There is something that is quite special each time the annual farm market opens it doors for the first time. There are half a dozen veggie shops, a place to buy amazing cream and wonderful butter, some fantastic meat. In other words, even now, it’s almost as good as it gets.
I suspect that with many others opening their doors this year, they’re pretty much all the same, in truth, but for a lot of reasons, I truly do like my local edition a lot. Right now, there isn’t much really going on just yet. Yes, you can certainly get some greens and plenty of strawberries, and if you’re lucky, you can also get some morels and ramps, too. And, of course, there is my favorite olive oil friend, who often comes up with more than just a few amazing suggestions.
At the end of the day though, what really matters is that you can just simply go hang out with the farmers. Get to know what they’re doing and figure out how to use what they have to offer and perhaps, a tiny amount of what they know. And on that matter, you can pretty much bet they know something you don’t — whether it’s just how to cook those brand new veggies or even how to braise or broil that amazing steak. If you open your ears, the guys and ladies at the farmer market are very good at that.
Which brings me to the very flavor of tonight: Flavored morels and ramps, in some wonderful risotto. I’ve used ramps before, and that went beautifully, but ramps and morels? Fresh morels? Umm, for me that’s going to be some serious thinking and a bit of thought. And who knows, if it works out — and why wouldn’t it — maybe we’ll have a little to show around here.
Happy New Year! 2015 hasn’t been the best year by many measures, but it certainly has been a very good one here at Discovery Cooking. Our first full year has been marked by progress on almost every front. By the time the clock strikes midnight and 2016 arrives, more than 30,000 people will have visited the blog, many of them more than once. I had few expectations when I started this trip, but that kind of an audience certainly wasn’t one of them, and certainly not in our first full year. I’m humbled and grateful.
I have learned more than I thought I could — about food, cooking, presentation and photography. And along the way, I’ve met many warm, welcoming, lovely people. I’ve met some of you in person, and others I know only here, on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Reddit, among other places. You are amazing. All of you. Your kind words and support mean more to me than you can imagine.
Of all the things I’ve learned, there is one thing that stands out: Food and culture are intertwined in ways that defy understanding. Had you asked me about that two years ago, I’d have said that as an American, I have no food culture. I’d have been wrong. The US isn’t Italy, Greece, Morocco, or Lebanon or France or even Germany. Not by a long shot. Not yet. But in the south of Virginia there is Brunswick Stew, and not so far from me, Smithfield ham. There is Cajun and creole in the South, not to mention “soul food,” and much more that I’m discovering. There is chowdah in the Northeast, poutine in the upper Midwest, barbecue in Texas, and so very much more. It’s not always elegant, but it is delicious, and a part of the fabric of these places. And it is personal. If you’re not convinced, start a discussion about chili sometime. Hell, we can’t even agree on how to spell it.
And honestly, I think Americans, on the whole, are far more open to the food (and the cultural connections of it) than people in most of the countries to which I’ve traveled. Despite what you might believe if all you know is our political discourse, most of us love to immerse ourselves in the food and culture of another place, even when that’s not quite authentic. I sometimes wonder if those who want to build a wall across our southern border or bar entry to Muslims also spend evenings enjoying Mexican and Moroccan or Afghan food. I suspect they do.
And in the end, despite what is all around me, it is that which makes me hopeful. You cannot hate someone with whom you share a love of tagine or enchiladas or adobo or harissa. It’s not possible, at least in the long run.
So my wish for all of you is this: Have a great 2016. Get to know a new food culture, if you can. You’ll be happy you did.
It’s Labor Day weekend, which means a short week, traveling and family for the Discovery Cooking crew. With all that, we’re still thinking about the upcoming week. Summer is winding down and we’re starting to think about fall and fall dishes as well as making use of the remaining farm market bounty. So here’s what we’re looking forward to, starting on Tuesday:
Ragout de Veau
Nothing says fall like a hearty stew. This one is a twist on the basic beef stew we all know and love, using veal shoulder and veal stock as the base and ramping up the garlic and onions to give it a Mediterranean flair. The fancy name doesn’t disguise the fact that this is a one-dish meat and potatoes kind of meal.
Asparagus Brie Risotto
Good creamy risotto is not difficult to make. It does take a bit of time and care, but the results can be very much worth it. This recipe takes the idea of classic Italian creamy risotto to the next level, by adding in fresh asparagus and some brie cheese.by
We’re closing in on the end of the second month at Discovery Cooking, and we’ve managed to approach 50 recipes, assuming you don’t want to quibble with the definition of recipe too much.
Having a good start in the recipe department means it’s time to start working on some other aspects of Discovery Cooking that I’d like to be as important to me (and to you) as the food itself.
Over the course of many travels and more years than I’d care to talk about, I’ve had many experiences of food that I would call fine dining. Most, though by no means all, have been in nice restaurants. Some have been in very expensive restaurants, other is moderate or downright cheap places. A few have been prepared by friends, right in front of my eyes.
I’m trying to get a handle on what it is that sets what I would call a fine dining experience apart from the ordinary. I don’t thinks this ‘essence’ is entirely subjective, although I’ll concede it must be personal to some degree.
Some of the things that are part of such an experience are the ingredients — their freshness and wholesomeness — and the imagination and skill of the cook, for certain. I think that the “character” of a meal is important, too. By that I mean a combination of flavors and textures that give well-prepared ingredients the chance to shine.
I’m still working on a definition, and I’d love to hear from you. What makes a meal “fine dining” for you?