Sunday, April 13, 2008

Kitchen Gardening

Last summer, Fufu and I bought a house with a fairly large backyard. There, you could find a few large wooden boxes where semi-abandoned vegetables were still growing among the weeds: asparagus, peppers, tomatoes and squashes. Even though the garden was in poor shape, we nonetheless enjoyed what could be salvaged from it. Our then less than 6 months old son even tasted his first vegetables directly in the garden with surprising delight. A berry patch, further away, also provided us with a few late raspberries and two apple trees, on the front yard, offered us a bounty of delicious fruits latter in the fall.

A survey of the property confirmed the presence of many perennial herbs including an overabundance of mint as well as a few other surprises: rhubarb, strawberries, cherries and grapes. We knew that with a little bit of work we could turn the place into our own little garden of Eden. After painstakingly removing the weeds in the existing boxes, we built a few more beds, expanded the area devoted to growing raspberries and blackberries, planted about 10 blueberry bushes, 2 gooseberry bushes, 2 black currant bushes, 2 pear trees and 2 plum trees and started to make plans for the next season.

This winter has been exceptionally long and record amounts of snow buried everything. Now, that spring is finally setting in, we just can’t hide our excitement. We already started our seedling for the next season: 6 kinds of tomatoes, 10 of chili and peppers, 4 types of onions, 2 of eggplants, etc. We even decided to try plants that normally require a much warmer climate and longer growing season such as artichoke. We will see what work and what does not but we have high hopes for harvest season.

Since I see my gardening efforts as being an extension of my culinary education, I hope to post a few updates on my gardening adventures on this blog over the course of the growing season and I welcome any comments regarding the cultivation of fruits and vegetables.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Eating bones

Everyone knows that bones are what give a stock its body and richness which in the hands of a skillful cook can turn into lip smacking sauces. The delicious gelatin extracted from bones through a long simmer is what most people are longing for when cooking bones; the marrow probably comes as a close second, particularly in dishes like osso bucco or a bordelaise sauce.

Bone marrow is deliciously fat in a way that can be reminiscent of foie gras or butter.
This, of course, means that we should not eat too much of it if we want to stay minimally fit which is not too difficult since it is getting harder and harder to find.

In my opinion, bone marrow is better when very fresh, unlike most red meat which generally tend to get better when aged properly. The most available and best source of marrow will come from leg bones. Veal and beef are the usual source of bone marrow but lamb, goat, and any largish animal should not be dismissed.

To extract bone marrow, for a bordelaise sauce for instance, you either need to ask your butcher to split the bones lengthwise or poach sections of the bones for a few minutes until you can poke the marrow out with your fingers.

Another easy and extremely popular way of eating bone marrow, thanks to Fergus Henderson, consists of roasting marrow bones upright for a few minutes (15-20 minutes at 375 degrees). The nose-to-tail eating chef would serve the bones with toasts and parsley salad but you can certainly try mashed potatoes and pickles if this is what you have at hand. My only attempt so far followed Henderson’s indications religiously and was delicious.

This very recipe even found its way to the front page of Jennifer McLagan’s excellent book: Bones: Recipes, History, and Lore.

You can find Fergus Henderson’s recipe here.