January 31, 2009 Snowed In!
I’m not really snowed in, but when the snow began to fall yesterday morning, I bundled up and took the dog for his walk, and slipped into the newly opened natural foods store in our neighborhood to see what I could find to supplement what I already had at home, which wasn’t much. Most of the vegetables looked pretty pathetic, but they did have beautiful lettuce, which they explained was so expensive because of the ice storms in Florida. (Does it make sense that a perfectly gorgeous head of lettuce, then, would be more expensive since it wasn’t damaged?) In the meat section, I found a fresh 3-pound chicken (I don’t buy bigger except for soups and stews) from Bell & Evans. I try to buy local birds, even in winter when there are few farmers markets around, and Bell & Evans birds are raised in Pennsylvania Dutch country, just a couple of hours north of here. As the late Bill Neal wrote, “Frozen chicken tastes bloody and turns dark at the bone when fried. If you find yourself in the possession of one, stew it or bury it.” Imagine my horror recently when I bit into the thigh of a fried bird in a famous southern chef’s local establishment and immediately recognized that muddy taste and then saw the nasty dark blotch near the joint. But I digress.
I’ve written about roast chicken before (see June 18), but I slowed the oven down a bit for this bird. I also speeded up the brining time, increasing the salt a little and soaking the bird for a mere 2 hours instead of the usual 4 to 12 hours. Interestingly, I wrote about brining exactly a year ago. I used the root vegetables that I had on hand — parsnips, carrots, and onions — and served creamed spinach alongside. I also had strips of orange zest and a bunch of olives in the fridge, so I used them as seasoning as well as garlic. It was delicious.
To make the brine, add 3/4 pound salt to a gallon of water. Soak a whole bird for 4 to 12 hours; pieces, for 1 to 1-1/2 hours. You can add some sugar to the brine if you like. It will help the bird brown.
Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables
a 2-1/2 to 3 lb fresh chicken, brined (see formula, above)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
the zest of an orange, with no white pith,
grated or cut into thin strips
1 cup olive-cured green olives
3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved, any
green shoots removed
1 pound parsnips, peeled and chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 or 2 medium to large onions, peeled
and quartered, the root end
left intact to hold the quarters
Thoroughly dry the bird, inside and out. Grease a roasting rack with olive oil and place the rack in an oiled roasting pan. Preheat the oven to 375o.
Salt and pepper the inside of the bird, and add some of the zest, a few of the olives, and the garlic to its cavity. Simply truss the bird by tying the legs so that the stuffing doesn’t fall out.
In a large bowl, place the remaining orange zest, olives, parsnips, carrots, and onions, and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle oil over the vegetables and gently swirl them around until they are all coated with oil. Distribute them evenly in the roasting pan, under and around the rack. Place the bird down in the bowl and turn it over until it is well coated with oil. Heavily salt the bird and place it breast-side down on the rack.
Roast the bird for 15 minutes, then carefully turn it to rest on one side. Roast the bird for an additional 15 minutes, then turn it to rest on the other side. Roast again for 15 minutes and turn the bird breast side up to roast for another 20 minutes. Each time you turn the bird, toss the vegetables around a bit or move them about to be sure they are not sticking to the pan or overcooking. The bird should be cooked to an internal temperature of about 165o. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and let it rest for at least 12 minutes before you carve it.
Turn off the oven, remove the roasting rack from the pan, and toss the vegetables around. You can return them to the oven to stay warm. In the meantime, prepare greens to go with the dish. I usually serve a simple salad with roast chicken, but last night I made
Creamy Spinach (from The New Southern Cook)
Creamed spinach is an old southern favorite — heavy with butter, cream, and flour. In this lightened version, I’ve added some shallots and garlic for flavor, replaced the cream with yogurt, and freshened it with a bit of mint.
1-1/2 pounds of spinach
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup plain yogurt
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves
Wash the spinach well, trim it, and chop or tear it into pieces, letting them fall into a large saucepan with the water that clings to it. Add the shallot and garlic and cook over medium heat, covered, for about 5 minutes. Shake the pan occasionally so that the vegetables do not stick.
Drain the vegetables well, then add the olive oil and continue to cook for another 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat, stir in the yogurt, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Fold in the mint and serve immediately.
Here’s the recipe for the
Butternut Squash and Apple Soup
that I made last week:
1 butternut squash, not too big or
bulbous, about 2-3/4 pounds
1-1/2 pounds apples, about three average,
1/2 pound sweet or mild onions, shallots,
or leeks (white parts only),
quartered but unpeeled
5 cups stock (chicken, duck, vegetable)
fresh ginger root, a 3″ piece, sliced thin
1 cup apple cider
1/2 cup cream
salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 375o. Quarter the squash and remove the seeds, but do not peel it. Place the squash, the cored apples, and the sweet onion quarters in a heavy roasting pan or Dutch oven, cover tightly, and bake for 1-1/2 hours.
In the meantime, warm the stock with the sliced ginger.
Remove the pan from the oven and remove the vegetables and fruit. The pulp of the apples and squash should be mushy. Scoop the flesh from them and place in a food processor or blender. Discard the skins. Remove any skin or tough bases from the onions and add them to the processor. Discard the skins. Puree the fruit and vegetables.
In the meantime place the pan on top of the stove and add the cup of cider. Bring to a boil and deglaze the pan, scraping up any caramelized brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Allow the cider to reduce in half. Remove the ginger from the stock and discard. Add the stock to the roasting pan or Dutch oven, or you may add the cider to the stockpot. Add the puree and stir to incorporate while heating the soup. Add the cream and heat for about one minute, taste for salt, and add, if desired, and serve hot with a teaspoon of Calvados. You may also chill the soup and serve it cold.
January 25, 2010 Planning meals with friends
We’ve been dining with friends a lot lately. Last night we had dinner at the home of Tom Sietsema, the Washington Post’s restaurant critic of 10+ years. Everyone in Washington works so hard and we find that we have to schedule weekend gatherings months in advance. Tom’s partner, Ed, and Tom, and my Mikel were born in the same year, within a month of each other. Next month we’ll gather together again at the home of Ann and Larry Cove to begin those celebrations and for OPEN THAT BOTTLE NIGHT. It’s an event that was initiated 10 years ago. The idea is to set aside one day each year when you go ahead and open that special bottle of wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion. The event always takes place on the last Saturday of February. Make your plans now!!!
January 20, 2010: Fifty Ways to Keep Your Lover, with Recipes
Here in Washington, our license plates read TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION. The 600,000 of us who make our home here are afforded no voice in federal government, even though Congress must approve any law passed in the District. Recently, the Mayor signed an ordinance allowing gay marriage in Washington. Now we anxiously await to see whether or not “the Feds” will overturn the City Council’s resolution. Mikel, my domestic partner (we are so much more than “lovers”) and I have lived together in a monogamous relationship for 16 years. We never really intended to mimic a heterosexual institution, but there are so many rights and privileges afforded married couples that we have decided to join in the push for legal recognition of committed gay relationships, and to be wed. To be counted. We had not really considered marriage before because the laws where we have lived did not recognize our gay relationship as worthy of the institution. If the law stands, we will marry on the 17th anniversary of our first date. It wasn’t really a date, but we’ve been together ever since.
Mikel and I do not argue although we have very different tastes in most things. He reads fantasy novels; I read mostly nonfiction. In the garden, Mikel prefers showy annuals and perennials (including heirloom tomatoes); I simply grow the herbs that I need for my cooking. He speaks some Mandarin; I speak some French and Italian. He likes the peace and quiet of the country; and while I, too, like a quiet street, I prefer that it be in a city. I like drives in the country; he hates driving. He will watch a sitcom on TV; I had never owned a television when we met (laugh tracks are like fingernails on blackboards for me). I studied journalism and filmmaking in the Deep South and have made a living writing about food; he studied English literature at Yale and International Studies at Columbia and makes his living in programs that help others. Neither of us has ever read a self-help book, unless that’s what you call the Bible, Tao Te Ching, the I Ching, Shakespeare, and Carlos Castaneda. Fortunately, we both are omnivorous. I cook; we both eat what I set before us; he cleans.
In spite of some recent legislative advances toward equality for gay couples, those of us in committed gay relationships have little in the way of traditional support. Without the bolstering that the church, society, and laws give heterosexual couples, however, Mikel and I have found that we are perhaps the happiest couple we know. We both come from large families where there have been many bad marriages: my partners’ two brothers and his parents divorced; all of my siblings and my nephew divorced. Many, if not most, of our friends’ marriages ended. And most folks we know have been through several lovers. So many relationships seem to stagnate, becoming, in the words of Paul Simon, “just a habit, like saccharin.”
How did we find “true love”? What keeps us together? We have been asked these questions by many people — both gay and straight — throughout our years as a couple. I have now completed a book meant, simply, to answer those questions. Since I write about food, and cook at least one meal for us daily, I have also included some foolproof dishes that please most people over and over again. Tentative title: I’ll Cook.You Clean.
What this book is not is a sex manual. Every couple has its own sexual energy, tastes, and practices. You’ll have to work that out between yourselves. The book is neither a career manual nor a book on financial planning. Nor is it a health manual, though I do suggest that you do all you can to maintain good physical, mental, and spiritual health. I think that these words of advice are applicable to all relationships, rich and poor, for twenty-somethings and septuagenarians alike. Some of the suggestions need very little explanation, such as “Tell the truth.” Others I’ve tried to flesh out with examples from my own personal experience or with theoretical situations.
When Simon and Garfunkel first released their Bookends album, in 1968, it included the song “Overs.” I was 18 and just coming out of my first failed love affair. Paul Simon’s lyrics resonated with me even at that tender age: “there’s no laughs left ’cause we laughed them all…in a very short time.” My lover and I had rushed through the fun part, without paying any attention to the future.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel had a very successful career together, but they broke up after five years. In 1993, Simon told Larry King that everybody in the sixties broke up: “It was no big deal.” It’s certainly true of marriage: most end in divorce. In 1975, Simon’s first marriage fell apart, and there are several songs on his solo album from that year, Still Crazy After All These Years, that seem to point to that separation, “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” among them. It seems to be the way of relationships in this modern world, but, for Mikel and me, it’s not an option. We want to stay together.
For most of my life, I’ve had a simple set of rules that has worked for me in friendship: Don’t lie to me and don’t lie about me. But living with your lover involves so much more than mere words, and there are far more than fifty things that couples should not do. I don’t dwell on those negative ideas in the book, because they offer no practical application: obviously you should not cheat on your spouse or lie to him or about her. Instead, these are positive, life-affirming actions that two people in a relationship can do that Mikel and I have found to reinforce our already strong commitment to each other. I do mention a few things to avoid, but I see that avoidance as action as well.
My words of advice are not gospel, nor are they meant to be followed literally. Each couple must find its own path to happiness and well being. Some of my suggestions may seem downright bizarre to you, regardless of how well they have worked for Mikel and me. We certainly didn‘t set out on our journey together with my list as a guidebook. I also offer many qualifiers in the essays, such as “even if…,” “but,” and “probably” many more times than I probably should have included them. But I wanted to be ensure the reader that these are ideas, not commandments or laws. Do unto others, yes, but watch your back. Be selfless, but be aware of the consequences. Love one another, but don’t smother. Kiss often, in private.
One friend of mine, upon reading an early draft of the book, said that many of my suggestions are “impossible to achieve,” that simply finding the right person to share your life with is the hardest part, and that because I have been lucky enough to have found my life partner, the manuscript came off as preachy and boastful. She even found it “alienating,” because, she said, the advice I give is not applicable to most relationships. I think she may be right to some degree. As one of my editors pointed out, everything I wrote in an early manuscript she read could be summed up in the simple statement, “Find the right person.” But I also know that Mikel and I have practiced what I preach. Relationships do take work.
Choosing to commit yourselves to each other is similar to making the choice to have children, and yet people who wouldn’t dream of ever turning their backs on their children turn their backs on their lovers every day. I’m always appalled when couples divorce after publicly vowing – in front of their congregations, representatives of the government, and their friends and families –to love and honor each other “in sickness and in health…till death do us part.” Finding the right person is perhaps foremost, but total commitment is the real foundation of true love and happiness. Spending regular time together at the dining table helps.
So, with apologies to Paul Simon, and to my friend who protests too much, I’ve written a little book of fifty ways to keep your lover — a book of how we have managed so far and how we intend to continue living happily ever after. Throughout the manuscript, I call your lover your “partner.” I realize that sounds businesslike, but, after all, I’m getting down to the “business” of your relationship, and how to keep it running smoothly. Sometimes I call your partner “your wife,” and sometimes I call her “him.” These words are meant for any two people who want to be together. Gender is irrelevant.
My suggestions appear in no particular order of importance in the manuscript, though I do note that some of the ideas may come in particularly handy in the beginning of a relationship and others, later along. I’ll be shopping the book to publishers soon. I’ll keep you informed. The book includes 50 of my favorite recipes, the genesis of which you may have read about here on on the blog.
Today I’m making a soup with butternut squash, sweet onions, and apples, which I will roast in the oven to concentrate their flavors. I’ve pulled some homemade goose stock from the freezer and will heat it up with a hunk of fresh ginger added, for spice. I’ll puree it all together and serve it before a salad topped with grilled duck breasts. The squash and apples reached out to me at the grocer’s this morning. They seemed perfect for the day. It’s important to live in the present, though I don’t harp on that in the book.
January 14, 2010 Still reeling from the holidays and the cold weather…and now poor Haiti!
But the good news is that I’ve been working on a new book… details to come later… In the meantime, please do what you can to help the earthquake victims of Haiti. The Red Cross is already maxed out. Bill Clinton says what they need most is MONEY. Do what you can. I am cutting and pasting the following information from several emails I’ve received. Forgive my plagiarism. Here are some relief groups that are already there, on the ground, helping
One of the best, Partners In Health, has been operating in the country since 1987, originally to deliver health care to the residents of Haiti‘s mountainous . PiH now also operates clinics in Port au Prince and other major Haitian cities. With hospitals and a highly trained medical staff in place, Partners In Health is already mobilizing resources and preparing plans to bring and supplies to areas that have been hardest hit. Donations to help earthquake relief efforts will be quickly routed to the disaster.
The women’s group MADRE has also worked in Haiti for many years, supporting community-based organizations, and has activated an emergency response through its partner organization, Clinic. The doctors, nurses and community health workers there are working to bring medical assistance and supplies to areas that have been hardest hit. MADRE’s partners are expert at reaching those in crisis and stretching resources to meet the myriad needs facing Haitian women and families.
Teams from the group Doctors Without Borders were already working on medical projects in Haiti and have been treating victims of the quake since yesterday. Gifts to to the group’s new Haiti Earthquake Response will support emergency medical care for the men, women, and children affected by the earthquake in Haiti.
Despite heavy damages to its own offices in Port-au-Prince, the UN relief organization UNICEF is coordinating donations of things like blankets, toothpaste, canned food and other basic staples. Call or go to unicef.org for information.
And while all this relief work is saving lives, it’s also critical to implore the Obama Administration to immediately authorize temporary protected status for Haitian immigrants. Tell the White House this is urgent.
That 13-pound goose I cooked for New Year’s Day is still going strong! Last night I made one last dish of the leftover meat…this time a classic stovetop tomato sauce emboldened with Corbières, the shredded goose flesh stirred in and allowed to slowly braise until it was warmed through and perfectly tender, and the unctuous sauce served atop fettucini with a dusting of Parmesan. Partnered with a crisp salad, crunchy bread, and the same dense and fruity Corbières, it was a perfect meal to welcome yet another snow storm!
I’ve been helping my friend Betsey (Mrs. R. W. “Johnny” Apple, Jr.) inventory her husband’s amazing wine cellar, which she is putting on the auction block. Even Jancis Robinson, the great British wine writer (and my favorite!) has written about it on her website, following an article in the Washington Post and an interview of Betsey by our mutual friend Ari Shapiro on NPR last week. (The interview was actually about Johnny’s posthumous collection of food essays, Far Flung and Well Fed, which I wrote about upon its release in September.)
I’m a bit behind in my blogging because of the holidays, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been cooking. Indeed, on New Year’s Day we had 12 folks for roast goose with an apple/ham/prune stuffing and a red wine gravy brightened with sherry. Of course we had hoppin’ john (cooked with a smoked ham hock) and collard greens (cooked with “butt’s meat,” as we call smoked hog jowl in the lowcountry) and “candied yams” (though they’re really sweet potatotes; see recipe, below) and cornbread and ambrosia (see December 20, 2007) and myriad sweets. We began with a classic Charleston Champagne Punch, ham biscuits, cheese straws, roasted pecans, and sausage biscuits (which I rolled thin and topped with a pecan; see recipe, below).
So-Called Candied Yams from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking
We all know that sweet potatoes aren’t yams, but the name remains. During the holidays, when I serve a big meal of country ham with spiced peaches, I save the pickle juice to make this traditional Southern dish. The idea is one of many I have learned from the second printing of ORANGEBURG’S CHOICE RECIPES, sponsored by the city’s P.T.A. in 1948. Many of the recipes are Lowcountry classics which were repeated in the Junior League of Charleston’s CHARLESTON RECEIPTS of 1950. I grew up in Orangeburg, which was settled by Swiss and Germans in 1730, about 70 miles inland from Charleston.
On Thanksgiving I went to my dear friend Richard Little’s house (Richard is pictured third from the left in the photo above) and took a 1.5-litre jar of spiced peaches. I forgot that I would need the juice for the sweet potatoes. Richard was gracious enough to this “Indian Giver” to return the remaining peaches and there was just enough juice to double this recipe to serve 12. This dish is so delicious and much nicer than those sticky sweet and/or marshamallowy concoctions. Make the peaches at the height of summer when fresh local peaches are available.
3 medium sweet potatoes
1 cup syrup from spiced peaches (see July 21, 2009)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Boil the potatoes until nearly done. Peel and slice lengthwise. Lay in a shallow glass or earthenware pan, pour the juice over them, and dot with butter. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 400o for 30 minutes, then brown under the broiler.
Yields: 6 servings.
Sausage Biscuits from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking
These are not the sausage sandwiches that you find at the fast food restaurants, but an hors d’oeuvre that is served at cocktail parties. This is really a down-home, trashy sort of food, but everyone loves it. It is a cheese biscuit chock full of country sausage.
On New Year’s, I actually used a food processor to mix the cheeses, butter, and flour, then worked in the sausage with my hands this time, rolling the dough out fairly thin and cutting them with a biscuit cutter, then topping each with a pecan half.
1 pound bulk country sausage (a recipe to make your own
3/4 cup butter
1-1/2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups flour, plus about 2 tablespoons
perfect pecan halves (optional)
Fry the sausage, drain, and allow to cool. Preheat the oven to 350o. Cream the butter and the cheeses together. Sift the salt and flour together over the cheese mixture and blend together with a wooden spoon or spatula. Crumble the sausage and mix it in with your hands. Chill for about 1/2 hour, then pinch off small pieces of the dough and roll them into 1″ balls. Place the balls about an inch apart on baking sheets. If desired, top some or all of the balls with perfect pecan halves, pushing the pecan into the dough and flattening the balls. Bake at 350ofor 15-20 minutes or they begin to brown.
Yields about six dozen.
What’s good for the goose….
The goose I got was 13 pounds. I cut off its wing tips and removed any extra fat I could grab with my hands. I poked the skin all over with a trussing needle and then dipped the goose down into boiling water for a few minutes until “goose flesh” appeared. I then put it on a rack in the refrigerator to dry out for several days. I made an intense stock with the neck and wing tips (both chopped; the wing tips are a foot long), and giblets, setting the liver aside. I wilted celery and onions and carrots in goose fat, browned the goose parts, then added herbs and spices and a bottle of red wine, which I reduced in half. On New Year’s Day, for our classic Three O’Clock Dinner, I began roasting the goose about 6 hours before we dined. First I made a stuffing with onions, celery, and apples all wilted and tossed with minced ham, prunes plumped in sherry, rubbed sage, and lightly toasted cubes of white bread. I seasoned the goose well all over with salt and pepper, then stuffed the bird loosely with the mixture, trussing the bird on both ends.
I baked the bird breast down in a 350o oven for 1-1/2 hours, then carefully turned it over, ladling off the amazing amount (3 cups) of rendered fat (the photo at right is at that stage. If you look carefully, you can see the collards in the sink behind the bird). I then roasted it for another 2 hours or so, until the skin on the drumsticks was crisp, but the meat inside felt almost soft to the touch, like well-braised beef. The thermometer on the drumstick read 175o. I removed the bird on its rack to a rimmed cookie sheet, then I turned up the heat to 400o and cooked it for another 15 minutes, until the skin was crisp all over. I again ladled off most of the fat from the roasting pan and deglazed the pan with sherry, adding the mix to the reserved stock, which I strained well, reserving the gizzard and heart to chop for the gravy, which I made while the goose rested before carving. I made a roux with a little flour and goose fat, added the stock and chopped giblets, and cooked until it thickened, adding the chopped goose liver at the last minute as I seasoned with salt and pepper. It was a real hit. EVERYONE’s plate was clean.
I forgot to serve each person a piece of the amazingly brittle skin. Oops. So I made
Goose Crackling Pâté
That evening, I picked the remaining meat from the goose, shredding it between my thumb and fingers, and let the carcass cook with aromatic vegetables for nearly 24 hours to make one of the most delicious stocks I’ve ever tasted. On January 2, I made a soup with that stock; celery, onions, and carrots sautéed in goose fat; some of the shredded meat; and a handful of homemade noodles. Goose Noodle Soup! Yum! I also began thumbing through my many Eastern European cookbooks for goose recipes.
The most intriguing I found was for Libatöpörtös Pástétom, or Goose Crackling Pâté (pictured), from Paul Kovi’s Transylvanian Cuisine. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, but it’s still one of the best things I’ve ever made (though the brown bread pictured, above, is totally wrong. You need an eggy, light bread like brioche or the challah that Kovi recommends. I served it with sweet onions, but Kovi recommends chives, scallions, radishes, and bell peppers. Basically the recipe calls for 5 hard boiled eggs to 2-1/2 cups cracklings, plus a little mustard, onion, thyme, tarragon vinegar, and, if needed, some goose fat to make it creamy.
The recipe, according to Kovi, was the favorite dish of the Jews of the Szatmár county.
Ah gay and giddy, gallant goose
Gone, delicious, bereft thy juice
From thee we take two and one half cups
Crackling and five hard-boiled eggs
Ground twice and then to this paste
Add a little red vinegar, salt to taste,
One half onion and a pinch of thyme,
Blend well and mold, and now it’s prime
To decorate and refrigerate
And as guest await
As did many Jews in old Szatmár
One cuts strips, squares, circles, and stars
Of onions, radish, chive, peppers red
To lay about the goose crackling spread
Like diamonds from their starry bed.
Copyright 1985 Paul Kovi. Translation from the Hungarian by Clara Gyorgyey
I still had several cups of goose meat left, so I made lasagna last night (sorry, I didn’t take a photo) by making a filling with onions, celery, and mushrooms sautéed in goose fat. I added the leftover gravy and shredded goose flesh, then made layers of the meat, noodles, ricotta mixed with egg, shredded mozzarella, finely shredded Pamesan, repeating the layers until the pan was full. Covered and baked for 45 minutes, then allowed to sit for another 10. Delicious!