Food Update, Smoked Salmon & Ramp Tart.

Where does the time go?  I feel as if I barely look at the Internet anymore, rarely read the blogs that I once read voraciously and with total vigor.  I have slipped back into the old fashioned habit of cookbook reading from front to back (or did I never really abandon that notion?), devouring the written word the way God intended: inscribed into a tangible medium.

When I do have time to make the Internet rounds, I find that other people are likely as busy as I am.  A handful of people I checked up on recently haven't been posting in several months, perhaps now their blogs are even defunct.  Others are busy with other work and are posting less seldom.  It bothers me that I don't make the time to sit in the glow of the computer and update what has been going on in my own personal world of food - especially since I've feel so happy in my kitchen lately.

My kitchen was painted in late March, and when cleaning it out, (it was off limits for 5 days when ceilings/walls were repaired before painting) I reduced my clutter.  I was lucky to get a new fridge a couple weeks ago when my old one was keeping things at a balmy 60 degrees.  The new one is larger inside but almost seems smaller outside, and I took the opportunity to cleanse it of years old condiments: preserved kumquats from 2011? Imported capers packed in salt that expired in 2011?  Both were probably still fine to consume, but it feels so good to be lighter.  It feels so good not to re-clutter the fridge, enjoy the bright light through the new shelves when I open the doors.  The new fridge causes me to cook less, too. 

salmon ramp tart

What's that?  Cook less?  Probably because I am more in tune with the leftovers and I re-create things using them without needlessly making more.  Believe it or not, I notice a difference in my food budget too.  Being creative on what seems to be an empty fridge - but really it's never been more full.  I vow not to make more condiments before I actually run out this time.

Craving smoked salmon, I picked up an 8 oz. package a couple weeks ago and somehow decided on making Megan Gordon's smoked salmon tart with a remarkable cornmeal and millet crust.  It was so good I made it two weeks in a row, but adding more ramps than I did in the first rendition.  One thing I noticed this year above other years is just how long ramp season is.  Being a teacher caused me to spend more time outside and in the woods, and what I thought was really a fleeting 7-10 days of a season really stretches the better part of a month or more.  I spent the days of ramps well, but not overdoing it...  adding a single one here or there for a twist, eating really good soft cooked scrambled eggs with them butter-sauteed inside.

ramp ribbons.
ramps & onions

Maybe a month ago or longer already, I came across the TeamYogurt site after a friend pinned this brilliant Nutmeg Crunch.  I felt so out of the loop.  AND totally inspired to make heat-set yogurt again after a very long hiatus.  My room temp culture had conveniently just died, so I figured I didn't have much to lose using a store bought Greek yogurt as a culture.  I read an article on the National Center for Home Food Preservation site that recommended heating the milk to 200 degrees and holding it there for 20 minutes before cooling and then culturing for 7 hours.  I've streamlined my process now, and it doesn't take me all that long now that I've got the hang of it again.  I heat my milk to between 185-200 in a makeshift double boiler, hold it for 10 minutes, and then cool it rapidly (it only takes 5 minutes) by pouring the hot milk into the bowl I'll culture it in.  Then I sink that bowl into a larger bowl of ice water and stir it infrequently for 5 minutes.  It seems like a mess of bowls and timing, but it is easier done than said, and by the time I'm putting the cultured milk into the dehydrator to keep warm I'm nearly done with the clean up.

My yogurt has a gorgeous flavor now that it's several generations old - and a velvety buttermilk texture.  I used it in the salmon tart.

heat set yogurt

Megan Gordon wrote this recipe using creme fraiche, which is also easy to make, but in the spirit of using what I have I used the yogurt.  I love the texture of this tart so much.  It keeps well for a few days for lunches and the ratio is sound for pretty much any ingredient you would want to add.  Err on the shorter side of baking for a more custardy interior, but bake fully if you intend to pack for lunch or picnic.  And if you still spy a few ramps, by all means use them in their entirety.  The tart crust is just perfect.  With the additional of a couple tablespoons of confectioner's sugar, I really want to make it as a base for a lemon curd.  In my experience, you can never go wrong with millet!

I appreciated that her book Whole Grain Mornings was written in weights, and I made the crust using them.  Her conventional measurements are also below.  If you don't have ramps, make this with onions and add a clove or two of minced garlic with the onions of your choice.

Smoked Salmon & Ramp Tart (adapted from Megan Gordon)
serves 4-6 as a main course (with a salad)

for the crust:
  • 65 g. (1/2 c.) cornmeal
  • 90 g. (3/4 c.) white wheat or whole wheat flour (I used the Lonesome Stone Milling organic all-purpose)
  • 3/4 t. kosher salt
  • 85 g. (6 T.) cold butter, cut into bits
  • 3-4 T. ice water
  • 45 g. (1/4 c. millet) 
 Butter a 9 inch tart pan (or springform pan, like I used) well and set aside.  In a food processor, pulse the cornmeal, wheat flour, and salt together to blend.  Add bits of butter and pulse several one-second pulses until it resembles a coarse meal with bits of visible butter.  Add the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time and pulse until the dough starts to hold together when you pinch it.   Add the millet and pulse 2 times more to evenly distribute it.  Transfer it to the buttered pan and press it evenly into the bottom and up the sides.  Cover it, and place in the fridge to chill for 1 hour and up to a day.

for the tart:
  • olive oil
  • 4-5 ramps, leaves cut into thin ribbons and bulbs/stems finely chopped
  •  enough chopped onion to equal about 1/2 c. with the chopped ramps
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 c. yogurt
  • 1/2 t. dried dill (use a couple tablespoons of fresh if you have it) 
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • 4 oz. smoked salmon, cut into small pieces
 After your crust has chilled and you're ready to bake your tart, preheat the oven to 375.  Remove the chilled tart base from the fridge and place on a sheet pan.  Pre-bake it for 15 minutes just to dry out the top a little bit.  Meanwhile saute the chopped ramps (reserve the leafy ribbons separately) and onions in a little olive oil until just wilted and soft - 5 minutes or so.  Beat the milk, eggs, and yogurt with the dill, salt, and pepper until well combined.  
Spread the onions evenly over pre-baked base , then scatter the salmon pieces over evenly.  Pour the eggy custard over the top and sprinkle with the ramp ribbons and more pepper if you think it needs it.  Bake in the center of the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the top is set and browned to your liking.

salmon ramp tart slice
This one is slightly underbaked to have a fluffier texture inside.  This one I baked more completely. (You can see that it almost has a cheesecake look about it, and it is pleasantly dense.)

This recipe is a keeper for so many reasons, the least of which is the absolute ease with which it comes together.  It looks complicated, and it's not.  It's the perfect all-in-one food.  It's vegetarian without being laden with cheese.  It's equally good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  It's exactly the type of thing that would fit nicely into the "Genius" category that I'm also so fond of lately.

Now that our school year is wrapping up, I'm looking forward to a little more online time, but I'm sure that our summer will be busier than ever.  There is a lot to cram into 3 short months of warm weather!  All the time I feel cursed by the convenience of the Internet.  I wonder if I could ever go back to the way things were in the 90's.  Conscious decisions not to be checking my phone/mail all the time are one thing, but I am not sure I could give up the convenience of the camera in my back pocket...

Mastering Mascarpone...and the Salvaging of Salt Block Salmon

When the Daring Baker mascarpone cheese turned out less than desirable, I knew I could do better. What better inspiration than these organic jars of heavy cream from the organic Crystal Ball Farms? I got one on Saturday morning at the Winter Farmer's Market. Not only do they look fantastic, the contents are stellar. This sweet cream had to make the best mascarpone! I very excitedly started it yesterday afternoon.

I used the same recipe and method I did the first time: both from Vera at Baking Obsession. I used a double boiler (a.k.a. old pot with a Pyrex mixing bowl on top), and found I had the same problem I did the first go around... I was stirring and "gently heating" for a full 45 minutes with no temperature increase past the 180 degree mark. I wondered if my thermometer was broken. I rinsed it and tried it again from zero, still only 180. I needed that 190 mark. I finally got frustrated enough that I poured the 180 degree cream into a regular pot, and then turned the heat to medium low. Mere minutes passed, until I was at the 190 mark. I added my lemon juice (which I eyeballed to be 3/4 of a T. due to evaporation and the 450ml of cream I started with), and another minute or two and it was properly thickened. I will be transferring any future cream for mascarpone directly to a bare naked pot, after it is properly and gently heated. That is my zen moment for today.

I now know that I did not have the true 190 mark on my first try. I know I was frustrated then too, and it wouldn't surprise me if I added the lemon juice and figured it was hot enough. It never coated a spoon like this the first time!

I let it cool 20 minutes, then let it drain through my layered cheesecloth until it came down to room temperature. I stashed the whole thing in the refrigerator overnight, and then sat down to daydream about what I was going to do with this luscious cheese. Of course, I wasn't going to wait until this morning to taste it! It was so smooth and sweet, no trace of "off flavor" that my last batch had, every bit like "the thickend creme anglaise" Vera spoke of. It was even better this morning when I unearthed it from its cocoon of cloth:

Don't let that cheesecloth-textured exterior fool you, this was the softest, dreamiest thing imaginable. Firm, but creamy, and so delicious. It had every mark of the fresh taste that the plain cream had. Non-homogenized milk is the key, I think. innBrooklyn suggested in my comments that a ravioli may be a good bet, and that is rather tempting. But meanwhile, I knew I'd have to try something by lunchtime. Fortunately, this cheese stepped right in to save an otherwise unfortunate learning experience: Salt Block Salmon.

Last week, I was excited to experiment with curing salmon on the Posh Saltblock. Using tips from Chef Malavenda, who graciously coached me via email, I used my one slab instead of two, and weighted it with unglazed quarry tiles. The piece of fish I used was rather thin, and I think I let it go too long. It was rendered fully cured but, even with vigorous washing, extrememly salty.

It certainly wasn't an unpleasant taste, just overwhelmingly salmon-y and saline. Since I knew that salt was going to keep it fresh for (I'd bet) weeks to come, I stored it in my fridge and asked the good Chef M. for a couple of ideas. She suggested a cream sauce for pasta, sans capers of course, or chopping it up tartar like for canapes. I took it for a spin in the food pro, and turned it into nicely textured, though still salty, rubble:

After I tasted the mascarpone this morning, it immediately struck me to add it to some mascarpone cheese. Not too much, just a bit, since I knew I was dealing with some pretty strong flavor here. Perfection? I think so! For the past week, my poor Husband kept hearing me discuss the salmon and what to do with the salmon, and that the salmon was way, WAY too salty, and I wasn't at all surprised that he didn't really jump at the chance to be a guinea pig to my original pasta sauce or fish cake idea. He did agree, with a tiny spoonful taste, that this is really good (though still a bit salty). I froze the rest of the salmon, and am going to pull this out next time I have dinner company (provided they are savvy of salmon, that is).

Just wish there was a bit of dill growing out in the yard...

I had just a bit for lunch today, on the heal of the never-waning obsession that is Lahey bread. I baked a new loaf this morning, and also placed another Amazon order for a Lodge 5 quart cast iron dutch oven. I could write love sonnets for my red LeCreuset, and I noticed it was receiving a bit of a blow being heated repeatedly in a hot oven. For around $30, I figured it was time to "upgrade" (or "downgrade" perhaps?) to a dedicated breadbaker, one that I had no such feelings attached to. Red LeCreuset shall be restored to her former glory, and I will have a bread-baking oven in an oven...and hopefully a whole lot of salmon spread to enjoy it with.

These first glimpses in a cold but sunny start to March (definitely in like a lamb, I'd say) make me so hungry for a ripe late summer tomato; this spread on that bread with a perfect tomato would be one for the books. Then I remembered about another Wisconsin food blogger: World of Flavors. I feel so busy lately, and have a hard time reading and responding and indeed cooking and baking as many bookmarked things as I like. World of Flavors featured sprouts and sprouting recently, and I do know for sure it is the time of year for watching something sprout in the kitchen. Not to mention Otehlia's photography is second to none, and made them look as if I could pluck them off my screen. I soaked some lowly "sandwich mix" seeds from Outpost, and by the end of the week, I'll be enjoying some sprouts.

But, I'd imagine I'll need to make some more mascarpone by then. Meanwhile, if you have any other mascarpone ideas, keep them coming. My goal is to have a little bit each day, as not to overwhelm my healthiness with too much cream. I'm thinking a pasta sauce with tuna and a spoonful melted in... Call me crazy, but I'm trying it in my coffee tomorrow morning.

That reminds me to go and pluck a quart jar of strawberries out of the deep freeze... I'm sure a makeshift dessert could be had if I can muster up the strength to make more ladyfingers!