Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Attack of the Ramps

It could be a tag line on an illuminated poster of a B movie, a la horror genre.

"They came out of the fields. They invaded New York. They're green, they're alive, they're..."

Ramps! Horror turns to happy endings. With winter officially behind us, ramps are the earth's way of assuring us its spring. Giving us a pat on the back, saying, "Congratulations! You made it through winter. Now have a snack."

Also known as wild leeks, ramps are a garlicky, oniony, curvy, leafy, beautiful and delicious spring vegetable. Overflowing from every other booth in farmers markets around the city, ramps are here and here in number. Making the city a little greener and significantly more tasty. One of the best things about these little sprigs of tangly-rooted vegetables (aside from their flirty looks and scrumptious flavor), is that you can cook them almost any way you want. Sauteed, grilled, baked...

While it's still cool enough to turn on the oven in our cozy kitchen, we decided to use the bunch of ramps whisked away from the greener side of Union Square Park to make a savory bread pudding. Over lemon sodas we sliced crusty bread, infused sage into whole milk, and sliced our ramps, separating the white stalk from the bright green leaf, but using all parts in the pudding because...well, you can. So why not.

A few eggs, salt, pepper and some Grana Padano, deliciously salty cheese, and the pudding was only an hour at 350 degrees away from our bellies.

Now if you are reading this thinking, bread pudding, ew no thank you, that sounds worse than an alien invasion...I can empathize. There was a period in my life when the thought of squishy, wet bread sounded wholly and completely gross. But when you think of it as a moist, rich, sophisticated cousin to stuffing, soft, comforting, and in this case salty, with pockets of bright ramps... Aren't you tempted to try a bite of this?

I hope so. Once golden and steaming and crispy around the edges, we'll just say I was truly happy (down to the bottom of my stomach) for spring. Plus bread pudding is ideal for warming you up just enough to ward of the spring night chills. Throw ramps in the mix and nearly the whole pan will disappear before you realize it. That is, if your experience is anything similar to mine...

We ate the leftovers with eggs over-easy for lunch the next day. Eggs and ramps will not steer you wrong. I think some sausage added to the mix wouldn't hurt one bit either. Having fully succumbed to the ramp bite, we used a second bunch to saute and lay over pan fried salmon for dinner the next night.

If I sound ramp crazed, well, okay I might just be. But consider it may be an even crazier thing to let spring pass without giving into the ramp invasion. Remember, no matter what it may sound like, they aren't out to get you.

You should go out and get them.

Savory Ramp Bread Pudding

1 large loaf of crusty bread, cut into big pieces (enough to almost fill an 11 x 7 inch baking pan)
1 bunch of ramps
5 cups whole milk
15 leaves of sage
7 eggs
1 1/2 cups grated Grana Padano cheese (or anything hard and salty)

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 11 x 7 inch baking pan.
2. Heat milk with sage, bringing it almost to a boil. Take it off the heat, cover with plastic wrap and let infuse for 5 min. Remove sage.
3. In a large bowl mix bread and milk. Let soak.
4. Cut roots off ramps. Slice the white part of the ramp into small pieces, cut the leaves into larger chunks. Reserve a few whole leaves for decorating the top of the pudding.
5. In a small bowl, whisk eggs together with white ramp pieces, salt and pepper.
6. Mix egg thoroughly into bread and milk.
7. Stir in 1 cup of grated cheese.
8. Spread pudding into pan.
9. Garnish the top with whole ramp leaves and the remaining 1/2 C cheese.
10. Bake for 1 hr and 10 minutes or until pudding is golden brown on top.

approx 15 servings

Monday, April 20, 2009


The highlight of my eating last week started in a dispute over soup. Gumbo to be specific. I don't recall how soup became the topic of conversation...but then again, why wouldn't it be. Soup is delicious and wonderful and I could muse about it all day long. So maybe I got a little worked up when I was sure gumbo was cooked with rice, and Russ resolute that is was served over it.

Technically speaking, I lost the tussle. But I was decided that gumbo was on for Monday dinner so the loss was of little consequence.

Waiting tables in my college days, I donned a white apron serving up gumbo and crawfish etouffee at a small, spicy little cajun/creole restaurant in Central Pennsylvania. Spats Cafe. What great, funny, delicious memories I have of that restaurant. Filling ice tea pitchers and polishing silverware in the morning, I'd watch the cooks stir big pots of dark roux under the waves of heat spilling off the flatop in the kitchen. Roux, a rich, slowly cooked combination of fat and flour is what makes gumbo gumbo. Up until this past week I'd never actually made it myself. So it wasn't just soup we were talking about for dinner. It was soup and a roux.

And the perfect occasion to try the contents of the peanut butter jar of homemade lard; rendered from pork fat by my genius-in-the-kitchen friend, and farmer, Anna.

It was a what's-in-the-pantry inspired gumbo, so for serious soupers, not your traditional mix. No peppers or okra. But smoked duck breast, red beans and rice (cooked in), carrots, kale, sage and thyme. Ok, the duck breast was an impulse buy at the grocery store. But a delicious addition to be sure.

With the soup simmering on a burner, I stirred the roux. The nutty, rich smell of the flour and fat cooking sent me back to those days of hot sauce and cornbread at Spats. Committing to that roux, stirring for about 30 minutes until it grew a walnut, chocolate brown, the smell and feel of it all sent my thoughts towards what else I could possibly come up with to put roux in...

But once mixed into the stock pot, it was clear that roux was made for gumbo. Gumbo for a roux.

For me, the peppery burn of the brown broth was seasoned with the flavor of Spats lunch breaks, slurping soup at that back table sprinkled with silverware wrapped in mardi gras beads.

For everyone else, it was a flavor that cooked with rice, or served over it, no matter. As long as there was enough for seconds, no arguments to be found.

*Don't forget that the Virtual Great American Bake Sale is still in progress. While your soup's on the stove, check out the recipes and share a little something before chowing down!

Wild Rice and Beans Gumbo

1 cup red beans
1 cup wild rice
6 medium carrots
1 bunch celery
1 large red onion
1 10" andouille sausage
1/2 pound smoked duck breast
1 pound chicken breast
5 large leaves of kale
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 rosemary sprig
1 T sage
1 T thyme
1 T sea salt
2 t cayenne pepper
lots of black pepper (50-60 turns of a peppermill)
3 qts chicken stock
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup fat (butter, lard, oil...)

1. Rehydrate beans according to directions on package.
2. Chop celery, carrots, garlic and onion.
3. Cube duck breast and cut andouille sausage into slices, then quarters.
4. Cube chicken. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne.
5. Cut kale into ribbons.
6. In the bottom of a large stockpot, over medium heat, add 1 T olive oil, duck breast, sausage, garlic and spices, and brown for a couple of minutes.
7. Add chicken, brown.
8. Add carrots, celery and onion. Sweat until onions are translucent.
9. Pour in stock.
10. Add rice and beans.
11. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
12. Reduce to a simmer, let cook for 1- 1 1/2 hrs. Taste occasionally for seasoning.
13. In a small saucepot over medium heat, mix together flour and fat. Stir constantly to avoid burning; cook until roux is a nice dark brown. Note- use a heat resistant spatula or wooden spoon...mixture is HOT! Let roux cool to room temperature.
14. Very carefully add roux to the stockpot. Stir to incorporate.

15-20 servings

Monday, April 13, 2009

Something To Share

My childhood food memories are some of the strongest so far. Waking up early for oversized sticky buns at the beach. Filling crinkly bags at the candy store after piano recitals. Shrimp with butter and bay seasoning. And cupcakes for school day birthdays.

Why the reminiscing? Because today kicks off Share Our Strength's virtual bake sale fundraiser. So first, some words from the organizer of the event, Kate Miller.

"Welcome to the Virtual Great American Bake Sale. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of these ebooks will go toward Share Our Strength's Great American Bake Sale program. Funds raised through Great American Bake Sale are donated to after-school and summer feeding programs--food programs that many kids depend on when school is not in session. Great American Bake Sale is a program of Share Our Strength, a national organization working to make sure no kid in America grows up hungry.

The ebooks are a compilation of recipes from submitters across the blogosphere and beyond. The ebooks are available for purchase based on any donation amount of the buyer's choosing."

Big thanks to Kate for organizing. Welcome hugs to new readers and noogie's to old. Now let's get down to baking.

What can you find inside the delicious pages of this year's e-cookbook? From this corner of the web, a hats off to special sweets in school; a recipe for my mom's chocolate chip cream cheese cupcakes. A cheese cake center decorated with the confetti of mini chocolate chips and draped in dark chocolate cake, it's just what a cupcake would wear to a big bash.

And this week is a big bash. At http://stolenmomentscooking.com/welcome-to-the-virtual-great-american-bake-sale/ you will find a list of all the other wonderful hosts who've created recipes to support Share Our Strength's important cause. Below you will find links for purchasing the entire collection of recipes at the cost of only what you want to donate to the event.

I still smile at the thought of smiley face cookies and apple pie with a perfect crumbly topping. Lemonade stands and chocolate chip cookies on chilly days at home. In hopes that more and more and more kids can grow up with sweet memories, browse the bake sake, stay awhile, have a snack and share your support!

Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Cupcakes
(known to my mama as “Cream Cheese Surprise!”)

For the filling
8 oz cream cheese
1/3 C sugar
1/8 t salt
1 egg
6 oz mini chocolate chips

1. Beat cream cheese, sugar and salt.
2. Beat in egg until combined.
3. Mix in chocolate chips.

For the cupcake
3 C flour
2 C sugar
1 t salt
1 C cocoa powder
2 t baking soda
2 C water
¾ C oil
2 T vinegar
2 T vanilla

1. Whisk together flour, sugar, salt, cocoa powder and baking soda.
2. In a separate bowl, combine water, oil vinegar and vanilla.
3. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir to combine.
4. Into a lined muffin tray, fill cups ½ full with chocolate batter. Drop about 1 teaspoon of cream cheese filling on top of each cup of batter.
5. Bake cupcakes at 350 degrees for about 35 min.

Yield: 24+ cupcakes

The Complete 2009 VGABS Recipes Ebook

Features all 170 of the submitted recipes. Many of the recipes include pictures.

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