Sunday, November 30, 2008

odds and ends

As is becoming the habit, rather than the exception, I have some photos that capture a few of the many wonderful meals eaten chez H&S. Wonderful meals that somehow went undocumented blogside. Above, a bright-eyed Beta realizes a dream come true: watching Saji-Ya's sushi chef make a plate of sushi (tekka maki, tobiko, ikura—no kidding, this kid is crazy about fish eggs) that he didn't have to share with anyone.

This was one of the moistest chickens I have ever roasted. I stuffed the free range, organic beast's cavity with lemon, a head of garlic, and whatever thyme, rosemary, and oregano could be salvaged from my garden pots (they'd survived a freeze, which I took as a sign). Next, the entire bird was given a thin veneer of melted butter, liberally salted and peppered, and roasted for an hour at 400 degrees, while surrounded by olive oil-slathered onions, fingerling potatoes, carrots, and turnips (my veggie discovery of the fall, btw). The sweet caramelized onions were my favorite.

Beef shanks, a fraction of veal shanks' price—and, with a big, beefy taste. These were browned in olive oil and removed from the Dutch oven. Veggies (carrots, onions, celery) were sauteed and browned bits were scraped up before the shanks were reintroduced. A combination of port, hearty red wine (a cab), and beef stock covered the meat and vegetables. Lid on pot, the whole thing braised in a low oven for three hours. We topped the shredded meat with a horseradish-spiked creme fraiche and served in a mashed potato nest.

Here is the best souvenir of a braised beef and mashed potatoes dinner—Shepherd's Pie, which we've led our boys to believe is our Official Family Dish. And, as Shepherd's Pie is notoriously difficult to photograph while plated—too many browns and whites, not enough oranges and greens—I thought I'd offer a cross-section. This Pyrex 9x13 baker is one of the most-used items in our kitchen.

Ending on a sweet note. On the right is a perfect pumpkin muffin specimen. It comes from Bread and Chocolate, a local St. Paul bakery, and is only available for a limited run in the fall. If memory serves correct, B&C stops offering them after Thanksgiving, which would be a shame as I have yet to reproduce a pumpkin muffin that even comes close. The anemic-colored muffin on the left was baked from the recipe on the Whole Food's 365 pumpkin puree can. Yes, I know. You get what you pay for, or something like that. I will refrain from describing how it tasted. It did not taste rich and pumpkiny and spicy. It did not taste like fall. Fortunately I never tire of B&C's pumpkin muffins. In fact, I'm planning to petition the bakery to offer them year round. Until such time, I have a recipe to perfect!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

weekend update

Friday dinner—olive-oil broiled Atlantic salmon on a bed of French lentils with Elliot's Northwoods bacon, carrots, fennel, celery, and a splash of red-wine vinegar. The salmon was perfectly cooked, flaky and moist. But the lentils were my favorite part of the meal. Thankfully I have leftovers that will be adorned with a runny-yolk fried egg.

Saturday dinner—Finally, an opportunity to satisfy a hankering for serious roasted pork. We entertained on Saturday night and, in a highly unusual move, ordered food in. Well, we ordered in part of our food—specifically, 12-hour roasted local heritage Berkshire pork from Brasa. I'm sure I have failed to sufficiently rave about Brasa, Alex Roberts' casual rotisserie, but the food—tender fall-apart pork, spicy tender fall-apart beef, or rotisserie chicken—is beyond superlatives. It's all local. Organic, when possible. If you go to Brasa, as you should, you'll be presented with a list of Southern-style sides that include fried yucca, garnet yams with andouille sausage, baking powder biscuits, a fancy coleslaw, and collard greens. We made our own sides: braised greens (enormous Swiss chard leaves) and my mother-in-law's grits souffle. Best part—we have extra pork for sandwiches. I'm thinking chipotle aioli and pickled red onions will go nicely with the salty, smoky meat, piled high on a sweet, soft bun.

Reason to live #111: Roberts is in far-from-final negotiations over a St. Paul, Grand Avenue location. If it happens, I may never eat anything else again.

Sunday breakfast—While I fried up the remaining Elliot's thick-cut bacon, Beta made the scrambled eggs. With only a little guidance, he cracked the eggs, beat them with a whisk, seasoned with salt and pepper, and added grated cheese. I turned on the burner for Beta, and he did the rest, slowly cooking the eggs over low heat. I am soooo lucky that my boys like to cook. They're good cooks, too. These eggs are creamier than I can manage. I put Salsa Lisa mild on mine. We also ate the banana bread that Beta and I baked yesterday. The recipe is a highly modified version of Mark Bittman's from How to Cook Everything. It's a super-moist loaf with nuts (we used walnuts) and coconut. Though they are completely unnecessary, we embellished with mini Tollhouse morsels.

Sunday dinner—Tomatoes, fennel, lemon slices, garlic, white wine, a healthy amount of olive oil, and a little water comprised a braising liquid for halibut. I'm fixating on how red the tomato skin appears in this photo, and what a contrast it provides to the crispy white flesh. I know this isn't what tomatoes are supposed to look like, and it's not surprising that they didn't contribute much. Note to self: as we wait for July to roll round again, use canned tomatoes or skip. The best part of the braising liquid was the olive oil, white wine, and lemon. Green olives would have made a nice addition.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Countdown to Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a week away, and I have no idea what I’m making. It's okay—this isn't a panic since we’re having dinner with friends Steve and Lisa, at their house. No need to worry over brining, salting, smoking, deep-frying, or stuffing the turkey. Even though I'd like to, I don’t have to plan an entire meal this year. Even so, I'm fully armed with the current issues of Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, and Food and Wine, as well as an inch-thick folder, filled with clippings from previous years' issues of same.

I have too many choices, and it's a bit overwhelming. I don't know where to start. Fortunately, I only need to pick one side to pass and one dessert.

If you're eight days out and still need to formulate a menu, go straight to one of the online Thanksgiving meal guides:
Star Tribune
Food and Wine
New York Times, especially Bittman's take on sweet potatoes and Melissa Clark's leftover ideas.

If you live in the vicinity of St. Paul and Minneapolis, hie thee to uber-butcher, Clancey’s for foodstuffs to make your menu special:
confit of duck hearts & gizzards, ginger spiced duck jerky, cherry wood smoked duck breasts.
silky squash soup, squid & shellfish soup, winter veal stew.
goat cheese truffles, poached gulf shrimp, rabbit liver pate.
alder smoked trout, apple wood smoked scallops, hickory smoked whole herring.
fresh turkeys, turkey gravy, turkey stock.
cranberry relish & sauce, potato gratin, traditional stuffing.
it's all roasting and rolling now...
and always good at clancey's.
Or, let my friends Amy and Heidi—the sass-tastic Chowgirls—make some or all of your meal. Their Brussels Sprouts Gratin ("smothered in melty blue cheese"), Sweet Potato Souffle, and 18-pound, maple syrup brined turkey, among others, will make a worthy addition to your feast.

Now back to planning that side dish and dessert...

(photo credit: Lisa Peardon/Getty Images)

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Bet you can't eat just one

Beta and I had a few hours to ourselves this afternoon. Hambone is in Houston visiting his father. Alpha was off meeting the Beastie Boys at an Obama rally (the video evidence is stunning!). Casting about for things to do that would keep us from lounging in front of the telly, gorging on Halloween candy, I walked into the den and tripped on two pumpkins that we'd purchased days ago but hadn't yet carved.

True confession: I've never carved a pumpkin. We're not going to go into the whys and wherefores of that travesty. And, by the looks of the finished products, I've got a lot to learn about finessing a knife through a thick-skinned pumpkin. But, we mostly bought the pumpkins because Beta requested roasted seeds. Carving faces just helped us kill time while the seeds were doing in the oven. Mind you, I've never roasted seeds either. Let's just say it was my genius move of the day.

I'm sure you could find countless techniques and recipes by doing an online search, but this is the method we employed. In a colander, rinse guts from seeds. Line a baking sheet (or as many as are necessary) with a double thickness of paper towels, then pour out the seeds, arranging them in a single layer. Blot as much moisture from the seeds as possible. Pour olive oil into a medium-size bowl (about 1 T. per cup of seeds). Add seeds and toss, sprinkling with salt. This is a good time to season with herbs or spices. Many combinations would be stunning: prepared or home-concocted curry or garam masala, za'atar, sumac berries, cayenne, cayenne and scant brown sugar, fresh-chopped thyme or rosemary. The possibilities really are endless. (N.B.: Roast in 350 degree F oven for 20-30 minutes.)

Beta and I made three batches of seeds. I found it easiest to toss seeds, oil, and seasonings in cake pans, and then do the roasting in them. This method proved to be a space saver in the oven, as well. We did plain kosher salt, curry and cayenne, and maple pepper from Golden Fig, a local fancy-food purveyor.

Quite frankly, I can't stop eating the maple-pepper version, which instantly achieved the status Ultimate Nibble up to This Point in 2008. It's salty and has a peppery sting, tempered by sweetness from the maple sugar. Stunning.

And as for Beta. He agreed the maple-pepper seeds were good. Then he singlehandedly inhaled the simply salted morsels.