So I think we may have cracked the formula for not-fried-chicken-but-looks-and-tastes-like-fried-chicken-heaven. Or rather, not-fried-yet-seems-fried-guinea hen, which is what we tried at dinner the other night with our buddies Tim and Alina. The key is to wash and pat dry your fowl thighs (always thighs!) very thoroughly, then add to a hot, hot, hot skillet shimmering with a good amount of melted duck fat. Adam seared the thighs until golden brown and crisp (be patient, don’t peek) and then finished them off in a moderately hot oven (about 375 degrees) until cooked on the inside. The hens emerged with crackling, golden skin, and moist, tender insides — exactly what we were looking for.
Of course, the meal was really a lame excuse to open a bottle of knock-your-socks-off-good Aloxe-Corton burgundy that had been burning a hole in our pantry since Adam bought it last year, and we fleshed out the rest of the meal with other autumn-appropriate side dishes, like roasted Jerusalem artichokes (scrub them well, keep the skins on, and cut into very thin coins); stewed red cabbage with roasted chestnuts (so bready and delicious), guanciale and juniper berries; and the baby fennel confit that I once made for Cool Fest and is extracted from an old issue of Gourmet (the original recipe can be found here). It’s a very popular dish of which I never seem to tire— full of deep flavor from the saffron and coriander seeds, plenty of crunch from the chopped almonds and fennel fronds, and the pleasing plump and chew of raisins puffed up by olive oil and orange juice.
Just as I was lamenting the inevitable turnaround into winter-like weather, suddenly I’m craving the heartiest of fall foods, because I’m fickle like that. Adam had cooked up a seared veal chop, mashed potatoes, baby swiss chard, boiled carrots, and morel mushrooms, and I wolfed it all down. Tasted great, I think I’m ready for fall now. (Yesterday I put on my first pot of soup!)
Also, Adam started buying vintage china from a great thrift store in Parc Ex and recently came home with dinner plates bearing a pattern that we also have at Lawrence. I have to say, it’s a little disconcerting to eat dinner at home and stare at a design that also appears on some of the dessert plates that I use at work. Universe, stop messing with my brain!
Trying to get through my days.
Some photos from an apple picking excursion last week are here to make me smile, from a beautiful organic pear and apple orchard that I discovered through my friend Cheryl. It was a tremendous day, one of the best I’d had all year. The kind of day that seems unblemished and infinite. (The apples, also, we’re the finest Quebec apples I’ve ever eaten). Sabrina kept exclaiming, ‘It’s so good to be alive, life is such magic!’ We laughed but she was right. Good to think about nice memories like this, days that ended with onion rings and laughter.
Intrigued by the masterful combination of sausages and oysters, earlier this fall we bookmarked a page in Richard Olney’s indespensible book Ten Vineyard Lunches. The recipe was for tiny green crepines, or caul-wrapped ‘green sausages,’ served with oysters on the half shell.
These crepines were the best homemade sausages I’ve ever had, and super fun and easy to make, too. The ‘green’ aspect derives from huge bunches of spinach, which are finely chopped, sauteed, and folded into a pork sausage, garlic and parsley mixture.
The patties are gently sealed in pig caul — that’s the beautiful lacy stomach lining found in various animals — and then cooked until golden brown and crispy. The caul sort of melts away and tightens the sausage up, keeping it intact and providing a natural sausage casing for the ground pork. We found that these sausages render quite a bit of fat, so we drained the pan halfway through. Ideally the crepines are grilled over hot coals, but we found the broiler worked just as well.
So we had some friends over and quickly devoured these sausages with toasted bread, butter, lemon wedges, a simple migonette sauce (red wine vinegar, chopped shallots, cracked black pepper + minced parsley) and oodles of oysters — a few dozen of them Rockefeller style, even. What can I say, we were feeling festive.
There’s no reason why you can’t make sausages like this all the time. Caul is fairly cheap (we bought a baseball-sized puck of caul for about $5), and freezes great. As you can imagine, it’s quite durable — and beautiful! — and the ineffably porky essence it adds to the sausages is rich and delicious beyond belief. (Apologies for the caul puns. We riffed on the topic for at least an hour during dinner, at one point I described myself as a ‘caul girl.’)
Brunch. It doesn’t happen often around here, and when we venture into the controversial late-morning meal, I prefer to keep it blissfully simple. One fried egg, one piece of toast. A bowl of granola, slim crescents of pear. A plate of bacon.
Recently I had a two-pronged approach: sweet, flaky pastries from Cheskie’s Bakery, and a couple dozen Fairmount bagels (irrefutably the best in the city), smeared with tangy cream cheese and topped with tissue-thin smoked salmon, slivers of shallots, lemon juice, and capers. With a hot pot of Darjeeling, freshly squeezed orange juice, and strong tea cups of espresso, it was a wonderful, complete Sunday morning. Despite my own documented misgivings, I admit that I love the casual vibe of brunch, the chatty nature of the table, the mixture of sweet and savory.
As I slowly begin to cook my way through Richard Olney’s formidable oeuvre, one recipe in particular stood out to me: braised white Belgian endives in cream. With bacon. It was tremendous, all full of velvet textures and rich cream and that distinctively endive bitterness, wonderfully tamed by the milk and butter, but livened up, too, by lemon and salty bacon. It was incredible, so elegant and so strange.
We also had so much fun figuring out how to make potato pancakes — we tried at least 5 different ways. I insisted on an egg-based batter, but I was taste-test proven wrong (pancakes were too soft, too fritter-like, not enough crisp). We tried just vegetable oil, we tried a mixture of vegetable oil and butter, we tried unsalting, we tried tiny pancakes in mini skillets (the best).
In the end, truly the most simple approach was also our favorite: peel and grate one large Russet potato, then heavily salt and pepper it. Heat a cast-iron skillet until barely smoking with swirling oil, then throw in a neat haystack of potato matchsticks and sort of pat + press together. Miraculously, the starches will bind everything together (no egg + 1 T of flour needed!) and a netted pancake will form. Fry until crispy exterior + molten interior, and be sure to drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with LOTS of extra salt.
We also seared some smoked goose, here. It was so unbelievably savory, it tasted like bacon. But my favorite part of the dinner? Adam’s special creation — a halo of minced arugula, our crown of salad surrounding our dinner, such an ethereal, elegant, regal touch. I had a hard time breaking the seal and eating the ring of leaves.
After two weeks in a cramped hotel room, numerous mediocre restaurant-catered meals, and one 11-long hour train ride from NYC to Montreal, I was really, truly ready for a simple, home-cooked meal.
One speedy trip to the market later, we had a small fish fillet — I already forget what it was; was it perch? — which we lightly dredged in flour and seared quickly in a pan with smoking hot butter and lemon. I was craving huge bowls of fresh vegetables, so I contributed two super simple side dishes: roasted beets with chopped parsley, and sauteed swiss chard with fried garlic, bacon, shallots and lemon. Not to be outdone, my boyfriend made a remarkable beurre blanc from scratch. The resultant creamy, tangy, velvety liquid was one of the most powerfully delicious sauces I’ve ever had in my life. Vivid notes of sweetness, tart, vinegar, salt, cream, and fat, all in perfect balance.
Also: another NEA fellow, Sophia Ahmad, wrote a great little wrap-up detailing our two weeks at Columbia. I miss the chaos of NYC already. Read it here!
Posted in dinner, fall, food, home, music, party, people, travel
Tagged beurre blanc, dinner home, nea institute, roasted beets, simple dinner, swiss chard
The first night we arrived in NYC, my old friends Jon and Ali — who write the incredible, luscious blog How To Cook Everything – Illustrated — hosted an wondrous dinner party in our honor. But where to start? The fork-tender roasted acorn squash salad with a tart balsamic reduction? The fragrant, velvety Philippino adobo with squash and short ribs cooked sous-vide, served over creamy pillows of polenta? The morsels of roasted cauliflower with concord grapes that burst in your mouth like tiny water balloons? Or Jon’s homemade salted caramel ice cream? Or, perhaps, the three bottles of wine we drank, one label of which read:
“Moric disdains flamboyance and effect while speaking with an authentic and articulate voice at all levels on the ladder. Old vines from heritage sites offer fine fruit, which retains its own voice against dictates of fashion.”
Fair enough! A perfect meal with wonderful friends, and a relaxed, cozy beginning to a 2-week flurry of activity in NYC. I felt so spoiled and so lucky. Thanks again, guys!
It’s full-blown squash season here in Montreal! And it’s incredible.
What vegetable is more iconic of the golden autumnal afternoons than the glorious, refrigerator-shaped butternut squash? And! It’s so easy to peel, and holds its shape great in a long-cooking white lasagna. We paired a roasted tray of diced butternut squash with a skillet of creamy bechamel sauce and pan of sauteed spinach and garlic. The whole mess was layered until the bechamel and grated pecorino ran out, and then I had to wait a torturous hour before we could devour half the pan.
Oh, and we added toasted, chopped hazelnuts and deep fried sage leaves in brown butter to the roasted squash mixture. It was the best balance of sweet and salty, crunchy and creamy. Served with Adam’s special, top-secret arugula salad — he has thoroughly convinced me that a finely-diced raw arugula leaf is the only way to consume it. He’s right, of course.
Earlier this fall, we bought a beautiful basket of tender, fragrant pears at the market and I needed to make something sweet for a dinner party. I loved the weird primordial vibe of this French Pear Tart at Tuesdays with Dorie, so weird primordial tart it was.
With the almond cream, pastry dough, poached pears, and jam glaze finish, it’s a bit labor intensive, but certainly worth it. Along the way I made one error — I used a tart pan about 40% bigger than what was recommended. But the error turned into a delicious surprise: the crumbly, sweet pastry dough and fluffy almond cream baked so thinly and for so long that the batter turned into a big slab of praline. Brittle. Or firm, chewy caramel. The result was not so much a tart, but a crunchy, sweet cookie topped with tender slices of pear.
But the greatest bonus of making this tart: we saved and bottled the poaching liquid from the pears — infused with citrus, cloves, cinnamon, and sugar — to make fizzy, aromatic bellinis for my guy’s birthday party.