showcasing ingredients

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Sometimes when I think about my role as a cook, I view myself as a facilitator for the ingredients. Helping them show best rather than bending ingredients to my will. This weekend’s dinners at Granor Farm epitomized those feelings.

The first example were these squash blossoms. I had pictured the second dish of the meal being a folded ravioli filled with sweet pea and ricotta filling swimming in a brown butter and lemon sauce. But then Katie (the farm manager) mentioned that there would be squash blossoms available. I knew that they were a better vehicle for the sweet peas than my pasta ever would be, but how would I fry them? We don’t have a fryer. I loathe frying on the stove top. And how would the timing work? Trying to fry a bunch of super delicate blossoms at the same time that guests would be walking in the house sounded like a disaster waiting to happen.

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Then I saw the blossoms. They were the most perfect, tiny little flowers, and the idea of coating them in batter seemed like a damn shame— no matter how light and crunchy the batter would be. I mulled on it for about two days. How to create the crunch? How to make them feel finished? How to honor the perfection of those blossoms that I had access to because my kitchen is only 100 feet from the garden where they were harvested.

I remembered dukkah, the middle eastern ground spice and nut mixture that is often eaten by dipping pita and vegetables in it. The texture would be perfect—providing contrast to the silk of the petal and the cream of the filling.

This is what it looked like on the plate. The very first bite for dinner guests after they had walked the fields.

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The second example was these onion starts. We started more onions than was needed for the field rows. Everything deserves to get eaten and so these starts (which would have become Ailsa Craig sweet onions) instead were cut from their root ball and turned into a charred scallion vinaigrette. Grilling onions adds a smokey depth to the sulfurous acidity in alliums, as any burger joint will tell you.

I wanted to grill them, but it was pouring rain when it came time. Somewhere I once read that a broiler is just like an upside down grill, so broiled scallions it was. After that they were roughly chopped and vinaigretted (by combining the onion w/ equal parts sherry vinegar and olive oil). That rich burn contrasting kohlrabi and salty smoked trout over wild rice cakes. (I forgot to take that picture.)

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The third example was my attempt at pita to go with the cream coddled egg. I mis-scaled the recipe as I adjusted it for my sour starter to replace the yeast— ending up with something much more like pancake batter than pita dough.

I remembered an event I did at the Hull House in Chicago showcasing native population’s food. One of the items was Navajo fry bread. So instead of pitching the dough and buying store bought pita— as was my original thought— I heated a lot of oil in a pan and tried it (fried it). They were delicious and perfect for dunking in the creamy, garlic-y, yolky mixture.

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Not everything worked though. I made a batch of rye crackers using the rye harvested from Granor last season. I used the same recipe as the previous time. The only difference was the rye. It was coarser and a bit drier. The crackers would not hold together. I tried to roll and remix and finally remembered what Rory O’Connell said once during a cooking demonstration at Ballymaloe, “there’s no use convincing myself this is salvageable. Just start again.” I threw that cracker dough in the compost. But thankfully I threw it in there still in its plastic wrap and upon pulling it out to remove the plastic, felt so bad about throwing it away that I saved it and am going to try to make some sort of a rye crumble to top something or other. My hopes aren’t high, but maybe it will work. I just didn’t have the time to work on it then. The remade crackers were great.

In the end, the dinners were successful. The menu changed up until the morning of the first night allowing me to find ways to best showcase what we had grown. I struggle with how to share best ways to adapt cooking situations when they come slightly unhinged. It takes acquired knowledge and the instincts to apply those experiences. It isn’t hard, but there isn’t a trick expressed in a sound bite. Maybe that is what makes the difference in home versus domestic cooking– we chefs get hours to practice and adapt. 

cream coddled egg w/ garlic scapes

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This is one of my favorite ways to cook eggs for large groups. It is easy to control the timing and the end is truly more than the sum of its parts.

  • 1 onion
  • 5 garlic scapes, or 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 C white wine
  • 3 C cream
  • 8oz shitake mushrooms, optional
  • 6 eggs
  • parsley to garnish
  • bread or toasts to dunk
  1. Slice the onion thinly
  2. Mince the garlic
  3. Heat a glug of oil or a knob of butter in a sauce pan
  4. Add the onion and garlic and a big pinch of salt and allow to sweat without coloring
  5. Add the wine and allow to reduce until syrupy
  6. Add the cream and bring to a simmer and reduce by half
  7. Clean and roast the mushrooms by tossing in olive oil, salt, and pepper and baking or pan frying until brown and crispy
  8. When cool, finely chop the mushrooms
  9. Heat oven to 325F
  10. Divide the cream mixture between 6 small jars or ramekins
  11. Add the mushrooms if using and place on a sheet tray and transfer to the oven
  12. Bake until the cream is bubbling
  13. Crack the egg into the warm cream, season with a pinch of salt and return to the ove
  14. Bake until the egg white is set but the yolk is still giggly — about 7 minutes
  15. Remove from the oven and garnish with roughly chopped parsley
  16. Serve warm with a good amount of toast on the side for sopping up the cream

Dinners @ Granor Farm

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I went to cooking school at Ballymaloe in Co. Cork, Ireland. That school is situated in the middle of 100 acre organic farm. Each morning students are responsible for harvesting the salad greens, herbs, and produce that will be used in that days recipes.

It was in this bucolic setting where I decided that I wanted my food to be a snapshot of a particular piece of land at a particular time. This spring I returned to rural life in pursuit of that goal.

I joined the team at Granor Farm in Three Oaks, Michigan as the Chef in Residence. Granor Farm is 22 acres in Michigan’s Harbor Country. It is certified organic, producing vegetables and grains. It is committed to education. Every summer, we host Farm Camps for kids where they get to do chores, learn about how things grow, identify beneficial bugs and pests, and do a daily cooking lesson. Read on…

Venison

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I grew up in a hunting family. My grandfather and father participating in that early morning ritual of quietly making a thermos of coffee, loading up the gear, and driving into the dusky glow of morning twilight.

Upon returning home (empty handed) after one such outing, I asked my dad what was the appeal of this ritual. He told me to just come along. The next day I was groggily roused and a thermos of hot chocolate accompanied his coffee. We sat together in the tree stand. And I was bored. I had brought a stick and pocket knife to whittle. After about 15 minutes of fidgeting and making myself busy, my dad put his hand on my leg and said, “Abra, just sit and watch.” I (internally) rolled my eyes but put down my activities and sat quietly. We didn’t see a dear that day, but we did hear the birds slowly wake and start to chirp. We watched as the woods went from dark purple to pink to morning light. It was the first time that I had participated in the simple witnessing of the day breaking anew. Read on…

Autumn Olive

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Autumn olive is an anathema to conservationists.

It was brought into the ecosystem to prevent erosion and help feed a formerly dwindling deer population. It was brought in before it’s invasive traits were fully understood.

Its leaves come on earlier and stay out later than indigenous species. It spreads via its multitudes of seeds and sprouts from its root crown. It fixes nitrogen in the soil pushing out indigenous low-nitrogen adapted plants. It is hard to cut out. You can’t burn it out. And you can’t prevent all of those seeds from scattering no matter how you try.

But since it’s here, we might as well eat it, right? Read on…

apricots

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I have a tendency to anthropomorphize fruits and vegetables—their physical characteristics translating to a perceived personality in my kitchen and in a dish.

Peaches epitomize childhood summers with their fuzzy skin and liquid sunshine dripping from each bite. Cherries, on the other hand, are always at the ready for a jubilee. Their pits always game for a spitting contest. Nectarines very polite and adult like a crisp white linen shirt and just as striking.

Apricots have always had a sense of melancholy to me, or at least a sense of road weariness. Their flesh is drier in texture than the others listed above. Their appearance is subtle by comparison. Their flavor coy and changing, at the same time evocative of honey and almond or tart with an edge of citrus. Read on…

green beans

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Green beans epitomize the dueling energies of summer.
On one hand summer is the always bustling, parade of people visiting, things to do outside every night hustle. Lots of hands asking “what can I do,” sliding over each bean, snapping the stem end away making dinner prep faster with so many people around the table.

For these nights I’m drawn to a fast, high heat cooking method for beans—usually on the grill or in a smoking hot frying pan. The goal here is to quickly blister the skin leaving a good amount of char on the skin while maintaining a bit of snap when bitten.

On the other there are the ambling days. The days where I find myself on a long walk and then retiring to an afternoon nap avoiding the heat of the afternoon—cooled by the soft cotton of an old quilt on an inviting bed. Only to rise, stretch and glance through the garden for what is for dinner. I’ll stand alone by the kitchen sink pulling each bean from the harvesting basket, snip the ends away, and run them and my hands under the cool tap.

For nights like this I turn to a relatively slower braise of beans. Beans the color of an army tent is often given the bad reputation of being over-cooked. But that longer cook replaces the crisp crunch of the bean with a tender and yielding sweetness. Read on…

green city market– mid July virtual csa

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For the next month, Green City Market (and almost all other markets in this region) will be flush with blueberries, peaches, eggplant, summer squash, and green beans.

Thanks as always to the growers for managing the height of summer bounty and getting to market (at least) 2 times a week. And thank you to Elise Bergman for the beautiful design.

Go here to see the whole packet.

Read on…

strawberry disappointment

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It started with strawberries. This year the strawberries around me were disappointing. They smelled great and every other one tasted really good. But none of them were great and some where full on dull.

Then it was the raspberries. Same thing. Every other one tasted great like the seedy, sweet, sticky finger toppers of summer. But the others were just fine. I am now suddenly gripped with anxiety for cherries and peaches.

With each bite I felt disappointed. Let down that this season was a bit of a loss. Every spring I lie in wait, anticipating summer fruit season, practicing self control and eschewing berries from far away, for all sorts of reasons but mostly because they are a lifeless version of the fruit grown around here.

And then our fruit was not much more. Bummer. In the midst of my very small, private pity party I heard the voice of the first man I cooked for in my ear. “Welcome to being a chef,” was his reply when I was bemoaning the challenge of portioning vegetables that were vastly different sizes. Read on…