West Virginia Ramp Dinner

Remember how back in October, shortly after relocating to the mountains of West Virginia, I wrote this post on the striking similarities between the Austrian and Appalachian cultures? And maybe you remember how in that post I mentioned a fascination with ramps, or Bärlauch? Well, ramp season is here.

In fact, I’m actually a little late. Ramp season has been here for a few weeks and is coming to a close. There are fewer and fewer cars on the side of the road with handwritten signs advertising fresh ramps for sale. My town’s ramp festival has passed. No one has mentioned digging ramps to me in a few days.

Fresh ramps are one of the signs that spring is truly here and the long, harsh winter is over. That might be why everyone gets excited. Or because of their flavor, something between an onion and garlic. Or maybe because since they grow wild throughout the state, they cost nothing to procure and cook up.

Whatever the reason, West Virginians sure love their ramps.

Some friends and I felt the need to partake of the tradition, and headed out to pick ramps. I had done so in Austria, biking through the countryside with my roommate to find the perfect spot. Our West Virginia ramp-picking trip was much less of an ordeal: a friend’s boss has ramps growing wild on her property. We each picked our fair share of ramps and made plans to have our own ramp dinner (a local tradition).

ramps

ramp dinner01

Ramp and lemon risotto, roasted potatoes with ramps, feta-stuffed ramp and corn muffins, and ramp pesto.

Between the three of us, we churned out four different dishes, with different levels of rampyness. The most pungent was probably the pesto, which we made without any sort of recipe. We just combined coarsely chopped ramps (bulb, stem, and leaf) with olive oil, parmesan cheese, walnuts, and a little fresh basil, then blended like crazy, adding more of this or that to taste.

The potatoes were similarly done without a recipe, simply halving or quartering new potatoes and roasting them with olive oil, coarsely chopped ramp greens, salt, and pepper until fork tender. They had the least amount of ramp flavor, but had we wanted to we could’ve easily ramped up the flavor (see what I did there?) with more ramps.

The ramp and lemon risotto recipe came from The Kitchn. The lemon flavor was almost more prominent than the ramp flavor, but the ramps were definitely there. We followed the recipe pretty closely, simply substituting arborio rice for the carnaroli rice called for in the recipe. We used a sauvignon blanc as our wine, since that’s what Google told me to use when I tried to figure out what the best type of wine to use in cooking risotto was.

Lastly: the feta-stuffed ramp and corn muffins. This was not a combination I would’ve thought of on my own. I probably wouldn’t have even thought to put ramps into muffins on my own. I’m much more a fan of sweet muffins than savory. But once my friend showed me this recipe, it sounded intriguing. Feta cheese, ramps, cornmeal, all in one? And it was a success. I even got to practice my German with this recipe, since that’s the language it was originally published in. (But for others, there is a translator in the sidebar.)

In the end, we were all stuffed and slightly concerned about the way our breath smelled. We deemed our dinner a success, if not totally authentic in terms of our interpretation. We also decided that we had probably had enough ramps to last us a year…which is good, since I don’t think you can get them out of season.

Focaccia {Daring Kitchen}

For the month of April Rachael of pizzarossa and Sawsan of Chef in Disguise took us on a trip to Italy. They challenged us to try our hands at making focaccia from scratch.

Hi. I’m still here.

You know how John Lennon says “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”? That’s sort of how I feel now. I told myself almost two years ago when I started blogging that I wouldn’t become one of those people who posted only sporadically.

(Brittany Murphy in Clueless, anyone?)

Being an active blogger takes so much time. Oops.

I’m still cooking, but taking photos and writing the blog post seems to be harder now than it was before. I’ve also done very few Daring Kitchen challenges, just in general. Focaccia has been on my list of things to bake for ages, so when I saw what the challenge for this month was, I figured I could work it into my weekend schedule. When I made this loaf of focaccia yesterday, it had been a long time since I had baked any bread. It felt good.

And the bread tasted good, too. Great, in fact. It’s amazing what you can make with just yeast, water, flour, and a little honey. Those four utterly basic ingredients go from being three very bland things (and one very tasty thing) to one fantastic loaf of bread–comforting, filling, and delicious.

I guess there’s a reason bread is called the staff of life.

focaccia01a

Focaccia

from Simply Scratch

Ingredients

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 2/3 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 T olive oil + more for coating the pan and drizzling
  • Toppings: dried or fresh herbs such as rosemary or basil, cherry tomatoes, coarse or flaked sea salt…

Instructions

In a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, combine yeast, warm water, and sugar. Let rest for about five minutes to allow the yeast to activate–the mixture should be foamy. Add flours, salt, and 2 T olive oil, and stir to combine. Knead by hand or with a dough hook for about five minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and set in a warm place to rise for one to two hours, or until doubled in size.

After the first rise, punch down and press onto a large lightly oiled cookie sheet. Cover and let rise 30 to 40 minutes. Alternately, after the rise first put the dough in the fridge for baking later.

Preheat oven to 450°F.

After the second rise, sprinkle with herbs. I did half dried rosemary and half fresh basil with quartered cherry tomatoes. Using your fingertips, dimple the top of the loaf. Drizzle with about two more tablespoons of olive oil, and the sea salt (if using). Turn the oven down to 375°F , and bake until golden brown, 18 to 22 minutes. Let cool five minutes before removing from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Beignets

I don’t really believe that the universe sends out signs, but sometimes I pretend that I do.

Like when the most recent recipe on the new blog you’ve found is exactly what you were just thinking about making.

That has to be a sign, or something, right?

Hence, the beignets.

beignets01a

I made these about six weeks ago, back when it was still the depths of winter. It snowed one Saturday, and the prediction for Sunday was more snow. This is an overnight recipe, so it seemed perfect.  Throw together the ingredients the night before, and wake up to white drifts and fresh beignets.

Now, while these are a tasty and not very labor intensive snow day treat, they do take some time. The dough sits overnight in the fridge, and in the morning you have to heat up the oil for deep frying, which can also take some time. Then you have to deep fry in batches.

But it’s worth it, in the end, because you end up with crispy, light puffs of fried dough which you then shower in powdered sugar to match the snowstorm going on outside.

Beignets

from Nothing in the House

makes 18 to 24 beignets

Ingredients

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 3 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • vegetable or canola oil for deep-frying
  • powdered sugar for dusting

Instructions

In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine water and yeast. Let sit about five minutes to activate–the yeast should become foamy. Add flour, granulated sugar, and salt, and mix to incorporate. Using the dough hook, work in egg, butter, and milk. The dough should be well combined and smooth.

Form dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, three to four hours or overnight.

When ready to fry, turn dough onto a clean lightly floured surface and roll into a rectangle about a 1/2″ thick all the way around. Used a bench scraper or a large knife, cut the dough into squares. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel while the oil heats.

Heat a few inches of oil to 360°F in a deep heavy-bottomed pot or a deep fryer. Working in batches, fry beignets for two minutes per side, until puffed and golden brown. I like to start by frying only one at a time–it takes longer, but then you can test exactly how long your beignets need to be cooked for, as it depends on the size and heat of your oil.

Carefully remove beignets to a paper towel-lined plate. Pat off excess oil, and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving. Serve warm, on the same day. These do not save well.

Tarte Tatin {Daring Kitchen}

For the March Daring bakers’ challenge, Korena from Korena in the Kitchen taught us that some treats are best enjoyed upside down. She challenged us to make a tarte tatin from scratch. tarte tatin01 I like to think I know how to make pies. They are a big part of Thanksgiving in my family — we frequently have so many pies that only half of them get cut into on Thanksgiving Day, and the rest get saved for breakfast and dessert the next day. My pies are always pretty traditional, though. Apple or berry or pumpkin in a double crust or maybe a single crust topped with oatmeal streusel. Nothing fancy. All my pies have been right-side up. Until this month’s Daring Baker’s challenge, that is. This month’s recipe was for a Tarte Tatin, a French pastry that is essentially an open-face apple pie. With caramel. And rough puff pastry. So it’s a very fancy open-face apple pie. And it tastes really, really good. That’s probably to be expected. The ingredient list here is so short: butter, sugar, and apples make up the bulk of the filling. And while the ingredients this rough puff pastry are essentially the same as a basic shortcrust pastry(your standard pie crust recipe), the method here involves lamination, causing the pastry to puff when baked. It may sound intimidating, but if you can fold a letter and roll out dough, you can do this. Actually, you should do this. It takes time, but the results are nothing like your grandma’s apple pie! tarte tatin02

Tarte Tatin

from  Korena in the Kitchen Ingredients For the rough puff pastry

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, cold
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup ice cold water

For the apples

  • 6 large or 7-8 medium-sized apples (Granny Smith, Cortland, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Honeycrisp, and Jonagold work well)
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • pinch salt
  • 1 batch rough puff pastry

Instructions For the rough puff pastry: In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in butter using a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-sized pieces of butter left. Make a well in the center and add cold water. Mix with a fork until the dough starts to clump together. Turn the dough onto a clean, lightly floured work surface. Gently knead the dough to bring it together, but don’t work it too much – it should still look rough. Roll out the dough into a rectangle about 10″ long. Fold the bottom up to the middle and the top down over it, like a letter. Turn the dough a 1/4 turn so the open edges are facing you. Roll out the dough until it is 10″ long again. Fold and roll again, for a total of five times. If the dough gets sticking during folding and rolling, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled. After all five rolls, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. For the apples: Peel and quarter apples. Remove the cores so the each apple quarter has a flat inner side. Place apples in a large bowl and toss with lemon juice and 1/3 cup granulated sugar. Set aside for about 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Melt butter with remaining 1 cup sugar and a pinch of salt in a 9″ or 10″ heavy-bottomed oven-proof skillet (such as cast iron) over medium heat. Whisk until the sugar becomes a pale, smooth caramel (this took about 15 minutes for me). Add the apple slices to the caramel, round side down. Cook over medium heat 15-20 minutes, using a spoon to cover them with some of the caramel. When the apples are starting to soften but still keep their shape, remove the pan from the heat. Making the tart: Roll the rough puff pastry into a circle about 1″ large in diameter than your skillet. Lay it over the filling, tucking the edges between the apples and the pan. Cut a few steam vents in the top. Bake 30-35 minutes, until the pastry is puffed and golden brown. Increase the temperature to 400°F for the last five minutes if the pastry isn’t browning. Remove from the oven and let sit until the caramel stops bubbling. Place a serving platter that is larger than your skillet upside down on top of the pan, and carefully flip so the tart ends up on the serving dish. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sweet Potato White Bean Burgers

I discovered Kroger brand organic sweet potato chips a few weeks ago and was so excited when they went on sale this week. However, apparently everyone else got excited as well because the two times I’ve been to the store recently there have been no sweet potato chips. None. Zero.

It’s because sweet potatoes are pretty trendy right now.

I like to think, though, that my love of sweet potatoes started way before they got trendy. In one of my favorite kids’ books, The All-of-a-Kind Family, the family (in the early 20th century) visits the Jewish market on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Each of the five children has something like a penny to spend on a snack. Two get candy, one gets a pickle, one gets hot salt-and-pepper roasted chickpeas, and the last gets half of giant sweet potato, from a vendor with an oven on a push-cart.

Doesn’t that sound great?

Especially in the dead of winter?

(We got hit with another snowstorm on Thursday.)

Most of us probably don’t have nice old men pushing around carts selling roasted sweet potatoes for a penny each. This is a decent alternative, though.

Like most homemade burgers, these Sweet Potato White Bean Burgers don’t hold up as well as commercial, store-bought veggie burgers. But what they lack in structural integrity they make up for in flavor. Sweet potatoes themselves are flavor-packed (and super healthy!). Paired with yellow onions, garlic, and paprika, these pair sweet with a little kick.

And topped with sriracha and avocado slices?! Don’t get me started.

sweet potato white bean burgers

Sweet Potato White Bean Burgers

adapted from The Lunch Box Bunch

makes 5-6 patties (more or less, depending on size and thickness)

Ingredients

  • 1 medium sweet potato, roasted and peeled
  • 1 15-oz can white beans, such as cannellini
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 3/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 frozen chopped kale, thawed

Instructions

Mash together sweet potato and white beans. Stir in spices, onion, kale, and flour. Form into 5-6 patties.

Fry in a hot skillet lightly coated with your favorite cooking oil (try canola, olive, or coconut) until cooked through. Alternately, sear the burgers before finishing by baking in a 400°F oven for 10-15 minutes.

Store leftovers in the fridge or freezer in an airtight container.

Flourless Almond Butter Apple Muffins {GF}

Super moist healthy muffins made with oat flour and applesauce!

almond butter apple muffins

It finally feels like real winter here in West Virginia. In November we had a cold snap and there was a week with snow flurries and 20 degree weather, then it warmed up. December hovered in the 30s and mid-20s. So did January. But now, February almost through and winter is in full force. All my cute clothes are hibernating as I can’t leave the house in anything but jeans (over leggings) and Sorel boots, and of course my giant winter coat.

We’ve had several days where it never got above 10 (in Fahrenheit, that is) and nights are often below 0. That’s not even factoring in windchill. And in the past week, it’s snowed so much with periods of white out conditions.

I know, it’s not just West Virginia. The majority of the country is facing cold, wintry weather, and there are probably plenty of places that are colder. But still.

Luckily, my job is pretty flexible and not 9-5 (though it will be soon), so on days when it’s been really cold I’ve been able to work from home or only work a half day. The office is in an old industrial building and thus the heating is awful.

Luckily, again, this means I have more time to spend in the kitchen. When it’s cold and snowy, all I want to do is bake and drink hot chocolate. At least, until I get cabin fever. Then I go outside for a bit, and come home to make more warm beverages.

Flourless Almond Butter Apple Muffins

adapted from Chelsea’s Messy Apron

makes about 10 muffins

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 2 T maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 T brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • pinch salt
  • 1/3 cup + 1 T oat flour (or 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats, finely ground)*
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup old-fashioned oats*
  • 1 T flaxseed meal (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chopped apple
  • 1/3 cup raisins or 3-4 T chopped pecans (optional)

*Make sure your oats are gluten-free if you need these to be gluten-free!

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease muffin tins–the original recipe warns against using cupcake papers, but I have not tried this and cannot attest to what would happen if you did that.

In a large bowl, combine applesauce, almond butter, maple syrup, vanilla extract, brown sugar and egg. Beat in oat flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Stir in old-fashioned oats, flaxseed, chopped apple, and nuts/raisins (if using).

Bake 16-18 minutes. Let cool slightly before removing from tins and serving.