July 2009

Posted on July 31, 2009 in Archives

July 29, 2009: Microsoft Kills
Dear Readers,
Microsoft software managed to erase my entire month of July blogs, including entries about rabbit with fennel, blackberry ice cream, pasta with red clam sauce, green beans with pecans. onions stuffed with lamb and rice,
blackberry vinegar, pasta with broccoli, grilled chicken under a brick, and spiced peaches, as well as essays on blind tastings, the power of suggestion when it comes to taste, heritage breeds of pork and poultry, and whatever else I poured my heart into this month.
I apologize.
I’ll try to post the recipes here later, but I’ll never recapture the spirit of those entries or even the content of the essays.
John
P.S. Through a Google search, we were able to find a cached version of part of July’s postings. I’ll try to recreate the rest.

July 21, 2009: A Near Perfect Meal

Rare is the perfect
meal. Tonight I came close, but the cute little yellow fingerling
potatoes I bought were slightly green. . My mistake. (As the sage
culinary scholar and great cook, Elizabeth Schneider has written, “Stay clear of green-tinged potatoes (and stores where they are sold).”
[Italics hers.])  I swear I saw no sign of green in the store, but
grocers are very clever with their lighting. If you don’t believe me,
take that package of meat you’re thinking of buying to the front of the
store, into the natural light coming through the plate glass. And
before you buy any packaged greens, make sure that see-through plastic
isn’t tinted green!The potatoes were a minor note in this
otherwise perfect meal. To begin, I found a 2-1/4 pound chicken at the
old D.C. Farmers Market. Most serious food writers in this funny town
don’t have much good to say about the market, but it’s the one place in
town where I can find traditional southern (which translates to
African-American here in Washington) ingredients — okra, field peas,
green peanuts for boiling, smoked hog parts, etc. The eggs — look at
those bright, almost orange yolks (which were even more so than this
photo shows)! — were laid on Sunday on Tilghman Island, on the Eastern
Shore of Maryland, where we were visiting friends. The greens — wild
arugula (the seeds of which I brought back from Puglia in the mid-90s)
and mixed herbs — were snipped from my miniscule herb garden on my
inner city stoop, just  before we ate. And the chicken — oh, the
chicken! — I brined in a solution of 3 quarts of water to 1/2 pound of
salt for about 2 hours before rubbing it with olive oil and pepper and
placing it on a grill under oiled, foil-wrapped bricks. (The technique
I described in my blog about Liguria.)
I hold my hand over the grill and count to 5 or 6. Perfect temperature,
what I would call “medium low.” 25 minutes, skin side down, the
spatchcocked bird splayed out and resting under the bricks. Then
another 20 minutes or so on the other side, also under the bricks. The
juices run clear, the temperature of the thickest part of the breast
should read 160o. Allow it to sit for 10 or 15 minutes. then
serve it atop your greens. The potatoes and eggs will have been cooked
and quartered. Drizzle the potatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper,
the pour the extra over the greens and eggs. Give everyone a hand towel
in lieu of a napkin and serve with a bright wine from the south of
France — red, white, or rosé.

Last
night’s meal was nearly as delicious, and, while I have also enjoyed it
in Liguria at the home of my friend Ester de Miro, the dish is classic
Pugliese.
Orrecchiette (ear-shaped pasta) with Broccoli is
a delightfully simple, nearly vegetarian dish (it includes achovies and
cheese). For two, I put two broccoli heads in a large pot boiling
water, wait for it to return to a boil, and allow it to cook for
another three minutes. I remove the broccoli with a skimmer, reserving
the water in which to cook the pasta. I then plunge the broccoli heads
into ice water to cool, then remove them to a cutting board and cut
away all stems. I put a good film of olive oil in a pan and heat it
well, add two or three chopped cloves of garlic (green shoots, if any,
removed), and cook for a couple of minutes, not allowing the garlic to
brown (or it will become bitter). I then add two whole, rinsed and
deboned salted anchoves, stirring until they melt, then toss in the
broccoli and a pinch of hot pepper flakes, and stir it all together
well. I turn off the heat until I am ready to serve, at which point I
cook the pasta, drain it, and add it to the pan, turning on the heat
and tossing it all together until it is warm. I grate copious amounts
of parmesan into the pot and divide it among two pasta bowls, serving
it with crusty bread and a side salad.

Today I tackled some of
my more of my summer canning chores, pickling peaches and beginning a
batch of chow chow (the recipe for which I ran on November 25, 2008).
The hardest thing about pickling peaches is finding the 1.5-litre jar.
Make the effort, even if you have to order one online, because,
otherwise, the peaches won’t fit in the jar.

Spiced Peaches from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking


I make one big jar (1.5 litre
clamp-lid jar,  such as LeParfait brand)
of spiced peaches to serve during the holiday season at one of the big family
meals I share with family.


                        about 12-14 average size
peaches (about 3 pounds)

                        cloves

                        1 cup vinegar

                        1  pound sugar

                        1 stick cinnamon

                        a 2″ piece of
crystallized ginger

           

Drop the peaches in boiling water
for a moment, remove them, peel them, and stick a clove in each peach. 

Boil the remaining ingredients for
20 minutes, add the peaches, and cook until they are tender, but still whole.


Pack in a sterilized jar  and store in a cool, dark, dry pantry until
the holiday season. Serve with turkey or country ham, using some of the pickle
juice to make candied “yams.”

July 20, 2009: Summer canning

On
the Eastern Shore this weekend, I spent most of my time indoors,
canning the plethora of berries and wild cherries that the rainy, mild
weather has produced. I honestly can’t remember a summer as pretty as
this one, certainly not since childhood. The wild cherry trees are
covered with plump fruit. Last year I was able to pick barely a quart.
I could have picked gallons yesterday! I’ll make cherry bounce (see July 2007 for the recipe) again this year, which I will dole out in thimble-sized servings after hearty meals come winter.

 

 

 

 

The
blackberry vines continue to bear massive quantities of fruit, so we
made blackberry ice cream again (see the Fourth of July, below), as
well as the peculiar, sweet blackberry vinegar that appeared in my
first book (photo at right).

 

 

Blackberry Vinegar from Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking


The recipe for this heavily sweetened vinegar comes to me from Old Receipts from Old St. John’s,  written just outside Charleston
at the turn of the century. The book was written on a plantation not
far from where I grew up, where a huge dam and hydro-electric plant was
being built, drowning most of the old plantations in the area. The
author was trying to get the old plantation recipes down on paper
before they, too, disappeared.


I
found the handmade book, filled with actual photos of the old
plantation houses, in a trash pile outside a home in Newport, Rhode
Island, in 1984. It was this book, and an interview I did with Karen
Hess, the great culinary scholar, that year, that set me on my path as
culinary historian and preservationist. Though grouped in the book with
the beverages, I would drink it straight only as a sore throat remedy.
Pour a dollop or two, instead, into a glass and fill with iced soda or
seltzer water for a refreshing summertime drink. Or into a glass of
low-acid wine, as for a kir. It is also delicious when splashed
onto fruit salads, and it marries well with the pan juices from duck
breasts or venison steaks when used to deglaze the pan. The directions
are straightforward:

Cover ripe berries with vinegar and let stand for at least24 hours. Scald, strain, and boil for 20 minutes, adding

a pound of sugar to each pint of juice. Strain again into sterilized wine bottles, and cork.

July 16, 2009 Paincroyable!!!

 

Ever
since Mark Furstenberg left BreadLine, I have yet to find a great
French loaf in Washington. Occasionally I’ll buy a near-perfect ficelle
at one of the many local farmers’ markets, only to be disappointed the
next week. In all my years in Charleston, South Carolina, I never found
a consistently good loaf, either, but I often shrugged it off as yet
another casualty of the pervasive, oppressive humidity there. When my
neighbors here complain of heat and humidity, I run upstairs and grab
my laptop to show them that they don’t have a clue about heat and
humidity, comparatively speaking. Today in DC, for example, is supposed
to be the hottest day so far this year, with a high possibly reaching
the lower 90s for the first time this summer, with a maximum humidity
of 66%. In Charleston, it’s been near 100 for a month, and the humidity
there today, according to the National Weather Service, is already 86%
at 10 am. Today is the second day this summer here that has ventured
into the 90s. Though the thermometer may read higher in Washington
today, Charleston already “feels like 91,” a good ten degrees higher
than DC. I rest my case.

 

But back to the incredibly good bread I had yesterday. Tipped off by Julia Watson’s Eat Washington blog, I made a trip to downtown Bethesda’s funky 77-year-old Montgomery Farm Women’s Cooperative,
a hodgepodge of arts and crafts, African masks, Middle Eastern carpets,
potted plants, and, indoors, a handful of farmers and artisanal cooks
and bakers.

 

I neither identified myself as a
food writer, nor had my camera with me, but I did find myself in a
remarkable conversation with Bertrand Houlier, the French baker, who
sells some of his breads and pastries there on Wednesdays and Fridays.
I bought a rocher coco (a sort of coconut macaroon), a petit pain au chocolat, and a baguette. It was midmorning and I had had nothing to eat, and I gobbled down the pastries, well aware of the buerre Charentais
used in making them. I know how powerful suggestion is, especially when
it comes to taste, and I was already anticipating the unctuous
sweetness of the good butter that Houlier uses in his pastries, having
been tipped off by Watson. But I’m convinced any fool would know that
the pastries from Saint Michel Bakery are special. They made me want to have a butter tasting,
so that I could develop a special set of words to describe the
different flavors and aromas evident in butter, similar to those used
for cheese and wine (though not as pretentious).

 

I
moved on to a nearby vendor of Turkish foods, where I purchased some
unremarkable dolma (stuffed vine leaves), delicious pole beans in an
oily tomato sauce (served warm, delicious), and a lackluster white bean
salad. While I was talking with the delightful merchant, I bit into the
baguette. I wasn’t thinking about what I was doing, I was just
continuing to eat, the pastries having whetted my appetite. First, the
fragrance of wheat and yeast, followed by the perfect crunch of crust
giving way to chewy, delicious bread. I was transformed in a single
bite, and turned to look back at Houlier, who was serving two other
customers, and to give him a thumbs-up. I caught his eye and I didn’t
even have to tell him: he could see the rapture in my face. Enfin! Un pain incroyablement français, here in Washington! I returned to Houlier’s booth and bought a second baguette

and a loaf of whole-wheat bread. He told me that I could store them in the freezer.

 

Saint
Michel Bakery is located in Rockville, where Houlier dispenses not only
his authentic French breads and pastries, but also sandwiches. As
Watson has written, he imports his dough, flour, butter, mustard, and
cornichons from France and uses Canadian ham because it is most like
the French ham he prefers. I’ll definitely be driving up to Rockville
for lunch one day! What a great find (and thanks, Julia).

 

My
friend Chuck, who has a bountiful garden on the Eastern Shore of
Maryland, brought me a bag of fresh-picked cucumbers and bell peppers
yesterday, so I made dill pickles (see my blog from this time last
year) and stuffed peppers to serve for dinner last night alongside the
Turkish beans. I used the stuffing and tomato sauce from the following
recipe from The New Southern Cook.
In place of the onions, you can use large bell peppers. Rather than
standing them on end, you can split them in half lengthwise, remove the
seeds and ribs, and lay them on their sides. I divided the recipe in
half and used 4 medium-sized bell peppers. But this recipe is great
with the originally called-for onions as well. I also added a shallot
to the carrot and lamb sauté, and ground my own lamb from four shoulder
slices I picked up in the sale bin at the supermarket.

 

 

Onions Stuffed with Lamb and Rice


This
is a real lamb-lover’s dish. Kentuckian Bill Hughes sent me the recipe.
Bill is quite simply the best meat cook I know. If you don’t like the
muttony taste of the lamb fat, use a little oil in the tomato sauce
instead. In
Kentucky mutton is the preferred meat for barbecue. I’ve also used this stuffing in grape leaves.


                        3 large yellow onions

                        2-1/2 pounds coarsely ground lamb

                        1/2 cup finely chopped carrot (about 1/2 large carrot)

                        1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

                        1-1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary, crushed, or 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped

                        3/4 cup long-grain white rice       

                        2-1/4 cups water or chicken or lamb stock, divided

                        salt and freshly ground black pepper       

                        1/2 cup finely grated carrot (about 1/2 large carrot)

                        8 whole peeled cloves garlic

                        2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

                        2 cups peeled and crushed tomatoes

                        1 cup freshly grated bread crumbs

                        1/2 cup chopped parsley

           

Boil the whole onions in salted water for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool while you prepare the stuffing and sauce.


Brown the lamb with the chopped carrot, cinnamon, and rosemary, over  medium heat until evenly cooked, about 10 minutes. Pour off the excess fat and liquid into another sauté pan.Add
the rice and 1-1/2 cups of the water or stock to the lamb. Season with
salt and pepper, then simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Add the grated
carrot and garlic to the lamb fat (or a small amount of oil if you do
not want the strong lamb flavor) and sauté until the carrots have begun
to melt and the garlic is well-glazed. Add the lemon zest, tomatoes,
and remaining 3/4 cup of water or stock, season with salt and a lot of
black pepper, and reduce, over medium heat, until the sauce has
thickened considerably, about 12 minutes.


Preheat the oven to 375o. Slice both the root and stem ends from the onions and peel them. Make a cut from end to end to the center of each onion.  Carefully
peel away the layers of onion. With a large serving spoon, fill each
onion layer with the lamb mixture, roll it back up into approximately
its original shape, and stand on end in an 8″ by 11-1/2″ baking dish.
Continue making rolls until the dish is closely filled.  Pour the tomato sauce over the onion rolls and cover with the bread crumbs.


Bake
the rolls for 1 hour. Run the dish under the broiler to brown the
crumbs, if necessary, sprinkle with the parsley, and serve. The buttery
flavor of Green Beans with Pecans (see below) nicely complements this
dish. Serve with a crusty white bread.

Yields 8 servings.

Debbie Recommends: Spanish red, full-flavored and zesty.

 

Green Beans with Pecans


Pecans
are considered a luxury item in some places, but southerners use them
with abandon as snacks, in salads and stuffings, as breading, in
desserts, and with vegetables. The following buttery recipe is a
year-round favorite.

                       

1 pound tender young green beans, stemmed but with thetender young green tip intact

1/3 cup pecan halves

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 shallot, chopped fine (or 1/4 cup finely chopped onion)

salt and freshly ground pepper

cayenne (optional)


Plunge
the beans into a large pot of rapidly boiling water and cook them,
uncovered, until they just become tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. Taste
them frequently and do not overcook them. Whey they just lose their raw
flavor, immediately pour them into a colander to drain. They should be
not quite cooked. Use ice to cool them off if necessary.


About ten minutes before serving, sauté
the pecans in the butter over medium heat for 5 minutes, then add the
onions and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Just before serving,
add the beans. Season to taste with salt and pepper,  and,
if desired, a dash of cayenne. Toss the beans, nuts, and onions well
together, turn off the heat, and cover for a moment to warm the beans
through and to let the flavors mingle.

Serves 4.

 

July 13, 2009 Lazy Days of Summer

 

This
past weekend was the first one that Mikel and I have had alone together
in two months, and we were somewhat lazy. We talked about the
importance of creative activity, but sometimes I wonder if I haven’t
said all I have to say on this blog. I rarely repeat myself exactly in
the kitchen, but many dishes are variations on recipes I’ve already
posted, especially in the summer, my favorite time to cook, when
everything is fresh and local
and I well know how best to prepare it, which is to say (usually) the
simplest method possible. And there are dishes that I occasionally make
for one reason or another and then, even after photographing them,
decide not to post here, such as this eggplant stuffed with crabmeat
(Galatoire’s recipe, easily found online) simply because it’s not
really my cup of tea. As Mikel said of this dish, which was perfectly
edible, “It does taste like restaurant food.”

 

And some
days I honestly tire of my own voice here, though, more and more, I
think my voice is beginning to resemble that of my mother, who kept
detailed accounts of her daily life. The following journal entries,
edited, is from the late 70s, when my parents were my age now and were
moving their sailboat from Hilton Head to Lady’s Island (Beaufort),
where they had bought a place on the river:

 

“5/6 [1978]:
… clean strawberries to have with cereal…have brunch of sausage
fondue; hot, spiced fruit; blueberry coffee cake; and vino…

5/12:  after 14 years, we are saying “Farewell” to our island home…I meet TS [my father]
at Skull Creek Marina for lunch….Have Mother’s Day celebration…
vino, gazpacho, seafood crêpes…we order appetizer size, but get
luncheon size, so we forego dessert. I drive here, and TS sails –
hated to miss trip, but with energy shortage seems a shame to waste
fuel…TS arrives and 3 boys help him on the dock. We eat late, salad,
quail, and Chinese vegetables.”

 

There are page
after page after page of her daily doings — laundry, shopping, bird
sightings, weather patterns, and a record of nearly every thing they
ate — “the last of the mackerel,” “we pick crabs for supper,” “a good
visit and food — crab casserole, zucchini, rolls, fresh blueberries
and peaches.” It’s a testament to her delightful table and the bounty
of the lowcountry, but I can’t imagine anyone else enjoying reading it.
I only kept one of the dozens of volumes, her last, the final pages of
which she dictated to me as she lay dying and my father and I cared for
her. The others we donated to the South Carolina Department of
Wildlife, because there were records of her wildlife sightings in
Calibogue Sound every weekend for 14 years. As Hilton Head grew, the
eagles and otters became rarer sights. And the oysters became smaller,
and fewer.

 

I’ve never been a lazy cook, but sometimes I just don’t feel like it. On Friday night, when Mikel came home, I stuck a pisco sour
in his hand. To Peruvian pisco (a clear brandy made from grapes), I
added an egg white, fresh squeezed lime juice,  a bit of simple sugar
syrup, and some crushed ice, and shook it violently until it was fluffy
and light. A dash of bitters is the traditional final touch. We rarely
drink cocktails other than an occasional margarita, but I wanted an egg
yolk for my salad dressing, so a drink with an egg white made sense. My
waste-not/want-not mother would be proud!

 

Earlier
in the day, I had set my big confit pot down in warm water to melt the
fat enough so that I could pull two duck legs out for supper. (See July 1, 2008,
for confit recipe.) While I ran the legs under the broiler to crisp the
skin and warm them, I made a dressing with the egg yolk, salt and
pepper, a bit of mustard, lemon juice, and walnut oil. I served the
confit salad with a Château de Vaugelas
Corbières (Le Prieuré cuvée 2007), I cannot think of a better meal or a
more perfect pairing of wine and dish. Though we generally avoid wines
with 13.5% alcohol, like this big, fruity, award-winner from the South
of France, no other wine could have better matched the unctuous duck
and spicy arugula and mustard. Made with 30% grenache, 30% syrah, 30%
carignan, and 10% mourvèdre, and aged in oak, the Vaugelas wines consistently
win gold and silver medals and are very reasonably priced around
$10/bottle! Alongside the confit I served wedges of fennel, Charleston Sweet onions,
and parsnips that I had dribbled with olive oil, splashed with
vermouth, and roasted in a hot oven with lemon wedges and sprigs of
thyme tucked amongst them. When they began to brown but weren’t quite
cooked, I covered them with aluminum foil and let them continue to cook
while I browned the confit legs.

 

 

On
Saturday, I removed the lemon and thyme from the leftover vegetables,
added some fresh chopped garlic and parsley, and combined them with a
dozen eggs to make a frittata that we ate on the rest of the weekend.
(Frittata recipes appeared on May 7, 2008.) For Sunday supper, I served the last of my Genoese corzetti, the coin-shaped pasta I brought home from Italy.
Made from chestnut flour and flavored with marjoram, the rustic
hand-stamped pasta were annointed with a simple pesto-like sauce.

 


The Fourth of July


Blackberry Ice Cream

 

We
went to the Eastern Shore home of our friends Chuck and Bruce for the
Fourth. Girlfriends Ellen, Faith, and Deirdre were visiting from
Atlanta, and I was told before I came that I didn’t have to bring any
food or make anything — except Cheese Straws.
“Great!” I said, “but someone will have to film me making them so I can
post it on my blog.” I ended up putting the camera on a tripod and I’ll
see if I can figure out how to edit the video and post it here. The
blackberries were ripening right and left, so I couldn’t resist making
ice cream. I made a custard with a dozen egg yolks, a quart of milk,
and 1-1/2 cups of sugar, then, after it was cool, added two cups of
crème fraîche and about three cups of blackberry puree, which I made by
putting about 6 cups of blackberries in a pan with a little sugar and
cooking it on a low fire until they had fallen apart and thickened
slightly. I strained out the seeds. I folded it all together and we
took turns rotating the crank of an old wooden ice cream churn until it
was tough going, about 30 minutes. We then removed the dasher and
packed the ice cream down in ice to finish freezing and until we were
ready to serve it. YUM!!! (There are more precise recipes for ice cream
on the January 28 blog). I made an angel food cake with the dozen egg whites to go with. The recipe appeared here on November 12, 2007.

 

The
night before, Ellen made spaghetti with a red clam sauce, which she
made by putting tomatoes and garlic in a slow oven to roast most of the
afternoon. When they collapsed, she stirred it all together and added
it to the pasta and the clams, which she had steamed open with a little
white wine, butter, and olive oil. Delicious!

 

 

 

 

Deirdre’s
salad with fresh local peaches and goat cheese perfectly complemented
the meal. (These last two images I managed to grab from the video
clips; hence, the lesser quality.)

 

 

 

 

 

For
lunch today, I made a salad of shrimp steamed over a fennel broth with
fresh ginger and jalapeño added. I tossed the shrimp with cilantro and
parsley from our herb garden; cucumbers that I had seeded, salted, and
drained; slivers of jalapeño peppers (also from our dooryard); and Charleston Sweet Onion
slices; all tossed together with fresh-squeezed lime juice, a bit of
mustard, and some toasted sesame oil, and served over a bed of chopped
romaine and avocado slices. Served with a glass of Regaleali’s white
wine made from indigenous Sicilian grapes, it

was simply perfect.

 

 

July 2, 2009 Favorite Foods

 

Yesterday
while having lunch with my friend Betsey Apple, she asked me what are
my favorite foods to cook. Our conversation ranged far and wide, and I
never answered her, but wrote her an email later. It’s hardly an
“answer” to her question, but she told me I should share my thoughts
with my readers. Here’s basically what I told her (with hot links and
photos added):

 

You asked me what food I most like to
cook. I realize I never answered. That’s a funny question. I cook all
the time. I do not particularly like to make desserts because I don’t
particularly like to eat them, but I do so love a few that I make, and
folks like them so much that the “reward” factor is high with, say, a
crostata [There's a recipe on the January 22 blog.]. So I DO like making THEM. But sweets aren’t high on my list, either eating or preparing. [I
would add here that cobblers made with fresh fruits, my apple-nut
torte, apple pie, and German Chocolate Cake are always winners as well.
For the recipes, see 8/27/07, 2/10/08, 11/25/07
, and 1/08:Barbados.]

And
I love shrimp, but the less you do to them the better. And oysters are
probably my favorite food on earth, and there’s no cooking there. I
don’t even like to put anything on them if they are salty enough.


I also love all the old southern “peas” — whippoorwills and lady peas and cream peas and crowders, but cooking them is boring work. [See "Cowpeas," New Year's Eve 2007.]

And
I adore eggs — and cooking them is an artform (I’ve seen Betsey
scramble eggs properly; so few do it well), and it’s almost immediately
rewarding. There’s THAT.

Sometimes I really, really like
grilling. But not necessarily always. It’s so easy. And it’s sorta
dumb. I do like to be stimulated.

And I love it when I cook something I’ve never cooked before, don’t consult cookbooks, and it comes out perfectly [the rabbit below, for example].. And I love foods that complement the big wines I love to drink, though my cooking is rarely fancy.

I
guess I’m saying that I don’t have a favorite way of cooking. I love
most foods. There are some flavors I adore (besides salt, my favorite!)
like orange, but that doesn’t mean that I love oranges. It’s more at
orange peel.[See, to wit, the Orange Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake I wrote about on October 30.] And
so much of my more elaborate cooking is for friends, and, again, folks
tend to appreciate anything I do, so those old standbys that I make
such as shrimp pilau [recipe here] and chicken country captain and gumbo [See August 2007] and cornbread and ham biscuits
and a couple of desserts I make win such praise — and empty plates –
that it’s hard not to enjoy making them, knowing what the response will
be.

I don’t have a “perfect meal,” though there are some ideas I turn to again and again. One preferred meal [See 12/20/07] begins with raw oysters (and/or caviar)
and champagne; some delicious fresh vegetables, barely cooked;
something fried (There. I said it. Not only do I love the way it
tastes, I’ve perfected frying just about anything — so much so that I
truly enjoy doing it, in spite of the mess); some delicious wine; and a
perfect pear (tu sais qu’il n’y a que dix minutes dans la vie d’une poire quand elle soit parfaite) and a piece of Stilton. But there really is something to be said for making something so simple — a rack of lamb, green beans,
and potatoes, for example — that eliminates all thinking from the
equation. Do I enjoy making that meal? Yes, because I get to enjoy the
evening instead of slaving over a pot of bubbling grease or a burning
fire. [The rack I simply coat with a mixture of herbs, garlic, and bread crumbs, put in a 450ooven
for 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 425 and continue to cook for another
20 minutes. I will have parboiled quartered small Yukon Gold potatoes
and green beans. The potatoes I sprinkle with s&p and drizzle with
olive oil, tucking a few rosemary sprigs amongt them and put them on a
baking sheet in the oven at the same time as the lamb. While the cooked
lamb rests, I toss the green beans in skillet with some garlic and
olive oil.]

There’s also nothing like watching friends eat something I’ve made such as my Rockefeller Turnovers (all the ingredients for Oysters Rockefeller sautéed together then tucked into puff pastry
turnovers and baked) and seeing the surprise and delight on their
faces. I never tire of them myself, those turnovers, so they rank high.
[I posted the recipe on December 20, 2007.] But how do I compare those appetizers to the rare piece of dry-aged prime with a glass of Volnay? [See, for example, the recipe for Standing Rib Roast in Ireland, Part I.]

 


And how do I rank anything higher than my fig preserves or, for that matter, any of my canned goods?

I
don’t know, Reader, I’ve always liked cooking, but this convoluted
attempt at an answer is about favored tastes, not techniques. I love to
steam some foods — like eggplant, a technique I learned from a
Japanese friend, and, I think, the best way to cook it.

I’ve
always loved whatever is the freshest, the tastiest — the just-dug
potato, the perfectly ripe peach, the oysters I gather from the pluff
mud, the figs of August, truly vine-ripened tomatoes, and blemish-free
okra.
They’re all my babies. Don’t make me choose!


July 1, 2009 Rabbit with Fennel and Preserved Lemons

 

What
glorious weather we’ve been having! Yesterday I bought a rabbit and cut
it up into servings pieces (the thighs, legs, and saddle), and made a
stock with the remaining parts of the carcass, adding fennel trimmings
to the usual aromatics of celery, onion, carrots, and herbs. I seasoned
the cut up pieces with salt, pepper, and paprika, browned them in olive
oil a big heavy casserole, set the browned pieces aside, and added a
cut up onion, a cut up bulb of fennel, and several stalks of cut up
celery to the pot, cooking them over high heat, but stirring constantly
so as not to let them brown. I also added a split and quartered piece
of lemon grass, left intact so that I could remove it later. When the
vegetables were becoming clear, I added a cup of white wine and
deglazed the pot, then added the rabbit pieces and enough stock to just
barely cover the pieces. I brought the mixture to a boil, turned it
down to a bare simmer, covered the pot, and let the rabbit braise for
about an hour and a half, until it was very tender. In the meantime, I
cooked basmati rice in the rabbit/fennel stock. I removed the rabbit
pieces and the lemon grass from the braise, added the diced skin of a
preserved Meyer lemon, increased the heat, and reduced the liquid until
it was thick, then served the rabbit and the juicy vegetables atop the
rice. I discarded the lemon grass. It was a lovely supper for the two
of us, and I have a pot of rabbit-flavored fennel soup in addition to
the finished dish that we devoured.

 

Today I’m headed to Black Salt for lunch with my friend Betsey.