Sunday, August 31, 2008

Vineland Estates Early Dinner

Sunday August 31

Our Dean, Rosemary, who knows good wine and food, pointed us toward Vineland Estates, a former Mennonite farmstead that has been renovated to provide the full Napa experience - tasting room with expensive glassware, carriage house all set for weddings and private parties, honeymoon cottage, and best of all, the restaurant looking out over the St. Urban Vineyard toward Lake Ontario. The deck is cleverly built around a shady tree, and overlooking it are glassed-in areas where you can get that same spectacular view but remain cool and comfortable. As we were well-dressed for an early dinner, we chose the interior, and sent immediately for a bottle of their 2007 Cabernet Franc, which was upfront and fruity without being too gay about it, if you know what I mean.

We started with the Monforte cheese plate, two kinds of soft herb-crusted sheep cheeses and one solid wine-washed goat cheese, served with apple jelly, sprouts, and various berries. All were excellent, as was the rich olive oil served with balsamic vinegar and sliced peasant bread.

For one main, we chose the double-cro quail, which looked like two tiny birds on a skewer, but turned out to be two deboned breasts and four little drumsticks, rolled in some delicious spice mixture. It came on an "ancient grain" salad, mainly wild rice and (I think) quinoa, a bit crunchy but beautifully seasoned, and was strewn with fresh vegetables - flageolets both green and wax, broad beans, yellow peppers, zucchini, and a blackberry or two.

The other main was Arden's haunch of venison ("poor dappled fools," according to the Duke), a luscious chunk of meat seasoned with dukka spices, on similar vegetables but with a raspberry and roasted shallot potato "tarte tatin" instead of the grain salad.

All that was good, but the dessert was inspired. It was a peach and tarragon torte, in fact an eggy tarragon friande tower supporting a half-peach glazed with peach jelly, plumped with fresh ricotta, and flanked by raspberry coulis, a cube of sugared quince, mint leaves, and a nasturtium. Holt got that glazed look that said he was thinking of a way to recreate this recipe; or maybe it was just the cabernet franc. Anyway, we will certainly be back to Vineland Estates restaurant.

Aglio Olio

Aglio Olio
Saturday August 30

We had been sitting out on the patio having a glass - or two - of wine with our nice neighbor Sonia, and we needed something quick to fill up the empty spaces. Luckily, another nice neighbor, Tony, had given us a bag of freshly-dug garden garlic, so we used this special stuff for what Karen's Nanny used to call "ali oli" - simple pasta with garlic and oil.

In this case, we used tiny shell pasta, jazzed up with anchovies and parsley, so properly it was conchiglie aglio olio e acciughe e prezzemolo (the basic parsley pesto that we owe to the Divine Miss Williams). The garlic was ivory white and much less sharp-smelling than the usual supermarket kind, and simmered down nicely in the olive oil. Then we added the anchovy fillets, and when they broke down, the chopped parsley. Finally, we tossed the drained hot pasta in the pan with the garlic, and topped it with grated romano. The piquant taste of the garlic was subtle but clear throughout the dish. We drank an Yvon Mau 2007 Sauvignon Blanc alongside - neither Niagara or Italian, but what can you do.

Salad Nice Was

Friday August 29

An assortment of vegetal and fishy leftovers - wax beans from Sunday, little white potatoes from Wednesday, smoked trout from last Thursday, chopped marinated tiny cukes from we don't remember when, and of course a bushelful of tomatoes from various markets and nice neighbors - inspired us towards a Niçoise-type salad. Most of the ingredients weren't standard - smoked trout instead of tuna, wax beans instead of haricots verts, spinach instead of mesclun, spicy green olives instead of wrinkled black ones, no eggs or anchovies (or anchovy eggs, for that matter). Damn good, though, especially with the lightly dry Featherstone Estate Riesling (yes, I know wine isn't supposed to go with salad. All I can say is, it went down just fine).

The Long Marche

Thursday August 28

The Classics department kindly bought us tickets to Brock's opening dinner, which was billed as being "marche style." We had no sure idea, but a few grave suspicions, about what this meant, especially given the lack of accent on marché, but we got ourselves dressed up and went anyway.

Suspicions were confirmed when we entered a cavernous room and saw that there was not a single chair within - a dire prospect for anyone with any type of bodily disability. Instead, a few barrels - yes, barrels - were scattered in the center, and around the perimeter were labeled stations where local merchandisers - two wineries, two breweries, three restaurants, a cheesemaker, and a dessert caterer - were handing out tastes of their wares. Given that the beer drinkers were unlikely to drink wine and vice versa, that meant that diners had exactly four choices about what to drink - each vintner had both a white and a red - and only four things to have for "dinner" - a slice of cheese, a tiny slab of chicken en gelée, a dainty tomato stuffed with ricotta and basil, and a rather nice but still eentsy scallop "sandwich" with prosciutto and "comfort cream" brie. As far as we're concerned, this spread would have been verging on adequate as appetizers for maybe twenty, but here it was supposed to be dinner for about a hundred. Can you say "chintzy"? Not to mention the fact that Brock charged $20 a person, though the purveyors probably gave a considerable discount to be there - after all, they were advertising.

Luckily the dessert place had about ten choices of petits-fours style pastries, but we ended up running home for hot buttered english muffins, tall glasses of milk, and peaches to fill ourselves up. And that, my friends, was dinner.

Tomato and Peach Salad/Mild Hot Fennel Sausage with Onions and Potatoes

Wednesday August 27

We normally don't do lunch here, since lunch tends to be a dull meal, but we ran across a copy of Martha Stewart's Cookbook on the shelves and a fine recipe for a salad to use Ontario's late summer bounty: Minted Peach and Tomato Salad. Whatever you think of Martha (and you do), ya gotta admit she has assistants who steal the best recipes. The combo of lemon juice and balsamic vinegar is especially good on the peaches. Our neighbor Sonia let us graze for mint.

Pretty much every dinner we've had since Sunday has been built around something we got at Antipastos di Roma, and today's was no exception. They had a wide selection of various sausages, most for under four bucks a pound, so we loaded up with a selection to keep in the freezer for a rainy day. Well, today it rained, so we pulled out something labeled "mild hot fennel." We didn't know quite what to expect from this oxymoron, but "mild" meant it would probably be easier to eat than the incredibly spicy ones from St. Catharines farmers' market.
Still, just to be safe, we boiled up some new white potatoes for a bit of blandness, as well as frying some onions. And indeed, these sausages proved to be standard, though not excessive, hot Italians. A cheap-ish Côtes du Rhône stood up to them pretty well, though.

Tacconelli with Venison Ragù

Tuesday August 26

When we have some meaty stew left over, we often chop it up, warm and loosen it with a little wine, and serve it like the hare sauce for pappardelle alle lepre, over pasta. That's what we did today with Friday's venison stew. Of course, we hadn't brought our pasta maker to Canada with us, so instead of fresh pappardelle, we used a dried pasta we'd gotten at Antipastos: flat, diamond-shaped tacconelli, which due to a dimple cleverly inserted, didn't stick together in the boiling water as we feared they would. Stonechurch Cabernet Sauvignon went nicely with this hearty, warming dinner.

Pork Chops with Mushrooms and Lemon Thyme

Monday August 25

Chop-chop! Another great buy from Antipastos was thick center-cut pork chops. Again, we pan-fried them very simply. As they rested, we fried up some farmers' market mushrooms to go alongside, gaily bedecked with fresh lemon thyme that Fanny had brought us from our other colleague Liz's herb pots. The thyme flavor went wonderfully with both meat and mushrooms, as did tastes of two white wines (Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling) from our sheepish friends at Featherstone.

Veal Chops

Sunday August 24

Our administrative assistant, Fran, seems to know just about everything there is to be known. So I wasn't surprised that she knew right offhand the best place to get Italian specialties around here: Antipastos di Roma.*
We were especially amazed by their veal chops, which were not only perfectly frenched, but of such a reasonable price** that we were able to get a couple without taking out a bank loan.

We treated the chops simply, as befits a noble piece of beef. We patted the chops with a little dried thyme, rosemary and sea salt, seared in butter and a little oil, then popped the pan into a 450º oven, till the temp. hit 130º. The chops on the plates, a little chopped onion into the hot fat, then we deglazed with a little white wine, and then the magic ingredient, a hit of balsamic vinegar off the heat.
Alongside went some simple steamed wax beans from yesterday's farmer's market, and a Stonechurch Pinot Noir. Couldn't be simpler, or better.

* An English plural? A missing apostrophe?
**Applying Italian/Canadian reasoning. That is, if everything is expensive, and vitello is the same price as bovino adulto, why not get the best?

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Saturday August 23

We drove out toward Niagara on the Lake, to Stonechurch Vineyards, which offers a self-guided walk through the vines.
Nice wines, though painting the bottles to look like low-class margarita mix is probably a bad idea. But the nice man who presided over our tasting told us that if we drove only a couple of miles farther on, we could also hit Caroline Cellars for their famous annual Lobsterfest.

Though it was only about 4:30 PM, this was the perfect opportunity for an unforgettable dinner. You can't beat two freshly-boiled PEI lobsters for $22. Add to that unlimited sweet butter-and-sugar corn on the cob, redskin potatoes in meaty juice, pasta salad, and mesclun with raspberry vinaigrette, and you've got a bargain - we certainly did. We sat down under a tent in the vineyard with a glass of Momentum white wine, and splattered and splashed and sucked each salty little particle of lobster out of its shell. And then, with the sun still high in the sky and the local garage band blasting out Rolling Stones favorites, we rolled towards home.

Venison Stew

Friday August 22

We'd invited Fanny over for dinner, so we wanted to whomp up something special. We started off with Holt's home-baked focaccia, spread with herbed goat cheese or "Moroccan thumbprint" eggplant relish from Featherstone winery, and spicy Sicilian green olives. The wines were a couple of our new local favorites, a 2006 Henry of Pelham unoaked Chardonnay and Featherstone Gamay Noir 2006, which made a nice transition to the meat course.

We'd gotten some venison from Lakeland Meats, and since it was predicted to be one of the hottest days so far, we decided to make a slow-cooked stew in the crockpot. The basics are here: for an Anglican benison on your venison, but there were a few variations. For the marinade, we used gin instead of juniper berries instead of cloves; and anybody who doesn't want to die would not marinate meat at room temperature for twelve hours, but in the fridge overnight. The next day, after braising the meat, we added roasted onions and carrots (roasted to improve the dark flavor), lashings of red wine, more thyme and rosemary, and in the last two hours, cubed Yukon gold potatoes and in the last hour, big sliced mushrooms. It was thick and savory, and went perfectly with the 2007 Cline Sonoma Syrah that Fanny had brought.

For dessert, Holt gave up and ran the stove to make old Joy's Peach Cake Cockaigne, which appears in our copy with a check mark and "Helene" next to it, which is quite a mark of honor in our book. For this one, we used Blazingstar peaches from last Saturday's farmers' market, further Canadianized with a little maple syrup and ginger rather than vanilla extract and cinnamon. It almost burst with peachy sweetness, and made a fine finale.

Pasta Shells with Smoked Trout in Cream Sauce

Thursday August 21

The local market Lakeland Meats looks like a small shed in a large field, but once you get inside you find it's lined with freezers full of local beef, lamb, chicken, venison, elk, ostrich, partridge, pheasant, quail, wild boar, and pretty much any other type of game you could mention. We bought a nice little smoked trout, which had a very Canadian overtone of maple syrup in its smoky flavor.

We used one fillet of it to prepare a pasta in much the same way we do pasta al salmone. No lemon vodka to hand, of course, and we did use shells instead of our usual penne, but it did go well with a Hillebrand Gewurztraminer 2007.

Torta di Pastori

Wednesday August 20

This was Holt's ingenious idea for what to do with a lot of leftover ragù from Friday: use it as the base for an Italianate shepherd's pie. It went as the lowest layer in a deep casserole, which was then topped with white mashed potatoes, thickened with two beaten eggs, and with grated romano mixed in and as topping. The inspiration for that topping was, as before, the overexposed but very talented Gordon Ramsay.
With it, we had a red Grão Vasco Dão 2005 - not as good a Portuguese as the Poeta, and should have been an Italian anyway, for this savory but unusual meal.

Red Snapper

Tuesday August 19

The fish counter at our local supermarket, Zehrs, had a pair of bright red snappers that caught Holt's eye. When he got them home, though, he discovered that red snapper scales are particularly large and obstreperous, and when you try to scrape them off they ricochet all over the kitchen. He wrestled them to the ground, however, and prepared the denuded fish somewhat along these lines.

There were lots of changes, however. He used oregano and thyme for the fish's seasoning on outside and inside, instead of za'atar. He skipped the artichokes - the bed of tomatoes would provide plenty of vedge, especially since they were beefsteaks from the farmers' market. The recipe boils garlic three times so you won't be able to taste it, and then scatters the cloves over the fish to roast for a few minutes, which is ridiculous and adds nothing. And for the aioli, he pre-roasted garlic in the toaster oven for twenty minutes and then beat it into some prepared mayonnaise with a little extra lemon juice (okay, so we didn't bring our robot-coupe with us).

The result, served with a Featherstone Sauvignon Blanc 2006, was a light, buttery, well-seasoned fish on a luscious roast tomato bed. Maybe they're so well-armored because they taste so good.

Penne with Zucchini, Salami and Cream

The classic:
using Brock farmers' market hard German salami, which has a pronounced smoky flavor. And we took out a small loan in order to buy whipping cream, which costs about twice what it does in the States, and is a lot thinner to boot. Ah, well. Still went nicely with a Cave Spring 2006 Chardonnay.

Florentine Beans with Tuna and Focaccia

Sunday August 17
At yesterday's farmers' market, we bought a beautiful basket of cranberry beans, otherwise known as borlotti, and called roma beans in this neck of the escarpment. We took Saturday to prepare them the same way we did before, in the Italian fashion. The only change was adding chopped fresh rosemary on the second day, when we brought the beans to room temperature and added the tuna and salt.

We served them out on the patio, with Holt's homemade onion and olive focaccia instead of grilled vegetables, and a bottle of Ruffino Orvieto Classico 2007, for that taste of Tuscany among the Canadian maples.

Spicy Fennel Sausages with Onions and Red Peppers

Saturday August 16

We bought the ingredients for this meal at the St. Catharines farmers' market in the morning, and then spent the afternoon visiting picturesque Featherstone Winery, where sheep nibble and trim the lower vine leaves.
We bought a lot of wine, including their Gemstone Baco Noir, a red we figured would stand up to spicy sausages.

It turns out we'd underestimated these sausages; we were thinking hot Italian, but they were more in the hot Spanish chorizo range. The sautéed onions and red bell peppers modified them a bit, but they really needed something bland like potatoes. The wine, however, held up like a trouper.

Spaghetti al' Ragù

Friday August 15

Though it's not the meat gravy of Barbara's childhood among the Neapolitans, Marcella Hazan's recipe makes a damn good ragù.

The various brownings in milk and wine take about an hour, and then the sauce is supposed to simmer another three. But Holt made a slightly quicker version which preserved the chunks of fresh Roma tomato from the farmers' market. Just toss with hot spaghetti, grate some romano on top, and you're happy, especially when you have a glass of red Vinho do Poeta 2006, a very nice wine for the price.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Pierogies and Peppers

Thursday August 14

We dropped by the downtown Farmer's Market, bustling even on a weekday, to pick up a basket of herb plants we'd reserved from a local grower; we find we can't get along without fresh herbs, and now we don't have to. While there, Holt was tempted by a bagful of fresh pierogies, sold by a Polish farmer - or somebody who certainly looked like one.
Pierogies, a fine example of the Universal Theory of the Pancake, are traditionally served with onions sautéed in butter. We added a red pepper, which is probably untraditional, except, of course, in Człwósz, a small town we just invented. We added the pierogies and browned them up, two minutes a side.
It was only when we cut into them that we found the pierogies were stuffed with golden squash - butternut, acorn, or maybe even pumpkin. Pumpkin pierogies? Pierogies di zucca? Perhaps that's the way they make them in Człwósz. No matter, it went well with the onions and tasted great (though the Pillitteri estates 2004 unoaked Chardonnay we had with it was not very distinguished).

Poulet in Saupiquet

Wednesday August 13

Monday's defrosted thighs were supplemented by a packet of drumsticks. We had stocked up on a few kitchen essentials (anchovies—oddly kept above the frozen fish in our local supermarket) and capers (which we usually buy in the giant economy Umbria's coming to dinner size) and were ready for a dark and thick saupiquet sauce—lots of onions, garlic, anchovies, and olives. Especially yummy with a Hillebrand chardonnay.

Anniversary Steak

Tuesday August 12

Behind the thighs was lurking an "Anniversary Steak," a cut unknown to us Southerners. It proves to be a boneless prime rib, and very tender too. We had it with the leftover roast red onions, zucchini, red peppers that Jane had made us, into which we tossed the few surviving haricots. We brought the Grange des Dames 2003 Cotes du Ventoux from Cincinnati, because we love it.

Poulet Célestine

Monday August 11

We're slowing eating down Jane's freezer stock, in this case a bunch of chicken thighs. Tonight's contribution was a Poulet Célestine, in hono(u)r of the lovely white mushrooms and solid roma tomatoes we bought on Saturday. We did the additional step (which we often don't have time to do when coming home latish from the office) of marinating them with thyme and lemon juice (we hit a store and stocked up on all sort of spices and herbs). We added a lot of the nice tomatoes, too many really, since the 'maters are only there for a note of acid in a very rich wine sauce, but they were impossible to resist. The result was rather pizzaiolo, but very tasty for all that, and went very well with a Hillebrand 2007 Gewurtztraminer.

Trout and Corn Chowder

Sunday August 10

Even with three of us chowing down, there was left over trout. So a chowder was in order. No bacon (though we later discovered some in the freezer), but we did the deed with browned onions, some nice white potatoes from the farmers' market and more of the summer corn (ditto). We did the old trick of tossing in the cobs and the more important trick of fishing them back out. Served with a Peller Estates 2007 Chardonnay (light and appley).

Chateaubriand and Haricots Verts

Saturday August 9

Saturday is the St. Catharines Farmers' Market's big day. It takes place in a dedicated shed in the middle of town, and it buzzes with people, produce, plants, fruits, cheeses, meats, and many other good things to eat. Among our prizes, we snapped up a neat little sheaf of the thinnest, tender haricots verts. All they needed was a quick soak in boiling water, then drain and done. To go with these fresh finds, something special was needed: a find from M&M Meats (home of one of our favorite Canadian treats, Butter Tart Bars), a giant chunk of chateaubriand. This got browned quickly in oil on the stove, put in the hot oven until the temperature reached barely 120º (thank you, instant read thermometer!), and then rested for five eternal minutes before we cut it into generous chunks and served it and the green beans with a quick wine-stirred pan sauce (marchand de vin). Ohmygod it was good, especially with a Pelee Island Baco Noir 2007.

Cornbread, Corn, and Rainbow Trout

Friday August 8

Our old friend Don, who introduced us to Sole di Sicilia, lives just across the border in Buffalo, and he brought his daughter Frances over here to row in the 126th Royal Canadian Henley Regatta. Later, while she was out with her BFFs, Don came over for dinner with us. We had the two first courses out on the patio, looking over the garden, and the rest in the comfy kitchen.

We hadn't started baking yet, but luckily one of our new neighbors, Leonora, had come by that morning with a beautiful yellow cornbread loaf, hot from the oven. We cut it into little cubes and had it lavished with butter, as a lush appetizer.

Then something we'd bought that afternoon, at the Brock courtyard farmer's market: "three-minute corn," fresh out of the fields. Sugar and cream kernels, it really only took three minutes to boil, and even less time to slather with aforesaid butter and to salt and eat.

We went indoors to keep an eye on, and then to eat, the main course: two plump rainbow trout with pink flesh, which we sprinkled with dried rosemary and oregano and roasted in a hot hot oven (500º, that's Fahrenheit, we'll make the transition to centigrade . . . well, probably never).
On the side, leafy greens (again from the farmers at Brock). And a very nice wine, Peninsula Ridge 2007 Inox chardonnay, to accompany everything.

Dessert was more tasty pastry from the neighbors - it has to get eaten eventually, doesn't it?


Thursday August 7

As well as showing us how to use everything in her very sweet and commodious house, Jane made us free of her larder and fridge. She and her family were going out for a farewell dinner tonight, so we reached into the freezer and defrosted a nice piece of haddock. We hadn't even bought spices yet, so we breaded it with Jane's breadcrumbs, basil, and oregano, and sautéed it on the flat-top electric stove (which is going to take a lot of getting used to). With a green salad and local tomatoes, it was just fine.

Arrival in St. Catharines

Wednesday August 6

It's an eight-hour drive from Cincinnati to our new home-from-home in St. Catharines, Ontario. Luckily the weather was good, the driving easy, and the Canadian border guard fairly friendly even when confronted with our tightly-packed vehicle. We arrived at around dinnertime, and found our landlady and hostess, Jane, there to greet us, with the table already laid for a welcoming dinner.

Jane had gotten a rotisserie chicken, and her daughter Jo-Ann had set some fresh vegetables to roast: onions, zucchini, and peppers with parmesan, and seasonal asparagus with green beans. It was delicious, especially after a long day's drive. We contributed a good bottle of Napa cab sav, and the neighbors contributed farewell-to-Jane-hello-to-us plates of excellent home-made pastries. OH, CANADA…

Garbage Stew

Tuesday August 5

Last Thursday's Mennonite chicken left its wings, thighs, and especially carcass over for tasty garbage stew. We were packing for our imminent departure, so it was easy to break up the carcass, add some onions, parsley, and seasonings, and simmer it in our usual fashion.
The only difference was that we made the broth, picked the bones, and cooked up the stew all on the same night. Our vegetables were golden ball turnips (left over from the original Simon and Garfunkel roast chicken), carrots, celery, and more onions. So less like a chicken pot pie and more like a very hearty soup or stew. Which we needed, because we were getting up early and scooting off to Canada the next morning.

Chinese Grocery Pork with Mashed Potatoes

Monday August 4

Last Tuesday's Chinese Grocery Roast Pork resulted in what we in the Ali ben Buddha Society used to so euphoniously call a shitload of pork. On Friday we had it with risotto cakes, and tonight we finished it off, with mashed potatoes. The sauce made pretty decent crater gravy, too.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Grilled Shrimp and Lemon Skewers

Sunday August 3

Allison and Joe were coming over, so we decided to do a summer meal on the grill. Of course, we didn't want to go OUTSIDE - it's hot out there! So Holt did his grilling on our indoor Jenn-air.

First, he grilled four of our last garden-grown baby bok choy, split in half, basted with olive oil, and sprinkled with salt. He was trying for the sort of effect we got from the romaine lettuce in a grilled Caesar salad, but unfortunately bok choy stems are too stringy for that treatment, so next time, we go back to braising.

The rest was less experimental, and turned out as delicious as planned: grilled thin slices of white and red onions; grilled baby squash of various shapes, all yellow and white and green; and skewers of shrimp alternating with lime slices. Some people do this with shell-on shrimp, but shell-off soaks up the lime and grill flavors better, not to mention being easier to eat.

Dessert, like dinner, was mainly of local ingredients: big juicy blackberries, dusted with just a little sugar (okay, not local), and topped with Graeter's vanilla ice cream. Anyone can be a locavore if they live three blocks from Graeter's.

Tink's with Jacquie and Shaun

Saturday August 2

We spent most of the day packing and whacking (weeds), so it was lovely to put on some nice duds in the evening and stroll the three blocks to Tink's Cafe, where Jacquie and Shaun had kindly invited us for a farewell (for now) dinner.

We started the meal with appetizers: smoked salmon tartare with avocado and wasabi caviar, piled in the avocado shell and surrounded with lotus-root chips; and shrimp and grits in a sea of dark, savory tasso gravy. Both were hearty and flavorful, though the lotus-root chips won the prize for prettiness and novelty.

As it was a hot summer day, we decided to continue the fishy theme (with a favorite wine, the Con Class Rueda). We had a tranche of grilled salmon on a roasted corncake, surrounded by a tomato-almond "mole" (closer to a romesco sauce, actually) and showered with jicama juliennes and lime. And of course we had to order a new fish: Tripletail.
This toothsome white fish was also grilled, and flanked by arugula in a tasty horseradish dressing. The potato-apple gallette under it was seriously overfried and tough, but this was the only mistake that Tink's made. And the service, as always, was attentive and friendly. So thanks, Jacquie and Shaun, for a lovely time and an excellent dinner.

Chinese Pulled Pork with Fresh Corn Risotto Cakes

Friday August 1

Okay, so ethnically it's a split personality. We combined this past Tuesday's Chinese Grocery Roast Pork with risotto cakes made out of the previous Thursday's fresh corn, tomato, and basil Risotto.
The pork only needed to be reheated. The risotto was molded into patties, and dipped in seasoned cornmeal, for that two-corn experience, before frying. Tender enough to barely hold together, but good.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Simon and Garfunkel Chicken with Turnips and Shallots

Thursday July 31

Our free-range Mennonite chicken from Indian Lake came out of the freezer today. I can't help but picture that as a rooster in plain black garb and a feather headdress strolling casually out of a cooler. Anyway, he was a longer, taller bird than your average supermarket chicken, without those puffy, inflated breasts (now he's apparently transsexual). We find, though, that defrosting a well-frozen chicken takes all day, plus an additional run under cold water to get the last ice crystals out. Holt worked chopped fresh parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme up under the nice yellow skin, put the usual lemon up his (the chicken's) butt, and set it to roasting.

In the meantime, Barbara went out into the garden and discovered that the Golden Ball heirloom turnips she'd planted a couple of months ago had burgeoned mightily, and were ready to pick. Just three, chopped into batons, went into the roaster among the chicken fat and juices, accompanied by the five last shallots in the bin. They caramelized nicely, and were delicious with the well-herbed chicken breasts.

Radicchio, Fennel, and Arugula Salad With Blue Cheese and Pecans

Wednesday July 30

As we mentioned a week ago, the garden has been producing more radicchio than you can shake several sticks at. We've given some away, and tossed some into lunchtime salads. But this salad leapt out at us when we saw it on Epicurious. Almost all its reviewers gave it four forks, the word "bitter" was conspicuously unmentioned, and it contained a bunch of things that we had a lot of, including a fennel bulb purchased at Findlay Market last week. Of course, we had to tailor a number of ingredients to our pantry and preferences - our preferred blue cheese is gorgonzola rather than roquefort, we used a last scattering of the nice pecans that Helene sent us last year instead of walnuts - they've been in the freezer, where they keep pretty well - and we left the nuts whole instead of chopping them up, which meant that they were less likely form a nut cluster at the bottom of the salad bowl. And you know what? Those reviewers were right. The sweet fennel somehow interacts with the bitter radicchio and the peppery arugula, and the result was savory and well-blended, not bitter at all.

Chinese Grocery Roast Pork and Bok Choy

Tuesday July 29

Back on Saturday, when we knew we'd be firing up the oven to bake bread but were going out to dinner, we decided to conserve oven-energy and braise a shoulder of pork (Boston butt) for later in the week. We adapted a recipe from a beautiful book on southern cooking we saw at Vaden and Ginger's, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, by Martha Foose. It's essentially just Chinese red-cooked pork; here's the recipe as we did it.

Chinese Grocery Roast Pork and Bok Choy
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1 cup dark soy sauce - we used half double-black and half normal
½ cup sake
½ cup rice vinegar - we used Chinkiang, which is black, though Foose recommends a red vinegar - Koon Chun makes a good brand.
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar - we used light brown, plus a lick of molasses
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 star anise
2-inch piece cinnamon stick
¼ teaspoon five-spice powder
½ cup water
1 picnic shoulder of pork or Boston butt - 3-4 lbs.
3 baby bok choys, stalks separated from leaves, sliced crossways into half-inch pieces.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add the shallots, then garlic and ginger, and cook for 1 minute. Add the soy, sake, vinegar, honey, brown sugar, molasses, hoisin, anise, cinnamon and five-spice. Simmer for 1 minute. Add a half cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat.

Place the meat in the liquid, turning several times to coat it with the sauce, and put the covered Dutch oven in the oven. Cook for 30 minutes undisturbed, then baste with the cooking liquid (or just flip the whole thing over) and continue to baste every 20 minutes to half hour until the internal temperature of the meat is 185 degrees, about 4 to 4½ hours.

This is the part we did ahead of time, on Saturday, and put the whole Dutch oven in the fridge, to meditate and improve in flavor. On Tuesday, we threw the Dutch oven back in the oven to reheat, and as soon as it was bubbling, put the chopped bok-choy stalks in the liquid for 10 minutes, then added the leaves and let them cook for 5 minutes more.

The meat was meltingly tender, so parts could be sliced and others pulled apart like pulled pork. We served it doused with pan juice, and the bok choy was fished out with a slotted spoon and piled into another bowl. We managed to avoid chomping down on the star anise and cinnamon just by being careful, because it's hard to find among the clumps of bok choy.

We asked Julie over to help us deal with all this food, and had a great time nattering away over dinner. And afterwards, Kathy and Russel came over with a bottle of Domaine Saint Vincent Brut, another fine sparkling wine from Alburquerque. Who'da thunk that the home of the green chile would also be so hospitable to champagne vineyards?

The wine went beautifully with Holt's individual stone fruit Johnnycake cobblers, which we gobbled up for afters. This is a beautiful recipe from Baking with Julia. Like the pork, we did much of this the day before. We had some very ripe plums and peaches from one of the farmers in the market. We cooked the fruit with just a little sugar until nice and thickened and added a zotz of butter just for fun.
The next day the fruit got put into little ramekins with the Johnnycake (two n's, no space) topping:

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmea
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 stick (2 ounces or 1/4 cup) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 12 pieces
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (or cream and milk)

Cut the butter into the dry ingredients (I used the Robot Coupe). Add the cream till the biscuit holds together. Spoon on top.
Bake at 425º for 15 minutes.
There's a nice picture by picture guide to America's simplest dessert here. And here.

Grilled Tilapia and Baby Squash

Monday July 28

We're taking off for our Canadian Adventure soon, We've had Fish and Squish a couple of times before, but this time we put them on the indoor grill instead of using pans. First came the baby zucchini and yellow and green zephyr squashes, each halved, oiled, and salted. When they were done, Holt oiled the grill and gingerly placed three thick fillets of seasoned and also-oiled tilapia on it. Flipping them was a juggling act, but they tasted marvelous.
With it went a simple but tasty dill sauce from The Herbfarm Cookbook, fairly similar to this. A little shallot sautéed in butter, then one lemon's worth of zest, half a lemon's worth of the juice, plus a little white wine, reduced, then off the heat, incorporate 4-5 slices of butter. Stir in lots of dill at the end. Yum.

Summer BLTs

Sunday July 27

When Holt bought tomatoes at Findlay Market this past Saturday, the farmer selling them looked at the biggest one in the basket and wistfully said "that sure would make a great BLT." So Holt was inspired.

We built them on a base of his own fresh herb bread, using the usual and aforementioned subjects (lettuce from the garden, tomato thin-sliced, salted, and peppered), but also a couple of slices of provolone cheese. This was Barbara's idea, as she likes the contrast and sees no objection to making the trayf more trayf. She also layers the sandwich with smooth solids next to the bread to prevent crumbling: bread, mayo, cheese, tomato, bacon, lettuce from the garden, a final spread of mayo, and then bread. The succulent result wasn't quite as thick as a Dagwood special or a New York deli sandwich (God forbid!), but it was definitely a mouthful.

Dinner at the Wellingtons'

Saturday July 26

Jean and Donald invited us, Susan, and Mike over for a summer pool party. We had tried this last Fourth of July, and got rained out completely. But this time, despite threatening skies, we succeeded in walking to the pool, getting our swim in, coming back to the house, getting dried off, and settling in the parlor with wine and cheese, hummus, flatbreads, and vegetable chips. Then Jean walked out onto the balcony to start the grill, and the skies opened and drenched her. She was unfazed, however, and a savory dinner was soon served at her perfectly-appointed, red-white-and-blue bedecked table.

There were chicken sausages: spinach and asiago, and smoked portobello, cleverly served with grilled slices of fresh mango. Jean also continued the patriotic theme with little red, white, and blue potatoes. A corn, peppers, and black bean salsa added a touch of Mexican spice.

Finally, there were peach and triple-berry pies from the Bluebird Bakery, with vanilla ice cream to go on top, and of course the house favorite, frango mints. We were so glad we had gotten in some exercise beforehand, because we unabashedly stuffed ourselves. So thanks again, Jean and Donald, and happy (belated) Fourth of July!