Sunday, December 30, 2007

Steak and Gingered Sweet Potatoes

Sunday December 30

Just a grilled strip steak and the whipped sweet potatoes left over from Christmas. After all the elaborate food we've been eating, a touch of simplicity is nice.

Black Bean Soup with Apple and Ham Hock

Saturday December 29

For Christmas, David gave Holt just what he needed: his own copy of The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld. Now we can finally take the library copy back, as we've had it out perilously close to the 9-week limit.

We were going to use the giant ham bone from our giant Christmas ham by cooking up our take on Moosewood's Brazilian black bean soup, with the addition of the ham. But lo, Holt's new acquisition offered the perfect recipe, including a pork product

We used the ham bone instead of bacon, of course, and pressure-cooked it and the beans. The result was very good and flavorful, though next time we'll skip the syrup, as the apples make it quite sweet enough for our tastes.

'Ahi Coconut Curry

Thursday December 27

It was time for a bit of a break from Christmas specialties. We went back to Padma Lakshmi's wonderful recipe, which we last made on May 17.

Again, we didn't have any fennel, so we used extra shallots. And we didn't have mahi mahi, so we substituted 'ahi 'ahi (tuna) steaks, with excellent results.

And this time we DID have (frozen) kaffir lime leaves, which we obtained shortly after the May bout of curry to make coconut-lime chicken with scallions. They definitely add to the piquant flavor.

The coriander garnish, by the way, was picked from the garden, despite below-freezing temperatures. I am astounded at how the little plants are holding on. The fennel, however, is but a memory.

Santa Fe Soup and Cornbread

Wednesday December 26

This was the Broughtons' day to cook, so JoLinn chopped up a skilletful of Schad's ham and made creamy scrambled eggs; Caroline said they were the best eggs she had ever had in all her nine years.

Unfortunately, everyone had to leave before dinner, as they all had a long drive home. So Holt and Barbara were left with a strangely quiet house, and two refrigerators full of leftovers.

For dinner, we had the last of some Santa Fe soup that JoDee had served for lunch on Monday, poured over a wedge of Holt's cornbread (made for post-Christmas-dinner supper, using the 15" cast iron skillet David gave him for Christmas), and dusted with cheddar cheese. Mmmmm.

Here's a recipe for Santa Fe soup, which seems to be a popular dish for campers.
But JoDee has promised she'll send us her own hints as well.

Ham with All the Trimmings

Tuesday December 25

Today was our responsibility, so we began by setting out a breakfast buffet of hot scones (some savory: heart-shaped from a mix Becky gave Holt as a birthday prezzie; the others sweet with cardamom, from a recipe by Sue Phinney, called "Holt's Birthday Scones"), butter, jams, Holtbread, lox, cream cheese, and Barbara's herbed goat cheese spread. We needed some sustenance, as opening all the presents for 17 people takes about 3 hours.

For Christmas dinner, we had decided to buy a local product, a bone-in Schad's Ham - 18.5 lbs. of it. We had to slice it into pieces so it would fit in the same oven* with:
Roasted vegetables - Yukon Gold potatoes, carrots, turnips, shallots, and red onions, tossed with kosher salt and goose fat frozen from last year's Christmas dinner.
(Did we tell everyone "Goose grease? You're soaking in it!" We did not).

We also made a couple of side dishes the day before:
Pineapple salsa with a hint of jalapeno.
Sweet Potatoes with Ginger: a dozen bright orange sweet potatoes** nuked in the microwave until tender; peeled with asbestos fingers; put through a ricer; and mixed with a large nubbin of stem ginger, minced, and about 2 Tbsps. of stem ginger syrup. Refrigerate until it's time to serve, and nuke for 3-4 mins. until hot. It is far lighter and airier than the brown-sugar-and-marshmallow stuff that people are used to (and why do we go overboard in sweetening something that's already sweet?), and those who taste it generally like it a lot.

For dessert, Holt made pecan pies with the last of the pecans Helene sent us. He was a bit nervous, since he's never liked any of his pie crusts. But New Joy's cream cheese crust (fresh from breakfast) worked a treat, as did cane syrup, a N'arlins present from Susann and Bert.

*When the kitchen designers ask if you want a second oven, say yes.
** "Yams? Useless little tuber." -Mad about You, sometime in the first season.

Gnocchi with Sausage and Spinach

Monday December 24

This was a Shaffer day to cook, and Becky started it out with a hearty sausage and cheese strata, perfect for the hungry hordes.

Dinner was also a winner, inspired by a recent recipe in Real Simple. Becky just multiplied it a bazillion times.
Set 1 pound package of gnocchi to boiling. In skillet, saute 1 small onion, ca. 1 lb Italian fennel sausage, removed from casing; crumble and brown. Add a chopped clove of garlic, ca. 5 oz baby spinach, salt, and pepper, and cook until spinach wilts, ca. 3 mins. Drain gnocchi, reserving 1/4 cup water, and toss in skillet, with 3/4 cup grated parmesan and water if necessary. Serve with more parmesan at table.
Even children will eat this, though they will put the pitiful shreds of spinach to one side on their plates so that no green vegetable matter will touch their delicate palates (where, as is well known, it will explode).

Chicken Pot Pie

Sunday December 23

One of the marvelous things about Parker family gatherings is that each family takes full responsibility for cooking, serving, and cleaning up all meals for one day each; and that all of them are wonderful cooks. So for three out of the four days, we woke up to find orange juice on the table, hot coffee brewing, and a wonderful breakfast laid out; plus no necessity to even worry about meals later that day. And did I mention that everybody brought so many desserts, sweets, and other treats that there was not a speck of room available on our sideboard, and many had to be multi-stacked?

The first day was the Kelleys', so of course it began with David's unbeatable hot biscuits. He inherited his biscuit-making talents from his father Ralph, who apparently turns them out without even thinking about it. And bacon. Lots of bacon.

But our job is to report on dinner, and it was unbeatable too.
JoDee's pot pie (recipe is in mail.)
A mesclun salad, for those who felt they needed something green.
And a spectacular fresh orange Italian cream cake from Southern Living 2002.

Posole for other people, and Dinner at the Phoenix

Saturday December 22

Holt made posole in advance, for the arriving multitudes. It's a good luck dish for a New Mexico New Year. We used over 6 lbs. of pork tenderloin, a bagful of fresh poblanos (roasted) as well as a giant can of green chiles, 6 or 7 cans of yellow and white hominy, and a basketful of fresh cilantro picked from the garden.

But we were taking our nieces Joanna and Laura out to the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, to see a non-seasonal (but none the worse for that) production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

We chose to have our pre-theater dinner at the Phoenix restaurant, which is not only beautiful and friendly, but also just a block from the theater.

Our appetizers were Crabcakes with Thai Chili Mayonnaise (okay—too much cake not enough crab), and
Grilled Balsamic Prawns on a Crispy Risotto Cake on a plate decorated with Red Pepper Puree - a lovely presentation and tasty risotto cake, but underdone prawns.

For dinner, we had Tournedos of Beef Tenderloin with Chipotle Cream, Gorgonzola, and Shiitake Mushrooms, on a bed of Mashed Potatoes - very beefy and good.
Also delicious was the Rack of New Zealand Lamb, Rosemary & Grain Mustard.

And of course, the girls had to have Phoenix's classic dessert: Graeter's double chocolate chip ice cream in a dark chocolate bag. We've been dreaming about giving them this ever since we first had it. And we can't deny that we had a spoonful or two as well.

Our magical evening ended with a walk down to Fountain Square to see the tree and the ice-skaters. Thanks, Mr. Shakespeare!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tuna Steaks en Papillote

Tuna Steaks en Papillote
Friday December 21

This is what we MEAN to do when we get home.
We last cooked this all the way back in the summer. This time we're going to use the last of Barbara's garden fennel (it's 50 degrees today, and they're still out there), so no celery or red bell pepper needed. Also, we have a little curried mayonnaise left over from last Friday's artichokes, so we may use that as an additional dip for the fish.

After that, we go into high-energy Christmas Mode, as the entire extended Parker clan (17 people, including us) will be coming to stay with us for five days. So if you don't hear from us for a while, don't be surprised - we may be a mite tired.

Ravioli in Sage Butter

Thursday December 20

We boiled up 25 (i.e., half) of the frozen spinach-and-ricotta ravioli that we took home from April's "Holy Ravioli" festival at Sacred Heart Church.
About 35 minutes in the boiling water, and they're ready.

The sauce, burro e salvia, is the simplest that Italy (with the help of our garden) affords. I've searched the blog, and I can hardly believe that we haven't made it for this past year and a half. But if that's so, here are the incredibly simple directions.

Melt some butter in a saucepan. Chop up some fresh sage leaves. Put the sage in the butter. Keep the heat high. Watch it carefully and take it off the heat when the butter begins to brown, so the sage can crisp up a tiny bit. Toss the pasta with the sauce, either in the pan or on heated plates. Salt and white pepper as you like. And as Gordon Ramsay says, "done!" (I prefer that to Emeril's "bam!")

Though you can try any kind of pasta with this, its clear flavor is particularly good with richly-filled shapes like tortellini or ravioli. The Italians even use it for ravioli (g)nudi, "naked ravioli" i.e. ravioli fillings cooked like meatballs, without the pasta around them.

Steak with Creamed Leeks and Red Cabbage Slaw

Wednesday December 19

There was a tiny portion of creamed leeks left over - would you believe it? - from last Monday, and though it was too small an amount to be considered a vegetable, when reheated with a mite more cream, it made a fine sauce for a good T-bone, which had been brushed with a little soy sauce and grilled.

The red cabbage slaw was left over from two days ago. If there are only two of you eating it, even a single small cabbage will be with you for a long, long time.

Fettucine with Pork and Porcini Ragu

Tuesday December 18

The great thing about the Pork and Porcini stew we had on Saturday is the fact that you can make this out of the leftovers. Our vague model is Pappardelle sulla lepre, though none of the ingredients are the same.

Simply chop the stew leftovers into smaller pieces or shreds, and while you're boiling your pasta (the broadest long noodle you have), reheat the chopped stew with just enough liquid to get it loose and saucelike. Previously, we've used veal stock, but this time we used a dribble of red wine and a little squeeze from a tube of tomato concentrate, which worked great. It coated the pasta beautifully, which is just what you want.

Wasabi-Crusted Tilapia with Red Cabbage Slaw

Monday December 17

For the fish, we were inspired by an Epicurious recipe.
But changed it around a good bit. First, we used tilapia fillets instead of cod or halibut. We salted them with kosher salt, then smeared them with about a quarter cup of mayonnaise seasoned with wasabi as directed, but since we already had dried wasabi powder, we just moistened it up with a little water used it instead of the tube stuff in the recipe. Those who commented on the recipe said that it needed more spice, so we used about the same amount of wasabi the recipe calls for, 1 and 1/2 tsps., though we halved the recipe otherwise. Oh, and we also used white bread crumbs (from duck bread) to bread the smeared fillets rather than panko. We put the fillets in a shallow baking pan in the upper part of a 400-degree oven, baked for about 12 minutes, and then turned on the broiler to brown the top for a couple of minutes more. Results were very good, and we'll do this again. Next time, though, we're thinking of just blending the wasabi powder directly into the mayonnaise - or even substituting our usual crudité dip, mayonnaise with a little curry powder and a touch of soy sauce.

The red cabbage slaw in the original recipe sounded so raw that only a rabbit could like it. Instead, we whomped up a more traditional red cabbage slaw ahead of time, giving it a few days to relax and become more edible. Here it is:

Red (and Green) Cabbage Slaw

4 cups thin-shredded red cabbage (or some can be green, for more varied color - we actually picked one of our last cabbage sprouts from the garden for this)
2 Tbsp. minced red onion
2 Tbsp. chopped capers
2 Tbsp. chopped dill pickle (plus a dribble of the juice)
5 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
ca. 1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the liquids and seasonings in a large bowl, then toss the cabbage in it and mix well. Refrigerate for at least a couple of hours; taste, correct seasoning, and serve. If you let this sit for long enough, the sauce will become pink, which is sort of festive as well as being tasty.

Penne ala Saffi

Sunday December 16

This is the sixth time we've had this, since starting the blog, putting it neck-and-neck with the Salami and Zucchini recipe below. Though the blog's search engine is a mite undependable for these counts, both of them seem to be one behind Pasta al Salmone, at seven times (the last one in October).

Pork and Porcini Stew

Saturday December 15

We last made it almost a year ago, and every time we make the RECIPE, we give thanks to Don, Fee, and Marcella Hazan.

This time we got crimini mushrooms from Madison's. According to the Gourmet Sleuth, they're just portobellos that haven't reached full size yet. We see no particular advantage to them, except they were cheaper this time. And any mushroom that is soaked in dried porcini broth tastes like porcini (i.e., sublime) anyway, so why fuss about types?

Penne with Salami and Zucchini

Friday December 14

STILL a perennial fave, since this is the sixth time we've had it since we started blogging. And even easier now that Trader Joe's sells Rosette de Lyon salami in handy chubs.

Recipe here: Penne with Salami and Zucchini.

Incidentally, Holt also uses this salami to make a sandwich that Barbara finds astounding: salami and brie on pane pugliese. She goes more with the Jewish tradition of salami (untouched by cheese!) on rye with mustard and pickles: the sort of thing Katz's Deli on the Lower East Side was considering when they hung up the sign "Send a Salami to your Boy in the Army." But of course, Rosette de Lyon, made with PORK, is anything but Hebrew National, so Holt's version is doubtless more authentic.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Fresh Artichokes with Two Sauces

Thursday December 13

Between global warming and the global village, in mid-December we had about the same meal we had had back in August, except that this time, we had two giant fresh artichokes apiece, so didn't need any extra snacks.

The artichokes undoubtedly came from Peru or somewhere, but we patronize the Findlay Market produce retailers as well as the farmers - we want both groups to prosper and stay in business. As for the fresh herbs for the salsa verde, we were actually able to harvest a few last leaves of sorrel and (regular, not garlic) chives, as well as some hardier parsley. The capers and lemon juice were as usual, as was the other sauce: curried mayonnaise with a drop of soy sauce is not swayed by the seasons.

Kielbasa with Red Cabbage

Wednesday December 12

A favorite winter dish, despite the fact that it hasn't been very wintry of late. Though we last had it on January 17 of this year, we never gave the recipe - just noted that you cooked a bunch of red things and they turned purple. Well, this time, we're noting down how to do this magical transformation.

The original recipe comes from the Larousse Book of Country Cooking, where it is euphoniously entitled "kiełbasa w czerwonej kapuście." We've only messed with it a bit.

Cut up a couple of onions into long slices, and a pound or more of smoked kielbasa into slanting bite-sized slices. And while you're at the cutting board, shred up a cored half head of red cabbage, and core and slice a couple of firm apples.

Now you're set to cook. In a large skillet, sauté the onions in oil for a couple of minutes, then throw in the kielbasa for a few minutes more. Finally, add the cabbage, stirring it around and mushing it down so you can get it all in. Now, add the liquids - a half cup of dry red wine, and a quarter cup of red wine vinegar - plus a bay leaf, a dusting of caraway seeds (to your taste), and salt and pepper. Once the cabbage has b'iled down a bit, add the apples and cover them with the cabbage so they get all purple, too. Cover this and let it simmer about a half hour, until everything is tender and edible. Adjust the seasoning, and serve.

The kielbasa came from Kroger's Fine Meats at Findlay market, far superior to the usual supermarket kielbasa (now with more pig-tongues and nitrites!) on sale. And we bought Enterprise apples from a local grower, Dennis of Backyard Orchard; he said they were nice and tart, and would hold together rather than breaking down in the cooking process. Good advice, because the apples are crucial in giving this dish the proper northern European sweet-sour flavor.

Latkes (finally)

Tuesday December 11

We didn't get around to having latkes until the last night of Chanukah, when Julie came over to celebrate with us. She brought a bottle of White Knight Viognier, very smoky and interesting, which we drank around the kitchen peninsula while Holt fried the latkes.

He made them according to the classic Claudia Roden recipe, as we've done before, but once again, those damn Wisconsin russet potatoes we bought at IGA were undependable. This time they gave up so much water that even after pressing them in the ricer, Holt had to hand-squeeze the patties dry again before frying them. Thanks to his care, and to the goose schmaltz they so unauthentically fried in, they came out crisp and brown outside, tender inside. We topped them with the usual drained yogurt, but also with black caviar (okay, lumpfish) as a special touch.

The second course was, believe it or not, a salad from the garden: the tiny mesclun lettuces and arugula are still hanging on despite a couple of frosty nights, and they REALLY enjoyed today, which was about 60 degrees. Barbara picked the leaves and put them under water just before dinner. Then she went through her collection of bag-ripened garden tomatoes, diced up the best parts of a couple of good ones, and doused them (plus some non-home-grown diced zucchini and red onions) with some of her own basil oil. Once the latka course was done, she spun-dried the lettuce, tossed it with the marinated vegetables, and dosed the salad with a bit of balsamic vinegar. So hey, even if the latkes didn't fry in oil, at least the salad had olive oil in it. Though I doubt the Maccabees flavored theirs with basil.

Dessert was chocolate Chanukah gelt (of course) and some lovely lemon biscotti brought by Julie, accompanied by wine and/or port. So a very happy Chanukah was had by all.

Chicken Breasts with Creamed Leeks

Monday December 10

Haven't had this for a year or so - can't imagine why. But we got some splendid long white leeks from Findlay Market, and they were perfect for this.

The procedure was basically the same as before using chicken stock for the braise, and patting the chicken breasts with fresh thyme as well as tarragon. The leeks were meltingly tender, and go very well with the mild chicken.

Duck Soup

Sunday December 9

Not the Marx Bros., but the third meal of the duck, i.e. the broth we made when we boiled the carcass, and the meat picked off it. Once the broth boiled, we threw in some Trader Joe's tricolor tortellini (stuffed with cheese) and mezzalune (stuffed with squash); when the pasta was tender, we put in the duck meat, heated and served. Now that's a soothing soup.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Cauliflower Curry

Saturday December 8

Holt has always made a damn good cauliflower curry, using coconut and orange juice. Problem is, when we had the cauliflower and were ready to go, he couldn't remember where he got the recipe, or what else was in it. So he consulted a bunch of cookbooks (Moosewood, New Joy, Veggie Epi, Madhur Jaffrey) and came up with something totally off the cuff, and what's more, still delicious. Here's how it went.

We chopped up three small onions and separated the cauliflower into small florets. We then ground about 4 TBSP of cumin seed with about 3 TBSP of coriander seeds. Added 1/2 tsp. cayenne and all the turmeric* we had left in the house, maybe 2 tsp., all attractively spread out on a plate, so we could admire their colors.
A glaze of oil went into the big skillet, and he browned the onion in these spices, then added the cauliflower. After everything was well-mixed, he spooned in the top half of a can of coconut milk and sautéed everything in that (à la Thai cooking) and then added the rest of the coconut milk. He covered and simmered the dish until the cauliflower was tender. With a slotted spoon, he removed the cauliflower, piled it on plates, and boiled down the sauce for a few minutes, until it was thick. It was then poured back over the cauliflower.

That's all she wrote.

*Note to self: Buy more turmeric.

Stuffed Duck Legs and Turnips

Friday December 7

Holt's new knife was a big help in boning the thighbones out of some duck legs a couple of days ago, and that made stuffed duck legs an obvious option. After consulting many recipes, though, he decided to make up one of his own. It's a fall-type meal, using flavors that go well with duck: bacon, apple, and turnip.

For the stuffing, chop up a small onion and three or four rashers of bacon. Fry them up in the ovenproof skillet you're going to use for the duck. When the onion is translucent and the bacon almost crisp, add a small chopped apple. Let it sizzle for a few minutes, deglaze with a little port, and then remove the stuffing and let it cool. When you can handle it, stuff it gently into the duck legs, where the thighbones had been, and secure with a toothpick.

In the same skillet, brown the duck legs with the open stuffing side on top. Add a little duck stock and nestle in some sliced turnips. Cover, and let cook for 30 minutes or so, till the duck is at 160º degrees and the turnips are tender. Serve just as it is.

Fettucine Sausage Alfredo

Thursday December 6

This is what you do when you're tired (in this case, after trying to ride herd on one of your students' PhD defense), hungry, and there's a half-pound of bulk sausage (left over from the stuffed squash you made two days ago) in the fridge. Holt first had this back in grad. stud. days, as prepared by Anita B.*, and, yes, we know that you can now get "sausage alfredo" at Olive Garden** but that don't mean it isn't good, if done nicely.

We last had this over a year ago, in about the same situation. It's still damn good.

* Ex-Sam Nunn Professor of Law at Emory, ex-Wallace Stevens Professor of Law (a much cooler title) at New York Law School , and now the Anita (how appropriate) and Stuart Subotnick Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School. No points for guessing.
** "When you're here, you're a grotesque ethnic stereotype."

Duck Breasts with Fig and Ginger Sauce

Wednesday December 5

We bought a whole duck at Luken's on Saturday. Holt's take on duck is that, like most fowls, it has parts (the breast) that get cooked much more quickly than other parts (the legs). So instead of roasting it whole, he takes the breast off for the first meal, bones out the legs for a second one, and puts the rest of the carcass in the soup pot for a third. Lucky that Barbara got him a neat new 3.5 inch paring knife for Chanukah (to avoid the evil omen of giving a knife, he paid her in Chanukah gelt). He zipped through the boning with ease and grace - if you can be graceful when adorned with duck fat.

He wanted to use his birthday gift from Barbara too, a cute little Emirilware saucier (saucier than what, you may ask? Saucier than Emiril, I hope). In browsing through Epicurious, he had found a recipe for duck breasts with wild mushrooms in a fig and ginger sauce, but as it happened, his sister Becky had just given him a jar of fig and ginger preserves for his birthday. So all the birthday gifts came together, and made the recipe into even more of a snap.

The duck breasts were dusted with salt and fried (skin side first, then not-skin side) in butter, assisted by their own renderings. When they were just medium rare, they were set aside to rest.

In the saucier, a few Tablespoons of fig and ginger preserve were melted down in a bit of the duck fat and brown bits , then loosened up with a little Port (we're using Jonesy currently - we're not Port snobs, and the Australian stuff often tastes great), and reduced till nice and thick.

For the requisite vedge, in another pan, the last of Barbara's garden fennel was sautéed in our usual fashion.

We plated out the fennel, sliced the duck breasts, and adorned with the sweet fruity sauce. Results looked stunning and tasted even better.

Stuffed Butternut Squash

Tuesday December 4

The recipe is one of our favorite fall dishes, adapted from the (well-used and well-stained) 1961 edition of The New York Times Cook Book by Craig Claiborne, as originally cooked by Brian Carter. In fact, it's now so adapted that it bears no relation to the originals. So here is what we do now.

Halve a hard winter squash; this one was a butternut, but acorn works as well (if not better, since there's a bigger hole for the stuff). Scoop out and throw away the seeds, put both halves cut-side-up in a baking dish, and fill their hollows with a pat of butter and a few Tablespoons of bourbon (taste first to make sure bourbon is still fresh!) apiece. Pierce the inner squash flesh with a fork to allow the butter & bourbon to penetrate. Bake at the People's Temperature for 45 minutes or so, or until it's tender enough to pierce easily with a fork.

In the meantime, brown and crumble a half pound of bulk sausage in a skillet, along with a small chopped onion. If it's not already sage sausage, season as you like with sage, chopped fresh or dried, plus salt and pepper; if the sausage is mild, you can also add a kick with a pinch of cayenne or a sprinkle of crushed Italian red pepper. Throw in about a half cup of diced-up stale bread or croutons, and moisten with a little chicken broth and/or white wine, until it's the consistency of stuffing that you'd use for a turkey.

When the squash is done, spoon most of the bourbon from each half into the stuffing mixture, which you then stuff into (and on top of, if there's enough) each squash half. Top with a sort of streusel made by mixing about 2 Tablespoons of light brown sugar with a half teaspoon of dry mustard and a pinch of salt. Return to the oven and continue baking until the streusel is browned (about 10-15 minutes). Serve each half on a plate to each eager eater, and that's all you need.

There's nothing like trafe for the first night of Chanukah. Dessert was, appropriately, Graeter's chocolate chanukah gelt and more bourbon.

Fettuccine With Red Onion, Blue Cheese And Thyme

Monday December 3

This was yet another recipe we found while paging through the Herbfarm Cookbook. Barbara is a great fan of blue cheeses, we happened to have all the major ingredients called for (they're in the name!), and it was easy and quick to make.

The recipe is among those printed here.
Other than halving the amounts to serve just us two, we reproduced it pretty exactly.

The verdict: it was pretty good. The sweet snap of red onions went pretty well with the Gorgonzola we used, though the flavor of the fresh thyme was pretty much drowned out. Still, this recipe doesn't come anywhere near the pure satisfaction of the classic Italian Gorgonzola sauce. We've served it on gnocchi the last time we had it, but it's appropriate for just about any pasta. And making it is simplicity itself.

To be explicit: you melt a Tablespoon or two of butter in a wide pan. Sprinkle in three or four ounces (to your taste) of Gorgonzola - picante, not dolce - and mush it around a bit to start it melting. Add around a half cup of cream, and stir while it boils and thickens. Taste, add a grind of white pepper and some salt if it needs it, and perhaps take the edge off it with a quarter cup or so of grated romano cheese. When your pasta is done, you dump it in the pan and toss it with the cheese sauce. It couldn't be better.

Hog and Quiche

Sunday December 2

This was one of those (thankfully, rare) occasions when we had dinner apart. Holt had to go to the departmental "holiday party," and Barbara took the opportunity to eat one of the few things that Holt can't abide but she (sometimes) likes.

So Barbara had the hog: Braunschweiger. Yes, my sister Andi and I, though we were raised in a kosher home, both get the occasional yen for German wurst made with genuine pork liver. For some reason (growing up in Queens?), we like it in a sandwich slathered with mayonnaise. The Braunschweiger came from Krause's, but unfortunately was packed by their ditziest server: she tried to slice it like bologna, with the rubbery casing still left around each slice. It is more properly cut in a chunk, and spread on firm bread. In this case, I used one of Holt's herb-baked rolls, which was almost too fine a flavor. The sandwich was accompanied by fine deli salads (potato, macaroni, cole slaw) from Mike's Meats, also at Findlay Market. I ate my semi-disgusting meal in front of the television, off a tray: the ultimate solo-dining indulgence.

Holt had the catered quiche (which was o.k.) and Jean's bûche de Noël (which was superb).

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Whole Roast Bluefish with Garden Fennel

Saturday December 1

It is a truly frabjous day when we can get fresh bluefish here in Cincinnati, either from Luken's or Jungle Jim's. We don't know how they manage to make a living off a fish that is so perishable, so East Coast, and so foreign to Midwest "can't-I-have-something-boneless-and-bland?" tastes. Especially at $2.99 a pound, which is cheap for fresh fish - though Holt remembers days of yore in New Haven, when a bluefish was what they threw in as lagniappe when you bought something better.

Once again, we used the classic method of oven-roasting.
In this case, we even had some freshly-made basil oil, the last fruits of this year's crop. When drizzled over the hot fish, it is sublime.

As an accompaniment, Barbara sacrificed two of her amazing garden creatures, the Florentine fennel plants that have been growing like multi-limbed mutants. It's a good thing that none of the neighbors understood her cries of "Eh! Finocchio!" as she cut them off their roots. Some of their ferny fronds went into the fish to be roasted, while the bulby parts were chopped, gently simmered in white wine and a mite of butter until tender, and topped with grated parmesan cheese and a grind or two of white pepper. The garden stuff turned out to be much more fresh-flavored than your usual supermarket or even organic-foods big-bulb fennel, so we consider this experiment to be worth the $2.50 it cost for the packet of seeds.

Tilapia with Dill Sauce and Green Risotto Cakes

Friday November 30

Holt had made the full recipe of Green Risotto on Wednesday, which meant that about a third of it was left over (we find that a cup of dry Arborio rice makes the perfect amount of risotto as a main dish for both of us; that recipe called for a cup and half). But we LOVE having leftover risotto, because that means we can make risotto cakes.

We also wanted to use some of the fresh garden dill before it all freezes. Dill and fish are natural buddies, but almost every recipe you see pairs a dilled sour cream sauce with cold poached salmon. Nothing wrong with that, but sort of boring, and too summery for this season.

Instead, we got out our old standby, Trader Joe's frozen tilapia (defrosted, of course). We coated the fillets with fine breadcrumbs (same sort we were using for the risotto cakes, made from finely-ground-up Holtbread) and shallow-fried them up crisp. Then we held them in a warm oven while we deglazed the pan with a bit of white wine, showered it with chopped fresh dill, added a some cream, reduced the sauce and added a final swirl of butter. A warm and herby alternative.

Pulled Pork and Mash

Thursday November 29

This was just the meat and sauce left over from Tuesday's Big Ol' Butt, ladled over a heap of mashed potatoes (again the russets, but they seem to make an acceptable mash, so long as they're whipped with enough butter and cream).

This is the ideal meal after a hard, cold day, when all you want to do is have something warm and satisfying about 20 minutes after you walk in the door. A glass of red wine doesn't hurt, either.

Green Risotto

Wednesday November 28

Despite its being the end of November, we still have an amazing range of greens in our garden, presumably due to global warming (thanks, George W. Bush!). So we are using them as much as we can, as long as we can. Again, the Herbfarm Cookbook provided an interesting and unusual recipe, a risotto using exactly what we had most of: sorrel, arugula, parsley and chives.

Here's the recipe. It also offers lots of ideas on other herbs to substitute.

Holt is the risotto master around here, and though he follows almost none of the rules (has used non-Arborio rice, added cold or even frozen broth, and finds risotto to take far longer than they ever say it does), his results are always great. In this case, he calculated that adding the herbs at the very last minute, as the recipe states, would give you more of a risotto salad than a true risotto, especially since we were also using some tiny but tougher turnip greens, and had no basil (though we could have thrown in a cube or two of our own pesto). We left it out instead, and did it Holt's way, adding the chopped turnip greens just after the sautéed green onion, and the other herbs later but still while adding the broth (in this case, our own duck broth, which is what we had in the freezer). The result was lovably tender, and probably no less tasty than the original.

Pulled Pork Stew

Tuesday November 27

This is a polite way of referring to what we usually call Barbara's Big Ol' Butt. I don't know why, but I feel unusually polite today.

We prepared the Butt yesterday, searing it while the potatoes roasted, leaving it in a slow oven all evening long, and then leaving it overnight in its covered dutch oven in the fridge. So when we got home from work, all we had to do was get it out of the refrigerator, reheat it on the stovetop while the oven hotted up, add sliced carrots, turnips, and onions, and let it stew in the oven for almost an hour more. At the end, you could not only remove the single pig-bone with one tug, but you could pull the tender meat apart with two regular dinner forks. Which we then used to fork up the savory mess.


Monday November 26

Over the weekend, Holt baked his week's worth of bread, a lovely batch of herb-crusted rolls, using a recipe from the Herbfarm Cookbook. They looked like perfect hamburger buns, so what else could we do but make hamburgers?

The best accompaniment to hamburgers (besides, of course, Heinz ketchup and Parker's prize-winning Perfect Pickles) is some sort of fried potatoes. Once again, we turned to the Herbfarm Cookbook and decided to make their herb-roasted potatoes. As we reported yesterday, the russets we have on hand are not very trustworthy, and once again they proved it: they boiled up way too soft, and only gradually gained a little resilience during the second stage of the recipe, when they were oven-roasted. We find the Herbfarm's double-cooked method to be a bit odd, but we won't be able to say for sure how it works until we try it with a more dependable potato.

Roast Beef Hash

Sunday November 25

Surprisingly enough, though many good sandwiches had come off it, there was still a knuckle of beef left over from last Saturday's roast. So we made a hash of it - no, this time, we REALLY did.

Though we followed our traditional theory of hash, this time the potatoes WOULD NOT get tender, despite being sautéed and steamed even more than usual. They were russets we got on sale at the IGA, and as soon as we've gotten rid of them, we will go back to using either Yukon golds or Kennebecs, both excellent potatoes for boiling/steaming.

So despite our other, better choices (fresh parsley and thyme in the mix, veal stock and HP sauce as the liquid), the hash was edible, but not on the level of hash-heaven we usually aspire to.