08/11/12 11:00pm
08/11/2012 11:00 PM

Said the mushroom to the oak, “You’re very slow!
I dare say it’s ’most a year
That you’ve been growing here —
And I began not quite two days ago!”

Said the oak tree, rustling gently, “That is true,
Through many a winter’s snow,
And many a summer’s glow,
I’ve watched the growth of tiny things like you.”
‘The Mushroom and the Oak’ by G.K.

Unlike the tree, mushrooms grow very fast and can be cultivated in as little as two months. But also unlike the tree, mushrooms are not even plants, but fungi. Plants (and trees) develop through photosynthesis, with sunlight providing energy and the plants converting carbon dioxide into carbohydrates such as cellulose. Mushrooms have no roots, leaves, flowers or seeds. They survive and grow on decaying organic matter such as dead trees and manure.
Their unique nature enables mushrooms too add a delicious earthy element to cooking that enhances many foods. Mushrooms are also a good source of dietary fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. They contain almost no fat or cholesterol. The most popular kind are the agaricus bisphorus varieties such as button, cremini and portobello.

These mushrooms differ mostly in maturity, with the portobello being the oldest. Other varieties that are commonly farmed are shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Dried varieties such as porcini are a very good source of intense flavor when hydrated in hot liquid.

Mushroom Sauce
Purchase 2 portobellos, 8 ounces cremini, 8 ounces button, 4 ounces shiitake and 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms. Remove the stems from the portobellos and scrape the gills from the underside with a teaspoon. Dice into half-inch pieces and place in a bowl. Wipe any dirt from the creminis and quarter them along with the button mushrooms. Add to the bowl. Trim the stems off the shiitakes and cut them in half before adding to the bowl.

Bring 1 cup chicken broth to a boil and pour it over the dried porcini mushrooms. Let sit for 20 minutes.
Heat a large, heavy sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons butter. When butter is frothy, add the mushrooms from the bowl and cook, undisturbed, for about 5 minutes. Stir them around and add 1 cup chopped shallots and 2 tablespoons minced garlic. Season with 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage and 1 teaspoon ground pepper.

Strain the porcinis, saving the liquid. Chop the porcinis coarsely and add to the pan. Let all of the liquid from the mushrooms evaporate and add another tablespoon of butter. Stir in 1/4 cup flour to make a roux. Add the reserved mushroom liquid along with 1 cup white wine and bring to a boil. When it thickens, add 1/4 cup chopped parsley and check for seasoning.

With pasta: Boil 2 quarts water and add a 12-ounce package of whole-wheat bow-tie pasta. When cooked al dente, reserve a little of the boiling liquid and drain. Toss the mushroom sauce and pasta together, adding a little cooking liquid to thin it out. Grate fresh pecorino romano cheese over it and serve.  Serves 4.

With whole wheat spaetzle: Whisk together 2 eggs, 1 cup milk and 1/2 teaspoon salt. In a separate bowl, combine 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour with 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 2 tablespoons chopped parsley. Using a wooden spoon, add the dry ingredients to the milk mixture. Stir to form a thick batter. Cover and let it rest for 30 minutes.
At service time, bring 2 quarts water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon salt. Place the batter near the boiling water. Using a box grater, scoop out some of the batter with a rubber spatula and rub it through the large holes, holding the grater over the boiling water. Repeat until half of the batter is used. Let the spaetzle cook until it rises to the surface plus 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon or skimmer and drain in a colander. Repeat the process with the rest of the batter.

Heat a large sauté pan and spray it with no-stick. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and add the drained spaetzle. Cook until lightly browned and toss with the above mushroom sauce. Serves 4.

Stuffed Portobello with Barley Risotto
Remove the stems from 4 large portobello caps and scrape out the gills with a spoon. Mix together 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 2 tablespoons canola oil. Brush this mixture on the inside and outside of the portobellos and place them on a foil-lined sheet pan with the inside facing up. Roast for 5 minutes at 400 degrees and turn them over, letting them cook another 5 minutes. Remove, drain any liquid out of them and set aside.

Bring 2 cups chicken stock to a boil and add a 1-ounce package of dried porcini mushrooms. Remove from the heat and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Heat a large, shallow saucepan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped shallots and let them cook for 3 minutes before adding 1/2 cup barley. Stir the barley until it is coated with oil and add 1 cup red wine. Leave the heat on medium high and let the wine reduce. Strain the porcini mushrooms over a bowl, squeezing out all of the liquid. Begin adding this liquid to the barley in 1/2 cup ladles, letting it boil away after each addition. Keep stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon and adding the stock until it is gone. Check the barley for tenderness. It should be cooked but still have a firm texture.

Chop 1 package of shiitake mushrooms and 1 package of cremini mushrooms. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a sauté pan and add the mushrooms along with the soaked porcinis. Season with 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary and 1 teaspoon ground pepper. When the mushrooms are cooked, add them to the barley risotto.

Place the cooked portobellos on a sheet pan and fill the cavities with the risotto. Heat in a 400-degree oven at service time and serve any leftover risotto on the side.
Serves 4.

Duxelles-Stuffed Mussels
To make the duxelles, coarsely chop 1 pound white button mushrooms. Peel and finely chop 1 cup shallots. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large, heavy sauté pan and add the mushrooms and shallots. Let them cook at medium heat until all liquid has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add 1/2 cup white wine and continue to cook until it is entirely evaporated. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley and remove from the heat.

In a soup pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter and add 1/2 cup minced shallots and 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Rinse 2 pounds of mussels and add them to the pot along with 2 bay leaves and 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes. Pour 1 cup white wine over the mussels, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer until all mussels open and remove from the heat.
Remove the mussels from the broth and strain the broth into a saucepan. Bring the broth to a boil and let it reduce a little. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small pan and add 1/4 cup flour to make a roux. Whisk the roux into the mussel liquid and let it simmer to thicken.

Remove the mussels from their shells and set aside. Break the shells apart and rinse. Stuff the mussel shells with the duxelles, placing a mussel on top of each shell. Put the stuffed shells on a sheet pan and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs. At service time, heat the stuffed mussels in a 400-degree oven for about 5 minutes and place them in the bottom of shallow soup bowls. Ladle some of the sauce over each bowl and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Serves 4-6.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

06/01/12 1:07pm
06/01/2012 1:07 PM

“A lobster from the water came,
And saw another, just the same
In form and size, but gaily clad
In scarlet clothing, while she had
No other raiment to her back,
Than her old suit of greenish black.

“Will you be boiled,” the owner said,
“To be arrayed in glowing red?
Come here, my discontented Miss,
And hear the scalding kettle hiss!
Will you go in, and there be boiled
To have your dress so old and soiled,
Exchanged for one of scarlet hue?”

“Yes!” cried the lobster, “that I’ll do,
And thrice as much, if needs must be
To be as gaily clad as she!”
Then, in she made a fatal dive
And never more was seen alive.
excerpt from ‘The Envious Lobster,” a Fable by Miss Gould,
Parley’s Magazine, 1834

Many years ago I organized a surprise birthday party for my wife, at which I prepared a big pot of lobster stew based on a newspaper recipe for corn chowder that she had given me. As it was in early June, I wanted to include as many fresh North Fork ingredients as I could and I wanted something to easily serve a crowd. That version of lobster stew, containing leeks, fresh thyme, red and green peppers, corn off the cob (not quite local yet), new potatoes and sugar snap peas (or green beans) became a signature dish during the summer at Ross’ restaurant in Southold for many years.

As my wife’s birthday approaches again, I would like to do an updated version of this delicious way to serve lobster and spring vegetables. This version requires making a rich lobster broth, which takes some extra time, but you will find your efforts well rewarded in a rich, complex sauce that brings all the ingredients together. I have also included a recipe for lobster risotto that uses the same broth and most of the same vegetables.

Lobster Stew, 2012 version
Purchase four 1.25-pound live lobsters. Bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large stock pot and plunge the lobsters into the pot. Cover and let them cook at high heat for only 5 minutes from start to finish. (They will not be fully cooked.) Remove the lobsters, reserving the simmering water.

Break off the claws and tails and place them back in the lobster water. Simmer until just cooked, about 10 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. Pour off all but 2 quarts of the water and keep it simmering on the stove.
Meanwhile, split the bodies down the middle with a large chef’s knife and remove the head sac under the eyes. Scrape out the tomalley (liver) into a small bowl and refrigerate. Heat a large sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. Add the split lobster bodies shell side down and cook at high heat until the shells turn bright red, about 5 minutes. Pour 1/4 cup brandy over the lobster bodies and ignite with a match (don’t stand too close).

Add 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped carrot and 1 chopped stalk of celery to the lobster bodies. Pour enough lobster water into the sauté pan to cover the bodies and vegetables. Season with 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning and 1 chopped tomato. Simmer at low heat for 30 minutes and strain.

Remove the meat from the cooled tails and claws, cut into bite-sized portions and refrigerate.

In a clean saucepan melt 4 tablespoons butter and add 2 chopped leeks and 4 thinly sliced carrots. Cook at low heat until leeks are soft and add 2 chopped fresh tomatoes and 6 sliced new potatoes (leave skin on). Add 1 quart of the strained broth to the leek mixture. Bring to a boil and simmer gently until potatoes are cooked, about 15 minutes. Add 1/2 pound of sugar snap peas and the lobster meat along with 1 cup heavy cream and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon. Simmer for 5 minutes and season with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Cut rounds of bread from a baguette and brush them with olive oil. Chop the reserved tomalley and spread it over the bread rounds and place them on a sheet pan in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes. Serve on the side as croutons.

For extra flavor and eye appeal, add 12 littleneck clams to the stew when you add the broth. As they open, remove them to a warm place before placing them around the bowl at serving time.

Serves 4-6.

Lobster Risotto
Prepare four 1.25-pound live lobsters exactly as in the above recipe for lobster stew. You will end up with about 2 quarts of rich broth and the cut-up lobster meat.

In a saucepan, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots. Cook for 3 minutes and add 1 1/2 cups of arborio rice. Stir the rice to coat it with oil, turn up the heat and add 1 cup dry rosé wine. When most of the wine evaporates, leave the heat at medium high and begin adding ladles of the lobster broth, stirring it in and letting most of it evaporate before adding another. Keep this up until the rice becomes tender, about 25 minutes. (It will use most or all of the broth.)

Chop one red bell pepper and steam until blanched, about 3 minutes. Blanch 1/2 pound of sugar snap peas and 1 bunch of asparagus in the same manner. Stir these vegetables into the risotto along with 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives. Now stir in the reserved chunks of lobster meat, leaving the heat very low. Season with 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon and coarse salt and pepper to taste. (As the season progresses, substitute green beans and corn for the peas and asparagus.)

Serves 4-6.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

05/21/12 2:16pm
05/21/2012 2:16 PM

The smells of bourbon, sirloin steak on live coals, hash browns and strawberries conjure up America’s heartland to me, especially around Memorial Day.

My very first cooking position in a serious restaurant was in 1965 at Trentino’s, an Italian steakhouse in Omaha, Neb. The restaurant was downtown, near the Union Pacific Railroad station and just a few blocks from the stockyards, which at one time were the largest in the country for beef cattle. Right in the middle of the stockyards was a famous fine dining restaurant called Johnny’s Cafe, which I think is still there. (Johnny’s was featured in the movie “About Schmidt” starring Jack Nicholson.)

At the time, all the steakhouses in Omaha used the restaurant cut — top butt sirloin — for their steaks. The top butt is not the most sought-after cut of the hindquarter of beef compared to the strip sirloin from which we make the famous “New York” strip steak. But I learned that all the strips were sent east to the lucrative New York market and the less desirable top butts were left for the locals. I grew to really like steaks cut from the top butt. They’re very lean and lack the rich marbling of the pricier cuts, but they make up for it in flavor and lack of fat.

One of my favorite recipes for these cuts is to marinate the meat in bourbon, chili sauce, a little brown sugar and some Dijon mustard, grill it on the barbecue and glaze it with the marinade. The perfect side dish is Omaha-style hash browns or cottage-fried potatoes. These recipes follow. Top butt sirloin can be found in the market under various names, but all include the word “sirloin.” The perfect dessert for this meal is strawberry shortcake. The version below is adapted from the excellent cookbook “Rustic Fruit Desserts” by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson.

Bourbon Steak
Purchase about 2 pounds of sirloin steak (one piece or individual steaks). In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons each brown sugar, chili sauce and minced shallots; 1 tablespoon each Worcestershire sauce, minced garlic, red wine vinegar and canola oil; 1 teaspoon coarse salt; 1/2 teaspoon pepper; and 1/4 cup of Jack Daniels
Place the steak in a shallow pan and pour the marinade over all. Refrigerate for 4-8 hours. At service time, remove the meat from the marinade and wipe it off with a paper towel. Brush with oil (or spray with no-stick) and cook on a hot charcoal or gas grill. After turning once, spoon some of the marinade over the steak and finish cooking to desired doneness.
Serves 4.

Pan Seared Sirloin with Bourbon Sauce
Season 2 pounds of sirloin steak with coarse salt and pepper and let it come to room temperature. Heat a cast iron skillet to high and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. Add the steak(s), being careful to not crowd the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes per side or to desired doneness. Remove to a warm plate. Lower the heat and add 1/2 cup chopped shallots and 1 tablespoon butter to the pan. Then add 1/4 cup of Jack Daniels and let it come to a boil before adding 1/4 cup of beef broth. When this reduces a little, add 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard and swirl in 2 tablespoons cold butter. Strain over the steaks and serve.
Serves 4.

Hash Browns
Place 4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, skins on, in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer until just tender, about 20 minutes. Remove and cool in the refrigerator. When cool, peel off the skins and grate the potatoes into a bowl with the coarse side of a box grater. Toss gently into the potatoes 2 teaspoons coarse salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary.

Lay out 4 squares of double tin foil about 12 inches on a side. Spray them with no-stick and divide the potatoes in piles on the foil squares. Place a pat of butter on top of each pile and fold the foil to make a package. Punch a couple of holes in the foil to let out steam and place the packets on the grill, but not directly over the flame. Cook, covered, about 30 minutes. The bottom side will be golden brown, so flip them to serve.
Serves 4.

Cottage Fried Potatoes
Purchase 2 pounds small new potatoes — white, red, purple or a mixture of all three. Wash and slice them into 1/4 inch slices, leaving the skin on. Slice a red onion as thinly as possible and set aside. Mince 2 tablespoons garlic. Heat a cast iron skillet and add 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon canola oil. When the butter is about to turn brown, place all the potatoes in the pan. Turn down the heat to medium and let them turn golden brown before turning them over and adding the onions and garlic. Add 2 teaspoons coarse salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Shake the pan, turn down the heat to low and cover. Let the potatoes cook another 15 minutes and serve.
Serves 4.

Strawberry Shortcake
Hull and slice 6 cups of strawberries into a large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/4 cup amaretto and 1 tablespoons lemon juice. Place mixture in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes so the berries can release their juices. Meanwhile combine 2 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup cornmeal, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 2/3 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir in the zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon before pouring in 1 1/2 cups heavy cream. Using a dinner knife, combine this mixture into a loose dough as you would for a pie crust — do not overmix. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead into a ball. When it holds together, flatten it into a thick round and cut it into 8 pieces. Dust the pieces with a little flour, roll them into balls and set aside. Melt 3 tablespoons butter and place in a shallow bowl. Add 1/3 cup sugar to another shallow bowl. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a sheet pan with parchment paper (or foil). Dip the balls of dough into the butter, rolling them to coat. Then dip them into the sugar, coating only one half. Place the dough sugar side up on the sheet pan, bake for 25 minutes and cool on a rack. At service time, cut the shortcakes in half, placing the bottom on a dessert plate. Spoon the berries and juice over the shortcake and place the lid on top. Serve with whipped cream if desired.
Serves 8.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

04/21/12 1:00pm
04/21/2012 1:00 PM
Moroccan carrot orange salad (left) and carrot confit served over arugula with roasted peppers and olives.

JOHN ROSS PHOTO | Moroccan carrot orange salad (left) and carrot confit served over arugula with roasted peppers and olives.

“But some of us are beginning to pull well away, in our irritation, from … the exquisite tasters, the vintage snobs, the three-star Michelin gourmets. There is, we feel, a decent area somewhere between boiled carrots and beluga caviar, sour plonk and Chateau Lafite, where we can take care of our gullets and bellies without worshipping them.”   — J.B. Priestly (1894-1984)

Carrots are found in every supermarket produce section and most everywhere else vegetables are sold. They are the second most popular vegetable in the United States, next to potatoes. They are available year-round and can be purchased for 99 cents per pound or less. Even the certified organic carrots are only $1.49 a pound. They can be eaten raw or cooked and, either way, they are very good for you. They contain more beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A, than any other vegetable. They are a great source of vitamins B and C and the fiber pectin. They also contain falcarinol, a compound that reduces the risk of cancer.

And yet, carrots are not something that people get very excited about. We think of them either as something for “health food nuts” or as just a boring vegetable for people who just don’t care. In reality, their natural sweet flavor, firm texture and attractive color give something very special for a chef to work with.

Carrots have been around in their wild form for centuries, but the domesticated variety that we eat today began in present-day Afghanistan about the year 700. These early carrots were purple or yellow in color and had a more bitter taste than today’s varieties. It was the Dutch, during the 17th century, who perfected the sweet orange carrot. We are now showing interest in yellow carrots, red carrots, purple carrots, white and black carrots. These varieties are not really new, they just capture some of the ancient past.

All carrots are not the same. Being a root vegetable, the best carrots come from the best soil, which would be in organic fields that have been properly rotated to retain their nutrients. Also, the best carrots are sold with the tops on, guaranteeing freshness. Those packages labeled “Baby Carrots” and cut into perfect cylinders are not baby carrots at all. The actual label reads “baby-cut carrots,” meaning they have been mechanically cut from mature carrots, dipped in a chlorine solution and packaged. There are real baby carrots that are sold with the tops on and have a delicate, delicious flavor. Here are a few recipes that might help you get excited about carrots again.

Carrot Confit
Cut off the leaves and stems of 2 bunches of fresh carrots, leaving about a half-inch of stem on each carrot. Peel the carrots and place them, whole, into a shallow baking casserole.
Combine 1/4 cup canola oil, the zest and juice of 2 oranges, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Pour this mixture over the carrots and bring to a boil on the stove.

Remove from heat, cover with foil and place in a 250-degree oven for 1 hour. Remove the foil, add 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill and continue cooking in the oven at 300 degrees until most of the liquid evaporates, about 45 minutes. Serve as is or over cooked, dried lima beans.

Serves 4.

Moroccan Carrot and Orange Salad
Grate 1 pound of peeled carrots into a bowl, using the large holes of a box grater. Peel and section 2 navel oranges, removing all pulp. Cut orange sections into bite-sized pieces. Add to grated carrots.

Make a dressing by combining 1/4 cup olive oil with 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1/2 cup orange juice, 2 teaspoons minced garlic, 1/4 cup honey, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Vigorously shake this mixture in a jar and pour over the carrots and oranges. Fold in 1/4 cup chopped cilantro and serve over baby arugula.

Serves 4.

Roasted Carrot and Celery Root Soup
Peel 1 pound of carrots and cut into 2-inch chunks. Peel and trim 1 head of celery root and cut into 2-inch chunks. Toss vegetables in a bowl with 1 tablespoon canola oil and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Place on a sheet pan and roast at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes, when they should be turning brown. Remove and set aside.

Bring 4 cups vegetable stock and 1 cup water to a boil in a soup pot and add 1 peeled piece of ginger (about 1 inch) and 3 sprigs of fresh thyme. Simmer this stock for 30 minutes, then remove ginger and thyme.
In a separate soup pot, add 2 tablespoons canola oil along with 1 chopped leek (white part), 1 chopped onion and 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Cook briefly over medium heat and add the roasted carrots and celery root. Add the stock to the vegetable mixture. Simmer for 20 minutes and puree in a food processor. Check for seasoning and serve with a garnish of sour cream.

Serves 4-6.

Carrot Cake
Peel and grate 1 1/2 pounds of carrots into a large bowl. Stir in 1 cup brown sugar and set aside. Peel and slice a wedge of fresh pineapple. Dice into quarter-inch pieces to make about 1 1/2 cups. (Reserve remaining pineapple for another use.) Dice 1 cup dried apricots and place in a small bowl with 1/4 cup brandy.
Spray two 10-inch cake pans with no-stick.

In a bowl, combine 3 cups flour with 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 tablespoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon salt. In a separate bowl, beat 4 eggs with a whisk until frothy. Whisk in 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 cup canola oil and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Slowly stir in the flour mixture to form a batter. Stir in the chopped pineapple and apricots along with their juices. Stir in 1 cup chopped walnuts and fold into the carrot mixture. Make sure all is well combined before pouring into the cake pans.

Cook in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Check for doneness with a toothpick (it should come out clean) and remove to a cooling rack. After 10 minutes, cut around the edges with a knife and turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

Meanwhile, make a cream cheese frosting by placing 8 ounces cream cheese and 5 tablespoons butter into an electric mixer. Mix with a paddle at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add 1 tablespoon sour cream at low speed along with 1 teaspoon vanilla and a pinch of salt. Turn up the speed to medium and add 1 cup confectioner’s sugar. Set aside until cake cools.

Place one cake layer on a cake serving stand and frost the top. Place the other layer on top and frost it on the top only. Chill before serving.

Serves 8-10.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

09/19/11 8:38am
09/19/2011 8:38 AM

JOHN ROSSS PHOTO | Roasted corn-pumpkin chowder by John Ross

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin’s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too!
I don’t know how to tell it — but if sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me —
I’d want to ’commodate ’em — all the whole-indurin’ flock —
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!
From “When the Frost is on the Punkin” by James Whitcomb Riley

We know that the pumpkin was one of the first foods cultivated by Native Americans. It became known as one of the “three sisters,” which included maize, beans and squash. And even though the apple came much later to America (it was introduced by colonists), we are now the world’s second biggest producer. We also have much folklore associated with the apple, from Johnny Appleseed to apple pie.

Autumn begins today and the pumpkin and apple play a huge part on the North Fork in the fall. Not only do we see the beautiful colors of pumpkins along the roadside, we smell the delicious aroma of apples.
The apple tree is perhaps the earliest tree to be cultivated by man. The wild apple originated in Asia, where Alexander the Great is said to have found them in 328 BCE. The nutritive value of eating apples is legendary. Low in calories, high in dietary fiber, they contain no saturated fat or cholesterol. They are rich in vitamin C, antioxidants and tartaric acid. While they’re best for you when eaten raw with the skin on, we also know that cooked apples are delicious and form an important part of our cuisine. Here are some examples.

Roasted Corn-Pumpkin Chowder

Cut one half of a cheese pumpkin into large chunks. After removing the seeds, take a sharp paring knife and peel off the skin, leaving about 1 pound of 2-inch squares of pumpkin. Toss them in 1 tablespoon of canola oil and place them on a sheet pan. Place 6 shucked ears of corn on the same pan and brush them lightly with oil. Roast at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Cool slightly and cut the pumpkin into half-inch cubes. Cut the corn kernels off the cob and set aside.

Cook 5 strips of bacon in a heavy soup pot and remove. Chop the bacon and set aside. Dice one Spanish onion and one red pepper and sauté until soft in the bacon fat. Dice 6 or 8 fingerling potatoes (about 3/4 pound), leaving the skin on. Add to the soup pot along with 5 cups chicken broth. Season with 2 teaspoons sea salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1 bay leaf and 3 sprigs of fresh thyme. Simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes, and add the diced pumpkin and cut corn. Continue cooking another 15 minutes and add 1 cup heavy cream. Check for seasoning and serve.

Garnish with the chopped bacon and grated sharp cheddar cheese.
Serves 4-6.

Baked Apple Dumplings

Begin by making a sauce. Place 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a saucepan with 1 cinnamon stick and 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg. Bring to a boil and stir in 2 tablespoons cold butter. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Whisk together 2 cups flour with 2 teaspoons baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt. Cut in 2/3 cup shortening with a pastry blender or fork until it looks like coarse meal. Sprinkle 1/2 cup ice water over the mixture and work it in gently with a fork. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead into a smooth dough. Press this into a flat cylinder and wrap in plastic film. Refrigerate while preparing the apples.

Peel 6 small apples (such as Jonagolds), cut them in half through the stems and remove the cores. Put the apple halves in ice water.

Combine 6 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon nutmeg in a small bowl. On a floured surface, roll out the refrigerated dough into a 12- by 18-inch rectangle. Cut the dough into 6 equal squares. Hold two apple halves together and place them in the center of one of the squares. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the sugar mixture over the top of the apple and place a small slice of butter on top. Moisten the edges of the dough with water and fold the corners to the center, pinching the seams together. Repeat for each apple and place the dumplings in a shallow roasting pan. Pour the sauce over them and bake in a 375-degree oven for 35 minutes.Remove, let cool slightly, and serve with vanilla ice cream.
Serves 6.

Apple Caramel Rum Cake

Spread 1 tablespoon soft butter in a 10-inch Bundt pan. Dust with flour and set aside.
Whisk together 3 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons cinnamon. With an electric mixer, beat 3 large eggs with 2 cups sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract until pale yellow in color, about 3 minutes. Slowly beat in 1 1/2 cups canola oil and 2 tablespoons Myers’s rum. Incorporate the dry ingredients at slow speed.

Peel, core and grate 4 Jonamac apples and fold into the cake batter. Chop 1 cup pecans and fold into the batter. Pour the batter into the Bundt pan and bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 20 minutes. (A skewer should come out clean and the cake should be receding from the sides of the pan.) Remove and cool for about 15 minutes before cutting around the edge and inverting the cake onto a cake rack.

While the cake cools, place 1/4 pound butter into a saucepan with 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, 1 tablespoon milk and 1 tablespoon Myers’s rum. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes. The sauce will get thick as it cooks. Spoon the sauce over the warm cake while still on the rack. Place the cake on a plate and spoon any extra sauce over all.
Serves 8.

Buttermilk Apple Rings

Whisk together 1 egg and 1/2 cup buttermilk. Fold in 1 cup flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Peel, core and cut into quarter-inch rings three Jonagold apples. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons canola oil in a heavy sauté pan. Dip the apple rings in the batter and fry in the hot butter until puffy and golden.

Turn and cook briefly on the other side and remove to a plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and serve with ice cream or serve as a garnish for pork chops without the sugar.
Serves 4.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years.

johncross@optonline.net

08/20/11 4:12am
08/20/2011 4:12 AM

Steam-cleaned, so groundless you’d believe
Them exhaled from some passing cloud,
The Idahoes and Maines arrive
Same-sized, tied in their plastic shroud.

Their British kindred, unconfined,
Differ in breeding, taste, and size.
They come with stones you mustn’t mind.
You have to dredge their claypit eyes.

Their brows look wrinkled with unease
Like chilblain-sufferers in March.
No sanitized machines are these
For changing sunlight into starch —

Yet the new world’s impatient taint
Sticks to my bones. I can’t resist
Cursing my mucked-up sink. I want
Unreal meals risen from sheer mist.

“Dirty English Potatoes” from “Spud Songs” by X.J. Kennedy

Traditionally, the Eastern white potato has been the mainstay of Long Island potato production. It is an all-purpose potato with relatively high moisture and sugar content. At the other end of the scale is the russet potato, grown most successfully in Idaho. It is very high in starch content and is excellent for baking, frying and mashing. In between is the Yukon gold potato with its yellow flesh, light skin and medium starch content. It is increasingly becoming the premium potato on the North Fork and can be used in a wide variety of recipes. The Yukon gold is a cross between a North American white potato and a wild South American yellow-fleshed one. After years of research, it was released in 1980 by two Canadians, G.R. Johnston of Agriculture Canada and R.G. Rowberry of the University of Guelph. It seems to grow especially well on the North Fork and is a good source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.

When purchasing these potatoes, don’t pick any that show splotches of green color; this is solanine, a bitter, mildly poisonous alkaloid that is produced by too much exposure to light. Store them in a cool, dry place away from the light and not near any onions, as onions release a gas that interacts with the potato and speeds up spoilage.

Here are some Yukon gold recipes:

Yukon Gold Hash
Cut 2 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes into half-inch dice, leaving skin on. Place them in boiling water and blanch for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil in large sauté pan and add the leaves of 1 bunch of fresh sage. When the sage is brown, remove and add to the hot oil 1 diced onion, 2 diced zucchini, 1 diced summer squash and 1 diced red pepper. Cook for 3 minutes and add the diced potatoes. Season with 1 tablespoon sea salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Add 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley. When the potatoes are fully cooked and browning, remove and serve with 1 poached egg for each serving.
Serves 4-6.

Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi with Pesto
Bring 3 pounds of potatoes in their skins to a boil and simmer until fully cooked, about 25 minutes. Remove, cool, peel and put through a potato ricer while they are still warm.
Mix 2 eggs and 1/4 cup heavy cream in a small bowl and season with 1 tablespoon sea salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg. Add this to the riced potatoes along with 2 cups flour. Stir ingredients together lightly with a wooden spoon and turn out onto a floured surface. Knead the mixture lightly with your hands to form a smooth dough. Cut into 6 equal pieces and form each into a round disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Meanwhile, place 2 cups coarsely chopped basil and 1 cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley in the bowl of a food processor. Add 1/2 cup chopped walnuts and 2 tablespoons minced garlic. Start the processor and drizzle in 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil. When the mixture is smooth add 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Remove and set aside.
Place a disk of gnocchi dough on a floured surface and roll out 3/4 inches thick. Cut into 4 strips and roll the strips with your hands to make cylinders about 1/2 inch thick. Cut these strips into 1-inch pieces and repeat until all are rolled and cut. Take each little piece and place it on the side of a wire whisk, pushing a dent in it with your finger. Let it roll off the whisk to make a round, grooved gnocchi with a indentation in it to hold the sauce. (This is often done on the back of a fork, but I think it works better with a whisk.) Place all of the finished gnocchi on a wax-paper-lined sheet pan.
If cooking them right away, bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add the gnocchi carefully. When they rise to the surface they are done. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in serving dishes. Spoon the pesto over them and serve. (If not serving at once, freeze the gnocchi on the sheet pan, loosen them and place in a ziplock bag. They can be cooked equally well from the frozen state.)

Yukon Gold Roasted French Fries
Place 2 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes in their skins in boiling water and blanch until just tender, about 15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, cut them lengthwise into wedges. Whip 2 egg whites until frothy and add 1 tablespoon sea salt, 1 teaspoon onion powder and 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder. Toss the potato wedges with the egg white mixture in a large bowl until potatoes are coated. Spray a sheet pan with no-stick and spread the potatoes out in a single layer. Put into a 400-degree oven and cook for 10 minutes before turning the potatoes with a spatula. Cook another 10 minutes and serve.
These “french fries” will come out pretty crispy considering they were made with no fat or oil.
Serves 4.

Yukon Gold Pancakes
Peel and shred 6 medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes on the coarse side of a box grater. Squeeze out the moisture by wrapping them in a cloth cook’s towel and twisting the top until the juice comes out. Place the potatoes in a bowl. Whisk 1 egg, 2 tablespoons flour and 1/4 teaspoon baking powder together in a small bowl and add to the potatoes along with 1/2 cup minced shallots. Season with 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add this mixture to the potatoes and combine with a wooden spoon.
Heat a cast iron skillet and spray with no-stick. Add 2 tablespoons canola oil and when shimmering, place 1/4-cup batches of potato mixture in the hot oil. Press each down with a spatula and cook until golden, about 2 minutes. Turn and continue cooking for another 3 minutes. Remove the pancakes and place on a paper towel in a warm oven. Serve with applesauce.
Serves 4.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

08/11/11 12:17am
08/11/2011 12:17 AM

JOHN ROSS COURTESY PHOTO

“Poaching: A moist-heat cooking method that uses convection to transfer heat from a hot (160-180 F) liquid to the food submerged in it.”
Webster’s Dictionary of
Culinary Arts

On restaurant menus it is common to list ingredients and describe the cooking method. Thus we see “pan seared,” “roasted,” “grilled,” “braised,” “sautéed” and many more. It is important to remember that there are only two basic cooking methods: dry heat and moist heat. Heat is transferred to the food directly, as in placing a cutlet in a hot skillet (conduction), or indirectly by the currents caused by the movement of molecules in a liquid (convection).
Dry heat cooking methods include broiling, sautéeing, roasting and deep frying. They work best for tender cuts of meat, poultry and fish. A high quality steak is grilled at high temperature to make it palatable and flavorful, not to tenderize it. Moist heat methods include boiling, simmering and poaching. Braising is a combination method that requires browning at high temperature first and then adding liquid for long, slow cooking to tenderize. Simmering liquid such as water, stock or wine breaks down connective tissue in less tender cuts of meat, poultry and fish.
Poaching is a moist-heat cooking method that is unique in that small, tender portions of food are simmered gently below the boiling point to make them palatable, while retaining their innate flavor and texture. Fish and eggs are the most common foods that are poached, but fruit, vegetables and poultry can also be cooked using this method.
In classic French cuisine a “court bouillon” is used as the poaching liquid. Court bouillon is water simmered with vegetables, seasonings and an acid ingredient such as wine, vinegar or lemon juice. But aromatic liquids such as water with herbs or intense liquids such as red wine reductions are also good for poaching. When cooked properly, poached foods retain the delicate flavors of the food without adding fat. Here are some recipes for poached foods:

Tea-Poached Salmon with Curried Peanut Butter Broccoli Rabe
Purchase four 6-ounce salmon fillets and place them on a sheet pan. Sprinkle the contents of 2 tea bags (I used lemon tea) over the salmon and refrigerate while preparing the meal.
Heat a sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. Add 1 cup chopped onion along with 2 tablespoons curry powder. Combine 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter with 1 cup soy milk and add to the cooked onion mixture. Cut one bunch of broccoli rabe into small pieces (both leaves and stems) and add them to the sauté pan. Toss the broccoli rabe with the peanut butter sauce, cover and simmer until just tender, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, spray a shallow pan with no-stick and place the tea-covered salmon fillets in the bottom. Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a separate pan and pour it gently over the salmon. Place the salmon on medium heat and bring up almost to the boiling point. Remove the salmon fillets and serve over the broccoli rabe.
If desired, mix 1 cup Greek yogurt with 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill and 1 teaspoon lemon juice to use as a garnish on the salmon.
Serves 4.

Poached Flounder in
Red Wine Reduction with Beets
Combine 1 bottle of merlot and 1 cup chicken stock in a saucepan. Add 3 peeled and quartered beets (reserve the beet greens and stalks), 1 chopped carrot, 1 peeled and quartered onion and 1 stalk of chopped celery. Season with 3 whole cloves of garlic, 1 bay leaf and 3 sprigs of thyme. Simmer until wine is reduced by half. Strain out the vegetables and reserve the beets. Reserve the reduced wine as a poaching liquid.
Heat a sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. When very hot, add one onion cut in long strips and cook until brown and caramelized. Add the chopped beet greens and beet stalks along with 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Add the reserved beets and season with sea salt and pepper. Moisten this mixture with 2 tablespoons of the poaching liquid and simmer for 5 minutes.
Cut 1 1/2 pounds of flounder into small fillets, cutting the large fillets down the lateral line. Season lightly with salt and pepper and roll into small paupiettes. Stick a toothpick through the rolls to hold them together. Place the flounder in a shallow pan and pour the red wine poaching liquid over them. Press a piece of foil down over the fish and bring to a simmer on the stove. Remove the flounder after about 4 minutes to avoid overcooking. Place the fish on top of the beet mixture and pour some of the poaching liquid over all.
Serves 4.

Poached Striped Bass
in Court Bouillon
Prepare a court bouillon by adding 4 cups water and 1 cup white wine to a saucepan. Tie together 1 stalk of celery, 6 parsley stems, 2 sprigs of thyme and 1 bay leaf with butcher’s twine or string. Place this bundle in the liquid with half of a peeled onion stuck with 2 whole cloves. Season with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 8 peppercorns. Simmer 30 minutes and strain.
Cut 1 1/2 pounds of boned and skinned striped bass into 4-ounce chunks and place them in a shallow pan. Pour the court bouillon over them and bring to a simmer. Cook until the fish is opaque, about 10 minutes (do not overcook). Serve over fresh green beans or sautéed fresh corn. Garnish with parsley and lemon.
Serves 4.

Poached Fresh Peaches
in Rosé Wine
In a saucepan, combine 2 cups of North Fork rosé wine with 1/4 cup sugar and 3 strips of lemon rind. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves. Add 4 peaches (leave skin on) and cook slowly until tender, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Remove the peaches and cool. Slip off the skin and cut into wedges. Reduce the poaching liquid to a thin syrup and pour over the peaches. Let mixture cool. If desired, add 1/2 pint of fresh blackberries before serving with vanilla ice cream.
Serves 4.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

07/11/11 8:15am
07/11/2011 8:15 AM

JOHN ROSS PHOTO | Flat-iron steak, right off the grill.

I surely never hope to view
A steak as luscious as a stew.
The latter is the tasty goal
Of elements in perfect whole,
A mad assemblage of legumes
Exuding warm ambrosial fumes,
Each seasoning of proper length,
Proving in Union there is strength.
A steak is grander, it is true,
Yet needs no special skill to brew.
It is an art a stew to make,
But anyone can broil a steak.
Author unknown, 1880

There was a time when we only wanted the luxury cuts of beef for our steaks — those very tender cuts from the “muscles of suspension” such as the rib, the loin, the tenderloin and part of the sirloin. The ribeye, the New York strip and the filet mignon are examples of these cuts. They all come from the center section of the animal along the backbone, an area that doesn’t get a lot of exercise. We also tended to judge the steak by its thickness and weight. Thus a 16-ounce, bone-in shell steak was a great cut of meat. And all you had to do was fire up the grill, season it with some salt and pepper and throw it on. Add a baked potato, sour cream and a tossed salad, and you had the ultimate summer meal.

But now, as we learn more about the anatomy of the steer, we find that some of the cuts in the less tender areas, known as the “muscles of locomotion,” can be very tasty and surprisingly tender. These muscles in the shoulder, legs and diaphragm do get a lot of exercise, which develops flavor in the muscles but also develops connective tissue. It just takes a little knowledge and a little work to make these cuts palatable.

We also discover that marinades, rubs and some creative sauces transform these funny-looking (and funny-sounding) cuts of beef into a gourmet meal. The amount of meat consumed is smaller and so is the price. Here are some examples to try on the barbecue:

Flat Iron Steak
People are just beginning to learn about this delicious steak. It comes from the wholesale chuck or shoulder of beef, a less tender area usually used for ground beef, stew and pot roast. But the area just under the shoulder blade, listed in the North American Meat Processors guide as the “Top Blade Steak,” is actually the second most tender cut of beef next to the filet mignon. The only problem is that it has a tough streak of connective tissue running through the middle that needs to be removed.
Removing this connective tissue and trimming it into two rectangular steaks — each resembling an old-fashioned “flat iron” — was the work of two teams of researchers at the University of Nebraska and the University of Florida. It has since become very popular among restaurateurs and is becoming available at supermarkets and meat shops. If you purchase an untrimmed top blade roast, you only need to split it in half lengthwise and remove the connective tissue with a sharp boning knife. The result will be two flat iron steaks that will weigh about one pound each and be enough to serve four people.
Preparation: Remove the line of gristle that runs through the center of a top blade roast (about 2 1/2 pounds). Cut the steaks in half to make 4 flat iron steaks. Make a simple rub by combining 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt, 1 tablespoon ground black pepper, 2 tablespoons sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 2 teaspoons ground cumin and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Rub this mixture into the steak and bring the steaks to room temperature. Spray them with no-stick and place them on a hot charcoal or gas grill. Cook about 3 minutes per side, or until rare or medium rare, and remove. Let the steak rest for about 5 minutes and slice on the bias against the grain.

Hanger Steak
The wholesale cut called the plate is located under the rib section of beef. Within this cut a muscle literally “hangs” from the diaphragm. This striated muscle is called the hanger steak; it weighs about 1 1/2 pounds and is very flavorful but not quite as tender as the flat iron steak. It also contains a long inedible membrane going down the center that has to be removed. The result will be two small V-shaped muscles.
These steaks are best marinated first and then grilled over hot coals to a rare or medium-rare doneness. Cutting them against the grain is essential. I found that slow cooking hanger steak over hickory chips in a smoker grill created a delicious, easy to eat steak.
Preparation: Carefully cut a hanger steak lengthwise along the seam. You will expose the silvery connective tissue; slip a sharp boning knife under the gristle and cut away from you to remove it safely. If desired, tie the pieces together to make one thick piece of meat. This will work best if you decide to slow-cook the steak in a smoker.
Prepare a marinade by combining 1/2 cup red wine, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary, 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Place the marinade and the steak in a large zip-lock bag or a shallow pan for 2 hours or more.
For slow cooking, place charcoal in the bottom of the smoker and heat until it begins to turn white. Wrap 2 cups of hickory chips in heavy foil and poke holes in the foil. Place this package on top of the hot coals. Then place a stainless steel bowl of water on the grate above the coals and put the top grate over the water. Put the marinated steak on this grate and cover tightly with the lid. It should cook at about 250 degrees for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. The meat will still be medium-rare after this time, but it will be very tender due to the slow cooking.
Alternatively, cook the hanger steaks (separated) on a hot grill for about 10 minutes to produce a rare steak. Slice against the grain into small, thin slices.
Serves 4.

Skirt Steak
This classic steak is most famous for its use in preparing fajitas. It is located opposite the hanger steak in the diaphragm; it’s a little tougher than the hanger but a little easier to handle. It should be all trimmed and ready to cook when you purchase it.
Preparation: Make the following marinade for 1 1/2 pounds of skirt steak: Combine the juice from 3 limes with 1/4 cup tequila, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Marinate the steaks for 2 hours in the refrigerator.
Cut a green pepper, red pepper and yellow pepper into slices and place in a bowl. Add 1 thinly sliced red onion, 1 minced jalapeno pepper, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 2 teaspoons sea salt, 1 teaspoon pepper and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Prepare a charcoal grill and wait until the coals are white. Cook the vegetable mixture in a perforated grill pan placed over the coals with the lid on top. Stir and cook until just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.
Remove and cook the marinated steaks until browned and rare, about 5 minutes. Slice the steaks into thin pieces across the grain and serve with the cooked pepper mixture. Serve with 8-inch corn tortillas, guacamole, tomato salsa and sour cream.
Serves 4 to 6.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.