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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Snow Globes & Ham For The Ages

What a weekend!  A fabulous snow covered food indulgent weekend.We kicked off yesterday morning bright and early by listening to our favorite women co-host a radio show on 88.1 WRFL here in town.  Good Santa/Bad Santa.  They were so true to form with funny, whacky, and very smart commentary interspersed with great music. That was our coffee time.

We followed coffee time with several rounds of screwdrivers and blood marys as we tore apart packages from under the tree, warm and  snuggled inside while it continued to snow outside.  It was  storybook snow. Snow globe snow. 

After two hours of shenanigans, we were starving.  Thankfully, we had a carryout container  of leftover Waffle House covered, smothered,, chunked, diced, peppered, capped, and topped hash browns in the refrigerator.  Skanky, huh?  Not at all. Call the food police.  After reheating the hash browns, we topped them with sunnyside fried eggs and a sprinkling of fresh parsley.  Drop dead heavenly with succulent unctuous yolks dripping down through  many layers of hash brown toppings puddling on our plates for buttered biscuit sopping.

A gigantic bone-in ham from Critchfields Meats was destined for our dinner table.  It required a lot of attention.  Michael's attention.  He was in charge of the meat.  He selected , bought, and planned the preparation of it.  I watched in awe while taking care of the side dishes.

After breakfast, he had to trim the rind off of the ham before he could score the fat and dot the cloves in strategic intervals.  I winced at the waste of tossing the rind, but knew tons of fatty goodness would be left for future flavor enhancing.  Once the ham was trimmed, scored, and cloved, he placed it in the refrigerator to chill.

After a long winter's nap, we took a long walk through our snow covered neighborhood. It was quiet and still.  Frozen in time.  Beautiful.  The houses sparkled under the snow and glowed with warmth.  We could smell chimney smoke wafting through the trees.

Priorities.  Back to the kitchen and back to the ham.  After pre-heating the oven to a low 325, Michael brushed his ham with an apricot, dry mustard, peach syrup, and brown sugar glaze.  He slid the ham into the oven to slow bake.  After an hour, he glazed it again.  The entire house smelled like sweetly glazed baked ham.  I could taste the aroma.  It was everywhere.

Bitter sharp rapini, or broccoli rabe, would be a perfect foil our ham.  I blanched the broccoli rabe in heavily salted water to pull the bitterness out before plunging it into equally heavily salted iced water to shock the cooking process.  After draining the bitter greens, I set them aside for a later saute.

After three hours in the oven, the ham had morphed into a glistening thing of beauty.  It. Was. Gorgeous.

I sauteed baby Vidalia onions in french butter with lemon halves as garnish before tossing the broccoli rabe into the sizzling pan to saute with garlic, butter, salt, and pepper.

I sliced the ham as thinly as possible, plated it, drizzled it with the sticky pan jus,  and  perched the sweet baby Vidalia onions, dripping in butter, over the ham with broccoli rabe nestled to the side..

It was a ham for the the ages.  I have never tasted or eaten such succulent rich ham meat. It danced on my tongue. The jeweled glazed scored fat literally  caramelzed into candy.   Crisp sensual candied ham fat.  The clove essence was key, adding nuanced subtle spice to the juicy ham. 

Michael's sincere efforts were evident in every bite.

In the wee hours of the morning, I snuck down to the kitchen for one more bite. I'm still sticky.

Picnic With The Pope

We used to have elaborate Christmas Eve dinners.  Big  productions of Roast Prime Rib, Feast of the Seven Fishes, Roast Goose, Filet Mignon, and Peking Duck. Not any more.  Christmas Eve service at our church cuts a big chunk of time out of an evening for cooking. We wouldn't have it any other way.

Now, we snack on Christmas Eve, drinking gallons of Bailey's and coffee with hopes of staying awake for Midnight Mass with the Pope on television.  Last Friday was no exception.  No chips and dip this year.  Ruffles with french onion dip will have to wait for the Super Bowl.

Last Friday, we had crackling fried chicken wings for our picnic with the Pope.  No forks needed. We settled down with glasses of wine after church and basked in the soft glow of our living room tree. Toward midnight, Michael fired the coffee pot for our coffee drinks while I prepped for our picnic.

Pulling from the asian tradition for crisp fried anything, I dredged the wings in cornstarch and let them rest for an hour in the refrigerator.  The resting period allowed the coating adhere to the wings when frying.

After heating peanut oil to 365 in a cast iron skillet, I carefully nestled the wings into the shimmering oil.  I turned the chicken a few times until well browned before sliding them into a a warm oven to hold while I whipped together  a couple of sauces. In one bowl, I mixed together melted butter, brown sugar, Chystal hot sauce, and Georgia Peach Hot sauce.  In an ajacent bowl, I tossed reduced teriyaki glaze, minced ginger, sesame oil, and a splash of rice wine vinegar.

Of course we had the requisite celery sticks.  I wanted a salad, but I really hate juggling finger food with fork food.  Bothersome.  I made a finger salad with  snipped ends of spicy bitter escarole tossed in a light lemon vinaigrette. For texture and tatse, I threw in roasted red pepper, spanish olives, and pickled banana peppers.

I pulled the wings from the oven, tossed half in the hot sauce, half in the gingered teriyaki glaze, and plated them on a platter separated with bunched fresh parsley.

At the stroke of Midnight, we climbed the stairs with our platters of wings, suaces, and sides; and plopped down in front of the television as Midnight Mass began.
As the gold gilded Pope made his way into St. Peter's Basilica, we ate. Although well coated with sticky sauce, the chicken remained incredibly crisp.  The skin snapped and crunched like spicy brittle, revealing juicy sweet chicken meat. Chilled celery cut through the sticky heat with clean wet bites. It was odd eating salad with our fingers, but it seemed appropriate.  Messy fun. The vinaigrette-dressed escarole provided needed acidity to the sweet gooey midnight madness. 

We were covered in chicken goo.  Lip-smacking goodness with teriyaki hot-sauce brown sugar facials.

It was a terrific Papal picnic.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Gruel is a food preparation consisting of some type of cereal – oat, wheat or rye flour, or also rice – boiled in water or milk. It is a thinner version of porridge that may be more often drunk than eaten and need not even be cooked. Historically, gruel, often made from millet or barley, or in hard times of chestnut flour and even the less tannic acorns of some oaks, has been the staple of the human diet, especially that of the peasantry.
Gruel consumption has traditionally been associated with poverty. Gruel is a colloquial expression of any watery or liquidy food that is of unknown character, e.g. pea soup. - Wikipedia

Pea soup. Split pea soup.  Most people either love or hate it.  I love it.  Michael, not so much. He'll tolerate it.

We were shopping at Good Foods Market and Cafe a couple of weeks ago when I found myself standing  mezmerized in the bulk grain aisle.  What a glorious sight.  A quilted mozaic of grains stacked one on another and side by side. I was drawn to the yellow and green split peas. In dried form, I love how they look, feel, and sound as they tumble from the bin like little pebbles.  I filled an entire bag with green split peas, marked my PLU twist tie with the correct number, and made my way to the counter to pay.

I had forgotten about them.  The bag had wrangled its way way around all the other things stashed in the pantry.  A couple of nights ago, we really needed a tiny break from the lavish holiday foods we had been devouring.  Split pea gruel seemed like the perfect reprieve.

Split pea soup is traditionally made with ham hock, carrots, onions, celery, split peas, and stock. Not wanting a heavy smoky-laden  meaty soup, I took a different approach with ingredients I had on hand.
It was a no-brainer with the only exception being the legume to stock ratio: I cup of split peas to 4 cups stock.

Hoping to raise Michael's level of tolerance for split pea soup, I replaced the carrots with diced sweet potatoes because he loves sweet potatoes.   It was an onion-skin-thick veil of decption.  

While my dutch oven heated over a medium flame, I diced a large sweet potato, purple onion, green onion, garlic clove, and celery stalk. After  adding  olive oil and butter to the hot dutch oven long enough for the butter to melt through the oil, I tossed the vegetables into the pot to sweat.  I wasn't looking for color or caramelzation.  Once the vegetables turned translucent, I tumbled the split peas into the pot with 4 cups of vegetable stock, fresh thyme, a bay leaf, salt, and pepper.  I clamped the lid over the simmering soup and let it cook for an hour.

Unknowingly, it was vegetarian.  Until the end.

After an hour, the split peas had cooked, softened, and expanded.  Using my immersion blender, I pureed it slightly, leaving a bit of texture.  While the pureed soup quietly bubbled and popped, I julienned ham into thin ribbons and sauteed it until crisp before adding fresh parsley, garlic, and lemon zest. Gremolata on steroids. 

Ok, so we had a few more glasses of wine before dinner.

When it was time to eat, I ladled the soup into large bowls, topped it with the ham gremolata garnish, and cranked copious amounts of ground Tellicherry peppercorns over all of it. 

It had texture and bite that punched through the thick creamy puree.  The soup was comforting and warm with the meltingly soft diced sweet potatoes  adding a deeper sweetness to the savory soup.  The ham made it hearty while the garlic and lemon zest brightened it.   We had no bread for sopping.  No need. My bowl was clean.  I'll leave it at that.
It wasn't a pretty soup.

Nor was it haute cuisine, by any means.

It wasn't meant to be.

It was delicious.  Period. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chocolate-Covered Bacon

Insanity knows no bounds.  I may very well have crossed that line this morning for our friend, Audrey.  Not only is she a dear friend, Audrey is our favorite priest at our church, Christ Church Cathedral.  There is nothing she could ask of me that I wouldn't do. Nothing. Trust me.  Nobody says no to Audrey.  I wouldn't dream of it.

And so it was this past Sunday at church.  Michael and I were in the communion line deciding whether to go to the left or right side of the alter for communion.  We chose left.  Audrey's side.  Before handing me the communion wafer, she bent over and whispered, " See you at lunch on Tuesday.  I'm putting in my pre-order for dessert:  Bacon."  "You'll Have it.", I responded.  Wafer.  Wine.  Amen.

Audrey adores bacon.  She's crazy for it.  I've made her brown sugar-glazed bacon, bacon wrapped cheese filled jalapenos, creamy bacon tomato soup, and candied bacon.  Bacon.  Bacon.  Bacon.

Every year at Christmas time, Audrey, the choir masters, and other choir parents bring our Cathedral Girls' Choir to the restaurant for a luncheon following a holiday concert.  Bacon dessert.  I pondered what to do.  I thought about making maple bacon cupcakes.  There are a gazillion recipes for those floating around the internet, but I am not a baker.  Not. At. All.

This morning before work, I foraged through our pantry in search of bacon dessert ingredients.

When I found Belgian chocolate tucked behind the turbinado sugar, I had an Aha! moment.

Ancho Chile & Cayenne Chile Pepper Chocolate-Cover Bacon, with candied pecans.


I pulled 5 slabs of thick cut bacon from our refrigerator meat drawer, placed them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, brushed them with pure maple syrup, and slid them into a 350 degree oven to cook.

While the bacon popped and sizzled in the oven, I dropped 1 cup of broken Belgian milk chocolate pieces into a double boiler on top of the stove to gently melt over simmering water.  I stirred the chocolate constantly until it melted and glistened.  Gorgeous.

When the bacon was caramelized and crisp, I pulled it out to drain and cool down before coating it completely with the gooey shiny melted chocolate.  While it was still warm, I showered the chocolate with sweet musky ancho chile powder and fiery hot ground cayenne chile pepper.  Just before the chocolate hardened, I nestled candied pecan pieces into it.


I gave Audrey her bacon dessert before she ate lunch at the restaurant today.  "Do I have to share?", she asked.


It could possibly have been one of the most outrageous things I've ever made, but it was beautiful.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Merry Mary

It's the week before Christmas. Ah, yes. There is so much to do.....or little to do.  Pick. Choose.  I'm done. I've shopped.  I've wrapped. I've cooked.

I choose little to do this week.

The big events are over. Traveling, laughing, listening, and cojoling  are things of the past. Stop. Breathe. Rest. Enjoy the season, now.   It is time  to be truly Merry. 

Merry happy.  Merry joyful.  Merry Mary.

Today was Mary Sunday at our church.  As a part of todays service, we rededicated a 200 year old painting of "Titian's Madonna", by Oliver Frazer (1808-1864). The cleaning and restoration of the painting was performed by Richard A. O'Connell of Paris, Kentucky.  The repairs included filling holes in the canvas, removing old varnish, and cleaning the surface and back.  In-painting was performed as required.  New coatings with damaged varnish and pure beeswax were applied to soften the appearance.  The canvas was restretched and remounted on the 200 year old historic frame.  The frame was cleaned and repaired with gesso, pappier mache and regilt as necesary.


Christ is the icon of the invisible God; all things were created through him and for him.

The word became flesh.

And dwelt among us.

Almighty God, whose Son our Saviour manifested your glory in his flesh, and sanctified the outward and visible to be a means to perceive realities unseen:
Accept, we pray, this representation of the birth of our Lord, Jesus; and grant that as we look upon it, our hearts may be drawn to things which can be seen only by the eye of faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

As we took communion at the alter, the large Madonna painting greeted us.

It. Was. Gorgeous.

Absolutley gorgeous. 

We left church and headed straight to Jalapenos restaurant  for margaritas and lunch.  We are very predictable customers at Jalapenos.  Top Shelf frozen Margaritas?  Why yes, of course. Cimichangas, tacos, asados, huevos rancheros, fajitas?  Nope.  Not today.

Stat: Jalapenos has the BEST frozen top shelf margaritas in town. Period. Their cilantro infused salsa is amazing and their salsa verde could bring giant men to their knees. Done. Over.

I ordered Mexicano T-Bone Steak topped with sauteed green onions and ranchero sauce.  Hello!  Put that in your burrito and eat it.  Crazy.  "How would you like it cooked?", Marcos asked.  With an aside to the audience, Michael reminded  me that they flame meat on high at Jalapenos. Marcos agreed. "Medium rare", I said.  "OK, I'll tell them rare", he said.  Love.

They brought Michael's sizzling fajitas to the table, placing the steaming cast iron skillet in front of him with all the appropriate garnishes.  Jealous thoughts flew through my head.  Damn.  I chose wrongly, again.  They looked fabulous, hissed heavenly, and  smelled devine..  I wanted those fajitas. I really wanted them.
Until  Marcos  plunked  my gigantic T-Bone steak down in front of me. I normally don't eat a lot of red meat.  Certainly not in steak form, but the T-Bone spoke to me. "Eat me.", it said.  "Eeeeeeeeeat, me."  With a nod to Little Shop Of Horrors, I fed the beast. Me, the beast.  When my steak arrived, it literally spilled over the edge of the platter.  Yep, platter. The shiny grilled T-Bone steak was topped with glistening sauteed  green onion batons surounded by  refried beans and mexican rice.

The steak was perfectly prepared.  Rosy pink, highly seasoned,  and fork tender.  I ate the filet side first.  Who wouldn't?  After slicing the juicy meat from the bone, I noshed on buttery moist steak.  Fatty.  Rich.  Unctuous. The green onions were piquant, sharp, and tender, cutting through the meatiness with pronounced intention. I devoured the entire steak while  inhaling the  refried beans and pea-studded mexican  rice. So good.

We were hungry and hungover. 
The food was fabulous. 
It was a perfect match.
Feed the mind, body, and soul.

Felize Navidad.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Silent Night

We've lived in this neighborhood for almost 20 years.  Before we bought this cranky old victorian house, we lived just around the corner in a fantastic  second floor apartment with 20 foot ceilings and a loft overlooking the living room.  It was a great place to entertain guests for fabulous parties.  Big rooms with windows wrapped around the entire second floor.  When it snowed in the winter, it felt like a living snow globe.  We loved that apartment.

Every year, the week before Christmas, we'd have close friends over for a holiday dinner party followed by neighborhood Christmas caroling.  It brought such joy to us and to those who listened to our drunken warblings.

One year, we felt particularly extravagant.  I prepared a glorious  Beef Wellington with  a huge beef tenderloin purchased from Critchfield Meats.  I seared the tenderloin briefly to caramelize the exterior before smothering it in a mushroom duxelle and wrapping it in puff pastry.  To gild the lily, I took extra pastry, cut it into strips, and tied a gigantic bow with ribbons around the pastry-wrapped tenderloin.  When it came out of the oven, it was a thing of beauty. A puffed and golden edible Christmas package with buttery crunchy splayed ribbons and bows.  I served it on a pool of dark rich bordelaise that clung to the meat and deepened the flavor of the complex  duxelles. The crisp pastry crumbled when cut and  was the  perfect sauce sopper.

I don't remember what we ate with the Wellington.  I do remember that we  followed it with Keoke Coffees and slices of Red Velvet Cake. Heaven.

After washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen, our small happy group of Christmas revelers made our way out  into our neighborhood for caroling.  People were kind and let us sing for them.  It was Christmas, after all. We sang our way up our street, turned the corner and worked our way down the other street.  At the very end of the adjacent street and across the road was a three story historic brick house.  It stood alone with an old cast iron fence protecting the property. No houses were  beside it or near it.  As we approached the house, we saw an elderly woman sitting near a first floor window gazing out onto her lawn. We knocked on the door to ask permission to gleefully sing our carols.

As corny as it may sound, we formed a half circle on the lawn in front of that first floor window where the sweet elderly woman sat gazing.  Her caretaker fluffed a few pillows behind her back to help her sit up and listen.

With tears streaming down our faces,
we joyously sang Silent Night.

She smiled and waved to our little band of merry-makers as we left her property.  It was profoundly rewarding.  Giving.  Recieving.

The next morning we awoke to the news that her house had burned that night and she had died in the fire.

I think about her this time of year. I think about her house. Her smile. Her wave. I think about those of us who banded together and helped her smile during Christmas.

I drive by the empty lot every day where her house once stood.

And I remember.

Sleep in heavenly peace.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Children's Table

This past weekend we traveled to Barren River State Resort Park to join my family for our family Christmas celebration.  For the past ten years, my family has rented a cabin overlooking Barren River Lake where we gather to eat dinner, exchange gifts, enjoy each others company, and to honor my grandmothers spirit.  As with most families, we   gathered at her farm house for Christmas every year.  When she passed away, we all felt a bit un-tethered. We drifted. Individual families held their own celebrations and started new traditions.  One year, a cousin decided  that we needed to regain the warmth of Granny's house on Christmas.  Choosing a neutral site  allowed us to begin a new, yet familiar, Christmas tradition.  We do it early in December in a cabin on the lake well  before everyone becomes entangled in Christmas chaos. After so many years, we're all older, wiser, and kinder. My aunts are now great grandmothers and my cousins are grandparents.  We still have a children's table for the little ones.
It's always  grey, overcast, and cold for our cabin Christmases.  Perfect for venturing over the hills and through the woods to "grandmother's" house.

Much like Thanksgivings used to be, our cabin Christmas is always a potluck. The same potluck every year.  The same warm and fuzzy feeling food.  We can always count on mashed turnips bathed in butter, 10 hour slow-cooked turkey, mushy dressing, buttery summer corn, italian roma green beans, and dinner rolls.  Those are the standards.  Other things come and go.  When we had a hotel chef in the family, we always enjoyed fabulous exotic cheeses before dinner.  He's no longer a part of the family.  Pity.  One of my cousins, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate, usually flies in from Texas and creates wonderful pastries, pies, and cakes.  I have another cousin who is  a truck driver and a pig farmer.  He raises fat hogs for curing and smoking. Occasionally, a smoked ham will grace the table.

I usually take something that requires lengthy explanations and eating instructions. I don't mean to bring explainable dishes, it just happens. A couple of years ago, I waltzed in with a chevre torte.  Right.  They didn't understand goat cheese.  Not then.  Not now. Not ever.

This past weekend, I played it safe....for me.  Adapting a recipe from Southern Living, I prepared a layered sweet potato, yukon gold potato, and gruyere gratin encased in a rosemary gruyere pie crust. 

Using refrigerated store bought piecrusts, I sprinkled the first piecrust with grated gruyere, cracked pepper, and 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped rosemary.  After covering it with the second piecrust, I rolled it out to a 13 inch circle and placed the double crust into a 9 inch spring-form pan making sure the dough went to the edges of the pan. 

 I slid it into the refrigerator to chill while I pulled the mandoline from the cabinet to thinly slice the potatoes.
I preheated the oven to a blazing 450 degrees and pulled the crust from the refrigerator.  Starting with the yukon golds, I layered the potatoes with gruyere and salt until finishing with sweet potatoes and cheese. I microwaved 1 cup of heavy cream with a minced garlic clove for 45 seconds, poured it over the gratin, covered it with foil, and slid the gratin into the oven for 1 hour. 

 After an hour, I removed the foil and let it bake  30 minutes longer until browned and bubbly.

After it cooled, I released the springform pan and carefully slid the gratin onto a platter.

It was stunning.

Nobody knew what it was.  "Is it a quiche?", someone asked. "It's a gratin.", I answered.  "Oh, a potato pie?", another cousin countered.  "It's a  gratin.", I muttered. 

It was left to me to reheat the food and organize the buffet for our Christmas dinner at the cabin.   Cola brasied smoked ham, turkey, mashed turnips, dressing, mashed potatoes, candied carrots, bacon soaked green beans, baked beans, deviled eggs, cranberry salads, dinner rolls, and cornbread  all had to be warmed and placed around the small rented kitchen counter to accomdate a large waiting hungry family. It was a Christmas miracle that the food fit.
 I slid my gratin next to a bowl of Green Giant Corn Niblets with Butter Sauce, made my way to the screened-in wet porch, and chugged several Dixie Cups of chardonnay. When the food line dwindled, I took my place in line to eat.  My gratin was completely gone.

No explanation necessary.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Baby It's Cold Outside

Our latest cold snap has been bitterly cold.  Snow and ice have covered almost everything.  My car windows have been frozen shut for 5 days, which makes entering and exiting parking garages ridiculously difficult.  It's been nice to snuggle warmly inside and gaze at the frozen tundra through frosty windows. 

This kind of weather begs for  slow simmered beef stews, cassoulets, or soup beans with cornbread. Food that warms the house and soul.  Or does it?  Of course it does...sometimes.  Last night, I decided to defy mother nature and eschew that concept.  I wanted to cook something bright and fun.  Something  unexpected.  I needed to shed my flannel pajamas and don my light-as-air Heddy Lamar silk ones, if only for one night.  Grilling was the answer.  Grilling inside, that is.  I had a blast.

I lugged our 25 pound cast iron grill pan from the top shelf of the cabinet and plunked it onto the stove top.  I had a few grilling options and couldn't decide on any of of them, so I simply combined them into a mixed grill with gorgeous fresh-water jumbo prawns, ground italian sausage, roma tomatoes, green peppers, and purple onions.  Skewers.  I threaded  wooden skewers with alternating tomatoes and prawns alongside skewers with rolled italian sausage balls, peppers, and onions.  After battling our kitten during the process, I slid the skewers  into the refrigerator to chill.

I wanted playful side dishes to accompany the mixed grill skewers.  For a fun take on potatoes I decided to roast Hassleback/Accordian potatoes.  With a wee bit of care, they're simple to prepare.  After peeling and rinsing two large potatoes, I carefully sliced slits from one end to the other without cutting all the way through the potatoes. When the oven beeped at 350 degrees, I brushed the potatoes with an olive oil butter combination and slid them into the hot oven to roast. As they roasted, the potatoes fanned out and looked like little potato accordians. Cool.

Although there were snippets of vegetables on the skewers with the meats, I needed more.  I braised radishes.  Yep.  After snipping the ends from the radishes, I halved a few, quartered some, and left the rest whole before tumbling them into a small skillet with slivered purple onions, 3 butter pats, olive oil, honey, 1/4 cup water, salt, pepper, and a splash of vinegar.  When the braising liquid reached a boil, I reduced it to a simmer, covered the skillet, and let it bubble away until the radishes were tender.
While the potatoes roasted and the radishes braised, I whipped up a quick fresh chive parsley pesto to accompany the grilled skewers. 

A few glasses of wine later, it was time to fire the grill.  I got our heavy grill pan screaming hot, rubbed it with oil, and carefully placed the prawn/sausage skewers onto the smoking grill ridges of the pan.  It didn't take long for the vegetables, prawns, and sausages to caramelize, blister, and char.  I swiped  ribbons of the fresh chive parsley pesto onto our plates and topped them with the skewers.  I carefully plated the potatoes, nestling the beautiful braised radishes beside them.  On a whim, I brushed the italian sausage with red pepper relish for sheen and sweetness.
Holy Moley!  Flavor explosions.  The prawns were butter tender and sweet with collapsed caramelized tomatoes encasing them.  The  pesto grounded the smoky flavor, bits of char, and succulent prawn meat with nutty herbal undertones. In contrast, the blistered pepper-relish glazed grilled sausages were meaty and moist, rendering their pork juices into puddles on our plates.  Earthy bright pesto swirled with sweet pork fat.  The grilling went quickly which allowed the peppers and onions to retain a caramelized bite.
The accordian potatoes were fantastic with snappingly crisp golden exteriors revealing buttery soft white potato flesh.  They tasted like sauteed potatoes standing at attention.   

The braised radishes were an utter surprize. They completely aborbed the buttery sweet salty braising liquid and turned almost translucent when cooked.  Like edible jewels, they glowed with soft bites releasing a mellow subtle radish flavor. Remarkable, really.  

It was a fun meal.

Although seemingly outlandish, the bold ingredients actually enhanced each other and melded together with  quiet crazy nuance.

Yeah, it was freezing outside.  The heat from our indoor grilling steamed the kitchen windows, creating a heavenly aromatic sauna.

It was a delicious respite from the cold.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Buck Rarebit

Old school Welsh Rarebit. Cheese on toast or, more importantly, melted cheese sauce on toast. In the 18th century it was considered poor peoples food because only the wealthy could afford butcher's meat in Wales. The poor man's meat was cheese.  Rarebit is simply toast topped with a basic sharp cheddar cheese sauce that includes  beer, worchestershire, cayenne, and dijon mustard.  The sauce is poured over toasted bread and broiled. That's it.  There are a few varients on Welsh Rarebit. Adding tomato to the cheese sauce creates a Blushing Bunny.  The Hot Brown is a variation with turkey, ham, bacon, and tomato.

Crowning Welsh Rarebit with jiggly fried eggs elevates it to Buck Rarebit.

On our way home from church yesterday I asked Michael if he'd like pizza for dinner.  Pause.  Or, Welsh Rarebit topped with sunny-side-up fried eggs and home fries.  He thought about it for a moment and said, "I'm leaning toward the Rarebit."

I should have just asked, "Do you mind cooking dinner?" It wasn't intentional.  Really.  I can't fry eggs.  I can poach the hell out of any egg.  I can make lovely omelettes, souffles, and quiches, but  I can't properly fry a stupid egg.  On top of that, Michael's home fries are better than mine.  He takes the time to coax the natural caramlization from the  potatoes' exteriors while retaining their luscious creamy interiors.  I don't.  I turn an oiled cast iron skillet to high heat, toss in the potatoes, and leave the room.  Why?  If I knew, I wouldn't do it.  I just do.  Frying eggs and making home fries are two of Michael's many kitchen fortes.

I made the cheese sauce for our Welsh Rarebit last night.  While I sat on a kitchen stool drinking wine, Michael masterfully cooked the rest of our dinner.

I must admit, it was enjoyable. 

The eggs were perfectly cooked.  The white edges were crisp, grasping onto the gooey cheese. The jiggly runny yolks oozed into the cheese sauce when sliced.  Egg heaven.  The potatoes were crisp and creamy with salty bites of country ham and bacon dotted throughout.  Perfect foil to the rich Rarebit.

Snipped chives added color with a gratuitous  nod to freshness, but were totally lost in the creamy cheesy egg goodness. 

Eggs are always delicious on top of anything and everything. Welsh Rarebit turned into Buck Rarebit is a stress free way to enjoy them. 


Especially when someone else does the cooking.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Festival Of Lights

We visited and toured the Holocaust Memorial Museum on our last trip to Washington, D.C.  Upon entering the musuem, we were handed indentification cards representing real life prisoners of Nazi concentration camps.  The I.D. cards contained their photographs, biographical profiles, and accounts of their lives in the concentration camps  from 1933-1939.  We carried those cards with us as we journeyed through the museum experiencing the horrors of the Holocaust. The concept was remarkable because it personalized the journey by matching faces and personel stories to the suffering that was endured in those camps. It was sobering. Somber. Solemn. When we exited the exhibit portion of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, we turned to the final pages of our I.D. cards to find out the ultimate fate of our people.  Did they survive or did they perish?

They perished.

We were so moved by the experience that we purchased a Menorah in the Museum Shop;  and have celebrated Hanukkah every year since that day with the lighting of our Menorah.  Although we are not Jewish, we honor the Jewish traditions with the Festival of Lights.  Hanukkah.  The Menorah.  Candles.  Light.

There are three blessings that are recited at different times when  lighting the Menorah during Hanukkah. The first year we celebrated, we read the blessings in Hebrew. It wasn't pretty. We now recite English translations.  The opening prayer is read only on the first night of Hanukkah.

   Bonukh Ato Adoynoy Eloyheynu Melekh Ho-oyton Asher
   Kiddeshonu Be-mitsvoyosv Va-tsivonu
   Ladhadik Ney Shel khanuko.

   Blessed are You, Lord our God, Kings of the Universe, who has
   sanctified us by his commandments,and
   has commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.

The candles are lit at sundown from right to left on successive nights for eight days. They burn until they are gone.

Food is traditionally an integral part of most Jewish holidays.

One of our traditions is to eat Matzoh Ball Soup during the first weekend of Hanukkah. Yeah, pretty safe. But, it's easy and delicious.

I made a very simple chicken stock the night before the actual soup came together.  I pulled chicken backs, parts, and wings from the freezer to thaw before tossing them into a small stock pot with bay leaves, peppercorns, carrots, celery, onions, parsley sprigs, and enough water to barely cover the meat. I brought the stock  to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, skimmed the scum, and let it gently bubble away for a few hours.
Unlike traditional stock making, I didn't strain the stock when it was finished.  I placed the cooled pot into the refrigerator to chill and coagulate the chicken fat.  I needed the fat (shmaltz) for the matzoh balls.

The next morning, I pulled  the chicken meat from the bones, tossed the spent vegetables, and skimmed the congealed fat from the surface of the stock. I whipped the shmaltz with two eggs before incorporating it with 3/4 cups matzoh meal, minced parsley, salt, and pepper.  I slid the matzoh batter  into the refrigerator for an hour to allow it to chill and set up.  Once firm, I rolled the dough into balls and simmered them in a large pot of boiling water. While the matzoh balls cooked, I sliced fresh carrots, parsnips, celery, and onion; and added them to simmering  chicken stock  to gently poach and soften.
After an hour of simmering, the vegetables and matzoh balls were ready to combine into  glorious bowls of soup.

I placed a few matzoh balls into large pasta bowls, adding the reserved cooked chicken, the poached vegetables, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and a shower of  snipped chives.

It was a very humble soup.  No thunder claps shook the culinary universe.

It was comforting and warm.  The stock was rich, silken, and bright from the lemon addition. Sweet carrots and parsnips poked through adding body and depth.  The parsley-studded matzoh balls were light and pillowy, having plumped from the long stove top simmer.  Like dumplings, the texture was soft and chewy, but the matzoh meal provided a grainier bite.Tiny snipped chives added fresh grassy hints of onion. Simply delicious.

Happy Hanukkah!