My Problem With Preserving

by Anne Maxfield on June 15, 2015

Accidental Locavore Saucisson Wrapped I don’t know how much preserving you’ve done, but the Accidental Locavore is pretty much a novice when it comes to anything more than some simple pickles. And preserving meat through drying has always been difficult, mostly because there aren’t any safe (meaning free from potential hungry rodents) places to hang things where there is some sort of temperature control. But there are a few nooks and crannies for me to play with when it’s cold out.

Accidental Locavore Saucisson CuringWhen I saw a recipe recently from Jacques Pépin for saucisson of pork, I thought it might be worth a try. It was early March, the temperature in my tool room is pretty consistent and there are places to hang meat where it should be safe from marauders. Made with pork tenderloin (and coming from Jacques) it seemed so incredibly simple that I was willing to sacrifice a tenderloin to the charcuterie gods.

You cure the pork in a salt mixture overnight, wipe it dry, sprinkle it with Cognac and Herbs de Provence, wrap it in cheesecloth or muslin and hang it to dry for 5-6 weeks. Nothing to it, right? So I left it hanging from a light fixture and forgot about it.

Accidental Locavore Saucisson SecSearching for a light bulb, I saw my saucisson dangling, a sliver of its former self. It had been a little over a month, and it seemed firm (Jacques says “I like them when they are still a little soft, not too dry”). I cut it down.

Accidental Locavore Sliced SaucissonFirm is an understatement! This thing was really dried. Slicing it, even with a really sharp knife, was close to impossible. I managed to get a few slices so we could taste it. Chewing it was almost as hard as cutting it was! Now, all of this would have been workable if we were tasting something delicious (and you know we love charcuterie), but it was unbelievably salty! Somewhere in the directions, Jacques forgot to say to rinse the pork really well before wiping it dry. Going against my instincts (I’ve made the salty charcuterie mistake before) to rinse it and actually following the recipe proved to be a huge mistake!

If the dog wasn’t supposed to be on a diet, he might have been the beneficiary of what we were calling pork jerky, but sadly, it made a quick trip to the bottom of the trash can. Even more sadly, now that the weather is finally getting better, it’s going to be too warm to try another for at least another six months. Oh well, I’ll just have to go hit some golf balls.




The Zen of Wild Asparagus

by Anne Maxfield on May 4, 2015

Accidental Locavore Wild AsparagusSometimes something simple makes you step back and focus. For the Accidental Locavore, it was hunting wild asparagus in Istria. There, wild asparagus are everywhere, but if you’re not looking you can easily walk past acres of them. Our hunt started in Golaš, by the winery San Tommaso. Accidental Locavore San Tommaso WineryWe got a briefing from Goran and Janja on how to pick them (snap off from just above the ground) and learned that the harpoon-like tool he picked up wasn’t for asparagus, but snakes – never a good sign!

Accidental Locavore Wild IrisWandering out towards the woods, we passed by beautiful clumps of iris, growing wild by old stone walls. Further out in the countryside, Goran showed us what to look for. Usually there are feathery clumps of greenery, like its cultivated cousin. Then you have to really focus in and look for the elusive spears. In the wild, asparagus is well camouflaged. It blends in and looks like grass. Accidental Locavore Another Wild AsparagusI don’t think I ever found a green spear, just purple ones because they stood out a little from the rest. Goran and Janja just cruised along stopping every couple of feet to pick a stalk or two. After a while, when you’ve really begun to focus in, it does become easier and then you start to see them everywhere. Luckily, the same could not be said for snakes!

Accidental Locavore Goran With AsparagusWhen we had a nice bunch we headed back to the winery to prepare them. Once rinsed, Janja told us to snap off the tips and the next section (about an inch or two). That made a nice bowlful that was split between two dishes. Sneaking a nibble, I noticed that they were much more bitter than the larger, cultivated ones we get, but still tasting like asparagus.

Accidental Locavore Istrian BaconFirst up: scrambled eggs with wild asparagus, bacon and Parmesan. The asparagus was cooked in the fat from the bacon and set aside. Once the (dozen) farm-fresh eggs were scrambled the bacon and asparagus were added back in and topped with cheese. Paired with a Malvazija, it was a well-deserved and delicious dish!

Accidental Locavore Scrambled Eggs With AsparagusNext up: risotto with wild asparagus. This time, onions were sautéed in local olive oil and the rice added. Much stirring and twenty minutes later, the asparagus went in and a sprinkle of Parmesan finished off the dish. The rice was perfectly al dente and the asparagus gave a nice, slightly bitter bite to the dish that was offset by the cheese. A Terran, the local red grape, was the perfect accompaniment.

Accidental Locavore Risotto With AsparagusWe don’t often get to forage for our food and thankfully we don’t need to. However, sometimes it’s good to put aside the big city malaise of going, going, going and take time and regard the surroundings. Who knows what you’ll find?

Accidental Locavore San Tommaso WinesIf you’re interested, San Tommaso does tours and other lunches when asparagus aren’t in season. Pasta with truffles and charcuterie are some of the other choices. They’re flexible and Janja will work with you to make it memorable (but the asparagus are a really good reason to go in the spring!).



Croatia Through Wine and Food

by Anne Maxfield on March 9, 2015

Accidental Locavore Croatian WinesThere’s always a tipping point, isn’t there? The Accidental Locavore is hoping this was it—a dinner celebrating the food and wines of Croatia at Delmonico’s—that would finally get us to pull the trigger and visit a country that has been on our list for ages.

You may wonder why Delmonico’s, one of those New York/Wall Street institutions, but it makes perfect sense when you learn that the owners hailed from that part of the world. It was a boisterous group (too many cases of cabin fever?), invited to explore the incredible variety of Croatian cuisine with a seven-course dinner with wines (and the winemakers).

Accidental Locavore Croatian CharcuterieWhen we sat down, there was a beautiful platter of charcuterie—meats, cheeses and olives. One of the many outstanding sausages on the plate was Kulen, which is also the first Croatian food product with protected origin. It’s got a wonderful, slightly coarse texture and a little bit of spice from hot paprika. I could have eaten nothing but that and gone home happy, but I paced myself and even restrained from popping a few extra slices in my pocket. According to the Croatian Eno-Gastronomy magazine we were given, “the sausage is always accompanied by excellent wines,” and the first of several white wines, a Grasevina Galić, certainly fit the bill.

Accidental Locavore Croatian MusselsDistracting us from the charcuterie was a lovely bowl of mussels cooked in white wine with roast garlic, lemon, butter and herbs – delicious! Where the first wine was closer to a Riesling, this one was a Chardonnay from Vina Laguna.

Accidental Locavore Croatian PastaNext up, one of my favorite dishes of the evening – fuži, a homemade pasta (think of a diamond shape rolled into a tube) with wild mushrooms, truffles and Parmesan. Earthy with the mushrooms and truffles, it was just a wonderful simple pasta and if I had known Croatia had truffles (both black and white), we might have gone there long ago. With the pasta – a Malvazij from Kozlovic Winery, which we were fortunate to be given a bottle of. According to the label, “it is the perfect wine to serve with truffle pasta,” and it was!

I don’t know if it was just because I was so in love with the fuži, but the lemon sole that was the following course was my least favorite of the evening. Hard to do something that delicate for a large group, but it did show off the Istrian olive oil nicely. The wine, a Pošip from Stina Vineyards, has a stunning label (check it out here on their site) and went well with the fish.

Accidental Locavore Croatian PrawnsSwitching to red wines, the first one was a Plavac from Miloš and it was paired with what they referred to as scampi (but we probably consider it a prawn) in a buzara sauce. The scampi was sweet and tender and the sauce had tomatoes, garlic and breadcrumbs, which went well with the prawns and stood up to the red wine.

Accidental Locavore Croatian LambYes, we’re still eating…. Last on the savory side was a huge broiled lamb chop with potatoes and a few carefully plated green beans. It was a fabulous piece of Croatian lamb, perfectly cooked and just delicious. Unfortunately, by this point most of us were pretty full, but we managed to do justice to a great piece of meat. There were a couple of reds that they poured with the lamb, a Dingač Bura and a red from Kozlovic, their Santa Lucia. Maybe I’d just had enough (ok, more than enough) by then, but both of the reds had a nose like anchovies which made them a little tough to enjoy.

Finally, on to dessert – a warm apple strudel with ice cream. It was just the right bite of something sweet to end on, and the dessert wine (yes, we’re still drinking), Bibich Ambra, had strong notes of butterscotch, making it a perfect match to the apples.

And have we booked a trip? Not yet, and now that I have all the great information from the Croatian National Tourist Board , there are so many places that look amazing it may take us some time to narrow down where and what we want to see. Or, we may just do what we usually do and simply hit the road and see where it takes us.






Raclette (Yes, Again. Can’t Get Enough)

by Anne Maxfield on January 5, 2015

Accidental Locavore French Cheese PlatterComing on the heels of a recent Wall Street Journal piece about the lack of RSVP’s, the Accidental Locavore was only a little surprised to see so few people at a recent gathering. It was a raclette dinner for journalists at the French Cheese Board. The minute I finished reading the invitation my RSVP was sent!

As it turned out, it was a fun, intimate dinner with a bunch of raclette-crazed people along with a couple of newbies (to raclette) who quickly got into the spirit.

Accidental Locavore AppetizersWe were greeted with glasses of Crémant d’Alsace Prestige Brut, a lovely sparkling wine, and Fromager d’Affinois, a soft, creamy cheese, similar to brie. When we sat down at the table, there was a trio of appetizers. The simplest was a skewer of orange and red grape tomatoes sandwiching a morsel of the garlic and herb Fromager d’Affinois. Next to that was a small serving of butternut squash soup with the truffled version melting into it. The third was a slice of baguette with le Fromage Fouetté, a mild whipped cheese, used as a base for a tuna mousse. All three were delicious and easily duplicated at home (which is what the French Cheese Board is hoping you will do).

Accidental Locavore Making RacletteRaclette is traditionally made by holding half a wheel of cheese over a fire and scraping the melted part onto a plate with potatoes, charcuterie and cornichons. Since that’s not always practical (or legal starting January 1st— no more log fires in a fireplace in Paris!), restaurants will have an electric melter, designed to hold a quarter or half-wheel of cheese. What you usually find here are small trays that fit over a few votive candles, but they lack the drama of the big apparatus. I was happy to see the long table set with raclette machines strategically placed along with the smaller trays.

Accidental Locavore Raclette and CharcuterieAs is traditional, bowls of steamed (Yukon Gold) potatoes and plates of charcuterie were passed around as we waited for the cheese to melt. We let the newbies have the first go and they were quickly hooked! The rest of us didn’t have long to wait as the cheese on the big holders not only melted faster, but was tastier, as it started to bubble and brown. The Riesling (a 2012 Réserve from Willm) we had to go along with it was a great pairing.

Accidental Locavore French CheesecakeDessert (yes, we made it to dessert), was the time for the whipped cheese to shine. It was used in a lovely cheesecake with a surprise layer of apple and “frosted” with yogurt. Delicious and surprisingly light – a nice finish.

To prove that all of the recipes were easily prepared (remember, they want Americans to start cooking with their cheeses), all the food was made in the FCB kitchen by the reps from Interval. Email me for copies of the recipes or you can pick them up at the French Cheese Board. The Fromager d’Affinois is pretty easy to find (Murray’s, Zabar’s, Amazon), the Fromage Fouetté is exclusive to Whole Foods and the Raclette in pre-cut slices is at Trader Joes. Don’t worry that you don’t have the big melter, I’ve done raclette successfully at home with ramekins under the broiler (and plan on doing just that with the slices they sent me home with).