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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Potato Chips

Apparently, my mother was very fond of potato chips.   I have been told that before I was born, she would have them shipped to Europe from her mother in up-state New York.

I must have inherited her love of the chip.  Specifically, BBQ potato chips.   I could write a thesis on the differences between Ray's Hot,  Lay's BBQ,  Lay's Sweet BBQ,  Lay's Sweet Heat BBQ,  Tom's BBQ, Grippo's Hot Dill Pickle,  Pringles (all flavors), and every variation possible.  When we travel, I love to run across "local" types of potato chips:  Maryland Blue Crab, Tomato Ketchup, Crawfish.  All , fantastic.

I am one of those people who fall for the little bags in the check-out line at the grocery.  I really like the tiny bags because I can get several bags, having a variety on the way home. One of my favorite check-out line chip-snack is Funyuns.  What is not to love?  Faux onion rings in a bag. They have recently introduced a hot flavor, which I like, but it is sad that they succumbed to the world of flavoring.  Seemed like they were the last bastion of sameness. But, if they are going in that direction, maybe BBQ?

I sometimes make my own chips with salt, pepper, and malt vinegar to drizzle.  I also make chili-spiced sweet potato chips, with a ranch or green onion dip.

I love potato chips.

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer a age 29.  She was beautiful and young.  There was not much they could do in 1963.....radical mastectomy and radiation.  Anything to live.

She died that same year at age 29.  I was 4.

I don't remember anything about her.  I feel no sadness or loss.  Regret, maybe,  for the lack of what could have been...should have been.

I have been  told  she was not afraid of dying.  She was afraid of leaving me.
Somehow, on our last visit to the hospital, she had arranged with a nurse to have potato chips in her room.
My father told me I ate all of them without sharing.  I hope she was proud.

I don't remember.

I carry this with me every day to try...and to keep her near.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

When You Can't Decide

Last night, I could not decide what to make for dinner.  I wanted Eggs Benedict.  I wanted poached eggs.  I wanted hash, though not the traditional chunky kind of hash. I thought, if I could come up with something that represented all three of these wantings, I would be happy; and came up with this concoction. For the base of the benedict I combined all the components of traditional hash.
I sliced some green bell pepper into rings, grated a peeled potato, onion, and garlic into shreds, and packed them inside the green bell pepper rings. I pan fried them until they were golden on both sides.  I covered the skillet a couple of times to ensure the potatoes were cooked through. They turned out quite good.

I have an egg poacher, but it makes such uniform little poached eggs.  I wanted a more free form look, one that would blanket and sag..  Not so perfect looking.  The vinegar-water simmer has worked for me in the past, so I tried it.  This is the easiest way to poach eggs.  Their texture and consistancy can be better monitored. I  simmered the water with some vinegar as a stabliizer, and gently placed the eggs into the water-vinegar-bath, gently splashing  hot water over the eggs to just cook the top side.  I prefer a runny, creamy, drip-all-over-the-plate yolk.  This method is good for that.

I also wanted something with a little more depth than hollandaise, and thought a bearnaise would compliment. the other ingredients.  I used a basic recipe for blender bearnaise.  Very similar to hollandaise.  Equal amounts of  tarragon, vinegar, white wine, and shallots reduced by half in a saute pan.  After cooling the mixture, I added it to the egg yolks in a blender.  On low speed, I slowly streamed in warm melted butter to thicken the sauce. Nice texture.  Thick and voluminous.  After blending, I added a splash more of the vinegar for brightness and acidity.

After carefully placing the poached eggs on top of the pan-fried hash-stuffed green peppers, I ladled the bearnaise over the top, and sprinkled them with sliced scallions and halved grape tomatoes for freshness.

Grapefruit supremes to the side and  golden buttered biscuits finished  the plate.

It was everything a traditional skillet hash should be and taste like.  The panfried peppers had the sweet "crunch" that a good hash should have, the onion flavor came through, and the potatoes were crisp brown,  yet creamy and smooth on the inside.  When sliced, the yolks burst and oozed down over all of it and mixed with the  herbal tartness of the bearnaise.  Tasty.
Hash & Eggs Benedict.  The best of both worlds.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sausage & Kraut

I have a dear friend whose family has made and cured sauerkraut for many years.  They do it the old fashioned way, even  referring to the Farmer's Almanac for the optimum time to make sauerkraut.  There is a three day window in every month when the moon's cycle dictates when the time is right.  Sauerkraut can be made year-round during this cycle.  However,  the ultimate time for this three day window is during the month of July when farm grown cabbage is at it's peak of freshness for harvest.  This is what his family has practiced for years.  I have sampled this sauerkraut many times over the years and my adoration of it prompted my  friend to invite me to join them in the process.

It was fascinating.  And quite a process.  The garage was full of sterilized Mason jars and lids.  I was instructed to bring my own, which I did.  There were bushels and bushels of Casey County cabbage everywhere.  My friend, his father, grandfather, and grandmother, and I took turns shredding the cabbage, stuffing it into the jars, salting the cabbage, filling the jars with hot boiling water, and finally sealing the jars.  It was fun.  These were genuine honest people. This was important work and they allowed me to be a part of it..... even said I did a good job.  I was honored.

I found the actual cabbage shredding tool to be the most interesting thing.  It was like an old turn-of-the-century Japanese mandoline.  Aged & worn old wood with sharp blades to be weary of.  This shredder had endured many  moon-blessed sauerkraut  productions, I could tell.  A beloved tool of the family.

We finished.  Was told to store the take in a cool dry place away from the house.  Garage or basement was  ideal.  Apparently, major fermentation happens in those jars. Breakage & aromas are common.  Garage.
Six weeks of curing.  Sauerkraut.  Delicious sauerkraut. 

It is with this sauerkraut that I made a humble version of Choucroute Garnie; The kraut, un-drained, simply braised in stock & beer with carrots, celery, and onions for  sweetness.  Caraway seeds and brown sugar added for depth. Braised and simmered until the vegetables were tender and the kraut had mellowed.

Served it with  a pool of dijon to dip and toasted rye to sop.

Thank you, my Casey County family.  Thank you, Tony for sharing them

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pot Roast Lipstick

Last night was the much anticipated  MJM birthday (you-get-to-pick-anything-you-want-for-dinner),  dinner with Banjo Plus One.  The birthday boy chose Pot Roast.  It was billed as a simple pot roast.  However, much in the same way it takes skill for a  dancer to perform a simple arebesque beautifully, it takes skill to make a simple pot roast sublimely.

The pot roast was made with a combination of her father's "not for sale"  shoulder blade bone-in roast and a boneless chuck roast.  The blade roast provided a huge beefy flavor and tenderness, while the chuck roast provided the requisite fat for flavor.  It was a fantastic combination, dancing together in the beef  jus, literally shredding and melting into the sweet baby carrots, onions, and celery.  The addition of whole fingerling potatoes was genius!  A pot of vegetable beef essence.

To the side, a perfectly turned out Potatoes Anna:  Paper thin (Wheat Thin box read-through-skin-thin) potatoes, caramelized golden brown and crisp tender on the outside and gooey soft on the  inside.  They were layered with butter, cream, and the floral perfume of fresh thyme.  Rich.  Delicious.  Divine.  This Potato Anna was better than any I have made, seconded by the birthday boy.  He would know.

All of this wonderful saturation of  richness, buttery fat, and flavor was cut through and accentuated by a lovely salad:  Crisp lettuces, mushrooms, her mother's "last" thinnly sliced radishes, and  for sweet acidity, baby heirloom quartered yellow tomatoes.  The dressing, both light and cleansing, coated and swathed the ingredients just enough for everything to stand on it own.  The perfect accompaniment and foil to everything else.

Rachael's Coconut Cream Pie rounded out the meal.  This was a pie on which dreams should be had.  A thick sweet custard with an evocative and provocative mouthfeel, luscious soft meringue clouds floating atop, browned to a red-blushed yellow gold, and topped with crispy toasted sweet coconut.  Say no more.

This requested, inspired, and gifted meal was lovey  The company was lovely.

I had three servings.  I never have three servings of anything...ever.  I have no idea when, where, and how my commen sense and manners abandoned me, plunging me into a boorish gastronome.  Food adrenaline, maybe.

Did I want leftovers?  By the time this question came up, the beef jus had reduced into an insane concentrated pot liquor.  I couldn't resist.  I packed some up, thank you very much.

The last thing I did last night was eat the leftovers and drink the jus.

I went to bed wearing a soothing balm of Pot Roast lipstck.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Totelots au Persil: parsley squares in broth

Totelots are typically a hot pasta salad from the Alsace region of France.  Squares of cooked pasta tossed in a creamy dressing, topped with chopped parsley and garnished with boiled eggs.  Anne Willan of the LaVerne School adapted it into parsley squares, simmered in broth. 

This is really a  fun recipe. It is simple, attractive, and delicious.

It starts with the pasta, which is pretty basic.  I make pasta alot, but I usually don't roll it out this thin.  It needed to be thin enough for the parsley sprigs to appear almost as stained glass when pressed between two sheets of pasta.  This required the last setting of the pasta roller.  I usually stop at the next to last setting.  It was really thin. I placed the parsley onto the pasta, topped with another sheet of pasta, rolled it out to press  together, and cut into squares with a ravioli cutter.

These were set aside to firm up and dry.

 I wanted a little more body to the recipe, so I decided to add petite meatballs.  I used the classic combination of veal, pork, and beef with grated reggiano, pecorino, minced garlic, breadcrumbs, egg, and water.  I gently mixed the ingredients, formed them into marble-sized meatballs, browned them slightly in a skillet for color, and then baked them, covered, to cook through.
 While the meatballs were cooking, I tossed some whole grape tomatoes with oilve oil, salt, and pepper and roasted them alongside the meatballs to caramelize, collapse, and become sweet.  This slow mellowing of the tomatoes would add a great balance to the saffron broth. 
I simmered a good chicken stock with the the saffron allowing the  threads to bloom, creating a very fragrant broth. When the parsley squares were tender and cooked through, I ladled them into deep pasta bowls, toppped  with the saffron broth,  meatballs, and roasted tomatoes.  For a bit of freshness, I added lemon zest, fresh chives, and sliced fresh grape tomatoes.  Shaved Reggiano to finish. 

The combination of  flavors was utterly delicious.  Light, simple, aromatic, and deceptively complex.  The sweet tomatoes offset the subtle bitterness of the saffron broth, while the grassy note from the parslied pasta paired beautifully with the unctuous texture and richness of the meatballs.  The lemon zest, chives, and fresh grape tomatoes gave the entire dish a burst of freshness, waking it up from the buttery brothy bath. A mouth dancer, this meal.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Murphy's Law, Julia Child, & Banjo

Several years ago, I baked a lemon cream pie.  It looked fantastic.  Well done!  Turned out, I used cornstarch instead of powdered sugar.  Just imagine how it tasted.  I haven't baked much since then.  I don't really even like to bake, and that sealed it.

Last weekend,  I made a most elaborate eggplant parmigiana.  The eggplant part was fairly standard; Dredged in flour, dipped in egg wash, dredged in reggiano breadcrumbs, and pan-fried.  I set it aside to work on the sauce.

I was using a Novelli recipe for fresh tomato sauce:  Fresh cut roma tomatoes, paper-thin sliced onions, and garlic sauteed in a dry pan until the juices from the tomatoes rendered.  This was then mashed to combine everything and left to simmer for an hour.  I added a vanilla bean ( fascinated with this addition), salt & pepper, a sqeeze of lemon and torn fresh basil.  This was left to simmer for another hour until the tomatoes, garlic, and onions melted into each other, creating almost a tomato jam.  I added good chicken stock to thin it out and let it simmer.  It was a beautiful sauce.

I layered the crisply fried eggplant with sliced fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese into  individual eggplant & cheese napoleons.

At the last minute, I  thought the sauce needed something.  I put it back on the stove to bring it up to heat.  I thought a can of san marzano tomatoes would add a nice touch of sweet acidity to the sauce, so I reached into the cabinet, opened the can and poured it in.

Uh oh..

It was not a can of beautifully sweet harvested-at-their-peak-of-freshness san marzano tomatoes.

It was a can of Manwich Sloppy Joe Sauce.

Game Over.

I was stunned. I stood there and stared at it as if I could change it.  Maybe hit rewind and let the Manwich Sauce un-pour itself back into the can.

Then I remembered Julia Child's mantra: "No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize."
So, without apologies, I trudged on with the recipe, ladling the sauce over the eggplant mozzarella napoleon stacks with great care, topping them with additional fresh mozzarella. I placed them in the oven, poured myself a glass of wine and let them bake.
They actually looked quite good. 

They.  Were.  Awful.
They were so bad, it was funny.  Very funny.  We actually laughed at them.  We pointed our fingers and laughed at them.  Lesson; Never take yourself  so seriously.  Into the trash they went.
For dinner that night? Again, without apologies, a bag of the new Late Night Cheeseburger Flavored Doritos.  They were tasty.

Upon  re-telling  this tale at last Monday's MLK,  MJM  margarita-imbued combined birthday celebration, Banjo, our Faerie Princess told me I that should blog about it.

And, as it turns out, she and Julia Child were both right.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

When Meatloaf Should Just Be ....Meatloaf.

There are a few things I do not cook.  Pot Roast, Ribs, and Waffles being a few.  Meatloaf being number one.  I love meatloaf.  I crave meatloaf.  I do not make it.  Michael makes the meatloaf in this house.  When I am in the presence of the trilogy of ground veal, beef, and pork, the sinister culinary cogs in my brain go haywire.  Meatloaf? Why?  I, should add things.

My meatloaf would turn into a pistachio-studded, blanched asparagus-lined,  pate' de campagne;  lightly mixed, baked in a bain marie to poach, weighted & pressed to compact, chilled, sliced, and served with tart cornichons, Maille Dijon Mustard to spread, and baguette as a vessel.

But, there are times when meatloaf should just be meatloaf.  That is why Michael is the meatloaf maker.  His is honest and comforting.  What it should be. Straight-to-the-point meatloaf, with tomato ketchup topping caramelized into a glaze.  Juicy and tender.  Crunchy on the outside edges...coyly referred to as the meatloaf G-spot. Blush. 

He used to drain the fatty flavor drippings (as I like to call them...others, not).  My balking of this flavor drain and insistence of it's shiny hair worth inspired an interesting spin.  He now drains the drippings and uses them for his roux based pan gravy.  Brilliant!  Meatloaf cream gravy!  Perfect for the requisite whipped potatoes, which he also prepares with great care; butter-topped  and creamy. The ideal potato indented-well for steamed green peas, topped with meatoaf dripings cream gravy. Yep.

Perhaps the greatest advantage to a REAL meatloaf over  .....say....a pate de campagne?


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Egg Cups & Injera Bread

I was born and raised in Europe until the age of ten.  My mother died when I was four, leaving my Army Officer father alone to raise two young boys.  To his credit, his answer was:  Nannies and housekeepers.  My first surrogate mother/nanny was Frau Olga an escaped Chekoslovakian Hotel Chef.  This was obviously during the iron curtain era.  Between her broken English and my broken German, we managed to communicate.  To get me to be a "god boy", she would threaten a return to Chekoslovakia where she would be immediately executed.  Hence, I was a very "god boy"  I  adored her!  Her child raising skills were a bit questionable, but she was a marvelous cook/chef.

Every single morning during my three years with Olga, there was, on the table: a soft boiled egg nestled inside a cermaic egg cup, the top just barely cracked open, revealing the bright yellow yolk, still warm and soupy.  She would salt & pepper it, and I would eat it with a demi-tasse spoon, dipping toast points into the runny inside.  Next to it was always a sliced grapefruit, supremed in the shell, salted and broiled almost  like a brulee, glistening pink and caramelized.  The perfect pairing.  The acidic sweet/tartness from the grapefruit cutting through the buttery fat of the soft boiled egg.  She was teaching me life lessons.  Lessons I still use.

When my father was transferred to Asmara, Ethiopia in Africa,  Ababa assumed the reign of mother/nanny.  Ababa was a native Ethiopian with a gentle spirit and soul. She would arrive every morning dressed in her native attire, complete with veil, and spent most of her time humoring my adoration of Barbie dolls, ( I actually had Barbie's ugly freckle-faced friend, Midge).

On occasion, when my father was out of the country, Ababa would sneak me off base to her "home".  Literally a dirt floor with  walls.  Her home was always filled with love and laughter.  While I would play with her children, Ababa would cook.  She would cook her food.  There was always a big round cast iron kettle sitting on a fire, with Zigney (as we called it) simmering away.  Zigney is what most would recognize as Doro Wat, which means stew.  When in her home, I never really knew or understood what was in that pot cooking.  But, I knew that I loved it.  While the zigney cooked, Ababa would slap injera bread dough  onto the sides of the pot, almost tandoori  style.  It would cook and become honey-combed in texture and taste sour from the pungent fermentation time.

The zigney, with chicken, was spicy from the berebere paste, and sweet from the vegetables, a deep deep red color that permeated all of the other ingredients. It was silky and rich....and messy. Injera bread  was placed on our plates and the zigney was ladled on top.  We ate it with the bread.  No spoons or forks.  It is still eaten this way in most Ethiopian restaurants, save for the ambience of dirt floors.

I still search out Ethiopian restaurants to remember the flavors Africa.  To remember Ababa. To taste and smell those days in her home when she was cooking for her family, and for me.

When we moved back to the United States from Africa, Ababa was very sick.  She did manage, God only knows how, to come to the airport to say goodbye.

She gave me a doll.
A doll much more beautiful than Midge.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Rooster

Sriracha is my ketchup.  I put it on and in just about everything. I swirl it into the garlic butter they bring with carryout pizza, and practically bathe my slices in it.  The fatty butter, chili spice, and acid from the vinegar holds beautifully onto my pizza spoon.

I also drizzile it into pho, turning the aromatic stock almost pink, clinging to the noodles, dripping from the bean sprouts and cilantro. The heat from Sriracha is different than the heat from the added sliced fresh chili peppers, hitting different parts of the tongue. Mouth explosion!

I put it on cheese & crackers.  A little dollop, like a little  fondant flower on a cupcake.

I mix it with ketchup  for a french fry dipper, 
Sweet heat, a personal favorite.

I drizzled it over some of Jennifer's beloved Tomato Basil soup for some heat, with apologies..... and she blessed it with, " I love the Rooster". Enough said.
I have used it as a rub for blackened rare ahi tuna.  The Sriracha glues the blackening spice to the tuna and insures proper blackening.  The caramelized sauce turns a bit sweet.  Nice foil to the pepper cajun spice.

I have wanted to try it on salad, but it can be a little dense and gloppy for salad purposes, so I came up with a vinaigrette.  I used the standard 1 part acid to 3 parts oil ratio.  Whisked the olive oil with rice wine vinegar, salt, cracked Tellicherry pepper, and Sriracha.  A few drops of sesame oil and hint of cane sugar....Sriracha Vinaigrette!

I fried up some thinnly sliced won ton skins, tossed with shredded romaine lettuce,  radish quarters, sliced onion, and a drizzle of the vinaigrette.  A wonderful crisp bite with a very distinctive cool heat.

                                                             Sriracha, in a different way.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Guilty Pleasure? Nope!

I am not overly apologetic about my love for veal.  I simply like the way the tender white milky meat tastes and feels in my mouth.  That said, I am a symphathetic cook who desires to please my guests.    I have a friend who loves to collect little stuffed lambs.  Cute little furry happy lambs.  I do not serve lamb chops when she comes to dinner.  I have another dear friend who is vehemently opposed to veal....vehemently.  I do not serve Osso Buco or any veal dish when she is coming over.

Now, in the enclave of our home, forbidden protein does not exist.  I will happily cook with it, and enthusiatically eat it.

Last night, I made Veal Marsala over tagliarelle pasta.  Normally, I would make the pasta because I believe in doing so..  But, on occasion Michael will spend some hefty dollar amounts for beautiful imported pasta.  Which, to my delight, was the case last night. Ciprihana Semolina Taggliarelle Pasta, from Venice.  They serve this pasta at Harry's Bar in Venice and at every location world-wide.  It is the closest thing to fresh pasta I have ever tasted.  The perfect mouth-feel. Since Michael bought the pasta, he was in charge of cooking it to perfection.  Delegation; and any foreseeable failure averted.

I dredged two veal cutlets in egg wash and bread crumbs, pan-fried them in an olive oil & butter combination. (For flavor and smoke point).  Grated some aged fontina cheese over the top and placed them in a warm oven to let the cheeze ooze over the crisp edges of the scallapini.  This is not traditional, but it is tasty.

In the same pan, I added blanched pearl onions for thier glisten and shape, sliced crimini mushrooms, slivers of seeded roma tomatoes for a bit of acidity, sliced green peppers for crunch, and minced parsley for color and freshness. (Tomatoes & peppers not traditonal, but...) After everything was carmalized and a bit al dente, I deglazed the pan with marsala wine, a sweet smokey fortified wine from Sicily. (Delazing picks up all the fond that sticks to the bottom of the pan, and becomes part of the flavor in the sauce.)  I let the wine simmer away until it reduced by half, concentrating the flavor.  Added a couple of pats of French Plugra butter for a glossy finish and flavor. 

The tagliarelle pasta was ladled and twirled into large pasta bowls.  I placed the melted fontina coated veal cutlets on top of the pasta and drizzled the marsala reduction and vegetables over the entire thing.  Cracked Tellicherry black pepper & fleur de sel to finish.

It was totally delicious.  The pasta was velvety and toothy, very light.  A perfect nest for the almost transparent  buttery marsala reduction.  The vegetables still a bit crisp, each retaining their flavor and texture.  And the veal? Perfection.   Crisp to the bite, soft, white silkiness on the inside, and porous enough to absorb the sauce.

Guiltless Pleasures should always be encouraged.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Food is provocative.....sensual.  The ingredients, methods, spices, aromatics, and herbs are all involved in the outcome of any dish.  I love the way exotic spices  look and smell.  They look like what they will  smell and taste like.  They shimmer like paint dust on an artist's palette.

I made a lamb tajine a few weeks ago.  After browning the lamb, adding the aromatics, vegetables, spices, preserved lemon, and stock, I let the tajine simmer away for hours.  A long slow braise, a seductive braise. That is what a tajine does, and  what that tajine did.  It drew me in,  pushed me away, drew me in, and pushed me away. I could taste the smell, almost see the aroma. I was enveloped with it like perfume.....waiting and pulsating.  A tajine takes time.

The tajine braised long enough for the lamb to melt into the vegetables, the vegetables to melt into the stock, and the stock to fuse with the sultry spices.  The smokey, pungent, sweet, floral spiced-stock plumped and swelled the dried apricots and golden raisens until their sweetness exploded into the stew.  I served it over Isreali couscous for it's pearl-ness, topped it with sliced fresh figs, split-open, still joined, and  placed across the top. The sliced  purple skin revealed black-specked rosy pink flesh that gave a fresh bright juicy note to the long braised tajine.  One bite of all of  that smokey, sweet, bitter, bright, and seductive flavor sent me over the edge.

A few days ago, I made paella.  In complete contrast to the languid seduction of the tagine, the paella was a visceral assault to the senses.  Paella dosn't gently simmer.  It crackles and sizzles, uncovered.  Sometimes spitting and spilling over the pan with it's rapid boil.

Once the aromatics, pureed tomatos, and spices were sauteed in the sliced chorizo's red dyed pan-drippings, I added shellfish stock and rice  to absorb the flavored liquid and plump.  A paella cooks longer than you think it should....almost to the burning stage. After adding the reserved sauteed chorizo, I nestled fresh clams, mussels, shrimp,and  sliced roasted red bell peppers into the steaming rice before randomly tossing peas over the top to pop.....specks of jade against a burnt umber golden pot of rice, with shellfish arms reaching through the sticky rice. When the stock was  absorbed,  the crackling burning paella was table ready.  Pan and all.

The carmalized, almost burned, slightly sticky, crunchy crust that forms on the bottom is the soccarat....the prize of the paella.  The hidden aromatic gem. Every ingredient in the paella carmalizes into the soccarat.  Crunchy sweetness. Sexy paella candy.

 In Spain, some people stir it in as they eat, others save it until the end.

I do both.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Importance of Gummi Bears

I have an unhealthy relationship with gummi bears.  For as long as I can remember, I have craved them.  To this day, when I walk through the candy aisle of a grocery store, I squeeze all the candy packages to see if they are hard or soft.....soft meaning, of course, gummi-jackpot..  I don't really buy them, I just sqeeze them.  I have a particular obsession with pineapple gummi bears, or in non-gummi speak, the clear ones.  Those are the ones I seek out, the ones I eat first.  I NEVER mix two colors/flavors at the same time, especially the pineapple..that would be wrong, blurring the flavors.

Haribo, Trolli, and Black Forrest are the Mac Daddies of the gummi world.  They invented them in the late 1800's and have certainly perfected them.  They are very similar, with some differences.  Haribo are firmer and their red is raspberry, when all the other reds are cherry.  Trolli are gooier and chewier....the way your dentist would love, sticking eternally between and around your teeth.  My dentist, twice a year, implores me to stop eating gummi bears.  Yeah, right!  He needs gummies to send his kids through college.  There, I said it.  I am not at all immune to buying those skanky three-for-a-dollar bags you see in gas stations.  They are, after all, gummi bears.  Any gummi is better than no gummi.  I have a bag of those on my kitchen counter, un-opened.  The minute I open a bag...done.  Bag empty.  I have to be careful.  Rationing is not an option.

Last night, the Faerie Princess posted a photo of a candy bin counter from an area grocery.  It pulled me right out of my wine buzz....sobering, almost.  Candy bins make me dizzy in the same way  breakfast buffets do.  Do I need 2 pounds of bacon?  Do I need 5 bags of gummies?  All of those gummies with serve yourself scoops.  Cute little scoops.  Cute little, how many gummies will it hold, scoops.  When the Hamburg cinemas first opened a few years ago, there was a gummi wall on the right of the ticket takers.  An ENTIRE wall of clear plastic bins full of  individual colors and flavors.  I had never seen such a thing of beauty.  I can still see the one bin filled completeley with pineapple gummies....full of clear, shiny little pineapple bits of happiness.  The sheer thought makes the back of mouth ache.  Jr.Faerie Princess asked me if I had ever had chocolate covered gummies.  WHAT?  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  How could this bit of culinary invention, nay, innovation escape the bounds of my knowing or having?  Then she said they only chocolate-cover the pineapple ones!!! Verklempt, undone.  Where are these "things"? Where I ask?

As a testament to my devotion and love of gummi bears,  I made the ultimate sacrifice last year:  I gave them up for Lent. Heavy boots.  Heavy sackcloth.

It was hard.  It was long.  But, when the bells chimed in Easter at the Great Vigil, I reached into my coat pocket, tore open my secret bag, and had a fist full of gummies...every flavor in one bite.  Heaven!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Foie Gras: Obsession & Too Much Sexy

I Adore foie gras.  It is one of my favorite things in the world.  One of my great quests in life is to find and eat the perfect foie gras.  I prefer pan seared, with some sort of acid or fruit to cut through the buttery fat, cleansing the palate, but would not turn my nose to a Mousse De Canard au Fois Gras, slathered on...well...anything.  I'm not a food snob, really.  I am perfectly happy eating Spaghettio's cold from the can.  However, foie gras is a reason to live. 

I encountered my first foie gras several years ago at The Oakroom at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville.  After our amuse bouche, a demi tasse of butternut squash soup, the waiter brought my starter to the table:

Pan Seared Foie Gras, with Pumpkin Butter Brioche, Petite Apple, Celery Leaves, Candied Walnuts in a Duck Jus Vinaigrette.

        I know and remember this because I keep a food Journal.
       When we travel or eat out, I take notes.  Staffers think I am
        some sort of critic.  I do it to remember, a  culinary archive.

It was a thing of beauty.  A finger sized sliver of foie gras dusted with Fleur de Sel,  like diamonds sparkling in the candlelight. Sculptural art on a plate.  My knife snapped the perfectly crusted sear, and slid through the buttery rich fat inside.  I took my fork and brushed the foie gras through the puddle of duck jus, pierced an apple, a candied walnut, and ate it....followed by a bite of  pumpkin buttered mini brioche.  Oh My God!  Done.  Over. Complete.  I don't even recall what I had for dinner.  It didn't matter.  And so it began.

A couple of years later on a vacation to Bermuda, we had lunch at La Coquille Harbourfront Restaurant in the Bermuda Underwater Institute of Exploration.  Patio table overlooking the harbour,a  gorgeous sunny day.  I opened the menu and there it was:

Cardamon Crusted Pan Seared Foie Gras with a Port Wine Carmalized Pear and "vin cotto" Reduction.    ( you can't make this stuff up!)

I was nervous. Can it live up to?  Do I cheat on my first foie gras?  Is sex better the second time around?  It was my quest, after all.  Of course, I ordered it.  A sliver of foie gras for lunch!  Dandy.  I did pair it with grilled asparagus, seemed more lunch-like.

It was deivine.  Perfectly crisp and buttery at the same time. The wine reduction, and caramelized pear hit every note in my mouth, bouncing around, exploding.  Great mouth-feel.  The asparagus  brought a delightful coolness to the richness of the foie gras.

I have had other foie gras here and there.  Some were  just, well,  after thoughts from a well intentioned chefs. How can foie gras be an after thought?  A cold sliced garnish to a salad.  A mini slab thrown onto a plate with Captain's Wafers for.....crunch?

A couple of years ago at The Sanderling Resort in Duck, North Carolina on the Outer Banks, I ordered as a starter: 

Pan Seared Foie Gras with a Huckleberry Reduction.  Parmesan Crisps & Toast Points.

  It arrived beautifully plated, almost like an iridescent black pearl.  However it was burned on the underside.  Not carmalized, but charred.  Off putting.  The chef came to the table totally undone, and so contrite that I still have a dear spot in my heart for that foie gras...of what could have been, but sadly wasn't.

That experience has only strengthened my quest.  It, the perfect foie gras,  is out there.  And I will find it, eat it, and savor it.

Why don't I just cook my own?  I don't trust myself.  One second too long in the saute' pan, and you have rendered goose fat.   Hmmm......Pan fried eggs in rendered goose fat, removed, a bit of dijon whisked in, a little vinegar, salt & pepper, emulsified and drizzled  over a frisee salad, topped with the eggs, allowing the yolk to spill into the salad. 

That's another story.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Ok, so yesterday it was really cold and I wanted some comfort food.  I started thinking about Chicken & Dumplings.  How retro and cozy, just like my grandmother made.  My grandmother didn't make Chicken & Dumplings...she wasn't even a very good cook ( she could make a mean chess pie, though).  But, I thought, I know other people had grandmothers who made Chicken & Dumplings, and that was enough for me to obsess about it.

I had the stuff in the freezer for chicken stock...wings, backs, necks, etc., so I started out.  Got my chicken stock going...full boil, reduced to a simmer, skimmed the scum, and let it go.  It didn't take long for the aroma and sight of this stock  to totally seduce me.  How could I take this beautiful stock and drop biscuit dough on top of it for dumplings?  I just couldn't, not that there is anything wrong with drop dumplings...  I love Matzah, and spaetzel, and every kind of dumpling.  I just wanted more...something special.

So, while the stock simmered away, I flipped  through a few of my hundreds of cookbooks; and  there it was...Keller's Pate a Choux dumpling recipe.  Should I?  Dare I? Did I really really really want to?  Hell yeah.

Pate a Choux is really a very basic pastry dough.  It the same dough that goes into making eclairs, profilteroles, cocktail puffs and gougeres..  These pastries are usually piped onto  baking sheets and baked until "puffed" and golden, split, hollowed out, and filled with all kind of wonderful french things.  But, I was going to make pate a choux for......
dumplings ...Chicken & Dumplings.  This was going to be fun!
Once you begin, it goes very fast.  Mise en Place'is  in order here.  No time during the process.

Water. Butter. Salt. Flour. Eggs. Herbs, if savory. That is it!

Bring 4 Tbl  butter, 1/2 Cup water, and 1 Tsp salt to a rapid boil on medium high.  Dump 2/3 Cup of flour in all at once.  Use a wooden spoon to vigorously stir the mixture.  This releases the steam from the flour.  It will pull away from the edges and start to stick.  4 to 5 minutes of this until a nutty aroma wafts. 

Put the dough into a standing mixture...while hot, very important, and beat on low speed.  Add 1 Tsp of dijon, and 2 tsp of salt and beat until it starts to cool down.  Add 2 eggs, one at a time, making sure each is incorparted before adding the next.  Add finely minced herbs of choice.  I chose fresh thyme. Reserved.

Now, in true Keller-esque fashion, I prepared all the ingredients seperately.  This insures the integrity and taste of each  ingredient will find it's potential.  I diced haricot vert, carrots, celery, pearl onions into like sizes. These were then blanched in salted water & shocked in a salted ice bath.  Reserved.

I then sliced chicken breasts from the bone and  poached them in chicken stock with a  bay leaf and fresh thyme with a parchment cover  for 5 minutes or until just cooked.  Reserved.

For the dumplings, I took 2 spoons, and shaped them into quenelles, scraping from side to side with the spoons  to form the shape., then dropped them into salted simmering water.  6 to 10 minutes until they floated to the top.  Resvered with a slotted spoon.

Assembly time.  The moment.

3 Tbl butter to 3 Tbl flour, melted in a stock pot to make a blond roux.  Just enought to cook out the raw flour taste.  Add the chicken stock and let it thicken until it coats the back of a spoon.   Add 1/2 cup of heavy cream for richness.    Add all the reserved ingredients, stir until heated through.  Ladle into large serving bowls, salt & pepper to taste, parsley to finish..

This is not your grandmother's Chicken & Dumplings.  It is refined, luscious, and decadent.

It certaintly is not My grandmother's Chicken & Dumplings, although I wish it could have been............

Friday, January 1, 2010

Black Eyed Peas

Ok, so we went to a New Year's day brunch potluck at our faerie princess' house today.  Fabulous.  The laughter was contagious.  The joy unbounded. 

Spaulding's bread pudding by Rachel was over the top.  Jason's Pork Loin with a light soy orange glaze was fantastic, moist and tender.  The sweet orange glaze was a perfect compliment to it.

I took some collard greens & ham pot stickers, along with collard greens & ham & marscapone cheese fried wontons.  Made a traditional soy-ginger-mirin-sesame dipping sauce, a  spicy sweet red chili sauce, and a pot liqour pot sticker dipping sauce.

Who would of thought that the bread pudding with spicy sweet red chili sauce could be that unexpectedly delicious?  OMG.....mouth sensation.  It was an accident at first, the meshing of foods on a plate. A pretty damn good meshing.....sexxxxy, as the Princess would say.  Sweet, with a  hint of spice, bouncing all over your tongue, cheeks, and mouth.

AND then there were the black eyed peas.  Never been a fan of them...ever.  I'll eat anything and everything, but black eyed peas just haven't done it for me...until today.  They were so lucsious, creamy, and rich.  Turns out, coconut milk was part of the long long simmer.  A handy secret to bank. The peas were served over lucky black rice, perfectly al dente,  a nice foil to the creamy peas. Beautiful mouth feel.   So, welcome 2010 and a new food that I thought I didn't like.....but now adore!

Isn't it amazing how food can surprise and inspire? 

Resolution:  Keep an open mind and palate.

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet

I do not  spend my spare time being shot from a cannon weilding knives, wearing a toque and chef coat.  I am not faster  than a speeding bullet.  I cook.  I cook alot.  I spend quite a bit  of time cooking for my church.  During a seemingly non stop  cooking session, the nickname canonchef took hold.  Seemed kind of fitting.  Canons can be many things.  In the Church, they are  rules/laws decreed by councils.  There are Canons of literature, Musical Canons ( Pachelbel's Canon), Aesthtetic Canons, Penitential Canons, and on and on.  BUT, what they all have in common is a set of does cooking.  There ARE rules in cooking, although cooking is much more free-spirited and free-wheeling than ..say...baking. Some things just can't be messed with.  Roux is equal parts fat to flour.  Vinaigrette is one third to three thirds ( depending on preference).  Don't under- cook poultry.  Don't saute' a pork butt for 3 minutes.  Don't boil milk.   Liquid measures and dry measures are NOT equal, and Don't whip cream too long unless you want/need butter....ok ok.. Point made.

I guess my Canonchef nickname means alot to me because of these rules. I am a free-spirited follower of rules....of recipes......of concepts.  Thomas Keller's cookbooks are Canons to cooking.  Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking is a major Canon.  My favorite; and my Canon of Literature ( the first thing I was told in school to buy) is Larousse Gastronomique.  Michael bought it for me $$$$$.  It is always on my counter.  I refer to it daily.

Even when winging it in the kitchen, some principles and rules of cooking should shadow.  But,  always fly through the air as if shot from a cannon. Cook with abandon!; and always remember, you have to know the rules to break them.