Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sweet Corn



I struggle to find good food memories from my early childhood. By which I mean maybe 10 years old and before…

Well, for except one. Blueberry pancakes at Trout Lake. Normally, each year in August, we would go almost camping in real log cabins at this “resort” in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. It was primitive. The cabins were built mostly back in the ’20s and ’30s. Mom would pack the station wagon full of a week or two’s worth of clothes for four kids and two adults, all the cooking utensils we’d need, and food staples, and more. That station wagon would be full to the gills, and the roof rack also heaped with an additional load precariously roped down with a tarp covering all.

But, back to those pancakes. I would spend hours searching a patch picking wild low-bush blueberries near our favorite cabin. And those blueberries were tiny compared to commercial berries today.

Then, one morning, mom would make us blueberry pancakes, served with real butter and real maple syrup, because, why would you use anything else? WHY?

For other memories of good food at home in the early years, I come up blank. Our household was not one that would have created food memories. My mother tried hard to provide meals from a slim budget while caught in the expectations imposed on women in the 1950s-70s.

She learned to cook from her mother who made it clear she was supposed to have staff. Though the Great Depression put an end to that possibility, my grandmother never for a moment felt that she didn’t deserve staff. She didn’t like to cook, didn’t want to cook, so my mother really never learned to cook, and she too didn’t want to cook. And I think, expected to have staff.

But every now and then, a food memory surfaces in spite of my mother, and I remember…

It’s late summer in the mid 1960s, but not so late that we’re back in school. Not yet. We’re still free! Probably late July running into August. And we’re heading home from a day at the pool. We lived in the suburbs of Hartford CT, a town called Glastonbury, and back then it was almost required that every family belonged to THE NEW pool club.

We four starving kids were loaded into the hot station wagon with no AC. But wait, what is this? We pull up to a small farm stand and there he is. This gnarled old guy. Mother asks for a dozen ears, while we kids are jumping all over the place, hungry, bored, but mostly hungry after a day swimming non-stop. We are marginally well behaved. Perhaps less than marginally.

I suspect this guy is not a real farmer. Because, why is there not a pile of picked corn for us to pull from? I’ve seen the miracle of Supermarkets and the Grand Union, after all.

The old guy disappears. For about 10 minutes. He reappears with a bag of 12 ears of corn. Maybe thirteen. He quite literally just pulled them off the stalks and took his sweet time selecting fully ripe ones. The cost is maybe a dollar? This old guy was probably born back in the late 1800s; and he knows his corn.

We also take a “pint” box of tomatoes, still warm from the field, and so large there’s only one or two in each box.

I ask “Why did he go away?” And mom, not a foodie, says matter-of-factly, “He went to pick the corn.” That was what was expected. Not flashy or pretentious, just the way it is done. Some neighbor had told my mom the best corn was to be had at this stand. She listened and was not to be outdone.

Now, that’s fresh corn.

And the corn will be yellow. What I’ve learned over the years is the best sweet corn is yellow. When I first tasted white corn, I was appalled. It was all about sugar, not about corn flavor. I reject white corn. Emphatically. If it’s not yellow, I don’t buy it. Have I made myself clear? OK, when there’s no fresh yellow corn, I will take the “butter and cream” type. Only because I have to. But I will go home empty handed if there is only white corn. Not worth the time of day…

Bag of corn stashed in the station wagon, we head home. Next up? Us kids have to shuck the corn. This is done outside on the backyard picnic table. Always.

And here’s where our personalities come out.

Dick, my older brother, grabs the husks, pulls, shreds, and rips, removing the absolute minimum needed. In about 1 minute, he has technically husked his four ears of corn. There are shreds of husk are everywhere. Parts are still on the ear as is most of the silk.

Dwight, my younger brother, after starting the process of husking an ear, has set it aside and moved it and all his other ears into my pile. And left the premises.

Diane, being 3 or 4 years old, is “too young,” says Mom, and that and because she’s a girl, mom exempts her from the duty.

I am a nerd. I admit it. I hold it as a badge supreme.

I, slowly, peel away the first outermost leaf from the ear, working carefully so as not to tear it. I set it on the picnic table. Then I determine which is the next outermost leaf, work that clear, and set it inside the leaf already on the table. Continuing, outermost leaf after outermost leaf, stacking them up inside the growing stack of leaves… When I get to the inside, all that’s left is the silk. And I take great care to pull off each thread. I’m such a nerd. And it takes a long time. Fortunately, the long time is needed while mother attempts to create “dinner” from boxes of packaged crap and frozen ingredients.

As summer turns to early fall, we still pick up sweet corn at that stand most weekends. But, the increasing number of Yellow Jackets make the task of shucking the corn on our picnic table more and more problematic. And our mother’s insistence in sending us out there to peel the corn regardless of the Yellow Jacket danger never wavered. She could not have corn peeling detritus in her house. It must be outside. I learned to shuck faster, how to swat a Yellow Jacket without getting stung, and then run the fresh ears inside. Reluctantly, that is, to go faster.

And then there’s the eating. How to do it?

There’s my little sister’s method: Pick up the ear, take a bite, put it down. Repeat randomly, never two bites next to each other.

There’s my older brothers way: Cut all the kernels off the cob, and then eat. He had braces; it comes from that and his particular OC disorder.

Then there was my way: Methodically bite off two rows from left to right, large end to the left, as if I were a typewriter. Nom, nom, nom. When reaching the right end, rotate cob top forward so that my incisors can cleanly slice off the next two rows. Repeat. And if I were to put the cob down, it would never be before reaching the end of the row.

I was such a nerd, way before being a nerd was cool.


Grilled Corn


First, let me say, any person or recipe that says “soak the ears in water…” either before or after partly shucking them is full of BS. To get Grilled Corn means taking the temperature way above 212°F, the boiling point of water. Meaning, to get grilled corn, you need to boil off all the water. Adding water means it takes more time to boil it off to get to grilling temperatures. And yes there's the argument about "it steams the corn" but we're not talking about steamed corn, we're talking about grilled corn. This is a question of style. Grilled corn needs to get really hot to caramelize and even get a little charred. Steamed corn is a different product.

So, first choice: To shuck or not to shuck.

I find both approaches, when cooked over a charcoal fired grill, produce wonderful results. The question is: Shorter time and more grilled flavor vs. longer time and less grilled flavor.

That’s your decision.

Shucked corn, over a HOT fire, will cook with almost minute by minute rotation in about 15-20 minutes. And you’ll get nicely charred and caramelized corn.

Un-shucked corn, again over a HOT fire, will cook with almost minute by minute rotation in about 25-30 minutes. The shucks will char, add flavor, fall away, and if the fire is hot enough, the falling shards of husks will flame up… But that is good. Fire good. Flavor good. And, when you get to the shucking part, the silk will come off almost completely with the shucks.

Both will be too hot to handle if processing further (like cutting off the cob for a sauté or a salad, or in the case of the un-shucked type, getting them shucked). They will need to rest a bit.

I like to serve either with soft butter, slathered over all, and then sprinkled with sea salt (or kosher, that works too). And then carefully eat, large end to small end, a pair of rows at a time.

Corn on the built in grilling fireplace in my kitchen. Sweet... Grilling all year round no matter the rain in Seattle! Original equipment in this vintage 1959 house...


Saturday, January 23, 2016

1990 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel


I've been excavating the cellar for old wines that need to be enjoyed (if possible) or tossed (if necessary). Most of my posts have been on my Facebook page, but this one (and the last) needs to go here.  There's too much of a good story to waste this on Facebook.

I became a fan of wines from Ridge back in the 1980s, when I was starting to really learn about wines. And I loved Zinfandel quite a bit. It was a time when Zinfandel was finally being recognized as a grape of potentially great wines. But, as the years progressed, Zinfandel makers made ever bigger fruit bombs. The wines got riper, jammier, more alcoholic, and frankly, they lost what had drawn me to them in the first place. A bright, mildly tannic wine that went great with anything from roasted chicken to BBQ to steak. The fruit and alcohol bombs lost this... Sadly.

But let me come back to Ridge. They never went over the top. With any of their wines. Always, balance, sense of place, a subtle touch with richness.

I loved their wines (still do).

Back in the 1980s, they were also a bargain - great price for incredible quality. I don't have data at hand, but I seem to recall the Lytton Springs Zin being on the order of $10-12 a bottle. And, as a grad student, that was what I could barely afford. I skimped elsewhere, but I drank well.

Then, 1990 happened. It was a good year in California for wines, and Ridge excelled beyond anything they'd ever done before. I remember that wine. It was rich, ripe, but also had acidity and tannin, it was everything they'd ever done before, multiplied by ten. It was so freaking good.



Unfortunately, for me, it was recognized as such by the Wine Spectator upon release, and they gave it points in the 90s (somewhere in the basement is the copy, but I'm not about to dig for it). What happened next was horrifying to me. The price went up, as you might expect. Ridge wines that had been $10 went to $30 a bottle.

It was devastating for me, but I was very happy for Ridge.

[Side note: Paul Drapper (PD in the label above) said in 02/92, "Lovely now, it will develop further over the next fiver or six years." It's now, what 24 years later?]

Somehow, I still managed to put away a fair amount of 1990 Zinfandel. Perhaps two cases. And I've enjoyed it occasionally over the years. But, here's the thing.

I've known there were still some lurking in the cellar, but hadn't seen any for some time. Like years. Digging in the cellar tonight, I found a 1990 Zin in a mixed box of all sorts of odd old bottles. And I thought, "OK, why not?"

With trepidation, I removed the foil. Then carefully started the corkscrew. It went into the cork easily, too easily. Uh-oh. Soft cork. After threading the screw into the cork completely, I ever so gently started to extract the cork. It started moving easily. Uh-oh. It was wet to the top. Uh-oh. The cork slid partly out easily, and then, broke. Uh-oh. I got the last piece out, and, frankly, was prepared to taste vinegar.



After pouring out a sample, I sniffed. SKUNK. Uh-oh.

All right, give it some time. Swirl, blow off the top, swirl, give it some air to come back to life...

And it opened up, and was, actually quite nice. Not the great wine that you would have tasted back in, say the mid to late 90s or so, but quite nice. Still great color (not a hint of garnet, which usually comes with age). Definitely on the light side as far as taste and power goes, but delicious. The tannins were pretty much absent (and were clinging to the side of the bottle, I see). I didn't get any prune that so often comes with too old wines, especially those that were made too ripe. Rather, diminished (really, given the age) flavors of black cherries, a touch of cedar, some brambly blackberry. All diminished, but still there. I was floored.

Shows that Ridge really has had it's act together for decades.

And still does.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Bad Chablis, Great Carignane

Tomorrow I'll spend some time excavating all the whites in the cellar. After a nasty oxidized Chablis very recently, I need to find all the others and get them out where I can see them.

A friend shared a site where there is a lot of evidence of recent Chablis not aging as usual, and many recent vintages are prematurely oxidized. [Side note: This friend, I have yet to discover any topic upon which he is not just thoroughly knowledgeable, but an expert. Dang. Here's the link: http://oxidised-burgs.wikispaces.com]


Tonight, moving boxes around, I was looking for a shipment from Ridge Vineyards that I'd not even opened. The one I found first was of the 2010 Carignane from Buchignani Ranch.

2010 was an interesting year for me - that fall, not long after the harvest of this wine was complete, my doctor told me I had cancer. That led to treatments, and much more, and also meant wines from my Ridge Wine Club stacked up, unopened. And even those shipments (6 bottles each) that did get opened, only a single bottle may have been extracted. We just couldn't drink, and especially, enjoy wine. In particular, red wine. It was a bleak time that didn't really end until recently.

So, tonight, a long delayed enjoyment.

Up front, a sweet rose petal and red cherry, mouth filling red fruit (raspberry in particular), tannins just there... Delicious.

Notes from the harvest include these: "A long wet spring disrupted set at Buchignani Ranch and cut yields from the old carignane vines." "We picked all vineyard blocks on September 28." "Enjoyable now, the wine will evolve over the next four to five years." (notes written 09/2011, wine bottled 12/2011).

So, these bottles that have been sitting undisturbed since arriving in Seattle, are in prime time. And I agree. Delicious.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Ham and Bean Soup, with some Greens to make it more Healthy


Not the most regal of dinners, lunches, or even breakfasts (why not!). But tasty.

I love a soup that combines ham and beans. Probably my favorite kind. OK, except for French Onion. Or, OK, I love Cream of Mushroom. Something from my childhood I can't get over. Or, OK, Chicken Noodle. I give. I have too many favorites.

Over the weekend, I roasted a massive bone in ham (with a pear chutney glaze). And ham dinners are one of my favorite dinners. Well, except for Asian marinated flank steak. Or roasted prime rib. And, uh, a roasted chicken. Or a turkey. Or even a baked macaroni and cheese. Or Lasagna. Again, I give. I have many favorites.

Some have asked, when they find out I love to cook "what do you like to cook?"

I cook dinner.

I don't do desserts.

I tried my hand at bread and met with some success with sourdough loaves. But I finally decided it was better if I just bought something from any of the many wonderful bakeries here in Seattle. I still aspire to make great bread, but it's not a calling. So I purchase.

Dinner, on the other hand, is what I do. And I don't hew to any particular cuisine. Well, my go to is Italian - a couple of impeccable ingredients at their seasonal best, prepared simply. Love it. But I also love, I mean LOVE, Korean. So I might make anything.

Back to the roasted ham. I boned out the bone - right? That's what you do, right? And I purposely left it "meaty." Unlike my usual almost obsessive compulsion to bone out something such that the bone is completely clean. I wanted meat on it. And into a large kettle to simmer for hours to get all the goodness out of the bone (and the trimmings I left on).

Now, to the soup. I will admit, when I embark on a new cooking adventure for posting, I probably look at over a dozen or more recipes on line. I put them all into a spreadsheet, normalize for quantity, and then think I'll make an "average" combination. In reality, I do all that computing, but by the time I've finished all the comparisons, I've already made my mind up as to how I'm going to make the dish. And I toss the spreadsheet and just record what I did.

Yes, I do learn some things, sometimes, comparing recipes. A technique. A change in the order of operation. But, at best, it might be an herb or spice or veg I didn't consider before. Like Cardamom. I don't think to use it in places where it might just make the difference. And I love Cardamom. Dorothy makes a Cardamom Ice Cream... Oh my...

But I digress.

I make the ham stock from that bone and trimmings. I taste, add more ham, taste, and season, add more ham, and eventually, I like it as a base for the soup. It has enough of it's own flavor to be good by itself. Then I strain the stock, de-fat it, and bring it back to simmer.

Later, diced ham and beans will go in, but let's talk about the beans first. You could use canned beans and be done quickly (as in, just add them, drained and rinsed, and you're almost done). Or you could use dried beans, meaning you need to cook them to tenderness which of course takes time (and yes, in the strained stock would be fine, even correct). Or you could use what I did, which is frozen fresh Cranberry beans I put up from the Farmer's Market this last summer. Like, everybody has this, right? I can hear you laughing... In this case, the beans go in the strained stock to cook for about 15-20 minutes until almost done.

No matter the bean starting point, when they are almost done, add diced ham. Bring slowly back to a simmer.

Separately, I sweat onion, celery, carrot, and garlic and prep the greens. I love Lacinato Kale. Perfect for this dish. Although other types, even Collards, are wonderful.


About cutting your greens. There's nothing worse than taking a spoonful of soup and having a 5-inch long piece of green hanging off it flinging soup drops onto your new dress shirt. I swear, new shirts have an almost magnetic quality about them for errant drops. Before cutting your greens crosswise (across the stem, which you have removed in the case of Collards and tough kale), cut lengthwise to make sure no piece is more than 1" in length. Then cut crosswise into 3/8" ribbons or so. You could go 2/8" (1/4) inch, or even 4/8 (1/2 inch). But I like the width in between.


Add the sweated veg and greens to the simmering soup pot, let it simmer about 10 minutes, taste for seasoning and correct if needed.

Only thing extra to do is either just toast some delicious bread you bought from a real bakery, or make broiled garlic bread with a dusting of Parmesan cheese - again the bread from one of those incredible local bakeries.

Now that's a wonderful dinner. Or lunch. Or, yes, breakfast.

And in that last case I like to place a poached egg in the bowl of hot soup. And, just because I am who I am, I put crumbled crisp bacon either on top of the soup and egg, or under a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Or both. Yes. I do that. No, I'm not embarrassed.

Ham and Bean Soup

1 large meaty ham bone
4 quarts of water
1 pound fresh cranberry beans
2 cups diced cooked ham
1/2 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 garlic cloves, diced very fine
1 bunch Lacinato kale, chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

Simmer the bone in the water for several hours. De-fat the stock, and taste. Add more ham scraps if it tastes weak, and simmer some more.

Strain the stock, return to cleaned pot and return to simmer. Add the beans and cook gently until they are almost done. Add the diced ham.

Meanwhile, sweat the chopped onion, carrot, celery, and garlic, and prepare (chop) the kale.

When beans are just done, add the sweated veg to the pot along with the chopped kale, and bring back to a simmer for about 10 minutes. Taste, add salt and pepper as needed.

Serve with toast, or cheesy garlic bread.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Playing with Pesto

Generally, I don't like “stuffed” meats. To get the stuffing cooked, because the stuffing is in the center of the meat, you have to overcook the meat. For example, a stuffed turkey - I don’t do them because I don’t like dry turkey. I do the dressing on the side…

Same with a roast leg of lamb. Putting raw garlic into the leg, be it stuck in a hole poked into the side or a leg roast butterflied and spread with garlic then rolled and tied back up… The garlic stays raw and nasty if you cook to medium rare (as you should). You have to overcook the lamb to well done and then some to get the garlic cooked. Again, nasty.

Is there a way to make a stuffed or rolled and tied piece of meat work? Yes. It’s all about choices.

Here are two efforts using pesto as my stuffing, and pesto has raw garlic, so it’s a good test.

This year at Thanksgiving, I finally got over the notion of needing a whole roasted turkey. Every year, to get the legs done, the breasts get overcooked. So this year I broke the turkey down. Removed the legs, removed the wings (cut off the flats and tips for stock), cut the breast meat off the bones. All that went into my cider brine for 24 hours.

Meanwhile, the carcass, wing tips and flats, neck, and organ meat went into the oven to roast. After roasting and skimming the fat, all that (minus the organ meat) went into a stock pot. Fresh turkey stock for cooking on Thanksgiving at the ready!

So, about that pesto? I butterflied out the breast pieces and smeared them with pesto, then rolled and tied them up. For roasting, I put the legs in the oven first, let them go about a half hour, then added the rolled breasts. Brought everything up to internal temperature of 160°F, then let them rest while all the sides warmed or finished.

I’d say, success. Probably the best turkey I’ve ever cooked! And the pesto/turkey breast was quite a hit at the table and looked fantastic too.

Butterflied breast with pesto

A rolled and tied breast before roasting

The roasted breast pieces, and drumettes too

Slices of the roasted breast. Pretty!

Last night, I did something similar with a pork tenderloin. Butterflied it out, smeared with pesto, rolled and tied, and roasted to an internal temperature of 160°F. Again, a hit.

Why does this work? Both poultry and pork needs to be cooked fully. And hence, lend themselves to “stuffing.” But only if the pieces are small enough in diameter to reach temperature in the center without killing the outside layers of meat. That’s why it works with the cuts I used.

Rolled and tied
Cross section - very pretty!
Alternatively, I know you could use an immersion circulator to cook these and larger cuts without killing the meats. Set at 160°F, no part of the roast will ever get any hotter. All you’d need to do then is pop the done roast in a very hot oven to brown it on the outside, et voilà!

Here’s my post about making pesto

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Popcorn

Yes, popcorn.

I love it, but pretty much only eat it at a movie theatre (yes, re vs. er is on purpose).

And yes, I go for the "buttered" popcorn. Whatever that slop is, I know it's not real butter, but I want it, and I want salt too.

Last weekend, as I was looking at the offerings from the farmers at the University District Farmer's Market, here in Seattle, I spied popcorn. On the cob.

That was all it took.

I had to buy some.

I acquired 3 bundles of three cobs.

Here are two bundles still hanging out and drying in the kitchen, and one bundle that I've just de-cobbed. Is that a word? It should be.



Monday, October 5, 2015

Butternut Squash Risotto

Butternut squash risotto. It was my weapon. I wielded it stealthily, and with it, I won. Yes, nerd gets hot girl. It can happen.

When Dorothy and I started, finally, dating, after maybe two to three years of knowing each other, I made dinner for her. A dinner to woo. A dinner to win - to win a heart.

And it was a butternut squash risotto that did it. At least as I remember it. What else was served I don’t remember, perhaps duck, but the risotto is the stuff of legend. She still gets teary eyed when she thinks of it. Guys, that’s pretty good! Learn to make risotto, and even the nerdiest of nerds can win. I’m proof.

So, tonight, after a long hiatus (someone finally admitted it’s fall because she brought home a butternut squash, which when she sees in the markets starting in August, she usually starts wailing “No, no, no, no, no…” because she really really really doesn’t want summer to end), butternut squash risotto has returned to the table. My goodness, that was a long parenthetical phrase, eh?

And I do it differently than most. I don’t like the squash to be a purée, all mixed in. I like to see the squash in the risotto.
  1. So here’s what I do.
  2. Cut the peeled neck of the squash into rice-grain sized pieces - oh and I included some diced mushrooms
  3. Sauté them
  4. Add garlic and a few herbs, continue to sauté until the squash is almost cooked through
  5. Set aside
  6. Make the risotto (arborio rice toasted in olive oil, then cooked with at least 3x by volume homemade chicken stock)
  7. When just on the point of being done, stir in the squash, bring to temp, then take off the heat and stir in parmesan

What? You want a recipe? Isn’t that enough? What? Isn’t that recipe enough? Eh?

That’s how I cook. Some of this, some of that, and oh, and that looks right.
So, here for you others:

Butternut risotto

Prepare the squash

  1. Cut the neck off one butternut squash
  2. Peel it completely
  3. Half it longitudinally
  4. Place a sliced half cut side down on a cutting board
  5. Slice the squash into 1/8 inch slices the long way (longitudinally, not crosswise)
  6. Take half the pile of slices, place them on the cutting board so the largest piece is on the bottom, and slice the stack into 1/8 inch sticks
  7. Cut the sticks into 1/4 inch long pieces
  8. Continue with the other quarters of the squash neck until you have about 2 cups of grain sized squash pieces (reserve the remainder for some other application, and, if the neck didn't give you enough, start working creatively with the "bulb" end of the squash (seeds and such scooped out and discarded) to give you enough rice sized nubbins of squash love). Yes, that was a lot of cutting. And you could do it faster and better with a mandolin. I recommend you do - but it can be done by hand
  9. Sauté the squash in olive oil over high heat until it is just almost soft. I repeat: Until almost soft all the way through but not quite
  10. Reserve

Make the risotto

  1. Heat to a simmer a quart of chicken stock
  2. In a large pot, over high heat, stir together a cup of arborio rice with about a tablespoon of olive oil
  3. Get it sizzling
  4. Dump in a cup of stock
  5. Turn heat down to medium high - you want to keep things boiling but not super vigorously
  6. Stir it, and stir it, and stir it
  7. When almost dry add another cup of stock
  8. Stir it and stir it and stir it
  9. When almost dry, add the last cup of stock (yes, there’s another cup or so of stock left)
  10. Stir it and stir it and stir it
When almost dry, test a taste, or taste a test, or huh?

Is the rice done? Is there a hard core still?

If there’s still a hardness and not doneness, add more stock and stir and stir over heat for about a minute or two. Repeat testing and adding stock and stirring until done.

When the rice is done, stir in the squash with about 2 tablespoons of stock and stir gently to combine. Bring to a simmer temp as quickly as you can without burning things - seriously hot heat, a few stirs, you're done.

Then, add 1/2 to 1 cup of finely grated paremsan cheese, off heat, stir gently to combine (yes, you get to decide how cheesy the risotto is - no matter where you end up, it’s going to be good).

Serve!

So, yes. Butternut squash risotto. It was a heart winner. Or was it? Was it the risotto or was it me?

Well, 16+ years later, she still tells people about the butternut squash risotto that I wooed her with. She doesn’t go on and on about me. But I got the girl. That’s what matters. To me. I won. Boy oh boy, did I win.

Served tonight with sautéd summer squashes and roasted chicken and a bit of the roasting juices - now that's a whole other winner winer chicken dinner if your are wooing a person...

You will likely be lucky.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Oxtails and Conversation

I love when someone cooks for me. It tells me they are confident in their cooking skills. And most of the time, it's a dish I've never tried. So I learn something.

Tonight was one of those nights. Our friends Chuck and Barb played scientists on these Guinea Pigs with two recipes from the latest Saveur (issue 177). In the article "Reinventing Jamaica" were two recipes we sampled tonight: Braised Oxtail with Butter Beans, and Coconut Rice and Red Beans.

Oxtails with Butter Beans
Coconut Rice and Red Beans

I've been reading my way through this latest issue, and since I read in bed before turning off the lights, my attention is waning by the time I get to the Jamaica article. It's near the end of the issue. And, frankly, I probably wouldn't have made either recipe. Although I love a good stew, or meat braise, I don't usually make such dishes. My cooking style leans more to fresh and quick cooking ingredients. Mostly because I don't start thinking about what's for dinner until dinner time. So a braise is out. Even on the weekends when such dishes could be done - I don't think of it until 4:00 PM or later, and the roasts (gorgeous organic grass fed beef from Skagit River Ranch) are frozen, and a trip to the store for something would unnecessarily delay the cocktails... Not happening.

We greatly enjoyed the dishes our friends made, and I think I will really really try to add them to our repertoire. If not the oxtails (because I won't remember to start them so far ahead), at least the rice dish. It was delicious.

The evening reinforced that dinner is most fun when you've got company and conversation, and much wine.

A wonderful night out. Thank you Chuck and Barb.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Basil Pesto by the Gallon, and Then Some

What do you do when you see one of your favorite farms offering fresh Organic Basil in bulk? You get a crazy little bug in your ear that says "Make lotsa pesto!" How much? Oh, yeah, let's go with 10 pounds of basil. That can't be that much…

So, we made Basil Pesto today. 10 pounds of Basil fresh from Whistling Train Farm. This calls for some serious recipe scaling!

Step one: Find the base recipe. I went with Marcella Hazan's "Food Processor Pesto" from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.
2 cups packed Basil
0.5 cup grated Parmesan
0.25 cup toasted pine nuts
2 cloves peeled garlic
0.25 teaspoon salt
0.5 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons butter

Step two: Convert to metric and weight. Why? I'm going to need to scale way up with all that Basil.
100 grams Basil
60 grams Parmesan
40 grams pine nuts
10 grams garlic
1 gram salt
60 mls olive oil
10.5 grams butter

Step three: Spend 5 hours of picking the leaves from the basil plants. And weigh it. I ended up with 3 kilos basil (that's about 6.6 pounds).

Step four: Scale the recipe.
3 kilos Basil
1.8 kilos Parmesan
1.2 kilos pine nuts
300 grams garlic
30 grams salt
1.8 liters olive oil
315 grams butter

Now, to get everything ground up and mixed. I'm so glad I invested in a Robot Coupe as a Christmas present for us a couple years ago. First time I used the grater plate. It tore through the blocks of cheese in no time flat.


Regular blade on the garlic and the pine nuts. But, wait, I have no bowl big enough to hold everything! So I pulled out a large plastic tub and started combining everything in it. The grated cheese, the garlic, the pine nuts, add the salt, mix a bit.

Now, all that Basil and oil. But look at the Basil! this is only one third of the leaves. Seriously. One third.


Multiple batches through the Robot Coupe, mix them into the other ingredients in the tub, and slowly but surely, the pesto takes form.

After the final mix, I portioned the pesto out into pint containers. 18 of them. Topped with a bit more olive oil, they're now in the chest freezer waiting for a years worth of uses.

In case you're wondering about costs, be prepared. When I started this project, I had no idea how much pine nuts cost, and how much I'd need. On sale, they ran $66.25 for the 1.2 kilos I needed (on sale at $25/lb). Add another $40 for Parmesan (on sale at $10/lb), $60 for the Basil and another $28 for the oil.

Final cost came to about $11.50 a pint. Not cheap, but I know exactly what went into it, and all the ingredients were top notch. And it tastes so fresh and vibrant with the basil and salty from the Parmesan. Really worth it!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

What to do for an Anniversary Dinner?

It's been two years. Yes, two. My bride and I tied the knot at the County Courthouse in front of a wonderful judge two years ago, on a Monday, July the 22nd. (Wednesday this year.) There is photographic and video evidence to show the event really happened.





But, we'd been living together for 14.5 years prior. Making 16.5 years total, now. And, has the romance dripped away? I mean, that's a long time. Not long, like I see in the obits in the paper, of couples who've been married for 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, or more years. That's crazy wonderful. But what do I do for 14.5 years plus 2?

I cook.

No pictures - it was a private affair. But, I wooed my sweetie back in the day with risotto. It was butternut squash risotto. But I did it differently from the recipes out there. Instead of having the squash be a "purée" kind of mix in with the rice, I cut the squash into rice-grain sized pieces (yes, it took time). Then I flash fried them in butter and drained them. Set them aside. I made the risotto using homemade chicken stock, and just as the rice was done, folded the fried squash into the rice along with the parmesan off the heat. What I love about this preparation is there is a little bite from the squash; it's not all mush - I don't like all mush.

For our anniversary dinner, first up, some farmer fizz. As in, grower Champagne. A blanc de blanc. I would have preferred a blanc de noir - but the choices weren't so good. Then, for dinner on our #2 anniversary, I made risotto. This time, I folded in fresh (blanched and shelled) fava beans. And teamed it with two seared scallops and a fillet mignon medallion. Dessert was raspberry sorbet (which Dorothy had made previously - and she'd added a touch of mint and lime to it - mmmmmm).

At "our age" it's so much more about the taking care of each other. And we show our affection through cooking and wowing through cooking. It's our thing. We're probably not unique in that.

Tomorrow, Saturday, is Dorothy's birthday. I'm cooking again. I will try to remember to take pictures. I will try to remember...

Thursday, April 9, 2015

How do you treat your kids at table...

This will be an odd post that’s peripherally related to food. It’s about children, food, and sitting down to dinner.

When I was a child, we sat down to dinner at table every night. Each of us children had tasks to perform (set the table, clear the table, wash the dishes, dry the dishes - yes there were four of us) every night. And although I’m sure complaints were mighty, there was no out. We did our tasks.

Also, when we sat down to dinner, what was served was served to everyone. No substitutions. If there was something one didn’t like, the rule was “take a bight, and then you can move on.” If one child persisted in being intransigent, the rule was “go to your room and go to bed now - no dinner for you.”

The best part was our parents didn’t back down. Sure, I didn’t think that way back then, but I do now. One failing, one "OK, we give in" and we’d have known we had them in our hands and could get away with anything. They’d back down if we put up enough of a stink.

My parents never did. And it turns out, never did my wife’s parents.

Naturally, I (we) think that’s the way it should be. We never got to be parents - met too late for reproductive purposes. So, for us, the rules are quite simple. I suspect for actual parents, it’s more difficult. But I think my, and my wife’s, experiences were the norm way way back in the 1950s to 1970s. When did it all start to change? When did children start making decisions for their parents? When did that become normal? I leave that to researchers who follow this stuff and I would love references to their work.

What brought on this missive? I opened, tonight, for the first time, the December issue of Bon Appétit. It was in a pile of stuff set aside back then when we were hosting parties. It was still in the plastic mailing bag. And this is April 9th, 2015! So, I feel almost like I’m exploring an archeological deposit.

What do I see? Way too many “gift ideas.” Really. Pages and pages. Please edit that stuff down. And then what prompted this post. Page 38, “New Year’s Eve, Family Style.”

Frankly, I loved the idea of the article and that a family would sit down to a New Year’s Eve Dinner, all fancy, with “passed hors d’oeuvres, bubbly drinks, fine china, place cards.” What fun! I can totally see my wife doing this (with the kids we don’t have) and us having a blast. Like, totally.

But then, the menu. I see courses that are really not challenging for kids, but there’s a kids version. And this is my issue.

Example:
Kids. Kettle Cooked Potato Chips
Parents. Kettle Cooked Potato Chips with Crème Fraîce and Caviar

On a special night like this, the kids would be on best behavior and acting all grown up-like. And this is the best opportunity to introduce them to those new flavors. “Try one. If you don’t like it, just have the chips.”

Next example:
Kids. Lobster with drawn butter
Parents. Lobster with drawn butter seasoned with smoked paprika

We’re not talking crazy stuff - kids could probably enjoy what you’re having, if you gave them the chance to at least try instead of treating them like coddled idiots.

OK, I’m not a parent. But, that’s not how I was raised.

Then there’s the sweetest part of the article:

“Our daughters write ‘fortunes’ for each of us and tuck them under the place cards. It’s always something sweet, like ‘Maybe this year dad will grow his hair back’.”

I so wish I’d had kids. And if I had, maybe I’d be more understanding than this post indicates. I probably sound way too preachy. I just wish I’d had kids, to prove me wrong.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Faux Porchetta, redux


I posted recently about what I've been cooking in the last month and gave tantalizing hints about a "Faux Porchetta." I did it again tonight. I love the flavors. The garlic, lemon, and fennel smell so good while roasting and tastes so amazing.

As before, I follow the idea presented in the New York Times (Click here) but because there are only two of us in this house, I didn't do an entire pork belly and loin. That's something for a party. For us, it is the weekend. Nice, but not a party.

Is it possible to enjoy the goodness without the excess? YES!

From the New York Times as published:

Ingredients:

1 (7- to 8-pound) bone-in, skin-on pork shoulder roast, or a 6- to 7-pound boneless roast, fat trimmed to 1/4-inch thickness
¼ cup chopped fennel fronds
¼ cup chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage leaves
5 garlic cloves, grated or mashed to a paste
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon fennel seed
¾ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Preparation

Score skin and fat all over pork, taking care not to cut down to the meat.
1. In a food processor or mortar and pestle, combine fennel fronds, rosemary, sage, garlic, lemon zest, salt, fennel seed, red pepper flakes and black pepper. Pour in oil. Pulse or mash until it forms a paste. Rub all over pork. If using a boneless roast, tie with kitchen string at 2-inch intervals. Transfer to a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 6 hours and preferably overnight.
2. Remove pork from refrigerator 1 to 2 hours before you want to cook it. Heat oven to 450°F degrees. Transfer pork to a rimmed baking sheet and roast 35 minutes. Reduce temperature to 325°F degrees and cook an additional 2 hours 45 minutes to 4 hours, until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat reads 180°F degrees, which will give you sliceable, tender meat. (Bone-in roasts will take longer than boneless ones.)
3. Transfer pork to a cutting board and let rest 15 to 30 minutes before serving. Make sure everyone gets some of the cracklings.


Here are my changes:

I use about half to a third of the meat called for. The belly and the shoulder piece should weigh about the same, although the shoulder piece can weigh more if it's thicker. I use a piece of pork belly, skin on. (If possible - I have farmer friends so I can get it. Ask your best butcher friend if you don't have farmer friends. If you can't get skin on belly, just go with what you can get.) I use a slice of pork shoulder (boneless) about as big as the piece of belly, or a bit larger (larger in thickness is fine, but it's best if they have the same surface area when laid one on top of the other). I use all the herbs and spices as called for. I use almost a pound of homemade bacon (but you can use good stuff you buy, really). Yes, I wrapped it in bacon.

I slather all the pork with the ground up spice and herb and oil. I lay the belly skin side down on a sheet tray, place the slice of shoulder on the belly, and then drape the bacon over it all. I line the bacon up so the ends are even on one side, then trim the excess off on the other side. Then I tie it all up. First, around the whole loaf twice lengthwise (around the belly piece, and around the shoulder piece), then around the loaf circumferentially over each slice of bacon. Nice and tighty whitey.


It takes much less time to cook than a 6-7 pound roast, so get out your probe thermometer.

The initial roast at 450°F takes only 20 minutes. After roasting at 325°F to 170-180°F internal (a 2-3 pound combo takes about 2 hours), let it rest for 15-20 minutes, remove the string (you don't want to serve string to yourself or partner or guest, whomever, ever!). Slice. Plate. Enjoy.

This is freaking good.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Faux Porchetta

Dear readers. It has been a month since my last confession…

That doesn't mean I've not been cooking. I have.

There was the Duck Prosciutto I made and topped a pizza with it. A simple Margherita from Pagliacci, and I added the duck and re-baked after getting it home.


There was Hooni Kim's Recipe for Pork and Tofu Stir-Fry with Scallions. It's a "Mapo Tofu" type recipe. We didn't like it. It lacked flavor. I can do better Korean than that, because I learned Korean from the best, my ex-mother-in-law and her mother. Don't argue. (My suggestion: needs soy sauce and heat.)
http://www.wsj.com/articles/hooni-kims-recipe-for-pork-and-tofu-stir-fry-with-scallions-1423847860?tesla=y

There was Pepián (again, lacked flavor in spite of all the spices and seeds). Not sure how to fix this.
http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/feb/24/real-street-food-pepian-from-guatemala

There was noodle night.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/fresh-egg-noodles-recipe-1424960737?tesla=y

And there was Chicken with Caramelized Onion and Cardamom Rice from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sammi Tamimi's "Jerusalem: A Cookbook" that again failed to impress. (My suggestion: smash/pound all the spices, put into a cheesecloth bag, and soak like a tea in the hot water for the rice - or use ground spices but that means you need to scale back and I can't tell you how much without testing. What was interesting is the rice tasted so much better as left-over, because the whole spices had time to infuse the dish.)
http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1014925-chicken-with-caramelized-onion-and-cardamom-rice

There was the Mac & Cheese last night. And this past weekend the Faux Porchetta.

With all the failed recipes, I can fix most (see suggestions)

The Mac & Cheese was great. The Faux Porchetta was really good.

I followed a recipe from The New York Times. Followed it, kind of. I used a 2-inch thick slice of pork shoulder topped with a skin-on piece of pork belly. Although I had half the weight of pork called for in the recipe, I used the flavorings at full amount. I rubbed it all down, tied the pieces together, and roasted as directed. Yum.
http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1017068-porchetta-pork-roast

No pictures.

There is a side project. To serve, you have to remove the skin. I did. The side project is that I boiled it for 30 minutes, spread it out to dry a bit, then cut it into small pieces. It's in the dehydrator right now. Yes, we're going to make PORK RINDS!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Butter

"Smell this" she says. "I think it's gone bad."

I know the joke. You stick your nose up close and BANG, the offending object is bopped into your face.

Not this time, my dear...

What do you do when you have a pint of cream that your partner says is "sour"? First, I smelled it and I wouldn't say "sour" but rather, cultured.

I had bought a pint of Twinbrook Creamery cream, and it's "sell by" date is next week. And it hadn't been opened. But it's solid in the jar. No amount of shaking budged anything.

First, I let it sit out to come completely to room temperature. Then, using a table knife, got all the contents into a bowl. There was some liquid cream, but mostly there was semi-hardened cream-like substance. Then I whisked, getting it all broken up and mixed. Then it seized up very quickly, making it impossible to whisk further. So I let it rest, came back, banged it around some more, and slowly, some buttermilk started to come out. Banged and "whisked" some more, making it look like I was re-incorporating the buttermilk into the cream, but then it broke. And the buttermilk flowed out.

Next, gather up all the solids into my hand, go to the sink and run the cold water, and massage the lump under the flow of COLD water. And I had butter.

And it tastes so good.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Cassoulet de Carcassonne

This last Sunday, there was a recipe for Cassoulet de Carcassonne in the Sunday Magazine of the Seattle Times (here's a link).
Huge, I mean HUGE, serving of lusciousness

Cassoulet in three hours. Right... But, I since made duck leg confit a few weeks ago, and it's just hanging around, let's do this. I mean, how convenient is that to just happen to have a couple of homemade duck legs, confit? Score!
 

As Published, serves 4-6

As Made, serves, well, more than two, even though we halved the recipe, really…

One day ahead:

All on same day:

1. Cover 1½ pounds of dry white beans with cold water and soak for one hour. (Cannellini work well. Paris Eastside carries traditional French Tarbais beans.) Drain and reserve.
One 15 ounce can of Great Northern Beans, rinsed. We use Simple Truth Organic – unlike other brands of canned beans I’ve opened over the years, this brand provides firm beans that will hold up in further cooking, not mushy ones that disintegrate with a few stirs of the pot.
2. Make the broth. You will need 3 to 5 ounces of cured bacon; 2 smashed garlic cloves; 1 onion quartered, and several large pieces of pork skin cut into strips. (Find pork skin at Uwajimaya or ask your butcher. You will need enough to cover the bottom of the cast iron cocotte or Dutch oven you will use for the cassoulet. This prevents the beans from scorching.) Place all the ingredients in a large pot. Add salt, pepper and 12 cups of water. Simmer very low, partially covered for two hours. Refrigerate until needed.
2 ounces bacon, homemade, of course
1 smashed clove garlic
2 quarters of onion with skin
2 bay leaves
small stalk celery with leaves, halved
small carrot, peeled, halved

Frankly, pork skin is not needed. Yes, in the broth, it will release gelatin and make for a luxurious sauce. Lining the bottom of the pot? Not needed when you bake. Stove top? Probably, but not needed in the oven.

To make the cassoulet:


3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons
4 pieces duck confit (scrape off most of the fat and reserve)
2 confit duck legs, homemade, of course
3 bratwurst or other garlicky sausage
2 fresh Kielbasa links, from Skagit River Ranch
2 pounds pork shoulder or pork butt (boneless country-style pork ribs sold in supermarkets are conveniently cut)
1 pound pork shoulder cut into strips
5 garlic cloves
5 garlic cloves, plus about ½ cup diced carrot and ½ cup diced onion.
Kosher salt, white or black pepper, grated nutmeg to taste
OK, pretty much, no problem here...
1. Strain the stock into a large pot, reserving the pork skin. Add tomato paste and pre-soaked beans. Cook 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the kind of beans. They should remain whole and slightly firm, as they will continue to cook in the oven.
Warmed the canned beans in the stock with the tomato paste.
2. While the beans cook, place the confit in a skillet and sear on all sides. Next, sear the sausages in the duck fat, then the pork, then the garlic cloves. Spoon off and reserve any excess fat in a small bowl as you go, or add more if needed. Use a spatula and a wooden spoon to turn and lift the meats, instead of tongs, which can break the skin.
Seared all the meats in duck fat and didn’t worry about extra duck fat. In fact, I poured extra in for the browning step. Really.

Also, sautéed the extra onion and carrot when I sautéed the garlic (see above). More veg is good. And unlike the French, I can eat sautéed veg in a sauce. (Carefully drained off all the extra Duck fat before adding the veg back to the bean/stock mix.)
3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cover the bottom of a cast iron cocotte or Dutch oven with the pork skins placed fat side down. Using a slotted spoon, transfer about one-third of the beans to the pot to cover the skins. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Arrange the pork on top of the beans. Place the duck on top of the pork. Scatter the garlic. Cover the meats with the remaining beans. Add enough stock to just cover the beans. Place the sausages on top, pushing them gently to slightly submerge. Add more salt, pepper and nutmeg. Bake uncovered for 1½ hours. As it cooks, a thin crust will form. Press gently with a wooden spoon occasionally to break the crust. Add stock if the cassoulet seems too dry.
Arranged the meats in the pot, poured the beans and stock with veg over the meats, and baked.

Just before we decided “it was done,” Dorothy added buttered bread crumbs on top, and let them get golden. Yes, Panko.
4. To serve, portion the beans and meats on plates.
Pretty much the same - it is a large portion if you give each bowl some of each meat, including a whole leg. And yes, you do have to serve a whole leg. Really.

We served the cassoulet over sautéed Collard greens. They were hit with a bit of lemon juice just before the cassoulet was spooned over them.

Nice easy dinner.
Beans and tomato paste warming in the stock
Homemade duck legs confit searing off in the sauté pan
Crusty crumbs on top, cassoulet ready to serve






Saturday, January 3, 2015

Crown Roast of Pork for Christmas Dinner

The end of the year brings too many events all at once. It's a busy time, to be sure.

First there's Thanksgiving and we're up to our elbows in turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, leek and sweet potato gratin, green beans (or was it Brussels sprouts?), and of course a pie. Or two.

Then there's the 30-40 people for the Christmas Ships Open House (and we cook a ham and a mac & cheese, others bring all sorts of good stuff). Then it's almost Christmas and Dorothy is baking five different kinds of cookies.

And then Christmas dinner.

This year we went with a Crown Roast of Pork from Better Meat. Dinner starts with oysters with a Meyer lemon mignonette, moves on to Pork with a sauce/syrup made from apple juice, served with green beans with mushrooms, mashed potatoes, and of course, stuffing. And Dorothy made a Yule Log cake.

Those damned oysters. See, it's traditional at our table to have oysters at Christmas and New Year's. And Dorothy has steadfastly resisted learning to shuck. And the oysters we get from Hama Hama Oyster Company are thick-shelled tight little buggers. They are the beach finished Hama Hamas. And I get all stressed out (wah-wah, I hear you).

I'm beat. Too much! Agh!

OK, take a deep breath. At least I didn't have to cook New Year's too. As a gift to Dorothy, we went to Lummi Island for the New Year's Eve dinner at Willows Inn and enjoyed the incredible bites that Chef Blain Wetzel and his crew (hi Nick and Wes!) put together. Of course, someone didn't make it to midnight in spite of the band playing for dancing after dinner, right under our room. Someone who will remain nameless.

But this post is about the Crown Roast of Pork. I've never done one before, and thought it was time.
Roast is out of the oven. Yum!
I looked at about a dozen different recipes and confirmed my plan would be just fine:

  • 350°F Oven
  • Salt and Pepper on the roast
  • Aluminum foil wrapped around the bones that stick out of the top of the roast - to protect them from burning
  • Stuffing not placed in the center of roast while the roast is cooking - for the same reason I don't stuff a turkey (to get the stuffing at the center cooked, you overcook the turkey)

Into the oven for about 3 hours, turning it around in the oven at least once (start checking internal temperature at 2 hours, then again every 30 minutes). For the last 30 minutes, remove the foil (that's about when the internal temperature reaches 125-130°F). The roast is done when the internal temperature is 140-145°F. Remove roast from oven, tent with foil, and let rest for 20-30 minutes before cutting. And please, get yourself a digital probe thermometer and use it.

And yes, 140-145°F sounds kind of low per USDA recommendations. But a funny thing happens when the roast rests. The internal temperature keeps rising. This is because the outside of the roast is hotter than the inside of the roast (the outermost layer may be 170-180°F or more, we're talking about that outside 18 to 14-inch, and the surface will be between 250-325°F - which is why it's browning and crispy), and that heat keeps seeping toward the center. The center of the roast will keep rising in temperature until about the time the entire roast equalizes in temperature, then it starts to cool - outside first. Of course. And no one has had trichinosis with commercial pork since the 1970s. Get over it. Final result will be somewhere between 150-160°F, and perfect if it hits 155°F.

During the resting period, the stuffing goes into the oven (recipe follows) and the apple glaze is finished (recipe follows).

See how simple it is? And it looks like crazy good, and your guests will think you're a brilliant chef.

Of course, you still have the green beans and mushrooms to do (sliced mushrooms sautéed in butter until leathery, then sprinkled with salt and drained on a paper towel, then sliced vertically into five slices; beans cut into 1-inch pieces, blanched in boiling salted water and then chilled in ice water until near serving time, then reheated with the mushrooms with a nice nub of butter); the mashed potatoes; the sweet potato leek gratin; the pies; the f-ing oyster shucking; the mignonette... You see why I'm exhausted? Agh! AND SO MUCH BUTTER!

Stuffing

1 loaf Macrina Bakery Guiseppe (114 pounds) cut into 34-inch cubes 1
1 pound sweet Italian bulk sausage (if in links, remove the casing and discard)
1 smallish yellow onion, chopped into 14-inch dice
2 smallish or 1 large carrot, peeled then chopped into 14-inch dice
2 stalks celery, chopped into 14-inch dice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 apples, skin on, cored, cut into 12-inch cubes
about a dozen fresh sage leaves, chopped fine
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1-2 cups low salt chicken broth (I make my own, of course I do)
salt and pepper to taste.

Brown the sausage in a large skillet. When the sausage is browned (and there isn't even a hint of pink anywhere, and it's sizzling hot like frying instead of steeping in water) add the onion, carrot, and celery, and cook until the veg is soft. Add the butter to just melt and remove from the heat. Place the bread cubes in a large bowl, pour the sausage and vegetables over the bread, and mix well. Add the apple and herbs and 1 cup of the broth, and stir. Add additional broth in small increments until you like the consistency. I like mine a bit dry so I can get crunchy edges when it cooks in the oven. Taste. Add salt and pepper, and taste again. Repeat until you like the balance.

Place in a baking dish. Cook in a 350°F oven until completely heated through, about 30 minutes.

Cider Glaze

12 gallon real apple juice, and just apple juice (you might know it as "cider") 2
1 medium shallot, chopped
3 sprigs fresh sage
a good cluster of fresh thyme sprigs (about 10-15 branches)
12 cup apple cider vinegar

In a large pot, add all the ingredients and bring to a simmer. After about 30 minutes, strain through a fine mesh strainer, and return liquid to the pot (throw out the shallot and herbs). Bring to a light boil and reduce until thickened into an almost syrup-like consistency. Think Maple Syrup (real, not artificial, the fake stuff has thickening agents - yuuck).

For serving:

Remember to remove the strings holding the crown roast together. Really. No one wants to floss at dinner. Slice a chop out. Place some of the stuffing off-center on a plate, place the chop leaning up against the stuffing, placing it on the outside of the off-center stuffing pile (and put the other side dishes on the plate too, on the other, more empty side of the plate). Spoon about 1-2 tablespoons of the glaze over the chop. Serve.

Notes:

1The Macrina Guiseppe loaf is a crusty Italian loaf leavened with biga (traditional Italian sponge starter) and made with unbleached flour. Substitute any really fresh crusty unbleached white loaf.
2In all the world except the US, Cider is fermented apple juice. And that's what it meant in the US too, until prohibition. And during our great experiment with trying to make people not drink, the meaning of cider shifted. See, small farms were still able to sell their apple juice direct to customers at the farm, and what they sold was fresh unfiltered apple juice (and of course spontaneously fermenting juice). And it was all called Cider. After prohibition, the name Cider was kept for unfiltered apple juice and we added "hard" for the fermented stuff. Use real apple juice, that is, unfiltered apple juice with no additives (no added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, ascorbic acid, xanthum gum, etc.).

More pictures:


 The Crown Roast ready for the oven
Oysters accumulating on the ice...
Mignonette is ready

Mushrooms prepped and cooked
The table is set
The kids castle - cats don't need toys, all they need is a box. Or two. Or more.
Dorothy's Yule Log cake.