Ramp it Up!

May 11, 2016


That’s Rick Bishop of Mountain Sweet Berry Farm sixteen years ago, and if you’re wondering who’s responsible for the ramp mania that’s swept the country over the past few years, he’s a good candidate. This photograph is from the April 2000 issue of Gourmet; Food Editor Kemp Minifie bought some ramps from Rick at the Union Square Farmer’s Market, and we were all so excited about them that we decided to investigate Rick’s ramps.

The article informs you, among other things, that the name does not come from Aries the Ram or from the tramp you need to take through the woods to find them.  The name comes from the Old English word for wild garlic, hrmasa.  (The French name, incidentally, is l’ail des ours – garlic of the bears. Indeed, bears love the stuff.)

In the article Bishop suggests chopping ramp leaves, stir-frying them  in olive oil and serving them on pasta. Gourmet’s cooks, however, had a couple of better suggestions.

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Flipping through that April issue of Gourmet, I came upon a tribute to Craig Claiborne, who had just passed away.  The piece, written by his old friend, James Villas, is fairly astonishing. Right from the start: it opens with Craig calling to be bailed out of jail.  “Drunk driving again,” he says.

In his typically curmudgeonly fashion, Villas weighs in on Claiborne’s contributions.  “Despite Beard’s saintly legacy and Julia’s phenomenal celebrity, the truth is that it was Claiborne who really pioneered this country’s gastronomic sophistication back in the 1950s when he invaded the Women’s News pages of The New York Times.”

Parse that sentence; it offers a lot of food for thought. And it is entirely true; Craig Claiborne changed the way America ate. Without Craig (who gave voice to, among others, Paul Prudhomme, Madhur Jaffrey, Diana Kennedy, Marcella Hazan and Virginia Lee), American food history would have been very different.




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Eggs: Not Over, But Easy

May 10, 2016

ruth_fall_1591The markets are filled with eggs – teal, tender blue, pewter, tan – and I can’t resist their new-laid beauty. Each time I crack one open I’m stunned, all over again, by the flash of that bright marigold yolk.

You can scramble them, of course, or fry them, boil them, bake them into cakes.  You can whip them into souffles. But the eggs of spring deserve a starring role, and I can’t think of a better one than this.

Shirred Eggs with Potato Puree

4-5 yukon potatoes (about 1 pound)

one teaspoon sea salt

freshly ground pepper

1/2 stick unsalted butter (4 ounces)

heavy cream

 4 beautiful spring eggs

Peel the potatoes, cut them into half inch slices, put them into a pot and cover them with an inch of cold water. Add the salt, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, or until a fork easily pierces the flesh. Drain.

Put the potatoes through a ricer. If you don’t have one, use a potato masher or simply a fork to break up and mash the flesh. Season with freshly ground pepper.

Slowly melt the butter in a sauce pan over a low flame and stir in half a cup of cream.  Whisk the mixture, in a slow stream, into the potatoes and watch them transform themselves into a smooth, seductive puree. Season to taste.

Heat an oven to 375 degrees and put a kettle of water on to boil.

Butter 4 ramekins and put about an inch of potato puree into each one. Carefully break an egg into a saucer, and then let it slip onto its soft bed of puree. Repeat for each ramekin.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and set the ramekins into a deep baking dish. Pour boiling water around the ramekins until each one is about halfway submerged (be careful not to splash yourself or the contents of the ramekins). Set the baking dish in the oven for about 8 minutes, until the whites just begin to set.

Spoon a tablespoon of cream over the egg in each ramekin and bake for another 5 minutes or so, until the whites are set but the yolks are still soft and slightly runny.

garnish with any or all of the following:

grey sea salt

chopped chives


grated cheese

Serve immediately to 4 lucky people. 

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Recipes from Her Tennessee Home

May 9, 2016

12#IMG_5454This 1985 spiralbound cookbook is like no book I’ve ever encountered.

Written by Phila Hach, was was a flight attendant in the early years of Pan Am, back when flying was both elegant and exotic.  Despite traveling the world, the author longed for the graceful sweeping hills of the Smokies, the friendliness of the high country, the excitement of the Grand Ole Opry.  And she missed Tennessee food. Phila proudly offers up a tour of  dishes from famous Tennesseeans. But for me, the high point of the book are Phila’s unusual recipes. Butter Wine Pie!


And this unusual number:


And last, another perspective on the famously curious beaten biscuit. This time no axe required.


IMG_5449And here’s Phila herself: IMG_5450

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Hi Mom!

May 8, 2016

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Mother’s Day has always struck me as a fifties kind of holiday, so I looked backward for a suitable celebration. Then I came upon these little gems from the Ideals All Holliday Cookbook.Take a look at that bedspread; can’t you just feel the satiny sheen, listen to the faint crackle when the tray lands on top?


The notion seemed to be that what Mom wanted, along with that rosebud, was merely something sweet. These are the suggested recipes.

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Lunch Today

May 7, 2016


Came home late from doing errands, starving, and so eager to eat the chicken that had been marinating in the refrigerator since last night that I did the quick version of cooking rice: simply threw the grains into boiling water for 10 minutes.

While the rice cooked, I crisped the chicken in a hot pan.  Now the house smells like curry, cumin and onions, and I am feeling very satisfied….

Food Cart Curry Chicken

Shopping list: 1 pound chicken thighs, 1 lemon, oregano, 1 tablespoon curry powder.

Staples: 1/2 onion, 1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds, 2 cloves garlic, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon paprika, olive oil, salt, pepper.

Serves 4

Cut a pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs into bite size chunks, and slice half an onion into thin rings.

Make a paste by combining 3 tablespoons of olive oil with 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon coriander seed, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tablespoon of curry powder, a sprig of oregano, 1/4 teaspoon of paprika, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin and a teaspoon of salt.  Whirl it in a spice grinder or a blender.  Grind in copious amounts of black pepper.

Put the onions and chicken into a plastic bag, pour in the marinade and squish it all around so the onions and chicken are thoroughly coated. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

Sprinkle with more salt and pepper. Slick a heavy pan or a wok with a bit of vegetable oil and cook the onions and chicken for about five minutes, tossing every minute of so.  It will splutter a bit, and smell so delicious you’ll be snatching pieces from the pan.

Serve over white rice. I always asked for my chicken without the white sauce, but if you must have it, combine equal parts of mayonnaise and Greek yogurt, with a dollop of sugar and a splash of vinegar. Personally, I think you’re much better off with a righteous hot sauce.

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