A Cure for the Uncommon Salmon

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by Cathy Erway

What a luxurious working-day lunch. It’s casual and uncomplicated to make — an open-faced sandwich — but on top of this bread lies slices of home-cured wild-caught red Alaska salmon surrounded by jewels from the garden. Funny to think that cured salmon (not smoked, but similar in texture and taste, sans smokiness) was once a common luncheon meat for the working man before it became a delicacy. It’s produced through a quick and easy process of rubbing salt, sugar and other seasonings into the fish, and letting it draw out moisture over a couple days. So, fishermen of Scandinavia, or Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, would use this method to make their fresh catches keep longer over time. Overfishing led to the rarity of this fish and now most salmon is farmed (and, to the connoisseur, tastes nothing like its wild brethren). Now, wild-caught salmon from the only sustainable fishery left in the world, Alaska, commands more than tenderloin on the market. So how did I get my hands on this stuff, and why am I sharing it with everyone for lunch? I caught wind of a wild-caught Alaskan salmon CSA, and signed up as soon as I could.

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Posted in Recipes, Seafood

Donut Peach Donuts

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By Cathy Erway

It was so silly I had to do it. When I read that I would be getting a pint of donut peaches in the newsletter of my fruit CSA this week, the idea took hold of me: must make “donut peach donuts.” I just saw Inception like the rest of our society has, it seems, so I know more than ever now that when an idea is planted, it can grow and grow to take over your rational thought. 
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I dreamed and deliberated about how to make donut peach donuts. My first idea had been simple: make a peach jelly with the fresh fruit, and squeeze it in the middle of some sort of homemade donutty thing. Yeast-risen dough or cake-like dough? Both involved tons of steps, especially the yeast, which is actually my preferred donut type. Do I coat it with powdered sugar after it’s been deep-fried and done? Yuck… I know it’s classic, but I could never stand that fine dust of super-sweet. Maybe I don’t really want to make donuts after all? I hesitated.

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Posted in Baking, Produce

Cuke = Hot Dog Bun? Why Not?

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by Cathy Erway 

Perhaps it’s a maternal instinct of tucking things in, but I’m a fan of stuffing food inside other food. So when I signed up for the Great Hot Dog Cookoff for the third time this year, all I could think of was: what’s going to be the bun? 

Previous exploits in this cookoff, a benefit for City Harvest, had led me to roll up tofu dogs inside nori with sushi rice, bake a hot dog inside a flaky pastry with brie and raspberry jam, and steam Asian buns to put hoisin-slathered hot dogs inside. What was going to be the vessel for the almighty (and, in my opinion, otherwise boring) American barbecue food this year?  

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Posted in Produce

On Finding and Shucking Oysters

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by Cathy Erway

It was something I would have normally found awe-inspiring: a platter of freshly shucked oysters, placed ceremoniously on a chrome stand. The opened half shells dotted the perimeter of the dish, sunken into a bed of crushed ice. In the center lay lemon wedges and small cups of cocktail sauce, horseradish and vinaigrette, with spoons dug provocatively down in. In their pools of clear brine, the silver flesh of the oysters seemed to quiver gently even seconds after being set down, and their juices threatened to drip into the ice. These were served up at a well-heeled restaurant with much recent hype, no less, at a table that was the envy of every person waiting patiently outside. It was, by all standards, a real foodie’s dream. But it just wasn’t the same for me.  

You see, the day before, I had foraged for oysters on a calm and sandy beach. I wasn’t expecting to find them, nor the quahogs, hermit crabs and miniature shellfish that lay half-hidden at my feet. But I recognized the teardrop shape and craggy surface of the first oyster from afar, and spent the next hour or so peeling the beach for more. Once home, I shucked them open one by one, to enjoy with friends. I’d collected ten oysters in total, and they ranged wildly in stature: the smallest being the size of a baby’s ear and the largest one, a round and deep-bowled object that held a mouthful-sized mollusk. Some had translucent green strands of seaweed clinging to its shells, which I could never get off. One had another oyster shell impossibly stuck against it like a Siamese twin. Slipped into the mouth, some oysters gave with a subtle crunch, like a softened piece of cartilage, while others went down as a smooth, cold lobe of blubber. All of them were very easy to shuck. Perhaps it was this particular species, but the way the tiny crevice between the pointed ends of both shells – the sweet spot – gave so easily with the shove of a shucker made it seem as if they had been waiting to be opened, too.  

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Posted in Farming, Seafood

Spicing Up Butter––With Herbs

By Cathy Erway

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Before we get into the how, let’s talk about why you should make herbed butter. Herbs grow, a lot. It seems a shame not to enjoy their zingy, full flavors while they’re at their prime these hot months. Yes, you can dry out the leaves and use them all year, but this usually weakens or at least alters their flavor.

And I’m not saying don’t make tub after tub of pesto, but maybe your freezer is full of those already. You could even make a tincture, or try your hand at homemade perfume. But if you like to make bread, or serve it at dinner, then it’s fun to have a host of flavored butters on hand. And chopping up herbs, storing them in fat — butter — preserves their flavor, even stretches it, as it’ll permeate the whole glob. Continue reading

Posted in Farming

Wonderberry Jam, Take One

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by Cathy Erway 

[Cathy writes about Wonderberry Jam and much more on her new blog Lunch at Sixpoint. -mb]

One of the cool things about gardening is that you get to grow things that you didn’t even know existed. Browsing the catalog at Baker’s Creek, Seeds of Change or Seed Saver’s Exchange, some of my favorite sites to find crazy heirloom seeds, is like opening the door to a third dimension of food, where cantaloupes come in fifteen distinct shapes and flavors, and eggplant can be ghost-white, green, golden or red. Or rather, welcome to agriculture, pre-monoculture, again. Eight-ball zucchini, anyone? 

I still don’t know of anyone else who’s heard of wonderberries. They seem to have slipped through the cracks of popular food culture, and that was what probably compelled my boyfriend, Shane, to order seeds for the plant. From the start, it was one of the most prolific growers, beating its neighboring brassicas and lettuces in its race to regenerate. Branches and leaves multiplied. Flowers blossomed and withered in early spring. Now, we’re looking at three great bushes that seem to want to crawl out of their keg-containers and blanket the rooftop with berries. Maybe that’s why they were regarded with “wonder.” 

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Posted in American, Produce

Nothing Cools Like a Cuke

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by Cathy Erway 

(I have cooked cucumbers, and Ms. Erway is right: it’s kind of a mistake. – mb) 

Ever cooked a cucumber? Neither have I. I think it would resist heat, in fact, repelling hot droplets of oil like the incandescent aqua suit of Arnold Schwartzenegger’s Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin. I don’t think it would appreciate this blatant disrespect to its most vital asset, nor would its eater. Because no food is as cool as a cucumber.  

How funny, then, that it only grows in considerable heat? My first cucumbers of the season have finally managed to push from the vine, after waiting out the spring in relative silence. As soon as seventy- and eighty-degree days burst onto the scene, elegant white blossoms appeared on the plants. And now, the stubs of what will be summer’s heatwave helpers.  

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Posted in Produce

It’s Party Time: Make Dumplings!

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By Cathy Erway

My brother recently celebrated his 30th birthday. And just like his 29th and 28th, he celebrated with a dumpling party in his apartment. Friends showed up, having been told to bring any type of dumpling filling of their own, and after folding lessons and several rounds of pan-frying the party enjoyed “lasagna dumplings,” kielbasa and sauerkraut dumplings, and cream cheese, salmon and scallion dumplings, among other less-traditional varieties. We don’t think this is very strange at all: We toss out the books and invite any and all kinds of food combinations and cuisines inside a typical Chinese potsticker (guotie or jiaozi).

For us, there are no boundaries of taste when we’re making one of our favorite foods. We certainly didn’t inherit this inclination for unheard-of dumpling fillings from our Chinese mom, whose response to the latest creations was that they sounded “weird.” But I distinctly remember her squeezing out thawed, frozen spinach to chop into her pork dumpling filling, when she didn’t have the chance to get Napa cabbage from the Asian store. Nice one, mom. Now that I know to substitute with what’s available, I’ll make available everything.

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Posted in Chinese

Early Spring Vegetables Are Great on the Grill

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By Cathy Erway

[Cathy’s approach to early-season grilling. (I had to look up “appetant,” by the way.) – mb]

If your social calendar looks anything like mine, this weekend marks the debut of many appetent backyard owners’ barbecues. Seriously, don’t all shout at once! (Or do, but please stagger your times and locations conveniently, because I can’t wait to get to them all.)

So we all know and love to grill peppers, eggplant and corn on the cob, but since it’s still spring, our choices for local produce are more limited. Fear not, locavore: almost anything can be grilled. And better yet, slicked with a sweet-and-spicy sauce first. Just because spring and early summer vegetables don’t all have the vibrancy and flavor characteristic of those later on, with a little torching and some tweaking, they really shine. Here are some of my favorite, less-expected things to throw down.  Continue reading

Posted in Chinese, Produce

The Food System Has Changed Our Vernacular

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By Cathy Erway

[I’m a fan of Cathy Erway, the Brooklyn-based food writer who writes the blog, Not Eating Out in New York and is the author of The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove. She hosts the weekly podcast, Let's Eat In, on Heritage Radio Network, and is the proud watchkeeper of many rooftop plants and some chickens. – mb]

A friend of mine is learning to play piano. As his left hand hesitated on the keys, I shared a quick method of reading the sheet music, recalled from childhood lessons: “All cows eat grass.” From the bottom up, the notes in between the spaces on the bass clef are A-C-E-G. Knowing the phrase, you could talk your way up the staff until you had identified the correct note to hit. Only, it struck me right then how incorrect the acronym has become.

Not all cows eat grass nowadays. More commonly, they eat corn. Cows have not been evolved to digest corn, but it’s become the basic feed of industrial agriculture livestock. And, most of that corn has been genetically modified. 

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Posted in Farming