Vegan for meat-eaters, Make your own sumac

February 15, 2016 – February 21, 2015

Braised Carrots with Dill

Monday: Massimo Bottura’s Emilia Burger with Salsa Verde, Cauliflower w/ capers
Tuesday: Braised Carrots with Barley and Dill
Wednesday: Naples, FL – Pizza
Thursday: UPMC Winter Academy Cocktail Party – Mary Anne and Hoddy’s
Friday:  Michael’s Restaurant
Saturday: House blessing and mass (Fr.Drew ) at Helen and
Steve’s new condo, followed by cocktails and a wonderful
Dinner at Bayside, courtesy of Helen and Steve
Sunday: Seafood and Pasta buffet at Royal Poinciana
Drinks courtesy of Annie and Dennis
Dinner, courtesy of Mary Anne and Hoddy

(Housekeeping: A gaggle of wonderful half-Floridians are joining the blog this week. For these neophytes and for those of you who may never have taken the time to navigate the site, here are some basic tips. If you click on the “Keepers” button at the top of the page, you will be taken to a list of all the dishes we’ve touted since the blog went on-line. If you see anything that intrigues you, click on the date (it will be in blue) and you’ll be taken to the blog-posting and recipes for that week. You might also want to click on the “About” button (how we got started cooking), the “Cookbook” button (short reviews of the books about cooking we couldn’t do without), or the “Restaurant” button. Note: a half-Floridian is someone who has a home in Florida and a residence in Pittsburgh. We should all be so lucky.)

Last week was simply, emphatically, overwhelmingly, we-were-not-worthy great. Look – Adam and Eve had some good innings in Eden, running around naked and naming the animals  before eating the apple (I do want to ask them someday about the word “gnu”), and Napoleon and Josephine had some high times before Waterloo – but we spent most of last week in Naples, FL, as guests of Mary Anne and Hoddy, and I’d stack that up against Adam and Eve, the Napoleons, and the Shah of Iran back in the good days. Not only did we have an interesting, active visit (the University of Pittsburgh Winter Academy, golf, conversations about everything, walks along the beach) but we ate some incredible food.

The fried lobster appetizers at Helen and Steve’s regal dinner at Bayside, after the house blessing of their spectacular new condo – the raw bar at the Royal Poinciana – the short ribs appetizers at Mary Anne and Hoddy’s massive cocktail party on Thursday (only one or two bars in Pittsburgh serve that many drinks on a busy night). But – in spite of the wondrous food and the wondrous time – our keeper of the week is a vegan dish based on the humble, or maybe not so humble, carrot.

Why, you are asking, in the midst of so much great food, would we choose carrots for a main course? Well, for one thing, carrots are easy to find in Pittsburgh – lobsters not so much. For another, we can’t cook like the crew at Bayside, chef Seth (cocktail party on Thursday), or the crew at the Royal Poinciana. It is a matter of proportion, not getting ahead of yourself and remembering your roots and your root vegetables.

Personally, I have always classified vegan dishes as either penitential (‘for lent I will be eating only kale and quinoa’) or boring and bland. Well, you’d better hold on to your Neanderthal taste buds when you dig into this one. This is not a side dish – it is too rich to serve with, for example the “Extra” chicken dish (also below)

Naples

But before the recipes, I have to say something about the setting of Naples, Florida, surely, one of the finest on earth. Compare a picture of Rio with the stretch of Gulf shore from Naples to Fort Myers. The only things missing are Sugar Loaf Mountain and pickpockets. From Mary Anne and Hoddy’s magnificent home, you have a panoramic view of the Gulf and as I sit here thinking about the last few days, I can see the Gulf waters stretching from the bone-white beach to the horizon and running from plate-glass green through bottle-green (think Heineken) to teal, through every shade of blue-green to blue, just at the horizon. Along the shore where the sun hits the shallow water, the green is phosphorescent (it looks like it’s lit from beneath). The range of shades changes from hour to hour and day to day. I could hang out here for a decade or two.

Naples Beach

Now to the keeper of the week:

Braised Carrots with Barley and Dill, pictured at top of post (understated name for a dish that packs addictive waves of flavor). This dish takes a bit of work (though it is not complicated cooking), but it’s worth it. The result will delight you, your family, your guests, and Alice Waters, who has been a consistent advocate (annoyingly so) for this sort of cooking.

Supplies for 4 diners:
For the braised carrots
12 Carrots, peeled and ends trimmed (Important – you should get smallish to medium-sized carrots and instead of peeling, clean them – you’ll need to use your fingers at the top of the carrot where the fronds connect, and clean gently so that the fronts don’t break off – I trim a bit of the root and clip off the leaves but leave 2 inches or so of green sprouting from the top of the carrot). Note: if you get smaller or baby carrots get up to 24.
2 Quarts chicken or beef broth
1 bunch thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
3 Tablespoons grapeseed oil
For the carrot miso purée:
1 lb. of carrots (the small bag at the grocery is usually 1 lb.) peeled and sliced into rounds. Do peel these.
3 Tablespoons grapeseed oil
2.5 Cups carrot juice
½ Tablespoon miso paste (this is usually kept in the dairy case)
Salt
For the barley salad:
2 Cups barley
4 Cups Chicken broth
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons minced shallots
1 bay leaf
Sea Salt
Lemon juice to taste – I’d use a whole lemon
Chopped chives and fronds from 1 bunch of dill
For the vinaigrette:
Juice of 2 Meyer lemons (I used regular lemons)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea Salt
2 Tablespoons mascarpone or heavy cream
Note: This recipe is all about mîse-en-place,
i.e., preparing all the ingredients, chopping,
measuring and having things ready before you
start. If you do that, the cooking will go well.
If you don’t, you will be overwhelmed.

Cooking (About 1.5 hours)
Preheat oven to 350.
Braise the carrots: Heat grapeseed oil over medium-high in a large lidded pan you can later put into the oven. When hot cook carrots, turning until mahogany on all sides or most sides (don’t burn). Transfer to paper-towel lined plate.
Wipe pan and return to high heat. Return carrots, add broth, thyme and bay leaves and bring to a gentle simmer, then cover pan and put into oven and cook for between 10 and 20 minutes, until carrots are tender. (Our oven did this in about 12 minutes). Note: Your pan will be very full – I put mine on a rimmed cookie sheet to avoid spillage. Transfer carrots to a platter.
Meanwhile, make the purée by heating grapeseed oil in a wide pan over medium heat. Add carrots and a pinch of salt and sweat, stirring, until soft but not brown – about 10 minutes. Add carrot juice and cook until juice reduces so much that the pan looks dry (I turned up the heat to speed this up). Carrots should be mushy. Transfer carrots and cooking liquid to a blender or food processer and purée, then add miso and with motor running, drizzle in a little more grapeseed oil until emulsified. Set aside, but keep warm (cover with foil, put on stove or into oven after carrots have been removed and oven is turned off.)
Prepare barley:
Heat oil in a large skillet over low. Add shallots and sweat, then add barley and stir to coat and toast for 2 minutes. Add stock and bay leaf and bring to a simmer and cook about 15 minutes (barley is still firm but yielding). Season with salt and cook about 10 more minutes until barley is tender. Drain and let cool to room temperature.
Make vinaigrette
Whisk lemon juice, olive oil and salt and mascarpone in a bowl. Add more oil if too lemony.
To Serve – Finally!
Season barley with sea salt and a squirt of lemon juice. Garnish with chives. Arrange carrot purée, braised carrots and barley on each plate. Drizzle vinaigrette over carrots and barley (sparingly). Garnish with dill. You will not believe how good this tastes until you try it.

Extra: The beauty of lacking sumac – Roast Chicken

Sumac Chicken

Once again, we found ourselves unable to find the North African spice ‘sumac,’ and used our new favorite spice – lemon zest and salt – as a substitute. The results have been spectacular – the heck with sumac.

The occasion was the arrival of the delightful, but picky, Mary Ann McKnight at Mary Anne and Hoddy’s place. We were tired of restaurants and decided to cook some Sole Riviera (see last week’s keeper), but Mary Ann M. does not eat fish. We decided to roast a chicken and found a new recipe which called for sumac – trust me, the lemon zest and salt are more than adequate. Mix about 6 tablespoons of softened butter with the zest of one lemon and 3 pinches of salt. Loosen the skin on the breast and legs of a chicken and stuff the mixture under that skin. Stuff the cavity with some onion and/or lemon, then rub the chicken with a little olive oil and place on a bed of halved new potatoes and quartered onions (about 4) which you have spread on a rimmed cookie sheet and roast.  You will have a moist chicken with crisp skin and savory potatoes and onions – and all without sumac.