the hope effect

August 30th, 2011

Taking a job as a photographer and reporter at the Virginia Gazette in the late 1980’s was a rather strange decision given that I didn’t read newspapers because I couldn’t stand the feel of ink on my fingers.  The assistant editor at the time, a lovely woman named Hope, then in her seventies, while proofing one of my early articles, quirked an eyebrow at me and asked, “Katherine, have you ever read a newspaper?”  To which I responded, “Yuck, no, too inky!”

With the patience of a saint did Hope then explain that if one wants to do something well, it’s essential that a careful observation, analysis and comparison be done of those who successfully came before – to seek out and find the best representatives and to up the ante from there.  Nodding obediently, I asked, “Does this mean I have to read newspapers?”

The effect of her message took root in my young and unruly mind and germinated over the next month, whereupon I suddenly knew exactly what she meant and promptly bought a pair of felt gloves and began devouring as many newspapers as I could get my gloves on.

The Hope Effect has been applied to everything I’ve done since; from the most important (jobs and careers) to the most ordinary (flower arranging and napkin folding) and certainly has had its effect on cooking and recipe development.  Years spent as a diligent self-study student of such culinary greats as Escoffier, Ducasse, Adria, and Duglere have created a vast foundation from which I can hope to ‘up the ante’.

Since those first fumbling weeks at the Virginia Gazette, I have shared Hope with hundreds of people spanning six countries, and today, with belated thanks, do I dedicate this simple case in point, French baguettes, to that remarkable and generous editor, and the profound effect she gave my every minute from that early day forward.

Our Daily Bread

blowing smoke

August 11th, 2011

We utilize the charcoal grill almost year ‘round. Rain, snow, sleet or hail, our burgers and steaks get their grill on.  It’s only when the temperature dips to minus 10, 20 and 30 that we reluctantly return to the stovetop.

The smoker, on the other hand, is not as weather friendly since it requires long stretches of consistent heat.  Last Saturday dawned at a crispy 40 degrees with weatherman promises of highs in the sixties.  A ten pound pork shoulder was lightly rubbed with black pepper, cumin and chili powder and went to rest for eight hours in the mesquite and hickory wafting smoker. Judicious trimming and gentle fork-pulling yielded about 2 quarts of premium slow-smoked pork, the breadth of wealth of which is a pleasure to fathom.

First off is a pulled pork sandwich with marinated slaw in a homemade crusty roll.  Later come BBQ pork pupusas, shrimp and BBQ pork fried rice, savory BBQ pork empanadas and probably BBQ pork and egg chilaquilas.  Most nice is its successful freezing in two cup zipper bags, unsauced, for whatever BBQ pork inspiration next comes down the pike.

Fork-Pulled Pork BBQ

for corn’s sake

August 9th, 2011

Just after finishing college, my younger sister lived with me one summer and we boldly endeavored to cook some of the favorite foods Mother always prepared.  Little did we know just how hapless we were and because of that kept plodding on, leaving a trail of pseudo-failures in our wake.

One evening we espied corn on the cob at the local stupormarket and gainfully loaded up with six ears each, which was the number we’d always consumed growing up.  Into a big pot of boiling water went the ears and we waited impatiently next to the stove.  Our first buttery bite left us speechless with disappointment and then we mutually demanded, “What went wrong?”

The corn looked right and tasted wrong!  The kernels were chewy and strangely spongy and the cobs sailed into the trash uneaten before we headed out to the nearest and cheapest fast food joint.  It wasn’t until many years later, upon moving up here to the Boondocks, that I discovered the basic problem with that corn (and all other corn found in commercial markets).

As any corn connoisseur will tell you, the sugar in an ear of corn begins to turn to starch as soon as it’s picked.  Time is thus of the essence.  The corn my sister and I grew up on was grown at home and picked just prior to cooking.  The family sat around the dining room table chomping down on ear after ear of summer freshness.  The kernels were so tender that they often squirted beyond the plate and we all wore the evidence on our faces.

Blessedly, that former joy is at hand once again thanks to Collins Farm just down the road.  Every other day for the entire month of August we sit down for lunch at the porch table with six ears each, a variety of flavored butters and our own individual salt and pepper shakers.  And it’s an oversight, perhaps, that we don’t wear bibs, because that fresh corn spurts and pops, just as it should, with each and every bite.

Lip Smacking

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abandoned

July 25th, 2011

Many years ago I stumbled upon a large and multi-building abandoned estate in rural Virginia.  I returned several days later armed with camera equipment to shoot a series of portraits of this woebegone home.  There’s something very intriguing about what is abandoned along with a house.

Stray shoes, the odd chair ill-positioned in an otherwise empty room, a dish towel neatly folded and cobwebbed on its kitchen dowel, an alarm clock tossed into a corner and the eerie bald patches splayed on a yellowing wall that indicate the previous placement of portraits and paintings, all make for great film fodder.

Outbuildings are another good source of intrigue and discovery and this particular property had its original smoke house still standing amidst the chicken coops and sheep pens.  And lo and behold, inside the smokehouse, hanging still and forlorn from its rafters, were several dozen smoked hams.

Such a discovery caused the camera to pause as I recalled the story of a Surry, Virginia matriarch who told of a hundred year old smoked ham that was scrubbed, soaked, cooked and trimmed to yield a very edible artifact.  The camera got back to work, capturing these many hams in still repose, and I left them undisturbed for the next gainful intruder.

Hams remain a great find, especially when they are on sale, and when they wend their way after roasting into a menagerie of post scripts; ham and Swiss crepes, ham and turkey paninis, ham pate, and ham and olive empanadas name but a few.  And when there’s nothing left but a big old bone, it jumps into the soup pot with split peas and aromatics for a future bowl of, “Awww…”.

Roast Ham

on being fluffy

July 21st, 2011

Our cat Pu, also known as Constance Waddles, was abandoned as a kitten in a Texas desert.  He thumbed a ride north on an 18-wheeler all the way to New Hampshire seven years ago and has ruled our big schloss ever since.  Pu is an articulate linguist who speaks in whole sentences with a smattering of English and French in the mix along with an occasional bark.  He knows what he wants and when he wants it and those two items are either food or a nap.

Our other cat Spud, also known as Tiny Dancer, showed up on the porch two Christmases ago looking pathetic and forlorn.  He is now a vibrant young man in a fur suit with few words, one to be exact, “Ack”, which he rarely uses.  Spud’s notable skill is his dexterity.  He can untie a shoe, unbutton a sweater and roll the dice in a backgammon game with enviable skill.  Clearly, he is a closet nudist or a closet gambler, we’re not yet sure which.

When his fierce schedule permits, Pu works on his autobiography, “On Being Fluffy,” alternately titled, “Being and Fluffiness,” subject to his sense of existentialism at any given moment.  Spud takes down Pu’s dictation with a Sharpie pen on any surface handy, and I have been charged with editing the work-in-progress.  Ha!  I left pro bono editorial favors in the dust decades ago.  I will, however, take a page from Pu’s notional title(s), in the form of a soufflé, at least once a week, and as with editorial chores, share it never with either of those beloved critter-folks.

title

 

other worldly

July 18th, 2011

Bread doughs certainly do love the warm and humid weather of summer, so much so that the kitchen becomes a non-stop bakery churning out new versions of old favorites and   new favorites spun from innovative additions inspired by what is fresh each day in the garden.

Long and slow rising overnight produce a more porous crumb and a decidedly mild and flavorful sour quality.  The day’s loaves are shaped and on their second brief rise before my tea has finished steeping and then it’s only a few hours more before a serrated knife cracks open a new loaf.

A buttermilk French dough laced with chopped fresh dill, parsley, rosemary, tarragon, mint, cilantro and chives yielded up the tastiest and most exquisitely tender bread I’ve ever had and so one of the loaves was quickly raced down to the town librarian who always knows a good thing when she smells it.

Buttermilk Herb Boule

evil good

June 29th, 2011

Some results of food alchemy defy the usual categorizing, being supreme to both typecasting and predictability.  I like to call these defiant ones Evil Good.  Having now prepped your palate, walk the following concoction through your mouth:

A char-grilled burger napped with a molten beer-cheese sauce topped with a fried ripe tomato and dressed with a bright parsley salad and a few onion rings, all sandwiched between a toasted homemade buttermilk English Muffin.

Evil!

Rarebit Burger

in praise of the flexible fougasse

June 18th, 2011

Fougasse is fragrant!  Fougasse is forgiving!  Fougasse is foreign!  Mostly, fougasse is flexible and can handle the most ambitious of a baker’s felicitous moments for both flavors and forms.  If you can create a French baguette, which by now you can, having acquired your own Bread Independence, then you can fashion your first fougasse.

It might happen one morning when you only need six sandwich rolls and don’t know what to do with that last knob of dough.  Or when there was some leftover dough from a batch of Kolaches.  Or maybe you simply wanted to be frivolous with an entire batch of dough!  In my case, just recently, I’d made two demi-baguettes, four dinner rolls and still had half the baking stone still to utilize with the remaining dough.

Being expected later that day at a neighbor’s house for pre-dinner libations, fougasse and some homemade Liptauer cheese seemed just the ticket.  The dough was scented with garlic and herb and after forming the fougasse, I brushed the design with olive oil and strategically placed sliced green olives and a sprinkling or oregano.  Its name, thus, became Olive Branch Fougasse and it was consumed with such speed that for a brief moment, I thought I’d forgotten to bring it.

Olive Branch Fougasse

a relish to relish

June 11th, 2011

The famed and intensely flavored Argentine sauce, chimchurri, is used throughout Latin America as a condiment for grilled steaks and sausages.  It is a very close cousin to the French persillade in that both rely on fresh parsley and garlic as the major flavor components.

Chimichurri is simple to make from readily available ingredients, and best of all very nutricious.  The only perceptible drawback might be the challenge of utilizing any leftover sauce, but that drawback is truly a blessed exploration into inventiveness.

Last night we grilled some chili-rubbed filet mignons, topped with a dollop of chimichurri, and served alongside some fresh beets from the garden.  The beets, as it happens, were a perfect and sweet counterpoint to the explosive flavor of the dressed steaks.

We barely used one-tenth of the condiment and it’s unlikely we’ll be reprising the same meal any time soon, so the question is, what to do with the remaining chimichurri?  A whole slew of things came to mind and here are a few of them:

  • Dilute with olive oil and use as a marinade for grilled chicken or pork.
  • Mix with unsalted butter for a new twist on garlic bread or as a sandwich spread.
  • Throw a spoonful on top of a skillet of browned potatoes.

    Chimichurri Topped Filet Mignon

  • Mix into a basic vinaigrette for a zesty new salad dressing.
  • Mix with ground beef for flavor popping grilled burgers.

 

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rewarding

June 3rd, 2011

The day was spent mowing all the lawns and plowing the garden and that meant dinner should reward accordingly.  Crack a bottle of bubbly and let the reward unroll!

Thick veal chops marinated briefly in olive oil, garlic, fresh rosemary and thyme were charcoal grilled to perfection.  Roasted vegetable ratatouille topped with a smattering of aged Gouda was a perfect partner for the veal and so was the pinot noir. Little key lime squares with strawberries and whipped cream were a just dessert.

Bidding the day a happy close from the porch, with the air redolent with freshly cut grass and dark brown earth turned and turned again and the faintest scent of roast meat still wafting from the grill was a lungful of magic that put the morrow’s twists and turns, chores and rewards in enthusiastic site.

Grilled Veal Chop

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