Journeyman By Way of Providence

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Photos © J. Lowe 2008

                   

 

Last Saturday morning began with a drive to Providence Farms on #89 west of Fennville, MI to collect the three organic chickens I had ordered some weeks before.  The farm was busy with fellow collectors, rubber booted workers and lounging Labradors.  Short in supply of chicken parts (if not fava beans, then give me livers), another man gracefully gave up his bag to me so I might savour the first time joy of Providence poultry lobe on toast for my following Sunday brunch. Stowing my chickens in a cooler, off I went to Fennville proper to visit my most favourite restaurant in the scope of a few hundred miles.

From A to B with a garage sale in between (where I bought a Lyle Lovett cassette for 10¢) I moseyed down the road, the scent of lilac in my nose and the delightful sight, in classic Lynch ‘Straight Story’ style, of a man driving his ride-on mower, trundling along with his trusty canine companion who’s ears flapped perpendicular to his little body in the wind.

Journeyman Cafe, at 112 E.Main Street, is an example of purveyance, fortitude and very good taste.  Ingredients, sought locally and seasonally are used in balance and proportion.  The menu is complex in terms of one trying to make a meal choice, yet is simple in feel for the time of day and year.

I wanted to try all sorts of offerings but such is the solipsism of the lone eater.  Saturday lunchtime; is it house made fennel sausage with pappardelle, roasted peppers and onions, or is it soft scrambled eggs on garlic toast with, oh my still yearning love, sauteed morel mushrooms?

I chose a Quiche with ramps and smoky bacon.  Goodness, what a flavoursome plate.  When it arrived I smelled the warmth of it.  The pastry was buttery and short,  like an old fashioned pork pie from England. The egg was like a soufflé, rich but light and waffly like a scrambled calf brain dish I had way back when I was dating an Iranian guy.  The bacon had the smokiness of Lapsang souchong tea and the ramps were almost seaweedy in texture.  It came plated with a mixed leaf salad, drizzled with a simple vinaigrette.  At seating I was given some house made bread that had a salty crust and was peppered with caraway, black sesame and poppy seeds.  

The portions are moderately perfect.  The service quietly nice.  The atmosphere casual yet grown up, unfussy but particular.

I wish I lived in Fennville, such that I could eat at Journeyman regularly around abouts’d times through each week to fully savour the menu.

They have recently opened a public house next door called ‘Rye’, which is the menu from which I chose.  On Friday nights they have live music.  The space is great.

   

The baked goods are precious.

       

I could go on, myriad details, but can’t.  I am poaching my Providence Farm chicken with fennel and it needs attention.

 

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Morels et al – Part 3

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photographs © J. Lowe

 

 

Following my recent and virgin morel experience (posted earlier) I have now been granted the special place amongst friends as the receiver of a morsel of morel from their private hunts. A precious little bag of 4 sturdy morels, about 4″ in length were given to me the other day. Oh joy of joys.

Last time I wrote about them I said I was going to do a creamy pillowy pasta dish but I would rather make the pasta by hand for that and the evening was so lovely and the outdoors was calling and the grill was beckoning……so I decided to stuff them, since they have a conveniently hollow core. Hmm, so is it goat cheese, is it spinach and ricotta, is it crabmeat a la Emeril?

What ho, I was in a new to me supermarket in my small town and they had Haloumi…..I have been longing for this cheese for ages.

Turns out that Haloumi and morels are fantastic together. Haloumi is salty and chewy. Morels are earthy and meaty. The two combined are like a rustic panini, the cheese adding the right amount of oil and the mushroom soaking up that said unctuousness. I added a sprig of fresh thyme and drizzled a teeny amount of garlic vinaigrette on the morel before placing on the bbq for a matter of minutes. 

Along with these I made prosciutto wrapped asparagus. The asparagus being got from my csa delivery last Wednesday.  What a beautiful bag of goodness.  As well as the spears, it included mixed spring lettuce, crisp sweet radish and baby spinach. I am so lucky to be able to have access to locally grown produce like this but, get this, I also collect it every week from the independent brew pub across the road!

             

I am also fortunate to work as a food stylist, such that I have the pleasure of tasting gourmet goodies every now and then, some of which I would hardly bestow upon myself even if I had the means.  Yes I admit I am granted the pleasure of a soupçon here and a plateful there;  for me to take that home is bounty.  

So, the asparagus, wrapped in prosciutto, grilled and drizzled with an aged balsamic must from Italy.

Pleasures like that in life are better in small doses.  They make for longing.

Hankering for home.

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photographs © J. Lowe 2008

Ah, fish and chips. What is a Friday night in London after the pub if not followed by fish and chips? What is more conducive to describing Britishness than this? Soggy, greasy, battered fish doused with malt vinegar, smattered with salt, all wrapped in a besmirched section of paper and eaten whilst walking stumblingly to the bus stop.

Oh, that’s right, I’m in Michigan.  Now what’s a girl from London to do in dire need of edible nostalgia?  Hello Lake Perch. A local fish.  Mild in flavour, flakey and delicate.  Perfect.

Off I trot to the shops, purchase a deep fat fryer and excitedly return home in anticipation of creating a fish and chips dinner, reminiscent of my London days.  I have to say though, soggy and greasy is not my want.   I’m seeking crisp batter so I turn to the internet for recipes.

Much like my search on morel mushrooms, I found many a fish fry fanatic out there. This is the one I chose:

here’s a link to this site for other batter recipes.

Bloody hell, the deep fryer I bought did not work! I ended up getting out my trusty old heavy bottomed saucepan, filling it with oil and doing it the old fashioned way. The batter turned out fabulously crisp and delicious, the fish was light and moist and perfectly separated from the batter.  Coating the fish in flour prior to battering, which was not in the recipe, might have contributed to this.   I also used a pale ale instead of a light beer….good drinking too.  The batter was still crisp the following morning.  That’s almost unheard of.

I didn’t sit down to eat my meal. I stood at my kitchen island crunching through the crispyness, relishing the hot moistness beneath and imagining the wet streets of London beneath my feet with the long awaited No. 37 bus appearing in the distance.

                 

On flesh laid bare

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photographs © Derek Richmond 2008

 

Stripping for a living has not been in the forefront of my career but sometimes my prerogative as a stylist deems the act necessary.

Rarely does a food shoot inspire nakedness; this one did.  Who could argue that the presence of naked human flesh wouldn’t add to the tableau afore us?  Bedeck a table with ham bones, lamb legs, deer skulls, poussin and dead morning doves, the female form must surely figure itself in there too?  Upon my suggestion and with certain aplomb I climbed upon the already heavily laden table and laid myself bare.

We were working with the Flemish in mind, along with the brilliance of Greenaway’s ‘The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover’. Four days later, with a studio full of rancid meat (and a very lucid dog) we had our story.  Here is a taste of it.


 

 

A broad look at the fava bean

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photographs©J.Lowe2008

Fava beans, made horridly infamous by Anthony Hopkins, are called ‘broad’ beans in England. They are among the most ancient plants in cultivation. According to Wikipedia, some believe that if one carries a broad bean, one will never be without the essentials of life.

Living in London in my late 20’s, I rented what was a traditional workers cottage, known as a ‘two up two down’, with a small walled garden. I am not a gardener but I like to watch things grow and change. Amongst other ramblings, I grew herbs, roses and weeds. Each Spring I would anticipate the arrival of a small clump of wild strawberries, from which one or two sweet fruits would be gotten (to be eaten early morning alone with the sun kissing my neck), whilst the slugs took the rest. Wild garlic was prolific, the flowers so pretty and the delicate taste in salad a seasonal treat. I also grew an aggressive passion flower against a sunny wall which one year fruited a single perfect specimen. I ate the whole thing, again alone with the sun this time fading off to the evening, me greedily sucking at the flesh, supping at the juice. In these moments of aloneness and devouring I pause and experience a simplicity so satisfying I cannot help but think it makes me a better person.

One year I grew some broad beans. The plants produced few pods but what frabjous joy when they came. A whole season and I had enough beans for one single person meal. I simmered them for about 10 minutes, drained them into a dish, drizzled olive oil over the top, a grind of sea salt, black pepper and a glass of cold white wine.

All alone in my garden on a late Spring evening. The sun going down, the slugs coming out and the passion flower wafting its’ scent before bedtime.

Jamie Oliver Chocolate Fridge Cake

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photographs © Derek Richmond 2008

        

‘Tis not often I get the urge for a rich sweet dessert, that is until someone places one in front of me.  It is not often therefore that I get the urge to make a rich dessert, until I find a recipe that motivates the lazy me into action.   One cannot fail with this recipe and the possible transmogrifications of ingredients make it a truly corner store/international/global/cross fusion, oh goodness whatever, kind of cake.

Jamie’s original recipe ingredients are as follows:

• 200g digestive biscuits
• 110g whole pecans, roughly chopped
• 110g pistachio nuts, peeled
• 10 glace cherries
• 2 ready-made meringue nests, smashed up
• 150g unsalted butter
• 1 tablespoon golden syrup
• 200g dark chocolate 

(here’s a link to a conversion table for across the pond quantities)

Locally, I could not find anything resembling a digestive biscuit so I used ginger snaps.  Nor could I find golden syrup so I used an Alabama dark syrup which is nothing like golden syrup but I believed it would work. I chose to leave out the meringue and in addition I made some pistachio and pecan brittle to decorate with.

Oh, the brittle.  I ended up having to hammer it out of the pan, so I think I might need to invest in a candy thermometer and perhaps a silicone mat.  When it comes to baking, candies and pastries, I have to admit the science takes over.  Cooking and science are not an obvious combination in my brain.  I do not work with that confluence in mind.

As a child I remember my mother’s baking extravaganzas. They would occur regularly and frenetically, often on a Sunday.  The small kitchen would become a haze of flour and love, tempered with manic action.  Her recipes always included intuition and experimentation.  Flapjacks, delicious squares, fruit cake, bannocks, all of which I would proudly take to school in my packed lunch with my doorstep sandwiches and then gladly trade with my best friend for her store bought chocolate biscuit wrapped in brightly coloured paper.

Fridge cake is delicious and can be made a myriad ways.  I like to give it the posh treatment, imagining it came in a white box with a ribbon from some darling little pâtisserie.  It gets squishy rather quickly so eat accordingly, bearing in mind that squishy chocolate can be fun, though the bits may get in the way somewhat.

(Jamie’s full recipe here)

 

 

 

 

 

Pork chops, apple parcels and aubergines

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photographs © J. Lowe & Derek Richmond

Sunday evenings are allowed to start early.  With a school night encroaching one wants to take full advantage of the sunset, eat well but not too late and retire comfortably for a good nights sleep.

Hence, 5pm and the coals are heating on the bbq.  The pork chops are in a marinade of olive oil, salt, pepper, rosemary, garlic and lemon juice.  I am also making grilled aubergines (eggplant) with walnut oil and parchment parcels of apple, walnut and goat cheese.  Parcels are so friendly.  Bring a warm bundle of enveloped food to a plate and one cannot help but feel it’s a discovery of love.  

Aubergines are a carnal delight.  Feeling the firm ripe flesh of an aubergine in ones hands is akin to the caress of a freshly waxed calf muscle. I liken the experience of a mouthful of cooked aubergine to the pleasure of sucking on an earlobe, it is soft and delicate and precious.  Simply sounding the word ~aubergine~ produces a beautiful shape to the mouth. 

Some cooks are adamant that eggplants need salting in order to disgorge the bitterness from the nicotinoid seeds.  I don’t salt my aubergines.  Contemporary cultivation has produced eggplant that is much less bitter than of old so I believe this procedure is for the most part unnecessary.  Salting, however, does actually inhibit the uptake of oil, aubergines being an amazing sponge, so, if you are watching your weight, salt your sexy orbs before cooking.

Sex and love on plate, what more can you ask for?

Parchment parcels of apple, walnut and goat cheese

Slice half an apple per person (I like to use a crisp unwaxed green apple)

Take a piece of parchment and put 3 blobs of butter (about the amount you would use to butter a slice of toast) in the middle of it, upon which you will place the apple slices.

Sprinkle a teaspoon or so of soft brown sugar along with a small handful of walnuts.  Top this with two hearty dollops of goat cheese, a squeeze of lemon and black pepper to taste. 

Fold and crimp the parchment parcel making sure it is well sealed so that steam can be created inside. There’s a wonderful article all about parchment parcels here in the LA TImes.

Place on the grill or in a hot oven for about 10 minutes.

 


 

Morels – Part 2

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So the evening was a treat.  I wore a sweater, thinking it would be chilly but the warm air was perfectly clingy.

I cut the morels long so there would be more surface area to be coated in the rich reduction.  They sautéd in the butter and walnut oil for a few minutes then I added the chopped garlic, a half teaspoon of demi-glace and a good glug of red wine.  Salt, pepper, moved the pan to a side heat then stood back for about 10 minutes while they bubbled away.  Meanwhile the rib-eyes and some sweet peppers went on centre stage.

A handful of flat leaf parsley finished the dish and with a swift plating dinner was served.

To my taste I had oversalted the morels.  Derek thought it was perfect.  The food my mother cooked for me as a child was barely salted which as a result grants me taste buds with a heightened salt perception, not such a bad thing.  Perhaps my low sodium diet in some way counteracts my gluttonous appetite for wine?

I hope to eat morels more often in my lifetime.   They are earthy and chewy.  They soak up and retain whatever scrummyness you choose to add.  Next time I shall do the creamy pillowy pasta dish and accordingly roll my eyes in ecstatic joy.  Long live short supply, suppression can be so rewarding.

 

 

 

Morels – Part 1

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It is morel season.  I have never eaten morels before. Last year a colleague at work was extolling the flavour of these honeycombed fungi, proper name, Morchella esculenta.  (Esculent is an English word, taken from the Latin meaning edible.)  With great detail and a look of religious ecstasy on his face he spoke about cooking them in butter and cream, spooning them gently over pillow soft home made pasta and  eating slowly in complete silence.  In a similar fashion I go completely gaga over broad (fava) beans.  It must be the short season and hence short supply that brings on such reverence.  Eating local, seasonal produce procures so much pleasure, not to mention just how right on it is as an environmental act.

In reading on the subject of morels I am told they go awfully well with pheasant, possibly due historically to hunters bagging both booty on the same day.  In which case, I’m pretty sure they would also marry nicely with venison. I’m going to have mine with a big old rib eye steak that I have marinading as I write in olive oil, red wine, salt and pepper.  I’ll cook the mushrooms in butter and walnut oil with garlic, parsley and a generous splosh of wine.  I may add some demi-glace too.

I’ll be heading over to Derek’s studio to cook, which is right on the banks of the St. Joe river.  Fire up the bbq, pop open a bottle of wine and watch the fly fisherman on the other side of the water wait patiently for a brown trout to bite.

I’ll be posting again tomorrow with pictures of our evening feast.

 

More about Opal

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The last entry hardly described the lengths we went to with Opal, the steelhead salmon we caught.  I thought I’d post some more images of other things I made with her fine flesh and bones. (photographs courtesy of Derek Richmond

Just as when in possession of a chicken carcass or some nice veal bones, a stock should be made to take advantage of the unctuous goodness that comes from such matter.

Fish head and bones, carrots, onions, celery, flat leaf parsley, sea salt, black peppercorns, white wine, water.

Bring to a boil, turn down immediately and barely simmer for an hour.  Strain through muslin, put liquid back in clean pan and reduce by half.  This can be used full concentration or diluted as desired.

With this stock I made a salmon chowder, though sadly at this point we were so into our shoot that I neglected to write any further recipe details down.  As also happened with the tart that you’ll see below.

Pretty picture though.

Finally a tart, from the tasteful tart.  I made a short crumbly pastry (lots of butter) and combined the salmon flesh with eggs, creme fraiche, heavy cream, salt, pepper, dill and spring onions (scallions).  Baked to a golden finish.