Sunday, December 30, 2007

Lamb Stew

We drove to Vermont to meet Mat & co. with our big cooler full of goodies- among them, lamb bones and stew meat. Upon arrival, I set to work browning the bones, cubing the meat, and adding garden mirepoix plus carrot, parsnip, and turnip, then adzuki beans, herbs, garlic, and water to cover. Peas (also from our garden) went in just before serving. While it was going, I baked sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli, and pulled a 1999 Beaulieu Georges de la Tour reserve from the cellar.

I almost grabbed a 1997 Beringer reserve instead, but having loved the 1992s we had last year, I wanted to give them more time. The BV was very good, and perfect with the stew; I'm going to let the other one sit for a bit longer and then try it again. Having the last of the Lirac to start brought us to the Cab from an interesting direction. It lacks the earthy, cedary notes of the Beringer, but with age it might develop something similar. For now, it's a big, supple, grapey, tail-wagging labrador retriever of a wine.

Return Home

Post-Chicago, something clean and simple was urgently needed. This is broiled mahi-mahi with a salt-dried sudachi zest crust over brown rice and braised fennel and turnip with some peach chutney on the side. I opened a really nice Lirac but I forget the info since we took the rest to Vermont and left the bottle there. I'll fill it in later- it was just as good the next day with the lamb stew.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Dinner

Whenever we go to Chicago for a holiday I like to give Christine's Mom a break by doing the cooking. This time around I tossed a bag of activa in my dopp kit just in case, because the pea soup gnocchi got me thinking about other gnoccification possibilities. Filet of beef was the focus of the meal, so I began by using the activa to glue bacon around it in rings, plus gave it a little rub with salt, pepper, herbs, and coffee. Then the rest of the activa turned a big ol' tub of ricotta into beautiful gnocchi after a night in the fridge; they browned up perfectly in a little butter, and then I tossed them in parmesan.

For sides, I made arugula-horseradish pesto, brussels sprouts, mashed parsnips with horseradish and vanilla, and shiitake mushrooms cooked with aromatics and a bottle of red wine. Christine's Aunt brought mashed potatoes. I figured the leftover meat would be sandwiches the next day, so I sliced the filet thickly into steaks so that each one got a slice of bacon around it. We drank a 2004 Château de Saint-Cosme Gigondas and then a 2003 Ceretto Barolo "Zonchera" which I wisely decanted 5 hours before dinner. Both delicious, though the Barolo has more going on in that gorgeous transparent way they have. The next night, the last of it- about a glass- that had sat in the decanter the whole time was even better.

For dessert I poached big pears in a gewurztraminer-vanilla syrup and made a cointreau-lavender-eggnog crème anglaise to go on top, which sounds great (and was yummy) but you try explaining the virtues of that to a bunch of kids when there's a behemoth of a chocolate cake from the cheesecake factory next to it on the counter.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Pea Soup Part 2

So the experiment worked; I pushed the pea soup through a tamis and added a bit of activa, then piped it onto wax paper and let it sit in the fridge overnight (it's uneven because I don't have a pastry bag; I just cut the corner off a ziplock.)

Then I cut the snakes into gnocchi and gave them a quick boil just before serving. We had invited friends over, and then two more at the last minute, but fortunately there was enough food. I had braised a pork shoulder with onion, carrot, beer, cider, cinnamon, star anise, bay leaf, cloves, cardamom, thyme, soy sauce, agave nectar, and balsamic vinegar for 5 hours until it was falling apart, and also done more of the cubed turnip from the previous night (but with rutabaga as well this time.) I tossed the soup gnocchi with the roots and served the meat on top of it with the strained and reduced braising liquid thickened with our BBQ sauce. A dollop of cranberry tapenade on top (taken from Aki & Alex) was the perfect finish- sweet/savory, spicy, and tangy.

Chris made a huge pot of their kale that he had hacked out of the snow before dark, and it was incredibly sweet. We drank a 2001 Domaine la Millière Chiateauneuf, then Chris & Sirkka's 2006 Ridge Three Valleys zin blend, then a 1999 Cakebread Benchland Select cabernet. I had thought to follow the CDP with a Burgundy, but the pork was so rich that the New World sweetness of the Ridge and Cakebread were the right way to go. A really lovely winter meal with great friends.

Family Style

There's nothing quite like having a fridge full of goodies to inspire well-rounded meals. This time it was wild Alaskan salmon and a variety of roots and greens that got me going. I broiled the salmon with herbs, 5-spice, and sesame seeds on top. A cubed turnip caramelized and softened with half an onion in olive oil, collards softened a bit with garlic, and I made a salsa with fresh orange juice, cherry tomatoes, avocado, cider vinegar, and togarashi. Mashed sweet potatoes on the side. Happy happy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I found a partially cooked duck breast from an earlier meal in the back of the fridge tonight while figuring out what to make for dinner. Problem solved. Milo helped me season and oil the fingerling potatoes- with lots of whole garlic cloves thrown in- prior to roasting them in the oven. I sliced and sautéed the duck in a bit of duck fat to brown it, then tossed in shredded kale and daikon to use up the fat. We opened another jar of the peach-habañero chutney from early fall and the plate was complete.

As perfect a match as the duck and chutney are, and as lovely an accompaniment as rosemary potatoes are to almost anything, the kale and daikon were the dark horse of this meal. Enriched with a little fat, but still al dente and bright, gorgeous green, and with the tangy, earthy crunch of radish, they tied together everything else and had the profound sweetness that only perfectly fresh greens in season can produce. Some may like their greens wilted into porky oblivion, but I'll take mine actually green every time. Comfort food should also have nutrients left in it; it is food, after all.

For the wine, I popped a 2000 Dead Arm, since I'm in the process of trying to figure out which few of my Australian purchases of 3-4 years back not to sell; I really don't dig the movie-candy and cream cheese frosting flavors I get from so much of them these days. After careful tasting, though, the Dead Arm stays on the keeper list. It's just too good, funky, and unique to part with. A dark, sweet nose and quick fruit gives way to some fascinatingly stubborn structure with a real ass on it. Also, the wife loves it, which is a not insignificant part of this calculus. You can have my Dead Arm when you pry it from my cold, dead shoulder.

Pea Soup Part 1

I took Aki & Alex's "Hydrocolloids at home" class on Saturday, and had an idea during class that this was the first step toward realizing. Nice, traditional pea soup with a little bacon and mirepoix and a long simmer to get it all soft. A good winter meal, especially with sautéed pak choi on the side and the first of our 2006 Siduri Willamette Valley pinot. They make some of my favorite New World pinots, and though this is not one of their superb single vineyard wines, it still has the tang, funk, and fruit it needs. (It's also less than half as much.)

Part two will reveal if my idea is a good one.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Venison Chili

We're lucky to have Kenny as our neighbor; in addition to plowing our driveway he also gives us venison around this time of year (he and his brother are both hunters.) So I set right to making a chili worthy of such a great treat. To begin, I sautéed onions in smoked duck fat, then added the meat to brown. Next, a variety of dried spices- chili, cumin, cinnamon- plus herbs, cocoa powder, and pepper. Then, soaked red & white kidney beans, a can of tomatoes, some beer, and a slash of cider vinegar. 2 hours later, the chili was perfect on brown rice with beer and a side of cauliflower with a cheddar/yogurt/porcini sauce plus a dash of truffle oil. And twice as good the next day for lunch.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Holiday Party

Liz had her annual holiday party, and it was as wonderful as ever. The food, wine, and company were outstanding. The guys even played a few tunes; Liz has a piano, Chris brought his bass, and Billy played a saucepan with a spoon. Highlights included Gerard's togarashi roasted halibut, Liz's artichoke pizza, and my now-traditional duck sushi on black rice with cranberry-wine reduction and pickled black radish. Wines included a 1992 Sirius "Doomed Vines" Petite Sirah (the last year from that vineyard; it was sold and the 120 year-old vines ripped out) compared with a magnum of the 2002 Sirius. Amazingly different. Also, a Sine Qua Non "Papa" Syrah, a 1994 Marqués de Cáceres Gaudium, and a 1999 Gorelli Brunello "Le Potazzine."

Barbecue Sauce

I had some requests from the gang for more of my barbecue sauce; I made some for last year's holiday party and it was enthusiastically received. So I pulled out the big pot and got to pouring, stirring, tasting, and adjusting. The main ingredients are molasses, tomato and tamarind pastes, balsamic and cider vinegars, and red wine, with smoked espresso, sriracha, ponzu, and various dried spices adding complexity. It's a little different every time, but this batch is particularly good. Next week I'm going to defrost the slab of ribs in the freezer and take the sauce for a spin (provided it's warm enough for me to deal with the smoker, which is covered in snow right now.)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Quick One

I normally never buy the skinless, boneless chicken pieces, since the fat and bones are essential for flavor and stock-making, but it's what they had at the place I went shopping. At least they had thighs. I marinated them all day in lemon and tangerine juice with garlic, ginger, cardamom, yuzu kosho, and rosemary, then threw them in the wok, followed by pak choi and some of the marinade thickened with flour. Served on brown rice. Not counting the marinating, or turning on the rice cooker beforehand, this took 10 minutes from the first sizzle to the first bite, which was great because I spent all day in the (freezing) woodshop with a tiny space heater.

Monday, December 03, 2007


Last year, we got a pass on December; it was so warm that the daffodils came up and we raked up the willow leaves just before Christmas. This time around, not so much. Snow, sleet, wind, and freakin' frigid. So tonight, ironically, the freezer yielded the bulk of our dinner. Sweet potato gnocchi dough left from Thanksgiving, mirepoix, and kale were the bulk of it, supplemented by request with cranberry sauce- slightly undersweetened, with cider, ginger, and tangerine juice.

The gnocchi got a dressing of mirepoix sautéed with diced salt pork, the kale blanched in gnocchi water, the cranberries went on the side. The mirepoix, buttressed by the salt pork, gave off the beautiful, evocative smell of home. I was hoping to keep the frozen veggies until later, but given that there's more light in February than November, it may be that our garden will provide us more towards the end of Winter, especially since there are a lot of yummy roots locked in the soil (provided everything else survives under the plastic.)

In the interest of full disclosure I haven't had the cranberries yet, since they would wreak havoc on the heavenly alchemy currently swirling in my lead-free stemware: a 1978 Drouhin Vosne Romanée "Les Suchots"- which I opened fully expecting to be cooked, since others of the bargain Burgundies I bought this summer have been- but is instead singing a diaphanously elegant swan song as it fades from glory. Damn.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Power Lunch

Last night I made mushroom risotto (a chicken carcass needed brothing) with shiitakes and dried porcini. Today I rolled it in nori, and the chick pea curry (warmed) in tortillas with pickled serranos. Pickled beets on the side. Yum. The pickled things are really doing it for me right now, and I love dispatching leftovers efficiently.

Restaurant Secrets Revealed!

Have you ever wondered why your homemade Indian food never quite achieves the rich, satisfying depth that even the cheapest restaurant delivers all the time? There are two reasons. The first is that if they're any good, they grind their own spices fresh every day. The second is butter. Clarified, yes, but butter. And cream. In copious quantities.

I discovered this shocking- SHOCKING- fact the other night when I absently glugged the last of some heavy cream left from Thanksgiving into both the mixed hardy garden greens (mustard, chard, mizuna, etc. and the chick pea curry with sweet potatoes. I did this because we didn't have any coconut milk and didn't want it to spoil, and the cold weather encourages heartier fare, but when all was served, I couldn't believe how "authentic" it tasted.

Who knew?

You're welcome.

Locavore is OED WOY

I just learned that the OED's word of the year has been announced, and it's Locavore. Hooray. If recent history has taught us anything, controlling the terminology is a prerequisite for leading and winning the debate.