February 2010

Posted on February 28, 2010 in Archives

February 28, 2010 Open That Bottle Night 

 

Ending the shortest month with a hangover is probably not a good sign of things to come, but last night’s celebration of Open That Bottle Night was well worth the slight handicap I’m enduring. Four couples met at Ann and Larry Cove’s house in Bethesda, each with special bottles in tow. Larry initiated the festivities with a Perrier-Jouët flower bottle, which we sipped with Ann’s famous truffled scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. Mikel and I provided the rare magnum of Jean-Luc Colombo’s 2005 Les Ruchets Cornas, a gift from our wine guru, Debbie Marlowe. Colombo is often called the King of Syrah and this lovely Rhône varietal stands witness to that reputation. It was perfect with Ann’s duck confit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kerry Muldoon and Terri Ryan arrived with two bottles of Ravenswood’s 1994 Wood Road Belloni Zin. The first bottle was easily the most mellow Zinfandel I’ve ever tasted, less than 14% alcohol, and it  married well with Ann’s roast root vegetables and the green beans with shiitakes. I never would have guessed that the second bottle was even the same grape. Fullly tannic with a bitter coffee edge, it would have been better as the first poured, to complement the roast lamb. 1994 was once declared to be the Zinfandel Vintage of the Century, but I have not been able to ascertain if this single-vineyard wine includes other grapes such as petite sirah and carignane. I know that every bottle of wine has the potential to be different, if only from the number of hands that have warmed it and the number of times it’s been moved around. But I was shocked at the drastic difference between the two bottles. I don’t know that I would have even known that either were a Russian River Zin! In the photo by Larry below, I’ve cut off Tom on the left because he’s the Washington Post’s restaurant critic and, as such, he tries to remain anonymous. From left to right: Kerry, me, Ann, Ed, Terri, and Mikel.

 

Larry opened a 2000 Prieuré Lichine to have with the cheeses, which were mostly local, the most stunning of which was a perfectly ripe Brie. All of the cheeses were subtle, so they did not compete with the soft Margaux. 

I always have reservations about serving red wines with cheese. I wish we had thought to pair the cheese with the 56-year-old Madeira that Ed Lichorat and Tom Sietsema brought along, and which we sipped with cookies after dinner, by the fire.

 

All in all, a delightful evening with good food, good wine, and good friends – both old and new.

 

The Madeira was truly special. And Ann’s cooking is always a delight. Mikel and I plan to meet Terri and Kerry, whom we did not know before last night, at the DC Marriage Bureau on Wednesday, where we will be getting our marriage licenses.

 

February 24, 2010 Mash

 

I love sweet potatoes and eat them often in the fall and winter. Mostly I like to simply bake them and eat them plain, skin and all, but I usually bake extras then make something else with them

such as ravioli or this mashed potato combo. Yesterday I had leftover mashed potatoes, so I simply zapped the already cooked potatoes in the microwave, squeezed the sweet potatoes out of their skins into the mash, and blended them together with a handheld mixer, adding a little warm half-and-half. I like to make mashed potatoes with olive oil as well as butter and I also make them with a little warmed milk, but this version is festive and rich, for company and holidays.

 

Mashed White and Sweet Potatoes

           

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like mashed potatoes. Whether served alongside baked or grilled meats, poultry, or vegetables, a puree of potatoes is comfort food at its finest. I make a very basic recipe that I serve with Country Fried Steak, tailored to hold a gravy seasoned with onions and black pepper, but mashed potatoes can be doctored all sorts of ways to complement other meals, too.          

           

I particularly like them mashed with sweet potatoes (recipe follows), but you can add a puree of cooked fennel, parsnips, or turnips as well. Whip some of the roasted garlic crème fraiche from the  recipe for ravioli that I posted on November 12, 2008, into mashed potatoes when you are serving roast meats and you will get rave reviews. The French like to boil their potatoes, then use the potato water to whip into their potato puree; a little olive oil is a delicious touch in place of the usual butter.

           

Use this potato recipe as a blueprint, not the ultimate say-so. Just be sure not to try to mash the potatoes in a blender or processor — they’ll get gummy. And, according to Time-Life’s excellent book on vegetables from their Good Cook series (now, unfortunately, out-of-print), you mustn’t bake your sweet potatoes at temperatures over 375o if you want them to be sweet.                

 

3 large white baking potatoes                     

3 large sweet potatoes

1-1/2 cups cream

salt and freshly ground white pepper

 

Preheat the oven to 375o. Scrub the potatoes well and prick the white potatoes in 2 or 3 places with a fork. Place the potatoes in the oven directly on the racks and bake until they give to the touch. Depending on the size of the potatoes, they should take 45 minutes to an hour. The sweet potatoes may be done a few minutes before the white potatoes.

 

Put the cream in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.

 

Scoop the flesh out of the baked potatoes into a large mixing bowl and mash with a potato masher or by putting it through a food mill. Beat in the cream a little at a time with a heavy wire whisk, seasoning to taste with the salt and white pepper. Serve immediately.

Serves 8.

 

February 21, 2010 Cooking off the Cuff

 

I’ve cooked several things this weekend without recipes. Or, when I did use recipes, I tweaked them a little for one reason or another. I rarely shop with set recipes in mind, but last week an old friend of mine had posted photos of a Pineapple Upside Down Cake on his Facebook page and it reminded me how much I love them. We had vegetarians coming for dinner on Thursday evening, so when I shopped, I knew that I would simply have to respond to the best looking mid-winter produce I could find and go from there. Pineapples have been pretty lately, so I decided ahead of time that I would make the old southern favorite. I didn’t go shopping until very late in the afternoon, however, so I did something I’ve never done: bought an already-peeled-and-cored pineapple. (Since the snowstorm, I’ve also tried to cut down on garbage, since we haven’t had a pickup in over two weeks.) If you want to make my version with fresh pineapple and don’t want to peel and core it yourself, be sure to buy one that has a 1/4 cup of the juice in the container. The recipe calls for it.

 

Fresh Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

               from The New Southern Cook

 

This is another of those dishes that calls for the southerner’s well-seasoned cast-iron pan. You can use a cake pan or casserole dish, but be sure to grease it well if you do. In this case, I used a custom-made steel pan that is 11 inches in diameter, bigger than what is called for. I bought pre-peeled and cored fresh pineapple and the rings and holes were smaller than what I normally cut myself; hence, the variation on the placement of the rings that I describe below.

 

Most recipes for this American classic call for canned pineapple slices. Native to tropical America, pineapples have been favored in the South since colonial days. Since so many of today’s modern supermarkets carry fresh, ripe pineapples, it seems silly to use the canned product. If your supermarket sells fresh pineapple already cored, by all means buy it that way, but be sure to save a little juice for the batter. If you must use canned, buy slices packed in unsweetened pineapple juice.

 

If you use juicy fresh pineapple, be sure to cut and drain the slices before using them, saving the drained juice.

 

2 ounces (1/2 stick) butter

3/4 cup light brown sugar (or 1/2 cup tightly packed)

5 slices cored pineapple, fresh or canned (drained and patted dry if  fresh); plus 1/4 cup of the juice

15 perfect pecan halves (optional)

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs at room temperature, separated

2/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon dark rum

 

Preheat the oven to 350o . In a 10-inch well-seasoned cast-iron skillet (or in a greased 10-inch cake pan or casserole), melt the butter and the sugar together over low heat. Turn off the heat.

           

Pat the pineapple slices dry, then cut all but one of them in half. Place the whole slice in the center of the skillet, then place the halves around the center slice, curved sides toward the middle of the pan. Place the pecan halves flat side down in the 15 spaces that fall in the center of the slices and between them.

           

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt onto wax paper or a paper plate. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until it is well mixed and light-colored, then beat in the vanilla, rum, and pineapple juice. Add the sifted ingredients and mix well.

           

Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks, then fold evenly into the batter. Pour the batter into the skillet and place on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the top is well browned.

           

Immediately place a large platter with a lip over the skillet. Quickly but carefully invert the skillet and platter, using hot pads so as not to burn yourself. Wait a minute, then lift the skillet from the cake. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

Yields 8 to 10 slices.

 

Maine Shrimp

 

Mikel and I had lots of errands to run this weekend, so we had lunch in Bethesda while the dog was being groomed. At Raku, we devoured mounds of excellent sushi and sashimi, then headed down to MacArthur Boulevard to buy some Maine shrimp from BlackSalt. They were advertised as “day-boat” shrimp, fresh from Maine, but when I got home, where I planned to use their heads and shells to make a quick stove-top stock to flavor my pasta sauce, I was a bit disappointed to find that the fat in the head was already beginning to rot. I quickly peeled them and sent the heads and shells down the garbage disposal, sprinkled the sweet little critters with cayenne and a splash of white wine, then turned to my Mainer friend Nancy Harmon Jenkins, who had extolled the virtues of Pandalus borealis a couple of weeks ago on ZesterDaily.

I looked at Nancy’s recipes and looked at what I had in my kitchen and did my own thing. I didn’t have angel hair pasta. I didn’t have leeks. I did have a shallot, which I chopped and added to a film of olive oil in a pan while the pasta water boiled. I then added a chopped garlic clove and about a cup of white wine to the pan and let the liquid reduce to nothing. When the pasta was about 3/4 cooked, I  added two peeled and quartered fresh Kumato tomatoes from Mexico (delicious, among the best available in winter), the shrimp with the wine they sat in, and a good handful of parsley I had chopped with salt. I turned up the heat, drained the pasta, tossed the shrimp pan around a bit, tasted it and added a splash of vinegar (I didn’t have lemon juice), then added the pasta to the pan with a handful of fresh basil leaves. Delicious.

 

Sausage with Cabbage and Onions

 

Today we ate our big meal in the middle of the day, which we would always prefer to do if we could. I made the old classic, sausage with cabbage and onions. I don’t know a European country that doesn’t have its own version of this delicious dish, but I leaned toward a German version, with egg noodles I bought up in Pennsylvania “Dutch” country rather than the English version with potatoes (“Bubble and Squeak”). It really doesn’t matter what kind of link sausage you used. I happen to have smoked andouille. The recipe couldn’t be simpler: put a film of oil in a pan and heat or brown your sausages (fully cooked sausages need only be warmed through). Add sliced cabbage and onions. Taste the sausage before you go seasoning the pan too much, but do season with salt and pepper to taste. I like to splash some apple cider (also from Amish country) or a fruity, dry wine from Alsace into the pan, cover it, and let it braise while the noodles cook. I drained the noodles, added a small knob of butter to them, then tossed them in the pan with the cabbage and sausage. A bit of crusty bread, a glass of the remarkable 2008 Keuka Lake Vineyards Gentle Dry Vignoles, and I felt as though I were in Strasbourg. Lord knows it looks like it outside here, with most of the snow still on the ground.

 

Parking Chairs

 

A cultural phenomenon throughout Northeastern cities when there are snowstorms. This has nothing to do with food, but it does have to do with my daily bread, so to speak.

 

Valentine’s Day Weekend

 

And still there are piles of snow and more coming down now as I write. After having guests for a week and a refrigerator full of leftovers, I made new meals from what I had. In the photo at right there are stuffed peppers cooked in ajvar, a pepper and eggplant spread from Bulgaria that I buy  in jars and offer as a dip with pita chips.  The peppers are stuffed with Chicken Country Captain made as a pilau — that is, with the rice cooked in with the sauce. I simply added more broth to the cooking chicken, then added the rice to the pot and allowed it to simmer for about 20 minutes with the lid closed. For these peppers, I charred the skins of large, red ripe bell peppers, peeled them, removed the stem end, pulled out all the seeds and carefully removed the ribs with the tip of a sharp knife, stuffed them with the leftover chicken pilau, placed them in an earthware dish that had about a half-inch of ajvar, covered the pot, and warmed the dish through in a medium oven.

 

Acacia Bistro

 

The real highlight of our Valentine’s weekend, though, was our meal on Sunday* at Acacia Bistro, where the remarkable 70-something Liliana Dumas is weaving her Franco-Italian magic to the brilliant accompaniment of her son Michel’s wine choices. I’ve followed the Dumas family through several different locations, and I’m hoping this sleek modern spot in the corner of an office building in Van Ness will attract not only lovers of Ligurian cuisine, but also anyone looking for exquisite Italian food. It doesn’t hurt that Liliana is declared, time and time again, the maker of the best desserts in town. Michel’s wine list is one of the most reasonably priced and diverse in Washington, with nearly every bottle offered by the glass. Don’t be fooled by the wine list on the website; it’s not up to date, and the restaurant offers many, many more wines, such as the astounding 2007 Keuka Lake Gently Dry Vignoles that Michel chose for us to have with our appetizers of fresh marinated anchovies; a seafood salad brimming with fresh shrimp, mussels, and squid; and the lightest, most delicate brandade of bacalau that I’ve ever tasted. I’ve had some Canadian ice wines made from Vignoles before, but had never tasted a wine made from the grape in the off-dry style. With none of the acidic bite of a Sauvignon Blanc, and a much more delicate fruitiness than Chardonnay, the wine was a stunning surprise for me, and once again I find myself thanking Michel for his assiduous selection (we let both Liliana and Michel choose for us). 

 

With Liliana’s delicate spinach-filled ravioli lightly sauced with butter enhanced with a few sage leaves, we drank the Domaine Vincent Bouzereau’s 2005 Bourgogne Blanc. I’ve yet to taste any European wines from 2005 that weren’t classic, and this bright, meaty, fruity Chardonnay was perfectly balanced with the right amount of acidity to cut through the butter and Parmesan to the spinach undertones. I wasn’t sure if the minerals I was tasting were in the spinach or the wine. When that happens, I know the wine is perfect. But, wait, there’s more: Michel also sent to the table a 2007 (another great year in Europe) Austrian Pinot Noir from Meinklang. “Try this with the ravioli,” he said, “though either of these wines should marry well with both the pasta and the ciuppin.”

Again, I was pleasantly surprised by the balance in the wine, especially given the notorious difficulties of pinot noir. Nice fruit, a bit of spice, and plenty of minerals to complement the pasta. And then I tasted the ciuppin! Ciuppin is one of those dishes like bouillabaise that has many, many versions, but it’s origins are in the western Italian Riviera, Liliana’s homeland. In America, it’s known as cioppino, and is associated with the San Francisco Bay area, where thousands of Ligurians moved in the late 19th Century. I haven’t had one as good as Liliana’s since I was in Genoa last year. Filled with mussels, squid, fish, shrimp and the elusive vongole veraci, the soup had a flavor that you can get only with the Mediterranean clams that I have never seen for sale in the States. This is the palourde of France, the little ribbed clams served in Italy with pasta. In England you find them as “carpet shells,” but I’ve never heard that term in America. Closely related are Manila clams (Ruditapes phillipinardum), which were introduced by accident into the northern Pacific but which the Environmental Defense Fund considers ecologically safe. Vongole veraci are also considered not only safe ecologically, but also as bio-indicators of healthy seas. If you buy canned clams from the Mediterranean, that’s probably what you’re getting. But even with fresh ones, you’re unlikely to have the delicate touch of Liliana. Her soups are as amazing as her famous desserts, none of which is more enchanting than her pistachio cream cake, which the Washington Post’s Tom Sietsema raved about here. Alongside the cake, Michel served us our old favorite, Maculan’s Dindarello, and with Mikel’s chocolate cake, a small glass of Starry Night’s Old Vine 2005 Zinfandel. We had had our eyes on the special Valentine’s Day menu, featuring quail stuffed with duck liver, olives, and mushrooms, as well as the wild boar carpaccio, but when Liliana came out of the kitchen and told us that she had fresh anchovies and clams and shrimp, well, I don’t know about you, but I always take what the cook suggests!

 

* Please note that Acacia is usually closed on Sunday, but they opened especially for Valentine’s Day.

 

February 10-12, 2010 SnOMG!!!

 

SnowMyGod! is my favorite — Snowpocalypse, Snowmageddon, SnoThankYou, Snoverkill. Snoverit!!!I wouldn’t believe it if I weren’t witnessing and enduring and battling it myself. I shovelled a path for the dog this morning — with walls of snow over 2 feet on either side of the shovel’s path — and now it’s covered in snow by at least 8 inches. My friends visiting from Genoa, Italy, are supposed to leave tomorrow, but who knows what will happen. The streets are a mess; the sidewalks, unwalkable. Thank goodness I bought lots of food.

 

We’ll have a version of Shrimp and Grits later today. Last night I served twice-baked sweet potatoes (In their skins. Everyone ate every bite.), collards wilted in olive oil, and beets with their greens alongside Côtelettes d’Agneau à la Parmesane  (Lamb Chops with Parmesan). I always thought that the dish was classic Franco-Italian cooking, but Gianni and Paola say that it’s not. Alla Parmigiana refers to any number of recipes that use Parmesan. I’ve never seen this one in Italian for lamb chops. but it’s made throughout Italy with veal cutlets. You see the word in Italy written as both costolette and cotolette. Here’s the recipe.

 

Lamb Chops with Parmesan

 

4 ounces (I stick) unsalted butter

8 lamb rib chops cut from the rack and trimmed of excess fat

freshly, finely grated Parmesan, about 1 cup

2 eggs

1 cup freshly grated, dry bread crumbs

olive oil

tomato sauce, optional

 

Place half the butter in a rather flat, microwave-proof dish such as a pie plate and melt it. Pat the lamb chops dry and place the Parmesan on a piece of wax or parchment paper. Dip each chop into the butter, coating it as well as possible, then place each chop down in the Parmesan and coat it with cheese. Shake off any excess and set aside. There should be enough butter and cheese to coat each chop. If not, add some more. When the chops are all coated with cheese, pour off any excess butter into a large flat frying pan.

 

Place the eggs in the dish that held the butter and beat them well. Place the bread crumbs on a piece of wax or parchment paper. Dip each chop into the beaten eggs, drain off any excess, then place down into the mound of bread crumbs. Gather bread crumbs from around the chop and dust it thoroughly, then gently press the crumbs into the surface. Shake off any excess and set aside on a large plate. Repeat with each chop and allow the chops to sit in a cool place for at least an hour.

 

About ten minutes before serving, heat the remaining butter and a little oil in one or two frying pans and fry the chops over medium high heat for about 4 minutes on each side, until the bread crumbs are golden brown. They should be just pink inside. Serve them plain, as I did, or with a tomato sauce. I served beets and their greens (see November 12, 2007) and twice-baked sweet potatoes alongside.

 

February 6, 2010 SNOWMAGEDDON!!!

That’s President Obama’s description of what’s going on here. It started snowing yesterday morning about 11 am and hasn’t stopped, and isn’t expected to any time soon. We may have as much as 3 feet of snow in places!

 

It’s 1 pm on Saturday and I just took this shot out my back door. You can see that there is easily 18 inches already. My friends Gianni Martini (he owns this art gallery in Genoa) and Paola Rosina (she owns this winery) are in New York trying to get here, but we haven’t figured out how to get them from the train station to our house. The streets are knee deep in snow.

 

Yesterday I was preparing for their visit and making lots of my favorites — roast pecans, Rockefeller Turnovers (see December 20, 2007), and celery salt (see April 1, 2008)  – when I decided to make an oyster soup. I’ve always thought that the simplest ones were the best ones, but I couldn’t resist adding some of the celeriac to the soup. Here’s what I did:

 

 

 

Oyster Stew with Celeriac

 

1 small celery root

8 ounces natural clam stock

2 tablespoons butter

1 shallot, minced

1 stalk celery, minced

12 ounces milk

4 ounces cream

8 ounces oysters and their liquor

salt and pepper to taste

 

Peel the celery root, saving the peels. I place them on a piece of aluminum foil and put them in the basement on the top of the hot water heater to dry out completely, then grind them with sea salt to make the celery salt desribed on April 1, 2008. Cut the root into cubes and place in a pot with the clam stock and boil until the celery root is soft. Puree the mixture and set aside.

 

In the meantime, melt the butter in a saucepan and cook the shallot and celery over medium low heat for about 5 minutes or until the onion begins to clear and the celery softens. Do not let the butter or the vegetables brown. Add the milk and cream and warm the mixture through. Add the celeriac puree and the oysters and heat carefully, just until the soup is hot and the edges of the oysters have just barely begun to curl.

 

Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot with saltines or oyster crackers.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.