Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Falling Short, But Better Than Fish Sticks

Today was a whirlwind of appointments, errands, and a meeting, but the sun finally came out after two solid days of much-needed rain. Among my stop was a local market, which has an adequate (if limited) fish counter. I got haddock, because it was fresh, and a little different from our normal choices. I've been chafing against our limited seafood choices up here, so yesterday I talked to our friend who teaches fish at the CIA and ordered some primo salmon for Christine's birthday. Milo and I spent some time in the garden, which resulted in some planted seeds and some picked greens for a salad: spinach, galia endive, and two lettuces- all from last winter.

We had burdock in the fridge from some overeager digging the day before, so I peeled and sliced it and then cooked it the way we like, with soy sauce and vinegar. After about 45 minutes, the root coins were pleasingly savory, earthy, and al dente (right, Claudia?) I crusted the fish with coarse local polenta, garam masala, oregano, salt, cardamom, and chilli powder and crisped it up in a bit of oil. Meanwhile, I reheated the kabocha purée from the other day and washed and dressed the salad. It came together pretty well; as with most meals recently, I had to scramble to get it together and it fell short of what I had in mind. The nights where it all meets my expectations are the special nights, I guess, and an inevitable rare result of the whole having-a-job-and-family thing.

So crusty, aromatic fish, creamy, sweet squash, and earthy-nutty burdock all intertwined and made for a good dinner on a chilly spring evening; the rain has gone, and much colder air has blown in to replace it. Before bedtime we went out to cover the beds with plastic against our first frost in two weeks. To accompany, two wines; with the summer weather comes my frequent desire to have a white or pink aperitif followed by a more substantial red. Leftover lighter wines do just fine in the fridge overnight and offer a tired cook a lovely refreshment come prep time the next day. In this case, some 2006 Magnien Burgundy rosé followed by the rest of the La Spinetta nebbiolo from the other night.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Larding The Lean Earth

In keeping with the recent porkfest here at cookblog HQ- not to mention the too-clever-by-half literary allusions- I thought I'd toss in this little picture of our lardo, all snuggly in cheesecloth and drying in the pantry since yesterday. In a couple of weeks, I'll be using it in everything, and giving a bunch away as well.

Even with the door closed, there is this wonderful animal-herb odor that suffuses the nearby air; I used copious garlic, thyme, rosemary, and juniper to season the cure. It sat in the cure for about three months and now just needs to stiffen a bit more. I'm seriously thinking of wearing it like cologne when I go out- like Steve Martin's tuna fish sandwiches, but way better. It smells really good- plus it looks like a lame art school thesis project, so there's that.

Next up (now that there's room in the fridge) bacon!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Cloyed With Fat Meat

I had to go back to the city again, and in my absence the garden really started to flourish; what were tiny sprouts have become small plants in just a few days, thanks to our incredibly warm and sunny April. Last night was the first rain in nearly three weeks, and in response everything has exploded. I actually find myself nostalgic for a couple of weeks ago, when there was a rich subtlety of growth; now it's fireworks and I'm way behind on all the things I was hoping to be on top of this time around. I shouldn't complain. The upside of all the sunny warmth is this amazing growth, and tonight's dinner made good use of it.

To begin, a "risotto" of barley and ramps, with broth made from the BBQ chicken bones from a few nights ago. Delicately smoky, toothsome, and tangy, it made for an excellent first course. We enjoyed it with another 2005 Jacky Blot "Clos de la Bretonnière" Vouvray. The baby Avignon radishes provided a nice garnish. I try to wait to thin most veggies until they're big enough to be food (or at least decoration.) The light smoke flavor paved the way for the next course.

Then, some of the pork belly we got recently for making bacon, which I espresso-rubbed and cooked sous-vide at 67˚ C for two hours, then crisped in a pan (with the skin still on.) It's basically a hunk of bacon. To compensate for the inherent decadence of the fat meat, I made sure to couch it in many healthy vegetables. Thus kabocha purée, parsnips caramelized in a soupçon of smoked duck fat, red kale wilted in a bit of the rendered belly fat, and a sauce of red wine, BBQ sauce, and maple syrup. As a fluffer-conductor of sorts for this orgiastic symphony of sweet succulence, a 2005 La Spinetta Langhe Nebbiolo. I love this wine. Tannic, yet still gorgeous, it was a lean, mean counterwieght to the rich dish. Did I mention that the pork still had the skin on? And that I crisped it up but good in the pan? Can you see it in the picture? That piece of pigskin is as close as I will ever get to being a football fan.

Also, there was salad. Obnoxiously fresh (they squeaked) baby greens from the new bed, since the old one is in full flower and about to become compost. It's a little extra work, but multi-course eating is the way to go; you fill up on less food, and stay full longer. Plus you get to savor the individual ingredients more, and want more of each one since the portions are smaller. Sundays are a good thing.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Oh, For Crying Out Loud

Roughly in order of proportion:


Kosher Salt
Sudachi Zest


Red Wine
Tomato Paste
Tamarind Paste
Cider & Balsamic Vinegar
Soy Sauce
Maple Syrup
Yuzu Juice
Yuzu Kosho
Sriracha or Sambal Oelek
Other Powders, depending
and other liquids/pastes from the fridge, depending (most recent batch had Dijon mustard.)

Happy now?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Fair And Balanced

There are still some parsnips and burdock left in the garden, and I'm trying to dig them up before they expend all their stored deliciousness sending up too many new leaves. Having protected and watched all these plants all winter, it's amazing to see them switch from survival mode to explosive spring growth and flowering so quickly. Kind of like a hyper-accelerated parenthood, but where you eat the kids when they reach puberty. Next year I think I'll have a better handle on timing and quantities, but this time was pretty successful; there's food in the garden and it will last until the new arrivals are big enough to take over.

So tonight it was parsnips, since Christine bought a big local grass-fed sirloin tip; I steamed them and puréed them with yogurt, vanilla, and a drop of truffle oil. The garlic chive butter/oil worked so well that I made more, adding mustard as well so that the result was sort of a beurre de maitre d'-mustard combination that I figured would be great with steak. I seasoned the meat with salt, pepper, garam masala, garlic, and herbs, then vacuum-sealed it and cooked it sous vide for 90 minutes at 54˚C. On the side, leftover sweet potato "noodle" salad and more grated root pickles (the horseradish makes it another great steak garnish.) We also had a salad of butter lettuce that I planted in November I think and is getting really nice right now. We drank a 2005 Givry by Chofflet-Valdenaire. I also sautéed a few ramps in the iron pan after I seared the cooked steak in it, but they're not in the picture.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Love For Sale

Before I went into the studio this morning, I spun a sweet potato through the saladacco and then marinated the "noodles" in a dressing of peanut butter, lemon juice, soy sauce, sesame oil, nam pla, garlic chives, rice vinegar, ginger, and agave nectar. I figured it would go well with and help influence whatever ended up being dinner. Which was BBQ chicken. So I gave some big whole legs the espresso rub, and whipped up a saucepan full of the insane sauce that's so good that it keeps my wife married to me. (I will sell you the recipe for both rub and sauce for a thousand dollars.)

Our various hardy winter greens are nominating themselves for dinner as they flower, and in so doing opening up valuable bed space for turning and planting. Today's winner was the red Russian kale- a perennial favorite, for both flavor and performance- which got a mindlessly simple sautée with garlic and mirin. The sweet potato-as-green papaya salad was nice and soft and fragrant. The chicken, while definitely not pork, was pretty ridiculously good: just shy of burnt skin suffused with rub and slathered with sauce, balanced by tender greens, tangy spud slaw, and grated root pickles, and complemented by a 2005 Mas de Gourgonnier rosé from near my old stomping grounds in Provence. Plus a jelly jar of extra sauce. Did I mention the sauce? I give this stuff out for Christmas presents and get twitchy emails a month later fake-casually asking if I have any left, or maybe if I spilled some on the floor and haven't mopped lately.

It's that good, people. A thousand bucks. Is that so much to pay for possible world domination (or at least happy matrimony?)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Worth The Wait

So as if by design, upon my return our neighbor Kenny had just brought some rainbows he caught at one of his favorite spots upstream. Combined with the (not quite seamless, but pretty close) overlapping of the bolting winter greens and fast-arriving new ones, the stage was set for exactly the kind of homecoming dinner I had been craving while I survived on coffee, carbs, and wine all weekend. Milo was so happy to see me; he told me over and over again how much he missed me and loves me and couldn't wait for me to come home. It was mutual. We toured the yard and garden, choosing the components of our dinner (the wife works late tonight.)

To begin with, for those of you with kids, I offer this free bit of advice. If you're like me (and I know I am) you make smoothies with some regularity since they're sweet, creamy, and decadent yet can be completely vegan and sugar free; they're the perfect guilt-free treat for a kid who needs a little boost or reward. In this case, it was soy milk, a banana, cherry juice, a bit of cocoa, and honey. Now if you take the smoothie that choice and/or circumstance have dictated and then run it- as is- through your ice cream machine for 20 minutes, you've turned it into the ne plus ultra of guilt-free kid treats and made yourself look like a god at the same time. Plus, it makes a light and elegant dessert for the big people later on. You're welcome.

So for the trout, my favorite preparation: en papillote with garlic, butter, and garlic chives. While it baked, I made polenta and cooked a big handful of garlic chives in a 50-50 mix of butter and olive oil. Once bright green, I puréed them in the blender, let them sit for a bit, then strained the oil into a small bowl. I briefly sautéed our radishes and ramps, then wilted turnip greens with a splash of rice vinegar in the same pan.

The flavors were just right, but being short on time the chive oil suffered from not being able to sit for a day to infuse before being strained. Having said that, the fact that fish and polenta (and even butter) were super-local- and we grew all the plants- combined with the ultra-adorable company made it into the epitome of homecomings; the flowering trees may all bursting forth in NYC (and they're beautiful) but since I was indoors nearly the whole time I didn't get to enjoy them. While down there I also picked up the rest of the wine I bought from Mary, and thus was finally able to enjoy a 2005 Jacky Blot "Domaine de la Taille aux Loups" Vouvray that is a tangy, buttery joy with this kind of honest food.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Weekend Update

I've been in the city since Friday, doing a bunch of boring, tedious things that are nonetheless important- like finish the kitchen in Brooklyn before the tenants move in. Not my idea of fun in the kitchen. The culinary highlights thus far have been a lovely Seder dinner with relatives and friends and the penne all'arrabiata I made for breakfast this morning. There was no parsley, nor garlic, but there were some old dried chilli peppers, oregano, and herbes de Provence. The can of tomatoes was the puréed kind, so the resulting sauce attained that almost magical school-lunch flavor and texture (in a good way; like the archetype of "red sauce" but with a nice lingering heat.)

Now normally I would have been right out the door to buy the missing ingredients and more, but I'm on a real schedule, with a lot to get done, so I roughed it with what was on hand. It was a funny combination of my two main creative passions; I was literally painting the kitchen while cooking at the same time. The pasta was good enough that I had it for lunch and dinner too. It's hard to express how happy I will be to get home tomorrow and eat the whole garden.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Morning Coffee

The first things I made in the class were a bunch of these espresso cups. Their form is based on Richard Serra's torqued ellipses, and I glazed them white then dipped the bottoms in black to refer to the intended contents. I can't say that they make my coffee taste better, but the experience is definitely more pleasurable.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I've been working at a local ceramic studio since the beginning of the year, and the owner/teacher fired the kiln this weekend. Today I went by to get the first of what should be several more series of plates, bowls, and cups to inspire more detailed cooking and presentation as well as smaller portions. Though I have no training in the field, I've always been influenced by Kaiseki cooking; now that the garden is a year-round thing and we're pickling things and curing meat, I'm determined to take the cooking to a new level of refinement. So what better place to start than the pedestals themselves?*

We had some winning leftovers to work with, so I began with those, and let the garden do the rest. To begin, I made a batch of pie crust- my Grandmother's recipe. It's the best in the world. Period. Stamped into circles (with a tuna can) and filled with the rest of the pork from last night, it crimped into some lovely empanadas that I put in the oven and moved on to the soup. We had an excellent fridgestrone from a couple of days ago, with the beans, BBQ chicken bone broth, garden greens, roots, and alphabet noodles. I added some cream and pesto, then stick-blended it into a smooth purée. Once it was simmering, I added shredded sorrel and blended it again.

To complete the meal, steamed broccoli dressed with olive oil and lime juice, a bibb lettuce salad (planted in November; they're bursting forth in vernal pulchritude) with radishes that are fattening nicely, and more of the shredded root pickle. Each got its own new plate, arrayed on the big ones I made for just this purpose. A good start, but there's a lot more work to do. And as if all this weren't enough, we joyously opened our first pink wine of the year: a 2007 Chiateau de Roquefort corail. Their new trainwreck of a label looks as if four different graphic designers collaborated on it, but the wine inside is as good as ever; it's classic Provençe with strawberries on the nose and then strong acidity and garrigue to cosily escort any warm-weather food whatsoever down your gullet.

*Plus, they make great gifts! And they're so easy to clean! Order now!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Pulled Pork

So there was this pork shoulder in the freezer. It had been there for a very long time (properly vacuum-sealed, don't worry) and the warm, burgeoning gorgeousness all around- plus the fact that the smoker is right next to my studio, so I see it 20 times a day- inspired me to thaw it and do things to it. To begin, the espresso-based rub, and then a bit of time to sit while I lit a fire with some of the fallen maple branches followed by a bunch of the apple branches I pruned over a year ago which are now perfectly seasoned after sitting in the field for all that time. I smoked the meat for two hours, during which time I went back to work.

When I went into the house for lunch, I chopped some onion and carrot and threw them into a Dutch oven with many seeds and spices: cumin, fennel, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, star anise, pink peppercorn, and nutmeg, (plus some garlic and herbs right at the end) then deglazed with cider vinegar and put in the smoky shoulder. I added water to come halfway up, brought it back to a simmer, put it in a 250˚ oven and went back to work again. Come dinner time (having turned the meat once about halfway along) I made a batch of corn muffins and braised more greens from the garden. The super-tender meat came out of its cooking liquid, which I strained and then enhanced with tomato paste, tamarind paste, molasses, brown sugar, and balsamic vinegar. Then the meat, all pulled and teased apart into glistening strands, slid back into this luscious goo to be thoroughly coated and incorporated.

When the muffins were ready, I halved them and made little sandwiches with the meat. The greens tagged along, and I diced a mango and tossed it with the most recent batch of fermented pickles- this one all grated fine- turnip, daikon, horseradish, carrot, pak choi, and parsley to make a sweet/hot/tangy slaw. Insanity ensued. I don't understand why I don't make this every other day and die young with a giant smile on my face. Honestly, you can feel the pleasure centers of your brain shorting out in technicolor sparks as you eat this, freezing a deranged, blissful smile on your face as you grunt in abject pleasure, unable to form words.

Then there was the wine: a 1996 Turley Moore "Earthquake" Vineyard zinfandel, which I bought a while ago, and though I have mostly moved past buying Zin (even Turley's wines, though I will sure drink them, especially Marcassin) I must say that this exceeded my hopes for BBQ-friendly; it's wonderfully rich, terroir-full, and time has turned the opulent zinny fruit into something drier. The overall effect is something like a very fine cigar wrapped in a fruit roll-up, with red and black licorice to play off the pie spices in the sauce. Yee-haw.

This is also my entry for this month's Joust; the required ingredients are cardamom, brown sugar, and mango. They happily coincided with the discovery of this hunk of meat. I'm glad they did.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Less Is More

We were in the city for the weekend (eating a variety of Asian takeout, plus a good brunch at my favorite Williamsburg Italian place) so tonight's dinner was a study in the intersection between fast and delicious, using available staples. Eggs can often mean the difference between good and great, so since we had some I made pasta (no flavors, just basic) and pulled a jar of our strained yellow cherry tomato purée from the pantry. The pasta got sauced with our gorgeous, sweet, velvety tomatoes plus a glug of cream to accentuate both their texture and sweetness and a garnish of garlic chives from the lawn. On the side, our new house special of Bolting Brassica Medley™ with garlic and cider vinegar. The greens were super rich and satisfying, and the sauce essentially disappeared into the pasta. I chose the yellow purée because it was almost the same color as the pasta, and with a little cream it became the sauce that wasn't; the effect was more like a self-lubricating fettucine with astonishingly deep, sweet flavor.

Another reason I chose the yellow tomatoes was the wine: while in Brooklyn I grabbed the 2005 Bret Brothers Pouilly Fuissé "Le Clos Reyssié" which the first of Mary's offerings we've opened; it bodes very, very well for all the other wine I've bought from her. While your average California chardonnay is much like a grilled pineapple upside-down cake in the face as thrown by a fruit-hatted clown in Carmen Miranda drag, this wine (which is an excellent candidate for decanting- the last glass was by far the best) is more like a therapeutic soak in a mineral spring with a "Manon des Sources" era Emmanuele Béart who accidentally spills her daiquiri on you while rubbing your back. And it was note perfect with the pasta.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Beans And Greens

The temperature dropped pretty precipitously overnight, and today (though it did eventually warm to balmy-adjacent, as a realtor might put it) was one of those raw English days where you just can't seem to get warm. That, combined with the fairly empty fridge, suggested a simple, hearty dinner with an appropriate balance between clean vernal goodness and rich carnal pleasure. So I soaked beans. Most of life's problems can be either solved or comfortably postponed by remembering to soak your beans in the morning (or even the night before, if you're the kind of overachieving freak who does your taxes in January.)

We didn't have quite enough pinto beans, so I combined them with kidney beans and cooked them with onion, thyme, oregano (both coming up in the herb garden) tomato paste and the first of our home-cured lardo. It's not quite ready, but I figured for melting into beans it would work just fine. While I was weeding and planting in the garden, I pulled all the bolting green kale, so after a couple of floats and some editing I wilted it with garlic and cider vinegar. There were corn tortillas in the freezer, so once pried apart and warmed in a lightly oiled pan they provided the grain for this humble repast. Lime and little heap of our kimchi added bright crunch and the indispensable pickly tang that we can't live without any more; I had this kimchi with all three meals today. It's like crack, but it keeps you regular.

Along with the simple yet tangy funk of our penultimate 2006 Siduri pinot noir, this meal delivered everything one could want in a drizzly day dinner: tropically inflected, salty pork fat enhanced, homegrown-homemade proud, and unpretentiously delicious. I don't normally document breakfast and lunch, but since I mentioned them containing kimchi, here's the synopsis: fried eggs on whole wheat English muffins with melted gruyère topped with kimchi, and a roast beef sandwich with just-made blood orange mayonnaise, avocado, mustard and kimchi with a spinach-artichoke salad on the side.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


I got home this evening after a quick round trip to Boston, which was productive but involved far too much driving in too short a time. Fortunately we had some good stuff in the fridge, and I did manage to get a piece of fish on the way home. I combined the rest of the turnip soup with some kale Christine puréed with ricotta while I was gone to make a good green sauce. I made shiitake fried rice. I broiled salmon with salt, pepper, and dried sudachi zest. I thought about making a blood orange reduction. The green sauce wept. We ate. I went to bed.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


We finally had a chance to get together with Chris & Sirkka after much too long; between his touring schedule and both our kids getting colds, it has been a while since we got to have dinner together. I had already roasted beets and made blue potato gnocchi, and there was kabocha purée, so I defrosted our last venison steaks that our neighbor Kenny had given us last fall after he and his brother killed a couple of deer. To begin, I pulled up a big turnip from the garden and made soup with it and its greens, adding only water and a little onion and parsley. Once soft, I stick-blended it to a nice purée and served it in teacups as a first course to keep everyone happy while I dealt with the rest.

The venison got a simple salt-pepper-chilli-herb rub and seared up in the iron pan, then rested. I gave the gnocchi a sauté in smoked duck fat, and made a reduction of wine, chocolate, pomegranate, soy sauce and balsamic vinegar. I finished the plates with claytonia leaves and our just-finished horseradish and shredded root (daikon, carrot, turnip, fennel) pickle. It all came together as I had hoped; the colors were vibrant, and the flavors meshed and yet remained distinctive. We started with a 1998 Gros Noré Bandol, which is a big, elegant, super well-made wine that still packs some serious tannin, then moved on to a Martinetti Barolo "Marasco" which blew the Bandol out of the water. Not due to any fault of the Bandol; the Barolo just has so many more layers of subtle detail and sexy sensuality (which one would hope for, given the price difference.)

To finish, a salad from the garden and then some Roquefort and taleggio with baguette and strawberries. Big, fat, sweet, organic strawberries from far away. Along with all this we sipped some Chambers Rutherglen Muscat, then rinsed our glasses and returned to the Barolo like sensible folk.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Al Fresco

Today was our warmest yet this year, which was to be expected since I spent most of it hunched over the pile of tax-related paperwork that helps keep Spring from being too completely pleasant. Dinner was to be super simple- rice, greens, chicken, and salad- but when I ran outside to take a much needed break in the garden, I realized that by cooking and eating outside we could make a mundane meal into something momentous. It was kind of like in high school when a cool teacher would conduct a class outside on a perfect day.

So I came back into the kitchen, mixed up a batch of the secret espresso rub, and dredged the chicken (thighs) generously in same. I washed the greens (bolting cabbage and kale) and the salad as well. The greens got a good simmer with a splash of cider vinegar while brown rice did its thing in the rice cooker, and I lit a fire. We were low on charcoal, so I gathered a bunch of fallen sticks and branches from the maple tree and used them to supplement the meager pile of glowing coals; by moving the chicken around I was able to get a good combination of smoke and heat while basting the meat liberally with the last of our homemade barbecue sauce.

As the sun began to go down, we sat and ate and toasted Spring, grinning at the decadent chicken, silky greens, and buttery-tangy salad. Somehow the boy ended up pantsless, as is his wont; for once it was warm enough to leave him that way. Nothing goes with our rub-sauce combination like Pleiades, so we drank some and reveled in the simple luxury of this dinner, and the anticipation of many more in the coming months (though at some point we'll have to retreat to the screen porch to avoid the bugs.)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

New England Braised Dinner

Milo and decided to go to Vermont on a whim; he rightly pointed out that we hadn't been there yet this year, and since Mommy was away I had all the dizzying power of an unchecked Unitary Executive. So naturally I abused it. There is still a ton of snow up there, which was fun, but I'm so smitten with Spring fever that it did feel like a great leap backward to have to deal with his snow pants again. He loved it though, and used the same yellow backhoe to dig snow that I used when I was his age. Watching him line up all my ancient matchbox cars caused time to telescope far more alarmingly than the snow pants.

I had thrown a bunch of essentials into a cooler for the trip, since I hate to shop up there, so I made do with what was in the kitchen to embellish the meal. Prior to snow-excavation, I browned some lamb stew meat and onion with most of the non-fossilized spices- which happened to be very lamb-appropriate: cumin, cinnamon, garlic, plus a few dried herbs that smelled less like sawdust than some others. This luxe maillard met its doom in the form of some semi-horrible cheap merlot (if that's not redundant) from the cabinet and we left it to simmer while we completed our spacetime compression by digging a ditch from the driveway all the way to dinner time.

Bootless, breathless, and famished, I threw some cubed turnips into the stew and steamed half a kabocha, then mashed it with a knob of butter. Last a quick sautée of some baby pak choi and we were in business. I've been pulling most of my Australian wine out of the basement there so I can sell it, but I've pretty much decided to keep all my Dead Arm. In an effort to make up my mind, I popped a 2000 and decanted it when I started the stew. Come time to eat, it was an opaque wall of petulant tannins with a tiny hole through which one could catch whiffs and glimpses of gorgeous fruit and naked ladies dancing. Somewhere around the 7 hour mark it finally got interesting, but by then it was midnight so I went to bed. If I were going to drink more of this in less than five or ten years, I would decant it the day before or double-decant it in the morning.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Blue Food

I've got the boy to myself this weekend, so I made him shepherd's pie- one of his favorite dinners. It conveniently helped use up a bunch of leftovers and remnants to make some room in the fridge. I made a broth from the chicken and lamb bones plus some veggie scraps, then got a roux going while some blue potatoes baked. After I whisked the broth into the roux, I added leftover braised cabbage, carrots, onion, a little of the parmigiana sauce that I saved, and the very last of our frozen peas. Once all thick and bubbly, a good schmear of the potatoes mashed with a little yogurt made tops that got gently brown under the broiler to finish.

And that was it: quality kid food that treated me pretty well too on a rainy evening. And I baked more potatoes than we needed so I can make blue gnocchi for Sunday.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Anticipatory Parmigiana

Shopping with a kid can be a fun random-vegetable generator for the home menu. It can also involve many pleading lunges for the infinite variety of ghastly sugared crap all conveniently arrayed about three feet off the floor for maximum grabability. For the most part, though, it's enjoyable, and we end up bringing home things I wouldn't normally get, like eggplant in April. They were too big and shiny to resist, and it's hard to argue with a 3 1/2 year-old who begs you to buy vegetables for him.

When I make this, I never bread and fry the eggplant slices. It's unhealthy, way too messy, and it takes forever. Instead I peel and brush them with a little olive oil and broil them until they're light brown and bubbly. With the addition of a jar of our own tomatoes- blended, strained, and reduced- plus herbs, a little pesto, and lots of fresh mozzarella on top, it made a nice tribute to out-of-season goodness. I'm ordering tomato, pepper and eggplant seeds right now, and it was a treat to taste a preview of what we'll be doing in fine style a few months from now.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Giving Shanks

Today was not as warm, but the sun was out, and there was a nice breeze, and after a morning spent cleaning the studio (including scraping tons of rock-hard paint off the glass tabletop that I use as a palette) I was fed up and ran outside to get some exercise. This involved turning all the lovely composted manure into those beds which were to have hardier things planted in them. Pre-turning, I dug up the last dazed, haggard leeks and green onions that had somehow kept going with no protection at all. I added a few parsnips and some salsify from the root bed as well, and cut a mighty salad of early greens.

So a couple of lamb shanks anchored a good stew of our roots & leeks with a splash of wine, rosemary, garlic, spices, and finished with our last bag of frozen peas and shredded sorrel. I couldn't resist adding a carrot for color, but everything else in this stew is local and we grew all the vegetables; the lamb and polenta both come from nearby. Even the rosemary is ours, from the plants I dug and brought in last fall. I chose a 2001 Carver Sutro petite sirah to go with this, and it did well; it's a sexy wine with buxom California fruit on a strong tannic chassis that still has a lot of life left in it. I will try to keep away from our others for a few more years in the hope that the two halves combine more seamlessly over time.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Fools For April

Today it was warm. Rainy, yes, but warm. 65 degrees, balmy, no-jacket required warm. The smell of rain and dirt and leaves borne on the breeze (a warm breeze, mind you) was enough to send me into spasms of joy. I did the only logical thing and bought a shitload- that's the technical measurement- of manure for preparing the garden beds. Milo actually came into the garden with me for a bit wearing his "farmer shirt" and rain boots, but no pants. He was eager to learn how long it would be until he could be outside with "no clothes or shoes, or anything, because the air feels so freshing."

We picked a couple of Asian cabbages that were bolting; these tough-ass plants are not going to win any beauty contests, but damn if they didn't soldier on all winter long in their little plastic tunnels. Now that the days are longer, they're stretching up flowers in celebration. And we're eating them. There was a fair amount of coconut shrapnel left from The Bludgeoning last night, and a good-looking kabocha squash, and some tomato purée and a bit of canned coconut milk. So using big chicken legs I combined it all with requisite spices into a good creamy curry, keeping it mild for the boy.

Meanwhile, the chopped cabbage got a thorough wilting in oil seasoned with whole caraway, cumin, fennel, mustard, and fenugreek seeds, plus onion and pepper, then simmered low with a little salt and kimchi juice. I forgot to put on a pot of brown rice, so we had it without grain, which was just fine. I found a 2003 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Spätlese in the fridge, and was I happy I did- it's everything you want in a curry companion: lightly sweet, bracingly acidic, tropically perfumed, and honey-peachy going down. Chutney in a bottle. Freshing indeed.