Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Leftover Supper

Last night I was in the mood for leftovers. Not in the traditional sense of the word which connotes reheated bowls of past suppers. I wanted pantry and refrigerator leftovers or the odds and ends that I had lying around just dying to be cooked with. I love improvising on the fly whether in music, writing, or cooking and last night’s dinner with Valerie was no exception. I threw together a couple of dishes that came out well and we ended up eating a mighty fine meal. We started out with some pita bread and leftover raita which I made earlier in the week to accompany my Tandoori chicken. I still cannot get over how well that one turned out. I then made a simple salad of Boston lettuce with grapefruit vinaigrette and chopped hazelnuts. There was some grapefruit mustard left over that I concocted last weekend for a dinner party with my sister Emma. I mixed the mustard with good olive oil and a splash of sherry vinegar to make a fresh and zesty citrus vinaigrette which went smashingly with the greens and crunchy hazelnuts. The main course was vegetable fried rice with lots of broccoli and various odds and ends from the refrigerator. I recommend trying this Chinese classic which is incredibly versatile; just substitute your favorite ingredients and follow the recipe with your protein or vegetables of choice. This one happens to be vegetable but I have also made fried rice with chicken, pork, shrimp, and myriad other things. A well-seasoned wok is preferred for making really tasty fried rice with a crisp texture but I guess you could use a large skillet or two depending on the quantity. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Vegetable Fried Rice
Serves 4

2 Tbsp. Vegetable Oil
1 Tsp. Freshly Grated Ginger
2 Large Garlic Cloves, finely minced or pressed
4 Scallions, cut into 1/4 in. rounds, separated white from green
1 1/2 Cups Broccoli Florets
1/2 Yellow Bell Pepper, cut into 1/4 in. cubes
2 Eggs, beaten
3 Cups Cold Rice, preferably a day or two old
1 Tsp. Rice Wine Vinegar
1 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
1 Tsp. Sesame Oil

1. Set a wok over medium-high heat and wait until slightly smoking. Add vegetable oil and heat until shimmering. Add ginger, garlic, and the white part of scallions and heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir constantly throughout cooking.
2. Add broccoli and bell pepper, adding oil if necessary along the cooking process, and cook 2-3 minutes. Move the contents of the pan to the sides of the wok, opening up the middle area, and cook the eggs until scrambled.
3. Incorporate the other ingredients in the wok, adding oil if necessary. Add the cold rice and cook stirring constantly for another 2-3 minutes. Add the rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil to the wok making sure the rice is well coated. Serve immediately topped with remaining scallions.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Homemade Tandoori Chicken?!

That’s right, homemade Tandoori chicken. I never thought it possible to recreate the delectable Indian treat at home without the aid of an extremely heavy and costly Tandoor clay oven. These ovens are made to withstand temperatures up to 900 degrees which imbue foods with their characteristic smokiness and charred exterior, two key components of good Tandoori chicken. I have a penchant for Indian food from all regions, or the ones I have had the pleasure to taste for that matter, and have for as long as I can remember. My mother used to wow dinner guests with a spread of countless Indian dishes from samosas and sag paneer to popadums and baingan bharta. Little did our guests realize that she had spent four days solid on the preparation of ingredients, sauces, spices, and condiments. I discovered a method for making Tandoori chicken at home from a recent issue of Cooks Illustrated. My brother and his girlfriend gave me a two-year subscription as a gift this past Christmas and I have just begun to get into it. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I rarely cook directly from recipes and mainly use them to draw inspiration in the development of my own culinary identity. I am a realist however and realized there was no way to throw together a plate of Tandoori chicken without some expert advice. I knew there were spices like cardamom and garam masala involved with some yogurt thrown in at some stage but apart from that I was at a loss. Cooks Illustrated stepped in with a detailed explanation and I was off cooking from there. This was far and away one of the best chickens I have ever made which the shoddy photography simply cannot convey.

The dish is relatively easy to make though it does require a lot of hands on work and some time. Score each piece of skinless bone-in chicken parts with small incisions using a sharp knife then rub each piece with a mixture of toasted chili powder, cumin, and garam masala, fresh garlic, and ginger combined with lime juice and salt. Let the pieces rest for a half hour at room temperature. In the meantime mix a second batch of the above mentioned spice mixture with a cup of plain yogurt. Preheat the oven to 300, toss chicken with the yogurt mixture, and roast scored side down for 20 mins. Remove chicken and set oven to broil. Turn chicken and broil scored side up for about 15 minutes until nicely charred and cooked through. The crispy charred exterior, red color, and exotic spiced flavors are spot on and will effectively remind you of authentic Tandoori chicken. I served the chicken alongside basmati rice tossed with lime zest and golden raisins, homemade raita, Old Major Greys mango chutney, and a basket of warm whole-wheat pita. Raita is a mixture of plain yogurt, cilantro, cayenne, and finely minced garlic served as a condiment to cool the palette when eating overly spiced foods. Most North African, Mediterranean, and Eastern cultures that thrive in hot or dry climates have a yogurt-based condiment of some sort. Whether Indian raita, Greek tsatsiki, or Middle Eastern tahini-yogurt sauce, yogurt is employed for the same purpose cross culturally. They ease the consumption of spicy foods intended to cool the body internally from arid weather. Food anthropologists have argued that the hotter the climate, the hotter the food prepared by the people living there due in part to the fact that capsaicin, the chemical in chilies and other spicy things, help the body feel cooler. Piquant spices also help stimulate appetite and digestion, which flag in hotter climates, and are commonly employed to prevent food spoilage. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Jamming On My Mandoline

I bought a mandoline yesterday and it has totally blown my mind. I am of course referring to the French kitchen tool not the small stringed instrument. I spared no expense in my purchase, going for the top of the line stainless steel French mandoline, la mandoline professionelle from the de Buyer company. There are certain things that can only be accomplished with the help of a mandoline able to rapidly process fruits and vegetables into myriad cuts from a 2mm slice to a tiny julienne. Vegetable carpaccios, paper-thin salads, and fancy French cuts require the mandolins magic touch. I was overly giddy when I got home and could not wait to get play with the impressive piece of hardware. It is amazing how quickly you can get uniform and precise slices; even the sharpest knives and months of practice cannot compete. I decided to make dinner for my sister Emma and a few other friends testing the mandoline’s abilities. Dinner turned into a sort of cooking demo as I explored the various blades and applications. The first thing I did was slice a few fennel bulbs for a crisp fennel and green apple salad. After a few practice runs I finally got my desired thickness and began churning out paper-thin slices like a pro. Mike jumped on, equally intrigued by the new kitchen tool, and julienned a green apple into uniform batons the size of matchsticks. I tossed the fennel and apple with olive oil, sherry vinegar, and a generous pinch of salt to accompany grilled pork chops. The first course of my mandoline-crazed meal was a mushroom soup, one of my sister’s all time favorite dishes. This woodsy soup is definite comfort food for our family. My father used to make it all the time when he would entertain and it grew into a Malle/Lyman classic. The mix of bread and mushrooms makes this a hearty soup that could just as easily be served as a main with a salad and piece of fruit.

Mushroom Soup

1/4 lb. Cremini Mushrooms
1/4 lb. Button Mushrooms
1 large Yellow Onion
3 Garlic Cloves
5 sprigs of Thyme
1 Bay Leaf
1 Sourdough Loaf
1/4 cup Milk
4 cups Chicken Stock

Chop the onion and cook in olive oil with a little salt in a Dutch oven or stew pot over medium heat. Slice the mushrooms and garlic about an 1/8 inch and add to the pot after the onions have become translucent. Add thyme leaves and a bay leaf and cook for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, soak three thick slices of bread in a large bowl with a cup of stock until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add the bread and stock to the pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth but chunky with noticeable morsels of mushroom remaining. Return to the pot, add milk, and warm through. Serve topped with a sprig of thyme. Serves 4-6.

The main course, which sadly did not involve the mandoline, was grilled pork chops with grapefruit mustard sauce. I love pork products and treat myself to chops or tenderloin routinely. I know Emma has an affinity for pork chops, especially the thick double-cut ones, so I thought she would enjoy them. I seasoned the chops with salt and pepper and grilled them on a very hot cast iron grill pan for about 5 minutes a side, turning them a quarter turn for nice grill marks. I finished the chops in the oven at 400, to crisp the meat and cook it evenly for about 15 minutes depending on your choice of doneness. While the chops were resting I prepared the mustard sauce. This is a delicious sauce that works wonderfully with pork. Mix two tablespoons of whole grain mustard with a splash of grapefruit juice and a little good olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and mix until emulsified. I poured my batch into a plastic squeeze bottle for an elegant presentation. I drizzled two thick lines over each chop and made a little pool on the individual plates. Tasty time.

In addition to the fennel and green apple salad, I fried Yukon gold potatoes in duck fat. The fat was leftover from a dinner party I hosted last weekend featuring duck breast with blueberries, mint, and watercress. Anytime you make duck there is usually quite a bit of fat rendered out of the skin which should be kept at all costs. Any scraps or leftover bits should be reused when cooking; stocks and fat are prime products best made at home. Mike sliced the potatoes on the mandoline in two seconds flat and we fried them up in the tasty duck fat which imparted a fantastic flavor. The fennel salad with its crunch and subtle anise flavor complimented the warm pork chops while the potatoes rounded out the meal. The mustard sauce paired well with all three components and I look forward to using the rest in a salad dressing for lunch. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Martinis And Marshmallows

The other night I hosted a dinner party for my good friend Matt and his girlfriend Bess who was visiting for the Valentine’s Day weekend. Matt and I grew up together in Los Angeles and seldom get the chance to hang out; sporadically meeting here or there depending on our respective travels and schedules. He recently moved to the city so hopefully we will get the chance to see each other more often. Matt, Bess, and I have a budding tradition of drinking martinis when in each other’s company and last Sunday was no exception. They arrived promptly at 8 o’clock and mixed up a round of ice cold gin martinis with two olives a piece, just the way I like them. I prepared a three course meal which turned into five with the unexpected addition of cheese courtesy of Bess and smore fixings care of Valerie. The first course was a bruschetta con zucca or butternut squash bruschetta. This was inspired by a dish I had on my sister’s birthday at Barbuto, Jonathan Waxman’s lovely restaurant in the west village. Their version is a crusty piece of bread topped with goat cheese, parmesan, and a coarse puree of squash, toasted almonds, and chives. I adapted the recipe by roasting butternut squash cubes in the oven with a little honey, chopped hazelnuts, chili flakes, cider vinegar, and sea salt for about 25 minutes on 400. I toasted thick slices of a crusty country loaf spread liberally with goat cheese and topped with the warm squash mixture. The sweet, spicy, and nutty flavor of the squash paired well with the warm bread and goat cheese, melting elegantly on the plate.

The second course, a seafood dish served in between the appetizer and main course in classic Italian or French fashion, was pan roasted sea scallops with corn and shrimp risotto. Mike and I had shrimp the night before and made a rich stock with the leftover shells along with onions, garlic, carrots, celery, lemon, and a bay leaf. I used the homemade stock as a base for the corn risotto, which was one of the best I have ever made. Homemade ingredients make such a difference and in this case it made the dish infinitely better by imparting a subtle shrimp flavor to the rice. I bought the sea scallops at my local fishmonger whose praises I have sung all to often but this time they let me down. The scallops were just not that good and had a sharp almost metallic after taste which all but ruined the course. I pan roasted the scallops on a cast iron pan and finished them in the oven before topping each one with a basil and shallot pesto. Thankfully the risotto came out well and the pesto added a bright herbal high note that made the dish sufferable. My guests were friendly and a little drunk at this point, sparing me any negative criticisms.

The third dish was my favorite and I feel like it came out the best. I was inspired by a Nigella Lawson recipe from one of her cookbooks, duck with pomegranate and fresh mint. She recommends the usage of fresh herbs to top roasted meats and insists that mint and duck go well together, an idea that freaked me out at first. I seared a Muscovy duck breast skin side down to render some of the fat, turned it, and threw it in a 425 degree oven for about 15 minutes. The duck came out nicely browned with crisp skin and tender pink meat, just the way they cook it in France. I prepared a bed of watercress salad on a large circular platter and arranged the thinly sliced duck breast. I topped the duck with reconstituted blueberries soaked in English Breakfast tea and shredded fresh mint per Nigella’s suggestion. The duck was excellently cooked and the sweetness of the berries, herbal flavor of the mint, and spicy crunch of the watercress worked wonderfully in concert. I think this was the hit of the night and we managed to eat it all up in minutes flat before preparing another round of martinis.

It seems ridiculously dangerous and more than a little reckless in retrospect but after dinner and a few minutes of clean up we gathered around the stove to roast marshmallows. That’s right. After three rounds of martinis and four courses, our bellies full and minds a little hazy, we lit sugary clouds on fire at close proximity to an open flame. I must admit that despite the blatant fire hazard the smores were exceptionally good. The smoky, chocolaty, indescribable flavor reminiscent of naïve youth and playground-skinned knees was fully encapsulated by the smores. It was great to see Matt and Bess, especially over an opulent meal. The five of us got along smashingly and the conversation flowed like the gin over one too many rounds of martinis and roasted marshmallows. I hope to do it again soon and will certainly suggest that we incorporate smores into our burgeoning martini night tradition. Cheers to that. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Halve Your Lemon And Eat It Too

I love shrimp. I will eat them prepared in any fashion, at any time, and nearly at any place. This personal declaration comes after much deliberation on my part, reminiscing about dishes I have made over the past several months and recent meals ordered in and around the gastronomic mecca that is New York City. I realized that over the past year or so I have garnered an affinity for Penaeus, the genus of prawns encompassing all the shrimp species we know and love. Whether pink, red, brown, grey, or pale white, these tasty crustaceans are most definitely good eats. I particularly love the sweet rock shrimps served in high-end Japanese restaurants and the bite-size grey shrimps found at any portside fish market in Northern France. I had a craving for my preferred shellfish a few days ago and needed to ease my crustaceous jonesing with a home cooked meal. Mike and I skimmed a few cookbooks for potential dishes before we hit an intriguing recipe in Alice Water’s chez Panisse book. The pan roasted scallops with Meyer lemon relish was to good to pass up even though I was craving shrimp and not scallops however delicious they may be. I often use recipes as a starting point just to get my ideas and flavors in order before improvising in the kitchen. I simply substituted grilled shrimp for the roasted scallops and served the relish as an accompanying sauce alongside a watercress salad tossed with olive oil.

Meyer Lemon Relish

1 Shallot, finely diced
1 tbls. Meyer lemon juice
1 Meyer lemon
1/2 cup Quality olive oil
Salt & Pepper

Dice the shallot into uniform cubes and marinate in a small bowl with Meyer lemon juice and a pinch of salt for about 15 minutes. Cut the Meyer lemon into manageable wedges, removing seeds and the white pith holding each wedge together. Slice the wedges into long strips and dice, peel and all, into uniform cubes mirroring the shallots. Combine the diced lemon with the shallot mixture and add the olive oil, chopped parsley, salt and pepper. Mix well and serve immediately with shellfish, fish, or roast chicken. Makes about a cup.

Whenever I grill shrimp I like to leave them unpeeled in order to crisp the shell on high heat without overly cooking the tender flesh within. This is ideal for infusing the shrimp with a smoky flavor and also allows you to marinate them with a little acid without running the risk of cooking them. I marinated fresh gulf shrimp in olive oil, Meyer lemon juice, thyme, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper for about a half hour. I then grilled them on high heat for about 2 minutes per side; nicely charred on the outside with firm tender interiors. They are fun to pick apart on the plate because after all it is always nice to get messy with your food at the table. The Meyer lemon relish added a citrusy bite to the dish and goes perfectly with other shellfish. Meyer lemons grow all over California and I have a number of friends with trees in their backyards next to swimming pools. They are much sweeter and more flavorful than ordinary lemons and are becoming increasingly available at fancy grocers in the city. Unfortunately this dish cannot be substituted for with regular lemons, the flavor just isn’t there. I also sautéed some fresh greens to nibble on as a side dish. Spicy broccoli rapini is a snap to make, a delicious vegetable side dish that could be tossed with pasta for a quick dinner. Just sauté the greens in a little olive oil on medium heat until wilted, remove from the pan and sauté some sliced garlic and chili flakes. Toss the rapini back in the pan when the garlic has browned slightly and mix together for about a minute before serving. This was truly a wonderful and fairly quick meal, just one of many shrimp inspired posts to come. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Weekend Breakfast

Breakfast is more of a weekend thing for me since I have to be at work relatively early during the week and do not usually eat a proper meal before lunch. The espresso maker at the office is a dangerous thing and two or three freshly brewed coffees usually serves as my first meal of the day. I relish the times where I get to make and eat breakfast in the late morning either solo or with company. This past weekend was one of those times and I made a delicious meal for Valerie, Mike, and myself. The combo was a classic with the usual suspects present though I did jazz up the eggs and hash browns. The applewood-smoked bacon speaks for itself, as bacon is inclined to do.

I love scrambled eggs and I never run out of crazy ideas to throw at them. Eggs are such a versatile protein and there are hundreds of ways to cook them, one just has to be inventive. For this particular occasion I sautéed the white part of scallions in a little butter before adding six of my mother’s eggs raised on her farm upstate. These eggs have an amazing dark orange color largely due to their free range grazing habits and wealth of beta-carotene. Their flavor simply does not compare to any commercial egg whether organic, free range, cage free, what have you. I added about a half a cup or grated cheddar cheese and a handful of the green part of the scallions before serving alongside the crisp bacon. The third element making up the breakfast was a potato and carrot hash. I cheated a bit by using a Cuisinart to shred the potato and carrots but it can be done on a cheese grater or mandolin with relative ease, just watch your fingers. Drain and dry the vegetables well and then crisp them in a hot nonstick pan with a little olive oil. Try to flip it in one piece and make sure that you really get a nice brown crust on it. Breakfast is truly a glorious meal and I hope next weekend bodes well for a repeat. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Sausage, Peppers, and Onions Oh My!

Last Friday night my buddy Mike and I decided to stay in and cook instead of going out. We wanted to just eat and chill with a movie or some terrible weekend television. After tossing around dinner ideas I blurted out an epiphanic suggestion of sausage and peppers. I love anything pasta and this dish is relatively easy to make with tons of vegetables, carbohydrates, and protein. Sausage and peppers reminds me of my mother and by extension my sister who periodically make the dish and have been for years. We used to eat it regularly when we all lived together in Los Angeles and to this day I think my mom’s is the best although it is normal to hold mom’s cooking on a pedestal. Fettuccini is the go to pasta for this dish and I like to spice mine up with a little jalapeno, the green things in the skillet alongside sliced onions, garlic, and bell peppers.

Mike and I went to the grocery store for the necessary ingredients and then got down to cooking before eventually relaxing with a couple of beers in front of the tube. I set the water to boil while he sliced the vegetables and sautéed them in a hot skillet with a little olive oil. After the vegetables were fully cooked and slightly browned on the edges I browned hot Italian pork sausages in an enameled stew pot and added a large jar of tomato sauce. I used a commercial sauce this time for sheer convenience though normally I am a huge proponent of homemade tomato sauce which is both easy to make and far better than its store bought counterpart. Add the cooked vegetables to the tomato and sausage and let simmer for about 15 or 20 minutes. Toss the fettuccini into the sauce and stir through on the burner before serving with some freshly grated parmesan. I highly recommend this family favorite which serves a big group easily when coupled with a green salad and bread. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Neighbor Night At The Walk

No one can worship God or love his neighbor on an empty stomach. -Woodrow Wilson. I was reminded of these words about a week ago after hosting my neighbor Robin for a night of French comfort food. One of the things I want to do more often is cook for my neighbors. I love to entertain but don’t get me wrong, from time to time I cherish the quiet isolation of my own company. I invite my sister Emma over on occasion although not nearly enough and I have never really hosted our other neighbors which is precisely what I hope to change. A recent dinner of beef stew, winter vegetable puree, and fresh strawberries was part and parcel of that grand ambition because as Mr. Wilson aptly stated, no one can love on an empty stomach.

Beef stew comes a thousand ways yet each and every one is unique in its own right, tasting different even if cooked from the same recipe. I feel with a clear bias given my Gallic heritage that French provincial stews are some of the best out there. I have all to many memories of my father preparing massive meat stews or daube after being charged with the task of feeding twenty five hungry guests at our country house. I often wing it in the kitchen and draw on things I have eaten or seen done in other kitchens and this was no exception. My daube de boeuf provencal was a pretty classic French beef stew that mirrored my father’s in many ways made with minimal ingredients and lengthy slow cooking. I used top rump and a half bottle of heady Burgundy in my stew cooked for about two and a half hours. I find that top rump is a relatively inexpensive cut of meat that holds up nicely in stews and that one should always cook with wine they would otherwise drink. I finished the stew with a persillade of minced garlic and parsley stirred in just before serving to add a fresh note and olfactory stimulus to the dish. Stews go well with a number of side dishes whether potatoes, rice, egg noodles, or crusty bread but in this case I went with a winter vegetable puree both creamy and earthy.

Winter Vegetable Puree

1 Russet Potato
1 Celery Root (Celeriac)
2 Parsnips
1/2 Cup Greek Yogurt
2 tbls. Butter
1 Pinch Nutmeg
1 Pinch Allspice
Salt & Pepper

Cut the vegetables into uniform pieces about 1/2 thick and steam until tender. Drain and transfer to a large bowl if hand mashing or a food processor and blend coarsely. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth. Top with chives or any other leafy herb and serve hot as an accompaniment to stewed or roasted meats or as a starter with warm crusty bread.

After the rich stew and creamy vegetable puree I wanted to serve something light and refreshing preferably fruit based. After a dismal tour of the produce section I saw that strawberries are apparently in season in California. After hulling and halving the berries I mixed some Greek yogurt with lemon zest and lemon curd. This was no ordinary lemon curd I might add; it was prepared a few weeks ago by my friend Hope who boasts an epic garden and citrus grove at her home in Los Angeles. I served the yogurt in bowls topped with the fresh berries tossed with a touch of aged balsamic and black pepper as they do in Italy. The dish was the perfect light and fruity break from the heavy French provincial stew. This was a good start to what I plan to be a Pomander tradition of cooking for my neighbors. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dinner Party Chez Hitch

The second day of our weekend trip upstate to Ithaca and Trumansberg was spent idly. The three of us were a bit hung-over from the debaucheries of the night before fueled by the fine wine, grappa, and food. Nick, Valerie, and I welcomed the calm of the countryside with its beautiful landscape and white snowy view on display outside the warm living room at my uncle Hitch’s farmhouse. They had reading to do and I spent the afternoon chatting with Hitch and listening to opera casually in front of the fireplace. He had invited a couple of friends from town to join us for dinner and in the late afternoon sent us for a few last minute things. The three of us drove into town for oysters and wine, a lovely drive in the crystal clear winter dusk. I was enticed by the prosecco on sale at the wine merchant and decided to whip up a couple of cocktails upon return to the house for an impromptu aperatif. I made a classic Italian Belini with mashed white peaches and a little brown sugar plopped in the bottom of a glass topped with a healthy dose of bubbly. The second round of drinks was a blood orange coup of prosecco and freshly squeezed juice that lent a gorgeous color to the glass.

Hitch calmly prepared dinner in the large rustic kitchen the other guests and I sat in front of the fire immediately adjacent the stove, able to converse with him as he chopped, fried, and baked up a storm. The first course was a lush looking pasta dubbed penne a l’aspergi which Hitch picked up on one of his sojourns to Italy. The dish was made of penne, chopped asparagus, olive oil, and a blend of five or six cheese including parmesan, cantal, and pecorino. The nuttiness and gooey texture of the cheese went well with the fresh earthy crunch of the asparagus which had been lightly sautéed. The first course paired excellently with Hitch’s favorite; Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand.

The second course was a recipe that dates back to my great great grandmother. Hitch fondly remembers these delicacies from his youth and prides himself on making them exactly as he witnessed to preserve the family tradition. Fried oysters are a delicious thing indeed but I have problems with cooked oysters period. I don’t mean to offend anybody its just that I like my oysters chilled and freshly shucked with a twist of lemon and some brown bread with butter on the side. Call me old fashioned, conservative, close-minded, or a snob but that’s about the only way I will eat them. I must admit that Hitch’s fried oysters were good and I ate my share happily. He simply dredged shucked Blue Points in finely crushed saltine crackers and then pan-fried them in two cast iron skillets with vegetable oil. The “breading” added a great crunch and saltiness to the creamy oysters that literally popped in your mouth. I highly recommend trying these at home if you are into that sort of thing.

The third and final course was a beautiful citrus tart Hitch seemed to just throw together and serve out of nowhere. The recipe came from a British pastry book, which sounds scary but the tarts and custards photographed on the pages looked really tasty. I don’t know exactly what went into this particular tart essentially a custard with eggs, butter, and sugar mixed with orange and lemon juice. The deep beigeish orange color of the tart leads me to believe there was blood orange involved. The eggy citrus custard was set against a crisp salty crust and was truly an amazing thing to eat. Hitch was batting a hundred, two for two on the meal front and I was so glad that he invited us for back-to-back dinners at his beautiful farmhouse in Trumansberg. It was a wonderful experience that we all shared and Valerie and I definitely look forward to the next one. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Trumansberg Farmstead Supper

This past weekend I was in Ithaca visiting the Cornell campus and my very good friend Nick. He is a doctoral candidate in the English department and this is the first time I have gone up to visit him despite the relative proximity to New York City by car. As I have mentioned in numerous previous posts Nick is a foodie who is quite skilled in the kitchen. He also happens to be a hip dude that I love spending time with. Valerie and I left the city at a shockingly early hour (6am!) and arrived in Ithaca for a walking tour of the gorgeous campus before sitting down to lunch. My uncle on my mother’s side lives just outside of Ithaca and was another motivation for the weekend road trip. Hitch is a fabulous gardner, wonderful cook, and ebullient personality whom I truly enjoy spending time with. He invited the three of us up to his farmhouse in Trumansberg to have dinner and spend the night which we gratefully accepted knowing that we were in for an uproariously good time. After we had settled in and deposited our baggage Hitch summoned us with a glass of wine and a slice of homemade pork terrine. The pâté was tender and not greasy at all with just the right amount of fat, seasoning, and chopped pistachio paired well with the vegetal aftertaste of the chilled white. Hitch loves to cook and entertain through a modest philosophy that food should highlight natural flavors and not be overly complex. Simplicity through delicious ingredients treated with care and respect is above all showcased in his cooking and our dinner was no exception. Hitch has traveled extensively throughout Europe, particularly Italy and Greece, two food cultures that have heavily influenced his cuisine. The first course was an Italian fennel dish baked with cream and parmesan. He boiled thickly sliced fennel for until just tender and then baked in a buttered earthenware dish topped with heavy cream and coarsely grated parmesan.

When I went back into the kitchen and the open fireplace next to Hitch’s industrial stovetop I was amazed to find a dish of lamb chops. The little meaty jewels had been infused with minced garlic and rosemary pressed into the chops. Hitch then employed a kitchen trick I have often thought about but never tried to employ: he grilled them in the fireplace over hot coals. The fire had died down enough to cook the meat on direct heat without flaring up, burning, or overcooking the tender meat. The whole kitchen erupted in an olfactory blaze of flavor as the meat cooked to a perfect crisp exterior and rosy pink center highly flavored by the smoke and aromatics. There were also little crispy slightly bitter morsels of burnt rosemary that one came across in random bites that added a robust depth of flavor to the grilled lamb. Overall the dish exemplified Hitch’s approach in the kitchen; it was simply prepared and absolutely delicious. 

The third course was served after a decent respite during which we cleared our plates and the remaining wine on the table. After we had decided what to drink to accompany them, a plate of boiled new potatoes and a cheeseboard arrived. The potatoes were piping hot and we were invited to dress our spuds with a choice of sweet butter, salt, pepper, or cheese. The four cheeses, clockwise from bottom left, were comté, pecorino, appenzeller, and a local cow’s milk tome. Each cheese had its own thing going on and some were best on their own though the appenzeller and a tiny pad of butter melted over a split potato was a heavenly match. Appenzeller is a hard cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland that has a fruity flavor with slightly herbal tones, one of the three principal cheeses found in classic fondues. We casually sat around the cheeseboard as the potatoes disappeared almost as fast as the wine and relished each other’s company before moving into the kitchen to be nearer to the cozy fire. It was an elegant feast despite its rustic quality where few ingredients were employed to savory ends. We concluded the evening with a thimble of grappa and a dish of thinly sliced oranges, a sort of fruit carpaccio that provided a welcome lightness after a hearty meal. All in all it was a great experience and we all enjoyed the tasty treats and excellent wines to which my uncle treated us. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Creative Writing With Spiced Lamb

The other night my friend Jessica, a wonderful poet and grand gourmand, came over for a night of eating, drinking, and writing. Whenever she and I hang out we end up writing, especially if there is some delicious red or bourbon handy. We sit and talk while passing a notebook back and forth trading lines of prose, an activity I relish for inspiring me to keep up my endeavors in creative writing. For our gustatory pleasure I prepared a rustic meal of grilled meat and veggies. For a warm vegetable side dish I made a plate of grilled fennel with grapefruit vinaigrette and macerated shallots. I tossed 1/2 inch slices of fennel with olive oil and salt before grilling on a hot grill pan to give them a caramelized texture while maintaining their inherent crunch.

The main course and central protein was a spicy grilled leg of lamb. I know it sounds ridiculous that two people polished off a whole leg of lamb on their own as well it should. I had no idea but the butcher at the gourmet grocer occasionally sells smaller cuts from the leg portion. I marinated the lamb in my patented Angelito sauce, a recipe I cannot give out freely but suffice it to say it includes chipotle peppers, jalapeno, lime, and olive oil; chefs have their secrets. I left the lamb in the spicy, smoky, flavor-packed mixture for about three hours though it could and should have gone overnight to really allow the flavors to permeate. I grilled the lamb over high heat on a grill pan to char the outside until medium rare, which is really the best way to enjoy lamb. Leave the meat wrapped in aluminum foil for 10 or 15 minutes before slicing and savor the spicy crust and tender pink interior. The third dish was a spicy Italian bean ragout which is one of my favorite side dishes.

White Beans with Garlic Chili Oil

1 Can of Beans (cannellini or white kidney beans)
4 Garlic cloves
2 tbls. Olive Oil
1 tsp. Red Chili Flakes
1 Lemon

Drain and rinse the canned beans to remove the metallic flavor and canning liquid. Finely mince the garlic cloves and combine with chili flakes, the zest of one half lemon, and olive oil. Let the ingredients sit for at least a half-hour to infuse the oil. In a hot skillet sauté the beans with a teaspoon of the olive oil mixture and heat through for about 7 minutes. Toss with the remaining oil and cook for another 3 minutes before removing from the heat. Serve immediately with the zest from the second lemon half and a bit of freshly chopped herbs. This is a delicious and hearty vegetable ragout that stands up to aromatic roasted meats. You can of course substitute dried beans though it is considerably more work intensive. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Casual Weekday Dinner

My mother was in town early last week for the first of her spring semester classes at the New School where she teaches graduate film. She drove down from the Catskills accompanied by my Uncle Hitch and the two arrived hungry in the late afternoon. I had a couple of friends over as well which made for a lovely dinner crew and after a few minutes of deliberation we decided to dine together. Hitch and I thought it would be best to not get overly excited about cooking given the pressing feeling in our bellies. The two of us went to the gourmet grocer and bought a few things that could be assembled simply into a light dinner before hitting the wine shop. We bought a plump rosemary roast chicken from the deli counter and a few other things to throw together. I find when they are done well a grocer’s roast chicken is a worthy substitute for a home cooked bird. I simply carved the chicken and arranged it nicely on a platter served lukewarm in the center of the table for people to pick at according to their fancy.

In addition to the chicken I made a big salad of mache, roasted beets pickled in a bit of balsamic (seriously one of my favorite things ever), chopped hazelnuts, and gorgonzola dolce. Hitch wanted me to make a simple green salad but I love to jazz things up with textures and tastes using vinegar, cheese, and nuts to dress up mild greens. For the cheese course Hitch and I selected two cheeses; St. Marcellin in a pretty ceramic dish and Idiazábal made from unpasteurized sheep’s milk hailing from Basque country. We concluded our casual weekday dinner with some fresh golden raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries tossed with Meyer lemon juice and sugar. Berries are completely out of season so these happened to come from Chile though they were organic and had some semblance of flavor.

I brought a 2003 Chablis from a large chateau whose name escapes me and Hitch brought two bottles of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, a New Zealand wine from the Marlborough region with a strange top note of green bell pepper. The Chablis paired perfectly with the chicken and the Cloudy Bay cut through the fat of the cheese and the sourness of the mixed berries. Overall it was a very enjoyable quick and easy meal that left us wholly satisfied without the burden of a messy kitchen. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!