So the cat’s out of the bag. There’s a new fella in my life. You know, the one with the serious ice cream habit? Among the uncanny number of things we have in common is a shared opinion that appetizers and dessert are probably the best parts of any meal. I don’t think that in our months of dating we ever actually sat at a table at a restaurant. Instead we always seem to end up sitting at the bar and sharing a few appetizers, one entree if it really jumps out at us, and a few different desserts. So the first time I cooked for us instead of going out, it seemed natural to make a few different small plates to share.
One of the challenges was that he has bunch of food intolerances. Gluten, bad. Cow’s milk, bad. Corn, bad. Shellfish also bad news. Now that’s not to say that he doesn’t love all those foods. After all, I have yet to see him consume a pint of ice cream not made from cow’s milk. But in the beginning, I didn’t really know how much or little he could tolerate, so thought it better to try and steer clear of the forbidden foods altogether. So I came up a four course sharing menu that looked something like this:
Roasted Asparagus with wilted Bitter Greens & Sherry Vinaigrette
Tuna Tartare with Jalapeño, Shallot, Avocado, Wasabi Yuzu Vinaigrette with Sesame Rice Crackers
Pan Seared Quail with Farro, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms & Chocolate Balsamic
Blueberry Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream
Yes, the dessert would have gluten and cow’s milk, but I had seen him cheat with dessert before to I wasn’t worried. So, armed with my menu and shopping list, I hit the stores out in my neighborhood in Queens. I was really craving quail, and always saw them in packs of four at my local Asian market. Of course on this day they only had them in giant frozen bulk packages. That’s when plan B went into the works. Instead I bought a frozen duckling. I would use the breasts and save the legs for making confit. They also didn’t have sushi grade tuna that day, but they did have salmon. I knew some people are put off by salmon, so I texted him. ”Do you eat salmon?” He did. So with those two changes in place, I headed home to start preparing my mise en place. Not knowing what if any cooking equipment he had, I figured I would chop and prep everything at my place, then just assemble everything once I got to his apartment (hmm, not very different than we do at the restaurant). I arrived with plastic containers of blanched asparagus, cooked farro, meticulously diced shallots and jalapeño, thinly sliced cucumber, sea salt, freshly butchered duck breasts, cubed salmon, streusel topping, and a shopping bag full of limes, mushrooms, blueberries, greens, and vinegars. He was still at work so I let myself in and got to work.
The only time consuming thing I had left to do was prepare the filling for the blueberry crumble. I noticed he had frozen peaches in the freezer, and I love them with blueberries so I added them to the filling. I also like a hint of cinnamon with my blueberries, and star anise with my peaches so I added a cinnamon stick and a pod of star anise to the filling while it was cooking. I was happily chugging along with the Civil Wars playing in the background when my sister called. When I shared the menu with her, she asked “Are you sure you want to set the bar that high?” Seriously? This fella knew I cooked for a living, so you know I had to bring it. When all was said and done, we enjoyed the following four plates to share:
Grilled Asparagus with wilted Bitter Greens & Sherry Vinaigrette
Salmon Tartare with Jalapeño, Shallot, Avocado, Cucumber & Lime Vinaigrette, with Rice Crackers
Pan Seared Duck Breast with Warm Farro Salad, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms & Chocolate Balsamic
Spiced Blueberry Peach Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream
When I told my fella we would be having salmon and duck, he stopped in to see his friend at Pasanella and Sons to select an appropriate pairing. They were the perfect complement to the meal. When we got to dessert, he took a bite, then with a look of bewilderment demanded of me, “What did you put in here?”
“Um, blueberries, peaches, and sugar?” I slurred, a little tipsy and slightly puzzled by the question.
He was not convinced.
I thought a minute, then remembered, “Well, I cooked the filling with cinnamon and star anise.”
“Yes!” he said excitedly. ”Star anise! There was just a hint of something, but I wasn’t sure what it was.”
I was just playing around with the crumble and wasn’t entirely sure how it would turn out, but was pleasantly surprised by both the dessert, and his reaction. It was love at first bite. For obvious reasons, I never got photos of that first meal, but here are some of other meals we’ve made together since:
Foreground: Pan Roasted Quail, Quinoa Risotto, Braised Swiss Chard with Homemade Bacon. Rear: Grilled Swiss Chard Stems, Micro Greens with Sherry Vinaigrette & Crushed Red Pepper.
Pan Roasted Pekin Duck Breast with Wild Rice Risotto, Wild Mushrooms, and Market Vegetables.
We haven’t tackled another four course tasting menu at home, unless you count the time we made his Wild Boar Carnitas. It certainly took as much work as a four course meal. This time I had been working all day and arrived at his place to find him elbow deep in masa harina, braised pork, and about a bottle deep into the rosé. I got right in there and helped to cook tortillas as he pressed them, whip up some guacamole, blend the tomatillo salsa, and form graham cracker crusts for key lime pie – from graham crackers he made himself! It was an awesome feast, and the leftovers made terrific chilaquiles the next night. I think we just might be the perfect partners in crime. Cramped New York City kitchen be damned!
Revised August 29th, 2012Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
I don’t know about you, but for me Thanksgiving is about everything but the turkey. Every Thanksgiving is the same. You grab a little turkey, a little stuffing, some cranberry sauce, and your essential mashed potatoes with gravy. Then, you stare at all the other sides – macaroni and cheese, perhaps some roasted brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, maybe creamed spinach – and you wonder how the heck you’re going to fit all of it in your stomach, let alone your plate. Salad is simply a waste of time, and who even has room for dessert after all that?
Sure, you can get a great fresh, young, well raised turkey from a small farm. Sure, you can brine it and roast it so that it’s perfectly juicy and delicious, but without all the trimmings, it would be really boring wouldn’t it? There is so much tradition surrounding Thanksgiving, I like to keep the turkey preparation really simple – roasted on a bed of classic mirepoix, and the cavity stuffed with thyme, sage, and bay leaves. People have such expectations and associations when it comes to Thanksgiving, I’m even nervous about messing with classic mashed potatoes. The rest of the sides though, leave room for a little fun and experimentation.
As usual I will be working and making dinner for 250 or so people on Thanksgiving day. So Buddy and I celebrated a few days early. It was good because it gave me a chance to try out some new recipes on a smaller scale (as in, dinner for two with leftovers for 4). I started by playing with different stuffing recipes. Last year I made cornbread stuffing for the first time, and this year I added some Smoky Maple Bacon, apples, and chestnuts. Every year I make an orange cranberry compote, but this year I cooked in some orange rind as well as orange juice, so it was more of a marmalade. For vegetables this year, I kept it really simple – Honey and Ginger Glazed Carrots, and Haricot Verts with Glazed Pearl Onions.
You’ll most likely want to stick to straightforward mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving, but if you and your guests are feeling adventurous, try adding a little root vegetable puree for a subtle yet flavorful departure. I used parsnips, but rutabaga or celery root would work nicely too.
Mashed Potatoes with Root Vegetable Puree
INGREDIENTS, serves 4-6:
5-6 large russet or Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 large parsnips (or 1 rutabaga, or 1 celery root), peeled and sliced thinly
1-1/2 c. whole milk
1-1/2 c. heavy cream
3-4 Tbsp. butter
salt & pepper
Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring water to a boil, and add a large pinch of salt. Lower the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender.
Meanwhile, place the parsnips (or other root vegetable) in a small saucepan. Add just enough milk and cream in equal parts to cover the vegetables. Bring mixture to a boil, then lower heat immediately. Add salt to taste, and simmer gently until the parsnips are cooked through, taking care not to burn the milk and cream on the bottom of the pot. Puree the mixture with either a blender or an immersion blender until smooth.
Once the potatoes are cooked, drain and immediately mash or pass through a food mill or ricer. Stir in the root vegetable puree, and butter. Add more milk and cream as needed and add salt and pepper to taste.
Other useful recipes for the Thanksgiving table:
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Carrots are such a sadly overlooked vegetable. Although they are a kitchen staple, their flavor is so often lost in making stocks, soups, and braises. We rarely appreciate that good fresh carrots have a sweetness and aroma all their own. You may be able to find many different varieties at your local farmer’s market – from common baby carrots in different colors, to more unusual shapes such as thumbelinas and nantes. Choose young tender carrots and glaze them with honey and some warming spices to really bring out their flavor. I prepared the following recipe for a mini-Thanksgiving trial run earlier this week and my sister asked what I added to the carrots that made them taste so floral. It was the carrots themselves!
INGREDIENTS, serves 4-6:
1 lb. small young carrots, peeled and sliced thick
1-2 Tbsp. butter
1-2 Tbsp. honey
1″ piece of ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks
a pinch of cayenne pepper
1. Place the carrots in a shallow saucepan just large enough so they fit in a single layer. Add water to just halfway up their sides. Add the ginger, butter, honey, a large pinch of salt, and a small pinch of cayenne pepper. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat to medium.
2. Cut a round of parchment just large enough to fit inside the saucepan and cut a hole in the center. Cover the carrots with the parchment lid and simmer until the water is almost evaporated and the carrots are tender.
3. Remove the lid and cook off the remaining liquid, shaking the pan so the carrots are nicely coated and shiny.
NOTES AND IDEAS:
You may omit the parchment lid, but then you will need to use more water to account for increased evaporation.
Try using chicken stock instead of water. This adds flavor, and the gelatin in the stock makes the glaze stick to the carrots better.
See Haricot Verts with Glazed Pearl Onions for photos of glazing technique.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Glazing is an excellent technique for bringing out the flavor of firm root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, and pearl onions. Here sweet glazed pearl onions are paired with haricot verts – thin and tender french green beans – for a fresh, light alternative to green bean casserole for Thanksgiving. It’s so quick and easy, it makes a good side dish for any day of the week too.
INGREDIENTS, serves 4-6 as a side:
1/2 lb. haricot verts, trimmed (a.k.a. french green beans)
6 oz. peeled pearl onions
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. sugar
1. Blanch the haricot verts: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water generously then add the haricot verts. Cook on high heat until the beans turn bright green and are tender. Remove and plunge immediately into ice water or strain under cold running water to stop the cooking. Set aside.
2. To Glaze Pearl Onions: Place the onions in a shallow saucepan. Add just enough water to come halfway way up the onions. Add a large pinch of salt and the butter and sugar. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to medium-high heat. Cut out a round of parchment paper to fit just inside the saucepan, and cut a small hole int he center. Cover the onions with the parchment lid, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the onions are tender. Remove the parchment and continue to cook the onions, shaking the pan intermittently so that they brown evenly.
3. Add the haricots verts to the onions, with a tablespoon or two of water to deglaze the caramelized sugar from the pan and just warm the beans through. Serve immediately.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
Okay, so the whole Post a Week thing hasn’t exactly worked out. I won’t bother making lame excuses, but anyway here I am, back to the blog world.
We had a moderately successful garden this year, which for a some time, produced more tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs than two people could possibly eat. It was a daily battle with the mosquitoes though, to whom I am definitely prey. Once mosquito season got really bad, it became just too unbearable to stand out there with my camera. Daily I would pick, weed, water, then run back inside. It is simply a cruel joke of creation that I should be so attractive to mosquitoes while simultaneously being so allergic to their bites, but in the end, it was worth the torment.
This year we grew three heirloom tomato varieties: Black Krim, Yellow Pear, and Roman Plum Tomatoes. The Black Krims were by far the sweetest and most flavorful. The thing about having great summer produce is that it takes so little to make a delicious meal out of them. Our favorite way to enjoy our bounty of tomatoes was simply to arrange them on a platter with proscuitto and fresh mozzerella. I would drizzle them with good olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt, a generous turn of the pepper grinder, and top them with garden fresh basil. Then all it would take was a crusty loaf of peasant bread to round out this easy yet substantial late night meal for two.
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My zucchini plants keeled over last week. I had so much hope for them, cared for them, and resisted eating the flowers so that they could produce fruit. Alas, after battling off fungus gnats, aphids, and even maggots, it was stem rot that finally did them in. I stared sadly at the orange fungus that had eaten halfway through the base of the plant and knew there was nothing I could do to save them.
The zucchini plants weren’t the only ones I mourned last week. I’m also growing an heirloom cucumber known as Lemon Cucumbers (when they’re ripe they are the color and shape of lemons). For a while now they were looking kind of sad too. The leaves had developed spots of dusty white mildew, and while the fruit was getting bigger and ripening, they weren’t producing any new flowers or tendrils. So I pulled the vines out of the pot. It was just in time, it seems – there was a little stem rot on one of the plants too. I sowed new seeds and they’ve already germinated, so maybe I’ll have a second chance at some late season cukes.
I was able to salvage a few ripe cucumbers though, and it’s amazing how quickly they start to shrivel up without the commercial wax coating that you get on store-bought produce. So what to do with them? Inspired by an heirloom tomato salad we served while I was at “Restaurant BB,” I paired slices of cucumber with two kinds of home-grown basil and fresh tomatoes.
I’ve been growing both Greek Basil, and the more commonly seen Genovese Basil. You may have seen Greek Basil at the Farmer’s Market, but for those of you who are not familiar, it’s a bushy compact plant. It produces pretty little leaves that are smaller, rounder and more densely grouped than the Genovese variety. I tucked a bunch of seedlings into my tomato pot and they’ve grown so well, they actually need regular pruning.
Unfortunately the homegrown heirloom tomatoes weren’t ripe yet, so I had to settle for store bought. Still, a simple drizzle of olive oil and white balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkle of sea salt and pepper was just enough to bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes without overpowering the delicate flavor of the cucumbers.
Boyfriend and I enjoyed this salad with a simple pan seared rib steak and oven roasted potatoes. If you’re not a gardener, you may find Lemon Cucumbers and Greek Basil at your local farmer’s market. White balsamic vinegar adds just the right amount of acidity and sweetness, but if you can’t find that you can substitute sherry vinegar.
INGREDIENTS (serves 2, generously):
2 lemon cucumbers
2 medium tomatoes
a handful of fresh Greek Basil, picked
a few leaves of fresh Genovese Basil, chiffonade
2 Tbsp. good olive oil
1 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Slice the cucumber and tomatoes. I like to use a combination of slices and wedges.
Combine the olive oil and vinegar, and a pinch of salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Gently toss the cucumbers in the bowl first, then remove them and dress the tomatoes.
Arrange the cucumber and tomatoes on a plate. If desired, drizzle some more of the dressing over them. Then top with the fresh basil and a sprinkle of sea salt.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 5 so far )