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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Meat & Potatoes

I needed a potato dish to serve with grilled steak last night. A lot things came to mind.   Although baked potatoes seemed the obvious choice, I wasn't inspired by the thought of them. My father baked a mean potato.  He'd slice them halfway through and stuff them with thinly sliced carrots, onions, and celery.  Before wrapping them in foil to bake, he'd wrap a slice of bacon around the cut sides of the potatoes.  They were fantastic.  Very aromatic.  We'll ocassionally have them like that, but last night I didn't have carrots or celery. We usually prepare baked potatoes with the method I learned in school; rubbed with olive oil, covered in kosher salt, skewered with metal skewers, and roasted.  The salt draws the moisture out of the potatoes, leaving flaky light baked potatoes.

I thought about scalloped potatoes, but had no cheese or cream. Classic Potatoes Anna or Pommes Anna  consists of thinly sliced potatoes, melted butter, salt, and pepper.  I certainly had those ingredients.  I''ll admit, I always thought Potatoes Anna had gruyere cheese between the layers.  That just sounded right...and tasty. Nope. Potatoes, butter, salt, and pepper.  Period.

Using my mandoline, I thinly sliced potatoes  before layering them in a heavy skillet with salt,  pepper, parsley, and a lot of melted butter. I baked the potatoes for 45 minutes until browned, inverted  the huge potato cake onto a plate, and cut it into wedges to serve.  Easy.






 
When sliced, the crisp exterior gave way to creamy buttery potato layers.  Nudged alongside orange-zested creamed spinach, The Anna wedge paired beautifully with grilled  garlic-marinated  sirloin steaks.  I served the steaks on a pool of reduced red wine swirled with creme fraiche topped with butter and parsley.  Words fail.

Outrageous.

Monday, November 29, 2010

After The Bird

Another Thanksgiving has quietly slipped away.  One of the joys of a low key holiday is that it comes and goes without trauma. There were no decorations to take down.  No furniture to  re-position. Thanksgiving simply.....happened.  We ate, drank, ate, and napped.  Beautifully, I might add.

We had no stress.  In fact, I had to wake Michael up from  napping when it was time to eat. He came down  our grand staircase as I was whisking the turkey pan jus into glorious thickened giblet gravy.
It was a great day of cooking and lounging.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Michael, through tears, read our Thanksgiving blessings from his original tattered Book Of Common Prayer. We ate.  We moaned.  We ate more.

We had  oysters on the half shell well before our meal as an amuse bouche.  A gigantic amuse bouche with a peppery vinegar mignonette sauce, cocktail sauce, fresh lemon, and saltine crackers.  Gulps of briny goodness. Briny clean tasting oyster bombs housed within muddy shells with ocassional pea crabs poking through. Heaven.

Leftovers.

 We had plenty of leftovers.  A 15 pound turkey for two people goes a long way.  A very long way.  Last year, we forgot to buy bread, which meant no turkey sandwiches. Not one. This year, bread was boldly underlined three times on our shopping list. We had sandwiches this year.   Michael took the traditional route.  I had mine with double mayo, pickles, lettuce, tomato, sliced onion, Sriracha, salt, pepper, and a pile of Grippo's Bar-B-Q chips.

We had plate after plate of Thanksgiving turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, dressing, and gravy.

The leftovers were fantastic.  Familiar.  Delicious.

Tedious.

Though wonderful, the usual line-up got old.  Weary.

I couldn't take it anymore.  Really.  Nope. No. Nada. I couldn't stare at or eat another plate of brown food.  Not even a shower of fresh parsley could  jar my palate from its unctuous culinary labatomy.

We weren't tired of turkey.  We were tired of those flavors.

 I promised Michael I wouldn't make another turkey soup this year.  Or Hot Brown.  Or Turkey Hash.

Last night, I ventured very far away from traditional Thanksgiving flavors.  1,200 miles away for the tastes of Mexico. We would still have turkey leftovers, but they would  be jacked up. Way up.  Leftovers on steroids.

 I needed to clear stuff from the refrigerator and pantry.  I decided to treat the turkey like ground beef and make  piccadillo stacked tostados with cheese filled chili rellenos.

I placed poblano chilis over a gas flame to char and blister the skins.  Once blackened, I dropped them into a pastic bag to steam and cool down. After removing the smoky blistered skins, I carefully cut  small slits on one side of the peppers, removed the seeds, stuffed them with queso blanco cheese, and set them aside.

Picadillo is traditionally a dish of sauteed ground beef, onions, garlic, and green peppers.  Some recipes add raisins.  Puerto Rican recipes include green olives.  I had olives.  I didn't have raisins.  I sauteed sliced green peppers, onions, garlic, and quartered tomatillos until softened  before adding sliced turkey, chicken stock, tomatoes, coriander, annatto, roasted red peppers, and halved spanish olives.  I let the picadillo simmer for 30 minutes while I prepared the tostados.

After arranging six fried corn tortillas on a baking sheet, I topped them with sharp cheddar cheese, crumbled cotija cheese, dried mexican oregano, and dried epazote.  I slid the tostados into a 350 oven to crisp the shells and melt the cheeses. 
While the picadillo simmered and the shells baked, I dipped the roasted stuffed poblano peppers  into  whipped egg whites, dropped in the deep fryer to brown, and set them on paper towels to drain.

I pulled the shells from the oven and spooned the turkey picadillo over the melted cheeses, stacking the tostados three layers high. 

Soft runny mexican crema  drizzled over the tops dripped down the sides of the stacked tostados.  I tumbled tart fresh quartered tomatillos and green peppers around the stacks for bright freshness. Halved limes and yellow rice finished it off.

It was a far cry from Thanksgiving turkey.  The sleepy flavors of our previous turkey meals were thankfully gone. Briny olives, acidic tomatoes, sharp tomatillos, sweet onions, and sauteed peppers replaced the  richness of giblet gravy.  The piccadillo was bright, spicy, and alive, soothed by the silken oozing dripping crema.  The crunches and crackles of the stacked tostados were welcome relief from the previous days dreamy soft food. Fun to eat.  Messy.  Loud.

The chili rellenos were gratuitous. Yeah, they were tasty. But, they didn't beg devouring like everything else on the plate. 

Our dinner last night was a great finale for Thanksgiving leftovers and a fantastic ending to a Thanksgiving weekend.

This morning, I bagged the remaining turkey and tossed it into the freezer.  It'll get lost in there for a while, hiding under shrimp shells, frozen meat, and chicken backs. 

When rediscovered, maybe we'll have a proper plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy.

And, be thankful for it.










Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Before The Turkey

The last few days before Thanksgiving can be a funky time for food.  We're all thinking about roast turkey, side dishes, and desserts.  Not only are we thinking about them, we are usually prepping them for the big day and getting everything organized. I don't want to eat anything on those funky days prior to the big meal that has anything to do with the flavors of Thanksgiving.  I want to anticipate the aromas, textures, and tastes of Thanksgiving while waiting for the actual day to unfold itself in gutteral gluttonous glory. 
Retaurants and fast food chains can be tricky during the funky days, offering turkey, cranberry, and dressing sandwiches.  Pre holiday offices parties can also pose problems for the pre-Thanksgiving-day-meal taste avoiders with their joyous holiday potluck lunches.  Why can't everyone just wait?  There is nothing better than those first bites of the Thanksgiving meal.

It takes will power.

We have been strong.  A few nights ago, I prepared an appetizer buffet for Arts & Appetizers, an event sponsored by the Lexington Opera House.  It lasted through our dinner hour, so we ate a few nibbles from the buffet: Teriyaki Meatballs with fresh ginger, sesame seeds, cilantro, and pineapple; smoked salmon with capers, minced egg yolks, minced egg whites, minced purple onions, and capers; and Salmon Caviar-topped new potatoes with sour cream.  Later that night we ate cheese on crackers while watching  television.

A couple of nights ago, we ordered out for chinese delivery and devoured plump thick steamed pork dumplings with a sweet soy sesame dipping sauce.  I loved taking  small bites from the ends of the dumplings, pouring the dipping sauce into the cavities, and eating them whole for  porky dumpling-sauce-filled  mouth explosions. Yep. Messy.  So good.
Thaksgiving flavors averted.
Last night, I needed to clear space in our refrigerator and freezer  for the upcoming Thanksgiving leftovers.  I had a bag of lemons, heavy cream, purple pearl onions, a scraggily green pepper, grape tomatoes, and fresh pasta from a meal that never materialized.  Jumbo shrimp was occupying valuable space in the freezer, so I pulled it out to thaw.  The ingrediants practically cooked themselves.

It was an embarrassingly simple no recipe recipe.

I prepped everything in advance knowing the actually cooking would go fast.  Stir fry fast.  I diced the pepper, split the tomatoes,  peeled the purple onions, thinly sliced  garlic cloves, and set  them aside. Before juicing two lemons, I pulled thin zest strips from the skin  to use as garnish.

I sauteed the onions, peppers, and garlic in butter until translucent.  After they had softened without browning, I tossed  the halved grape tomatoes into the pan to break down and release their juices.  Once the tomatoes  collapsed, I  poured in 1/2 cup of lemon juice along with thinly sliced lemon wheels and let the lemon juice reduce before adding 1 cup of heavy cream,1/2 cup of parmigiano reggiano (rule breaking),  minced parsley, salt, and pepper. 

While the lemon cream bubbled away, I got a cast iron grill pan smoking hot before carefully placing the seasoned, peeled, and deviened jumbo shrimp onto the smoking grill ridges. The shrimp crackled, spat, and popped as it sizzled over the high heat.  Before turning the shrimp over to mark the other side, I tossed fresh linguini into the cream bath to simmer, absorb, and finish cooking.

I pulled the shrimp from the heat, twirled the linguini into large pasta bowls, and wedged the shrimp around the pasta.  I tumbled a few whole grape tomatoes around our plates along with  thinly sliced lemon wheels for bursts of freshness.  Fleur de sel, lemon zest,  and parsley finished it off.

The pasta totally absorbed the creamy lemon sauce.  Each linguine strand was gorgeously coated with buttery lemon alfredo sauce. Interesting.  I didn't realize pasta could absorb that much sauce.  It wasn't swimming in a cream bath, it became  the cream bath. Weird.  Though rich, it wasn't icky rich.  The fresh lemon juice lightened and brightened it.  The tomatoes added very sweet acidiity while the tiny pearl onions popped with quiet  pungency. The seared shrimp snapped when bitten, revealing moist briny meat.
Unbelievable good.  Slurpingly good. Linguini strands slapped our cheeks between bites of shrimp. Creamy lemony cheesy facials.  Wet naps? Nope. Tongues were made  for licking.
We  survived the final Thanksgiving preparation days without tasting Thanksgiving flavors.

We can't wait for tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Traditions

What makes up our Thanksgiving traditions?  The food?  Our memories? Our families?

My Thanksgiving traditions got off to a slow start. I don't recall ever celebrating Thanksgiving in Europe as a child.  Frau Olga wouldn't have thought to roast a turkey.  It wasn't her tradition.  She was simply  happy to be alive and thankful to have escaped  communist controlled  Czechoslovikia to live safely with our family in Vienna.  That was something to be thankful for. Was it worthy of a beautifully browned roasted turkey? Hardly.  Never happened. Crispy fried schnitzel with cups of garnished consomme, maybe. Turkey? Not a chance.

After a few years in Austria, we moved to Africa. We were housed on an army base surrounded by 20' concrete walls topped with swirling barbed wire to protect us from phantom enemies. Hot and sand-ridden, it was a far cry from the  Black Forest of Vienna. Ababa, my Ethiopian nanny, was bussed onto the army base every day (from the other side of the concrete wall) to care for our family.  She lived a very simple sparse life, but was always joyous, content, and thankful to have a job. I worshiped her.   Although she loved us dearly, we wouldn't have asked her to roast a turkey for Thanksgiving.  Doro Wat with injera bread? Yep. Turkey?  In Africa?  Nope.

My Thanksgiving traditons started building  after my father retired from the army and we moved to Western Kentucky to live with my grandparents on their farm. Their farmhouse was perched on a hill, overlooking rolling fields, white picket fences, oil wells, and trees. With a hen house teetering against  a rickety smoked-ham shed, frightening  roosters freely roaming the grounds, and aggressive herds of cattle stampeding at whim, their farm was fascinating and horrifying. Because my grandmother spent every summer canning everything from her garden, her cellar housed what she needed for her part of the family Thanksgiving feast;  canned green beans, dusty canned tomatoes, creepy twisted potatoes, bright flourescent-green lime pickles, murky bread and butter pickles, and greyish canned corn.  

Even with a bountiful cellar, our family Thanksgiving dinners  were potlucks affairs at my grandparent's house. Like clockwork, the extended family arrived toting all kinds of food.   Her long kitchen counter would be lined  end to end with our traditional family feast.  All the food was grouped by likeness. The beige section featured stuffings, dressings, mashed potatoes, sweet poptatoes, corn pones, biscuits, yeast rolls, and  several varieties of ground beef laden baked beans topped with sticky sweet gooey bacon. The green category consisted mostly of Campbell's Soup casseroles.  Different versions of green bean and broccoli casseroles were lined up side by side as if they were to be judged for a county fair. Occasionally, an "other" casserole made an unexpected appearence. 

At the farthest end of her kitchen counter, near the fresh lemonade, assortments of  green, orange, red, and yellow gelatin salads jiggled with  crazy varieties of nuts, marshmallows, coconut, canned fruit, and whipped cream. They glowed from the sunlight streaming through  the lone kitchen window.

Every year, the Thanksgiving turkey was prepared by our designated turkey-cooking aunt.  She baked it overnight in a very low oven for 14 hours. A very, very low oven.  It was  tender and moist, but  never brown. There wasn't a hint of beautifully browned turkey skin. Nope. Nada. Nein. Was it moist and tender?  Yes. Was it pretty?  Uh, no.  The giblet gravy was the highlight of the meal for me. I was crazy about the hard boiled eggs suspended in thick brown gravy dotted with tender sliced  livers, gizzards, and hearts. Being an offal kind of kid,  I loved that stuff. While everyone else picked around the organs, I scooped them out with righteous ferver.

4 years after we moved to Kentucky, my father married Marge. Our families merged into a blended family. Marge was a sophisticated townie who cooked beautifully.  She brought her family's Thanksgiving traditions to our table. They were much different than my grandmother's traditions. Much different. Marge awoke very early on Thanksgiving mornings. She'd don her blue and white polka-dotted dress with matching navy heels and coordinating apron. Methodically, she would prepare our Thanksgiving meal from start to finish. From scratch. She never stressed, gliding through the kitchen like  Giselle sans Albrecht.  She'd dirty every dish in the kitchen, plate everything  on my mother's  bone china serving platters, and graciously place the food around the table.  After closing the kitchen doors to shield the unyielding mess, she'd come to the table with such relaxed ease, you'd have thought the entire meal had been prepared and air-dropped by the military.  I admired that. She was my hero.

Marge made a killer turkey. Deeply roasted, tender, and moist.  When sliced, the skin crackled.  I'd never seen or tasted anything like it.  Her wonderful dressing,  moist with crunchy edges,  was equalled only by  her smooth and rich giblet gravy dotted with organs and eggs. Creamed pearl onions (made with jarred Aunt Nellie onions), scalloped oysters, broccoli casserole, whipped potatoes, mashed yellow squash, and old school stuffed celery rounded out her meal. Without apology, she served sliced canned cranberry sauce over iceberg lettuce topped with dollops of mayonaise.   Betty Crocker elegant.  I adored it.

Simple.  Beautiful. Delicious.

After  the china had been carefully hand washed, she'd  gently pour hot steaming coffee  into tiny delicate mismatched porceline cups and serve it with pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and Bryer's Chocolate Chip Mint ice cream. 

The routine never changed.  It was Thanksgiving.

After Marge passed away, we continued our family Thanksgiving traditions.  My father insisted on it. Everything stayed the same. It had to. We kept her memeory alive with our food (her food) for 7 years until my father died.

I haven't been back for Thanksgiving since my father passed away, but it warms me to know that my  family keeps their traditions alive in various towns with their expanded families and new generations.  Memory making.  Tradition building.

Nowadays, it's just Michael and me here in our home for Thanksgiving. We spend our day wrapped in flannel  pajamas, caccooned from the world,  drinking bloody marys and screwdrivers.  We leisurely cook all day, happily enjoying the anticipation of our meal. No deadlines. No pressure. Just the two of us, bringing our individual family traditions together on Thanksgiving day. Although our traditions are different, they make up our whole. Our traditions.

Over the years, I've prepared our Thanksgiving turkeys every way imaginable; brined, herbed, larded with bacon, stuffed, unstuffed, and bagged. I've never ventured into world of deep fried turkey. The notion of deep frying a whole turkey in 1000 degree oil on our wooden deck next to our 130 year old wooden house maked me shiver. Nope.

Although the standards remain the same, we change things a bit up every year.  I now use fresh pearl onions instead of jarred Aunt Nellie onions, creamed with soft melted brie, heavy cream, fresh nutmeg, and sherry. Either fresh oysters on the half shell or Oysters Rockefeller have replaced  the familiar scalloped oysters. Michael whips potatoes into pillows of air and we serve his mother's fresh cranberry relish over split poached pears.  We wing the rest of the meal, depending on our moods. No pressure.

We haven't planned next week's Thanksgiving. meal...yet.  Whether we go old school, new school, or somewhere in between, the food will taste like home and remind us of all our Thanksgivings, families, and traditions.

The two of us will  sit in our pajamas at my parent's long dining room table, eat from my mother's beautiful wheat-patterned German  bone china,  pray our blessings,  enjoy a few glasses of Beuajolais Nouvous, and eat our Thanksgiving meal.  As a family.

 Traditions.

We all create them, live them,
and need them.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

One Day In Lisbon



May 23rd, 1967, my family set sail from Naples, Rome aboard the SS Independence.  We were returning to the United States permanently.
Two days later on the 25th, our ship docked in Lisbon Portugual  to refuel and stock supples before the final leg in our transatlantic voyage home.  I know the specifics because my father threw nothing away.  He kept the ships log,  itenerary,  meal cards, and my crayon-scribbled notes from the entire cruise.


We were in Lisbon for a full day while the crew scrambled to ready the ship for a 14 day crossing.  My father didn't want to stray far from the ship, so we mostly wandered around the old part of town that skirted the port.  I don't rememeber much about Lisbon except the old cobblestone streets and tall cracking buildings.  What I do remember about Lisbon is that I saw, tasted, and ate my very first fresh clam.  I ate anything and everything as a kid.  Those clams fascinated me.  I suppose that was the beginning of my love affair with all fresh shellfish.  I have never looked back.

Yesterday, I stopped in the Lexington Seafood Company to place an order for fresh  Blue Point oysters to have on Thanksgiving day next week.  There were a few people ahead of me, so I perused the small space.  They had some cool stuff dotted around the store.  I immediately grabbed a bottle of Blue Crab Bay Co. Sting Ray Spicey(sic) Bloody Mary Mixer with ocean clam juice.  That store was singing my song.  I made my way to counter to place my order when I spotted the most beautiful littleneck clams poking out from under the shaved ice in the deli cooler.  "There's no need to reserve oysters.", he said as I stood transfixed on the clams.  "We'll have plenty, trust me."  Uh, ok.  "I'll need two dozen, half in the shell and half shucked.", I said.  "No problem, just give me a call that morning.", he replied.  Great.  I bought two dozen littleneck clams and made my way home.
I adore the cuisine of the Iberian Pennisula. Spanish cuisine owns me.  Last night, with a nod to Portuguese Cataplana and Carne de Porco a Alentejam, I decided to combine and interpret both with a clam and pork stew.

I prepped the vegetables and aromatics well in advance by thinly slicing red potatoes, garlic, onions, grape tomatoes, green bell peppers, and roasted bell peppers.  I slit open italian sausages to release them from their casings and slid them into the refirgerator next to the gorgeous clams resting on a shaved ice pillow.

Mise en place.  Done.
On his way home from work, Michael picked up an early released bottle of George Duboef Beaujolais Nouveau, so we sat in the parlor and  sampled it for quite some time before dinner.  Nice.

When it was to time to eat, I cranked a saute pan to high heat, drizzled it with olive oil, and sauteed the sausage meat with smoked paprika, saffron,  salt, and pepper until crispy.  I tossed in the vegetables to release their liquids, deglaze the pan, and caramelize before adding enough stock to steam open the clams.  I wasn't going for a true stew.  I wanted sauced clams.

When the vegetables were tender and the tomatoes had collapsed, I tumbled in the littleneck clams, clamped a lid over the pan, and let the clams simmer and steam just enough to open without overcooking.  It smelled heavenly.

Once the clams opened and reached to the sky, I plated them in large pasta bowls, poured the pan juices around the clams, scattered the vegetables randomly, and sprinkled hand torn parsley over the top.  Michael made toast to sop.

The highly seasoned paprika-laced pork sausage totally transformed the sweet clams. The crumbled sausage meat worked its way into the clam shells, mixing hearty saltiness with delicate briny clam juice.  The plump clams exploded with sweetness. The tomatoes, peppers, and onions added soft bites while the shaved sliced garlic snapped with assertiveness.  It was crazy good.  Aromatic.  Light.  Clammy.  The broth was drinkable.  I know.  I did.  Who needed bread? 

I have Lisbon, Portugal to thank for my clam love. 


I had no idea,  back then,  that one day in Lisbon would forever feed my soul.






















   

Monday, November 15, 2010

Horsing Around

I've been captivated with freshly grated horseradish since encountering it at a bloody mary bar in Louisville last year.  It certainly wakes up a boodly mary in a way that prepared horseradish simply cannot.  It's biting and hot in a pure way without the interference of vinegar based processing.  When freshly grated, the oils release into a  stinging aromatic mist.  Pure horseradish essence.

I have seen it at the grocery store lately wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and nestled on a shelf below the dueling colored  fingerling potatoes and gigantic plastic garlic keepers.  Hardly a high traffic area.  Last weekend I finally bought a horseradish root after wrestling with the price tag.  Was it $7.59 for a nob or $7.59 by the  pound?  With fresh ginger, I pluck off what I need, bag it, and take it to cashier.  The horseradish was too big for that and there was nothing  to pluck.  I handed the stumpy brown root to the very talkative cashier and asked her if it was sold by the piece or by the pound.  "This looks like something my dog would chew on.", she said. Yep. She was correct.  It did. "That dog dug up our cable lines the other day.  Front yard and back.", she continued.  Playing along, I responded, "He dug up all of your cable lines?", feigning total disbelief. She went on and on and on. She never answered my question. By the time she finished her story, the groceries were bagged and paid for. I think the horseradish sold for $7.59 a pound.

We got home from the grocery and  put everything away.  While Michael prepared quesadillas for his lunch, I prepared a blood mary for mine. I added tons of grated horseradish, celery salt, celery seed, worchestershire sauce, fresh squeezed lemon, and a pickled asparagus tip garnish. Heaven. 

Couched in front of the television for college football with bloody mary in hand, I pondered the ways I could use the prized horseradish purchase for dinner the following night.

Michael doesn't care for hot spicy and food, but he does like wasabi and horseradish.  Thank God. Yesterday, after some thought, I decided to make soup for dinner. It was a dreary chilly day.  Soup seemed comforting and warm.  I was over-processing and obsessing on how to use the horseradish until I just put all thoughts of it on hold and decided to decide when the time came to cook.  No recipes.  No overthinking.  No plan.

I rifled through the vegetable bin looking for suitable horseradish partners and found two stalks of celery, several onions, garlic, ginger,  1/2 sweet potato, and organic carrots. I didn't have to make a decision at all.  I'd make pureed carrot soup with horseradish.

I roughly chopped peeled carrots, the halved sweet potato, celery, garlic, and onions before dropping them into sizzling hot oil with salt to saute and sweat until translucent.  I didn't want any color on them. Shockingly, no caramelzation.  Once softened, I deglazed the pan with wine and let it reduce into wine syrup before adding vegetable stock, a bay leaf, juiced mandarin oranges, and cracked pepper.  I covered the dutch oven and allowed the soup to simmer for an hour.  I checked it occasionally, adding stock as necessary.
While the soup simmered, Michael prepared his decadent grilled onion & grilled cheese sandwiches for sopping and I worked on the soup garnishes.  Wanting freshness and sharpness, I tossed a combination of mandarin orange and lemon zest with minced parsley.  Think loose gremolata.

Fresh horseradish loses it pungency when cooked, so at the last minute I tossed in coarsely grated horseradish, gave the soup a stir, and turned off the heat.  I let the grated horseradish steep in the soup for a few minutes before pureeing it in batches with my swanky new blender. It was incredibly velvety.  I poured it back into the pot and added vegetable stock until the soup was the perfect consistency.







To gild the lily just a bit, I whipped mexican crema with fresh lemon juice, lemon zest, and finely grated horseradish for a final cooling swirl.

The flavor and texture was mind blowing. Pureed root vegetable soups can sometimes be cloyingly sweet and texturally heavy.  The fresh mandarin orange juice lightened the pureed carrots, adding a bright sweet acidity. The horseradish didn't dominate as I expected it to.  It had a mellow underlying soft spice with just enough pungent  heat to be present. Wow.  The tart creamy topping and zested fruit bridged freshness with earthiness to perfection.

Michael's luxurious grilled cheese sandwiches were  perfect soppers. They had crunchy buttery exteriors that released oozing cheese with sweet soft onions.  Bite. Dip. Swish. Moan. 

Orange mustaches with  sticky cheesy fingers. 

The soup was soft, creamy, velvety, pungent, spicy, and tart. It was everything wrapped up in a shallow bowl.  I only wish there had been more. 

The next time you run across a fresh horesradish root at the supermarket, pick one up and give it a try.

If you like horseradish, you will enjoy it.  If you love horseradish, you will rediscover it.

 
























Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Rise And The Fall: cheese souffle with candied bacon





We eat a lot of eggs in this house.  We adore them poached, gently fried, scrambled, shirred, and folded into cheesy omelettes.  Luckily, our cholesterol levels are in check.  Bring on the eggs!

Last night I wanted a change from our usual breakfast-for-supper routine.  Individual cheese souffles felt like the way to go..  I hadn't made a souffle years.  There was no way the two of us could eat an entire one, so I thought smaller individual souffles would be a better fit.  Although somewhat intimidating,  they were quite simple to prepare. 

I separated 7 eggs with  4 egg whites in one bowl and 3 egg yolks in another bowl..  3 yolks between two people? Healthy.  I started the flavor base by making a thick bechamel with 3 tablespoons of butter, 3 tablespoons of flour, and 1 cup of hot milk, adding the milk after the butter and flour had cooked long enought to cook out the flour taste. After the base reached a good consistency, I tossed in 1/2 cup of  grated parmigiano, 1/2 cup of grated gruyere,salt, pepper, minced parsley, and dill.
While the base cooled,  I tossed  the egg whites with 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar into my stand mixer and whipped the eggs whites until stiff, but not dry.

To promote a good rise, I buttered two straight sided bowls, sprinkled fresh parmigiano onto the buttered surfaces, and shook out the excess into the souffle batter.


After gently folding the whipped egg whites into the cooled cheesy egg batter, I filled the bowls 3/4 full and slid them into a 375 degree oven for 35 minutes to puff up and rise. 

I wanted something special to accompany our souffles. I thought a candied bacon salad would offer the right oomph.  Now, not even I am crazy enough to come up with the candied bacon concept. I adapted a recipe from Jamie Oliver's America cookbook, jamieoliver.com , a gift from Michael.

Crazy.  Insane.  Delicious.

While the souffles baked away in the oven, I prepared the candied bacon for the salad.

I sauteed 4 slices of bacon until almost crisp, removed them to a paper towel-lined plate, tossed a smashed garlic clove into the bacon fat for flavor, and sauteed good cubed country white bread until browned and crisp for salad croutons.

 I scooped the crunchy garlic croutons out of the skillet, placed them on paper towels to absorb the excess fat, and wiped the skillet clean before returning it to the heat with the bacon, 5 tablespoons of turbinado sugar, and 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice.

It simmered and popped.  It was beautiful..  I turned the bacon several times to fully coat it with the candied orange goodness.  The sugar caramelized into the reduced orange juice, creating a heavenly syrup that thoroughly engulfed the salty bacon.  I carefully pulled the bacon from the sticky sauce to let it cool and harden.
I stared at the bacon in total disbelief.  It was gorgeous. 

After 35 minutes, I pulled the souffles out of the oven.  Working quickly, I tossed delicate lettuces with julliened green pappers in a light vinaigrette and toppped our salads with the glistening bacon. Fleur de sel and cracked pepper finished them off.

In the short time it took to plate the salads, the souffles fell.  Deflated.  I knew it would happen.  It's the nature of the beast.

I have often used as light as air  when describing food.  The souffle was  like actually eating air.  Well seasoned and flavorful air.  The nutty cheeses had  melted into the egg puffs, adding sensational subtle earthy flavor.  Soft.  Rich.

The tartly dressed salad balanced the richness of the airy souffle while  the candied bacon exploded with salty sweetness. It was ridiculous. Sticky, peppery, sweet, salty, and crunchy. 

 I became a prisoner to the bacon.  I surrendered to it.

Captivated and captured.

The souffles were tasty, too.




Monday, November 8, 2010

A Chicken In Every Pot: Spatchcock Chicken


Greece is one of the few countries in Europe that both Michael and I have visited.  He spent a summer in Europe with a study abroad program  during college and made several trips to Greece during his summer overseas.  I spent a few weeks in Greece on an extended layover during my family's fare-well tour of Europe before our permanent return to America. Michael and I had very different take-aways from our experiences in Greece.  His  flowed with Sambuca, gorgeous views of the Mediterranean, youth hostels, and countless nights in Santorini nightclubs.  Mine were based on  hotel room service baklava and the cute outfits the Presidential Guard wore while guarding The Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier; Red berets sporting long  black tassels, short white ruffled skirts over white leotards with gigantic black pom-poms attatched to their shoes. I was captivated.  My father finally  bought me a Presidential Guard doll to quell my obsession. True.

Michael and I bring our individual Greek experiences together with food and drink.  We both share a love for Greek food, devouring briny black un-pitted olives, tangy feta cheese, and fried calamari showered with lemon juice whenever we can.  To this day, when dining out, we finish every meal with espresso or Greek coffee and a shot of Sambuca (with three floating coffee beans).

Last night, I brought the flavors of Greece into our home with oven roasted chicken infused with lemon, oregano, olive oil, and garlic.  Classic Greek Chicken.

It was embarrassingly simple to prepare.

 First, I spatchcocked a whole chicken. Ok, ok,  I butterflied a whole chicken by cutting out the backbone and cracking the breast bones to allow the chicken to lie flat.  Spatchcocking promotes even and quicker cooking along with very moist meat.  After spatchcocking the bird, I lowered it into a roasting pan with quartered peeled potatoes, sliced onions, and sliced celery.

I poured 1/2 cup olive oil over the chicken and potatoes along with the juice of 2 fresh squeezed lemons.  After liberally seasoning the chicken with salt, pepper, and 3  tablespoons of dried Greek oregano, I grated 5 cloves of garlic over the chicken before massaging the seasonings into the meat and skin.  Before sliding the chicken into a 350 oven to roast for 2 hours, I sprinkled fresh oregano over the chicken and added 1/2 cup of chicken broth to the pan for moist roasting.  After 1 1/2 hours, I brushed the chicken with melted butter to aid in the browning before returning it to the oven to crisp up and caramelize. 
The aroma from the onions, garlic, oregano, lemon, and chicken was utterly intoxicating. It smelled like Sunday supper on steroids.

Basically, Greek chicken is a meat and potatoes meal.  I didn't want to muck it up with a bunch of other competing elements, but I knew it would need something fresh to accompany it.  I made a gorgeous carrot ribbon salad tossed in a white balsamic vinaigrette with fresh parsley and chopped macadamia nuts.


 


 The chicken was falling-off-the-bone tender and incredibly moist.  Juicy and  messy moist.  The onions and celery practically disintegrated into the pan sauce allowing the bright lemon juice and pungent garlic to sweeten and mellow during the long roasting time. The potato quarters remained crisp and brown even after absorbing the pan drippings and were packed with flavor.  The Greek oregano took center stage permeating the chicken,  potatoes, and  pan juices with amazing perfumed  flavor, totally elevating itself  beyond mundane Italian pasta sauce seasoning or pizza topping. 

The carrot ribbon salad was light and crisp. The crunchy carrots napped in a bright vinaigrette with grassy   parsley provided needed soothing freshness and acidic balance.  

Tonight?  Leftovers. 

Hopefully, with Sambuca to follow. 


Oros, Greek for mountain; Ganos, Greek for joy.

Oregano.  Joy of the mountain.