A few years ago I read an article in Psychology Today about the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain thet controls rational thought, and how it doesn’t mature until we’re about 25. Not being one to take responsibility for much, I’ve blamed every irrational thing I’ve done since then on my undeveloped mind… especially my tendency to impulse buy. So my prefrontal cortex was hard at work at the farmer’s market last week when I bargained a vendor down to the only $2.60 I had in my wallet for a bunch of 10 ramps without the slightest clue in the whole world what they were or what I was going to do with them. After calling my mother and hearing her speculation on the potential reasons that ramps (also known as wild leeks) “never really caught on” I walked away thinking, “Oh my Lord, what have I done…”
That is, of course, a total lie. I was excited out of my mind. As a student, it’s my job to learn about mysterious things, and since I figured lots of you are probably in the same boat as me, it seemed like a great opportunity to learn alongside you. There’s not a multitude of information about them, but here’s what I was able to discern. Ramps haven’t “not caught on,” it just happens that they barely have a growing season, and they only grow in the Eastern United States. They have a wonderful scent, strong, garlicky and sweet, that reminds me of the random chives my friends and I used to pick in our front yard growing up. Which is a cool coincidence, because they’re completely undomesticated. They’re highly valued among foragers, and apparently a lot of them are very secretive about where they find them (kind of like mushroom harvesters). They’re especially popular in West Virginia and Quebec, and can be found everywhere from South Carolina to Canada.
So how do you cook with them? The farmer’s market told me that you use them just as you’d use leeks or chives. Which is odd, because you use leeks and chives really differently. And predictably, the truth lies somewhere in between. I’d say you use them in about the quantities you’d use scallions, but they have a much smoother flavor than scallions. The best way to cook them is to chop them up and sautee them in butter for about 2-3 minutes until they get soft (about 1 tbsp butter for one bunch of 10-ish ramps) and then use them in a simple dish that will really highlight their flavor, so they won’t get lost, and you get the biggest bang for your ramp buck. You can use the white and green parts (I couldn’t figure out if that includes the red, in between bit – does anybody know anything about that?), and they can go with everything from salmon to soup to risotto.
But this being my first ramp experience, I decided to take things as simple as I could, and harken back to one of my favorite childhood dinners. Whenever we were in a rush, or had nothing good in the house for dinner, I knew I could always count on PastaGarlicAndCheese (pronounced as one word, like LMNOP), a simple but dependable combination of spaghetti, olive oil or butter, garlic and Parmesan. And even today, it’s probably my favorite dinner in a lazy pinch. Sometimes, if I’m feeling ambitious, I add peas, tomatoes or whatever I have in the house, but if I don’t there’s really nothing lost. So I decided that since I wanted to highlight the ramps, and I only had the one bunch, I was going to keep the sentiment, but replace the garlic with my sauteed ramps. I also crumbled in some goat cheese for added fancy factor. And oh my goodness was it good. Simple, easy and delicious.
The whole point of this recipe is that there is none. My one bunch of 10 ramps was probably good for 1/3 of a pound of pasta, but beyond that just add however much cheese makes you happy, and then top it with a little drizzle of olive oil. If you want to add other vegetables, just add more ramps so you can be sure you’ll be able to taste them. And if you’re a ramp enthusiast and have something special you like to do with them, let me know and I’ll be sure to try it out!
UPDATE MAY 3rd – Bizarre fact, but the New York Times just published an article on teenage minds! Check out the article here :)
If I do nothing else in this post, I have to issue an apology to Nach Waxman, the infinitely wonderful owner of Kitchen Arts and Letters, for taking (count them) eighteen months almost to the day to publish an article about his awesome Upper East Side store. I could have had two babies in that time. And it’s especially especially since I promised (I kid you not) that I would get it up the weekend after our interview. I haven’t been back in since, because I told myself I wouldn’t until I finished the article. You have no idea how hard it is to stay away from a place like that. Shame drives me to do crazy things. So I’m sorry Nach. Your store is amazing, and you’ll be seeing me again soon.
There are a million things to say about Kitchen Arts and Letters, but I’ve taken so long to write this post because I just couldn’t figure out what I had to add to the mix. When I found this store on my way to babysitting all those months ago, I naively thought I had discovered something, and I was totally ready to scoop the world. I very quickly found out that Eric Ripert (head chef at Le Bernadin) had named Kitchen Arts and Letters one of his top three things about New York he couldn’t live without. And that because of that NBC did a special on them that had run in every taxi in New York. Nach said that after this, people began pouring in from everywhere. “We get a lot of overseas customers, and about a year ago this woman came in,” he told me. “Marvelous looking, distinguished looking woman with some inscrutable accent I couldn’t make out and she started asking me a lot of questions, and I said, ‘Sure, I’m happy to talk with you, what is this about?’ She was the editor of the leading food magazine in Finland. So an article ran in Finnish.” So much for scooping the world.
So I thought about writing a simple article where I just talked about the amazing and eclectic selection of New and Used books he carries, on every topic, by every author, in every language I don’t speak. Or about the staff who will help you find anything from The Joy of Cooking to topics so specific you can’t even imagine them. Take this quite for illustration: “We used to carry, and unfortunately it’s not in print anymore, but we used to carry a book on kayak cooking. It was just food that served people on Kayak trips.” So I thought about telling you about all that (so hard that it would appear I just did) (clever, no?). But as I thought back on our conversation, I realized I was missing something much bigger.
You see, the thing about Kitchen Arts and Letters is it tells us something awesome and important about food: there’s something in it for absolutely everybody. Nach, who doesn’t much care for cooking from recipes, is very adamant that his store is not a cookbook store, despite how many they carry. “Actually less than half of the store is cookbooks,” he told me. “The other half is books about food: food culture, food science, food economics, agriculture, fiction with food themes, we carry a book called Food and the Theater of Moliere. We carry books on restaurant accounting; we carry books on almost anything.”
As I perused the store I really did find books on every subject imaginable – ethics, art, farming, eating and so much laughing. There’s no reasonable person who couldn’t find something of interest in a store like that, even though it seems like such a specific theme. And since this brilliant store specializes in only the one thing, everyone who works there is a wealth of knowledge and can easily talk to you for just about forever on whatever it is that floats your culinary boat. “Very very few books ever sell here without conversation,” Nach told me. This, he says, is one of the most important parts of his business. He has a website, but it is distinctly not for mail-ordering. “We decided quite specifically to not have online ordering because it forces you to do things that we don’t want to do, like canned descriptions of books,” he said. And so even if you don’t know what part of the food world you fit into, Kitchen Arts and Letters can help you figure that out, in a way that the internet, for all its good points, never could.
Kitchen Arts and Letters, as a store, pretty much sums up our entire life philosophy. When we tell people we want to help them Find their Inner Gourmet, we mean we want to help people find the part of food that sings to them. Food is the only art we have to encounter every single day, several times a day, and since we don’t get a choice about it, it’s a good thing there’s something for everyone to love, whether it be good writing, photography, community service or, yes, cooking. If you’re in New York, you really have to check this place out. The store is located at 1435 Lexington Avenue (between 93rd and 94th), and you can find out more at their website www.kitchenartsandletters.com.
Happy National Grilled Cheese Day! Since we’re on a Hunger Games kick, this sandwich is also inspired by our culinary book of the month. It’s a hybrid between the fruit-and-nut bread with goat cheese that Gale and Katniss eat at the beginning of the first book, and the apple and goat cheese tarts that Peeta serves at his bakery. If you haven’t read Hunger Games, then this is just an unaffiliated, super classy Grilled Goat Cheese Sandwich on Cranberry Pecan Bread with Apples. Enjoy!
I tried to take a real picture of it… but *somebody* kept eating it during my photoshoot. I got what I could ;)
I apologize if this post comes out a little incoherent, but if it does, you can blame it on Suzanne Collins and how I haven’t been sleeping. On the suggestion of absolutely everyone, I finally started reading the Hunger Games books a few weeks ago and several sleepless nights later I had finished the first one. And when I finished and began deeply reflecting, I realized that Suzanne’s ultimate goal must have been to make her readers hungry. I was hungry for more book, because my sister was harboring the other two in Connecticut, I was hungry for a visual, since the movie had not yet come out, and most of all, I was hungry for the Lamb Stew with Dried Plums that Katniss waves in our faces at least ten times over the course of the book. The Capitol (bad guys) may be the epitome of evil, but it would appear they really know how to eat.
I would know, because I’ve had that stew, or at least my mom’s perfect rendition, a million times before. It’s my family’s resident Jewish Holiday Meal – we make it every Passover and Rosh Hashannah and then some. There’s a reason that, even when she has chance, Katniss consistently picks this – if the Capitol version is anything like mom’s, it doesn’t pay to be creative. You just can’t do better. My craving was sadly unappeased by the otherwise excellent movie, which ignored the culinary scene altogether. So when I called home last Wednesday to plan my upcoming weekend in Connecticut, I could only think of the one thing vital to my survival.* With three extremely important holidays (Easter, Passover, My Birthday) to observe in three extremely short days, I was terrified that maybe we’d had to abandon our tradition in favor of simpler options. So when mom affirmed that we were, indeed, having Lamb Stew for Friday night dinner all I wanted to do was sing it to the world. “Ah ha!” I thought. “The movie is still relatively new and buzzworthy… I’m going to capitalize on this to the max.” And so, dear readers, I would like to ask that you get very excited right about now, because I am about to change your life forever. This stew, which actually hails from somewhere in North Africa, is succulent, savory and satisfying. The sweet tartness of the plums make it perfect for autumn, the substantialness of it makes it amazing in winter, and the tenderness of the lamb makes it sing all the way through late Spring. It is great for any day, though we like to save this one for Holidays, since it’s perfect for Easter, for Passover and, of course, for any extremely important birthday. I certainly ate some of it every day this weekend. And the recipe is below, right before your very eyes!
Consider our gift to you, for whatever holiday (or lack thereof) you celebrated last weekend. If you’re Christian I hope the Easter Bunny brought you as much chocolate as he brought Francesca, if you’re Jewish I hope you remember that butter and honey make Matzah palatable, if you’re a half-and-half like me, I hope you’re a bit less confused than I am, and whoever you are I hope you celebrated my birthday in style. Happy Passover, Happy Easter, Happy Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favor.
*I would not last long in the Hunger Games
Isabella and I wasted like 3 hours water-coloring eggs yesterday … something in all of us misses the sickly off colors of food-coloring eggs but we were super proud of these ones, so we decided to put them to good use and share them with the world. Also, for future reference, you can water-color eggs. Happy Easter everybody!
You may have been wondering whatever happened to the mommy part of Fig Test Kitchen? Did teaching a full load of cooking classes, several appearances/fundraisers a month, raising six, fifteen and nineteen year olds (oh yes, Gabrielle still needs me!) (note from GOS – Oh puh-lease… Also I’m 20 now ;) Happy Birthday to Me!), and singlehandedly taking care of a house finally, you ask, just put me over the edge? Well obviously, but that’s nothing new. But I talked to all of my super-organized friends who are, in fact, the opposite of me… methodical tall, athletic and sometimes blond. I’ve taken a lot of their advice, and gotten my life at least somewhat in order. As you may know from the first two videos posted recently we’re starting with the basics – salt, equipment, spices, and moving toward easy recipes before we’ll finally move on to stuff like seared duck breasts or Persian jeweled rice. What all this means is, I’m back on the blog.
But you want recipes. And I made pancakes! We’ve had an unusually early and beautiful spring here in New Haven, and I’ve been thinking about flowers. I was making creme fraiche pancakes during a cooking demo at the Elm City Market in New Haven and lavender just hit me. And a recipe was born. Creme fraiche is rich and creamy like sour cream (it actually has a higher fat content), but a bit more tart. Perfect for pancakes. Combine it with chocolate and lavender, you get pancakes that are fragrant, sweet and irresistible. Here’s what you need to do:
First, you will need to gather the ingredients and make sure your ingredients are in place, measured and ready to go. Believe me it pays to do, especially when baking. It seems like an extra step, but it saves so much time in the long run, and keeps you organized. You don’t want to add the baking powder twice. Not that we’ve ever done that…
Chop the dark chocolate to any size you like. I wasn’t done chopping when I took this photo, I’m just posting it because I like it. They were eventually the size of the chocolate in vanilla chocolate chip ice cream. Obviously you can use store-bought chocolate chips if you want.
Once you have all your ingredients measured and ready, add all the dry ingredients in a medium size bowl and whisk well.
Then add all of the wet ingredients in a separate bowl
And blend with a hand mixer or immersion blender or whisk. Then add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and mix once again. Do not overmix or your pancakes will be tough. Then add the chocolate chunks and stir gently with a spatula until just combined.
After melting unsalted butter in a large skillet, pour about a ¼ cup of batter per pancake, and cook on the first side for about two minutes, until light brown. Turn over to cook the second side for about another minute until light brown.
Find some plates, and serve with or without syrup.
Here is the full recipe. Enjoy your breakfast, enjoy the birds chirping, and welcome spring in style.
Silly skibur skiburs, we would never abandon you like that. Besides all that Swëedish took way too long to translate. (Ï think it måy häve përmånently damagëd my keybørd…) Hope everyone had a wonderfully prank filled day!
Also, on a totally unrelated note, we’re relatively newly on twitter! Find us by clicking the twitter button in the top left column, or by looking up @figtestkitchen. And don’t forget to follow us so you never have to miss our ever-witty quips!
Deer Skibur Skiburs,
Toodee is yoor-a luooky dee! Der Figee Tëst Kitchen is reådee tø return-skiburn tø eets Europinski rootsi-tootsi, ånd we’va begüon to transkiblåte deesa bluøg eento Sweedish ïn hønör øf oür fåvorit chëf! Git reådee für lootsa fishee chøwder, hotsee-totsee, ünd flipfloppin die flappenjacken! If yoo-a døn’t spëåk Sweedish, yoo-a shuood leårn-skiburn. Yoo-a døn’t wänt to meess die mëåtbälls!
Loov und Bork,
Hëëde und Gåbriëllë
Check this out! Om nom nom nom nom.
*Thanks to Soyeon K. for sending this my way!*