Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sumac Cocktails

One of the things I have been trying to do is find wild ingredients that I can use to make  cocktails. Either as a garnish or as part of the drink itself. A few years ago I was playing around with sumac tea and had mixed in some bourbon and it made a very good cocktail. I had also made a Mimosa of sorts with Proseco and sumac.

The base of these drinks is this sumac tea that is very simply made. Right now the sumac berries are full of pollen and if you grab the clusters they are slightly sticky. snap off a bunch of those staghorn sumac clusters and pour 2 quarts of room temperature water over them. stir it around with a wooden spoon and agitate the clusters to release the flavor. then strain and filter the tea. IF you taste it at this point it has a very citric taste almost like lemon. At  this point you can add sugar to sweeten it up for two quarts I mix in a cup of sugar and that gives it just the right amount of sweet while leave it slightly tart.

The tea is ready to drink at this point or to mix into a cocktail. I made two new varieties here. the first is a take on a gin sour that I have been enjoying.  It is 2 parts gin, to 2 parts sumac with a tablespoon or so of simple syrup. I like to drop an egg white into it and shake vigorously with ice. when you pour it into a class the egg whites come to the top and you can drop some bitters on to it. I like to use some molasses bitter made by Bitter cube.

The second cocktail is kind of a Daiquiri of sorts, 1 part rum to 3 parts sumac with one dropper full of the molasses bitters. As a twist for this drink I put some Pernod in a spritz bottle and give the empty glass a couple of sprays of the Pernod. The aromas of the Anise and the rum go really well together and make a delicious cocktail.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Sheboygan, Salmon and Sea Sickness

A few years ago my Father-In-law invited me along to head over to Lake Michigan to do some salmon fishing on a charter. I had never been on a chartered fishing boat and I had never fished for salmon either. It seemed like something I should at least try once. After that first year I have been invited back every year and it has become kind of a traditional trip every July.

Every year I have gone I have said that I would really like to go over there and try it with out a guide and see if I could catch a salmon. I am not against going on guided fishing trips or guided hunts but I always feel like I am watching someone else fish and every now and then I get to reel in a fish. I have never done any fishing that requires downriggers and outriggers and running multiple lines all while trying to get on some fish. This year I finally got that opportunity. My buddy Drew Merryman just finished his residency down in Cleveland and had a month off before starting his new job. Drew also has a boat and all the equipment for this style of fishing. Drew, myself and our buddy Ben Pena headed over to Sheboygan, WI for a few days of fishing.

I was in a unique situation this year, I was going to be able to go out fishing with Drew and Ben for four days and then my father-in-law and Brother-in-law were going to come over for our annual trip. I was going to get to do an almost side by side comparison of going out on a charter and the DIY fishing that I like to do.

Our first day over there Drew and Ben walked me through how to set lines and how to use the down riggers and outriggers. I had only one goal for the week and that was to catch one salmon (I like to set reasonable goals). It didn't take long for me to reach that goal either. I was setting out a silver spoon and had let it get about 25 feet behind the boat when a Salmon hit it right on top of the water. I was shocked that my very first salmon came so easy. It didn't take long after that and we started getting more hits and eventually more fish. In a short evening fishing excursion just to get our bearings we managed to land 5 salmon. I was beyond overjoyed and I couldn't wait to get out the next morning and give it another try.

The next morning we got a slow start and didn't get out as quickly as we wanted. The Lake was rolling with some very unpleasant 3-4 foot waves and I got my very first experience with sea sickness. I have been out on Lake Michigan before in big waves and didn't expect to have issues but after getting the lines set I was pouring sweat and the nausea set in. I fought as best as I could but nothing was going to stop me from chumming the water. I didn't last very long after that and we had to call it a day. We still managed a few fish but it took me most of the rest of the day to get past that nasty sick feeling.

The next morning we got up and out on time and we barely got the lines in the water before we got the first fish. in about 20 minutes we had three nice salmon in the boat and added a couple more before we headed back in for breakfast. One of the fish that got away was my first experience with a king salmon. It hit hard on one of the outside lines and it raced back and forth out behind the boat I was certain it was going to get tangled in the other lines but it didn't and I finally got it  behind the boat and started bringing it in. As it got up behind the boat we could see that it was a big king. This is where my inexperience got the best of me. I could see the fish and it was about ten feet behind the boat. I gave the pole a good lift and tried to bring the fish up to the net and that big king salmon wanted nothing to do with that. It dove down and darted forward right into the motor and cut the line. I should have let him play around back behind the boat about 50 feet until he was tired out before I horsed him in.

On our last day over there before I switched over to the charter we got out nice and early and the waves were rolling again. We were all having a hard time staying on our feet as we set lines but we managed to get them all out. we got a couple of decent salmon and then out behind the boat about 165 feet we saw a big fish hit a j-plug and jump up out of the water. Ben grabbed the Line and set the hook and held on with all he had. At the exact moment our outrigger line snapped and we lost our boards going out the left side. I quickly grabbed the lines and got them in so they wouldn't get tangled. While I was tending the line Ben was still engaged in a fight with a very big fish that ended up jumping a number of times. having learned from my mistake Ben didn't want to horse this fish and let him fight it out back behind the boat a good distance. When the fish had finally had enough he brought it up and Drew killed the motor in hopes of avoiding my other mishap. We landed the fish and got it on the boat. We were all a little exhausted and could barely believe we had just brought in such a nice fish.

We got back to the Harbor and couldn't wait to get a tape measure and a scale on this fish. Ben had landed a beautiful 34 inch 16 pound Rainbow trout. We went over to the cleaning station and all the other fishermen had to come take a look. It was a hell of a fish.

After that I met up with Zac and Ted and we headed out the next morning to fish with Seadog Sportfishing Charter. Over the previous days Drew, Ben and myself were running 6-7 lines. I felt like that was a enough and kept me busy. On the Seadog the first mate was running 12 lines all by himself running at different depths and distances behind the boat. I had a completely new appreciation for what he was doing and it made me want to jump in a help but that's not how it works. We managed five really nice fish that day and had a blast.

The last day we were over there was cut short, we were met by very unfriendly lake conditions and two of the five of us fishing that day got sick. I was certain that I was going to be one of those but for whatever reason I was just fine. I know that I would be a fool to turn down an opportunity to go out on a chartered fishing trip but I have to say I prefer doing the work myself. I can't wait to introduce some of these salmon to my new Treager grill. I am positive they are going to get along splendidly.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Ramp and Asparagus Risotto

I have been a bit behind in my writing so this post isn't as seasonally appropriate as it should be but it is still a good recipe. 

 Of all the spring foragables that people rave about ramps are by far my favorites. I have tried ramps in just about every imaginable way; I am like Bubba from Forest Gump when it comes to ramps. I like to pickle them, and fry them, and ferment them and you can make; ramp fried rice and ramp omelets and ramp pesto and ramp chimichurri. I could literally go on for hours like that. One of my favorite ways to use ramps is to make a French onion dip with them.  Last year I made a ramp Kraut and holy god is it powerful, you don’t need much of it but it is so good.

The only downfall to ramps is that they don’t last, for about 2 months I can find them everywhere and then the leaves die off and they flower. You can still eat the bulb portions but I find that they get a little fibrous in the summer time. That is why I like to find as many ways as possible to use them and preserve them for the rest of the year. Things like ramp pesto and ramp butter freeze well and can be used all through the year.
Usually the month of May is packed with ramps at my house. I try to keep a couple on one gallon freezer bags full of ramps in the crisper drawer in the fridge so I can add them to everything I am cooking. I recently caught some fish and had the idea to wrap the fish in ramp leaves and then wrap them in bacon and grill them. It was some of the best fish I have ever eaten. Another spring time vegetable that pairs well with ramps is asparagus. The first recipe I got published in a cookbook was for a Ramp and Asparagus salad. I like to combine the two as often as I can. Last week I had been given some beautiful asparagus and I already had a bag of ramps in the fridge so I thought about how I would combine the two.

Ramp and Asparagus Risotto
8 oz. of ramps
8 oz. Asparagus (blanched and cut into bite sized pieces)
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup white wine
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
5 cups vegetable stock (kept warm on the stove)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste

1.      Separate the stems and bulbs from the leaves and then diced the stems and bulbs. Cut the leaves into bite sized pieces and set aside.
2.      Heat the oil and one tablespoon of the butter over medium heat, add the diced stems and bulbs and cook until soft, 3-4 minutes.
3.      Add the rice and stir until all the rice is coated with oil and the rice kernels start to turn translucent.
4.      Stir in the ½ cup of wine and continue stir until almost all the wine is absorbed. Then stir in the stock a half cup at a time, adding more stock before the rice absorbs it all.
5.      Keep adding stock and stirring until the rice is the texture and consistency you like, at this point stir in the chopped ramp leaves and asparagus and add the remaining stock. Season with salt and pepper.

6.      Add the last tablespoon of butter and stir until combined, serve with a little fresh grated parmigiano reggiano 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Cacio E Pepe with Stinging Nettle Pasta

 In past posts I have talked about gathering stinging nettles and saving them for later use. This is one of those later uses. I usually gather up a few pounds of nettles and then sauté them with butter and a pinch of salt then puree them in a food processor. to store them I pour the puree into an ice cube tray and then freeze the puree, that way when I want to use some of the puree to make Gnocchi or pasta all I have to do is thaw out a few cubes and I am all set.

Typically when I make pasta I just make big sheets of pasta and make ravioli or agnalotti. I have stayed away from the long noodle pastas for no real reason other than I am a little intimidated by them, stemming from one bad experience years ago when they stuck together so badly I ended up with a giant ball of cooked pasta. I know I shouldn't let past failures keep me from trying things but they do and I don't know why.

A couple of months ago my daughter thought it would be a fun activity for her and I to make some spaghetti and since I am powerless against her charms I found myself making spaghetti. It really isn't a difficult process and if you flour the noodles adequately they don't stick together at all. I really should remember that just because it was difficult once doesn't mean it is always going to be that way.

After making the spaghetti with my daughter we boiled it up and cooked it exactly the way she likes it. With butter, a little black pepper and lots of Parmesan. Only after making this spaghetti with her did I realize that my little girls favorite way to eat pasta was Cacio E Pepe. Cacio is a Roman dish that is basically noodles, black pepper , and Pecorino Romano with a little butter. It is one of my favorite snacks and often I will make it when no one else is home because I love a lot of black pepper in mine and the rest of the family doesn't. Cacio E Pepe may have a simple ingredient list but it isn't a simple dish. If you don't pay attention and over cook it even a little bit the cheese will clump together and you will end up with large rubbery pieces of cheese mixed in with your pasta.

I decided after making spaghetti with my daughter that I wanted to try to make spaghetti with a nettle pasta and of course then make Cacio with the nettle pasta. Now I have eaten Cacio probably a few hundred times and I have used everything from Buccatini to ramen noodles and I can say with 100% certainty that Cacio was meant for Nettle pasta. The flavor of the noodle when accompanied by the cheese, butter and of course lots of black pepper made this, the best plate of Cacio E pepe I have ever eaten.

Nettle Pasta

This will make enough spaghetti for 2 large portions or 4 small portions

2 egg yolks
1/2 cup nettle puree
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
pinch of salt

Make a mound of flour in the middle of a large surface and make a well in the middle. Stir the yolks and nettles together and pour into the well. Add the pinch of salt and then with your fingers start to stir the nettle puree into the flour and work it all together until you get one ball of dough. If it is to dry add a few drops of water at a time until you get a dough with the consistency of Play-dough. once you have reached this point the possibilities are endless. using a pasta roller make your sheets of pasta dough first then feed the sheets into the cutter to make the noodles.

To Make the Cacio E pepe

4 ounces of noodles
2 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano
1/2 cup of the pasta water after cooking
2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

When the noodles are cooked set them aside to drain and reserve the 1/2 cup of pasta water. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium high heat and add the black pepper and cook for 30 seconds. Add the noodle and toss with the butter and the black pepper. Stir in the grated cheese and then add the hot pasta water. Remove from the heat and stir vigorously until the cheese and water have made a light sauce and coated the noodles. Serve Immediately.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Pickled Smelt

I didn't make it up to the north shore this year for smelt, I was just to busy to get away. I love going up there and spending the night out on the point dragging a seine net and hitting the run. I have mostly been unsuccessful in my adventures up there but a couple years ago I managed to get enough that I still had one more bag of frozen smelt in the freezer. I had almost forgotten they were in there until my wife and I went out for drinks at a place called Heirloom over in St Paul, MN. On their menu they had a pickled smelt salad and as soon as I read that I remembered I had another bag of smelt at home and needed to try this.

As soon as we got home that night I went to the freezer and laid out the frozen bag to thaw so I could get started on pickling some smelt the next morning. I used the same recipe for these pickled smelt that I use for my pickled pike so if you don't have smelt don't worry this recipe works well with other fish also. After they were pickled I cut a few up and tried them and was shocked at how good they were. I like pickled fish a lot but these smelt really hold up well with the pickling brine. they have a great texture and have a natural sweetness to them that I really like. 

Pickled Smelt 

1 1/2 cups kosher salt
1 gallon water

3 lbs of cleaned smelt
7.5 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup Aquavit
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
2 tablespoons allspice berries
3 tablespoons black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
12 juniper berries
1 tablespoon coriander
10 cloves
1 tsp pickling salt

fresh dill
sliced shallots
lemon slices 
Serrano chilies

1. mix together the kosher salt and water and make a salt water brine, put the smelt into the brine and refrigerate for 48 hours.

2. After the smelt have brined for 48 hours drain the smelt and gently rinse with cold water, mix together all the ingredients from the white vinegar to the pickling salt and bring to a boil. let the pickling liquid cool to room temperature.

3. In your sterilized pint or quart jars arrange the smelt with the dill, shallots, lemon and chillies. How much is up to you. I like a lot of dill and shallots and a couple thin slices of lemon per pint. I didn't want the smelt to be spicy but I did want a little flavor from the chilies so I only put 3-4 slices of chili per pint. 

4. Don't over fill the jars as you need to pour the pickling liquid in after they are filled with smelt. pour the room temperature liquid over the smelt and place the lids on. refrigerate for 2-3 days before eating. this will last for up to a month in you fridge. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Morel Salt

I have a love hate relationship with the morel mushroom. I will not argue that they are tasty because they are, and I enjoy eating them as much as the next guy. My problem is that I am not very good at finding them, and not for a lack of trying either. I have found a few over the years and have spent countless hours walking around the woods trying to find some. I always manage to find a few but I can never seem to find a large cache of them. One of the many problems with social media is that I see on Facebook all these people with table tops lined up with morels or some guy in Tennessee with the bed of a pick up full of them. I always feel like everybody but me is having success. The most I have ever found in one day was 14. When you don't find many you have to start being thrifty as to how you prepare them.

I have never been fortunate enough to find a large enough haul to just fry up a basket of them and eat them. I always find just enough to add to a dish or to make a nice risotto. Just once I'd like to be the guy with a five gallon bucket full of morels and running out of ways to cook them. This year I have been out on five separate occasions and on three of those occasions came up empty handed. On one of my successful outings I found four perfect little morels each about 3 inches tall. When you only have four morels there isn't much you can do with them. I thought about frying them and just eating them and calling it a season but I like to extended things as much as possible. instead of eating them I packed them in salt and let them sit for a few days then pulsed them in my food processor. this worked really well for infusing the salt with great morel flavor. I spread the sanding looking salt on a cookie sheet and popped it in the oven at 180 degrees for about 30 minutes to dry it out a bit.

The salt is exactly what I had hoped it would turn out to be. It is a perfect seasoning salt for eggs and meats and great on grilled fish. I ended up with about 1 1/2 cups of salt and will now be able to enjoy that magnificent morel flavor long after the season is over. To make this salt just cut the morels in half and clean them out really well. then pack the halves in a cup and a half of salt and let sit for 3-4 days. Then pulse in a food processor and spread out on a cookie sheet. Bake for 30 minutes at 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Store in an airtight container and enjoy through out the summer.  

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Tamago Gohan with Ramps and Nettles

It is interesting to me how many Japanese dishes I come across that I never tried or even heard of when I lived in Japan. I lived over there for two years and although I tried a number of things I missed out on a lot more. One of the things I missed out on is a dish know as TKG, tamago kake gohan. In its most basic form it is just a bowl of steamed rice with a raw egg stirred into it that is served for breakfast. If you want to kick it up some you can add some soy sauce or sesame seeds. Some versions have a small sheet of kombu added for flavor. Any way you look at it, it is one of the simplest and most satisfying things I have ever had for breakfast.

I have been eating tamago gohan for breakfast about once a week for the last several months. As soon as I ate it the first time I thought how wonderful it would be with something wild in it. I almost couldn't wait for spring because I wanted to try it with ramps. I just new that the great garlic and onion flavor of a ramp would be great with rice and egg. The first thing I did this spring when I picked some ramps was make this dish. I had also pick a nice sized bag of nettles to I mixed them in just for fun. If you are looking for a quick and easy breakfast give this a try and if you feel the need to add a few strips of bacon it only gets that much better.

Tamago Gohan with Ramps and Nettles

1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1 egg
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp chili sauce
2 tablespoons chopped ramps
2 tablespoons chopped nettles

Place the hot rice in a bowl and add the remaining ingredients, stir vigorously with chop sticks and enjoy.