the last of summer

September 3rd, 2013

Family, friends and strangers alike called my Mother’s father, “Pappy”.  By all reports he was a magical man who wasn’t able to leap tall buildings or move faster than a speeding train. He cared for his family through the depression, ensuring food on the table and a proper song or poem at the close of each day.  He taught his daughters to waltz and his sons to think big.

Pappy always used to say that he would eat anything if it were draped in Hollandaise Sauce, including sawdust.  I have always concurred with that statement and dare to take it a step further: anything draped in Crème Anglaise, sawdust included, sounds mighty tasty to me!  I never met Pappy, because he died before I was born, but I’ve always known him, and I’m certain that he’s somewhere nearby, in spirit.

The last of summer’s strawberries bid good-bye to kitchens regaling their many wonders all season long in the form of jams, shortcakes, and brief dips into liquid chocolate.  I was thinking some local strawberries and candied walnuts tucked into a crêpe and generously draped with Crème Anglaise would bid a proper adieu to the season, and Pappy, I’m sure, would be the first to agree.

Strawberry Crêpes with Candied Walnuts and Crème Anglaise

 

 

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second cousins

August 27th, 2013

Everyone is familiar with the famous dish from Provence known as Ratatouille, perhaps in thanks to the animated film, more hopefully because they’ve experienced this indigenous combination of tomato, zucchini, eggplant, garlic, onion and peppers, perfumed with Herbes de Provence.

Ratatouilles are like snowflakes – there are no two alike.

Its American second cousin, to my mind, has to be the equally indigenous and perhaps more ingenious dish of the Pueblo known as Calabacitas, generously demonstrated to conquering Spaniards long ago.  It features a variety of summer squash, onion, garlic, black beans, fresh corn and tomato.  The ingredient that throws Calabacitas over the top is the New Mexico chile, from Hatch Valley, which just came into season!

Preparing the dish is a multi-staged event, just like its French second cousin.  First, the chiles need to be dry roasted and peeled and then the corn on the cob is charred in a skillet until the natural sugars start to caramelize.  Other ingredients follow, with individual exactness, and then the whole lot is gently warmed in a skillet.

In keeping with the region, leftover Calabacitas contribute to superb versions of quesadillas, tostadas and Huevos Ranchero.

Just another snowflake…

Calabacitas with Fresh Hatch Chilis

 

 

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a taste of texas

September 5th, 2012

A few weeks ago I was standing next to my cousin Larry, admiring the Texas twilight as it settled onto the hill country in its varied lavender hues, with the lingering aromas still wafting up from the wood-fired pit-box where he had supremely roasted an array of meats for a remarkable group of relatives and friends.  Larry solemnly stoked a thick Cuban cigar, and occasionally I’d tweak his happy body and demand a smoky exhalation directed in my direction.

Those four days in Texas only whetted my appetite for its cuisine and the second thing I did upon returning home was to haul out the smoker, the little grill, the bean pot and the tortilla press.  I had one thing in mind – a perfect pork taco — and if that meant 12 hours of smoking, grilling, griddling and simmering, so be it.  As the rosy-green twilight brightened in the Northeast Boondocks sky, I demolished that single taco in four rapid bites.

The next morning I was looking down the gun barrel at eight pounds of smoked and pulled pork shoulder, a half-gallon of Frijoles Charros, a pint of Fire-roasted Salsa and an absurdly large stack of freshly-pressed corn tortillas.  What’s a girl to do?  Process, pack, stow and invent.  Hence came new renditions of Cuban Sandwiches, Migas Sabrosas, and Chili Rellenos, utilizing that unctuous pork, savory pintos and divine salsa.

It’s been two weeks now and it’s still not possible to run out of ideas, so for dinner tonight we happily munched down on Fresh Corn and Scallion Pancakes topped with the endless Smoked Pork Shoulder, some baby potatoes parboiled and seared in butter for a crispy crust, along with a throw of straight-from-the-garden green beans, flash steamed with spring water and sea salt.

That event in Texas was a tribute to my mother’s younger brother Chas, generously hosted by his children and their families.  I insist still that roving satellites recorded an unusual golden glow over the backyard of that house in the hill country that night and it would be the love and the joy and, never forget, the food, that made that glow we lucky attendees shall remain warm in for a good while to come.

Fresh Corn and Scallion Pancake with Smoked Pork

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kitchen wrath

April 16th, 2012

A few years ago on a drab and snowy day, I pulled the freshly made ricotta from the fridge and mixed up a souffléed lemon ricotta pancake batter.  The plug that usually accommodates the griddle cord had mysteriously lost its juice, so an extension was strung across the kitchen floor.  Most people have better sense.

The first batch of eight pancakes were softly rising on the hot griddle and just as I was about to turn them, a clumsy move on my part pulled the extension, and by extension, the griddle straight off the counter to land upside down on a Persian rug.  Without missing a beat, I flipped over the griddle, scraped all the gooey batter back onto its surface, walked out to the porch and chucked the whole thing into the snow where it lay steaming and sizzling.

Utterly irrationally, I’ve secretly blamed the ricotta for that debacle and have never attempted those pancakes again.  But one can begrudge a good homemade food only so long and I redeemed the product and myself the other afternoon with some Lemon Ricotta Cookies.  Light and lemony pillows of cookie softness and no griddle required.

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

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year of the dragon

April 10th, 2012

I’d love to have the job of writing pithy prognostications for Fortune Cookies, except that I’d probably have to make the cookie too, and since I don’t actually like the cookie, it’s not a career soon to happen.

As doughs go, however, the Chinese Jiǎozi, informally known as The Potsticker, surely ranks among the world’s tastiest and its potential fillings are as varied as they are with Italy’s Ravioli.  The Korean version is known as Mandu, the Japanese as Gyōza, the Nepali as Momo, the Russian as Pelymeni, the Polish as Pirogy, and so on to every corner of the world.  So many little dough packets filled with so many regional ingredients are a global staple.

Pick a protein and a fresh herb and set aside an afternoon for the Zen-like assembly of many dozens of Potstickers.  Bundle them into plastic bags, store them in the freezer and cook them up fresh and speedy whenever that ‘got to have’ moment arrives.  My moment usually occurs at breakfast time and a serving of three go beautifully with a cup of Earl Grey and a spicy dipping sauce.  A day full of fortune is always sure to follow.

Garlic Pork Potstickers

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