Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What I Didn't Do On My Summer Vacation

Cook, that is. Christine is in the city for a week so I'm making next to nothing, letting the garden and Milo determine what I have to do. Tonight he had black beans (canned, to my chagrin) plus leftover sweet potato and fresh endive mash which he loves and eats by the handful out of the suribachi while I try to make it. I had tofu tossed with most of the above and some quinoa and pickles. Tomorrow, probably pasta with pesto and salad. I want to make bread, but it's stinking hot (although the nights are cool and perfect.) I'm not even drinking much wine. It's like vacation in Bizarro World- in that I'm not actually on vacation- but it's nice to not cook much for a while and just coast.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


As I mentioned yesterday, our 1976 Clos des Mouches was cooked, so today I marinated pork chops in it with garlic, herbs, salt, 5-spice, and a pinch of brown sugar. They went on the grill after a sliced zucchini got a nice char (I don't grill veggies with oil any more; the flare-ups are carcinogenic) and then got tossed in oil, salt, and thyme. I also steamed a sweet potato and made an endive mash. Given the once-in-a-lifetime luxury marinade, I opened the other one, figuring I'd make a reduction for a sauce, but it was lovely, subtle, and still fruity and tart. Amazing. Considering I got these for 20 bucks a piece, it's not surprising that some of them are bad, and it's like found money when they're good.

Dessert was a big yellow watermelon:

Friday, July 27, 2007

Open Source Cuisine

Some dishes are pretty sacrosanct; the lack of even one ingredient will cause me to change plans since it's not worth it. Others are more malleable by nature, or I haven't yet honed my understanding of the definitive version (relatively speaking, of course) and so I feel license to experiment. In this case, Ma Po Tofu, which we love, gets done differently every time as long as pork, tofu, and peas around- although I did make a version of this plenty often during my 18 years as a vegetarian. In this case, the pork was leftover paté mixture that didn't fit in the terrine, and thus already seasoned. The peas couldn't have been fresher, since Milo and I picked them about 10 minutes before dinner, and the tofu was my favorite- really tangy and rich. With some fresh ginger, Shao Xing rice wine, brown rice vinegar, sesame oil and lime basil to finish, it anchored the other dishes quite well: red quinoa, sautéed galia endive, and Chris' beet greens and turnips from last week. The beverage to accompany this rich yet healthy feast, and the welcome rain: a 2005 Latour Montagny 1er Cru "La Grand Roche" which worked very well, since as usual I didn't make it spicy even though I really wanted to.

It's so easy being green

Liz had yet another dinner party, and I had a hankering to make paté again. So as before, ground pork, rendered bacon fat and the bacon plus spices, garlic, and this time cream, Calvados, and stale bread went in a terrine and into the oven. For some reason it broke- the fat separated out- so once cooled a tiny bit I puréed it all back together again and pressed it in the fridge for four hours. It worked really well, becoming basically rillettes, and the key was to let the food processor really go at it for quite a while, which obliterated the crispy lardons and pink peppercorns I had added, but made it very creamy and smooth, with no grainy aftertaste. Unmolded (I lined the pan with parchment to make it easy) onto nasturtium leaves with a side of pickles, it made for a decadent appetizer.

For dinner, everyone's gardens contributed an emphatically color-coordinated array of dishes. David and Judy brought a huge slab of halibut from the city, John made shiso pesto for the fish, green mash, a green bean-butter sauce for Liz's potatoes, and braised zucchini. We brought an enormous green oak-leaf lettuce that fed 12 people, and Liz made shredded pan di zucchero with pine nuts. We drank a White Barn "rosé" which is made, per the winemaker's instructions, by mixing one bottle of his grenache with one bottle of his viognier (it's tangy, complex, and insane) followed by 3 bottles of 1976 Drouhin: 2 delicious Clos de Vougeot and a sadly exhausted Clos des Mouches (I'm going to use it to marinate pork chops this weekend), a 2000 Aquila sangiovese, and a 1985 Chianti that I forget the name of. Dessert was 2 crazy vegan pies Liz made, vegan chocolate-cashew pudding I froze in the ice cream maker, and some local gelato from the new place in town.


Here's a quick shot of the crock (note the trough around the lip for water to seal it) and the resulting giardinera; everything but the salt is from the garden and they're tangy, crunchy, and delicious. We've given away or eaten all but one jar, so in a couple of days it's going to be time for round two. There is nothing they don't complement and enhance, and they're as healthy as food gets.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


First, the carrot ice cream. All the kids came with me to the garden first thing in the morning and we pulled a nice bunch of different colors. Chopped and steamed with a pinch each of Vietnamese 5-spice and cayenne, then puréed, pushed through a tamis, stirred into a nice custard, and then frozen once chilled, the result was a really good accompaniment to the peach tart I made later when everyone was out sightseeing. Next time I will roast the carrots in foil rather than steam them, and use proportionally more; this batch was light on the carrots to keep it kid-friendly.

The rest of the meal was country ribs, with the house rub and house sauce, smoked for a little over 2 hours- less than I like, but good enough for full effect. Also mashed sweet potatoes, escarole with garlic and lemon, and roasted beets. To celebrate their visit, we drank a bottle of Billiot's Brut Réserve Champagne, my new favorite. Champagne is wine, and his is very good wine, made mostly from pinot noir. Factory Champagne is usually garbage; go grower and taste the difference.

Monday, July 23, 2007


Christine's family is here for the weekend, and we made fresh fettucine with pesto from our basil, using walnuts as well because we were low on pine nuts and Nettle Meadow fromage blanc in place of parmigiano. Ethan, who is 10, rolled out most of the pasta and did a fine job. All the kids were excited to make it from scratch. We had a huge salad, and the sausages that remained from the night before- my Brother came down from Vermont with a huge bag of Pascal's finest, including rabbit and fig crepinettes that were sublime. We drank a 1997 Tassinaia that had a lot going on, and seemed young at first, but was a little limp by the end. The kids and I went into the garden after dinner to pick carrots for dessert; they each pulled up a different color. Sydney asked to make carrot ice cream. "Tomorrow," I said.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Nice One

Chris and Sirkka joined us after a nice swim and visit to the store for some fish- tuna and salmon. They brought beets, greens, and cooked turnips, and daikon pickles from their garden. We made a salad from ours. Sirkka quartered the beets and roasted them wrapped in foil; we tossed them in Banyuls vinegar, salt, and a little olive oil. Chris made beet greens in dashi with garlic and chopped cooked turnips. I made Lebanese couscous with peas, mint, shiso and chives, and Nobu-style sashimi from the fish with a hot garlic/sesame oil then sudachi/nama shoyu sauce drizzled over all, and finished with jalapeños on a bed of nasturtium leaves.

Dessert was a creamy Roquefort with a half bottle of Chambers Rosewood Vineyards Rutherglen Muscat- a great pairing that created an ethereal blue-veined panna cotta in the brain.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

High-End Junk Food

This actually started in my studio, where I noticed that I need another large tomato can for paint thinner. So I decided to make pasta tonight, but we were out of pasta. Thus a trip to the store, where they have this stuff called cheese, in this case taleggio and the local fromage blanc that can become so very many things. And it was raining today. And so the ingredients spoke, and dinner was penne with a roux-based sauce of taleggio, fromage blanc, white wine, dried tomatoes in oil, many herbs from the garden, and a good dose of truffle oil, plus an epic salad of many leaves and a lovely bottle of 2006 Château de Parenchère Bordeaux clairet. I forgot to add peas. Best of all, no canned tomatoes ended up being harmed during the making of this meal.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Weirdly Cool

I try as much as possible to be open to the confluence of ingredients, influences, and the day in question when making dinner; the best examples of my cooking seem to reflect all three in equal measure and still remain original, nourishing, and yummy. Tonight was a decent example. Our friend Leanne emailed to thank us for the giant zucchini we gave them yesterday and said she had made fritters- latkes of sorts- with potatoes and the squash in question. Remembering John's soup from a year ago, and having the smoked chicken bones on hand, I thus triangulated a meal I hoped would reflect all of the above plus the wet, cool day and our passage through it.

First, the chicken bones made a lovely, smoky broth. I chopped the zucchini, some garlic, shiso, and cilantro and let them sit until the broth was ready to strain. All then cooked for about 2 hours with a handful of pine nuts until very soft, then the stick blender made a smooth, velvety soup. I had planned to crumble feta on top, and it would have been great, but we'll have to try it tomorrow since it was rich and creamy enough- especially with a dribble of truffle oil. While the soup was cooking, Yukon gold potatoes and a Chioggia beet, shredded in the food processor, plus an egg and a bit of seasoning became summer latkes, garnished with the last jar of the homemade applesauce from last fall. As we finally enter the blessed period of local fruit, it seemed fitting to use it up and make room for this year's bounty.

I opened a 2001 Guigal white Hermitage to go with all these subtle yet wide-ranging flavors; it did pretty well but ultimately a riesling might have been better. The soup is a tricky match. Today also saw the planting of cabbage, collards, and turnips in the garden for fall crops.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Wicked Good

Ground bison sautéed with red onion and spices, a salsa of more red onion, local tomato, lemon juice, cilantro, avocado, and baby cucumbers from the garden on nice spelt tortillas with a bit of rewarmed brown rice. A nice, chilly 2003 Selbach-Oster Bernkasteler Badstube riesling auslese did nicely with the spices. Quick, easy, and damn yummy.

The transformative power of salt

This arresting sculptural presence is in fact a hog cheek, cured for a week in salt, pepper, garlic, and thyme, and hung from a piece of 2 x 12 left from making the garden beds inside the metal mesh wastebasket from my office (which I washed.) Now it sits in the crawl space under the house for a week to dry a bit, and then it's guanciale.

Next to it is a 5 liter crock full of carrots, beets, baby turnips, radishes, scallions, pak choy, fennel, green beans, horseradish, Swiss chard, dill, a still green cayenne pepper- all from the garden- and a 5% salt solution. The crock in question has a nifty trough around the lip for water, making a seal so bubbles can escape but contaminants can't get in. It also has weights to keep the veggies submerged. I'm going to check on it in a week as well. It's exciting and gratifying, this growing and preserving of food, and best of all it's better tasting and better for you (and for the planet) than any other way of eating.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Garden Party

We went over to Liz's house for a garden-clearing dinner; even though it was just the three of us it gave us an excuse to cut a ton of salad and kale. I smoked two more small chickens and slow-cooked a bunch of kale kraut style with a bit of smoked chicken broth and lots of vinegar, plus mustard, fenugreek, coriander, and cumin seeds for about two hours. I also chopped a head of radicchio really fine and added olive oil, truffle oil, salt, and pepper and let it marinate.

Liz made a couple of pizzas, a frittata, and an insane vegan chocolate raspberry torte with a hazelnut crust and chocolate mousse (enhanced with avocado, shoyu, and balsamic vinegar.) There was way too much food, but the happy result of that was eating fantastic leftovers for three meals today.


A quick one tonight, but with some good flavors. First, shiitake caramelized in a spoon of the smoked chicken fat, then I threw in green beans and let them green and soften a bit, followed by a glug of Shao Xing rice wine and a drop of sesame oil. Then, in the same wok, I crisped up some tofu, added some red onion to soften, and deglazed with rice vinegar. To finish, a dollop of tamarind paste and a splash of yuzu juice, and very last some peas, tossed just until they turned bright green. Pretty standard, but attentive use of various condiments gave the dishes rich and distinctive flavors, plus the peas and beans from the garden added their own magic.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

"No, kitty! That's MY pot pie!"

Inspired jointly by many quality leftovers, the exploding garden, and a glorious cool day, I took best advantage of all three and made a salmon and smoked chicken pot pie. Unused salmon from the other night, plus frozen smoked chicken broth (and meat) plus fresh green beans and the last of the peas from the garden all combined with a roux I had made from the drippings last time we roasted a chicken to make a pretty fabulous dish. A few cubed potatoes (bought before I realized how big ours are already) and a topping of the Best Pie Crust In The World® completed it. On the side, an enormous sautéed costata romanesco zucchini- which really do grow to baseball bat size in 2 days- and a Mas de la Rouvière Bandol rosé to drink. The poor cat was bug-eyed and frantic as his walnut-sized brain tried to comprehend chicken AND salmon in the same dinner, as well as why he wasn't getting any (don't worry; I gave him some later.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Crazy make-em-ups

Our neighbors Susan and Stewart came for dinner, and I was working all day so I had to improvise. The smoked chicken carcass became a lovely broth, strained and reduced, while the salmon that Christine bought got a double treatment as both tartare and sashimi. Haricots and shiitakes, blanched and caramelized respectively, plus shaved chioggia beets and the remaining smoked chicken meat all went into a terrine that was glued together by the reduced broth.

Given the short time frame, it didn't get quite cold enough to gel, but was really yummy. We drank, in order, a Château Roquefort Corail rosé, then a 2003 Millbrook Hudson Valley reserve chardonnay they brought which was quite yummy -if not quite living up to the Burgundian claims on the label- I will seek this out and see how it ages. It augurs well for us getting more of our wine locally. Then a Pleiades XV to introduce them to the wonders of Thackrey. For dessert, we had kind of a fluke: a gorgonzola that was improperly inoculated, so only the rind was blue; the interior was pure white and tangy. Delicious, though, and despite the lack of blueness still a good match for a half bottle of 2000 Château Theulet Montbazillac.


Super simple, yet super good: penne in a sauce of ground lamb, onion, garlic, lots of herbs, and fresh peas plus canned tomatoes with a gorgeous salad. To drink, a 1998 Franciscan Magnificat that did a good job with the lamb while still being quite young; it has a lot of reticent Bordelais complexity and should really open up over the next 10 years.

Monday, July 09, 2007


For a summer Sunday, I fired up the smoker and put in a salt & peppered chicken. One of the happy features of this house is a huge maple tree in back, which shades the patio and drops small dead branches in storms, so there's always a nice supply of dry maple kindling to add to the apple wood in the firebox. After about an hour, I put on a few of Fleisher's brats to smoke as well, and they were a revelation: instead of tightening up like they do over direct heat, they stayed soft and kept all their juice while getting a good smoky flavor too. I also cooked a big bunch of kale kraut style- slowly with onion and cider vinegar- made radicchio mash, and red potato salad with cornichons and herbs like my aunt Martha's recipe (the key being to toss the still-hot potatoes in copious vinegar so they soak it up, then add the oil.) Given my Grandfather's mastery of chicken-smoking, this meal is one I easily could have had 20 years ago (although without the mash.) We drank our very last Siduri pinot, a 2003 Sonatera.

Garden Update

The view yesterday

The many squash volunteers from the compost

Under the zucchini canopy

Lettuces still going strong

Beans peaking

Saturday, July 07, 2007


A three-part dinner tonight, inspired by the garden and a few things from fridge and pantry. First, crispy tofu tossed in Christine's new favorite sauce, the hybrid tahini/guacamole with scallions and cilantro to finish. Next, a stir-fry of just-picked goodness including carrots, beans, peas, beet, and yellow squash (the only one not from the garden, but still local) and last pad thai noodles with beet greens and a sauce of dried shrimp, garlic, ume vinegar, sesame oil, truffle oil, ponzu, nama shoyu, nam pla, and agave syrup. A Mas de Gourgonnier rosé was not a perfect match; the riesling in the fridge would have been better, but I opened the rosé thinking aperitif while I cooked and it seemed silly to open another one.

A Note on Mash

We learned this from John, and I think he learned it from Richard. It's a kind of pesto, but made with a bitter green from the endive/radicchio family like pan di zucchero or radicchio; lately we've been using the galia endive because it's at its peak. Frisée makes a divinely creamy mash. The suribachi is the ideal tool for making mash, and though it takes a bit of work, the result is well worth it, since it can accompany a bloody piece of meat as perfectly as the most ascetic vegan fare.

You smash a garlic clove and grind it up with some olive oil, then add an ume plum or two and keep grinding. Then some pine nuts, toasted if you have time, and then the shredded greens and some more oil. Lemon juice is grand, and truffle oil takes it to a higher place, but pretty much everything besides the garlic, greens, and oil is optional. The bitterness is smoothed a bit by the ume and oil, and it is a cleansing addition to any plate- try it and see how it cuts through fatty meat, or enhances pretty much anything. You can easily find a suribachi at your local Asian market or online. We use the food processor all the time, but this brilliant variation on the mortar and pestle is just the ticket for a coarser, more rustic preparation, and allows you to get it just the way you like it. Plus, it's nice to move sometimes when you cook, and the bowl makes a pleasant ringing sound while you grind.


Sirkka and Danny came over for a mellow Friday dinner. Christine had been to Fleisher's earlier in the day, and their housemade sausages are very good, so I whipped up a variation on her Mom's sausage pasta sauce- with hot & sweet sausage and lots of herbs. Whole wheat spaghetti has a nice body and flavor for a big sauce like this (even though we don't like the other shapes; the penne, etc. are too mealy) and there were good sides, mostly from right outside the kitchen: mash, sautéed pak choi, Sirkka's radish pickles, a great salad and her cherry canten with whipped cream and berries for dessert, enhanced by our new gelato place's passion fruit sorbetto. Not bad. A 2001 Domaine la Millière CDP and a 200 Hilberg-Pasquero Barbera "Bricco Gatti" both did well by this good, honest food.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Taste the Rainbow

Christine bought wild salmon and a beautiful piece of chicken-of-the-woods today, and the colors were just gorgeous together, so I was inspired- especially since I spent all day drawing on a big sheet of MDF and needed some color. Plus, the greens beans have arrived, going from tiny to 6 inches long in about two days. I reheated brown rice with water to that magical twice-cooked creamy state, and cooked the fish skin side only so it was still raw on top. Mushrooms, then beans, then baby fennel followed in the same pan, refreshed with a tiny bit of butter to help give the mushrooms some moisture. Mash made from endive and herbs, ume plum, oil, and pine nuts and a pan sauce of a splash of wine and agave rounded out the meal.

A nasturtium flower finished the plate and a Pleiades XV, always an excellent salmon wine, astonished again with its insane nose and funky elegance. We were lucky to be able to compare it With the 2002 Novy Page-Nord syrah that we opened last night to go with pizza; after the yummy but kind of monolithic purple fruit and chocolate of the Novy, the Pleiades had some of the same toasty funk and layered quality that Sujit's Echezeaux had at the party a while back.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Mission Statement

I bought and read Barbara Kingsolver's latest book a few weeks ago, and it's both an inspiration and validation to what we're doing here, and to what more and more people are doing around the country: growing and eating as much local food as we can. It's the best kind of activism, since it involves copious pleasure while at the same time using less fossil fuel to bring us our dinner. It also helps, I think, to not be an absolutist; salt, pepper, olive oil, coffee, most of our wine and spices, and fruit in the off-season all come from somewhere else, and I think that's OK. We live, after all, in a global economy.

My Mother had a garden when I was growing up, and some of my earliest memories are of doing what Milo is doing right now- "helping" by picking peas or strawberries then eating them all. In the age of the scientifically honed marketing of awful crap pseudo-food to the very young, I look at our garden as an antidote- or at least a vaccine- against the corporate factory food machine that is killing our soil, our wildlife, and our people in front of our eyes. We vote in elections, true, but voting with our eyeballs (we have no TV reception) and with our wallets (by choosing this kind of food, among other things) are just as important; the free market is an instrument of activism too. Beyond polemics, though, my son is learning that food comes from the ground, and he eats more kinds of food than any other kid his age that I know of. We eat together almost every night, and every day he asks to go outside and look for berries, or mint, or to come in the garden and eat peas or radishes. And he asks for truffle oil on his risotto. He'll be three in September.

Risi e Bisi

Those peas, those peas. This right here is honestly why I bought the chicken, notwithstanding the crispy, wife-pleasing goodness of the roasted bird. The carcass made an excellent broth, and we all picked peas (Milo is very good at picking, but eats them all) plus salad and herbs. Super simple risotto ensued, flavored with the peas tossed in at the very last minute, plus parsley, parmigiano, and truffle oil. I made the risotto on the wet side, according to tradition and the aforementioned wife, who is after all half Italian as opposed to my zero percent (don't let the URL fool you.) Milo asked for extra truffle oil on his rice. That's my boy.

On the side, a perfect salad, featuring our new official house vinaigrette of walnut oil and sherry vinegar, which is nutty, sharp, and rich, yet transparent so the character of all the different greens and herbs can shine through; today's offering included mesclun, mustard, mizuna, parsley, cilantro, nasturtium, dill, shiso, and chive. To match the dinner, a 2005 Les Domaniers de Puits Moret which is bottled under the Domaines Ott label but isn't an estate wine. As a result, it costs about 10 bucks less and delivers a nice, crisp, pale pink accompaniment to this kind of food.


Last night, a simple roast chicken with brown rice. Also, shiitake caramelized in the chicken fat, and baby veggies (carrot, turnip, beet) from the garden roasted in foil alongside the bird then tossed with peapods in the wine-deglazed mushrooms. I bought the chicken as much for the carcass as for this meal; the peas in particular call out for something good this evening, and the perfect cool weather is allowing for all kinds of cookery that sweltering would never permit.

A 1996 Louis Max Charmes-Chambertin was good, but thin and still tight- it felt stuck in third gear- some more time would help, but it was our only one.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Dim Something

Many leftovers and not much time led to this variety of small treats; there's nothing like having nori, and other wrappers around to turn random scraps into elegant bites. The goes-without-saying summer rolls, wontons made with a filling of leftover curried chick peas puréed with the last of the sweet potato salad fromm John's birthday, and maki made from some brown rice remnants and filled with the purée, a bit of barramundi Milo had the other night, scallions from the garden, and snap peas. We drank a Bonny Doon vin gris which comes admirably close to the French model they're emulating.