IN SEASON: Ramps

Nothing makes local food lovers stampede like the arrival of ramps on the culinary landscape.

Like many others, I’ve been anxiously awaiting their arrival here in the Twin Cities.  My former CSA farm, Harmony Valley Farm, supplies ramps to the area co-ops and I’ve been reading their blog to track the progress of the ramp harvesting.

They finally arrived this past weekend, and I got my hands on some this past Monday at Mississippi Market.  I felt like shouting, “RAMPS! RAMPS!!!” and waving them around like a crazy person.

I’m not alone.  In recent weeks, there have been articles about overforaging of ramps, particularly on the East Coast, as foodies and restaurant diners clamor for them.   

Just what is it about ramps that inspires such ardent fervor?

First, ramps are a fleeting pleasure, a vegetable that’s foraged rather than cultivated and is only available for a few brief weeks in early spring.  After a punishing winter here in the Midwest, we’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of fresh, local food. 

Then, there’s the flavor and aroma.  Ramps are a type of wild leek with a pungent flavor that’s a mix of onion and garlic. They exude an earthy, musky aroma that stinks up your car the moment you put them in. When I picked up my son from preschool the day I bought the ramps, he wrinkled up his nose and said, “What stinks?”  For once, it was not the car.

But ultimately, the most exciting thing about ramps is what they symbolize – that spring has arrived.  Ramps are the first in the line of fresh, local spring foods that will start parading through the farmers markets and natural foods stores. 

***

One of the cool things about ramps is that you use the entire vegetable, both the bulb and leaves; just trim off the hairy roots on the tip of the bulb and chop away.

Ramps pair well with pasta, eggs, bacon and other early spring vegetables like fiddlehead ferns and asparagus.  Since they’re more strongly flavored than green onions, it’s probably best to saute, roast or pickle them.  They also make a potent pesto. 

Ramps should ideally be used the same day they are purchased, otherwise the leaves go limp.  Unfortunately, something came up on Monday so I couldn’t use them that night for dinner; instead, I wrapped them in a damp paper towel and stuck them in a plastic bag and they kept okay for another day or so.

The rainy, cool weather this week inspired a craving for comfort foods.  So, I made a recipe for ramps with pasta alla carbonara

This was the first time I’d made pasta alla carbonara, and I was surprised how easy it was to make. You just fry up some chopped bacon until the fat is rendered, then saute chopped ramps in the bacon fat, add the cooked noodles to the pan (note that I drained most of the excess bacon grease before adding the pasta), and then quickly stir in beaten eggs and some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.  The entire meal took less than 30 minutes.

The eggs and cheese made the dish creamy without the use of cream and, combined with the salty, smoky bacon and garlicky pungent ramps, it was a bowl of comfort on a rainy evening.

Of course, my hands stunk like bacon and ramps; my hair stunk like bacon and ramps; and my house stunk like bacon and ramps for hours afterward.  But you know what?  I didn’t care.  I wasn’t going anywhere.

(Just an FYI, I wouldn’t prepare this meal before going out somewhere with others. Unless they are bacon and garlic lovers. Or you are bald / planning to take a shower beforehand.)

***

Then, for the second bunch of ramps, we prepared a brinner (breakfast at dinner) of scrambled eggs with sauteed ramps and grated parmesan. Simple, easy and satisfying. 

Scrambled Eggs with Sauteed Ramps and Parmesan
(Serves 2)

Ingredients:
2 T. butter
1 bunch of ramps, thinly sliced
6 eggs
2 T. water

Salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Instructions:
Beat the eggs and water; add salt and pepper to taste. 

In a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and saute the ramps for about 2 minutes.  You can either pour the eggs right into the pan with the ramps, or set the ramps aside and cook the eggs separately. 

Cook the eggs until no longer runny but still moist, then add the cheese and allow it to melt.  Re-add the ramps if you removed them earlier. Eat.

***
Here are some other recipes for ramps to inspire your cooking.

Ramp and Parsley Pesto (Simply Recipes)
Pasta with Ramps (Splendid Table)
Ramp Soup (Gourmet)
Ramp, Bacon & Ricotta Tart (Eggs on Sunday)
Scrambled Eggs with Ramps, Morels, and Asparagus (Bon Appetit)
Buckwheat Crepes with Ramps (Dog Hill Kitchen)
Pickled Ramps (Seasonal Chef)

And if you can’t get enough information about foraged foods, check out an earlier post of mine, IN SEASON:  Ramps and Fiddlehead Ferns.

Have you tried ramps? How do you like to prepare them?

Eating seasonally at Kitchen in the Market

Eating seasonally is a beautiful thing.  This is something I was reminded of once again when I attended a Blog Pantry event held last week at Kitchen in the Market within the Midtown Global Market.

It was the first time I’d been to either Kitchen in the Market or Midtown Global Market.  Once inside the place, I could have kicked myself for not visiting sooner.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this place, Midtown Global Market is an eclectic public market in Minneapolis comprised of locally-owned, independent businesses, including grocers, restaurants, and other local food producers and arts/crafts artisans.  

It’s a sort of foodie Shangri-La, really, with many different food vendors selling both fresh ingredients plus finished foods in a global palette of flavors.  I would love to have a lock-in at this place and eat my way from one end to the other. 

Kitchen in the Market officially opened for business in February.  As described on their website,

Kitchen in the Market  features a shared commercial kitchen for caterers, producers & manufacturers, mobile food trucks, and others who need licensed space to create their culinary delights.

KITM offers scheduled and private classes   Our retail shop features a carefully chosen assortment of kitchen goods, chefs tools, cookbooks & magazines, and – best of all – grab-and-go nosh, including many dishes created by our chef/tenants.

When we arrived at the Blog Pantry event, we were greeted with champagne cocktails infused with Bittercube bitters and assorted nibbles, including this stunning crudite assortment of Beauty Heart radishes (also known as watermelon radishes), plus cucumber and cherry tomatoes. 

The vegetables were accompanied by a martini glass of vodka and two kinds of salt – sea salt and smoked salt – from St. Paul’s Golden Fig specialty foods shop.  The idea was to dip the crudites in the vodka, then into the salt, then eat.  Simple yet divine, this appetizer had real flair.

After a chance to chat, one of KITM’s owners, Molly Herrmann (who also operates a catering business, Tastebud) first gave us a tour of Kitchen in the Market, then took us shopping at Midtown Global Market businesses for the seasonal ingredients to be used in her cooking demonstration.

First we stopped in at the Holy Land grocery store to pick up chickpea flour for the polenta. 

As we walked out, I was mesmerized by the seemingly endless array of colorful olives on display. 

Then we headed over to the Produce Exchange, where we procured some seasonal ramps and morel mushrooms. I thought it was pretty darn cool to find a fresh produce market featuring peak season ingredients within the Midtown Global Market space. 

After that, it was back to KITM for the cooking demonstration itself. 

I’ve made ramp pesto before but the flavor is really potent; so I was intrigued by this preparation which included ramps, arugula, parsley and sunflower seeds.  The arugula and parsley nicely rounded out the intensity of the ramp flavor. 

Pine nuts are often used in pestos, but they have gotten so expensive in the last year or so that it’s good to know you can successfully substitute other nuts and seeds as alternatives.

Molly was a real pro, effortlessly whipping up the recipe while she chatted with us about using seasonal ingredients.   Some of my biggest cooking mistakes (like forgetting to put sugar in cake batter, or burning foods) have happened when I chat with people at the same time, so I admired her ability to multi-task. 

The final dish?  Exquisite seasonal ingredients showcased at the top of their game.

You can find the recipe for this dish, baked chickpea polenta + ramp arugula pesto, on Tastebud Tart’s website.  Thanks to Molly, my desire for the uber-seasonal ramps and morel mushrooms was ramped up even further.

Chickpea polenta with ramp-arugula pesto & morels

Kitchen in the Market offers a monthly “Cooking the Market” class so that you too can have this experience of sourcing seasonal ingredients on-site at Midtown Global Market and preparing fabulous eats. 

The next Cooking the Market class is scheduled for this Saturday, April 30th; check out the website for more details about this class and other offerings.

Kudos to the Blog Pantry ladies, Liz of Kitchen Pantry Scientist and Jennifer of Unplanned Cooking, for putting together this timely event.

Blueberry lemon cake with lemon cream cheese frosting

It’s amazing what a little lemon zest can do for one’s spirits.  There’s a reason why another definition of “zest” is “quality that increases enjoyment“; citrus does just that. 

The coconut cake has receded into the distant past, along with the snow.  Instead, my mind has shifted to another of my favorite cakes, this blueberry lemon cake with lemon cream cheese frosting.  For me, this cake is synonymous with spring. 

The grass hasn’t quite greened up yet out the window, but lemon flavor reminds us that the sun is here, getting stronger by the day, and spring is kicking winter to the curb.

I love making cakes with three layers – they look more dramatic, plus there’s increased opportunity to enjoy the frosting.

The problem for me making these cakes is that there is so much cake.  A recipe like this makes 10-12 servings, and for this cake in particular with its cream cheese frosting, very rich servings. 

Unless you’re baking a cake for an event, I find it hard to use up a full-size cake like this, and often the last section gets thrown away.  I mean, there’s only so much cake you can eat, right? Even if it tastes wonderful, you get sick of it after a while. 

(Alternately, you can give the remaining cake away.  If you live within a six-block radius of me, chances are that the Baking Fairy will visit you at some point.)

***

But what if there was a way for you to have your cake and be able to eat all of it too?

A while back, I discovered that you can take most regular 9-inch layer cake recipes and halve the ingredients to make a 6-inch cake.  A 6-inch cake yields about 6-8 servings, which can be just the right amount for a family of four, with a little left over to relive the cake glory the next day.

The cake doesn’t look quite as elegant in the smaller size, but who’s complaining?  You have a fabulous cake in front of you to eat.

Six-inch cake pans are less common than nine-inch pans; you can find them at kitchen supply stores (I bought mine at Cooks of Crocus Hill in St. Paul) or purchase them online.  If you bake much I think they’re useful to have on hand, for cakes for kids’ birthdays or small dinner parties.

Using cake flour results in a delicate, tender crumb.  You can find cake flour in a box under the brand name “Softasilk” in supermarkets, or it is sold in the bulk area at natural foods stores.  

This cake does not call for lemon juice, only lemon zest.  It’s amazing to me that such a small amount of zest can infuse an entire cake with lemon flavor.  Make sure to wash the lemons prior to zesting them, to remove any wax or other harmful stuff. My favorite zesting tool is my Microplane fine grater pictured below; it makes zesting a breeze. 

The original instructions indicate that you can make this cake up to a day ahead of time and refrigerate, then let stand for 30 minutes at room temperature before serving.  We have very little spare space in our fridge to do this, though, so sometimes I bake the cake layers the day before I plan to serve it, and make the frosting the same day it’s served.

With all of the butter and cream cheese in the frosting, it’s probably best to refrigerate any remaining cake if you have it on hand for more than a day.

***

Blueberry Lemon Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

(Adapted from Bon Appetit, makes one 6-inch, 3-layer cake)

[NOTE: If you'd like to make the full-size version of this cake with 9-inch cake pans, either refer to the original recipe or double the ingredients listed below.]

CAKE
Ingredients:
1 cup plus 3 T. cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel (zest)
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries (about two half-pint packages)

Instructions:
Preheat the oven ton 350 degrees.  Butter three 6-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper, then butter the parchment and dust the pans with flour.

Sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.

Combine the milk, vanilla and lemon zest and set aside. Rinse the blueberries and pat dry.  Grab 1 1/2 tsp. of the flour mixture and toss the blueberries with it until the berries are all coated.

Beat the butter on medium to high speed with a mixer until fluffy.  Gradually add the sugar and beat well.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. 

Turn the mixer speed to low, and alternately add the flour mixture and milk mixture in three equal portions each, until the ingredients are incorporated.  Do not overmix or use a high speed as that can cause the cake batter to toughen.

Gently fold the blueberries into the batter, then divide among the three cake pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick in center comes out clean. 

Remove from oven, and allow the layers to cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then carefully remove them from the pan to cool completely on a wire rack. Peel the parchment paper from the bottoms of the layers.

Make frosting (recipe below).

FROSTING
Ingredients:
1 8-oz. package cream cheese, room temperature
6 T. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel (zest)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions:
Beat the cream cheese and butter together until light and fluffy.  Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating well.  Add the lemon zest and vanilla extract and mix to incorporate. 

If the frosting seems too runny or floppy to spread, refrigerate it for about 30 minutes to firm it up.

To frost the cake, place one layer on a platter and spread about 1/3 cup of frosting on the top.  Add another layer, and spread another 1/3 of frosting on the top.  Then, add the third layer, and frost the top and the sides of the cake.  Garnish with thin, twisted lemon slices and fresh blueberries if desired.

Ahhh, spring…it’s finally here.

And the winner of the Organic Valley giveaway is…

Wow! I must say that I’m in awe and humbled by everything you’re all doing to make your homes and plates a bit greener. I’m totally inspired by you guys! Check out the Comments section of Monday’s post to see what I mean.

Now for the important part – the winner of the Organic Valley Earth Dinner giveaway is…

Comment #12:  goldiebear

Congratulations!  Please email me at aimwold@gmail.com with your full name, mailing address and phone number, so that the prize can be sent to you.   

Thanks to everyone who participated in this giveaway!

For the rest of you,  here’s a song to lift you up today, from a local band that has been on heavy rotation in our house lately, Cloud Cult.

Cloud Cult has been often referred to as an eco-band, with band members who are very environmentally-minded.  From their website

In 1999, lead singer Craig and Connie Minowa formed Earthology, a not-for-profit environmental organization that would later gain its nonprofit 501c3 status. Craig worked on developing the Earthology Records branch, which  was focused on helping to green the music industry. 

Through Earthology, Minowa developed the first 100% postconsumer recycled CD packaging in the U.S. market. Earthology Records was later moved to an organic farm, powered by geothermal energy and built partially from reclaimed wood and recycled plastic. The band’s merchandise is all 100% postconsumer recycled or made of certified organic materials. 

Cloud Cult has planted over a thousand trees and plants several hundred more each year to absorb the band’s CO2 output. They also donate heavily to projects that build wind turbines as revenue generators on Native American Reservations.

I’m loving their newest album, Light Chasers.  This song, You’ll Be Bright, and its video are super cool.

Happy Earth Day to you all!

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The calm before the storm

While most of us here in Minnesota sit at home and twiddle our thumbs waiting for the local farmers markets to open for the season, there are a few hardy souls who venture out to the winter/early spring farmers markets (yes, did you know that some of the main MSP markets are open, albeit for limited hours?)

But what could be for sale at these markets while the green stuff is still slowly emerging from the ground [as of today, now covered with a layer of white stuff once again]?  I decided to explore this last Saturday and check out the calm before the farmers market storm.

***
First, a visit to the Minneapolis Farmers Market‘s Lyndale location.  Wind whipped through the market area and the more sensible patrons had thought to wear hats and scarves.  But not me or my daughter! 

My daughter immediately hightailed it back to the car to wait in its relative warmth. As for myself, by the end of the visit, my hands were like ice cubes.

Or like frozen slabs of meat…an ironic thing since frozen and cured meats and eggs were the main items on offer. There were just a handful of vendors, including Blue Gentian Farms, Bar 5 Meat and Poultry and Tollefson Family Pork.

I was driven to shop at the market over disgust about the pink slime and ground beef presentation on last week’s episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.  The funny thing was, the people next in line at the market were there after watching Food, Inc.

Another fellow food blogger had raved about Blue Gentian Farm for its excellent locally raised meats.  Blue Gentian Farm raises naturally grown heritage breeds of beef, lamb, pork, goat, turkey and free-range chickens, plus heirloom produce.   I picked up some pork chops and hamburger patties while I was there.

Blue Gentian Farms, a supplier of heritage breed meats
Cured meats from Tollefson Farms

No, these were not from psychedelic chickens, just dyed for the holiday by Bar 5

Those Bar 5 jokesters!
***
I was cutting through downtown on the way back to my house when I decided to swing by Local D’Lish too, ostensibly to source doughnuts for my daughter, but really to check out the last Mill City Farmers Market indoor market of the season.

These guys had the right idea – it was much more warm and cozy inside that storefront.  Not to mention tons of delicious gourmet nibbles to sample.  

I was amazed to find that Havlicek’s Orchard still had local Honeycrisp apples available.  My daughter noshed on an apple slice while I chatted with Mike Noreen from Burning River Farm about their CSA shares available for the upcoming season.

I told him I was excited about getting some of his arugula at the Mill City Farmers Market after it opens; he said that he’ll most likely be starting there in mid-May.

Look, there are still some local Honeycrisp apples to be had!
Shoppers checking out some locally made chocolates

Mike Noreen of Burning River Farm

***
Not much longer now until the markets officially open for the regular season!  The Minneapolis Farmers Market will open on Saturday April 30th and the Mill City Farmer’s Market opens on Saturday May 7th.

Hopefully the plants will continue to grow through the snow.  At least there will be Chef Shack doughnuts to tide us over. 

P.S.  There’s still a little more time to enter the Organic Valley Earth Dinner giveaway – I’m taking entries until 5 pm Central time on Thursday April 21st, so if you haven’t entered yet, here’s your chance.

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