Thursday, May 24, 2007

Toothsome Victuals

I've been thinking about this dish for months- ever since I noticed that the cooked Lebanese couscous is the same size as petits pois sometime last winter while making soup. So I took the chicken broth and reduced it until I had just enough to fill 4 ramekins already filled with cooked couscous and peas, hoping that it would gel strongly enough to hold it all together once I unmolded it. While they were cooling off, I took the chicken meat and made chicken salad with scallions, ramps, and lots of chiffonaded sorrel, plus a vinaigrette with mustard, pesto, olive and truffle oils, and cider and balsamic vinegars. I made some carrot curls with the saladacco and tossed it all together, then put it back in the fridge to marry the flavors while the ramekins got cold enough to unmold.

The broth was just gelatinous enough, and they unmolded pretty easily. Surrounded with the chicken salad, and garnished with spicy microgreens and baby kale from the garden, they had all the richness of chicken noodle soup but were cool and clean and light for the end of a hot day. The salad had a nice clean comfort kind of flavor too, with creamy chicken, bright sorrel, and sharp alliums bumping another simple staple up a level or two. Another 2005 Turonia albariño showed very well with this dish, although I would have preferred rosé (but we're out again; I don't know how that keeps happening.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Eating Local Part 2

Tonight, a revised version of what I had planned for last night before the trout showed up: venison loin- the last of what Kenny gave us in the fall- some leftovers, and some other locally grown treats. To begin, and for Milo's dinner, a pizza with pesto, sliced morels, and mozzarella. The morels have the most intensely umami mushroominess and they blended heroically with the sweet cheese and tart pesto.

The second course, about an hour later (because both Chris and John came over separately to get some unplanted seedlings, dig some mint and nettles out of the field, and take a trout each since we only cooked two last night) was the venison loin, seared in a pan and then finished in the oven with whole garlic cloves, then garnished with a sorrel/goat cheese/horseradish sauce and refried cubes of the polenta from last night. The meat juices completed the plate, and we drank the remaining Mas de Gourgonnier and Turonia that were in the fridge. Pretty great, and almost all grown right in the area; as far as I can tell, only the salt, pepper, wine, and maybe the garlic came from far away.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Eating Local

This morning we had an omelet made from eggs given to me by Kurt at Elijah's Café when I stopped by for a smoothie to cheer Milo up since he has a cold, and ended up leaving with half a pound of fresh morels and the eggs as well. In keeping with such bounty, I was all set to write an entry, using the same heading, featuring the last of the venison Kenny brought us last fall, when lo and behold he showed up while I was weeding the garden this afternoon with four fat trout he caught today up near Mt. Tremper. I went shopping soon after, because we were low on many things, and more importantly out of coffee, so this is what we had tonight (while the venison waits for tomorrow.)

While the fish cooked in parchment with herbs and garlic, the morels and fiddleheads had a light sautée in Vermont butter and garlic and locally grown and ground polenta bubbled nearby with some very unlocal salt and pepper. To finish, a splash of the chicken broth I made at lunch time (local chicken) deglazed chopped sorrel wilted in another bit of butter. Fiddleheads and morels, apart from being two of the most alien looking delicacies, also epitomize Spring and complement each other well. Salt, pepper, and wine aside (2006 Crios Torrontes- lush, floral, perfumed and springy) everything else on the plate came from our area. Best of all, we finished the meal with a salad of baby greens from the garden, which we ate with no dressing of any kind; it was like a greens tasting, with peppery mustard and arugula and funky, meaty bok choy and hon tsai tai. Profound and intense, and cut just minutes before.

Monday, May 21, 2007


Phillipe and Lea invited us for dinner at their place with John and Debi. Phillipe made daube provençal, one of his specialties, as well as asparagus and tomatoes stuffed with eggplant and rice. The daube was mighty, with intense lamb and herb flavors, a nice spice from marinated olives, perfect potatoes, and melting meat. The company was grand, and John and I both brought wine: a 2000 Gros Noré Bandol, a 1998 Clos des Brusquières CDP, a 1996 Tollot-Beaut Aloxe-Corton, and a 1997 Jaboulet Cornas. Yum.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

New Toy

I got a saladacco, or spiral slicer, the other day and used it tonight for the first time. The cheap ones were not well reviewed, so I sprung for the $60 version and it worked like a charm. Half a sweet potato, peeled, then spun through the gadget using the middle blade yielded a nice bowl of orange curls. Tossed with scallions, half a jalapeño, and a dressing of peanut butter, flax and sesame oils, nam pla, cider vinegar, tamari, and the juice of one lemon, it made a more than adequate substitute for green papaya salad, one of my all-time favorites, that I've been craving lately with the warmer weather. I also banged out a by now pretty standard vegetable curry, with acorn squash, cauliflower, tofu, sweet potato, carrot, chard, and peas in a coconut sauce. A plate of papadums and another standard, the 2005 St. Urbans Hof riesling, completed the meal.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Warming Up

Chris came over, solo, bearing gifts of salad greens and nettles (he's wearing gloves because he was pulling leaves off stems before we steamed them) and I had been to the fish market and bought scallops and halibut to play with. I marinated the scallops in olive oil, pink pepper, Celtic salt, and hebes de Provence that I mashed together in the suribachi, then seared them in the iron pan with a bit of butter, deglazed with wine, and served on a bed of our neighbor Deb's arugula (she got hers planted well before ours.) I also made polenta, and the halibut marinated in a pesto of cilantro and ramps before going in the iron pan as well. A handful of chopped ramps followed the fish and garnished it on top of the polenta (locally grown, stone-ground, and organic.) We started with a Château de Roquefort Corail, then had a splash of Pleiades XV that Chris brought, opened the day before and thus smooth and gorgeous, and then a 2001 Guigal white Hermitage to accompany the main meal. A perfect preview to what lies in store for all of us once all our gardens start producing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Raw And The Cooked

It got humid, and I was in the woodshop all day so something light and quick was called for. The leftover brown rice (we always make too much, so there are easy options in the following days) and some wilted watercress became maki, and carrot "noodles" from the peeler tossed in a sauce of cider vinegar, tamari, mustard, and sesame oil with a garnish of black sesame seeds. A bit of ground beef mixed with ginger, garlic, pepper, and scallion went inside wonton skins to make little gyoza- browned in a drop of oil, then steamed, covered, with the addition of a splash of water. They got a drizzle of tamari, ume vinegar, and sesame oil, and a healthy handful of scallions to finish. To go with this mixture of the raw and the cooked, a 2005 Clos de Paulilles Collioure which had enough grip to handle the meat and was still light enough for the veggies, with an herbal quality that did well enough with the Asian condiments.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Soup and Salad

The rib bones from yesterday, still with a bit of meat on them- and lots of flavor left to give- went in a pot with onion, carrot and herbs to brown a bit. Then a bowl of soaked cannelini beans, water, and a bit of salt, and it all bubbled for two hours. I pulled all the good meat off, chucked the rest, and stirred in a handful of chopped oregano from the herb garden. Finished with chives (also from the garden) and accompanied by a salad of local greens (though not yet our own) it was a perfect meal for a cool evening after an absolutely perfect day. We drank a Mas de Gourgonnier rosé, one of my favorites, and a great match. From my old neighborhood in the Lubéron, it has a wonderful minerality that goes with this kind of earthy food, and particularly well with that magical bass-and-treble-at-the-same-time flavor that is white truffles.

Mothers' Day

This tantalizing triskelion is made up of espresso-rubbed, homemade sauce-basted, and apple wood from our tree-smoked pork ribs cut apart and arranged over mashed sweet potatoes and the yams from the night before and garnished with the pineapple salsa. For Mothers' day, we opened one of Christine's favorites: a 2001 Carver Sutro petite sirah, which is finally coming into its own as a rich, gorgeous wine. Next time I want to try it along with a Sirius.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


It was a perfect day, and they had Marlin at the market, so I made a version of the way I had done it in Costa Rica a couple of years ago. First, a pineapple salsa, with jalapeño, lime, scallion, cilantro, and salt, which sat and marinated while I did the rest. A light rub of cinnamon, chile, and pepper on the fish, and Japanese yams went into the steamer. When the yams were done, I threw the fish in the iron pan to sear. Finished fish rested on a plate while I mashed the yams and cleaned the pan with escarole and ponzu. We drank a 2005 Crios rosé, which I like better than last year's; it's drier and less candy-like.


Here, finally planted (except for two beds of hot-weather things) is the garden. In a couple of weeks we'll be getting the first mesclun, and after that many other things. It was a ton of work, but now that the beds are done they should be pretty easy to prepare in subsequent springs.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Summa cum laude

Seriously muggy and hot today, with afternoon thundershowers giving us our first rain in a full week. Nice to give the sprinkler a break, especially since I was doing some space-mandated editing in the garden; rhubarb came out of a bed and into the ground near the fence, carrots got reduced to make room for salsify, burdock, scorzonera and parsnip, and tomorrow the celery/celeriac gets cut in half to make room for daikon and radish.

So tonight, with the heat and the vegetables foremost in mind, a vegan feast. Pappadums, sautéed zucchini, radicchio salad with truffle oil, blue lentils with leek, mint and scallion, and tempeh with the very poular BBQ sauce. Washed down with the bright 04 Turonia albariño since we're out of rosé, a condition which I will remedy tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Chez Liz

Liz invited a few people over for a dinner and bonfire. Everyone brought something, and we grilled many veggies- eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, radicchio, onions, asparagus- plus fish and chicken. Phillipe made a crazy leek salad, Sirkka made roasted potatoes, John made salad and brought an intense daikon and ikura relish, and Chris manned the grill while I dealt with squid and tuna; a pesto/umeboshi/lime mixture went in & outside the squid, then they cooked over a hot fire for a minute per side, and the tuna got a good sear before slicing into strips and getting a jalapeño slice and sesame-soy drizzle. All this was thoroughly enjoyed outside by a roaring fire. Dessert was Liz's trademark cashew pudding on fruit, and we drank lots of good wine- the standouts were a 1999 Kistler chard (my last), and a 1997 Brunello and a 1989 Côte Rôtie that John brought (I forgot to write down the producers.)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Christine's Birthday

I rubbed and roasted a whole chicken, and threw a bunch of sweet potatoes into the oven as well, with lots of garlic and thyme. Crimini mushrooms, sautéed with garlic and deglazed with white wine, went into the blender with the burdock from a couple of days before plus just enough water to spin into a thick purée. Once the bird came out, I made a roux with the fat in the roasting pan and then added white wine, water and, once it reached a good consistency, the mushroom/burdock mixture. On top, trumpet mushrooms, also sautéed with garlic and parsley, and deglazed with wine. On the side, escarole done the usual way. We drank a 2005 Étude pinot noir, which is a yummy wine but was much too young and tart. Dessert was birthday cake- dairy free, juice-sweetened banana cake. Milo was near-hysterical about it.

Another Dinner

This time at Rick and Julie's house, where they've been playing with sous-vide cooking, using a vacuum sealer and a hot water bath to slow-cook meat and fish so that they're perfect all the way through. In this case, New York strips that he had dry-aged for a month in a special fridge, then cooked at 128˚ for 4 hours, each in its own bag, then seared up in a pan to put a good crust on the outside. Along with these, Julie made a wicked salad, roasted sweet potatoes, cooked kale in a little chicken broth, and asparagus with a bit of bacon. To go with this feast, Rick went deep into the cellar; we began with a 1971 Bouchard Le Corton, then opened a 1966 Beaulieu Georges de la Tour Reserve, then finished a 1990 Sorrel Hermitage they had opened a few days earlier. Dessert was a fantastic mango-banana sorbet accompanied by a 1988 Bonny Doon Muscat vin de glacière. There is simply nothing like decades-old great wine, and being able to switch back and forth between pinot noir, cabernet, and syrah from such old and wonderful bottles was a treat.

Chef Jeff

We went to visit Jeff, Eve, and their two boys for an early dinner on a beautiful day. It was at their house during grad school that the tradition of epic dinners really embedded itself in my psyche as an essential component of life. Good ingredients, improvisation, and great people all combined to make some meals that I'll never forget. Jeff had made his trademark grilled squid, and pan-roasted salmon in a sauce of puréed greens, chiles, and cream. Eve made wild rice, and a cooked beet and carrot salad with goat cheese. Dessert was fruit salad and dark chocolate. It's too bad we see them so rarely.


In Evanston, visiting Christine's Mom, I wanted to give her a night off so I made dinner (having shopped earlier in the day.) Seared bluefin tuna, dressed with hot garlic-infused sesame oil, got two contrasting salads: a mango salsa with red onion, tomato, cucumber, and lime and radicchio chopped fine with salt and truffle oil. The sweet mango complemented the slightly bitter radicchio. I also cooked some burdock and a big bowl of chopped bok choy.