Thursday, January 31, 2013

Overexciting Evening at Julie's

Saturday 19 January
This evening we were going to our friend Julie's house for what was supposed to be a homey, relaxed dinner for just us three.  To provide dessert, Holt baked a cake from this brilliant recipe invented by our friend David Warda.
Persian Pistachio Cake
1 cup Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1 teaspoon ground Cardamom
½ teaspoon Salt
½ cup Buttermilk
½ teaspoon Rosewater
2/3 cup (1½ sticks) room temperature Unsalted Butter
¾ cup Sugar
3 Eggs, separated
1 cup finely chopped or ground unsalted Pistachios
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter and flour a 9-inch square baking pan (though we did fine with a bundt cake pan).
Combine flour, baking powder, cardamom, and salt.
Combine buttermilk and rosewater.
Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Set aside.
Cream together the butter and sugar then slowly add the egg yolks.
Alternately add the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture.
Mix in the pistachios.
Whisk in 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter. Fold in the remaining egg whites.
Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.
Bake the cake for about 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool the cake on a rack.
Gaze at its beauty.

We drove over to Julie's, and had just cracked a bottle of wine and eaten a bunch of cornmeal-crusted olives (we have to get the recipe for those as well) when we heard a siren and noticed lights flashing.  We looked out, and the house that was one over from hers across the street was on fire.  The firemen had already arrived; at first it looked like some smoke billowing out of a second floor window, but then we saw red inside, and a flame licked out from under the roof eaves.  
By this time, the whole neighborhood was out, and we went out on the porch and stared in that combination of fascination and horror you get on such occasions.  Julie ran around the corner, avoiding the firetrucks and hoses, and found out that there was no one in the house; the parents were away, and the kids and the dog had been there, but had smelled smoke and gotten out to a neighbor, who had called 911.  
By this time Julie's sister, who also lives in the neighborhood, had come over with her daughter to see how Julie was, and we were all chatting with neighbors and watching the firemen trying to keep the upper floor from exploding in flame.  They'd shower water into the windows, and then the fire would burst out from the rafters under the roof.  Smoke was rolling out, but luckily the wind was taking it away from us (and from our car, which was parked on the street in front of her house).  
After a while we were cold and hungry, and there was nothing we could do to help, so we settled down in the dining room, ate Julie's delicious tomato-sauced and slow-cooked pot roast with green salad, and gave Julie's sister and her daughter and son (who also turned up) a slice of the cake.    
After dessert of pistachio cake and a bottle of prosecco, which we very much needed, we hugged Julie goodnight, thanked the firemen who were still wrapping up around the smoking wreck of a house, and drove home. 
Those tongues of fire still linger in our minds; may all of us be safe from such misfortunes.

Pork Stew and Potatoes

Friday 18 January
A few meaty slices of Wednesday's pork roast, in its abundant apple cider jus, with potatoes boiled separately and then mixed in.

Avocadoes with Shrimp and Curry Sauces

Thursday 17 January
We meant to do something else for dinner this evening (can't remember what), but we found that the avocadoes we bought and bagged to ripen were now perfect; with avocadoes, you can't miss that moment. 
One of the simplest and best things to do with avocadoes is halve them, remove the pit, and stuff them with shrimp and a dipping sauce.  So we just boiled up a half pound of shrimp in a court-bouillon of their own shells, some celery leaves, and a few peppercorns, and let them cool a bit.
We halved the avocadoes and rubbed them with lime.  Then we mixed up two variations on curried mayonnaise: each had a half teaspoon of curry powder to a couple of Tablespoons of mayonnaise, but one got a shot of fresh lime juice, and the other a dribble of soy sauce (a classic with crudités, taught to Barbara by the late unlamented Bob Palmer many moons ago, at a rare point when he was being nice to people). 
If we were being genteel, we'd dab a little sauce into each avocado hollow, and arrange the shrimp with their heads in it and their tails poking out.  But we wanted lots of extra sauce, so we served each sauce in its own bowl, and dunked and spooned shrimp and avocado ad lib.  After all, it was just the two of us.

Apple Cider Pork Roast

Wednesday 16 January
We don't buy pork from Kroger supermarkets, because they plump it up and make you pay pork prices for flavored water and chemicals (they call it "moist 'n' tender" - ha!).  But the far cheesier Save-a-Lot stores were offering unadulterated (if oddly butchered) pork sirloin roasts for $1.19/lb.   Barbara got two, one to cook and one to freeze.
First, we rubbed the 3-pound roast with Julia Child's recommended pork spice mixture: 1/4 tsp. each of ground-up bayleaf, clove, mace, nutmeg, paprika and thyme, and half that of allspice, cinnamon, and savory, mixed up with a good dose of white pepper (we would add some kosher salt too, next time).  Let it sit overnight in the fridge.
The next day, heat a Tbsp. of oil in a Dutch oven and brown the pork on all sides.  Set aside, add more oil, and sauté 6-8 small peeled shallots for a few minutes, then a couple of big turnips cut into batons and two chopped garlic cloves for a couple of minutes more. 
Set aside the vegetables, add a cup of apple cider, deglaze the bottom of the pan, and put the pork back in.  Add cider until it comes up to the roast's hips, cover, and simmer 1 hour.  Check intermittently to add more cider if it looks dry (unlikely, really).
Turn the roast, re-add the vedge, and toss in a bouquet of fresh thyme sprigs.  Season with salt and pepper, cover, and simmer for another 30 minutes.
Core and slice 3-4 sturdy apples (we used Cameos) into eighths.  Open the casserole, turn the roast again, shift the vedge, and fold in the apple slices.  Cover and simmer 30 more minutes.
Test, taste, and adjust seasoning.  Slice the roast, pile the plate with pork, slather with vedge, and drench with sauce.  Oh, and you can shower it with some fresh thyme leaves, but it was too cold to go back out in the garden, and the savory scent was driving us crazy, so we dived in.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Picantissimo Chicken with Brussels Sprouts

Tuesday 15 January
Someone - we can't remember who, but they were really nice - gave us a packet of spice mixture labeled picantissimo.  It was the perfect thing to perk up four chicken thighs, which we browned and steamed with wine. 
Our side dish was Brussels sprouts, halved and boiled for 3 1/2 mins, then sautéed in brown butter.  It may not sound romantic, but it sure tastes good.