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September 18 2013

From the Kitchen

Written by

Squash Panzanella Salad
By Tricia Wheeler
Serves 4–6

This is my take on a fall panzanella salad. The squash, dried figs and greens are brought together with a simple sauté of greens and the maple dressing adds a nice sweetness.

1 medium squash (acorn or butternut), cleaned and cut into cubes
6 cups mixed greens (I use chard, kale and mustard greens.)
6 dried mission figs, cut into slivers
¼ cup dried salted pistachios
2 cups rustic croutons*
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

For dressing:
1 small shallot, sliced thin
4 tablespoons maple syrup
8 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Put all dressing ingredients in a Mason jar and shake until combined.

1. You can either roast your squash, drizzled with some olive oil, in a 400° oven until soft—usually about 40 minutes—or cook the squash until soft in simmering water or broth. This can be done ahead.
2. When ready to serve the salad, heat up your skillet with olive oil, toss in greens, wilt for a minute and set aside greens. Pan-sear squash for a few minutes until warmed through and toss back in greens, dried figs and pistachios for a minute. Drizzle with dressing, toss in pan, add in croutons at very end and then arrange salad on a plate and serve.

*Kitchen Tip: Rustic croutons are made with olive oil, sea salt and dried herbs of your choice. Cut bread into chunks—day-old bread works great—toss with olive oil, salt and herbs. Bake at 400° for about 5 minutes, until crisp. Keep an eye on them so they don't overcook. These keep in a sealed bag for a few days.

Coconut Curry Butternut Squash Soup
By Tricia Wheeler
Serves 4–6

I love coconut milk in soups—it adds a creamy texture without being too heavy. Coconut pairs great with squash. Garnishing this soup with some toasted coconut and pumpkin seeds would also taste great!

1 large butternut squash
1 can coconut milk
2–3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Juice of 1 lime
1 small yellow onion
2 tablespoons butter
2 small or 1 large apple, diced
2 tablespoons local honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons curry powder
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Peel butternut squash, cut lengthwise, scrape out seeds and cut into 1-inch chunks. Peel and dice apple and onion.
2. Put the butter in a heavy stockpot over medium heat. Add the diced onion and cook until soft.
3. Add the squash, apple, cayenne, cumin, curry powder, cinnamon and honey, and stir until vegetables get slightly browned—add more butter if needed.
4. Add the chicken or vegetable stock, season with salt and pepper; cook until vegetables are soft (about 15 minutes).
5. Once squash and apples are cooked through, use a slotted spoon to transfer the vegetables to a food processor or blender. Add coconut milk and lime juice to the blender and process until smooth.
6. Add blended mixture back to the soup and whisk gently over low heat until heated through. Season with salt and pepper and add additional spices if needed. Garnish with a dash of smoked paprika.

Chipotle Sweet Potato Gratin
Adapted by Tricia Wheeler from a recipe by Bobby Flay
Serves 6–8

I was looking for a way to change up my traditional Thanksgiving side dishes when I came across this recipe by Bobby Flay for a spicy sweet potato gratin. I have made it many times since—guests always like the unexpected smokiness paired with the sweet potatoes.

3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch slices
2 cups heavy cream (I prefer Snowville heavy whipping cream.)
1 smoked chipotle pepper in adobe sauce* and some juice from can
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375°.
2. Mix heavy cream, chipotle pepper and salt in a food processor until just blended.
3. In a 9- by 9-inch casserole dish, arrange the potatoes in even layers. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the cream mixture and season with salt and pepper. Repeat with the remaining potatoes, cream and salt to form layers.
4. Cover and bake for 30 minutes; remove cover and continue baking for 45–60 minutes, or until the cream is absorbed and the potatoes are cooked through and the top is browned.

* Found in the Mexican section of most grocery stores

In Athens, a tight-knit food community charged with collaboration, Chris Chmiel is a pioneer of indigenous plants and processes. He's best known for bringing pawpaws to the people, founding the annual Pawpaw Festival at Lake Snowden 15 years ago.

Yet his influence extends further, into the championing of spicebush berries, farm-fresh goat cheese and locally harvested black walnuts, among other local edibles. Chris, through his farm Integration Acres and a number of local partnerships with food producers and farmers, is effectively bringing Athens to the people in a region where fierce resourcefulness and a long history of agriculture dictate a unique culture of food rife with regional ingredients.

When Integration Acres found its footing in 1996, the atmosphere for growing and selling artisan food products was underdeveloped. Chris and his wife, Michelle, having scooped up 18 acres in rural Athens County after graduating from Ohio University, were first enamored, then inspired, to collect the creamy-fleshed fruit they found in abundance on the property. First as whole fruit, then as pulp, frozen and preserved packaged products, Chris processed pawpaws and began the largest operation to do so in the world.

"People did laugh at me, at first, about the pawpaw," Chris says. With time, amusement turned to admiration.
Pawpaw operations segued into goat's milk cheesemaking and harvesting of black walnuts, ramps, mushrooms and other forest-farmed crops.

"When we work with all these things that are available everywhere, we bring more diversity to the market and the community," says Chris. "It's broadened our basket just a little bit." Rather than plant and harvest according to traditional farming models, Chris works in tandem with the seasons, the land and those species that grow wild, with or without human cultivation.

If Chris could strike gold in a fleshy fruit, so could his neighbors, combining their wares for processing at Integration Acres. Leslie Schaller, director of programs at the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet), has watched Integration Acres's network expand through the years to collaborative business relationships.

"He's been a very dynamic innovator overall, from first looking at embracing pawpaws as viable commercial fruit that more people need to know about to figuring our how to create a value-added supply chain, working with land owners, training them, teaching how to source and handle pawpaws." Says Warren Taylor, founder of Snowville Creamery, "There is no way to overstate Chris's contribution to the Southeast Ohio sustainable community. His creation of the Pawpaw Festival as a way to utilize foraged forest products was followed by his developing a black walnut collection business, which scores of locals utilize for autumn pocket money."

Warren tells the story of Chris, in the thick of black walnut season, thumbing off $100 bills for neighboring Appalachian farmers, payment for the bushels hauled in on the beds of their pickup trucks. Walnuts, once littering the land, quickly found value and a local marketplace thanks to Chris's vision.

In farming and sharing these little-known ingredients, Chris bridges the gap between native people and plants. He not only utilizes unfamiliar plant species but makes them as available as his means allow, sharing them through his own or other community-driven products, or at his market stall.

"We've been able to sell everything that we make," says Chris. That, and "the Athens market keeps getting bigger."
Most recently, enthusiasm has blossomed for fermenting and pickling produce from the summer garden, including dilly beans and kimchee. The construction of a second kitchen accounts for these expanding interests at Integration Acres, and separates cheesemaking into its own quarters.

Though it's a business through and through, Chris believes in the need for and the ability of the land to sustain its people. It's a timeless idea that, today, sounds fairly revolutionary. Take the spicebush, for instance, which produces red peppercorn-like berries once dried and used for allspice during the Civil War. Between the lowly shrub and its myriad uses, there's Chris: disseminator of information, harvester, distributor and enthusiast. He's not just popularized the native plants, he's helped an entire region to discover, or to embrace, an effective means of eating.

Through the work of Integration Acres, his products and festivals (2013 marks the third annual Spicebush Festival), the farmers markets and his role as an agricultural activist, Chris is bridging the gap.

"You look at the way that Chris has worked with others to help them identify ways that they can create pawpaw products, or other products as well, from the forest," says Leslie. "It's this endless opportunity for collaboration that occurs within our local food community that is marvelous and inspiring."

Among the partnerships: Athens bakery Crumbs crafts a ramp pasta from Chris's bounty. Snowville Creamery experimented with a spicebush yogurt. Jackie O's brewery turns out a pawpaw beer each year. Even Jeni's Ice Cream got into the mix with a black walnut divinity ice cream, sourced from Integration Acres, as noted in Jeni's cookbook.

Lately, Chris's hands are full with his new role as an Athens county commissioner, a seat he was elected to last year.

"As county commissioner I have a lot of roles I could play in helping the economy here," Chris says. Primarily, he's focused on how individuals involved in local economic development look at, and ultimately work with, the local food economy.

"We have this mentality that our economic development people work with these big high-tech companies. Yet the local food people have been building strong, multimillion-dollar sales with no help from econ development people. How could we actually support this stuff?"

"Chris has always been a leader and positive provocateur, pushing and coalescing the community's good intentions into meaningful action," says Warren. "For all his contributions, the greatest is in uniting and energizing the community, bringing out the best in all of us."

Integration Acres: 9758 Chase Rd., Albany, OH 45710; 740-698-6060; integrationacres.com. Pawpaw pulp is available at Dublin Whole Foods and can also be ordered from the Integration Acres website.


Pawpaw Ice Cream
Recipe courtesy of Chris Chmiel and Warren Taylor

This ice cream recipe was created by Warren, utilizing Chris's sweet, almost creamy pawpaw pulp. Warren and Chris collaborate regularly. Since Integration Acres is only a seasonal dairy, Chris utilizes fresh milk from Snowville Creamery for cheese when the goats' production slows. Warren's daughter, Celeste, helps Chris and his wife, Michelle Gorman, milk their 70 goats. As neighbors, longtime friends and collaborators, Chris and Warren are fellow warriors for the Athens food community.—CH

Approximately 1 gallon of custard mix makes 1½ gallons of hand-cranked ice cream.

Use heavy stainless-steel kettle, if available. If your cooking pan is thin-walled, be sure to stir well, scraping bottom and sides of pan. It is easy to burn the custard if too much heat is applied, and/or too little stirring.

3 quarts half and half (11% butterfat coffee cream)
1–2 cups sugar or alternative sweetener
1 dozen whole eggs
3–6 cups ripe or overripe pawpaw pulp (a worthy substitute would be mango or a mango/strawberry combination)

Making the custard:
Mix all ingredients together thoroughly in a large pan. If using a hand-held mixer, you may continue blending in the pan as the mixture is heated and stirred on the stove. This improves the heating, reduces burn-on and gives a rich, creamy mixture.
Cook the custard, which should be heated until it starts to thicken (at about 150°F.), and then cool immediately in a sink of cold water. If it is overcooked, the custard can break.
Many flavoring ingredients, including other fruits, cocoa or chocolate can be added to the custard mix before it is cooked.
Refrigerate the mix overnight before attempting to freeze it. (Aging an ice cream mix for a day or two is one of the secrets of old-time fine ice cream making.)
Hand crank or use an ice cream maker, following the manufacturer's instructions. Any sort of flavorings, nuts or good liquor, can be added to the ice cream mix before it is frozen.

September 18 2013

Rendered Useful

Written by

In the pecking order of maligned fats, the lowermost rung is reserved for schmaltz. In fact, you might say that schmaltz is the chopped liver of lipids. Whereas olive oil is the golden child, butter is wholesome goodness and even lard is making culinary inroads, rendered chicken fat will always be early-grave food destined for the dustbin of cookery.

Not if Michael Ruhlman has his way. The Cleveland-based author wants to resuscitate schmaltz from its regrettable reputation. His goal is not only to grant a guilt-free pass to Jewish home cooks who might have given it up for perceived health benefits, but also to share its charms with lovers of great food everywhere regardless their culinary culture.

His new book, The Book of Schmaltz: Love Song to a Forgotten Fat, aims to prevent schmaltz from going the way of the lowly knish. The book is Ruhlman's 20th and it began life as an e-book, gorgeously illustrated by his wife, Donna, and released as an iPad app.

On the electronic version, readers can click a link to hear the author's kindly Jewish neighbor, Lois Baron, say the word "schmaltz." Like all Yiddish words it sounds exactly like what it means: spreadable pleasure. It was Baron's frequent endorsements of the long-snubbed fat, in fact, that ultimately motivated Ruhlman to act.

"I've always been curious about schmaltz and fascinated with its Jewish history," Ruhlman explains. "That, combined with my love of fat in general, led to this book."

The author explains in the book that schmaltz came about in typical use-what-you-have manner. Owing to kosher dietary laws, Jews are precluded from using lard, which comes from pork. Even butter, being a dairy product, becomes treif (non-kosher) when a meal includes meat of any kind. And in early 20th-century Europe, you couldn't exactly walk to the nearest 7-Eleven to grab a tub of margarine. Hence schmaltz, which could be rendered down from the Shabbat roast chicken.

Like Ruhlman's Twenty, The Elements of Cooking and Ratio, this is no run-of-the-mill cookbook. There are just a handful of recipes, categorized as "traditional" and "contemporary." A good portion of the book is devoted to teaching about making, storing and cooking with schmaltz.

"I'm not interested in big cookbooks with hundreds of recipes," Ruhlman says. "I think there are too many recipes out there already. What we need more of is technique. I want to teach people how to cook."

Schmaltz is slow food. Home cooks can't just walk up to the local grocery and grab a pound of rendered poultry fat along with their quinoa and couscous. It must be made at home from the skin, scraps and trimmings from one or more chickens. The process is labor intensive, and the resulting liquid is particularly perishable—not exactly a compelling argument for its resurgence.

"What schmaltz has going against it is also what it has going for it," says Ruhlman in fine Jedi fashion. "You can't buy it in a grocery store, you can only make it at home, and it doesn't last forever."

He says that the practice fits right in with newly fashionable cooking trends like pickling, canning, smoking, fermenting and charcuterie. But above all else, making schmaltz simply is the sensible thing to do.

"We have this chicken, fat is useful and nutritious, and we're certainly not just going to throw it away," he says.
While schmaltz might not be convenience food, it ranks above all other fats in the most important categories. "Schmaltz has a flavor like no other fat," asserts Ruhlman. "It has a roasted flavor built right into it. It has much more flavor than pork fat, and it's remarkably versatile to cook with."

Latkes fried in schmaltz come out ridiculously crispy and delicious. Matzo balls made without schmaltz are substandard imposters, he says, and just try to whip up a respectable batch of chopped liver without a healthy dose of onion-infused chicken fat. Can't be done.

It's not just throat-clearing Jewish recipes like kreplach, kugel and kishke that benefit from schmaltz. It is equally delicious schmeared atop grilled bread, it turns humble spuds into the world's tastiest home fries and it transforms brioche from a cloyingly sweet treat into savory dinner rolls loaded with umami. Unbound by religious dietary restrictions, Ruhlman was free to uncover modern uses for the ancient fat.

"I wanted to be able to explore the uses of schmaltz and not be restricted by the way it was in the Old Country," he explains. "And let's face it: In the wrong hands, so much of Jewish cooking is terrible."

What made Schmaltz, the cookbook, so appealing a project for Ruhlman to tackle is that schmaltz, the ingredient, has become a useful, novel and appetizing new tool in his culinary tool belt. For a chef, can there be a better reward?


Traditional Chopped Liver
Recipe courtesy of Michael Ruhlman

Makes about 2 cups

Ruhlman says that good chopped liver is "every bit as fine as a French country pâté." If you are going to go to the trouble of making chopped liver, he adds, buy very fresh livers from a farmers market rather than the grocery store—it makes all the difference. Gribenes are the crispy bits of skin, meat and tissue that are the delicious byproduct of making schmaltz.—DT

Serve with toast or crackers along with some dill pickles or pickled red onions as a snack.

3 large eggs
¾ cup schmaltz, or more to taste
1 Spanish onion, thinly sliced
1 pound chicken livers
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sautéing the livers
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar (optional)
Gribenes (optional)

In a small saucepan, cover the eggs with 1 inch of water and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water reaches a full boil cover the pan and remove from heat. Let the eggs sit in the covered pan for 12–15 minutes, then place in an ice bath to cool.

Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt a third of the schmaltz and cook the onions in it until they're completely tender and on the brink of browning, 10–15 minutes. Transfer the cooked onions to a plate.
Add a little more schmaltz to the pan, increase the heat to high, and sauté the livers, salting them as you do, until they are warm throughout with just some pinkness remaining, 7–10 minutes.

Peel the eggs. Run all the ingredients through a meat grinder fitted with a small die into a mixing bowl. Add 1 teaspoon salt, the pepper and the vinegar and stir to combine. Stir in ½ cup of schmaltz plus the gribenes, if using (you can also wait and sprinkle them on top as a garnish) and continue to stir until all the ingredients are well incorporated. (This can also be done using a food processor.)

Taste it and add more schmaltz, salt, vinegar, and pepper as you wish. Chill completely.

"I love lemons!" exclaims WOSU radio host and producer Ann Fisher with the same passion she brings to her daily public-affairs talk show, All Sides. "I always have lemons—and butter and cream—in my refrigerator."

"Cooking gives me a different kind of focus for my brain," says the former Dispatch journalist, who says that about 10 of her shows a year are food-related. "I like the independence of cooking, and the freshness of the food."

A tattered 1969 paperback Betty Crocker cookbook provides recipes for many of the "gazillion" Christmas cookies that Ann bakes annually. She cans from her garden: "I made green tomato relish, and the whole house smelled like vinegar for a week!"

A self-described "latchkey kid," Ann's first humble cooking task was "putting cream cheese on the celery." Her maternal grandmother, a gourmet cook, owned a SubZero refrigerator and freezer before it was trendy and did not hesitate to serve the grandkids Baked Alaska.

"Everything was beautiful," Ann remembers, "but she was not a fun entertainer."

Her dad liked to execute complicated meals, but "he was a pig in the kitchen." Ann decided early on that she would be a relaxed cook and hostess who always cleaned up as she worked.

Ann's current favorite dish shows her mother's influence, with an emphasis on fresh and simple: "I like to pound down a chicken breast, season and sauté it with a little wine. I like to make sauces, and improvise. There's always a bottle of wine near the stove."

Ann Fisher's Grilled Pork Tacos with Avocado and Toasted Pecans
Serves 6

3 tablespoons lightly packed achiote paste
1 tablespoon chipotle purée
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ cup fresh lime juice (about 4 limes)
½ cup vegetable oil
2 pounds pork loin, sliced into rounds about ¼ inch thick
12 corn tortillas or small flour tortillas
2 ripe avocados, fruit crushed
1 cup toasted pecan pieces

Combine achiote paste, chipotle purée, cumin, lime juice and oil. Put pork in heavy-duty sealable plastic bag. Add marinade. Marinate for up to 24 hours. Keep chilled.
Divide tortillas into 2 piles. Sprinkle with water and wrap tightly in foil. Place on side of grill or campfire to warm for about 10 minutes.
Drain pork, then grill over medium-hot coals for 2–3 minutes per side. Stack pork and slice into strips.
Stuff pork in tortillas, then top with crushed avocado (salt and pepper to taste) and toasted pecan pieces.

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