Forage & Feast, the sequel


It’s ramp season here in New York, and with that comes Forage and Feast led by Jonathan of Lab 24/7 and Marc of No Recipes (here’s my post from last year’s event). I had been looking forward to this for weeks.  Nothing beats tromping around outside with a bunch of fun people and digging your food right out of the dirt.

ramps-4-13-10-400pxRamp greens

Still, there were moments of sheer and utter pain. I’m talking about in-the-trash-can-in-front-of-20-people kind of pain.  I have the utmost respect for professional caterers who can waltz into a foreign kitchen with strange or missing equipment and still pull out an incredible meal with one hand tied behind their back while hopping.  ‘Cause folks, that ain’t me.

The Fritter Fracas
Last year, in the comfort of my own kitchen, I made some delicious ramp fritters.  I remembered it being incredibly easy, so thought, “why don’t I whip this up as a working snack for everyone?”  Note to self: hey bozo, next time you think to cook for 20 people in a strange kitchen, *practice* the recipe again beforehand.

I could *not* get the batter to cook all the way in the center of the damn things, and there was no time to figure out why because my window at the stove was shutting fast.  I don’t know if it was my mistake of putting lemon in the batter (I misread my own recipe in the rush) or the fact that I made the batter too thick because I had to eyeball the flour.  I’m thinking the latter, but maybe a food chemist can weigh in on the former.  Someone suggested finishing them off in the oven, but that was an unmitigated disaster of soggy proportions. The fritters thus took an undignified exit into the bin.

The Brisket Brouhaha
Then there was the brisket — this gorgeous grass-fed brisket from Ulla’s, of Goldilocks finds Manhattan, family farm. I had visions all morning of a nice slow braise with melting, carmelized onions, garlic, ramps and a nice half-bottle of white wine. However, with one oven juggling multiple dishes at multiple heats and a stove top completely occupied, the idea of a braise was a no-go.  Someone suggested using a smoker, which I had never used before. Does trying something unfamiliar in a time-pressure situation sound like a good idea?

This will not end well, you sagely think to yourself.  But I concocted a lovely little dry rub and we sallied forth. Not unlike the Light Brigade.  Only to find that we couldn’t get the smoker above 200 degrees. And only 4 to 5 hours with which to work. Cannons to the left of us. Cannons to the right.

So the poor briskets got shunted from smoker to t00-hot-oven to sitting in the cold outside to a quick warm up in the oven again.  It was the most delicious smokey, spice-rubbed leather you might ever eat.

Ulla was totally understanding, but I felt guilty about the cow.

The Rib-Eye Rescue
The fritters were mush. The brisket was being ogled by the local shoemaker. I then had to grill seven gorgeous grass-fed rib-eyes.  Somehow, Ulla was still talking to me, and at this point, I was terrified of killing this meat as well.

Hot charcoal grill in the pitch dark,” I thought. “Relatively thin steaks, probably going to rest a while and need to be warmed up again … ok, let’s just not overcook these: 3 min a side and test for firmness.” I’m usually good about measuring how well done a steak is by feel, but that would be totally inconsistent with my day, would it not? And I was an idiot for not checking the steaks after 5 minutes of resting.

20 minutes later, Marc comes to me and whispers, “Stephane finished the ramp chimichurri and we want to to serve the rib-eye, but it’s… far too chewy.”  That is probably the nicest way anyone has ever said, “your meat is so raw it is inedible.

This I could at least fix! With an inner howl, not unlike that of a manic-depressive coyote , I gave the meat a quick run under the broiler and that did the trick. With a dip in the chimichurri, thank heavens it was a nice little bite.

Now, just to put forth a little contrast, throughout *all* of this, Stephane of Zen Can Cook has been juggling a million dishes and he pulls out the most perfectly roasted lamb cutlets (with a balsamic glaze) you’ve ever had.  What a right bastard!

They all killed me with kindness, but I knew. I knew.

Redemption via Pickling
Here is the one thing I did do well (not surprisingly, in my own kitchen), and if you can get ahold of some ramps, I highly recommend it.  Follow this link to Stephane’s post from last year’s Forage and Feast and try your hand at his pickled ramps recipe.  Make yourself a martini with these pickled ramps, and I promise the pain of even a day like mine will start to fade.

But in truth, I’ve had fun writing about this little melodrama, and I had fun the whole time.  The brisket has even found a happy ending in a slow-cooked chili.  I won’t deny that it stings to fall down in front of people you want to impress, but that came with some useful lessons learned and new friends made.


16 thoughts on “Forage & Feast, the sequel”

  1. Hi Giff, sorry about the equipment issues. I don’t think anyone really noticed. If it makes you feel any better, I had some pork belly we forgot about in the oven yesterday, (which was braised into submission today making an amazing broth and meltingly tender topping for my ramp pesto and tagliatelle tonight).

    I know it’s not really your style, but part of cooking sans recipe (a.k.a. living on the edge) is embracing failure and learning lessons. While the failures can be disappointing it makes the successes all the more exciting:-)

    On the fritter batter, I was thinking the batter looked a little moist, so even though the outside was very dark, the center was still wet. Some more flour might have helped it out.

  2. actually I’m pretty aligned with you — I like to experiment and don’t really follow recipes directly. Sometimes things work out great, and sometimes things go off the rails. But when I’m cooking for folks like you, it’s painful to have the latter happen! It’s all good, and all useful experience.

    So you think the batter was actually *too* wet, not too thick. Good to know. I need to do more experimentation with them when time permits and get a better understanding. Thanks for putting on a great day!

  3. Lol, what a comedy of errors! We did pickled ramps last year too, yum. They make a good relish for hot dogs too. I was hoping to find ramps at the farmers market this weekend but I think we have a week or two to wait here.

  4. Giff,
    Grass-fed beef requires delicate temperatures and it is hard get that in a frenzied situation.
    You were super kind and obviously have excellent kitchen skills. Also you really should how much you appreciate meat sourced from farmers(which I really appreciate). I thought bringing our beef would have added to the local forage theme but I sorta felt it was in the way. Maybe I can send you a brisket and you can try your hand at that amazing braise you had planned! 🙂

  5. Thank you Ulla. I do love working with grass-fed meat, and I really try to vote my “food conscience” with my wallet. It’s one reason why I’m always blabbing on about Fleishers up in Kingston, because I know how carefully Josh and Jessica pick the farms they work with.

    One interesting thing about the event is it reminded me how inexperienced I am working on a charcoal grill (I usually use gas). They’re so inexpensive, and the flavor so good, that I might pick one up this summer.

  6. hahaha…Giiiifffff, i really enjoyed reading this piece. Made me giggle all the way through. I guess i’ve been in this business a little too long because i actually enjoy the joyful chaos of it all. 🙂 Weird, i know.

    Don’t kick yourself too much, i think we made a really inspired dinner in challenging working conditions and in a short amount time and even though not everything turned out as we wanted to, it was a great party with great people.

    One day we should do a slow-cooked / comfort food dinner and that’d give you plenty of opportunities to shine!

  7. I am not that familiar with charcoal grills either. I read somewhere that gas grills are better for the environment which seems really counter intuitive! I feel like I should have been more help with the steaks!
    Stephane’s chimicuri sauce was wonderful!
    Goodness, Stephane you are a true artist! Your dishes were amazing. Still dreaming about both you and Marc’s lamb dishes. YUM!
    I also really liked the flavor of the rub that Giff came up with even though the brisket was too tough in it’s smoked/baked state but it must have been pretty good in the chili with the smoke flavors!`

  8. Hey Giff,
    Nice to read about the forage again this year.
    It looks like fun….and I am all over those pickled ramps this spring!
    I have fiddleheads growing in Henry’s garden, however, last year they were just scary and tasteless. I will stick w/ the ramps!

  9. What’s the window for ramp season? I am always out in the country and would love to find some, but season after season I fail. I will likely sally forth this weekend and see if I can come up with them yet again, as long as they’re still growing.

    I had to laugh at this “It was the most delicious smokey, spice-rubbed leather you might ever eat.” Sorry you had such bad luck, but it made excellent blog fodder and memories you can look back and laugh at!

  10. fantastic stuff. We don’t get ramps up here in Seattle, some stuff close, but not ramps. Jealous! love the pickling idea.

  11. Hey! What a great time for me to sneak back in after an eternity, right? Mmmm…foraging for ramps. But what would I know? I’ve had them once and they came from a produce wholesaler. I wince every time I hear that someone has pickled them. Ohhhh… be able to forage for them. Sorry about all the mishaps, but you know, it’s all in the spirit of amazing food, right? Enjoyed reading…

  12. I wish I could have joined you guys again this year! To make up for it, I bought handfuls of ramps this morning at the farmer’s market and am going to pickle as many as I can for martinis before they disappear… mmm, ramptinis…

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