Monday, February 16, 2009

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!

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