Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Pasta with salami and zucchini

This sounds strange, but it's one of our standard pasta dishes. We found it in the first Frugal Gourmet cookbook, the one before he started traveling the world (if you know what I mean).

As you boil the water for penne (our default pasta), julienne two small zucchini into thin batons about an inch long. Do the same thing with an unsliced slab of Genoa salami until there are about as many salami batons as zucchini batons. Mince a clove or two of garlic, grate some pecorino romano (or similar), and get out the capers and heavy cream. Are you confused yet?

When the pasta is about 5 minutes from done, sauté the zucchini in a little olive oil, adding the garlic when it's a minute along, then the salami a minute after. Let them get comfortable together, then add the heavy cream, boiling to thicken. Sprinkle in a forkful or three of capers and thicken more with the cheese. Drain the pasta and toss it around in the pan with the rest of the stuff. Top with more cheese if you like.

I have no idea what part of Italy this might be from - maybe Brooklyn. The Froog got it from an uncle, I think, who was Italian by way of Armenia.

Halloween barbecue

On Sunday we went to see our cousins over in Indiana, which sounds like a great trek but is actually a half-hour drive - welcome to "the tri-state area." It was their neighborhood's annual Halloween Walk, in beautiful weather, and we all got to accompany Mulan - I mean Olivia - up a lane of specially-prepped trick-or-treat hosts as the kids filled their bags and we rubbernecked at their cute costumes. My prize went to a purple-and-green-garbed two-year-old whose mother claimed she was the sugar-plum fairy; I thought she was an eggplant. You can tell where my mind is.

Sheree had not only made ghost centerpieces and special spooky pins for all the guests to wear, but also Halloween appetizers: "old man's toes and old witch fingers" (i.e., seasoned breadsticks with painted almonds inserted as nails); "monster brains," a sort of guacamole served in a trepanned jack-o-lantern gourd; "petrified cheese log," melded blue cheese and cream cheese rolled in toasted sesame seeds; and "eyeballs" out of bocconcini mozzarella with a slice of green pimentoed olive across each one. Incredibly creative, fun, and delicious too.

After the walk, Eric got going on the grill, and there was no stopping him: there was every kind of marinated meat, including fresh tuna, chicken, pork loin, sausages, and of course hamburgers and hot dogs for the kids. With a break for a spirited game of soccer/volleyball with Sirena in the basement (where both of us got bopped several times - a warning not to play ball in confined spaces), we ate ourselves silly, though most of us were pretty silly already. Dessert consisted of scrumptious Bonbonnerie buttercream cakes Terri brought, and Holt's Alsatian apple tart, made with a local farmer's White Pippin and Arkansas Black apples artfully arranged in contrasting slices. You might think that there will be no need for Halloween candy after all that…but we'll see on Tuesday.

Chicken in Champagne sauce

Something to do with left-over champagne. All right, let's admit that no one in human history has ever had left-over champagne.
A favorite from the Larousse country cook book (see below for link). You would think that Poulet à la Champagnoise would be the most raffiné dish in the world. In fact, it's hearty farmhouse food, assuming that you are a hearty farmer in Champagne. The original recipe is for a whole roasted chicken with stuffing, but we adapted it years ago for chicken parts on the stove top. It's also the recipe that converted me to turnips. A noble vegetable, the neep.

You sauté a couple of strips of bacon cut into slivers, AND some crumbled sausage (1/2 a tube of basic bulk sausage). Season two chicken bosoms with thyme and then brown in the fat. Remove the chicken. Sauté a minced onion, a clove of garlic, and add two carrots and two turnips, peeled and cut into lovely juliennes (This is my favorite part of the cooking. There's a nice geometry to the knife work). The neeps soak up a fair amount of the sausage fat, but pour off any excess. Put back the bosoms, add 1/2 cup of left-over champagne (ha!) or white wine of your choice. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Then uncover, flip the bosoms, and cook down the sauce for 10 minutes more. It's incredibly rich, and incredibly good.

Grilled pork with bok choy

Sometimes the market planets come into alignment: Nancy at Shady Grove had nice little bok choy at the farmer's market last Saturday; there was a sale on loin pork chops at Keller's IGA, where the butcher will actually cut the chops an inch thick if you call him ahead of time; and this recipe was on Epicurious:

We only made a few adjustments to the recipe. Even when you halve the amounts, there's way too much Szechuan bean sauce, so we only used about a tablespoon. Also, we made up the marinade in a platter, soaked the bok choy in it first, and then set the bok choy aside while we soaked the pork in the same platter, which means you don't have to reserve any un-porked marinade for the vegetable. Results were tasty, so this one's a keeper.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Grilled steak and fried mushrooms

'Nuff said.


Had me a hankerin' for some kind of soup with a smoky taste. I had no clearer vision than that but eventually realized that what I wanted was a chowdah. So with some hunks of ham I had left over from sandwiches and the reserved fish fillet (see, All is guided by the Left-Over) we made a nice chowdah. The basic chowdah base: onions fried in oil with smoky meat (usually bacon, in this case ham); potatoes in little cubes, flavored with thyme, salt, pepper. Then water just to cover. Cook on low till tender. Add the flaked fillet. Then a bit of milk, then a lot of cream. Bring all to just under a boil. The whole was deeply satisfying, if not a chowder that any Yankee would recognize, being mostly a ham and potato soup, with a tiny bit of fish floating around, which, after all, is what fish do best.

Fish tacos

Many of our dinners are inspired by having things left over from other dinners. This one arose from the chicken enchiladas meal, which left us four extra tortillas and some bottled salsa.

There seem to be as many fish taco recipes as there are fish. Some of the recipes we read said to batter and deep-fry the fish, but we'll wait to try that until January, when we go to San Diego, which claims to be America's center of fish tacos. We used tilapia fillets, marinated them in a little oil and lime juice with chopped jalapeno and fresh cilantro, plus a pinch of the famous chile de nuevo Mexico, and after waiting a while for them to soak that up, fried them quickly over high heat in a cast-iron pan. (They were a bit delicate - next time we'll try a thicker white fish like mahi-mahi, which could be grilled.)

We put the fillets on two plates, and these accompaniments on the table:
lettuce, from the garden
more fresh coriander, ditto
salsa, left over
crema (usually sour cream, but in this case, yogurt drained in a cheesecloth-lined sieve)
chopped red onion

We then nuked the tortillas for 30 seconds, and had fun putting various combinations together.

And we deliberately left over one unmarinated but fried tilapia fillet for the next day…

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Parsley-anchovy pasta

This was taught to me by the Divine Miss Williams, who just threw it together one winter evening when there was nothing else in the house. It is light but filling, and the green saltiness makes it perfect for a winter evening with a sore throat coming on (how do evenings get sore throats?). Incidentally, parsley keeps really well if you cut off the ends of the stems, set them in a jar of water (yes, like flowers), cover the leaves with a loose plastic bag, and put the whole thing in the refrigerator.

As below, you want twisty pasta, to hold the pesto-like sauce. While the pasta's boiling, mince 2-3 cloves of garlic and sauté it in a pan with a half-can of anchovy fillets and all the oil from the can, over medium heat until the anchovies dissolve. Now, you know those bunches of flat-leaf Italian parsley they sell in supermarkets? Take a whole one of those, strip off the leaves, and chop them up small. Add them to the pan and keep cooking - they'll wilt down to almost nothing. Help them along with a droozle of extra-virgin, and season them with salt (surprisingly, some anchovies aren't salty enough, at least for this salt monster) and lots of black pepper. Drain the pasta and toss it in the pan REALLY thoroughly, so the parsley goes into the twisty parts of the pasta and doesn't hold together in clumps; if necessary, add a touch more oil. Cover with heaping handfuls of grated pecorino romano or parmesan, either in the pan or on the plates, preferably both; and it helps to have a grater and a nubbin of cheese at the table, too.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Fricassée de poulet à l'Angevine

Okay, so it's chicken and mushrooms in cream sauce, according to the Larousse Treasury of Country Cooking; probably very illuminating to anyone who's traveled through Anjou, which we have not (we like their pears, though). We simply owe it to the fact that the Nice People had nice mushrooms at a nice price at Findlay Market this past Saturday.
Take the chicken parts of your choice (we used thighs) and pat with salt, pepper, and fresh thyme leaves. Brown them on both sides in a pan that holds them comfortably in one layer but not much else. Set them aside, and sauté some chopped onions for 5 minutes, then add thickly sliced mushrooms and keep them cooking until they become dark and have given up some of their juices. Take out the vegetables with a slotted spoon and put back the chicken, which takes some fancy platework if you're trying to keep from dirtying more than one plate. Add some white wine to the vegetable juices, cover, and lower the heat. Simmer for 45 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure there's enough liquid to keep the chicken happy. When it's tender and done, uncover and boil the juices down if necessary; add the vegetables and some cream, and reheat on high until the sauce is thick. Et voilà, as they probably say in Anjou.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Salmon with mustard-dill sauce

I planted a whole packet of dill seeds in the garden this summer, but was disappointed in the results: only two plants, both so scrawny and undersized that you couldn't cut much off them. Now it's time to use them up, as it's getting cold and they won't overwinter. And dill calls for salmon, as salmon (okay, the gravlax sort) calls for dill. So we dug a pair of salmon fillets out of the freezer and pan-fried them.
Holt found a new recipe for a dill-mustard sauce using dijon mustard, but the mustard was so strong you could hardly taste anything else, though we added twice as much dill as was called for. If we had do-overs, we would make a milder sauce, going back to one of the classics based on either mayonnaise or sour cream, and only a dab of mustard, so the dill flavor would stand out.
The Pepper People at Findlay Market had some just-born marble-sized Yukon Gold potatoes, so we boiled them with some tender green beans from the garden and had them on the side. I keep thinking that every cold snap means the last of the garden produce, but so far I've been wrong. Enjoyably so.

Die Yuppie Scum Pasta

If you were eating in the 80s (and we bet you were), you probably got pretty tired of recipes that included The Yuppie Triad: sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, and arugula. This recipe includes at least two, and optionally all three, of the above, but it's easy, quick, and uses things you may well have in the fridge. So forget your embarrassment for the days of shoulder-pads and BMWs.
Start the water boiling and cook some twisty pasta, maybe rotelle or cellentani. In a wide pan, boil down some cream. Chop up some sun-dried tomatoes; if they're dry, throw them in the cream first thing to soften, if they're sott'olio (as we get them in the big jars from Costco) they can go in a little later. Crumble in some plain goat cheese until the sauce is the consistency and flavor you like. When the pasta is done, drain it and toss it in the pan as usual.
Plate it out, and top it either with chiffonaded fresh basil (as we did, since we still have some in the garden) or chopped arugula (for that full yuppie experience).

Braised Fennel and Maiale ai due vini

Had a nice white bulb of fennel from the market, so did Marcella Hazan's simple braised fennel. (How can such a nice vegetable be an insult in Italian? Finocchio is not a nice thing to call a guy and it sounds even worse in Sicilian: finooch, as in "Of course they caught him with a choir boy. Everybody knows priests are all finooch!")
So take your gay vegetable--not that there's anything wrong with that--and trim off the stems. Cut in half, remove the core, and slice thinly. In a frying pan, sauté in some butter for a couple of minutes, but don't let brown. Then add stock, wine, water, what have you, salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low c. 30 minutes, until almost all the stock, wine, water, what have you, is absorbed. You can top with parmesan, if you want. But save some of the little fronds for decoration. With fronds like these who needs anemones?
The pork is a nice variation on the standard veal marsala (see below for pork instead of veal: the other, other, other white meat). Take two thickish pork steaks, pat with thyme leaves, salt, and pepper. Brown on both sides in butter (not olive oil for this dish). Add 1/2 cup marsala, 1/2 cup red wine, and 1 TBSP tomato paste. Cook covered till you no longer have pork sushi and the sauce is nice and thick. Pork and fennel are a natural match, despite the different sauces.


We pride ourselves on being able to squeeze three or sometimes four meals out of a chicken. Part of it is our Depression childhoods--all right, our mothers'--part the engrained habits of having been starving artists in a garret in Paris--all right, hungry graduate students in New Haven and Cambridge--and part the sheer art form of extracting all the good out of a piece of protein. From one chicken we have a breast meal, a leg and thigh meal, then make stock or soup from the carcass, then pick the bones.
When you've accumulated enough meat bits, you can use them in my mother's enchiladas, handed down from hacienda to hacienda since--all right, probably from Southern Living, c. 1970.
2 parts grated cheese (Monty Jack or the like) to
2 parts chopped-up meat bits to
1 part minced onions
just enough yogurt to bind
Flavor with huge quantities of ground coriander, ground cumin, and chopped fresh coriander, plus a healthy shot of chile de Nuevo Mexico (Hatch for choice), and some salt.
Roll up in tortillas.
These can be nuked (c. 5 minutes), individually wrapped in tin foil for portability, frozen, etc. Best is open-baked, doused in salsa, with a dab of yogurt on top, for c. 40 minutes at the People's Temperature. This is one of the times when store-boughten salsa works better than fresh, since uncooked tomatoes tend to get too watery.
Serve with beer.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


I shouldn't have said that the Sausage, Chard and Potatoes (below) was the final meal of the bland sausages, since there was a lot of it, and some got left over. But the solution to many leftovers (even Spaghetti Carbonara!) is to turn them into a frittata. Simplicity itself: warm the leftovers on medium heat in a well buttered skillet, beat up some eggs (five does it for dinner for the two of us), pour eggs over leftovers, keep the heat low and let them start to set. In this case add some globs of goat cheese on top for extra flavor, then throw on abundant handfuls of grated parmesan or romano to help crust the top. When it's set on the bottom but not quite on top, run it under the broiler for 4-5 minutes until it's golden and puffy.

(The difference between an omelet and a frittata, is that you don't upset the eggs. Since the bottom is fixed in place by bottom heat, the broiler allows the top of the still slightly wet fritt to puff up--Science! Could Alton Brown do better? A rhetorical question.)

Soupe au Pistou or Summer into Winter

This is the perfect soup for autumn nights. It's from the old Julia Child The French Chef (the first book of the TV series), with the punctuated equilibrium form of evolution of any kitchen. Soak a mess o' white beans overnight (beans only come in a "mess o' "). Pressure cook for 15 minutes. Add spoon-sized cubes of carrot, onion (since you used all the gen-u-wine Frenchy leeks for creamed leeks and chicken), and rude--root--vegetables of your choice, in this case turnips. You can add green beans, etc., at this point. Pressure cook for 15 more minutes. Then stir in a pinch of saffron and a half doz. cubes of your previously frozen pesto. You get the last of summer with the basil and the first of winter with the rude vedge.
The great thing is, you can mess with this infinitely. It's the perfect bottom of the vegetable drawer soup: just add any tender vedge, like zucchini, after the pressure cooking. Tart it up with any thickener/starch you like: dry bread, pasta, rice, etc. JC adds tomatoes, but I think it fights with the pesto taste.


I know that Antipasto is supposed to be only a preliminary to the typical Italian three-course extravaganza, but sometimes we live dangerously and make a meal of it. So here's what went into it:
•Provolone (which we finally got from Krause's);
•Genoa salami (Krause's again; we were never able to find Genoa salami in Italy, but then we never went to Genoa, where it's doubtlessly known as "Salami di Milano");
•Roasted red peppers - Did these at the same time as we did the too mild chilies. I've tried the hold over a gas fire technique, but nothing beats just putting them under a broiler till blackened. Then in a paper bag to steam, then in water to cool off. The skins peel right off, and the peppers are tender. Top with minced garlic, chopped capers, mixed with olive oil, then thickened with oregano and kosher salt.
•Roasted asparagus - nice plump ones: put in a baking dish with regular veg oil (olive oli has too low a burning point) and put in a 500-degree oven for about 15 minutes, turning every so often till nicely browned, then douse with EVOO and salt--I guarantee you'll never bother to boil asparagus again;
•Artichoke hearts (straight from the giant Costco jar);
•Cherry tomatoes (from farmers' market and our garden - now that's more like it);
•Green olive and artichoke tapenade, which Holt made a while ago. It used up some poor-quality green olives that we'd bought by mistake and somewhat improved - but not enough - by soaking them in David Warda's wonderful balsamic, fresh herb, and orange peel marinade. The tapenade was great, though, and got spread onto:
•Holt's homemade Italian rye bread - yes, you read right (from Carol Field's The Italian Baker: one of the cleverest presents Barbara ever gave Holt). Made us think of an Alto Adige glockenspiel band we saw in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence one day; we called them "The Marching Pinocchios."

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sausage, Chard and Potatoes

The final meal of the bland sausages, after Bangers and Mash and Sausages and Peppers. This one came out of a tidbit Barbara read in Food & Wine, about a dish composed of sausage, kale, and cannellini beans. No details, no recipe, and we had none of the required ingredients except the sausages. But instead of kale we could use rainbow chard from the garden, of which there was such an overflow that we gathered a bouquet of it for a table centerpiece.

In fact, we cooked that bouquet as follows.
Separate chard leaves from stems; chop stems up separately from leaves, which are torn up and rinsed, but not spun dry. In the biggest frying pan you have, sauté chard stems in oil for 3-4 minutes, then add leaves, which is what will take up all the room in the pan - it's like fresh spinach, which seems like a huge amount but cooks down to nothing. When the leaves have collapsed enough to give you some room, push the chard to the sides of the pan and fry the de-skinned, crumbled sausage in the center, in its own fat; don't mind if there's some chard liquid in there too. Then throw in some unpeeled, diced potatoes and fry those among the sausage fat for a bit. Lower the heat, cover the pan, and let the contents steam in the chard water, adding a little more water if it gets dry. When the potatoes are tender, taste, season ad lib with salt and pepper, and put the whole pan under the broiler for about 5-7 minutes, which will brown the sausages and crisp the edges of the potatoes.

This has certain hash-like qualities, though it's really farmhouse food of no particular country. I wish the chard stems kept their rainbow colors when cooked; guess I'll have to pick another bouquet for that.

Chiles Relleños

Got some New Mexico Long Greens from Nancy at the market. Anaheims I will not call them (though Nancy says it's at least a tribute to the farms that used to be there). Roasted them like I usually do with poblanos. But they just aren't as malleable and the slivers of cheese that most recipes call for don't help the packages adhere the way the grated cheese mixture that I use in stuffed poblanos. So they rather fell open, if not apart. Good though, if not as zippy as I'd hoped. So maybe they were Anaheims after all.
The tomatillo salsa, however, was excellent. Just the soapy little green guys, stripped and washed, then ground in the RobotCoupe with garlic, coriander, salt, and lime juice. We tried a cooked tomatillo salsa a number of years ago but it was bland--cooking removed most of the acid bite from the tomatillos.

Chicken with Creamed Leeks

Next night was probably even simpler, though it sounds so much more sophisticated. We had taken a leek (several in fact) from Madison's: all very nice with lovely long white parts. So into the pan goes about 4 TBPS butter (and a dash of regular veg oil to raise the burning point), then two chicken bosoms seasoned with kosher salt, pepper, and some thyme. After the bosoms were browned, lowered the heat, added the sliced leeks, and just a little fresh tarragon (which is really the essence of the dish) and before the leeks colored added a last cup of the leftover pheasant stock, made from the carcass (see below). Covered to braise the leeks (did not watch Antiques Road Show). Flipped the chicken. Cover, etc. Removed to plates and added the cream. Cranked up the heat. Reduced the sauce. Heaven on a plate.

Bangers and Mash

As we are truly frugal gourmets (not like that bearded "I bid you peace" guy on PBS, who only shows you a bunch of finished dishes, none of them cheap to make), we buy a lot of staples whenever they go on sale, and then use them over time. Our freezer is so full of dinner portions of meats, poultry, and seafood, not to mention a month's supply of orange juice, that it can be dangerous to open the door. But sometimes this policy backfires, as when we bought three dinners' worth of "Italian" sausages that turned out to be bland and boring (see "Three Little Peppers" below, September 17).
But "bland and boring" are actually virtues in English cooking, so when I had an envie the other day for good ol' bangers and mash, we were set. With the cooler weather setting in, primeval man seeks primeval food.
Simplicity itself: browned the sausages in a film of oil, then tossed in a mess of onions. The only secret is to leave them alone until they're slightly scorched (read "caramelized") on one side before stirring them about. Add a half glass of white wine. Meanwhile set some tatties boiling. Nice thing is, you can set the timer for 15 minutes, go watch Antiques Roadshow ($5000 for that?), flip the sausages, watch Antiques Roadshow for another 10 minutes ($50,000 for that?!). Smashed the potatoes in the Kitchen Aid with lots and lots of cream (using the paddle attachment: so perhaps paddled potatoes? Sounds pleasantly pervy to me.) Poured on the resulting onion gravy. Puts the comfort back in comfort food.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Shrimp wrapped in basil and prosciutto

This is the second part of our solution to the rare problem of too much prosciutto (see "Fettucine Alfredo," below). It also used what is probably the last of our fresh garden basil, as temperatures are now dropping into the 30s at night.

Get a pound of large-ish shrimp, and mix them into a bowl with some white wine, a little less olive oil, a clove or two of minced garlic, and a touch of dried red pepper. While they marinate, go out and pick the largest basil leaves you can find, one for each shrimp. Lay out your prosciutto, so you can see how many slices you have available, and get a shallow baking sheet lined with tinfoil.

Now your task is to roll each shrimp in a basil leaf and then in a prosciutto strip, so that it's mainly covered but doesn't unroll. How you do this depends on how big the shrimp and the basil leaves are, how many prosciutto slices you have, and your own geometric analysis of all of the above. Holt found a great prosciutto-cutting technique: as the nice guy at Krause's had laid out the slices on individual pieces of greaseproof paper, Holt scissored through both paper and prosciutto to get the size he wanted, then just lifted the prosciutto off the paper.

Lay the wrapped shrimp out on the baking sheet, and broil them about 3-4 inches from the heat. Watch them like a shrimp-eating hawk (an osprey? an erne?) - ours took only about 4 minutes. As they're on hot metal, you don't have to flip them, and they're done when the shrimp looks pink and opaque at its thick end.

You could wrap the shrimp in prosciutto alone, or basil leaves alone, or some in one and some in the other; or you could grill them on skewers if you flipped them halfway through. A squeeze of lemon would be nice, and they would make excellent appetizers for a party, too.

Fettucine Alfredo with prosciutto

This past Saturday I was at Krause's in Findlay market, and perhaps because it was crowded and noisy, perhaps because I was eyeing a particularly succulent-looking roquefort, I didn't hear them call my number, and so missed my turn. Usually you have to take another number and start again, but one of the nice guys behind the counter said he'd take me as soon as he'd finished with his current customer. I got my usual knob of first-cut ham, and then asked him for a half pound of domestic provolone, sliced; Holt was thinking of roasting some red peppers, and they go well on top of bread and provolone. The guy went away for what seemed to me an inordinate length of time, and then came back with the two items, wrapped in white paper scrawled with the prices as usual. I paid and left. When we got home, I found that instead of domestic provolone, he had given me a half pound of Canadian prosciutto. It was meticulously thin-sliced and delicious, but it wasn't cheese (we had to buy some Monty Jack at IGA instead), there was too much of it, and we had no plans for it.

The first solution to this problem was a dinner of Fettucine Alfredo, gilding this particularly lily by topping it with shreds of prosciutto. The original recipe, supposedly, appears here and is sometimes known as "heart attack on a plate." We do it somewhat differently than Alfredo did: we boil down the heavy cream in a wide pan, add the grated cheese until it's the thickness we like, season with white pepper rather than black, and then drain the pasta and toss it in there, without any addition of cooking water. And we skip the golden fork.

If you're adding prosciutto, just take a few slices for each person and tear them into long strips with your fingers. Prosciutto doesn't respond well to knives, and cooking it would lose you that (very expensively acquired) delicate texture, so just leave the shreds to reach room temperature. When the plates are loaded with creamy pasta, strew each liberally with the translucent pink strips. As you eat, you can roll them into the sauce forkful by forkful, distributing their flavor throughout the meal.

Nice Kathy

When we got back to Cincinnati, Kathy took care of us. She had already got us tickets to the Takács Quartet* for that evening and brought over dinner and wine as well.
All picnic foods: there was a lovely little tomato and cuke salad, a chicken salad with green beans and avocado, and these amazing "spoon cookies," very labor-intensive, made with a beurre noisette, and then scooped with two spoons, as for quenelles. Two scoops are then glued flat side together with apricot jam. Delicious, slightly nutty, and need to be handled gently lest they fall to pieces, but worth the time: sort of like us and most of our friends.

*Mozart K. 421, Shostakovich no. 11, Debussy Op. 10 in g. I liked the Shostakovich more than I thought I would

The Next Day

Day 2
The next night we dressed up and went out on the town in Champaign, which sounds appropriate. The restaurant was Bacaro, a pleasant and sophisticated little bistro. We started with smoked green olives - yes, they actually did taste smoked - followed by appetizers: a grilled Caesar salad (which apparently was better when they did a whole head of romaine rather than a mound of it) and a tender square of roast suckling pig combined with mounds of peekytoe crabmeat - not an obvious pair, but nice.

As you remember, we like gamebirds, so we had quail al mattone: squashed flat under a brick and fried. Very tasty, too. But even better was the haddock, meltingly tender, with a romesco sauce that was delicious, though if it hadn’t had the menu warning "contains nuts!" we would never have guessed what was in it (almonds, hazelnuts, red pepper, tomato, garlic, and a dash of our old buddy, Pimentón de La Vera).

The wines were Spadafora Alhambra, which sounds like it should be Spanish but is one of those new Sicilian wines using local grapes you've never heard of (Catarratto? Inzolia?), and a nice traditional Gavi di Gavi (Villa Sparina).

The result: we love Champaign! But you knew that.

Two Days in Chicago/Smut

Two Days in Chicago

Last weekend we drove up to Chicago to see friends (John and Peggy, in Hyde Park) and an opera (Iphigenie en Tauride, at the Chicago Lyric). Unfortunately, the opera began at 7:30, and if you need an hour to get across town (which we did, due to traffic and rain), this screws up dinner. So we had good bread made by a local baker, brie, and wine before the performance, and John went out to a local place and got us Italian food for afters: fried calamari, salad, and penne all'diavolo with lots of garlic. More wine, of course. John has turned a closet into an insulated wine cellar, and it is stuffed to the rafters with un-wimpy wines. The memorable ones this weekend were rich, tasty Australian shirazes: Marquis Philips, its Roogle mascot now sadly extinct, and Jacob's Creek 2003 reserve.

The next day was the Dorchester Street Block Party, a sparkling event despite both starting and ending with a sudden thunderstorm. The street was blocked off with a '65 Dodge Dart (turquoise, but reminded me of my own '66 Bronze Bomb), providing room for games for both young (Battleship, junior basketball, what Cincinnatians innocently call Cornhole) and old (chess and a cutthroat penny-ante poker game). Drinks and food were generously shared, and we got to taste a flight of small-batch bourbons (mainly out of the Buffalo Trace distillery) that could hardly be believed. Our party provided a humongous Greek salad for the potluck, just the normal tomatoes, cucumbers, feta, red onions, and green pepper. There were four kinds of sausages, which is what you would expect in Chicago, but also an outstanding eggplant dish (quasi-parmesan but sans mozzarella), several interesting bean things, and a Chinese neighbor's fried rice with hot dog slices, an intercultural melange unique in my experience. The pièce de resistance was a 20-pound salmon that had been flown in from Alaska, stuffed with butter and herbs and grilled in a box of coals that looked like a small coffin. Of course, there were desserts, brownies, sweet breads, chocolate cake, etc., but the heavens opened just as we were getting to them. Still, our congratulations and thanks to the friendly residents of Dorchester Street, and we hope we can manage a return engagement next year.


Give me smut and nothing but . . .
As Tom Lehrer said. The continuation of the ketch-up series of dinners.

We went on from Chicago to spend two days with Jon and Lois in Champagne (the town) and champagne (the drink).

Jon is one of the best cooks I've ever met. We arrived and they fed us on a heavenly dilled salmon mousse washed down with mimosas. There were also about 5 kinds of cheeses and a similar variety of olives. Now, technically this blog is "What Holt and Barbara Had for Dinner," but since lunch sort of fed imperceptibly into dinner (i.e., I never stopped eating), I feel justified in starting there.

Jon did crêpes filled with huitlacoche and goat cheese. Yes, friends, Ustilago maydis (street name: corn smut). A black fungus blight that infects corn and turns out to be surprisingly delicious, for something lovingly described as featuring "large distorted tumors." Jon and Lois first had it in Mexico City and we managed to find some out at Jungle Jim's, when Jon and Lois came to see us in Cincinnati. It turns out to resemble sort of a truffle paste. We will no longer be allowed to visit them any more, unless bearing gifts of cans of infected maize.

Dinner was what happens when classicists live in Arizona too long: a Southwestern kleftiko.* A kleftiko is your basic Greek crock pot, traditionally a terracotta dish sealed for long slow baking, named for the klefts: robbers or freedom fighters, take your choice, who apparently had loads of time on their hands.

Since it's not my dish, I can’t give you a recipe, only a memory. Jon's version was a lamb shoulder, thickly coated in mild chili powder, slow roasted for hours and hours with broth, then pulled apart. To which was added tomatoes, onions, baby carrots, Mexican oregano, garlic, more chili, more broth, and baked for more hours and hours. Disposed of with five bottles of wine, of which the most memorable--alright, after 5 bottles of wine I had to take notes the next morning-- were a Ramey Chardonnay 2001, and a Calina Reserva Carmenére 2004, made from a Chilean varietal which was new to me and mighty tasty.

(Calina turns out to be owned by Kendall-Jackson, and carmenére was originally from Bordeaux, migrated to Chile where they thought it was merlot.)

*Jon has produced, among other things, the best ever adaptation of Apicius, the ancient Roman cookbook for the modern kitchen.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Casserole-roasted pork

This is just Julia Child's Rôti de Porc Poêlé, from volume one of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It couldn't be simpler, and unlike her usual practice, it doesn't use every pot and pan in the house. You sear the pork roast on all sides in the same casserole it cooks in; we use an oval Dutch oven made in China (basically a Le Creuset ripoff), which is perfect for moving from stovetop to oven, and has a nice heavy cover. Then you move the pork over to another dish (okay, it dirties that), and sauté sliced onions, carrots, and garlic in the casserole. Add chopped fresh parsley, sage, thyme, and a bay leaf, season the pork with salt, pepper, and more thyme, put it back in the casserole, cover, and bake at 325 degrees for two hours or more, basting occasionally with its own juices. When it's an hour away from the time you want to eat, throw in some tiny redskinned potatoes (which makes it à la Grandmère, I guess) and some chopped turnips (which makes it aux navets). So now you have a very long French name for a very basic but tasty dish. Thank you, Julia.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Pork Chops, Modena Style

This is a great solution when you have pork chops that are thin or not great quality, as it braises them until they're tender enough to shed their bones and gristle. It's a Marcella Hazan recipe that we've only fiddled with a bit: she flours her chops, which sounds like an odd personal habit.

Take said chops and pat on white pepper, salt, and minced fresh sage, 4 0r 5 leaves per chop. Heat butter and olive oil in a wide pan, then sauté the chops a few minutes on each side until brown. As this is going on, chop up some fresh tomatoes (skinned, if you like - our garden tomatoes have ugly skins due to all this rain, but the insides are good), and throw them on top of the browned chops, maybe with a few more sage leaves if you have any. Cover and braise for an hour. The scent will be ambrosial, and so will the result. Reduce the sauce till thick, if necessary.

We actually managed to get some green beans out of the garden while they were still thin and tender, so we boiled them and served them unadorned, as a contrast with the rich tomato sauce.

Tuna steaks with piperade

(We've been away for a couple of days, so we're playing ketchup)

We had a pair of thick flash-frozen albacore tuna steaks from Trader Joe's. You have to take them out of the freezer 24 hours before you're going to use them, so they can defrost gently in the bottom of the fridge. If you forgot to do that, take them out for the next night and cook something else for dinner.

At dinnertime (whatever night), slice up onions, garlic, and red peppers for the piperade. Heat olive oil in a pan and sauté the vegetables, adding each (in that order) after two minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper only - the main flavor will be in the fish. While the piperade is cooking, bring out those tuna steaks and see if they're supple. If not, a quick wash in cold water may do the trick.

Heat some vegetable oil in another pan, preferably a cast-iron one, until quite hot but not sizzling. Pat the steaks dry, and dust them with smoked Spanish pimentón de La Vera, plus a little kosher salt. A good way to do this is to put the spice in a small sieve and shake it over one side of each steak, put the steaks in the pan spiced-side-down, and shake the spice over the other side while they're cooking.

Brown the tuna a few minutes on each side, to an internal temperature of 120 degrees - it needs to be rare, because frozen fish that has been overcooked tastes like rope. Serve with the piperade on the side. This dish may be Spanish, it may be Basque; I'm not getting into that quarrel.