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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hugh grant ate here

April 2nd, 2012

Finding a restaurant in Paris that offers good food is the easy part.  Finding a restaurant that offers good food on a table that is sized sufficiently to hold said good food is the challenge. An eighteen-inch round top cannot support two plates of omelets, two pots of hot chocolate and a shared side of fries.  The only place left to put the breadbasket is atop one’s head.

One restaurant that deviates from the tiny table syndrome and offers superb food is L’Entrecôte Porte-Maillot in the 17th arrondissement, where three generations of family Godillot have rocked the city with their take on steak-frites, which is the only entrée they serve. A simple salad of lettuce and walnuts dressed in a mustard vinaigrette precedes the entrée and guests can then choose between a small selection of desserts.

When we were there last, Hugh Grant came in with a party of eight.  I watched him from the corner of my eye, heart a-twitter, and was somewhat struck that his table was left completely free of autograph hounds and camera snappers.  It was only when his dinner was finished and he strolled towards the door that every head in the dining room slowly turned to observe his exit.

Although I can’t get the contre-filet cut of sirloin used at L’Entrecote, a thick rib eye does the trick nicely, and in keeping with healthy food combining, the frites are usually replaced by a grilled green vegetable or a Baked Tomato Boursin.  Happy memories of a Parisian meal; superbly executed, on a table big enough to hold it all.

Rib-Eye Persillade and Baked Tomato Boursin

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delayed gratification

March 26th, 2012

Throughout my entire life as a cook, nothing has been so vexing as perfecting Sourdough Bread.  Equally vexing was the breadth of time required in order to determine each effort’s degree of failure.  Several batches required up to twenty hours of ‘resting’ time and, thus, it would be two days later that I discovered that sourdough nirvana remained out of reach.

Other tricky foods, for example, soufflés, hot emulsions and clear jellies require no large investment of time in order to fail, and can, in fact, be quickly tossed out and a second endeavor completed before anyone lingering has blinked an eye.  Not so for the elusive sourdough which must be fed, rested and babysat like an errant child before a simple bread dough is even stirred together.

Two weeks and many five-pound bags of flour later, gratification landed with a thud on the cutting board.  The crust had buckled and cracked and emitted an assertive sour aroma.  The crumb was moist, porous and stretchy and hugged the dab of butter with enthusiasm.  And the flavor…was…inexplicably complex.  My eyes rolled back in my head, blind with enjoyment.

Bread Nirvana

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hot dates

March 19th, 2012

The good thing about food availability made easy through the world wide web is somewhat cancelled by food availability made easy through the world wide web, to whit, now that all sorts of food oddities and ingredients are easily sourced, a new problem arises in trying to resist buying them all.

It is a problem I know well.  Nevertheless, I didn’t hesitate even for a moment several days ago when I pressed the Complete Order button for a shipment of Marcona Almonds and Jumbo Medjool Dates.  I can’t even rationalize that I’d done something noteworthy and deserved a treat.  I simply wanted them.  That’s all.

They arrived via priority mail this morning and sat undisturbed on the counter for nearly four hours, teasing and taunting me to create some new and titillating treatment that put both items at their best.  A sticky toffee cake studded with dates, perhaps, or ground Marconas in a Romesco Salsa smeared on grilled fish.

But something more immediate was called for, and something much more speedy.  Fifteen minutes later my fork broke into a bacon-wrapped Medjool date stuffed with blue cheese and Marcona almonds.  Salty and sweet, creamy and crunchy.  And I thought hot dates were a thing of the past!

Hot Dates!

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schlagobers

March 12th, 2012

My favorite restaurant in the world is Café Landtmann in Vienna, Austria.  It’s always a mad dash to get there as speedily as possible after flying into Schwechat.  They have the absolute best Wiener Schnitzel vom Kalb, paniert und goldbraun gebacken, mit Petersilerdäpfeln und Blattsalat.  And no meal is complete without a warm bowlful of Marillenstrudel.

We were cozily finishing up our dinner one night when in walked a very striking couple, dressed to the nines.  The lady was grandly-sized and utilized one entire side of their booth.  Her hair was bright orange and pulled straight up to the top of her head and twisted into a small knot.  Her neck, wrists and fingers dripped an easy fifty carats of diamonds that tinkled like a chandelier.

They ordered demitasse coffees to begin with and for appetizer the lady ordered a large bowl of schlagobers, which is nothing more than sweetened whipped cream.  She ate the bowl’s worth with a small spoon, pinky finger extended.  I remember wondering why I’d never thought to order such a thing, especially in Austria where the dairy products actually have flavor.

I’m reminded of that colorful frau every time I whip cream and especially when I whip up a huge bowl of it for Famous Icebox Cake. I know this is a dessert (or appetizer) she’d surely enjoy and if she behaves I’ll let her lick the spoon.

Famous Icebox Cake

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home alone

March 5th, 2012

I recently enjoyed a four-day vacation, at home, alone.  No sooner had the door closed me in than the kimchee and tofu came leaping out of the fridge and a chigae began its spit and bubble on the stovetop.  The long weekend stretched ahead of me with all my favorite foods on hand that ordinarily never get used due to their lack of popularity.

Three blue-veined cheeses were unearthed, one each from Denmark, France and Italy, enthusiastically awaiting their turn to be showcased in a fondue, a soufflé, a mushroom gratin and a compound butter (laced with cognac) that sat regally atop a petit filet mignon.

The leftover Kimchee Chigae became an early morning breakfast for the remaining mornings and set me on such an enthusiastic charge that the chores were all done before noon, thus earning me something comforting and savory in the form of Gorgonzola, Roquefort and Danablu.

The vacation ended all too soon, yet I managed to sneak in some kimchee the next day, unbeknownst to its eaters, hidden amidst Grilled Pork Bánh Mi Sliders (with Kimchee Peanut Slaw).  Hugely flavorful and loaded with healthy veggies, the sliders slid down with no one the wiser.  Clearly, what folks don’t know won’t hurt them!

Grilled Pork Bánh Mi Sliders

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