Thursday, September 20, 2007

On The Lamb

Plating, schmating. This was money. Local, organic lamb leg steak with endive mash, kale, and little cakes made from the leftover yam-sweet potato mixture with black olives, lemon zest, and Moroccan spices added. All drizzled with a reduction I made from the lamb chop bones in the fridge, mirepoix, bay leaf, and red wine. I got started early on this, which is why the reduction had time to happen, since I was blanching and freezing about 10 pounds of mirepoix so our winter can have some of that divine flavor at the base of its soups and sauces. I finally had time today to make a meal that had all the components properly prepared; with the bulk of the office drudgery done, I took a much-needed break to garden and preserve on the nicest day we'll have for the rest of the year. To celebrate finished work, impending show, and fitting meal, I opened a 2002 Gemstone which- despite its youth- still hits those Cali cab marks like an old pro.

Salmon in a Pinch

I've been working like mad to get ready for a show, so dinners have been necessarily limited in scope. This time, a good hunk of salmon in the oven for a few minutes with ras-el-hanout, salt, pepper, herbs, and paprika got just firm while I steamed Japanese yams and sweet potatoes to whip together and I busted out some mash since summer is ending and the simple pleasure of fresh bitter greens is about to become a luxury. As tasty as it was, it cried out for a red wine-based sauce, but time alas did not allow for such embellishments. Our very last Domaine Cheze Saint-Joseph "Cuvée Ro-Rée" more than made up for it, though; I love this wine, and will miss it until I find it again. For 20 bucks, it was the best buy of last year. I should have bought two cases.

Pasta, Fagioli

Milo got another cold- mild, but still requiring this sort of medicine: a broth made from mirepoix and chicken thighs in which cannelini cooked for two hours, and into which I dumped broccoli, parsley, and peas at the last minute. Just before that, some frozen porcini agnolotti from the store had a simmer. A 2006 "Petit Bourgeois" Chavignol (by Henri Bourgeois) sauvignon blanc was good, but a tad crisp and austere for such hearty peasant food. Milo, unburdened by such snobbishness, devoured the soup.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Bread & Butter

Christine got some fresh cream from Juliette's cow, so I pulled out the stand mixer and within a few minutes it was glorious butter. Washed, salted, and rolled in wax paper, it waited patiently for me to make another loaf of bread the next day. Homemade bread and butter with homemade grape jelly for breakfast- the apotheosis of simple, local, and delicious. My brother and I ate it together and remembered our Mother, who made such good bread and with whom we picked grapes every fall to make jelly.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Thinking Ahead

This isn't the best picture I've ever taken, but it tasted pretty great; Christine was out shopping for Milo's birthday party and I figured she'd come home tired, stressed, and hungry. One of the keys to my marriage is anticipating such contingencies and dispatching them with appropriate culinary remedies. Thus lamb chops (shoulder, which I prefer to loin for both price and character) along with mash, a ragout of zucchini, leek, artichoke, carrot, celery, fennel, and herbs- every one home grown- and little croquettes of leftover black rice, Japanese yam, and lemon zest. All three of us ate like wolves. Two of us had a Château Roquefort Corail rosé to begin, and finished with our last 2002 Novy syrah; it's well-made and deep, but not really the kind of wine we like any more (though we still love Siduri pinot.) With more age, it might mellow, but right now it has an intense, almost Australian richness that tends to pummel the food- even food as powerful as this.

Fall Is In The Air

My Brother came by for the night, and it was still cool and rainy, so I made suitable food for the occasion- casual, but refined, and above all yummy. Local organic beef stew meat plus soaked kidney beans, mirepoix, smoked chicken broth, spices, and tomato paste became a first-rate chili after a couple of hours. Potatoes and zucchini with a sauce of milk, yogurt, leftover cream of garden soup, plus grated goat cheddar, pecorino, and parmesan baked into a pretty good gratin (given that I skipped the bechamel to get it done in time.) With a big salad, it covered all requisite bases and offered a fresh take on some staple comfort foods that normally have more heft- though not necessarily for the better.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Faced with a cool day, perfect things in the garden, and some milk left in the jar we got from Juliette, a creamed soup seemed to be the right choice. Tofu provided a nice flavor and textural complement, as well as protein. So the heavenly mirepoix from the garden began a really nice soup that then included potatoes, leeks, and broccoli, then got stick-blended with milk into a thick unstrained purée; I wanted this rustic and country style. Cubed tofu, browned then tossed in tahini-miso sauce with copious scallions was the main dish (although the thick soup was an easy equal.) We drank a 2006 Bridlewood viognier that was an excellent match for both dishes.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


I remembered to soak some mung beans when I came back from our walk, so they cooked pretty fast when it was time to make dinner. Into a pan of our divine mirepoix they went, with water and pepper, and simmered while I took the chicken mushrooms from calzone night and added them plus some maitake (confusingly referred to as hen-of-the-woods) to smoked chicken broth I made with all the carcasses from the party. Bean thread noodles completed the soup, and I tossed the beans with salt, oil, and cider vinegar. To finish, another perfect salad. Pretty clean, varied, and a good finish to the day; we had a major English brunch this morning with bacon, eggs, hash browns, and tomatoes.

Canning Tomatoes

Over the weekend we went to the farm stand at the flea market in town and got a big bag of plum tomatoes to can (ours are almost ripe, but won't be anywhere near enough.) Cooked down, they yielded 5 1/2 quarts. Today, Christine and Milo picked all of our ripe many-colored cherry tomatoes- they magically just filled our 6 quart stockpot- and I cooked and strained them into 4 quart jars. Not enough to get us through the winter, but a start. If I can find a wholesale source for organic plum tomatoes I will do it again and fill the big pot as high as it will go. The pantry is starting to look respectable.

Quickly Good

The happy coexistence of leftover ratatouille and homemade pizza dough in the fridge led me inexorably (and lazily, but that's what leftovers are for) to a calzone. To accompany, fabulous salad from the newly exploding bed of fall lettuces, a side of chicken-of-the-woods sautéed quickly with guanciale, garlic, and parsley, and a sauce made from the few plum tomatoes that remained from canning. Good food for a rainy evening- hearty, but it is still summer after all.

Friday, September 07, 2007


An easy but decadent one tonight: fat tomato with salt and oil, mash, chard, and whole wheat spaghetti with a sauce of Fleisher's ground beef & bacon mix (it's freakin' genius, especially for burgers) and more tomatoes & herbs. A Magnien Bourgogne rosé completed the picture (along with Milo.)

Grape Jelly

We are lucky to have some old, robust Concord grape vines behind the garage. 20 minutes spent with the step and extension ladders and a bowl and kitchen shears yielded- after tossing the stems, plus rotten and green fruit- 7 1/2 pounds of beautiful ripe grapes. Now I'm from Concord, MA, and grape picking and jelly-making were an annual ritual for us. My Grandmother was an expert jam & jelly maker, and my Mom was pretty good too. She always made time to go pick the grapes, and we had a couple of good spots not too far from the house that nobody else ever bothered with.

I find this to be true today, nearly everywhere I go; there's high-end wild food that goes untouched all over the place, whether here, or in Provence where we gathered almonds, figs, and cherries (not to mention wild arugula and herbs) or Puerto Rico where we got armloads of ripe avocados and mangoes by the side of the road, or in Vermont, where the berries droop off the vines. Now I know that in such places many people have their own sources- gardens or secret patches- but given the availabilty, preservability, and zero cost of such things, I do still find it surprising that more people aren't out foraging for these delicacies.

Our fruit, cooked down with a bit of honey and agave syrup, strained, then mixed with a low-sugar pectin (you add calcium which helps it set without excessive sugar) gave us 4 1/2 pints of beautiful jelly that's not too sweet and tastes exactly like the air behind the garage smells in these magically ripe late summer days- like my childhood.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


No, not the movie (which we still haven't seen.) But a combination of old and new- some of the party leftovers (Nina's ratatouille, all the grilled veggies that didn't fit in my pie, etc.) added to a heavenly mirepoix of our own onion, fennel, celery, carrot and blessed guanciale after deglazing with a few dregs also remaining in a couple of bottles.

A word on this mirepoix: I can honestly say that of the many smells that have risen from our stove, few compare to this in depth, clarity, and sheer delight. Being able to slice off a few glistening pieces of home-cured guanciale and gently render their fat, then add the just-picked vegetables and sweat them until it's time for the wine is the epitome of hedonistic local cooking, and reveals the core secret of eating this way: it tastes better and makes you happier than any other food.

This afternoon we went to visit Juliette and Michael at their recording studio/farm (Chris and John were there overdubbing the new record) so the kids could see the animals- the new calf and baby bunnies among them- and we could give them vegetables in exchange for milk and eggs (chicken and duck.) Upon return home, I made peach ice cream with some of the milk, cream, and eggs and we had it after dinner.

Labor Day

Word spread, and many showed up for a pot luck party. Highlights from the food included ceviche of halibut and grilled side of wild salmon, roasted potato salad, braised seitan with port, ratatouille, and the six chickens I smoked and served over homegrown and fermented kale shredded like sauerkraut. I also made a torta rustica- a many-layered vegetable and cheese pie encased in pizza crust- which tasted great but fell apart once cut open. The wines drunk (many of which were supplied by John) included a 2005 Martin Alfaro chardonnay, a 2003 White Barn rosé, made according to the winemaker's instruction by mixing a bottle each of his grenache and viognier, a 1967 Francesco Rinaldi Barolo, a magnum of 1987 Orion, a Sine Qua Non "Poker Face" syrah, a 1995 Tignanello, a 2001 Pierre Usseglio CDP, and a 2002 Bouley Volnay "Clos des Chênes."

That's how we roll. I forgot to take pictures.

Rehearsal Dinner

Jody, Anna, and Isabel joined us for the weekend, and a party started to coalesce around Monday afternoon, so we kept it simple for their first night. A 28-day dry aged top sirloin from Fleisher's was the centerpiece- this is one of the great steaks of the world, with intense flavor and the perfect balance of tenderness and chewy character; normally we don't eat much beef, preferring the more flavorful lamb and duck or pork, but this meat is insane. Insanity was well abetted by mash, purple rice, sautéed chard, and yellow squash, which all enhanced certain aspects of the meat and its red wine reduction. We drank a 2006 Hacienda Monasterio and a 2005 Château St. Jean Cinq Cépages; two takes on Bordeaux from two places not Bordeaux. A great prelude to Sunday's Bacchanale.