Thursday, April 9, 2009

New home and url for Constables Larder

Constables Larder has moved to its new home at, and I hope to see you over there. If you are a subscriber, please update your RSS reader to the new feed here (link).

I've enjoyed using Wordpress for other, work-related blogs, and so have been thinking about making the switch for some time. Thanks to technical assistance from my friend Bill and some late evenings getting everything in order, our new home is all set up.

The latest post is a recipe for a Provencal-inspired galette with an olive oil-based pastry. See you at the new Constables Larder!

rustic galette

Monday, April 6, 2009

Potatoes In Beer

potatoes in beer

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This is a simple yet surprisingly sophisticated dish from Richard Olney's Simple French Food. I've long been a fan of making scalloped potatoes with milk and/or cream. The use of beer makes the dish a little less rich, which can be a good thing, yet still flavorful, and the onions add a sophistication that I really enjoyed.

Potatoes in Beer
from Richard Olney's Simple French Food
Serves 4

1 1/2 lb potatoes, thinly sliced
1 large onion, halved then finely sliced
1 cup beer (see below)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp of unsalted butter

Preheat oven at 400F.

Butter the bottom and sides of a deep baking dish*, and then place alternate layers of onion and potatoes. Have your first layer be onions and the last be potatoes, and try to make your layers as densely packed as possible. Salt each layer lightly.

Pour the beer over the potatoes, and scatter thin shavings of butter all over the top. I used a pale lager for this dish, and think a pale ale would work well too. I'm curious to try it with a dark beer and will update this post when I do.

Place the dish into the oven and turn the heat down to 370F. Bake for 50 minutes. Remove and pour the cream over the surface, and then return to the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes.

*Note: Olney recommends a deep baking dish, and I understand why. You can see from the above photo that I used a pie dish, not having a deep, medium-sized baking vessel available at the time. The dish came out great but I was not able to pack in all the potatoes, which left the results a little too soupy. Not a problem flavor-wise, but it required more care when serving to not flood the plate.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Pork Shoulder Braised with Ginger, Fennel, and Citrus

pork shoulder w fennel and ginger

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Every once in a while, I have to jump up and down waving my hands, hoping that some of you try a particular dish. This is one of those times. Alas for the vegetarians. Ginger, fennel, soy sauce, garlic, lime, orange, pork and a low-slow braise, oh my! I never knew how well ginger and fennel go together.

The meal began when I made another pilgrimage to Fleishers, the exquisite butcher in Kingston NY, and walked away with a bunch of goodies including a 3lb berkshire pork shoulder. As everyone knows, great ingredients make great meals, and berkshire pork is far-and-away superior to the overly-lean pork you get in American supermarkets. I like working with bone-in cuts; flavor is better and I like the texture that comes with gently shredding the meat away from the fat and bone at the end.

Wanting to try a new flavor profile with the pork, I turned to the Internets and discovered an interesting recipe on Epicurious. I didn't really follow the recipe's methods, but the flavor inspiration was fantastic. The braised fennel was transported some something entirely new.

Pork Shoulder Braised with Ginger, Fennel, and Citrus
Inspired by a recipe in Gourmet, Jan 2004
3lb bone-in pork shoulder serves 4

3 to 5 lb bone-in pork shoulder, preferably Berkshire pork
3/4 tsp black peppercorns
3/4 tsp fennel seed
1/4 tsp coarse salt
zest of a navel orange
zest of a lime
1 large vidalia (sweet) onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 cinnamon stick
1 large* piece of ginger, sliced thickly
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sherry cooking wine
2 to 3 cups chicken broth
2 large or 3 medium fennel bulbs
1 tbsp fennel fronds, finely chopped
cilantro (optional)
lime juice

Prep: with a mortar and pestle, crush the fennel seeds, peppercorns and salt, and mix in the orange and lime zest. Also bring the chicken stock to a boil and then turn off the heat. Pre-heat oven to 300F.

To prep the pork shoulder, I cut the skin off (saved it to make crackling later), and left most of the fat on for the braising process, slicing into it with a criss-cross fashion to make it easier to rub spices into and easier to remove after the braise is done.

berkshire pork shoulder

Heat a splash of grapeseed or vegetable oil in a large dutch oven until very hot. Sear the pork shoulder 1 to 2 minutes on each side and remove from the pot. When this cools, rub the spice and zest mix all over the pork and into the cuts in the fat.

Let the dutch oven cool slightly, then add the chopped onions. Saute the onions on medium-low heat for a few minutes, then add in the crushed garlic cloves, ginger slices, and cinnamon stick. Saute for 10 minutes, add in the sugar, and cook for another 5 minutes.

Stir in the soy sauce and sherry and bring to a simmer. Nestle the pork shoulder into the sauce, and pour in enough chicken stock so that liquid comes about halfway up the meat. Bring the liquid again to a simmer and then cover and place in oven for an hour. After an hour, flip the shoulder and return to oven for an hour.

Chop the tops off of the fennel bulbs and a thin slice off of the bottom. Halve the bulbs and then cut into 1/4 inch slices. Often with fennel you will want to remove the core, but that is optional here because the fennel with be braised.

Scatter the fennel slices and fennel frond around the pork, cover and return to oven. After 30 minutes, stir the fennel gently. Place the uncovered pot back in the oven for another one to one-and-a-half hours, basting the top of the pork every 30 minutes or so. I also removed the cinnamon stick during this last phase.

pork shoulder w fennel and ginger
Left to right: spice rub on pork, after browning; 2. cooking the onions; 3. adding the fennel part-way through the braise; 4. separating the meat from bones and fat

You can let this cook in the oven until you are almost ready to serve, or re-cover the pot and bring it to the stovetop on very low heat to stay warm if you need the oven for another dish.

Preparing to Serve
Remove the pork shoulder to a cutting board and separate the meat from the fat and bones with two forks. Gently pull apart the larger pieces of meat (they should pull apart quite easily). Salt lightly.

Making the sauce: Skim the excess fat off of the top of the liquid and remove and discard the ginger slices (not cutting them too small makes this easier). Remove most of the braised fennel to a side bowl, and then blend the liquid and vegetables in the pot with an immersion blender (or carefully in a food processor or blender).

Serve by spooning some sauce on top of the pork and top with a little freshly chopped cilantro (optional), some freshly squeezed lime juice, and a little more sauce.

*Note: I don't have the weight of the ginger, but I used a piece about 3" long and 1.5" thick.

Serving Notes: We served this with potatoes cooked in beer, and reversed the normal order by having a small salad afterwards, which acted as a really nice palate cleanser. The salad was merely baby arugula (rocket) and feta cheese, with a lemon and olive oil dressing. Serve the meal with a medium-to-strong bodied red wine, like a zinfindel or cabernet sauvignon.

The sauce was so good, I froze the extra for future use.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mushroom Crostini w Truffle Salt


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Saturday's dinner posed an interesting challenge. Meal time was going to be set by the baby, not by the food, so I needed dishes that could be served quickly or wait a while. In the end, I decided on starters of mushroom crostini, with a touch of truffle salt to elevate the bite, and some asparagus and arugula rolled in prosciutto. The main course was linguine with a rich bolognese sauce enhanced with balsamic vinegar.

The asparagus rolls were the result of mind-bending repetition. I had to watch a silent Mark Bittman make them about 700-odd times. Yes, I flew Jet Blue to and from San Francisco last week and Bittman was dancing all over the screens. I never actually listened to the audio, but it's really not necessary for such a simple and clever appetizer. Here is the Bittman video for those who haven't flown Jet Blue recently!

I boiled the asparagus for 5 minutes, then quickly placed under cold water; seasoned the arugula with the juice of a lemon, a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper; rolled it all up in prosciutto; and sliced into "rolls". I've wrapped asparagus in prosciutto and grilled it before, but really liked the addition of arugula here. Very good.

Mushroom Crostini w Truffle Salt
Serves 4

4 thin slices of ciabatta-like bread, toasted
2 handfuls cremini (young portobello) mushrooms, thickly sliced
3 tbsp butter
olive oil
thyme leaves from 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper
truffle salt

truffle saltThis is a simple nibble that just takes a bit of patience with the saute pan. Melt the butter and a splash of olive oil in a pan on low heat, and saute the mushrooms for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the parsley, thyme, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of freshly ground pepper about 5 minutes into the cooking process. If they start to dry out, add a splash of dry vermouth or white wine.

Before serving, toast the thin slices of bread (note: if you are a garlic fan, you might rub a smashed clove of garlic on the top of the slice first). Spoon some mushrooms on top, drizzle some of the melted butter from the pan, and finish off with a small pinch of truffle salt.

Truffle salt? Well, after lunch with the Foodbuzz crew last week, they walked me over to the Ferry building and so raved about this salt that I had to get some. I had been doing SO well resisting the truffle craze, but you know, and I'll say this very quietly, it really is quite yummy. for the rest...

The main course was nothing fancy; I have been experimenting with different methods for making bolognese sauce. I happened upon the Food Network chef Anne Burrel because of a twitter post by Deb of Smitten Kitchen, and the first thing I saw on Burrel's webpage was a video of her making meat sauce. Her technique was very different from mine. She purees her mirepoix in a food processor, browns the heck out of absolutely everything, and uses tomato paste rather than whole or crushed tomatoes.

I did not follow her recipe exactly, but experimented with many of her ideas, finishing off the sauce with balsamic vinegar to add a spin of my own. I rather liked the results, served with freshly chopped parsley and a heaping of grated parmesan. I still like my personal method, but Burrel's ideas make for a richer sauce for the right weather and mood.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pancetta, Chard, Cranberry Bean and Gouda Gratin

cranberry bean gratin

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I spent last week in San Francisco and missed my kitchen, although I did have a few good meals with friends, colleagues and even the Foodbuzz editorial team. Hence today I felt the need to get in the kitchen and prep a civilized lunch for a cool spring day. This cranberry bean gratin emerged out of the available ingredients, and we happily polished it off with a glass of white wine. I decided it is a keeper (even our 3-yr old loved it), so the recipe is below.

Meeting the Foodbuzz team was great fun (that's me second to the left). We ate lunch on the water at La Mar and had some great peruvian-style seafood dishes. I continue to be impressed with the passion of the Foodbuzz team, and they are all super-nice people. I enjoyed our conversation about the food blogosphere, the rise of twitter among food bloggers, and the changing Foodbuzz site itself, and look forward to seeing their business grow and evolve.

lunch w foodbuzz team

Pancetta, Chard, Cranberry Bean and Gouda Gratin

0.15 lb pancetta (one thick slice), diced
1 medium onion, chopped finely
4 small cloves of garlic, minced
large bunch of swiss chard (instructions below)
2 medium tomatoes
1/3 cup white wine
1/3 cup reserved bean cooking liquid
1 tsp tomato paste
1 to 2 cups fresh or soaked cranberry beans
3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
3/4 cup grated gouda cheese
2 tbsp unsalted butter
several sprigs of thyme
olive oil
salt and pepper

Place the cranberry beans in a large pot, fill with water an inch above the top of the beans, and add 1/4 tsp of salt, 1 bay leaf, and 2 sprigs of thyme. Bring to a boil then lower to a gentle simmer. Cook uncovered until tender (start checking around 20 minutes). Reserve about 1/3 of a cup of the cooking liquid, drain and set aside.

Pre-heat oven to 375F.

Prep the chard by washing the leaves and removing the stems, discarding all but two of them (keep the two firmest, freshest stems). Chop the leaves, and thinly slice the two stems.

Grab a big hunk of country bread (stale or fresh), remove the crust, and turn into breadcrumbs in a food processor.

In an oven-ready large skillet (I like to use cast-iron), heat up a splash of olive oil and cook the diced pancetta on medium heat for 2 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the diced onion, and cook until the onions turn translucent. Add the chard leaves, chard stems, minced garlic, a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Cook until the chard leaves are wilted, and then stir in the cranberry beans, chopped tomatoes, white wine, reserved bean liquid, and about 1/4 teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stir in the tomato paste and 1 tbsp of butter, taste for salt, and cook for 10 minutes more.

Turn off the heat. Sprinkle a mixture of breadcrumbs and grated gouda cheese on top. Cut a tablespoon of butter into small pieces and sprinkle around the top. Place in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes. If the top is not browned, you can finish it off with about 30 to 60 seconds under the broiler.

cranberry bean gratin

I am going to submit this to My Legume Love Affair, one of my favorite blog events (run by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook) -- this month being hosted by Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Four Fruit Crumble (or Crisp)

Fruit for crumble

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Due to the new addition to our family, Lisl's mother flew over from Sydney. Over time, I've come to grips with the Australian craving for fruit. My niece consumes it in vast quantities. You actually have to strenuously encourage her to eat something *other* than fruit. She could be a bat, save for the whole sleeping upside-down thing. Needless to say, the first thing I did was pop into Costco for a bunch of mangos and blackberries. A fruit crumble was destiny, helped by the fact that they are so simple to do (i.e. sleep-deprived parents can easily whip one up).

There is a debate over the proper name for this dessert. The Aussies call this a crumble, and Americans call this a crisp. I don't really view either one as right or wrong, any more than I would weigh down on the side of coriander vs cilantro, or eggplant vs aubergine. Open minded, that's me. Unless you're talking about raw sea urchin. Or yams. No yams. Ever. We digress.

Four Fruit Crumble (or Crisp)

1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup oats (the regular kind, not instant)
1 cup brown sugar
8 tbsp unsalted butter, chopped
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 small pinches of salt*

1 mango, peeled, pitted and cubed
4 oz blueberries (small container)
8 oz of blackberries
8 oz strawberries (topped and chopped)

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Wash and chop your fruit and place it in a pie dish or small baking dish. It probably goes without saying, but do not feel beholden to stick to my ratio of one fruit versus another.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Mix it all together with your hands, and break the pieces of butter up with your thumbs and forefingers until they are small-pea-sized.

Spread the oats mixture over the top of the fruit.

4 fruit crumble

Bake for an hour, then let cool for 10 minutes. Serve with some vanilla ice cream. I know the below photo isn't going to win any awards, but really, with a dish like this, it's eatin' time!

4 fruit crumble

* a pinch is the amount you can pick up between your thumb and forefinger.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Provencal Fish Stew

fish stew

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I only like to blog the successes unless there is humor or an interesting lesson in the duds. "Giff is an idiot" doesn't qualify as a lesson. Too obvious. I am pleased to say that last night's meal was an unqualified success. Even I, who tends to be hypercritical of my own dishes (to Lisl's annoyance), loved this. Essentially, you make a really good vegetable stew with provencal flavors, and then finish it off with the fish and serve on a bed of rice. Most satisfying!

wine bottleOur fishmonger had some really good looking tuna, so I had him cut some 1/2 slices adding up to just over a pound. I think a firm fleshed fish like tuna or halibut is best for this recipe. We served this dish with a delicious white wine from the Jongieux region in France called Carrel Vin de Savoie, and some freshly baked bread.

Provencal Fish Stew
Serves 4 to 6

~1 lb raw tuna, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 large vidalia onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 medium zucchini, halved and sliced
1 green pepper, chopped
1 fennel bulb, chopped
7 small/medium garlic cloves (and if you really love garlic, it can take more)
large handful of kalamata olives, chopped
1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup dry white wine (or dry vermouth)
1/2 cup water
handful of parsley, chopped
handful of fennel fronds, chopped
large sprig of thyme (or several, tied together)
1 bay leaf
4 or 5 medium tomatoes, sliced
1 medium red onion, sliced into rings
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper
olive oil
served with 1 cup of long grain white rice

fish stew mise

In a dutch oven or stew pot, heat up a splash of olive oil on moderate heat and saute the onions until translucent. Add in the zucchini and cook for 5 minutes, then add in the chopped celery, fennel, green pepper and garlic, along with a couple pinches of salt (not too much since the olives will add saltiness). Continue to saute for another 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and letting the vegetables get tender.

Finely chop the parsley and fennel frond and add to the pot. Toss in a bay leaf and a large sprig of fresh thyme, along with the 1/2 cup of white wine, 1/2 cup of water, crushed tomatoes, kalamata olives, and juice from half a lemon. Stir all together and cook on a light simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes.

fish stew - in process

Thinly slice the tomatoes and add to the pot. Thinly slice the red onion into rings and stir into the pot. Cover and continue to cook on a light simmer for 20 to 30 more minutes, letting all the flavors meld together. Taste for salt and pepper.

Slice the tuna into rough cubes about 1/2 to 1 inch a side. Start cooking your rice.

When your rice is 5 to 10 minutes from being done, add the tuna to the stew pot. The fish should only need 5 to 10 minutes to become firm and cook through, no more.

Plate by spooning a mound of rice into a bowl, ladle the fish stew on top, and then grind a little fresh pepper.

fish stew