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Monday, March 29, 2010

Duck: The Eating Kind

There are very few things I will not eat.  Actually, there is nothing I won't eat.  There are foods that I love, adore, crave, and cherish.  Duck is one of them.  I can eat any kind of duck; roasted, fried, pan-seared, shredded, tea-smoked, or Peking-style.  I have prepared all of them.  I have even made duck prosciutto with wasabi  paste and roasted pistachio nuts.  Fabulous.  My favorite way to have duck is pan-seared, medium rare, sliced,  and plated any way, on anything, and with anything.  I adore the fatty crisp skin  paired with the succulant pink juicy meat.  I like the dark meat on any bird; chicken thighs and legs, goose, quail, cornish hens, turkey,  and duck. Duck is different, though.  It's more luxurious. More moist. More mouthy and chewy.  The medium rare to rare pink temperature allows it a mouthfeel insanity.

Last night I wanted every flavor I love and crave wrapped around duck.  Into it. On it. Under it.  Over it. My goal was stir-fried vegetables with rice noodles topped with pan-seared duck. I scored the skin of two duck breasts, marinated them in sweet teriyaki suace, patted them dry, slathered them with black bean paste, and sprinkled fresh snipped chives over the skin.  Reserved.

I shaved carrots into ribbons, thinly sliced green peppers, minced  garlic and ginger, thinly sliced onions, and chopped some fresh cilantro.

I wanted a spicy sweet sauce, so I mixed  garlic chile paste, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, oyster sauce, Sriracha sauce, and soy sauce with a a dusting of cornstarch and set it aside.

The rice noodles were steeped in boiling water until tender and translucent.

I started the duck breasts in a cold pan skin side down and pushed the heat to medium allowing the skin to slowly render into a crackling sweet salty blanket.  Once they reached a sizzle, I turned them over for a couple of minutes to caramelize the flesh side, removed them from the pan, tented them to keep warm, and let the breasts rest to redistribute their juices.

After adding the vegetables to the pan to saute until tender, I tossed in the rice noddles, the sauce and simmered to combine.
I plated the vegetables and noodles into a large pasta bowl, sliced the duck, fanned it over the top, and showered it  fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime.

The flavors and textures hit every part of my tongue and mouth. It was tart, sweet, salty, bitter, and spicy, with a hint of  umami for complete balance and mystery.

Its sultry look teased me like a food whore.  It tasted even better.

I have been to Duck and enjoyed it, but I would rather eat duck.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Meatless Friday: Six, Eating & Judging

There were no Feast day reprieves this week.  No devout teacher or someone to give me permission to eat meat.  I willingly and freely jumped off the meatless Friday cliff. It was a cooking competition.  I was honored to join Team Ace from AceWeekly to judge a cooking competition for the Fifth/Third Fourth Friday at The Lexington Art League.  Four of us were on the judging jury:   Michael, AceWeekly, Chef Dave, and myself.
We wondered what we should wear.  Should we match? Chef Dave and I chose our whites, cheffy speak for white chef  coats (mine, black) ; while AceWeekly and Michael were supposed to look fabulous. And. They. Did.

Not knowing what to expect, I was a bit nervous as to how the evening was going to play out. How were we going to sample everything? Would they bring the food to us or would we walk around tasting it.  Things like that matter to me.  I sweat the little stuff.  It was alot of fun,  Everyone was very hospitable and very nice.  The food was good, too.  They sequestered us in the kitchen on a beautiful sunny afternoon.  A bright, cheery, and bustling kitchen.  People were busy cooking and finishing their dishes.

We sat around a giant center island.  Chef Dave and I on opposite ends with Michael and AceWeekly on one side.  As they divied up the dixie cups full of competition food, we figured out a scoring system for how we would rate each offering.

Thankfully and luckily, they brought in a vase of wine.  Yes, a vase of wine. It was like a carafe, but bulbier, and bigger.  The better to hold more wine, I thought.

The food was tasty and ambitious.  We may have been super critical because of our foodiac-ness, but we were judging after all.  I wish they had the food  competitors come into the kitchen and explain the dishes to us because we were left to guess and figure them out as a Team.  Kind of like food charades or a food puzzle.  There have been episodes on Top Chef  when the chefs had to taste ingredients and figure out what they were. Guess the ingredient!  That's what we did.

There was a spring-mix salad dressed in a light vinaigrette.  It had a meat of some kind in it.  Sausage, we thought.  I found it to be almost  gyro-like in texture, but not gamey like lamb. There were thin pieces dotted about in the salad.  It was light and refreshing.  There was an avacado and corn salsa with tortilla chips that had alot of potential.  It was creamy and smooth with pops of corn throughout.  A squeeze of lime or garlic would have pumped it up a bit, but it was good.  We enjoyed a hot artichoke dip with bread dippers.. Personally, I love the brown cheesy part that forms around the edges of the casserole dish when an artichoke dip bakes.  I think of it as cheese candy.  That's what my dixie cup of artichoke dip offered. I loved that! 
I also thought the chicken wings were tasty.  They were not Buffalo style or crisp fried. They were mellow  and  very tender with flecks of thinnly sliced parsely sticking to the sauced skin. The tiny parsley shreds were a nice touch of freshness. A diferent take on wings, like bite sized pieces of a Sunday supper.
We enjoyed chili with cheese cornbread, a couple of different kinds of mac & cheese, and barbecued meatballs.  The standouts of the evening were the curried shrimp and shrimp and grits.  The curried shrimp were bathed in a coconut cream curry sauce with peanuts for a salty crunch and fresh flaked coconut for a gritty sweetness.  The shrimp and grits, sauced with sausage, shrimp, peppers, and onions were luscious over creamed cheese grits.  I had a bowl  for breakfast this morning, thanks to some handy carryout wrapping by AceWeekly and a reminder to go back to the kitchen to retrieve it.

The desserts were very interesting; a not too sweet bundt cake with a fresh pureed raspberry glaze, caramel stuffed brownies, whipped-cream filled tuiles, and caramel fleur de sel ice cream. The tuiles, french wafer-thin laced cookies, were ambitious and exquisite.  They would have benefited from an equally matched ambitious filling.  That being said, they were beautiful to look at and to eat.  The caramel fleur de sel ice cream  had a sweet and salty yin-yang element that was very intriquing.  A sprinkle of fleur de sel over the top for a diamond glisten and crunch would have taken it to another level.  It was very very good.

It was a fun night.  Lots of friends came by.  The event was a success.  The Louden House was packed. and everyone had a great time.

Thanks to the volunteers and staff.  Thanks to all the cooks.

And thank you for the vase of wine.

Friday, March 26, 2010


A couple of years ago, we did not take a cruise.  We thought we would do a land-based vacation at some oceanfront resort.  We ended up at The Sanderling Resort & Spa in Duck, North Carolina. The resort was situated on a thin strip of the outerbanks.  So thin, in fact,  that only the hotel, a road, and a poolhouse separated the the Atlantic Ocean from the Currituck Sound.

It was a beautiful rustic resort.   Very high end.  We had a gorgeous suite with sitting area, two  bathrooms, and two balconies that overlooked the dunes and the ocean.  There were two restaurants, the Life Station, a former Caffrey's Inlet U.S Lifesaving Station #5 built in 1874, and The Left Bank, an AAA Diamond Award winning restaurant overlooking the sound, with floor to ceiling windows that showcased the exquisite sunsets.

There was nothing within 15 miles of our resort.  An island unto itself, and we were captive.

We did nothing for an entire week.  We sunned on the beach sipping cocktails.  We flew kites with wild abandon.  We foraged for seashells.  We swam in the poolhouse pool.  And we ate.

Each morning began with breakfast at the Life Station, whimsical, fresh, and delicious.  They had traditional fare, but I was drawn to the fried catfish topped with milled grits, bacon, melted jack cheese, and fried egg; and Eggs Sanderling, poached eggs on toasted english muffins with shaved ham, and a light mustard sauce.  Their take on benedict. 

After breakfast, we would move on to bloody marys, screwdrivers, and the beach.  It seemed like a private beach.  Very remote and private.  Our little chairs, umbrellas, and cooler full of bloody marys and screwdrivers.  We would sun, read, and fly kites.  I had never flown a kite with such childlike joy.  High, higher, highest into the stark bright blue sky, wading ankle deep in the ocean collecting seashells.  The kite was an extension of my arm; my friend, my buddy, my truth. It would direct me to the right seashells.  It would tell me when to lower or to soar higher.  We were tight, that kite and me.

We were the only ones in the resort who knew the secret number of the code key to unlock  the private poolhouse. Our secret garden. We knew the code.  We knew the secret.  After beaching all day, we would go to our private pool and swim laps.  I was and will never be a lap swimmer.  For those seven days, I swam laps.  The poolhouse overlooked the sound with a gazebo and sun chairs.  Ours.

We would venture away from the resort during lunchtime, driving up and down the narrow island, looking for places to eat.  Fishbones Sunset Grille and Raw Bar was a  wonderful place.  We sat at an outside bar on wooden stools with cocktails and ate three dozen oysters on the half shell, squeezing  lemons and eating Saltines. Plump, exploding oyster juice.  Route 12 Restaurant, in the northern town of Corolla, had a Raw & Steam Bar, where the shrimp were liberally doused with Old Bay, steamed and served  under a cloud of Old Bay smoke, leaving a trail of dripping steam from kitchen to table. The spice blend  happily burned our mouths and tongues. 

High tea was served daily at 4:00 in the lobby of the hotel;  hot tea, iced tea, and lemonade accompanied by sterling silver-tiered trays of canapes, dips, scones, petit fours, and cheescakes...Heaven.

We ate dinner evey night  at the Life Station.  Mussels in a smoked paprika and thyme broth, shrimp and corn chowder, crisp fried rockfish with fingerlings, shaved fennel, and saffron crab potage.  Night after night, gorgeous, fresh, and delicious meals. After dinner,  we would walk the beach at night with flashlights, cocktails, and brazen stolen hand-holding moments.

Our last night we ate at The Left Bank, The Sanderling's award winning restaurant with a month long reservation list  The restaurant was beautiful, the service impeccable, and the food devine. We were greeted with an Amuse Bouche of half-shelled oysters topped with apple ice. I had a succulent  pan-seared medium rare duck breast with a cipollini onion balsamic glaze.   Michael, being the beef connoissur, had the beef filet bathed in a red wine butter with dauphine potatoes and Perigord truffles.  That meal was very expensive. The one disapointment was my fois gras appetizer., pan-seared with a huckleberry reduction.  It was burned underneath, having stayed one second too long in the saute pan.  The Executive Chef was undone about it, which was endearing, but  fois gras is my favorite thing in the culinary world.  Mess with it and you mess with me. I did managed to move on.

It was a great week.  On land.  With an ocean and a sound.

On our way home, we stopped by the Wright Brother's Memorial, and Jockey's Ridge State Park where the dunes were so big it felt like another world.

We ate Carolina barbecue all the way home, packing our cooler with samples, treats, sauces, and food memories.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Winging It

I have found myself uninspired in the kitchen before, but never indecisive.  That doesn't even flow with my obsessed mise en place mentality.  I am always prepared, prepped, and ready.  Last night, I wasn't any of those things.  I was indecisive about dinner.  I had ingredients.  I had good ingredients.  I just couldn't decide what I wanted to do with them.

I had fantastic dried imported Rustichella papardelle pasta, shrimp, pancetta, and sausage.  Those would be the foundation and spring board.  I didn't want a tomato sauce.  I didn't want a cream sauce.  What did I want?

I needed to take stock of the situation.  I wanted something roasted.  I wanted something bright, fresh and light. Soemthing new.
I had green peppers, Kalamata olives, capers, basil, parsley, chives, pearl onions, roma tomatoes, lemons, oranges, and garlic.  How could anything go wrong with those ingredients?

I started by roasting peeled pearl onions, garlic, sliced roma tomatoes, and halved  fresh lemons and oranges in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.

While they roasted, I peeled and deveined the shrimp, sliced the sausages, sliced the pancetta, sliced fresh green peppers, and readied the pasta pot with a heavy hand of kosher salt.

It went pretty fast at this point.  An Italian Mediterranean stir fry, of sorts.

I sauteed the pancetta in a tad of olive oil to get it started, let it crisp to release it's un-smoked fat into the pan, and reserved it.  I took the sliced sausages and sauteed them in the pancetta fat until they fringed around the edges,  releasing their juicy goodness into the pan swirling into the pancetta fat.  Tossed in the green peppers, reserved sausages,  roasted romas, pearl onions, capers,  and Kalamata olives.  After everything came to a simmer, I added the shrimp to just cook through and threw in hand torn basil to wilt. 
One last squeeze of  roasted lemon & orange juice to deglaze and a half ladle of the pasta water brought the sauce together, releasing the fond and capturing the flavor into a light glaze.

After plating into large pasta bowls with the pappardelle,  I snipped fresh chives over the top for one last  grassy mild onion finish.  Buttered ciabattini rolls to sop.

The flavor combinations in this simple dish were outstanding.  The salty olives mixed with the briny capers for a toothsome bite within the caramelized melted tomatoes and pearl onions; with salty, sweet, and vinegary undertones blanketing the tender shrimp and crisp sausage like culinary chenille.  The roasted juices from the lemons and oranges were mellow with a hint of soft acidity.


I normally don't feel comfortable winging it in the kitchen, but if a cliff of indecision comes my way again, I'll jump off and fly.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

March Madness

I think about food and cooking all the time.  Most of the time when I am cooking, I am already thinking about the next meal, a deranged swirling mental mise en place.  Last weekend. I told Michael he could have anything he wanted for dinner, code for anything that he wanted, he would also have to cook.  He's very good in the kitchen and actually enjoys it, especially if I stay out of way.

He chose Cincinnati Chili, which I love. A very good decision. We have two schools of thought when it comes to Cincinnati chili:  Package mix or spice blend.  We had the spices in the pantry, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, chili powder, cumin, and cocoa, so I whizzed them up in the spice grinder and off I went to the couch for some private basketball time and off he went to the kitchen to play.

Once the chili started simmering away, the house smelled amazing.  I could almost taste the aroma of the greek inspired spices wafting through the house.  I took comfort in that sweet clovey cinnamon beefy tomato aroma.
He takes his chiil three way, with sauce and cheese.  I take mine four way, with sauce, cheese, and pungent onions.  We both pile on the oyster crackers.

Very basic.  No adornment.  No shower of parsely.  It was just angel hair pasta, insanely spiced chili sauce, cheese, and onions.

Here was the kicker.  He also made a butterscotch pie!  When and how, I still don't know.  He was down there for a long time. He was in the kitchen for an entire basketball game.  The pie alone would have been fabulous, but in a mad stroke of genius, he crumbled Buttefinger candy bars over the top and bruleed it!!!!!   Brilliant!  The smokey sweet charred bits and pieces of sugar and Butterfinger crumbs crackled when cut, making an otherwise cloyingly sweet pie crunchy and bold. It was crazy good.

March Madness in the house.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Seafood Salad....Or?

I have been thinking about the caribbean again and our next cruise.  Caribbean dreams! St Maarten/ St.Martin is one of our favorite islands to visit.  We haven't been there in a few years, so we are really looking forward to returning this year.

St Maarten/ St. Martin is both Dutch and French.  One side is Dutch, the other French.

  We like them both and try to get to both sides whenever we are there.  The French part of the island offers quaint French harborfront cafes and very chic shopping.  The major port town is Marigot where Michael's favorite skin-care company, L'Occitane, has a little shop next to our favorite cafe, Chanteclaire where we have had wonderful brick oven-fired crispy crust pizzas and french onion soup. 

 My favorite thing to do in Marigot is to visit the open market for spices, dried peppers, flavored vinegars, and hot sauces.  As much as I would love to buy the available fresh herbs and fruit, it's not allowed.  We usually buy our stuff, and sit by the harbor drinking wine, eating, and chatting. 

The Dutch side is very different. Phililsburg is the major town on the harbor. We always begin our time on the island there and have our first cocktail of the morning at the same ocean front bar over looking the bay.  We then usually shop, stroll, try our luck at the casinos, and drink  many guavaberry mashups along the way.

 Our favorite restaurant on the Dutch side is actually French, La Escargot.  It sits atop a few storefronts and has open air windows overlooking the street allowing the breezes to flow through.  Michael always has the restaurant's namesake signature offering, escargot.  He tends to go very traditional with the garlic. butter, and parsley combination.  I always get the french onion soup gratinee.  Go figure.

Our first visit to St. Maarten/St. Martin was a completely different story.  We were hyped for the adventure and wanted  to experience the real island  We did the usually shopping, drinking, gambling thing, and had alot of fun.  It became time for lunch.  It was hot.  We were tired.  Time to eat.

We were walking down Front Street looking for a restaurant that would have real St Maarten food.  What was real St. Maarten food?  We had no idea. 

We came across a little open-air cafe, using the term cafe loosely.  It had a dining area with dirt floors surrounded by a white picket fence with chickens and stray dogs milling about.  Perfect, we thought!  We went in, sat down, and dropped our back packs onto the ground creating a billow of dust.  Charming, we thought.  Romantic, even.  We had to wait a few minutes for our waitress, the 7 year old daughter of the cafe's proprietor.  She had to finish her homework in the blazing hot kitchen before she could wait on us.  Eventually, after finishing her homework, she came over and we quickly ordered rum runners.  Yes, it was a bit off-putting to order rum runners from a 7 year old.  You do what you have to do.  When in Rome, we guessed.

While we waited for our rum runners, we looked over the menu as the chickens pecked at our toes and the stray dogs rubbed their bristly fur against our sunburned legs.  We didn't pet them. While perusing, something on the menu really caught my attention.  An entire section of the menu was listed under the heading, Horse Meat.  They had horse meat burgers, horse meat cheeseburgers, and horse meat steaks.  I was dumbfounded.  I thought, where do they get this horse meat?  Do they raise them here for burgers?  Are they shipped in?  Is this where old racehorces go instead of those old-timey glue factories?  Is this where Misty of Chincoteague ended up?  Is this where my cousin's horse, Ryder, ended up  that one year he didn't show up at the family picnic to give us rides?  What?  How?  Why?

Now, I was and am an adventurous eater.  I chose the seafood salad.  Michael had the fried shrimp. His shrimp were perfectly fried and crispy with cocktail sauce to dip and fries on the side.  They were fresh and good.  My seafood salad was beautiful.  Fresh crab, conch, shrimp, and mahi tossed in a lime vinaigrette on a bed of lettuce with lemon wedges and crackers.  In the center of the table was a huge bottle of local hot sauce bubbling away in the 99 degree heat.  Literally, bubbling away.  I poured it over my salad and ate every bit.  It was delicious. Tangy, spicy, and crisp from the lettuce.

I spent the next 24 hours under cabin quarantine  on the ship, while all the officials tried to figure out why I was sick. Luckily, it was a sea day and all I really missed was some time in the sun for precious tanning.  24 hours in the cabin.  It was just me, a few magazines, movies on the television, and a few men in hazmat gear cleaning the cabin. They got it clean. After 24 hours, I was deemed not to be an epidemic threat to mankind and was released back into the general population on the ship.  The rest of the cruise was great.  The weather was perfect and the food was fantastic.

Lesson learned?  Eat the horse meat.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Meatless Friday: Cinq? Nope! Non! ..The Feast of Saint Joseph

When the Feast of Saint Joseph, March 19, falls on a Friday during Lent, meat may be eaten.  Woo Hoo!
Scooooore!  Gooooaaaalllll!!!
Actually, and more respectfully, The Feast of Saint Joseph is an important Feast day, a day of Solemnity.  Meat may be eaten.

That fact came in very handy because we were hosting some family members for a dinner party on an otherwise meatless Friday.  They were in town for the boys High School State Tournament and it was a great time for us to get together.  I had a tajine that Michael gave me for Valentine's Day and was inspired by it to make a Moroccan meal. 

Given the gift of a Feast Day, I made it a meat fest!

I adore the sensuallity of North African cuisine, especially the food of Morocco.  The spices, aromas, and flavors are so profound and deep.  The hues, tints, and colors are so earthy and embracing.
I wanted to begin the meal with something soft and languid. I made a velvety smooth roasted carrot & butternut squash soup topped with toasted almonds, snipped chives, a swirl of cinnamon speckled sour cream, and a drizzle of white truffle oil.  Slow roasting the vegetables brought out an intense sweetness and depth.
Tajine. I wanted quail tajine.  I had eight baby partially de-boned quail.  Although tiny, they would not fit into my clay tajine vessel.  A dutch oven worked perfectly.  I stuffed the delicate little quail with prosciutto-wrapped figs, closed them with skewers, tied the legs together with bacon, and set them aside. In the dutch oven on medium heat, I sauted pearl onions, fresh ginger,and garlic in olive oil until translucent before adding the autumn-hued spices: sweet paprika, smoked paprka, cumin, saffron, tumeric, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. 
I tossed in whole trimmed pencil-thin carrots, sliced sweet potatoes, dried apricots, sultanas, chickpeas, chicken stock, and hand crushed whole tomatoes; and let this aromatic pot of heaven simmer for about thirty minutes to blend and reduce by half  before nestling the stuffed quail into the braising liquid, tucked between the vegetables and dried fruits.  Covered, it oven braised for 2 1/2 hours until meltingly tender.

Instead of the fluffier-than-air warm couscous that traditionally accompanies a tajine, I opted for an Israeli Pearl couscous salad studded with grilled zucchini, green & red peppers, black olives, dried apricots, split grape tomatoes, and parsley.   It was lightly dressed in a fresh orange saffron vinaigrette and served in the actual tajine vessel. 
To bring additional meat with some heat to the table, skewered merguez sausages,( ground lamb spiced and flecked with sumac, chile, and paprika) were served on a thin swath of sweet tomato jam with a sprinkling of fresh mint alongside caraway-dill pickled red onions and zucchini batons.

For blazing heat, I pureed roasted red peppers, dried chili flakes, lemon juice, caraway seeds , cumin, and oilve oil  into a classic Harrissa sauce to be passed around the table.  A tiny drop was all that was needed.  It was hot!

The flavors of the tajine were extraordinary.  Sweet, earthy, and sensual. The quail were tender and moist, but persnickety little things to eat. Throwing down our forks, we let our fingers do the walking, talking, and licking.  The chickpeas provided crunch while the vegetables and aromatics  bathed the quail with luscious softness.  The bright coolness of the couscous salad was a perfect  palate cleanser and foil to the lip-covering quail sauce, with each couscous pearl exploding like giant  lemon kissed caviar.  The merguez sausages, when swiped through the tomato jam, were packed with sweet heat and great mouthfeel.

Dessert was supposed to be apricot baklava inspired tarts. Until the platter crashed onto the floor smashing sticky buttered phyllo flakes into 100 million pieces. 

After a quick clean up with none the wiser, I crammed a few handfuls of smashed  phyllo baklava mush into my mouth. There is a 5 second rule, after all.  Cook's treat.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Double Jeopardy

A customer came into the restaurant yesterday after spending a few days in Washington D.C.  Although we had talked about her trip for several weeks prior to her trip, I was stunned when she brought me a photogragh of my father's gravesight at Arlington National Cemetery.  Sometimes, I can't find his gravesite. She did.  I haven't been there for several years. The photogragh was a jarring reminder of my absence.
My mother was buried a few yards from The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in 1963.  Dad and I visited her often, gazing out over the horizon and the sea of white symmetrical tombstones.  He always said it would be a good place to spend forever. Perched on a hilltop overlooking the somber rolling hills of Arlington National Cemetery, it was a quiet and peaceful place.

When my father was diagnosed with cancer, I was his  primary caretaker during his fight for survival.  It was gut-wrenching to witness a hard-core Army Major and veteran of three wars  face his own fear of dying. His  "train was running out of control, with no brakes". Scared. Sad. Horrifying.

After 6 months of fighting, he died a few days before Christmas.  His first funeral was held in his hometown where he happily grew up, left for the army, returned to live, and died. The small town cemetery housed a tiny Gothic stone chapel designed by renowned architect, Faye Jones.  With a few rows of stone benches, the chapel was small, quaint, and cold. Very cold.   It was Christmas Eve. Seven inches of snow. While a soloist sang Oh Holy Night (a cappella), his flag-draped coffin was carried into the chapel. When the brief service ended,  The Battle Hymm Of The Republic took him away.  White Christmas.

His second funeral was held a month later when burial time became available at Arlington National Cemetery. The funeral, complete with rider-less horse, caisson, full army band, taps, and a 21 gun salute, was a grand tribute. All for him, finally. Everyone came from across the country to attend my father's funeral. He would have loved the fuss.

We stayed in a hotel  a few miles from the cemetery.  The night before the funeral, my extended family gathered in the hotel dining room for snacks and drinks. While everyone planned sightseeing trips, adventures, and future meals, Michael and I sipped on glasses of heartless warm chardonnay.
We excused ourselves, left the hotel, and strolled the streets of Alexandria under a shared umbrella to shield  us from sputtering rain and snow.  We came across a small Thai restaurant that glowed through the darkness. We were hungry and needed cocktails. The glow pulled us in.  The glass/formica bar tops were under-lit with blue neon, radiating  a mystical light through suspended sea shells, sea horses, and underwater stuff.  It was beautiful.  We glowed looking into it.  At it.  Into each other.  At each other.
We bathed in the blue sunlight on that dark snowy night.

Suspended in time, we laughed, cried, and innocently touched knees under the frozen glowing seascape.
After a few coffee drinks, we walked back to the hotel wondering what the next day would bring. Arlington National Cemetery. Funeral. Dad. Me. Michael.  It was late and quiet. Very quiet.  As the snow and rain started spitting again, we struggled to stay under our lone umbrella.

We finally tossed it into a bush.  One less burden to carry.

We walked in the rain, relieved that our journey with my father was almost over.

He was free
and so were we.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Not For Sale Beef

It has been a long time since I have had Not For Sale beef in the freezer.  My family used to slaughter cattle for beef and send me off to college with packages of white butcher-paper-wrapped cuts of beef, stamped Not For Sale.  How long have I not had it?  Big Red, the furry blob, was NOT the mascot of Western Kentucky University when I attended.  

A good friend of ours dropped off a swag bag of goodies on our front porch the other day on her lunch break.  A bag full of peat-moss planting plugs, planting trays, and Not For Sale Beef from her family.  The "fatted Calf", I believe she called it.  Sweet, awesome, and memory flooding. I missed those packages of beef.

In college, I took these white packages of beef for granted.  They were always there, an endless supply.  No bottom to the barrel. Like government cheese, there was no limit or end. 

However, this Not For Sale beef was special.  A gift from someone else's family. Not to be taken for granted.
Yesterday, I thought I would take the Rump Roast package and make beef stew.  Standard beef stew.  That was I attended and even started to make until the culinary Mr. Hyde part of my brain took over. 
If a bottle of  red wine had been within arm's reach in the house, it would no doubt have turned into beef bourguignon or  beef in red wine.  Not the case.  No red wine.

I went the Italian route.

I browned the salt & peppered rump roast in olive oil until crusty.  Removed it to a plate and added turnips, parsnips, onions, carrots,  garlic, and sauted them until caramelized and tender. After deglazing the pan with marsala and adding beef stock, crushed tomatoes, basil, fresh thyme,parsley stems, bay leaves,and  fresh oregano, I brought it to a boil, reduced it to simmer, and placed it in the oven to braise.

The house smelled amazing.  It smelled like pot roast on steroids. 

I let it braise for three hours, gave it a stir, added some water, and let it braise for another hour.

 It braised for so long, it didn't resemble stew or pot roast.  Everything in the pot had collapsed into each other, unrecognizable in individual form but not in flavor.  It was spoon-able Osso Buco, tender and rich with deep deep flavor.

I made a light feathery polenta to serve under this melted Not For Sale meat.  Infused with gruyere, reggiano, fresh parsley, basil, oregano, cream, and mascarpone cheese, the polenta was the perfect pillow for the stew.

The beef was meltingly tender and present at the same time, a characteristic of rump roast, firmly holding up to the  absorbed broken down vegetables and sauce.  The fresh thyme perfumed the entire polenta  throughout with pungent aroma and flavor.  A soft bursting speckled pillow of polenta.
It was rich.  Very rich.

We wanted to stop eating.

We didn't.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Meatless Friday: Quatre

Ok, Ok, so Lent lasts for forty days.  Fourth week of Lent.  Fourth Meatless Friday.  I have been thinking alot about mussels lately.  I adore mussels. Mussels are meatless, yes;  and very sexy.

When we travel or dine out, if mussels are on a menu in any way, we order them. They are typically relegated to appetizer status as a Meuniere (garlic, wine, shallot, butter, and parsley) or simply steamed in beer or wine.  They always have crunchy bread on the side to sop the briny bottom-of-the-bowl broth.  I have been known to drink the broth, with bowl tipped to my mouth in garish heathen style, leaving a garlicky buttery
"Got Milk" mustache across my upper lip.
 Mussels can also have star status on menus. They appear in bouillabasse, paella, and cioppino. At the Black Horse Tavern overlooking Smith Bay in the Hamilton Parrish of Bermuda, I had Curried Mussel Pie, a very traditional dish in Bermuda;  flaky shortcrust  pie dough filled with curry-creamed steamed minced mussels, papaya, bacon, and potatoes.Interestingly odd, but good!  At The Little Inn at Washington, Patrick O'Connell offers a cream of mussel soup, with hints of anise-flavored Pernod, orange zest, saffron, and cream. Fantastically lush.

Locally, we have had mussels all over town.  Le Deuville offers an all-you-can-eat steamed mussels special every Tuesday.  The steam bath wafting off  the mussels alone is drinkable.  Clamato's Mexican Seafood has a seafood soup filled with an entire fish (head and tail) along with mussels, shrimp, cilantro, and jalapeno peppers in fish stock.  Spicy, challenging, and fantastic. Bellinis seafood entree section includes a very classic Farfalle al Frutti di Mare with mussels, clams, shrimp, and scallops bathed in a saffron fennel and white wine tomato seafood broth. Acidic tomato and seafood heaven. Personally, my favorite flavor profile is asian, and Arirang Garden's Hoe Mool Tang, with vegetables, crab, mussels, squid, and scallops in a rich spicy stock is heart warming and mouth watering.

As I planned this week's meatless Friday menu, and it does take planning, these mussel memories inspired me.  Nothing too fancy.  Now, Michael has an adventurous palate, but it does have a breaking point.  Curried mussel pie or cream of mussel soup could and would have possibly tipped the scale on that one.  I went with a more approachable Mussels Marinara with Shrimp over imported Cipriani Tagliarelle Pasta.

With Mise en Place, this was very simple and quick to throw together.

I sauteed sliced leeks, shallots, and garlic in a combination of butter & olive oil sprinkled with a dash of salt. After they softened and were translucent, I deglazed the pan with a cup of white wine, letting it reduce by half, and added hand-crushed whole San Marzano tomatoes, fresh oregano, and parsley.  I let this simmer for 30 minutes to blend the flavors, adding a bit more wine to loosen the sauce.

While the pasta was boiling, the mussels were tossed into the sauce, covered, and left to steam open.  A the very last minute, I threw in the shrimp for two minutes to just cook through. When the shrimp were done and the mussels opened, I ladled the tagliarelle directly from the pasta pot into the sauce, stirred to combine, and plated, finishing it with a drizzle of White Truffle oil, fresh torn basil, sea salt for crunch, and AceWeekly's Chef Baby Brother's red pepper flakes for heat. To the side,garlic bread to sop.

We were both undone.  It had everything going on. Velvety sauce, melted leeks, al dente toothsome pasta, plump squirting mussels, and perfectly cooked shrimp with fresh specks of oregano, parlsey, and basil swimming throughout.

I sopped a few times with the garlic bread.

And drank the rest, like a heathen.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Waste Not Want Not: chicken stock

I throw nothing away.  In fact, I am not allowed to have a deep freezer for that very reason.  It would get ugly.

I had leftover herb roasted chicken from a previous dinner.  After carving the remaining chicken off the bones, I took the carcass, several zip-lock freezer bags of chicken parts, carrots, onions, celery, and garlic  from the vegetable bin, and made stock.

I wanted chicken noodle soup.  I wanted a good chicken noodle soup.  

After putting the chicken bones, vegetables, parsely stems, bay leaves, and Tellicherry peppercorns into a stock pot, I covered it with cold water, brought it to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, skimmed the scum, and let it simmer for 4 hours. I strained it through cheesecloth and a strainer, plunged it into an ice bath to cool rapidly, chilled it to remove the fat, and was done.  Kind of.

I  wanted a clarified stock.  Clear Stock.  Consomme.  That required a raft.  After stock is cooled and de-greased, a raft can be used to take out any remaining impurities that can cloud a stock.  The de-natured proteins in the raft attract cooked proteins into it, clarifying it.

A raft can be intimidating, scary, and ugly.  When going to the trouble of making stock, it seemed ridiculous to do-to-it-what-you-have-to-do-it to make it clear.

Raft: Choose whatever ground protein the stock is made of; beef, chicken, pork or fish.   Mix it with egg whites, crushed egg shells, mirepoix for additional flavor, and stir it into the cooled stock.  Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce it a simmer, don't stir, and let it simmer away for 45 minutes.  It is ugly.  The proteins in the egg whites, egg shells, and ground meat absorb the remanining fat and impurities that linger in a stock base.  When the raft coagulates and floats to the top, poke a hole in the middle to create a chimney allowing steam to escape.  When it sinks  to the bottom, it is done.  Don't disturb the raft.  Carefully remove the clarified stock from the pot,  discard the raft, and let the stock cool.

It should be clear enough to read a dime placed in the bottom of a bowl.

Clarified stock is a beautiful thing.  Gorgeous aspics and galantines are made with it.

I wanted it for chicken noodle soup.

 A consomme or clear stock is usually garnished with  ingredients at the end of cooking.  That seemed a little too precious for my rustic nature, so I just combined everything to simmer and blend. Although the clear purity  faded when all the soup ingredients were added, most importantly, the  flavor remained.  Deep, rich,and aromatic.

It was only chicken noodle soup.  Good stock, good clarified stock elevated it.
Herb roasted chicken, carrots, turnips, parsnips, onions, celery, leeks, and macaroni noodles, suspended in this unctious stock.  Fresh grassy parsley to finish.

A dime's worth of trouble was worth the effort..