Sunday, October 28, 2007

Pork with Fennel Three Ways

Saturday October 27

Right next to the broccoli, there was also a big bulb of fennel hiding in the vedge bin. And out in the garden, Barbara is trying to grow Florentine fennel, though the plants haven't formed any bulbs yet and look like multi-stalked botanical scarecrows. So Holt came up with this ingenious recipe for tender, thick pork medallions using three types of fennel: dried and ground, bulb, and fresh sprigs.
The pig was frozen, so a good excuse to brine the thick slices while bringing them up to speed. Yes, that's right, we soaked pork in kosher salt.
Coat the pig pieces with ground fennel seed.* Sear in oil until nicely browned. Set aside. Add a sliced bulb of fennel to some olive oil, turn to coat and soften, then add wine and salt, cover and braise, until getting soft. Add the pig back to the pan, cover, and cook, until most of the liquid is absorbed. The fennel should be still slightly crisp and the pork is at 140º and climbing a bit. Top with pepper and the feathery fennel fronds. So it ain't kosher, it's still tasty.

*Many years ago we bought a little plastic spice grinder at IKEA. I don't know how exactly the little cog manages to crush everything from pepper corns to diamonds, but it's a piece of first rate design: adaptable and easy to clean. We don't normally plug equipment, but I'm glad to see it's still in stock. Only problem is that's named the IKEA 365+ and not something more IKEA-oid, like Blørt or Üßlîng.

Beef with Broccoli

Friday October 26

Since we buy things at Findlay Market according to freshness and seasonality rather than off a shopping list, we sometimes forget what we've got in the fridge to cook. This time, it was a broccoli hiding in the vedge bins, but we managed to catch it before it became a science experiment. A quick paw through the freezer came up with a pound block of London broil, which is perfect for slicing into strips for a Chinese stir-fry, i.e. the classic Chinese beef with broccoli (actually, broccoli with beef).

We've already discussed Barbara's Philosophy of Stir-Frying.

While Holt cut up the broccoli into small flowerets, skinned the stems, and cut them into half-inch strips, and also minced a couple-three cloves of garlic, Barbara sliced the beef into quarter-inch-thick, two-inch-long strips, and marinated it in a Tbsp. of oyster sauce, a Tbsp. of soy sauce, two teaspoons of Shao Xing wine, a teaspoon of sesame oil, a quarter teaspoon of sugar, and a dusting of black pepper. Oyster sauce isn't really traditional in this dish, but it needs something to keep from being bland.

Once everything was chopped and standing by, we heated the wok to medium, poured in a good dose of oil, and stir-fried the broccoli florets with a little salt for about five minutes, adding the garlic halfway along and the broccoli stems a minute after; you'd be surprised how tender the stems are once they're skinned and sliced. When the florets looked dark green, we added a couple of cubes of frozen veal stock, lowered the heat, and covered the wok, letting it steam until the broccoli florets were tender and the liquid was absorbed. We then put the vegetables aside and reheated the wok, this time on high. We then stir-fried the beef strips very quickly in oil, only to the point where they were not red-raw on either side. Then we threw the broccoli back in, tasted it for balance (it needed a little more soy and oyster sauce), stir-fried until the whole thing was hot, anointed with a little sesame oil, and served.

With the good-quality beef available in America, we don't need to slice it paper-thin as Chinese chefs usually do. Instead, keep it tender by stir-frying it only to very rare initially; that way it will reach medium-rare when you're reheating the vegetables with it.

Linguine al Salmone

Thursday October 25

The classic, made whenever we get a package of lox pieces from Trader Joe's.
Sooner or later, we'll have to figure out which pasta we have more often, this or Penne alla Saffi.

Leftover Chicken with Yuppie Salad

Wednesday October 24

We try not to eat the same thing two days in a row, but leftover roast chicken legs, just cold with salt, are so appetizing and easy that it's hard to think of anything better to do. We also had some leftover roasted beets from Saturday, and figured that if the protein was so simple, the vegetable could be complicated. We decided on a salad using the quintessential eighties ingredients: the roasted beets, arugula, and goat cheese (we couldn't work pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes into it, somehow).

Here's the recipe we worked from, substituting arugula for the watercress. Having already-roasted beets saved us a step, and Holt had the ingenious idea of using fresh tarragon in the salad dressing and dried only for the coating for the goat-cheese rounds, which really added to the flavor. The cheese rounds were a bit crumbly, but he patted them together (at room, not "toom," temperature); once rolled in the crumbs and briefly broiled, they made not just the salad, but the whole meal.

Chicken with about Forty Cloves of Garlic (but who's counting?)

Tuesday October 23

We were home trying to clean out the attic for Christmas visitors, and it was a drizzly, chilly, charmless day. So we needed a warm oven-roasted dish that wouldn't take too much to prepare, and we happened to have an abundance of garlic.

Roast chicken with forty cloves of garlic was the obvious answer.

This is a famous recipe that appeared in Gourmet in 1967, and everybody does their own adaptation of it. Our version is considerably simpler than the original, as you don't have to brown or truss the bird - it browns itself in the oven, and trussing only keeps the thighs from cooking until the breast is completely dried out. Tell the chicken to spread its legs, turn its head, and cough.

We used our basic roast chicken recipe here but threw all the garlic cloves from two whole heads into the pan - and no, we didn't count them. We also put a quartered lemon and some rosemary sprigs into the chicken's cavity, rather than working chopped herbs up under the skin.

The vegetables that roasted alongside were potatoes, shallots, and parsnips. And they were damn tasty, especially when you squeezed the roasted cloves of garlic out over them as you ate.

Gnocchi alla Gorgonzola

Monday October 22

Using Trader Joe's gnocchi, this is almost more instantaneous (?) than the Parsley Pesto, and a very satisfying meal. Can't believe we haven't had it since March.

Parsley Pesto

Sunday October 21
A late night? Masterpiece Theatre on? The solution? The ever-popular (and next to instantaneous) Parsley Pesto. The parsley is putting in one last burst of autumnal defiance, raging against the dying of the light, as which of us is not.

Baked Bluefish and Roasted Beets

Saturday October 20

Luken's Seafood at Findlay Market had some little fresh bluefish for not too much money today, so Holt grabbed the opportunity and snagged a couple. They were only about the size of trout, so we did two of them the way Anthony Bourdain does. Here are his words, from Kitchen Confidential:

"Take one fish - a red snapper, striped bass, or dorade - have your fish guy remove gills, guts and scales and wash in cold water. Rub inside and out with kosher salt and crushed black pepper. Jam a clove of garlic, a slice of lemon and a few sprigs of fresh herb - say, rosemary and thyme - into the cavity where the guts used to be. Place on a lightly oiled pan or foil and throw the fish into a very hot oven. Roast till crispy and cooked through. Drizzle a little basil oil over the plate - you know, the stuff you made with your blender and put in your new plastic squeeze bottle? - sprinkle with chiffonaded parsley, garnish with basil... See?"

Indeed, we do see. We used fennel stalks to stuff the fish, and we arranged them like Pisces in Holt's cast-iron skillet. And yes, it was our own home-made basil oil from our own squeeze bottle.

The Nice People at the Market had some Nice Beets, so we got a pound and roasted them in the oven (covered, in a casserole - or you can use foil) before the fish went in. Once they were tender, Holt peeled and cut them up (despite his lack of asbestos fingers) and we scattered a little goat cheese over them. There's a reason those two are always paired in Yuppie salads - the creamy tang of goat cheese works well with the sweet of the beet (which you eat).

Salmon with Dill Sauce and Arugula Salad

Friday October 19

We found a mysterious package from a place called Sunnyland Farms on the porch on Friday when we got home. At first we thought it was a mistake, but then we found "greetings from Helene" on the return address. Inside, we found a two bags of pecans and another of chocolate-covered dried apricots, so a handful of salted giant pecans served as the perfect appetizer as we cooked dinner.
We took a nice-piece-fish, a salmon fillet in this case, and pan-seared it. Still a little frozen, but this worked to our advantage. We crisped the skin side, flipped it, added the traditional splash of wine, covered it. Only a few minutes got it au point: cooked all the way through, but with the center still tender and moist.
The sauce was the simplest: snipped fresh dill from the garden, a swirl of cream, and a dot of butter at the end.
Accompanying the fish was a fresh-picked salad of arugula (boy, this stuff keeps coming back) and the first of the Amish deer's tongue lettuce crop, sown in September by our student and share-cropper, Allison. Ohio tomatoes from the Farmer's Market and a little balsamic vinaigrette went on top of that, to cut the pepperiness of the arugula.

And to end, we had Helene's gift of chocolate-covered apricots for dessert.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Lamb Hash

Thursday October 18

The slightly gristly end of a lamb leg makes excellent hash, but we had no potatoes. Instead, we decided to use three turnips we had sitting around, which makes it Scotch hash - both in the sense of Scotch broth, and also in being thrifty
We've already given the Theory of Hash.

This was a food-processor version, except for the two onions, which would have turned to mush if processed. They were diced and browned in oil along with the processed turnips. Then some chicken broth was added to the pan, and it all steamed merrily under a cover until tender. Finally, the processed lamb and a shitload of fresh chopped thyme (plus a bit of parsley) was mixed in. But it was still a bit bland, so we rummaged around a bit and added - you'll never guess - a healthy dollop of oyster sauce - enough to make it taste meatier, rather than make it Asian (though some detected a certain Mongolian influence). Browned under the broiler as usual, it didn't stick together the way a hash made with potatoes would, but it was still damn tasty.

Napa sausages with fennel and bell pepper

Wednesday October 17

We do the napas from Kroger's Fine Meats fairly often. Since the market had provided a nice bulb of fennel, that's what we had them with (that's with which we had . . . that is the very sort of thing with which we . . .?). Thinly sliced fennel sautéed in olive oil, then the un-perforated sausages to brown, then red peppers, then white wine (what else with napas?). After debate, the people decided "no onions" to keep the flavors simple. A post-prandial plebiscite concurred.

We should've looked back at our own blog, where the matter had been previously adjudicated (but that time in favor of onions). The people reserve the right to change their minds.

Scotch Broth

Tuesday October 16

I (Barbara) was stuck at home waiting for a plumber and a handyperson, neither of whom showed up. This is typical of life as a homeowner. But it was a lousy rainy day outside anyway, so I consoled myself by finishing the final Harry Potter and making Scotch Broth out of the leftover lamb bone from Saturday's leg o'.

I based my procedure on the recipe from Julia Child's The Way to Cook. But Julia always needs editing: she dirties too many dishes and throws away too much tasty stuff. Here's my procedure:

First, brown the bone(s), any meaty scraps of lamb that are left, and a rough-chopped carrot and onion in a little oil in a dutch oven, all in the regular oven at around 425 degrees. Turn everything occasionally, so it doesn't burn. It should take around 30 minutes.

Take the dutch oven out and put it on the top of the stove. Add about a cup of water and scrape the bottom to deglaze, on low heat. Chop (more presentably) a stick of celery, another onion, a teaspoon of fresh rosemary, and crunch up a giant clove of garlic. Add them, plus a little salt and pepper, to the soup, and top it up with just enough water to cover the bone(s).

Now let it simmer with the cover just ajar at the very lowest heat for three hours or more. If you do this right, it won't throw off any scum, and you won't have to do Julia's constant straining, skimming, and washing of pans.

About an hour before you want to eat, remove the bone and anything else that looks ugly. Dice up another carrot and a couple-three turnips. Put those and a half cup of pearl barley into the soup. (Julia says all this stuff takes 15 minutes to get tender - I say, not in this world it doesn't.) Let it simmer for the hour, adjusting the cover to let off liquid, or adding some if it needs it. The degree of soupiness/stewitude is up to you.

About ten minutes before mealtime, chop up any leftover lamb you have and throw that in too, with salt and pepper to taste.

Eat it with relish…or with grandpa. Of course, I refer to one of the funniest websites on the planet, "Julia Child Speaks her Mind,"

where she kind of explains my Philosophy of Soup-Simmering.

Lamb with chimichurri and delicata squash

Monday October 15

Nothing like rare slices of left-over lamb. We decided on a chimichurri sauce. One basic recipe is here:

1 cup (packed) fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup (packed) fresh cilantro
2 garlic cloves, peeled
3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
All ground up.

The cumin is a nice touch, but believe me, 2 cloves of garlic is quite enough if you're going to slurp it down immediately; it needs time to mellow out (as which of us does not?).

Here's a nice way to do the delicata:
It takes a certain amount of peeling away of the hard, ridged cover, but well worth it. We were out of cider and so just added finely chopped apple to the mix, with a little more water to steam.
Squash + apples + sage = Autumn in America (even if the temperature was in the 80's thanks to global warming, Bush, and the wrath of Demeter).

Pasta all'Autunno

Sunday October 14

If Pasta Primavera has nothing but spring vegetables, there has to be something that uses the vegetables of fall, or at least, the ones we've been able to find at Findlay Market despite this autumn drought.

Put up water to boil and measure out a scant serving of penne (foglie d'Autunno pasta would be more suitable and would even match the colors of the vedge, but we've never seen it sold here). In the meantime, slice the following into matchsticks:
1 carrot
3 white parts of leeks
half a red bell pepper
1 end of Schad's ham.
Once the water boils, add the carrot sticks and cook until almost tender, about 4 mins. Fish them out with a strainer, and add them to a skillet in which you've melted a little butter and oil. (Now is the time to throw the penne into the boiling water.)

Sauté the carrots, leeks, then the pepper after 2-3 minutes. When they're all tender, add the ham, about a half cup of cream, and a nice mound of grated romano cheese. Let this simmer and thicken a few minutes until the penne is done; drain the pasta well and mix it into the skillet with everything else.

We took the cheese-grater to the table, but we didn't need it.

Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Roast Vegetables

Saturday October 13

As much as Brian hates coconut, he loves arugula, so we started dinner by going out in the garden and picking a heaping bowlful. This was mixed with chopped tomatoes and a balsamic vinaigrette, and served as our starter.

Holt had done his take on the classic Julia Child butterflied leg of lamb.
As our rosemary plant has died again (Barbara has a black thumb for potted plants), the fresh rosemary to dry-marinate it came from Nancy at Findlay Market. The vegetables that roasted alongside it were little potatoes and parsnips.

We ended with more red wine, chocolates, jellied fruits, and a couple of macaroons (almond! not coconut!) that Brian had brought back from the Queen City Club.

Thai Green Curry with Chicken and Eggplant

Friday October 12

This was yet another variation on the theme of Thai chicken with Mae Ploy green curry paste. We've played with this again and again and again.

This time, we used some of the Pepper People's leftover tiny (though not pea-sized, as the Thai Cookbook wanted) eggplants for the vegetable. Again, we stir-fried them first in the top coconut cream, then added the rest of the thinner coconut milk with a splash of nam pla, a pinch of laos powder. We then boiled the deboned-and-cut-up chicken breasts and when the juice was nice and thick added fresh Thai basil.

We were in the midst of enjoying this (okay, sucking it down) when we realized that we had filled the house with the scent and savor of coconut on just the evening that Brian would be coming over to stay with us (for his feelings re. coconut, see our visit to him in Philadelphia last April).

Luckily, his dinner went late and the house was well-aired by then, so he literally didn't know what he was missing.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Olives at the Ludlow Garage

Thursday October 11

Brian was in town to give a talk at the Taft Museum, and we were thrown into the usual confusion about where to go for dinner. We'd be getting out at around 8:30, and Cincinnati restaurants tend to close their kitchens and start vacuuming under the chairs (and sometimes under the guests) by 9 PM on weeknights. But a new place, Olives, advertised that they were open until 10 PM Monday through Thursday, so the four of us (Brian, Liz, H&B) thought we'd give them a try.

Going to a brand-new restaurant is always sort of a crapshoot, but Olives has been open since August 1, so you'd think they'd have had some time to settle into a professional routine. Unfortunately, more thought seems to have been devoted to decor (and that kinda ditzy) than to training a waitstaff. Despite the fact that only three other parties were in the restaurant, the bussers were too busy smoothing the sea of empty tablecloths to even bring us water.

When our waitron finally appeared, she was friendly but had no idea of how to actually wait on a table. Our wine came to us with the cork already removed and re-stuffed into the bottle, and she poured out full servings without giving it to anyone to taste. For appetizers, we ordered two servings of calamari to share among the four of us; she brought them with only two sets of chopsticks. Similarly, our dinners arrived and were steaming in front of us before she thought of getting us proper silverware and steak knives to eat them with. She was pleasant in that Midwestern way, smiling, but acting as if she had never been, much less served, in a restaurant before.

That said, the food was competent, if not inspired. The calamari was a mite tough, but not bad, and attractively presented in a Chinese takeaway box; though the "sriracha sauce and remoulade" that decorated the plate tasted like good old prepared chili ketchup and mustard. The "roasted frenched half-rack of pork" was a single thick pork chop, but nicely au point, and had good parsnip-potato mash and mushroom-and-onion topping. We asked for the "bluefin crab cake" of the appetizer menu to be brought as a dinner portion (a concept new to our waitron; until we explained that that meant two crab cakes, I think she was going to bring out the single appetizer portion on a larger plate); the coating was okay, but the innards were the fluffy stuff instead of high-quality lump crabmeat.

All in all, the place seems to be modeling itself on Tinks, around the corner; but Tinks does better food and FAR better service, in nicer surroundings, for around the same price. And the people Tinks would have been so happy to see Brian, who ate almost every other meal there for years. Ah well - you pay for experimenting, but at least you find out what's good in the end.

And P.S.: Not an olive in sight.

Meatloaf and Roast Vegetables

Wednesday October 10

Today was finally the first tangible day of Fall - the temperature plunged into the 50s, the air conditioner didn't come on, and the sole surviving zucchini plant withered up (why, Lord? Why?). So it was a perfect day for a comfortable, warming meatloaf in the oven.

The infinitely-adaptable recipe ranges from HERE to HERE.

This time we had no celery, so used only a big chopped onion; and mixed it and all the condiments in the bowl with the beaten egg first, before adding the meat and breadcrumbs.

Alongside the meatloaf we piled sliced potatoes, carrots, and parsnips, in that order, to roast. The parsnips were even a mite crispy, proving that they take the least time to roast.

Spaghetti alla Norma

Tuesday October 9

This is a Jamie Oliver recipe featured in this month's Gourmet.
It's a rather simple dish written in his offhand style, but it packs an amazing wallop of flavor. We used 6 or 7 tiny little purple eggplants instead of a big one, because the Pepper People at Findlay Market had let us have all their little leftover ones for a buck, and who could pass that up? We didn't even bother to skin them, and they fried up tender and tasty. Also, when Barbara gathered the basil from the garden, she tore the leaves off and didn't save the stems, so we didn't get to do the unusual step of chopping them up and adding them to the sauce. We will surely do this another time, so we'll try it then.

Chicken and Mushrooms

Monday October 8

A package of defrosted dark-meat chicken parts, patted with fresh thyme and tarragon, browned in butter and oil. Set aside on a plate, then a pound of nice mushrooms from Findlay Market, also got browned and set aside (some fancy footwork—handwork?—here with the plate). Then the chicken returned to the pan with a little white wine, to simmer covered until tender; the mushrooms too returned and rewarmed; and finally a quarter-pint of heavy cream to finish it off. It was plate-lickin' good.

Pork with Bok Choy

Sunday October 7

Bought a big bagful of dissociated bok-choy leaves from an Amish-dressed kid at the Farmers' Market, rather than the undetached baby bok-choy parts that one prefers. But what do the Amish know from bok-choy? Defrosted some thick slices of pork loin. So this is a variation on our previous grilled version (see here for the Gourmet original).

We halved the sauce recipe, and set the two pork tenderloins to marinate in a couple of spoonfuls of it while the broiler heated. Then we chopped up the bok choy, preliminary to stir-frying first the stem parts, then the leafy parts, in oil and a little salt. That took place while the marinated meat was broiling at ca. 4 mins. per side in the oven. The remaining sauce was then stir-fried in the bok choy wok, and coated the vegetable nicely. But on the whole, I like the way this turns out on the grill, as originally intended, best.

Oktoberfest in Indiana

Saturday October 6

Barbara's cousins (last seen on Christmas eve, at the Feast of Seven Fishes) invited us across the border for a family celebration of Oktoberfest, as cousin Sandy was coming to town. And did we celebrate! First, they laid out an amazing variety of German beers, served with little tasting cups, so you could try each one.
In the meantime, Eric was out working the grill while Sheree put out the enormous and tasty Oktoberfest fress. There were two types of kielbasa, two types of metts and brats, and three types of mustard. There was grilled marinated pork loin, cole slaw, bean salad, egg salad, and both sour and half-sour pickles. There were FOUR types of potato salad: German, mayonnaise, sour cream, and mashed.
And finally, when we thought it was impossible to stuff anything more, there were strawberries with clotted cream for dipping; chocolate-chip cookies; and Holt's own walnut-chocolate loaf.
And people wonder why we put on weight - and happiness - when we visit Indiana!

Bucatini Puttanesca

Friday October 5

For the basic recipe, see HERE.
We had no garlic, but the whores aren't fussy.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Shrimp with Thai Basil

Thursday October 4

We're still disinclined to go food shopping; also, we like to see what we can do with what's still around after a month, or growing in the garden. As it happens, the Thai basil that Barbara planted in May is putting out a bright show of purply blossoms, there were loads of teeny little poblanos on the pepper plants, and the mint was threatening to jump its border (as mint tends to do).

The inspirational recipe is here. Don't be frightened by the "Slimmed" in the heading. It's amazingly good and quick. The main difference is we used only poblanos for the vedge and so eliminated any other chilis. Also we follow the Burrell Method and stir-fry said vedge first. The shrimp only need to be seared on each side before adding the sauce and the leaves. The cherry tomatoes were the ones that had escaped from last night.

This was better than a good thing, and received the accolade of the spoon, so as to suck up all the sauce.

Tuna Fillets on a Sorrel Bed

Wednesday October 3

We rootled around in the freezer this morning and found a package of Trader Joe's tuna fillets, which we left to defrost at the bottom of the fridge. Of course, they were still rock-hard when we got home for dinner, so we decided to poach them. We still find it difficult to get the timing right for frozen tuna; it's easy to overcook. But there are a few useful tips here.

First we diced some month-old carrots (still good), an onion (slightly less good), and celery (almost not-so-good) into a mirepoix, which we sautéed in butter. Then slid in the two fillets, added a healthy glug of white wine and covered. We use an instant-read thermometer to tell when the fillets are almost done, but peek-and-cheat is good too, so long as you dig well into the center of each one to see if it's still frozen.

Miraculously enough, when everything else in the garden is suffering from drought and heat, our sorrel seems to have enjoyed it and was bushy with new growth. We plucked a whole salad-spinner full of leaves and sliced them into a chiffonade; when the fillets were done (really they should be just underdone, as they continue cooking), we put them aside in the warming oven, reduced the poaching liquid, and tossed the sorrel in the pan. Once it wilted down a bit, we added cream and reduced it to a lush creamy texture. Holt's fancy footwork on fillet shifting got us plated out with a fillet each on a lovely bed of sorrel.

Barbara had also picked us a little bowl of cherry tomatoes, served with balsamic vinaigrette, but it turned out to be rather unnecessary. Sorrel was all the vegetable we needed.

The Great American Steak

Tuesday October 2

Home again, home again, jiggity-jig.
After eight hours' flight across the Atlantic, we were not prepared to do anything very complicated for dinner, which was served at 11:30 PM SST (Standard Stomach Time). The solution was to drop by Kroger's, get an enormous T-bone steak, and grill it. It was accompanied by the Hoe-Down from Aaron Copeland's Rodeo* ("Beef--It's What's for Dinner") and the less wizened of the potatoes left in the bin, steamed and mashed up with butter. There was also a French red wine, but by that time we were so loopy with fatigue we hardly noticed. An interesting cure for jet-lag.

*Which he pronounced RO-de-o, apparently.

Provençal Chicken

Monday October 1

Elizabeth had just arrived home from Maine, and she was thoroughly jet-lagged. So we volunteered to cook her dinner, and also invited her daughter Emma.
A little champagne started the evening, with more of those famous French sausages and sliced salami di Milano to add a touch of salt. And we kept up our Southwestern theme as well, with a salsa of chopped avocado, tomatoes, red onion, and coriander.

As Sainsbury's had no chicken breasts that weren't boneless and skinless (there'll be some tough talk at Prime Minister's Question Time), we got another Great British Chicken and hacked it into serving pieces, which we marinated with fresh rosemary, a pinch of herbes de Provence, a little cognac, and olive oil. Then we browned the chicken in a casserole with chopped bacon and a bit of butter (can't have too much fat!), added chopped onions, and flambéed it with cognac (a procedure we suspect may be more thrilling than actually necessary). Finally, we added chopped fresh tomatoes, and later some black olives, and let the whole thing stew for about an hour. It was tender and flavorful.

Dessert was more fresh strawberries, dipped in double cream. You can't go wrong with that.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Picnic and Pasta Reprise

Sunday September 30

An amazing trip to Colchester with Sue and Chris. Once we arrived, we found the pleasant park beneath the Castle walls (Chris was intimately acquainted with each Roman brick), where we pulled out a picnic of the leftover sausages and cheeses, plus pitas with tzaziki, taramasalata, and red-pepper hummus, and more Greco-Turkish sweets.

The end of the day was unexpected. All right, less unexpected than unbelievable. Sue said she wanted to drop in on a friend of hers, a nun who was a fellow-member of the Hellenic Society in London, and so we found ourselves at . . . the Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist near Tolleshunt-D'Arcy. That's right, a co-ed Orthodox monastic community, located naturally enough in the wilds of Essex. Sister Maria showed us her beautiful mosaics and the icon workshop that she runs (Barbara's nostrils flared at the scents of oil and turps).
Sue said she was perishing for a cup of tea, and God provided, for we happened upon a celebration of two birthdays and the blessing of the rings for a newly engaged couple. Greek and Russian hospitality flowed and we tasted koulourakia and other bits of sweets that we haven't had since Greece (or that afternoon), not to mention tuna with sweetcorn sandwiches, and a sheet cake decorated like a soccer field. (I think I got a goal post).
Many hours later, the actual dinner was leftover penne crusted with additional parmesan, reheated. We were too tired, too sated, and too dazzled to do anything else.

Penne with Salami di Milano, Courgettes, and Double Cream

Saturday September 29

John, Priscilla, and Sofia came all the way down from Oxford so we could spend our last Saturday with them. We had a mid-day dinner to let us walk around the Islington bazaars a bit afterward (Priscilla bought a Lea Stein cat pin, while Sofia bought a Shaun the Sheep bag), and also to allow them to get back early so Sofia could do her homework.

As they were having a French food festival (including such Gallic specialties as paella) in Islington, we acquired a veritable festoon of smoked sausages for hors d'oeuvres, in varieties like venison, boar, nut, and camembert. For the French brie, we remained faithful to the Chapel Market cheesemonger.
We also did a Southwest festival of our own, consisting of guacamole, pico de gallo, and Sainsbury's own genuine nacho chips.
So those, along with red wine (or coke for Sofia), were the appetizers.

The main dish was our perennial favorite, (but then, what better to fed to friends than your perennial favorite) altered to correspond with British ingredients.

And for dessert, there were Greek kataifi and nut-stuffed cookies, as well as Turkish delight, all from the French festival (!), plus fresh strawberries and double cream.


Friday September 28

As we are fortunate enough to be in London after the Glorious Twelfth of August - grouse season - we had an envie to try this gamiest of game birds. (Okay, this year the Twelfth fell on a Sunday, so the start was a day late. So sue me.)

We are also fortunate enough to be in Islington, where Steve Hatt (fish and game monger, voted the Fourth Nicest Thing in London) purveys said bird in the appropriate season. So for a mere £9.99 each - yes, that's 20 bucks a bird - we came home with two dark-red little carcasses. That's a brace of grouses, I mean a brice of grice . . . oh, never mind. At first I wasn't sure they were grouse, as they were about the same size as the partridges we had earlier in the month, but when we opened the packages, their little legs (which had been tucked inside the cavities) had feathers all over them, down to the claws - that's why red grouse are called Lagopus scoticus, "Scottish hare-foot."

Mr. Hatt himself advised us on the cooking method: barding with bacon and roasting on a bed of potatoes at gas mark 6 for 25 minutes. But this oven is very slow, so we upped it to the maximum gas mark, chopped the golden potatoes into dice (adding diced onion and carrot for good measure) and started the vegetables (tossed with olive oil and salt) a half hour before the baconed birds went in. We also continued to roast the vedge after the birds came out and were resting under a tinfoil tent.

It all came out perfectly; the vedge was tender, the grouse still moist and very gamey, especially around the cavity area - though we'd washed them out carefully, probably throwing away what people here consider the best parts. In fact, perhaps due to the long ageing, or just the nature of the bird, grouse is very livery, which is one of the few flavors that we do not appreciate. And now that we've had it, one good grouse will probably be enough.

Pasta with Anchovies and Parsley

Thursday September 27
Both of us had sore throats and rasped palates from a cold, so the best thing to make for dinner was Miss Williams' divine salty pesto-type pasta, which we haven't had for almost a year (all the more appropriate, since we met Liz through Laurie). The salt soothes your throat, and the flavors are so strong and simple that they can overcome the cold lozenges you've been sucking all day. Also, it's quick, which allowed us to make an early curtain for the opening night of the Theatre Royal Haymarket Company production of Wycherley's The Country Wife. ("Hey, there's Mr. and Mrs. First Nighter!") And we are proud to say that, due to the powerful and long-lasting effects of our salty dinner, we didn't cough once during the performance.