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Cooking

A maple menu

The sap is rising, which means spring isn't far off. Here are a few ideas for celebrating the year's first crop.

By Adam Ried
March 6, 2011

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Every year as winter wanes into spring, my friend Anne taps some maple trees up at her place in New Hampshire and cooks down the sap into syrup. It’s as basic and delightful a syrup-making routine as you can get: A log fire in the driveway with a couple of ancient, blackened grates over it, and on them three wide pans, one for the fresh sap and the other two for the liquid as it boils down and darkens. Over the open fire, the syrup acquires a suave smoky flavor.

When she gets hungry at midday, Anne makes lunch according to family tradition – she tosses some hot dogs into the pans of reducing syrup. Unlikely as it sounds, a fine flavor synergy takes place, the hot dogs both imparting a meaty nuance to the syrup, and taking on a slight sweetness that accents the salty meat. With maple in every course, here’s a menu that pays homage to the season and to Anne’s driveway maple hot dogs.

Maple-Braised Sausages and Cabbage

Serves 6

If you’re using cooked sausages instead of fresh, braise the cabbage for about 30 minutes before adding the browned sausages, then continue braising until the cabbage is tender and the sausages are heated through, about 10 minutes longer. Steer clear of sweet or hot Italian sausages here, but almost any other type will do – bratwurst and weisswurst are especially good.

1½ tablespoons olive oil

1 2½-pound green cabbage, trimmed but not cored and cut into 6 wedges

12 fresh sausages

1 medium onion, thickly sliced

Salt and pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

¾ teaspoon smoked paprika

⅔ cup chicken broth

3 tablespoons Grade B maple syrup

2 large carrots, cut into coins

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

In a very large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil until shimmering. Add the cabbage wedges and cook until both cut sides are well browned, about 6½ minutes, turning once halfway through cooking. Transfer the cabbage to a medium bowl and set aside. Return the skillet to medium-high heat, add remaining oil and heat briefly. Add the sausages and cook until browned all over, turning them occasionally, about 8 minutes (adjust heat if pan drippings begin to scorch). Transfer the sausages to the bowl with the cabbage. Pour off all but 2 teaspoons fat from the skillet, if necessary, and adjust the heat to medium. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until just softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and paprika, and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Add the broth, increase the heat to high, and, using a wooden spoon, scrape bottom of skillet to loosen and dissolve the fond, about 1 minute. Stir in the maple syrup, then add the cabbage with any accumulated juices and bring to a simmer. Adjust the heat to very low, cover the skillet, and simmer until the cabbage is partially tender, about 20 minutes. Add the sausages, nestling them under the cabbage and into the liquid, and the carrots, adjust the heat to medium, and bring to a simmer. Adjust heat back to very low and continue to simmer until the cabbage is tender and the sausages are cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes longer (their juices will run clear when you nick them).

Using a slotted spoon, arrange the cabbage, sausages, and carrots on a serving platter and cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Adjust the heat under the skillet to medium-high, bring the liquid to a boil, and reduce until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Stir in the vinegar, then taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with additional salt, if necessary, and pepper to taste. Stir in the parsley, pour over the cabbage and sausages, and serve at once.
Maple Smash Makes 2 cocktails

This drink is basically a whiskey smash with maple syrup standing in for the sugar.

½ lemon, cut into 4 pieces

12 mint leaves, 2 leaves reserved for garnish

Ice, cracked or in small cubes

5 ounces bourbon

3 tablespoons Grade B maple syrup

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the lemon and mint. Fill the shaker about halfway with ice and add the bourbon and maple syrup. Cover and shake to blend and chill, about 15 seconds. Fill two Old Fashioned glasses about halfway with ice, divide the mixture between them, garnish each with a reserved mint leaf, and serve at once.
Leah Palumbo’s Simple Maple Cream Cake Makes 1 13-by-9-inch cake

Buy a pint of cream, and you’ll have 2½ cup left after whipping the 12½ cups for the cake. Just before serving, whip the remaining cream with about 3 tablespoons of maple syrup and top each piece of cake with a little dollop. This cake is a class favorite in teacher Leah Palumbo’s kindergarten at the Waldorf School of Lexington.

Butter, for the pan

Flour, for the pan

3 cups all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons baking powder

1½ teaspoons baking soda

Salt

1½ cups heavy cream, chilled

2 large eggs, beaten

1½ cups Grade B maple syrup

1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Set the oven rack in the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 13-by-9-inch baking pan, tap out the excess flour, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and ½ teaspoon salt. With a hand-held or standing mixer, whip the cream until it holds firm peaks, about 2½ minutes. Add the eggs, maple syrup, and vanilla, and beat to blend. Add the flour mixture and beat until wet and dry ingredients are just incorporated (do not overmix).

With a flexible spatula, scrape the batter into the baking pan, smooth the top, and bake until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean and the edges of the cake begin to pull away from the pan, about 45 minutes. Place the cake on a wire rack, cool to room temperature, cut into squares, and serve, topped with maple whipped cream, if desired.

Send comments or suggestions to Adam Ried at cooking@globe.com.

SALTY AND SWEET It's a wonderful one-dish meal: bratwurst cooked with cabbage, sweet carrots, and maple. (Photograph by Jim Scherer; Styling by Catrine Kelty) SALTY AND SWEET It's a wonderful one-dish meal: bratwurst cooked with cabbage, sweet carrots, and maple.

KITCHEN AIDE
Higher-test maple syrup

Maple syrup is generally graded according to flavor intensity and color. Though there is some variation in grading language from state to state (and in Canadian provinces), syrups that allow more light to pass through them generally receive higher grades. Most widely available in stores are Grade A syrups (above, at left), which range from light to dark amber in color and are mildly flavored, and my preference, Grade B, which is very dark amber with a comparatively bold maple flavor. Grade B (at right) is sometimes labeled “cooking maple.” Dark, robustly flavored Grade C maple is difficult to come by.