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

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Carbonnades a la Flamande (Beef and Onions Braised in Beer)

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I wonder, as I stumble through the flurry of activities that inevitably follow the arrival of a newborn, if a slight halo of awe still hovers around me. When our daughter arrived almost 4 years ago, the C section at 34 weeks was mentally intense and nerve wracking, albeit ultimately wonderful. Natural childbirth (and for little James, Lisl chose to go entirely natural, without pain medication), on the other hand, was incredibly intense in a physical way and in some ways very surreal.

I was surrounded by women supporting a woman doing something powerful and fundamental, common and yet never ever mundane. It was amazing. The object of my awe is, of course, Lisl. Such strength and bravery through the 41 hour labor process was magnificent to behold. I know that these are not unique feelings in a husband after the birth of a child, yet the very ubiquity of my emotions is one of the quirks of this thing called childbirth. It is commonplace and continual, and yet so colossal every single time. I never quite grasped that until now.

However, the title of this blog post isn't "ruminations on childbirth". Food! I wanted Lisl's first meal home from the hospital to be excellent, but I also knew that I was only going to have sporadic time available... it needed to be something I could start the night before. Richard Olney has a great recipe for beef and beer stew, but I decided to try merging two different Julia Child inspirations: Onion Soup and Carbonnades a la Flamande (beef and onions braised in beer).

French onion soup gets so much flavor from the long cooking and carmelization of the onions, so I brought that step to this recipe. The sweetness of the extra-carmelized onions complements the beer really well. I did not use any beef broth or water; rather the beef and onions was braised entirely in a "black and tan", i.e. one stout and one pale ale (there's lots of flexibility on beer choice -- it's very personal preference: Julia Child calls for a pilsner-type beer, and this is also really good with a Belgian abbey-styled brew).

I cooked the braise for a very long time on low heat, and the results were rich and delicious. When it received high compliments from both Lisl and my visiting mother, who got me started with a love of cooking, I knew that this was a winner. I do not have a photo of the plated dish, but with new baby and visiting family, I'm sure you will let me off the hook!

Carbonnades a la Flamande (Black and Tan)
(Beef, Onion and Beer Stew)

3 lb chuck steak
5 or 6 medium to large yellow or spanish onions
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp brown sugar
handful of parsley w/ stems
1 bay leaf
1 bottle of a good stout beer (Guinness most common)
1 bottle of pale ale (Bass or Harp)

Pre-heat oven to 300F.

Cut the beef into slices about 2 inches by 4 inches, and 1/2 inch thick. In a dutch oven, heat a splash of olive oil on medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles, then brown the beef in batches, adding more oil as needed between batches.You just want to sear the outside, but not fully cook the beef. Cook the meat in batches so that the beef is not packed in too closely together. Set the browned beef and any juices aside on a large plate or bowl. Deglaze the bottom of the pot with a small amount of water and pour the juices over the beef.

Place the pot back on the stove top. It is now time for the onions.


Peel the onions, cut them in half, and then slice them very thin. On low, heat 3 tbsp of butter and 1 tbsp of olive oil in a dutch oven or stewing pot, and slowly saute the onions for 15 minutes. Stir in 1/2 tsp of salt and 2 tbsp of brown sugar, turn up the heat to moderate, and cook for 30 to 40 minutes until the onions are golden and starting to brown. Turn off the heat and remove onions to the side.

Create a layer of half the beef on the bottom of the pot, then spoon half the onions on top and spread around. Tie the parsley and bay leaf together with kitchen twine and place on top of the onions. Sprinkle a pinch of salt around.

Then create a layer with the rest of the beef, and top with the remaining onions and a pinch of salt sprinkled around.


Pour in the beer until the beef and onions are just covered. For me, it took the full contents of both the bottle of stout (in my case, I used Keegan's Mothers Milk) and bottle of pale ale. Bring the stove burner back up to a moderate flame. When the beer is just starting to simmer, cover and place in the oven.


Cook for 2 hours and then uncover and continue to cook for another hour or two until the liquid has concentrated down somewhat and the meat is completely tender. Skim the fat oil off the top. Taste the remaining liquid, and adjust the flavor with a sprinkle of salt or brown sugar if you desire.


The above picture was actually taken after I had served much of the top layer of beef, which is why the meat looks so shredded because it really falls apart at the lightest touch at this point. However, I wanted to show color and consistency.

I served this with basmati rice and swiss chard sauted with a touch of lemon juice, and my father brought the most amazing red wine. It was a fitting celebration of Lisl and the new baby.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Meet James

James, shortly after birth
James, shortly after birth

James, first morning
His first morning

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pork Pie, Bloggers, and Fritters

colloquial cooking's pork pie dinner

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Claire, author of the Colloquial Cooking blog, invited a few of us over to dinner the other night to try out her pork pie stuffed with berkshire pork shoulder and ham and made with a lard crust. Pork? Pie? Now those are two of my favorite words! I'm looking forward to her posting the recipe because it was magnificent. [UPDATE: recipe is here!] She paired it perfectly with a frisee salad, lightly coated with vinaigrette. I went back for thirds.

Also at dinner were Marc of No Recipes, his lovely partner Liz, and Stephane from Chefs Gone Wild. It is always fun meeting up with food bloggers and geeking out over food. I am always reminded how much I have yet to learn when it comes to food. That is one thing I love about cooking: there is an eternal learning curve and always new challenges around the bend (as long as you're willing to shake things up a bit).

This was also a last outing before the new baby arrives, so I was enjoying my taste of freedom considerably! mmmm red wine. pork pie. red wine. pork pie.

Marc also whipped up a killer sticky toffee pudding, with rum-soaked dates, to go with the English theme. That's him on the bottom left opening a stubborn bottle of vanilla with pliers. There is no stopping the MacGyver power of No Recipes.

Thank you Claire for a wonderful dinner, and get that pork pie recipe up!

Speed Meal: Corn and Zucchini Fritters

The Bill Granger corn fritters recipe, paired with a rice vinegar, jalapeno and sugar dipping sauce, was one of my favorite discoveries last year. A few nights ago, when work required a very fast meal thrown together, I went back to the recipe and was reminded how delicious and simple this is.

The ingredients are listed here [link], and on that page is also a link to The Wednesday Chef where I first discovered it.

This time around, I used a fresh green jalapeno for the dipping sauce. It is not as pretty, but tastes just as good. I also grated up two zucchinis to add to the mixture (squeezing the grated zucchini to reduce moisture), and swapped parsley for cilantro. Loved it.

The recipe is a synch. Toss the dipping sauce ingredients in a pot and let it cook down a bit. Toss the batter ingredients in a bowl and mix, then stir in the vegetables, and then cook in a heavy-bottomed pan (a big cast iron skillet is perfect) with a splash of oil.

We paired this with a simple salad and chilled prosecco. I was one happy camper.

corn and zucchini fritters

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Savoring Spring: Lamb Merguez and Lentil Stew

wine bottle

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Emerging from winter always brings an interesting feeling of renewal. Just the other day, I was sadly mired in longing for real produce. Tomatoes so fresh they are a meal unto themselves. Opening the door to pick a handful of basil and thyme. The flood of zucchinis and Japanese eggplant.

There is still quite a wait to reach those days, but at least yesterday we had deliciously warm weather. In an amusing dichotomy, the kids down the street had a snowball fight in short sleeves and shorts. As for me, I enjoyed an almost French stroll with my dog, walking into town and returning home with supplies from the butcher and the wine shop. If I was not baking my own bread these days, a baguette would have completed the picture. And some cheese. Really good cheese. And why do the carrots you find in French outdoor markets make our carrots look so pathetic? I digress. French markets do that.

I was pleased to see that our butcher had made some fresh lamb merguez sausages, and that became our dinner. I threw together a country stew that was quick to make and complemented the full-bodied Spanish red I had picked up. This kind of meal is cozy and handy when time is short. You want to make sure you like the sausages, since they provide much of the flavor heavy-lifting in the stew.

Lamb Merguez and Lentil Stew

Serves 2
4 lamb merguez sausages, skins removed and chopped
1 onion, diced
14 oz whole, skinless tomatoes, chopped (with liquid)
1/2 cup green lentils
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
10 oz spinach, washed and chopped
2 eggs (optional)

In a deep saute pan, heat up a splash of olive oil and brown the sausage meat, then remove to the side. Place a tablespoon of the oil back in the pan, and discard the rest.

Saute the onions until translucent, then add in the tomatoes and cook for a couple of minutes. Add in the lentils, wine, water and sausage meat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Stir in the spinach and continue to let simmer for 15 more minutes, or until the lentils are soft. If the stew starts looking too dry, add a little more water (you want it to finish moist but not soupy). Salt to taste -- this will depend on the strength of the sausages.

I served this with the wine and some thickly sliced bread, but if we had not been out of eggs, I would finished the stew off with two eggs baked on top (with a little ground pepper and a pinch of paprika on top, and the pot covered and on low heat). Apparently this is trendy now, but I ignore such things. I just think it would have tasted great. To see what I am talking about, check out We Are Never Full's Eggs Cooked in Ragu.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi

spinach ricotta gnocchi

I love gnocchi. I constantly order it at restaurants and yet until tonight I had not made it in over a decade. However, every time I see a gnocchi recipe my brain sings out, "must make!" I landed myself in a nice bundle of hot water earlier this year after passing on a complicated gnocchi recipe to my friend Becky -- without trying it. She did try it, and let's just say it was not a smashing success.

When I saw Elise's Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi post on Simply Recipes, my brain did the same thing. And I said to Becky, "this one looks much better!" She said, "YOU get to try it first this time." Fair is fair.

I ended up making the gnocchi and serving it with fresh asparagus, pancetta and to try something new, a vinaigrette sauce. However, this post is not really about the whole dish because while I like gnocchi and asparagus, and I like asparagus and vinaigrette, I didn't think all three went together in a blog-worthy fashion. It wasn't bad, but it was not great either. So goes experimentation. (See update below for a better approach)

The good news is that this time, the recipe is a good referral. Making gnocchi is not the fastest process in the world, but Elise's recipe is really quite delicious and I am happy to have half of the dough still in the fridge so I can have another go with a more traditional sauce.

Here is a link to the full recipe, and below are a few notes:

1. Her ingredients call for nutmeg, but I didn't see it mentioned in the description. To me, the logical place for addition would be mixed in the food processor with the egg, salt, spinach and ricotta.

2. I first tried mixing the "dough" with my hands (her step #2) but found it to be near impossible because it was so sticky. I ended up using a spoon for most of the process, and near the end using a spoon and my other hand.

3. While this could be because I had to eyeball 1.5 lb of ricotta, I found that the dough wanted a bit more flour to shift from being a sticky mass to being a bit more dough-like. I used about 2 full cups.

4. I recommend splitting the dough into 4 smaller portions, wrapping each separately in plastic wrap, and placing into the fridge for an hour before commencing with the gnocchi creation.

5. once the gnocchi float, let them cook for a 2 or 3 more minutes before removing to a baking tray to dry

UPDATE: I made a second batch of gnocchi and served with a sauce of mushrooms and shallots sauted in a few tablespoons of butter (yeah I know), with a little salt and pepper, and it was delicious.

Review: A Homemade Life (Orangette)

Orangette's new book

Readers of Orangette all know that Molly Wizenberg can write. Her new book, A Homemade Life, is personal and touching and clever, with words that reflect the soft-focus photographs found on her blog that synthesize honesty and beauty in such an interesting way. The book is a series of delightful vignettes that align biographical anecdotes with recipes. While her stories are interesting and her recall of charming details is impressive, it is really the shape and rhythm and choice of words that won me over so completely.

Molly is willing to bare her humanity, and is as unashamed to write about her quirks and crushes as how much she loves her parents. She is not trying to be cool, and you adore her for it. She gives the reader a heartwarming lense into her life, very different from the "can't look away from the car wreck" titillation so popular in modern tell-all books and reality shows. Her narrative voice is youthful, but not naive nor saccharine.

Above all, you see how much she loves food (in particular, cake -- she's big into cake). We both love comfort food, and while Orangette tends towards the baking/dessert side of things, and I steer towards savory, there are still quite a few recipes in this book that I am looking forward to trying, all clearly explained.

As is most obvious, I recommend the book very highly. I hope you are as delighted as I was.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Braised Lamb Shanks with Orzo

braised lamb shank w orzo

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One thing I love about cooking is the freedom to embrace influences and the cumulative lessons of history. As a cook, one can learn from a rich body of experience built up within and across cultures, while preserving one's own sense of self and style. In other words, derivative doesn't have to be a bad word when it comes to cooking. The global synthesis of culinary ideas is celebrated.

This freedom is more fleeting in art, where there is a stronger fear of being derivative, partially driven by an art economy that places "new" on a pedestal. In food there is certainly a celebration of innovation, hence the fame of E Bulli and Alinea, but perhaps because cooking is as physical as it is mental, there is a greater acceptance, even glorification, of tradition and the merger of past and present. The physical also provides boundaries for how far things can be stretched. If something tastes bad, no amount of curatorial exposition can explain it into a good experience (though no doubt, some try).

So why the long introduction? Well, this recipe was triggered because I dropped by a lovely Greek food blog, Kali Orexi, and saw Maria's chicken baked with orzo. Stopped the mental presses. Slammed on the browser brakes. I knew one thing at that moment: I had to bake the lamb shanks lurking in my fridge with orzo.

Then I spent an enjoyable part of this morning researching lamb shank cooking techniques in order to synthesize my own dish. I traversed numerous cookbooks (Child, Boulud, Tanis, Brown, etc) and many websites/blogs (Epicurious, Cookstr, Simply Recipes, Wednesday Chef, etc), and got some good ideas and discovered some cool things for future recipes.

The end results of this particular meal were fabulous. I do not always love lamb, but the flavor combinations were great, and I was also working with very young lamb carried by Fleishers, my favorite butcher. After flubbing a dinner on Friday night (I managed to create a tasteless pork chop brine, it seems... yes, the talent!), it was quite a relief to believe that I can cook after all! When an Aussie tells you that you did a good job with lamb, I think that means you can feel a sense of accomplishment, even if she is your wife (or should that be, especially?!).

braised lamb shank w orzo

Braised Lamb Shanks with Orzo
Serves two or three

2 lamb shanks (approx 1 lb each)
1 large vidalia or spanish onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, peeled
4 stalks of parsley
1/2 cup of dry vermouth
1 to 2 cups of chicken broth
2 pinches of ground savory
2 pinches of ground sage
2 pinches of dried thyme (or a few stalks of fresh thyme)
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper
1 cup orzo

For prep, preheat oven to 300F and heat up your chicken broth in a saucepan or microwave.

Lightly salt the shanks. On a high flame, heat up a healthy splash of olive oil in a dutch oven large enough to fit the lamb shanks, and brown all sides of the lamb shanks, then remove the shanks to the side. Immediately lower the heat to medium-low and place the onions in the pot, stirring for a few minutes, and then add the carrots and celery. Cook for several minutes and add in the tomato paste, and cook for several more minutes.

Deglaze the bottom of the pan with the vermouth, and then place the shanks back in the pot. Add in enough chicken broth to reach about halfway up the shanks. Add in the garlic, herbs, bay leaf, and 1/4 tsp coarse salt.

Cover and place in the oven. Braise for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, turning the meat every hour.

Near the end of the braising period, bring a large pot of water to boil. You will use this to partially cook the orzo before adding the pasta to the dutch oven.

Remove the dutch oven from the oven, and remove the shanks to a side plate. Discard the garlic cloves. Spoon out the fat/oil from the surface of the liquid (this is the most painstaking part of this entire recipe). While you are doing this, boil the orzo for no more than 5 or 6 minutes in your pot of boiling water. Reserve about 1/2 cup of the starchy water (although if there is very little liquid left in your dutch oven, you might reserve a bit more), and drain the orzo.

At this point, you should have skimmed as much oil as you can from the top of the liquid and vegetables in the dutch oven. Stir in the 1/2 cup of orzo-cooking water, and then stir in the orzo itself. Place the shanks back on top, and return to the oven, uncovered, for 15 more minutes.

Finally, remove the shanks to the side, remove the meat from the bones and gristle, and sprinkle with a little salt. Taste the orzo and vegetables for salt and pepper (I found that this dish wanted a lot of ground pepper, but do so to your taste). Serve the lamb on a bed of the orzo mixture.

This dish pairs nicely with a relatively full-bodied red wine, such as a strong zinfindel but a shiraz or cabernet sauvingon would also be nice.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Smoky Legume and Sausage Soup

smoky legume soup

The blog has been pretty quiet lately because the evul-death111 cold/flu plague struck and struck hard, and I stopped cooking for a couple of weeks. It's nice to be back! Of course, I warn you that we will probably disappear again for a bit, since kiddo #2 is expected literally any day now. Tick tock. I have totally forgotten what the first six months are like with a baby, which is nature's way of encouraging humans to have more than one child. And if our English starts looking like we not only didn't sleep, but also failed our first grade equivalency test, just blame it on that state of self-induced mania called parenthood.

This soup was the first thing I made when it was clear that I was not going to turn into a zombie and spend the rest of my days lurking around malls and B-movies. It ended up being an interesting merge of a soup bubbling around in my brain and a recipe by Joy Manning posted on Serious Eats.

Smoky Legume and Sausage Soup

1 smoked pork chop or ham hock
1/3 lb ground pork shoulder
1/3 tsp fennel seed
pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1/2 coarse salt

1/4 lb dried cranberry beans
1 cup dried green lentils

1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 fennel bulb, chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 rind of parmesan cheese
1 bay leaf
3 cups of chicken stock
4 cups of water

Soak the cranberry beans for several hours in cold water before starting the soup.

Heat up a splash of olive oil in a large soup pot on medium-high heat and brown the smoked pork chop on both sides, then remove to a side plate. Place the ground pork into the pot, along with the fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, and 1/2 tsp of salt, and brown thoroughly. Remove to the plate with the pork chop.

Lower the heat to medium and place the onions in the pot and cook until they start to turn translucent, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot. Then add in the green pepper, carrots, celery, and fennel and cook for 20 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes.

Stir in the rest of the ingredients: cranberry beans, lentils, garlic, crushed tomatoes, pork chop and ground pork, parmesan rind, bay leaf, chicken stock and water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a light simmer. Simmer for an hour or two and check the tenderness of the cranberry beans. Adjust for salt and pepper.

Notes: if you want to thicken the soup, you can remove a couple ladle-fuls to a food processor and puree, then add back into the soup. I do not recommend using an immersion blender for this step, because you don't want parts of the soup partially blended.

You can keep on cooking this soup for hours, and like most soups, it is really good the next day. I just ate it with some good bread, but you can also try it with a little olive oil or balsamic vinegar drizzled on top.

smoky legume soup

Monday, February 9, 2009

Savory Crepes

crepes stack

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I used to make savory crepes all the time, and do not know why I ever fell out of the habit. The basic premise is that you create a stack of crepes and complementary fillings, and then bake for a brief period in the oven. The process is easier than it appears and the results are delicious. Crepes freeze well and can be made well ahead of time. You also have lots of opportunities to get creative around sauces and filling.

Making Savory Crepes

I have always used Julia Child's recipe, which offers the following proportions to make two dozen or so crepes:
1 cup cold water
1 cup cold milk
4 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour
4 tbsp melted butter

Julia places the liquids, egg and salt into a blender, and then adds the flour and then butter. I just whisk it together (in that order) by hand. You might be surprised at how thin the batter is, but that is correct -- to quote Julia, it should just "coat a wooden spoon." Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Making the Crepes I've never actually owned a proper crepes pan, and do not let that stop you. In the era before non-stick pans, I used a small frying pan and oil. Now I just use a six inch non-stick pan (see the picture below).

crepes making

We'll see if I horrify professionally-trained Zen, but here is my approach: heat up the pan on a medium to medium-high flame, and hold it in one hand. With the other hand, scoop out about 2/3 to 3/4 of batter in a soup spoon. Pour into the pan and very quickly rotate and tilt the pan around with your wrist (kind of like a spinning top that is losing momentum), so that the batter spreads out across the pan surface evenly. You want just enough batter to fill the bottom of the frying pan.

Place the pan on the heat for 1 to 2 minutes. The bottom should lightly brown. Gently lift and edge of the crepe with a spatula, then scoop under and flip. Cook for another 30 to 90 seconds (depends on heat of pan). Then place on a wire rack to cool for a couple of minutes before stacking, and repeat the process.

It might take a couple tries at first to get the right amounts of batter and motion, but once you have the hang of it, it is fast and easy.

Making your Fillings

To complete your meal, you need to decide upon your crepes filling(s). You can go vegetarian or add meat. You can work with tomato sauces, white sauces, cheeses, or whatever strikes your fancy. If you have Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, her suggested filling recipes are marvelous. In this case, I made two simple fillings: a chard and parmesan layer and a mushroom, leek and cream cheese layer.

Chard Filling
1/4 onion
1 bunch chard, stems finely chopped, leaves roughly chopped
1 tbsp butter
splash of vermouth
grated parmesan cheese

For the chard, I chopped and sauted /4 of an onion for a couple of minutes in a tbsp of butter and a splash of olive oil, on medium-low heat, then added the chard stems, finely chopped. After a few minutes, add the chard leaves (roughly chopped), cover, and let cook for several minutes more. Like spinach, the chard leaves will reduce in size. Add a splash of white wine or vermouth, and let cook until the leaves are fully tender, and taste for salt and pepper. After spreading this filling on the crepe, add a layer of grated parmesan cheese.

crepes layering

Mushroom, Leek and Cream Cheese Filling
1 leek, white and light green portion, halves and finely sliced
1/4 onion, chopped
handful of white button or cremini mushrooms, chopped
2 tbsp cream cheese
1 tbsp butter
pinch of ground nutmeg
salt and pepper

You can cook this at the same time as the chard. Place a tbsp of butter and a splash of olive oil in a pan and saute the onions and leeks on medium-low heat until softened, around 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms, a pinch of ground nutmeg and a little salt and pepper. Once the mushrooms are fully cooked, remove from heat and stir in the cream cheese.

Making Your Stack
Pre-heat your oven to 350F.

In a lightly-buttered baking dish, put down two crepes (for two different stacks). On this bottom crepe, smooth out some of the chard filling and sprinkle grated cheese on top. Then place another crepe on the stack and spoon out some of the mushroom and leek filling. Layer another crepe with chard filling, then a crepe with mushroom filling, and finally top with a final crepe and sprinkle more cheese on top.

In this case, I did not have a wet tomato or bechamel sauce, so the top crepe became quite crispy, but if you do make a wet sauce, save some from your mixes so you can ladel on the top of your stack.

Place the baking dish in the upper third of the pre-heated 350F oven and bake for about 25 minutes. To serve, you can cut into wedges or just place the entire stack on a plate.

crepes plated

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Andouille and Yellow Eye Bean Stew

yellow eye bean stew

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On a cold evening, I like settling down to a healthy bean stew. This one is particularly simple to make, and lets the smokiness and spicy heat of andouille sausage do much of the work.

1/2 lb dried yellow eye beans*
1 smoked andouille sausage (approx 10" long)
3 slickes thick cut bacon, sliced into 1/2 " pieces
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
handful of parsley, chopped
splash of dry vermouth or dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock (optional)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt

yellow eye beans
Yellow Eye Beans

I like to soak my beans whenever possible to speed cooking time, but in any case make sure you rinse the beans and check for any small pebbles. Fill a large pot with water 1 inch above the level of the beans, bring to a boil, then let simmer, loosely covered for 30 minutes. You want the beans to be no more than al dente by the time you move them into the stew pot.

Halve the andouille sausage lengthwise and then cut into 1/2" wide pieces.

While the beans cook, in a heavy bottomed pan (I was using a 3" deep cast iron pan), cook the bacon on medium heat for 2 or 3 minutes, then add the sausage. Before the bacon turns crispy, remove the meat to a side bowl, add a splash of olive oil to the pot, and add in the onion.

Cook the onion, stirring, for a few minutes, then add in the carrots and celery. Pour in a splash of dry vermouth and scrape up anything on the bottom of the pan. Toss in the parley, 1/4 tsp of salt, and the meat. Lower the heat, and let simmer.

At this point, reserve a couple cups of the bean broth (more if you do not have chicken broth), and add the beans to the pot. Pour in a cup of chicken broth and then add the bean broth until the liquid is just below the top of the vegetables. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, for another 40 minutes or so, until the beans are tender. Check for salt along the way. I used a little more than 1/4 tsp, but your choice of bacon and sausage can affect saltiness a great deal, so don't add too much too soon.

Serve this by adding a little freshly chopped parsley and drizzling some olive oil on top.

Note: I left garlic out of this particular dish, but it would go quite well. One could also serve this dish with a garlic, parsley and olive oil pistou if you wanted that flavor kick.

Note on beans: I really liked the yellow eye beans from Rancho Gordo -- they were firm and mild in taste, and a little more interesting than great northern. If you do not have yellow eye, then I think great northern, flageolet, or vallarta beans would all be nice alternatives.

While this is a fairly classic bean dish, I think I will submit it to My Legume Love Affair, a blog event I always enjoy, hosted this month by The Well Seasoned Cook.

Chard-Wrapped Pork Meatballs

pork meatballs

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The other week I tried wrapping pork meatballs in chard leaves, and then poaching in chicken stock. The results were delightful. The meatballs were incredibly moist and the flavor subtle. I tried making the meatballs the same way without wrapping them, and the results were must less interesting and it was easier to dry out the meat.

What I still have not figured out yet, however, is what the best thing is to serve with these. I tried white rice but the meatballs have such a subtle flavor that they want a stronger complement I think... or a sauce to go with. Then I tried making red wild rice with porcini mushrooms but I do not think that was quite the thing either. So I'm going to move away from rice and do some more thinking and experimenting. In the meantime, I wanted to get a record of the recipe up here.

Chard-Wrapped Pork Meatballs

1 lb ground pork shoulder
large bunch of swiss chard leaves
6 cooked chestnuts, finely chopped
4 medium brussel sprouts (or 1/3 cup cabbage), finely chopped
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1/4 tsp salt
pinch of black pepper
2-3 cups of chicken broth (ideally homemade)
splash of dry vermouth

Bring a large pot of water to boil and preheat oven to 350F while you do the following.

Wash your chard leaves and slice away the middle stems. Set aside. Chop up about 1/3 cup of the chard stems and place in a large bowl with the pork, chopped chestnuts, chopped brussel sprouts, parlsey, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly together with your hands, then shape into 1.5 inch meatballs.

Parboil the chard leaves for 30 seconds in the boiling water, then gently drain. Wrap each meatball in chard leaves (it might take two leaves to full wrap), and place in a pie dish. Then pour in chicken broth until you are about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the meatballs, and add a splash of dry vermouth or white wine. Cook at 350F for 45 minutes to an hour, occasionally basting broth over the tops of the meatballs. When the meatballs feel firm, they should be done.

pork meatballs wrapped
Just before pouring the broth in

Now just to find the perfect complement to these guys. I welcome ideas!

P.S. a marvelous vegetarian recipe is chard-wrapped risotto.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Review: Artisan Bread in 5 Min a Day

artisan bread

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, came out about a year ago and positive reviews have been percolating around the blogosphere for some time. Recently, I decided to pick up the book and try my hand.

First of all, other than making pate brisee for savory pastry dishes, I have historically not enjoyed baking at all. I'm a cook rather than a baker (Lisl usually does all the baking in our household). So with that context, I'll come out and say that I am really happy with this book. The process is extremely easy and the results delicious.

We have tried making bread purely in a breadmaker, doing a combo breadmaker-oven approach, the no-knead method Bittman wrote about long ago, and now this. This is my favorite method so far combining ease and flavor, and I look forward to exploring the Artisan book further.

The instructions are easy and clear (and make sure you read them!). You might also check out the corrections they have posted on their website. Two notes from authors: before you bake, let the dough (however you shape it) rest for at least 40 minutes (I did 40 minutes on the dot and results were great), and slash the top of the dough right before you put it in the oven.

I would be well into my third batch of dough if I hadn't broken my baking stone by pouring water on it when it was really hot (the water was intended for the broiling pan on the rack below... fumble fingers!). I would actually mix up double the size of the basic recipe if I had more room in my fridge, but I don't think I can squeeze bigger than a 5.5 quart bowl in there.

Lastly, I'll note that one of the authors, Zoe Francois, has a great blog at Zoe Bakes and there is an official book blog here. Watching Zoe interact on Twitter was the clincher in my deciding to get the book (not that reviews haven't been great but, again, I usually don't bake). It is wonderful to see people who want to be part of the community, rather than just pitch something at the community. An increasing amount of the latter exists on Twitter (and all social media really), and I have no time or interest in such behavior. So I tip my hat to you Zoe, and thank you and Jeff for creating such a wonderful book.

Update P.S. as I was writing this, Peter over at Kalofagas was trying out this book as well and twittering his progress. He sounded as positive as I am.

artisan bread

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Winter Menu: Braised and Seared Pork Shoulder

winter menu

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Picture a room with a roaring fireplace, the clink of silverware and careful placement of a wine glass, and the low murmuring of well-dressed guests enjoying their food to the detriment of general conversation.

Now make the room smaller. No, even smaller - don't worry, I won't be offended. Take away the fireplace (I wish!), silverware (never did justify splurging on that), and most of the guests (oh yes, and the well-dressed part). You see, when most of your friends have kids, one needs to provide more than 24 hours notice, which in turn requires being organized. Somehow the only thing I was organized about was the food (what a surprise, my wife says).

Still, we managed to throw a little ad-hoc dinner party on Friday night. The cornerstone of the meal, a braised and seared pork shoulder, I will share here. A pork shoulder does not require a lot of hands-on attention, but it does demand time. Time to season. Time to braise. And best of all, time to eat over the course of a luxurious meal with good company. I did not take the time to do much in the way of photography, but you will forgive me, won't you?

pork shoulder, crisp

Braised and Seared Pork Shoulder

As always, start off with the best ingredients you can. I had picked up a 5lb, on-the-bone pork shoulder from Fleishers, which carries the best pork I have found in this part of the country. I don't have a picture of this particular cut, but as you can see in my Pork Shoulder Braised w Dried Chiles post, Fleishers leaves the skin and fat on the shoulder. Leave it on! Just score it with a sharp knife in a criss-cross fashion through the skin and into the fat (if not already done) so you can rub in salt and spices.

Dry Rub
1/2 tsp coriander seed
1/2 tsp mustard seed
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp cumin seed
approx 2 tbsp salt

5 lb on-bone pork shoulder (or slightly smaller boneless)
1 large spanish or vidalia onion, roughly chopped
3 medium carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp juniper berries
2 bay leaves
3 cups of homemade chicken stock (or water)

One to three days before you are making the braise, wash and dry the pork shoulder. If the skin and fat remains on the cut, score it in a criss-cross fashion with a sharp knife. Grind up the coriander, mustard, pepper and cumin seeds. Rub about 2 tbsp of salt all around the pork shoulder, then rub in the ground spices. Wrap it back up and place back in the fridge until you are ready to cook the braise.

pork shoulder rub

On the day of the braise, remove the shoulder from the fridge and let it come to room temperature for about 20 to 30 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 325F.

Scrape off as much of the dry rub as you can and reserve the spices (on the side, or just spoon into the chicken stock you will be using).

On high heat, heat up a couple tbsp of olive oil in a dutch oven big enough to hold the shoulder. Get the oil hot enough that a drop of water sizzles and pops, then sear the shoulder on all sides for about 2 minutes a side. Turn the heat down to low, and remove the pork shoulder to the side.

Toss in the onion and stir so that it does not burn in the still-hot dutch oven. Cook for a few minutes until it starts to turn translucent, then pour in a little of the chicken stock to deglaze the bottom of the pot.

Place the pork shoulder on top of the onions, and scatter in the carrots, celery, juniper berries, and bay leaf. Pour in the chicken stock (or water) and turn up the heat to bring the liquid to a simmer. Make sure the spices you took off the shoulder before searing are added back in.

Cover the pot and place in the oven and braise for about 4 hours, turning the shoulder once or twice. If you feel like the liquid is bubbling a little too hard, lower the heat further another 10 or 15 degrees.

Completing the dish
When the braise is done, carefully remove the shoulder, now very tender, to a carving board. Remove the fat and skin from the top of the shoulder (it should slide off very easily), and place to the side (if you desire, you can make a lovely heart-attack-inducing crackling out of this by adding some more salt and spices and tossing back in a 450F oven on a baking tray, until crispy).

Skim and remove the liquid fat from top of the braising liquid. Using an immersion blender, blend together the braising liquid and vegetables remaining in the pot into a thick gravy (if no immersion blender, remove several large spoonfuls of liquid and vegetables to a food processor and puree).

Carefully carve 3/4 inch slices from the pork shoulder. It will fall apart some, but that is fine; this dish is not about looking neat, but rather tasting amazing. Heat up a large non-stick frying pan on high heat, and then sear both sides of your pork shoulder slices for about 30 to 60 seconds per side. Plate, pour the gravy on top, and serve. This pairs nicely with a solid Rhone red wine.

Other menu notes:

The bulk of the meal is very rich, so if you want a starter, keep it very light. I recommend a small green salad with a mixture of radicchio and lettuce, a few sliced cherry tomatoes, and possibly some endive and/or walnuts. Whip up a dressing with olive oil, red wine vinegar, a tiny dash of balsamic vinegar, grain mustard, salt, pepper, and dried basil or thyme. I like to serve this with a crisp white wine or a fairly dry sparkling wine.

The potato and fennel gratin was a larger version of the recipe you can find in this post (link), albeit using more half-and-half than heavy cream, a bit more fennel than before, and jarlsberg cheese instead of gruyere.

The pork shoulder recipe was inspired by this one from an old Gourmet, but I made a fair number of changes. I did like their idea of searing the braised meat at the end, and enjoyed the extra texture this added to the mouthful, however if you want to omit this step the braise will be completely delicious without.

Lisl finished off the meal by making a sticky toffee pudding from a Jamie Oliver recipe. It was delicious but I know she wanted to make some changes, so we'll post our version when it comes to life.

We finished off the meal with tea and a few of us partaking in Acquavite, an Italian pear brandy. Yes, it was an indulgent night.

sticky toffee pudding

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Baked Halibut

baked halibut plated

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I was mentally preparing to braise a pork shoulder today when I happened upon Kalofagas this morning. One look at Peter's grouper baked in parchment paper, and my brain said, "now this is what you want!" Lisl and I are both suffering from colds, and the light taste of Mediterranean summer just seemed perfect. Indeed, it was so.

A segue: I'm very picky about the freshness of my fish, and until I find a fishmonger I trust, I tend to stay away. When I lived in San Francisco a decade ago, I would trek out to the Chinese markets in Sunset because the freshness was so superior to the normal supermarkets. We've now been in Rye, NY for two years, but I will admit that it took Peter's post to get me to test out a fish market in Port Chester. The upside is that I was very impressed. One look at the eyes of the whole snappers behind the glass and I knew that they dealt in fresh fish.

Back to this recipe, the amounts here feed two quite nicely. It's a delicious, fast meal to put together, and the ingredients are quite similar to how I like to cook mussels. The below is similar to Peter's recipe, but not identical, so I recommend you check out his blog as well if you haven't already.

Baked Halibut

A 1 lb halibut steak (or filets)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced into rings or half-rings
2 cloves garlic, minced
half a green pepper, chopped
3 campari tomatoes (or a handful of cherry tomatoes)
1/4 cup dry vermouth
pinch of dry basil
several leaves of fresh oregano
salt and pepper

Pre-heat oven to 400F.

Heat up a splash of olive oil on medium-low heat and saute the onions and garlic for a couple of minutes. Then add in the green pepper, saute for a few minutes. Then add in the vermouth and a couple pinches of salt and pepper. Cook for a few more minutes then remove from the heat.

baked halibut veg

Lay the halibut on a piece of parchment paper that extends several inches past the length-wise ends of the steak. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on top, then spoon out the vegetables and liquid on top of the fish. Sprinkle a pinch of dried basil leaves on top, dot a few oregano leaves around, and place two slices of lemon on each end of the steak. Fold the sides of the parchment paper up towards the middle and tuck one over the other and refold a few times to create a seal and get the paper snug with the fish. Twist each end of paper and tie off with kitchen string.

Place on a baking tray. If you have too much parchment paper hanging off the ends to fit in the oven easily, trim with scissor. Bake for 25 minutes. If you have a steak, remove the backbone from the middle, carefully half the fish, and plate. Spoon the delicious broth over the top.

baked halibut wrapped
Note: bottom image above is after baking

I kept the below picture of the halibut steak because it interested me. I can't quite put my finger on why; perhaps because it has that grainy, soft-focus, de-saturated look I adore in Orangette's pictures.


P.S. Now that I'm cooking fish again, I have to tackle an interesting but never-attempted technique: baking a whole fish packed in salt.