our group who had equivalently strong and vocal opinions about the matter.

I’ve tried crab cakes in other styles from other regions, and as good as they may be, they don’t compare with a Maryland crab cake.  While I will freely argue about the various merits of the different styles, in the end, it’s a preference based on the experience of eating them as a kid.

In Maryland, crab cakes are everywhere.  They’re on almost every menu.  From a food stand to a deli to a fine dining restaurant: all have their crab cakes.  The church I attended growing up used to have all-you-can eat crab cake and ham suppers as fundraisers.

There are a few things, in my mind at least, that make a crab cake Maryland style.  First, it must include Old Bay. I’m usually not a fan of pre-mixed spices but I make an exception for Old Bay. Second, the binder should be saltine crumbs; bread crumbs don’t give the right texture. Finally, and most importantly, it should be made with Chesapeake Bay blue crabs.

Unfortunately, there are barely enough blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay to supply the surrounding region.  Plenty of crab from North Carolina, the Gulf, or even Asia is sold in this area.  But when good Chesapeake Bay crab meat is available, the resulting crab cakes can be phenomenal.

We’re lucky that Buster’s Seafood had some lump backfin at the farmer’s market last Saturday.  As soon as I saw it, despite the significant cost involved (and that’s only going to get worse because of the oil spill in the Gulf), I knew I had some crab cakes in my future.

Maryland Crab Cakes
Adapted from Chesapeake Bay Cooking With John Shields

1 lbs. lump backfin crabmeat
1 egg
2 tbs mayonnaise
1 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp Old Bay
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2-3 dashes Tabasco
1/4 cup saltine crumbs
peanut oil, for deep frying

  1. Pick over the crab meat for shells and place in a bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, dry mustard, black pepper, salt, Old Bay seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco.
  3. Pour the mixture over the top of the crab meat and add the cracker crumbs.  Carefully mix together, taking care not to break the pieces of crab apart.
  4. Form into crab cakes 3″ wide by 1″ tall. The crab cakes should hold together but still be loose.
  5. Deep fry the crab cakes, in batches if necessary, at 375ºF until well-browned, about 3 minutes.  Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.
  6. Serve immediately with french fries and cole slaw.

Serves 4.

Fettucini with Ramps and Asparagus

Fettucini with Asparagus and Ramps

If you’ve read this blog before, it becomes readily apparent that I’m not a vegetable-centric cook.  But after a long winter where the only vegetables at the farmer’s market were lettuces and carrots, the arrival of asparagus, ramps, and tomatoes yesterday really got me excited.  The sign at Westmoreland Berry Farm’s stand announcing that there would be strawberries in two weeks didn’t hurt.

While running errands later in the day, all I could think about was what exactly I’d do with my vegetable bounty. I settled pretty quickly on pasta but the details were still a mystery. I contemplated using pancetta or bacon. Then I wondered if I should add cream or cheese.

In the end, I went for the route of simple.  No pork products.  No cream.  No cheese.  Just saute the vegetables in butter and use the pasta water as a sauce.

It’s amazing what such a simple sauce can provide in flavor.  In a word, it tasted like spring.  The pasta absorbed the flavor of the asparagus and ramps and tasted nearly perfect.  The flavor was mild such that anything richer or heavier, like bacon or cream, would’ve over powered it.

Ramps and Asparagus

Fettucini with Ramps and Asparagus

6 large stalks of asparagus
8 oz. ramps
3 tbsp of butter, divided
salt and pepper
1 large shallot, diced
fresh pasta made with 2 cups of flour and 2 eggs

  1. Break the bottom off the asparagus and discard the bottom.  Use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin on the bottom portion of the asparagus.  Cut the asparagus into 1″ pieces.
  2. Clean the ramps.  Separate the leaves from the white parts of the ramps.  Tear the leaves into 1″ pieces.
  3. Heat 2 tbsp of butter over medium heat in a large skillet.  Add the asparagus and white part of the ramps.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring regularly, until the asparagus and ramps begin to brown, 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Add the shallots and cook for a minute more.
  5. Add the ramp leaves, season with salt, and cook until the ramp leaves are wilted.
  6. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted boiling water until slightly undercooked.  Drain the pasta, reserving the cooking water.
  7. Add the pasta to the skillet.  Add 1/2 cup reserved pasta water to the skillet.  Increase the heat to medium-high and cook until the pasta water is mostly absorbed and the rest is thickened.
  8. Remove from the heat and add the remaining 1 tbsp of butter.  Stir until the butter is incorporated into the pasta.
  9. Serve immediately.

Serves 2.

Homemade Smoked Bacon

Homemade Smoked Bacon
I don’t think I can compete with the superlatives bestowed upon bacon on the internet.  My love of bacon is not as great as that professed on some sites.  I don’t find the idea of chocolate covered bacon appetizing.  I don’t even like bacon a cheeseburger.  To be honest, I rarely eat bacon by itself.  Bacon has, however, become an integral part of my cooking as an ingredient.

One of the advantages of moving to Virginia is that there is a history of smoking in the state and, therefore, there are good local bacons available.  Those at the farmer’s market are even better. In California, I even made fresh (unsmoked) bacon. When I saw a pork belly at EcoFriendly Foods stand several weeks ago, I knew it was time to try smoked bacon again.

This isn’t my first try at smoked bacon.  My first attempt used a maple syrup based cure and the bacon was oddly sweet.  My next attempt was a more savory cure based on a pancetta recipe.  This bacon is a refinement of the second attempt.

While it may be self-aggrandizing, this is the best bacon I’ve tasted.  The cure ingredients only serve to enhance and complement the natural pork flavor as does the smoke.  It’s almost too flavorful to eat by itself.  Almost.  But that makes it even better when it’s used as an ingredient.

Smoked Bacon
Adapted from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing

One 5 lbs. (2.25 kg) pork belly, skin on

Dry Cure:
4 garlic cloves, minced
12 g pink salt
50 g kosher salt
26 g light brown sugar
20 g coarsely ground black pepper
10 g crushed juniper berries
4 bay leaves, crumbled
5 sprigs of thyme, leaves only
4 sprigs of rosemary, leaves only
3 dried red chili peppers, crumbled

  1. Combine the cure ingredients in a bowl and mix well.  Place the belly in a jumbo Ziploc bag or other large container.  Spread the cure mixture on all sides of the pork belly.
  2. Refrigerate the pork belly for 7 to 10 days, overhauling the pork belly by turning it over every other day, until it is firm at its thickest point.
  3. Remove the pork belly from the refrigerator, rinse the pork belly, dry it with paper towels, then allow it to dry in the refrigerator overnight on a rack.
  4. Hot smoke the pork belly over hickory until it reaches an internal temperature of 150ºF, 2 to 3 hours.
  5. Allow the pork belly to cool to room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator.
  6. Cut into thick slices.
  7. The bacon can be refrigerated for several weeks or frozen nearly indefinitely.

Yields approximately 4 lbs/1.75 kg bacon.

Maple Cake with Maple Syrup Frosting

Maple Cake with Maple Syrup Frosting

The last two times we’ve gone skiing in Vermont, my non-skiing wife insisted that we take at least one day and go exploring.  For us, exploring consists of visiting cheese makers, ice cream makers, a brewery, and, of course, maple syrup producers.  It was an interesting experience visiting several different producers, trying the different grades, and then tasting the differences between different areas and producers.  Similar to wine, the terroir makes a difference.

After our last trip, we come home laden with more maple syrup, even though we had an unfinished bottle in the fridge from our previous trip.  With so much maple syrup in our house, when I first read the title of this recipe in Bon Appetit, I knew I had to make it.

I made it when we had planned to have several guests.  Instead, only Alison decided to join us.  So that meant a lot of cake for me to eat for breakfast and lunch during the week, even after we sent Alison home with some of the leftovers.

Surprisingly, given the article that this recipe was part of, this is not a typical cake.  It’s sweetness is muted.  The cake itself is subdued in flavor while the icing provides a good counterpoint with the dark maple flavor and the tangyness of the cream cheese.

This isn’t a particularly difficult recipe but I did have problems getting the maple syrup to mix with the butter and shortening in a smooth fashion.  I beat it until the fat particles were relatively small and, in the end, I don’t think it made much of a difference.  The original recipe calls for walnuts in the cake and in the frosting, but I omitted them because of Angela’s preferences.

Maple Cake with Maple Syrup Frosting
Adapted from Bon Appetit April 2010

Cake:
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking power
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, cut into 1 tbsp chunks
2 tbsp vegetable shortening, softened
2 cups Grade B maple syrup
3 egg yolks
1 egg
1 1/4 cups whole milk

Frosting:
8-oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, cut into 1 tbsp chunks
3 cups powdered sugar
2 tbsp Grade B maple syrup

  1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
  2. Butter and flour two 8″ cake pans.
  3. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine.
  4. In an electric mixer, beat the butter and shortening until creamy and fluffy.
  5. Add the maple syrup and beat until the mixture is smooth, 3 to 5 minutes.
  6. Add the egg yolks and the egg one at a time, pausing until the mixture is well combined before adding the next one.
  7. Beat in the flour in 3 additions, alternating with the milk.
  8. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans.
  9. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes.
  10. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then remove from the cake pans.
  11. To make the frosting, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth.  Add the powdered sugar and maple syrup and beat until just combined.
  12. Make a layer cake, by icing the cake with the frosting.

Serves 10.



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