After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.
~Oscar Wilde

Most of us have all been there. La famille, je vous hais (de temps en temps), especially when these days, uncomfortable conversations emit from the table. You might imagine the awkward talk that was uttered between Trump and Romney at Jean Gorges.

Now, we know the Curse of the Billy Goat has perished ending an over a century (some 108 year drought) spell of haplessness as the Cubs finally won the World Series in Game 7 of 2016 in a rather surreal extra inning ending. But, a “W” is a “W,” and as a native Chicagoan I am elated and intensely wished to be at a local watering hole in Chitown — have been to Final Fours before and found that neighborhood venues were the best.  The food is often better, not to mention there are replays galore, both behind the plate and elsewhere in the field.

A reveler here.  Damn, the Cubs won! One for the ages. No room for pessimism now — an epic season, series’ and games.

Ben Zobrist’s run scoring double in the rain delayed 10th inning marathon, and Joe Maddon as well as a glorious cast behind them made sure. Must admit that Zobrist (the World Series MVP) and closer Mike Montgomery used to be Kansas City Royals so the result was even sweeter.

This happened to be regular fare on “Turkey” Day, partially leased from Julia Child, and plan on serving the same this Thanksgiving. No turkey, not traditional, but goose as the main course with apps and sides as the real deal.

Goose fat (the same with duck) is remarkably superb as a basting medium, so be sure to render the fat from inside the bird. Once rendered, the leftovers will keep for weeks in the fridge too. A sublime brown goose stock, for sauce, is made with the chopped gizzard, neck, heart, and wing tips, so make sure that this offal is kept, not discarded.

A 9 lb. goose takes about 2 hours to cook while a 12 1/2 lb. bird just takes about 30 minutes longer.  Your best bet is to choose a 9-11 lb. honker. A 9 lb. bird takes about 2 hours at 425-350 F and an 11 lb. goose takes about 20 minutes longer. Cook until the drumsticks move slightly in their sockets and when the fleshiest part is tined with a fork, the juices run a pale yellow.

Note: do remember that goose is roasted much like duck except that goose has the skin pricked and is basted with boiling water and/or wine and/or goose and/or chicken stock (or a mix thereof) every 15 minutes or so.

ROAST GOOSE WITH FOIE GRAS & PRUNES (OIE ROTI AUX FOIE GRAS ET PRUNEAX)

Thaw goose to room temperature. Dry well.

Goose stock
Chopped goose neck, gizzard, and heart
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 T rendered goose fat

Prepare brown goose stock in advance. In a heavy medium saucepan with olive oil, place chopped goose neck, gizzard, and heart as well as sliced onion, carrot and rendered goose fat, thyme sprigs, and bay leaf.

Allow to simmer for 1 1/2-2 hours or so, skimming as necessary. Strain through cheesecloth and a chinois, and the stock is ready to use.

Preheat oven to 425 F

Prunes
40-50 prunes
Soak the prunes in hot water for about 5 minutes and pit. Simmer prunes in a covered saucepan for about 10 minutes, until tender. Drain for goose now and reserve cooking liquid for later.

Goose Liver Sauce
1 C dry white wine
2 C brown goose stock
Goose liver, minced or chopped
2 T shallots, peeled and finely minced
1 T unsalted butter
1/2 C port wine

Simmer white wine and goose stock slowly in a covered heavy saucepan for about 10 minutes, with the wine or stock for about 10 minutes, until tender. Drain and reserve.

Simmer the goose liver, shallots, unsalted butter and port wine in a small heavy skillet for about 2 or so minutes and scrape into a small mixing bowl. Put both together with a whisk.

Foie Gras
1/2 C of foie gras or similar pâté
Good pinch or more of allspice and thyme
3-4 T stale bread crumbs, freshly zapped in the Cuisinart or blender
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sauté goose liver and shallots in butter, using a small, but heavy skillet, for about 2 minutes and then scrape into a mixing bowl. In the same skillet, boil the port wine until reduced to 2 T, then scrape into the mixing bowl with the goose liver.

Now, blend the foie gras and spices, et al., into the mixing bowl with the sautéed goose liver. Sometimes, carefully place the foie gras, bread crumbs and goose liver into center of the prunes, then stuff.

Prunes Anon
Prune cooking juices
1/2 C port wine
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 T unsalted butter, softened

(See below*, for finish)

Goose Fat
Chop lose goose fat from inside the goose carcass and chop into 1/2″ pieces. Simmer in a covered heavy saucepan with about 1 C water. Uncover the pan and bring to a boil. Once finished, the fat will be a pale yellow, use some to bulb over goose and then strain some of the liquid for goose now into a jar for use later.

The Goose
1 – 9 to 11 lb. goose, room temperature and dried well
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cover sparingly with pancetta slices, for moisture and flavor.

Boiling water and/or wine and/or chicken stock (or a mix thereof), for “braising” or “bulbing” every 15 minutes so as to keep the bird moist during the roasting process.

Salt & pepper the cavity of the goose and stuff loosely with prunes. Skewer the vent and secure the legs and neck skin to the body with trussing string. Prick the skin over the thighs, back and breasts, then dry thoroughly and set the bird breast up in the heated roasting pan.

Brown the goose for 20 minutes or so and then turn on its side (breast side to the rear) and lower heat to 350 F to continue roasting.

Do not forget: baste every 15 minutes or thereabouts with boiling water, stock or wine, sucking the excess goose fat with a bulb baster.  At the halfway mark, turn goose on the other side, yet continue basting.

When done, discard trussing strings, place the pancetta into a glass bowl, and set the goose on a carving board or platter to rest. As with all meats and poultry, this step is truly important.

Below* — In the interim, tilt the pan and spoon out the fat, leaving behind the brown juices. Pour in the the prune cooking juices and port. Boil down, until the liquid has reduced and correct seasoning.  Take off heat and swirl in the the softened butter, then pour into a sauce boat, sort of au jus.

After resting, serve by pulling or severing off legs, thighs, back and what remains of wings and slicing the breast somewhat thin but more thick than a turkey, then coating with goose and prune sauce.

Remove prunes, foie gras, port wine, spices and herbs for dressing into a bowl.

Below’s menu is nothing like the “first” Thanksgiving given the murderous raids, scalping, beheading and slave trading of indigenous ones, “heathen savages,” by white folks — no, not really warm & fuzzy. Later, African Americans, because they were too busy serving white people on Thanksgiving Day celebrated the holiday somewhat later, often in January to accord when Abe uttered the Emancipation Proclamation. There is a common thread here: conquering whites and their profound prejudices.

As an aside despite a couple of journals written by whites during the “original Thanksgiving feast,” no mention is made of turkey being served.

A PROPOSED “MODERN” THANKSGIVING MENU:

Appetizers (Da bomb)
Gougères and/or Arancini with Balsamico di Modena & Aioli
Deviled eggs, of varied ilks, but local pasture raised (duck rillette, proscuitto, caviar, for instance)

Beef tartare and/or sushi(purchased on the way home from your favored fish artist)and/or oven roasted oysters and/or Pa Jun (savory Korean pancakes)
Varied cheeses & proscuitto/serrano platter, local homemade pickles, capers, cornichons & toasted artisanal bread

Seared scallops with apple cider vinegar or calamari au vin or octopus tapas or tuna and avocado ceviche or moules marinieres and/or lobster bisque or oyster & brie soup

Main & Side Courses (Somewhat Non-Traditional Fodder)
Roast Goose (Oie Roti aux foie gras et pruneaux) or Coq au Vin or Braised Lamb Shanks or Braised Beef Short Ribs and if you go chicken, lamb or braised short ribs, try the sauce with the root veggies
Prune & Foie Gras “Dressing” with the goose

Caponata alla Sicilina
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Currants and/or Walnuts
Roasted Shallots
Smashed or Puréeed Potatoes or Gratin Dauphinois or Potatoes Aligotes with Comté ou Gruyère or Rice Pilaf or Arroz a la Mexicana
Oyster Casserole with pie crust, crème fraîche, leeks, bacon, thyme & gruyère (if you did not use oysters above)

Desserts (One Fine Finish)
Fresh pecan or date pies, bars or cookies and/or seasonal fruit crisps and/or
mousse au chocolat or chocolat truffes — always dependant upon guests

This list does not take into account egg nog with rum and other liqueurs, older charonnays, pinot noirs, zinfandels, red meritages and cognacs throughout the day — always remember, though, in vino veritas.

Whatever is chosen, deep sighs for souls, still.

Pourboire: Admittedly, I often braised the goose about half way up with red wine and stock (much like coq au vin), throwing in some root vegetables yet still keeping the prunes and foie gras inside. Then again, you can go the route of Calvin Trillin of the New Yorker Magazine who once commented that “turkey was something used to punish students for hanging around on Sundays,” and treat your guests to pasta carbonara (with guanciale and perhaps some pancetta) or lay out a medley of differing pizzas. You know they may be tired of poultry (turkey too). They will likely be grateful.

We all like chicken.
~Malcolm X

Shortly after my fetching daughter’s glorious wedding in a mountain field, I felt compelled to write about rabbit cacciatore (July 24, 2013).

Today’s cacciatore recipe goes to show (as with coq au vin) just how many myriad versions exist of this rustic braise, so many of which are luscious. Really, what are “authentic” kitchens and “classic” recipes anyways — especially when your lands or regions have been invaded, conquered, occupied or colonized by other culture(s) over time?

For instance, tomatoes (pommodori) are often traced from origins in Peru, where they were domesticated by the Mayans and later cultivated by the Incas. These divine fruits likely entered Europe by way of Spain, after conquistador Hernán Cortés‘ early 16th century conquest of the flourishing Aztec city-state of Tenochtitlán, on a swampy island on the coast of Lake Texcoco in the valley of Mexico. When these globular red (often yellow) berries arrived on Italian shores, they were strictly a curiosity for those who merely studied or ruminated about plants, but not anything anyone would ever consider eating. Tomatls (an Aztec term) were considered “strange and horrible things” — aberrant mutants, even feared as poisonous. It was not until later that tomatoes finally were embraced in Italy as pomi d’oro, or “golden apples.” Imported tomatoes assimilated easily to the Mediterranean rim climate and finally became a vital part of Italian cuisine in the 17th & 18th centuries and beyond — over two millennia after they were first domesticated in South and Mesoamerica. The sometimes tortured path of food.

The notion of pollo alla cacciatore seems a rather amusing take on hunters who utterly fail to nab anything while pocketing hearty fare from home. Gentle souls, they must be.

And yes, Malcolm, chicken is unforgettably irresistible.

CHICKEN CACCIATORE (POLLO ALLA CACCIATORE)

4-5 leg thigh quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 T fresh rosemary, chopped
2 C all purpose flour

1 1/2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
2 T extra virgin olive oil

3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 t rosemary leaves, chopped
1 t oregano leaves, chopped
1 T fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped
Sea salt

1/2 C dry red wine
1 C chicken broth
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 14 1/2 oz canned tomatoes in juice, diced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 C crimini and/or shittake mushrooms, trimmed and thickly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Rosemary sprigs, for serving
1/2 C basil, ribboned, for serving
2-3 T capers, drained, for serving

Penne, rice, risotto or other pastas, cooked according to instructions

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium high in a large, heavy skillet until shimmering. Meanwhile, season the chicken with rosemary, salt and pepper and then dredge in flour, shaking off excess, so the leg-thighs are just slightly coated. Brown, in batches if necessary, for about 4-5 minutes on each side. Transfer the chicken pieces to a bowl as they are done and loosely tent. Discard the olive oil and chicken fat from the pan.

Next, turn to a Dutch oven, place on medium heat, add the 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and the onion, heirloom tomatoes, and carrot, as well as a pinch of sea salt. Cook and stir, until the vegetables just begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, oregano, parsley and sea salt to taste. Cover, turn the heat to medium low and cook, stirring often, until the mixture is barely soft and the garlic not brown.

Turn the heat back up to medium, stir in the mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook while stirring, until the mushrooms are just tender.

Stir in the wine, vinegar and stock and bring to a boil. Cook for a few minutes, until the wine-vinegar-stock mix has reduced by about a third. Add the canned tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have cooked down.

Return the chicken pieces to the pan, so they are well submerged in the tomato mixture. Cover and braise over medium heat for about 30 minutes, until the juices run pale yellow from the chicken.

Place pasta, rice or a simple risotto in large shallow bowls and place over a chicken quarter and ladle with sauce. Strew the rosemary sprigs, chiffonaded basil, and capers over the top and serve with a Sangiovese.

A Primer on Blades

August 5, 2009

There was never a good Knife made of bad Steel.
~Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac

The plan, best laid no doubt, was to cover this topic in an earlier post entitled Into the Kitchen Window (01.21.09) well before launching into recipes and sharing cooking lore. But, because that entry became somewhat lengthy, I opted to postpone this discussion for another day when the focus could be on blades alone…maybe “procrastinated” is a more apt term. I was also admittedly eager to start writing about food. But, it is never too late to ramble about what may be your most coveted kitchen gadget—the knife. Please be patient as this may seem overly basic to some, but many have inquired and others need reminded.

Above all, with fine knife care as with surgery, remember the Latin maxim primum non nocere (“first, do no harm”). Respect your blades, keeping them razor sharp so you can slice and chop with celerity. Each knife should run through its prey with nearly delicate ease.

Anatomy
Point: where the edge and spine meet, often used for piercing
Tip: the forward portion of the blade which includes the knife point
Edge or Belly: the cutting part of the blade, extending from the point to the heel
Heel: the rear part of the blade edge, on the opposite end of the point
Spine: the top of the blade, directly opposite the edge
Bolster: the band that joins the blade to the handle
Tang: the part of the blade that extends into the handle
Scales: create the handle with two scales typically attached to the tang with rivets
Rivets: metal pins used to join the scales to the tang to form the handle
Butt: the very end of the knife handle

The Purchase
Most every home kitchen function can be accomplished with a chef’s knife, bread knife, and paring knife. However, if you are looking for a fuller complement of blades, the list would read something like this:

Chef’s (8”-10”)
Bread (8″)
Carving (8”-10″)
Santoku (7”)
Boning (6”)
Sandwich/Utility (5”-6″)
Paring (3”-3 1/2″)

A kitchen workhorse, chef’s knives sport a deep, solid blade, about 1-1 1/2″ to 2″ at the widest point. It should be nicely weighted, fairly hefty, with the blade wide and heavy at the butt end, then tapering to a triangle at the point. With chef’s knives, the search is for high quality, fully forged, high-carbon, bolstered stainless steel blades that hold a razor edge for quite some time. It is preferable that the tang, which is the metal that extends into the handle, courses the full length of the handle for balance and durability.

Forged is foremost. In a forged knife, the blade is formed from heated metal and is individually hammered. Forged knives have a collar-like bolster between blade and handle, a feature that only forging can create. The forging process involves pressing an ingot of red hot steel between “male” and “female” molds, known as a punch and a die. The alternative method is known as stamping, in which with the use of a template, knives are stamped out of a thin sheet of steel, producing a blade that displays the same thickness from one end to the other without a bolster.

At the risk of sounding suggestive, even ribald, good fit and comfort matter as much as any other feature—so, handle several blades before you chose one. Consider balance, grip, feel, weight, length.

A lighter supplement to a chef’s knife, the recently popular santoku knives are lighter, have a straighter lower edge, a more curved upper edge and does not narrowly taper to a minute point. Santoku translates as “three virtues,” given its multipurpose profile.

Bread knives have a serrated, scalloped-ridged edge used to slice bread (and tomatoes). The serrated teeth are sharpened on one side to pierce a hard crust, then tear the soft bread so it is not flattened or crushed. The recesses on the blade increase the actual cutting surface of the knife. The teeth of the serrated knife edge both effortlessly penetrate the food surface and protect the recessed edge from getting dull. They can even save wear and tear on your chef’s knife.

Precise and delicate paring knives are best for small jobs, such as mincing, trimming and paring vegetables and fruit. Unlike a chef’s knife, which is always used on a cutting board, you can cut with the paring knife while holding the food aloft.

Holding
A sometimes unknown or too often forgotten basic with chef’s knives. To maximize control, “choke up” by bringing your hand up the handle of the knife so it straddles the bolster with your index finger and thumb gripping the blade but away from the edge. Your index finger should rest bent on the side of the blade and not on the spine. Your middle, ring and pinkie fingers should grip the handle.

This gives much better knife balance and keeps fingers from slipping over the handle onto the blade. Holding the bolster allows more control over the blade than gripping the handle only. While choking up on the knife may feel awkward at first, with practice it will feel quite natural and definitely reduces hand fatigue on larger jobs.

Storage
The standard options are a magnetic strip, standing knife block, drawer knife block, or knife bag. Your choices tend to depend on kitchen layout, drawer and counter space, and accessible wall openings. If practicable, I vote for the magnetic strip for the look, space use, ease of access and cleanliness. (Do not store knives unprotected in a drawer as it is unsafe, and they become easily get scratched. If space demands that you store them in a drawer, protect them with sheaths or a knife bag.)

Cleaning
Pamper them like your babies. The immutable rules are: wash your knives thoroughly and promptly after your meal with soap and water and dry well. Do not place knives in the dishwasher, let them stand in water or allow knives to remain soiled overnight. You can walk away from dishes, glassware, etc. to spend the night dirty — but, never ever the cherished knives.

Sharpening
I would strongly suggest you do what almost all professional chefs do—take them to a reputable local professional knife sharpener. If your home use is rather heavy, sharpeners usually recommend that you take your knives in every 6 to 8 months or so. (A professional chef might take his to the sharpener once or twice a week or more.) Japanese knives tend to require more frequent sharpening than their German counterparts, which are manufactured with a particularly hard steel.

Yes, you can home sharpen your own knives on a series of stones with differing grits. However, that requires some skill, and you can also easily damage the edge if not done properly. So, I choose not to embark on this one as I am wholly unqualified. Support your local sharpener.

Honing
Honing is not sharpening, but it is critical to edge retention. If you cherish a sharp edge and care for the health of your little ones, regular honing (preferably before each use) is crucial. A honing steel, which looks like a short sword with a quillion and round blade, is used to realign the metal of the cutting edge so it remains keen. Although it will take a modicum of practice, the brief honing process follows:

1) Hold the honing steel firmly by the handle in one hand, with the tip pointing straight down and anchored on a cutting board or on a folded towel on the counter.

2) Grasp the knife in your other hand, sharp edge down and the point facing at an angle away from you.

3) Place the wide or back edge of the knife blade—as close to the hilt as you can get it—against the honing steel, as close to the top of the shaft of the honing steel as you can get it. Angle the blade at about a 20 degree angle.

4) Draw the knife blade down and back toward you while applying light pressure against the honing steel at the same time, always keeping the blade at the same angle against the honing steel all the way through each stroke. Use a light touch so as to not grind the blade.

5) Place the knife on the other side of the honing steel, blade at a 20 degree angle to the shaft of the honing steel, and repeat the down-and-pull back stroke to hone the other side of the blade.

6) Continue stroking the blade of the knife along the shaft of the honing steel, all the while maintaining the same angle to the honing steel and alternating sides, until the knife edge is toned. Test the edge very carefully and gingerly with your thumb across, not along, the blade.

Basic Pasta Dough

June 10, 2009

Pasta (the Italian word for dough)—from the Latin pasta “dough, pastry cake, paste”, and before the Greek πάστα (pasta) “barley porridge”—has such convoluted origins, that its history demands much more than this brief space allows. In any event, making pasta has been an ancient and time honored tradition.

One of life’s simple pleasures, airy and delicate fresh pasta opens with that slight al dente resistance, but still almost melts in your mouth on the back-end. Whether by machine or hand, the goal is simple: dough with a smooth texture, elastic and pliable, yet sturdy.

BASIC PASTA DOUGH

3 organic free range eggs, beaten
Pinch of sea salt
2 C all purpose flour
Water, as needed

By Machine:

Attach the flat beater to your stand up mixer, then add half of the flour mixture and the eggs, turning to a low speed and mix 30 seconds. Add the rest of the sifted flour mixture and mix an additional 30 seconds, adding sprinklings of water as needed. Variables such as humidity, temperature, egg size and gluten content of the flour will govern water needs.

Note: To test for correct consistency, pinch a small amount of dough together after mixing with the flat beater. If it stays together and not gluing to your fingers, the dough is in good shape. It may be necessary to adjust by adding flour or water to reach the proper harmony.

Exchange flat beater for the dough hook. Again turn to a low speed and knead for 2 to 3 minutes, until a dough ball is formed. Remove dough from bowl and on a lightly floured surface hand knead for a couple of minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic with a slight hint of stickiness. Form into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap to prevent a dry skin from forming. Let rest for at least 30 minutes before dividing, rolling and cutting.

By Hand:

Mound flour in a bowl or on a large wooden bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and then add the eggs. Using your fingers, begin to blend flour and eggs from the center out, slowly gathering the flour from the perimeter. When the flour and egg are mixed, add a couple drops of water if necessary.

When the dough forms a mass, transfer it to a lightly floured surface and start kneading, using primarily the palms of your hands. Continue kneading for a minimum of 10 minutes, dusting the board with additional flour as necessary. The dough should be smooth and elastic with a slight hint of stickiness. Form into a ball and wrap dough in plastic wrap. Let rest for at least 30 minutes before dividing, rolling and cutting.

Rolling and Cutting:

Divide the dough, but cutting into 4 pieces, wrapping 3 of them in plastic or covering them with a towel. Flour the dough very lightly then flatten until it is about 1/4″ thick. Set the rollers of the the pasta machine to the widest setting. Feed the dough into and through the machine with your hands. As the flattened dough comes out of the machine, retrieve it gently with your open palm. Avoid pulling the sheets of dough out of the machine; instead allow the pasta to emerge and support it lightly with your hand. Fold the dough into thirds, flatten it slightly with your hands and roll it through again and repeat this process 4 or 5 more times.

If throughout the process the pasta sheets become become too long to work with, cut into two pieces and continue.

Set the rollers to the next thinnest setting and lightly flour the dough, but do not fold. Pass the dough through the machine on each progressive setting until the dough is at desired thinness (usually the next to last or last setting). Repeat the entire process with the remaining pieces of dough.

Let the dough rest on towels or a floured work surface. Use machine to cut into desired shapes or strands.

Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism, are all very good words for the lips…
~Charles Dickens

An ultimate comfort food.

Potatoes are starchy, tuberous herbaceous perennials from the Solanum tuberosum of the Solanaceae family. Peru has been recognized as the birthplace of this highly nutritious culinary staple which has been cultivated for as many as 10,000 years. The potato was introduced to Europe in the 16th century and spread by sailors throughout the world’s ports, eventually finding its place in fields across the continents.

The English “potato” derives from the Spanish “patata.”

Smashed potatoes, a rustic version of mashed potatoes, are ample proof that lumps are not evil—rather they impart an intensely rich potato flavor. This does not imply that the satiny, silky version of mashed potatoes are in any way inferior, just different. It just presents a sweet dilemna and depends on the evening’s mood whether they are mashed buttery smooth or left with a luscious, lumpy texture. Leaving skins on (at least in part) gives the potatoes a deep earthiness, and if you love that soil soul shun the peeler and leave them fully clothed.

SMASHED POTATOES WITH TRUFFLE OIL

3 lbs russet or yukon gold potatoes, halfway peeled and quartered

2 T sea salt
2 T freshly ground pepper
1 t cayenne pepper
2 t white pepper
1 t dried thyme, crumbled by fingers
3/4 C heavy cream
1 stick+ (8 T) butter, room temperature
1/2 C milk

Truffle oil

Warm cream and milk either in microwave or in a pan on the stove.

Put potatoes into a pot with liberally salted cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat some and gently boil about 15-20 minutes, or until tender—a fork should easily pierce the kids. Undercooked potatoes do not mash properly. Drain water from potatoes in a colander and return to still warm pot. The additional time in the pot dries them a bit so they absorb the fats better.

In stages (not all at once) add cream, butter, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper, and thyme. Use a potato masher to smash the potatoes, and then a strong spoon or dough hook to beat further, adding milk to achieve a coarse consistency, being careful to leave in some lumps. Whether coarsely smashed or mashed smooth, do not overzealously beat the potatoes or they will morph into glue or library paste. Add a few drops of truffle oil and continue to beat some. Salt and pepper to taste…I prefer them somewhat peppery. Tasting throughout the process is crucial to attaining the preferred flavors and textures.

Lentils

February 12, 2009

Lentils are friendly—the Miss Congeniality of the bean world.
~Laurie Colwin

Lentils are those pungently earthy members of the legume family—which are plants in the pea family that split open naturally along a seam revealing a row of seeds. Some archealogical digs have suggested that legumes may be the oldest crop known to humanity. Lentils are commonly found in dried form and possess superior nutritional qualities with high levels of protein.

The green lentilles from Puy, in the rocky Auvergne region in France, are considered the caviar of lentils. The arid climate, abundant sunshine and volcanic soil conditions offer a flinty, nutty flavor which has garnered the beans an Appelation d’Origine Controlee (AOC)…a quality label recognized by the French government bestowed upon products meeting specified standards.

LENTIL SOUP

1 C dried lentils
3 T extra virgin olive oil
4 oz pancetta, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 14 oz can san marzano tomatoes, diced
2 rosemary sprigs
2 bay leaves
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 t freshly toasted coriander, ground
1 t freshly toasted cumin seeds, ground
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Red wine vinegar

In a bowl, first drain and rinse the lentils in a fine mesh sieve.

Toast and grind coriander and cumin seeds.

In a large heavy Dutch oven, cook the pancetta in olive oil over medium heat for 3-4 minutes; then add the onions. Cook for another 5 minutes before adding the celery, carrots, rosemary, bay leaves, coriander, cumin and lentils. Stir well, ensuring the oil coats everything well.

Add the tomatoes and stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, allowing the soup to cook for 45 minutes to one hour. Remove the bay leaves before serving, and salt and pepper to taste. Kindly drizzle some fine red wine vinegar over each bowl.

LENTIL SALAD

1 1/2 C lentils
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 oz Virginia ham
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
Water to cover

1 qt chicken stock
1 bay leaf
a few springs of fresh thyme
Sea salt
2 oz Virginia ham, diced
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
Freshly ground pepper

2 T red wine or sherry vinegar
2/3 C walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil
1 T Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, peeled and finely minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Rinse the lentils in a fine mesh sieve and remove any foreign matter.

In a large heavy Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and and cook the onion and ham over low heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Transfer the lentils to the same heavy Dutch oven, then cover with cold water, which should cover the lentils by at least 3-4 inches.

Bring to a boil over high heat, then remove from heat and drain in a fine mesh sieve.

Return the lentils to the pan, add the stock, salt, pepper, thyme and bay leaf; bring to a gentle boil over high heat and reduce to a simmer. Skim off the surface. Simmer gently, uncovered, until the lentils are just tender, about 30 minutes.

Combine the mustard and vinegar and whisk to blend. Add the walnut oil and shallots, and continue to whisk. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place the bacon in a large nonstick skillet and cook over moderate heat until done. Set aside on paper towels.

When the lentils are done, drain them well, then toss with the vinaigrette. Remove bay leaf and thyme. Let stand until the lentils have absorbed the vinaigrette. Sprinkle with diced bacon. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Serve warm.

Steak Tartare

February 7, 2009

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
~Harriet van Horne

V Day even rawer.

Steak tartare, the classic chopped raw beef dish topped with a raw egg, brings on images of Parisian bistros. A bistro is a familiar name for a café serving what used to be moderately priced simple meals in an unpretentious setting.

The word allegedly derives from a Russian word быстро (bystro) which means “hurry.” Cossacks, who occupied France after the Napoleonic Wars, frequently demanded that French waiters serve their food promptly, shouting the word that evolved into “bistro”.

This romantically induced etymology has been disputed over the years. Cossacks did occupy Paris in 1815, but the first recorded use of the word “bistro” appeared in 1884, almost 70 years later. So, the numbers are not supportive. Another possible source for the word could be bistraud, a word in the Poitou dialect which means a “lesser servant.” Yet another theory offered comes from the word bistouille or bistrouille, a colloquial term from the northern regions of France, which is a mixture of brandy and coffee. Bon matin!

STEAK TARTARE

12 oz fresh cut, organic beef tenderloin
4 t shallots, finely diced
4 t cornichons, finely chopped
3 t capers, drained and rinsed
2 t Dijon mustard
2 anchovies, salt packed, rinsed, cleaned and finely chopped
2 t chopped parsley

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
6 fresh organic, free range egg yolks

1 baguette or other artisanal bread such as ciabatta, toasted
Extra virgin olive oil
1 plump, fresh garlic head, cut crosswise

Trim the beef of any fat and connective tissue and set aside. Chill the beef while preparing the remaining ingredients.

With a wickedly sharp knife, cut the beef into julienne strips, and then cut across into a very fine dice. Continue chopping over the pile some until the meat appears roughly ground.

With a fork, combine the chopped beef with the shallots, cornichons, capers, mustard, anchovies, parsley, some salt and pepper to taste. If needed, add a tablespoon or more of olive oil.

Serve in mound like in the center of the plate, making a well in the center filled with an egg yolk. Spread the tatare over toasted baguette slices which have been drizzled lightly with olive oil and rubbed with garlic heads.

Fine friends: French burgundy or California pinot noir