Well another Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I must admit that this one was not one of the best. As hard as I tried to get into the spirit of the holiday I found that the more I did the worse it felt. I'm not one to get reflective in a public forum but I just feel the need. This was my Mother's favorite holiday (as is with a lot of people, I know) and for years it was her holiday, she prepared the whole feast with help from my aunt while working 12 hour days and loved every minute of it. She would bring out the fine china and the linen tablecloths and just glow with tho joy of it all, yes it's true that in the last few years since she had moved out of her house she couldn't prepare it it still, in my mind, remains her holiday. And while yesterday I didn't feel very thankful at all I now realize how thankful I am to have those memories of all those Thanksgivings which she embraced with such fervor, a tradition she adored even though it wasn't her heritage, because it centered around family and being together and appreciating all you have and not regretting what you don't.
So here's what we're thankful for. The calm before the storm:
How much do I love this woman? She writes the most amazing cookbooks:
They are not only filled with incredible recipes but they are also a history lesson, Italian cooking has never been so interesting or well researched (sorry Mario Batali). Even if you don't cook just reading her prose is fascinating and educational. Frank bought "The Splendid Table" as a birthday present for me years ago and I actually carried it on the train reading it as it were a novel; no easy task considering the size and weight but well worth it...for me anyway. My lasagna has never been the same. I always made my mother's lasagna which was very good, which she made from the back of the Mueller's lasagna box except that she added an egg to her cottage cheese because Mr. Boccara, the old Italian (real Italian) guy down the block told her was a must. I changed the cottage cheese to ricotta and always used freshly grated Parmesan and chopped up a hunk of mozzarella, this was more "authentic" in my mind. Then came Lynne's lasagna and I will never go back. First of all since Frank also gave me a pasta machine, the hand crank type, I started making my own pasta and that is nothing like what you would find inside the Mueller's box (sorry Mueller's). It is so light and delicate one can almost see right through it. Then there are her ragus, pick what you like since they are all absolutely sublime taking hours to cook and with very little tomato, just enough. There is nowhere near as much cheese and then of course there's the bechamel...all this makes for a light and delicate lasagna which just melts in your mouth, and well...I could go on and on and on. Which brings me to why I'm writing about this goddess of cooking. It's Saturday and we're wondering what to have for dinner and come up with a boneless leg of lamb in the freezer. So what to do, I really don't want to make another tagine which is what I usually make since we love it so but we had it only about a month ago...roasting is ok but I'm not in the mood and besides I prefer a bone in for that. I start to look through magazines and books, nothing strikes me; then I pick up "The Italian Country Table" and there are dishes galore! Why didn't I just start here in the first place? What am I thinking? So we chose a concoction titled "Ninth-Night Lamb" with an explanation for the title almost as much fun as the dish itself. I have plagiarized the recipe:
From The Italian Country Table, by Lynne Rossetto Kasper Serves 3 to 4.
Plan on only a salad with the lamb
3 1/2 pounds bone-in lamb blade (shoulder) roast or chops, trimmed of all fat, boned, and cut into 1-inch chunks , or 1 1/2 pounds boned and defatted leg of lamb meat, cut into 1 inch chunks
About 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 to 10 (1 pound) small Yellow Finn, red skin, or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/16 to 1/8 inch thick rounds
About 1/3 cup water
1 tightly-packed tablespoon Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mince together the parsley, garlic, and drained tomato. Blend with the cheese. If using a food processor, first grate the cheese and turn it into a medium bowl. With the machine running, drop in the garlic, then the parsley, and finally the tomatoes to just coarsely chop them. Immediately turn off processor and blend everything with the cheese. Toss 1/3 of the mixture with the lamb, adding salt and pepper. Lightly oil the bottom and sides of a deep 4 1/2 to 5 quart casserole or pot. ( I use a 5 quart enameled cast iron pot, or a deep 5 quart terra cotta casserole.)
2. Spread 1 tablespoon of the minced blend over the bottom of the pot. Cover with half the potatoes arranged in an overlapping pattern. Sprinkle potatoes with salt and pepper, another 2 tablespoons of the minced blend, and about 1 teaspoon olive oil. Top with all the meat and another teaspoon oil. Overlap the rest of the potatoes on the meat, sprinkle with remaining herb blend, and a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Finish with salt and pepper. Pour the water down the side of the casserole.
3. Bake, uncovered, 45 minutes. Tip casserole and carefully spoon out pan juices to baste the top of the potatoes. Turn heat up to 325 degrees and continue baking another 1 1/2 hours, or until lamb is tender when pierced. Baste 2 or 3 times, while cooking. Serve hot, or hold up to an hour, reheating at 350 degrees. Sprinkle with the parsley just before taking to the table.
Just after putting this in the oven the aroma all over the house was amazing, the anticipation was killing us.
We served the dish with a spinach and onion salad.
And ate at the coffee table in the living room.
An amazing meal, melt in your mouth lamb with an incredible flavor and potatoes to boot... a one pot meal.
Aaah, she never disappoints and always leaves me awestruck.
Now that I brought that up, Valencia rice is also the rice that is used for Paella; well it's supposed to be used for Paella but for some reason it always isn't unless of course you happen to be eating it in Spain where they wouldn't even think of using anything but. In this country though most restaurants, even so-called Spanish ones, have a tendency to use long grain white rice which frankly, is an abomination. In restaurants I actually ask what kind of rice they use in their paella and most of the time I wind up not ordering it. (I clearly have an issue with this). This changes the entire consistency of the dish, and not for the better. The secret to great Paella is in using the right rice, it's not the seafood or the combination of seafood and chicken and chorizo or whatever. Just as there a bunch of ways to make arroz con pollo, there are a million ways and combinations for making Paella. Paella is simply a rice dish with stuff in it and that can vary depending on what you have on hand and how you like it. I prefer a seafood Paella however, I once had a paella in Barcelona that contained seafood including lobster, shrimp, scallops, fish, squid and rabbit. It was delicious, they used Valencia rice of course. I think most people find making Paella intimidating, I used to, and I think it's mainly because of the seafood which also makes it quite expensive. The truth is it's really very easy to make and it doesn't even need seafood...but it does need the right rice:
I tend to make it quite a bit and no I don't always have all kinds of seafood lying around the house, so I wind up making a vegetable paella.
I start by sauteing one chopped onion, green bell pepper and two to three minced cloves of garlic in extra virgin olive oil. Once they are softened I add one cup of Valencia rice with about a teaspoon and a half of salt and a quarter teaspoon of saffron and stir that until incorporated. I then add about two cups of chicken stock and bring that to a boil. As it is coming to a boil I add the vegetables and this can vary depending on what you have on hand. I always have a wide of frozen vegetables in my freezer and always have fresh tomatoes, so I usually add about one cup (I eyeball everything) of haricot verts, artichoke hearts, sweet green peas, sometimes some chopped spinach and a couple of chopped tomatoes.When the liquid comes to a boil:
I lower the heat to medium, cover the pot and cook for about 20 minutes until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed. Max usually lounges around the kitchen waiting cause he might get lucky.
Looking for a job is no fun, especially when there aren't too many to go around so it can get a tad discouraging, even for Max
So it is just at those times when I like to turn to cooking, as is quite obvious by now. And it is also at those times when the food needs to comfort me down to my soul and take me back to when absolutely nothing was discouraging. When I was a kid and probably beyond my favorite food in the whole wide entire world was (and probably is) "Arroz con Pollo", loosely translated to chicken with rice. Cubans make Arroz con Pollo a lot and for all kinds of reasons. It is usually a big dish, so they make it for parties, they make it for Sunday dinner, they make it when the neighbors or relatives, or both, pop in just out of nowhere and completely unannounced which is very typical on a...Sunday. The ingredients are always at hand in a Cuban household since it is the fall back dish of all time; it is a one pot meal that can be easily duplicated, tripled, etc. Just throw a salad together serve it up and everybody sits around the table eating (except my brother who hates chicken) and having a good old time. If this isn't comfort I'm hard pressed to know what is, and did I say I was discouraged? Naah! Here is my version which I learned from watching my mother, and by the way just as in all regional dishes every cook has their own way...except for one thing: the rice MUST be valencia rice, which is a round chubby guy, if it can't be found then Italian arborio will do since it's a round and chubby guy too.
Arroz con Pollo a la chorrera
1 whole chicken, cut up OR 2 lbs. of pieces such as thighs & legs wings etc.
salt & pepper to taste
Adobo Goya to taste (optional)
2 tbsp to 1/4 cup of olive oil
1 medium to large onion, finely chopped
one green bell pepper, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 1/2 to 4 cups of low sodium chicken broth
several strands of saffron which have soaked in 1/4 cup of warm water OR 1/4 tspn Bijol which can be found in little jars at the Latin markets.
1 cup of valencia rice
salt to taste
1 cup of frozen sweet peas
1 jar of pimientos sliced OR 1 roasted red pepper, peeled and sliced (method later)
Preheat oven to 375F
Sprinkle chicken pieces with salt, pepper and adobo if using.
Heat 2 tbsp of oil over medium high heat in a large skillet and brown the chicken pieces on all sides, do this in several batches so as not to crowd the pan. Add more oil if needed.
Remove the chicken pieces to a baking dish (I use a clay cazuela but that is not necessary) spreading them out in a single layer.
Lower the heat to medium and add the onion, pepper and garlic to the skillet and saute until soft.
Remove mixture to the baking dish distributing around the chicken.
Add the rice to the baking dish, distributing it evenly and season with salt.
Pour the chicken broth over the rice and chicken making sure all of the rice is covered, then add saffron or bijol and stir to distribute evenly.
Add the frozen peas distributing those evenly also.
Place in the center rack of the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes until chicken and rice are cooked through and broth has been absorbed, but not too dry.
Add the pimientos in a decorative pattern for the last 5 minutes of cooking.
I check it from time to time as it's cooking and if it looks too dry add more broth.
Serves 6 to 8
I like to roast my own peppers mainly because it's fun to watch. Place red bell peppers over an open fire on the stove until they are charred:
Remove peppers to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap until cool, about half hour, peel off charred skin (don't wash, the flavor goes) cut in half, remove seeds and membrane and store in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container. Sometimes I add chopped garlic and a little vinegar, they last longer. This works nicely for any pepper; red, yellow, green, poblano.
I don't know when my mustard obsession (fetish?) began. When I was a kid I put mayonnaise on everything and I mean everything, every sandwich, every burger, eggs...yes eggs. Everything that is except hot dogs, they went virtually naked; I was never a lover of ketchup (still not, only on french fries) and that yellow ballpark mustard made me want to puke just looking at it because what on edible earth could actually be that color? Then one day everything changed, out with the mayo and in with the mustard. All kinds of mustard, dijon, honey, english pub, grainy and even yes icky yellow ballpark mustard, what else are you supposed to make jerk sauce with? My hotdogs were no longer naked they now wore mustard and relish. So now I always have to have all kinds of mustards in the fridge and pantry:
Yes 6 jars is a bit pathetic but I need to go to the market. Usually one night during the week we have pasta for dinner and I try to keep it simple so that I don't defrost anything which makes it mostly a vegetarian pasta, unless I add bacon which I do a lot. My obsession with bacon is a whole other story. I love this dish from an old Time Life Cookbook series I have which is called Fresh Ways with (pasta, poultry, appetizers, etc.) It is Buckwheat Pasta in a Sauce of Green Peppercorns and Mustard. They would like you to make the pasta yourself which is something I love to do but don't have a lot of time for (well now I do) so I don't do it very often; and this particular pasta needs buckwheat flour which is not something I usually have lying around the house since my obsession with flour hasn't reached the mustard level yet and while there are many times I have a jar of green peppercorns there are others which I don't therefore we must improvise, hence we have Pappardelle in a Sauce of Capers and Mustard:
6 oz. egg Pappardelle
1 tbsp. oil - either olive oil or canola
1 tbsp. finely chopped shallot - or onion
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tsp. Dijon mustard (I have also used mustard w roasted shallots and green peppercorns or some such)
2 tbsp capers, drained and crushed
1 1/2 cups milk (I use whole)
1 tomato, coarsely chopped
salt & pepper to taste
Chopped parsley for garnish
In a large saucepan bring 4 qts (or thereabouts) salted water to a boil, add pappardelle and cook until al dente. Drain.
Meanwhile prepare sauce:
Heat oil in a large heavy bottomed skillet over med-high heat; add shallots and saute until translucent. Add white wine mustard and capers. Cook stirring until all the wine is evaporated. Add milk, return the mixture to a simmer, reduce to medium, stir until mixture thickens a bit, add salt & pepper, stir in pasta and heat through stirring until sauce clings to pasta. Stir in the chopped tomatoes. Garnish with parsley and serve. Serves 2-3
And this is not a food blog, it's about Max so here he is:
Mondays suck! They really really do. I (and I’m sure I’m not alone) have always hated Mondays. Getting up and going to work after the weekend is blah, but now that I m not working I have to confirm that Mondays just plain suck and it has absolutely nothing to do with getting up and going to work after the weekend. And to top it all off today was just miserable, cold with a wicked wind and rain which actually started out as hail, yes hail and it’s early November. Here I go running out to dump the garbage in my pajamas and booty slippers before the bag collapses on me and I get hit on the head by chunks of ice. Just wanted to crawl back into bed and under the covers which is exactly what Max did ALL DAY LONG, smart puppy.
So I spent the whole day sitting at my computer trying to figure out what the hell I’m going to do for the rest of my life while Frank kept running down to bitch about every little thing imaginable because…Mondays suck. And all I can think about is cooking so I guess I’ll share some weekend dishes:
Bacon wrapped codfish with sage and broccoli rabe sautéed with garlic and tomatoes
Saturdays, especially in the Fall & Winter, are my favorite days to cook something that takes a long long time and I can spend most of the day in the kitchen so I usually pull out some cookbooks and start to plan the strategy. I found this delightful dish in an old Bon Apetit magazine so as they say when printing the recipe:
Braised Veal Breast with Herbs, Pernod, and Tomatoes adapted from Bon Apetit:
1(4 3/4- to 5-pound) large end of veal breast (about 8 bones), cut between bones into individual ribs
1tablespoonchopped fresh thyme
1tablespoonchopped fresh sage
1large onion, halved, thinly sliced
8large garlic cloves, chopped
2large shallots, sliced
3anchovy fillets, chopped
1cupdry white wine
1/4cupPernod or other anise-flavored liqueur
114 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
1cuplow-salt chicken broth
1tablespoonchopped fresh tarragon
1(10-ounce) bag pearl onions, peeled
1cupbrine-cured green olives (such as picholine; about 6 ounces)
2tablespoonsgrated lemon peel
Sprinkle veal ribs on all sides with salt, pepper, thyme, and sage. Heat oil in heavy large wide pot over medium-high heat. Add half of ribs and sauté until brown, turning occasionally, about 10 minutes. Transfer ribs to bowl. Repeat with remaining ribs.
Reduce heat to medium-low. Add onion, garlic, and shallots to pot. Cover and cook until soft, occasionally scraping up any browned bits, about 8 minutes. Mix in anchovy fillets; cook 1 minute. Add white wine and Pernod. Increase heat and boil mixture 3 minutes. Add diced tomatoes with juice, chicken broth, and chopped fresh tarragon; stir to blend. Add veal and any accumulated juices from bowl, arranging veal in single layer in pot. Bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until veal is tender, turning veal occasionally, about 1 3/4 hours.
Add peeled pearl onions and green olives to pot. Cover and simmer until pearl onions are tender, about 25 minutes longer.
Using tongs, transfer veal to plate. Tilt pot and spoon off fat from top of sauce; discard fat. Boil sauce until thick enough
I served it over rice but over noodles and polenta will do just fine.
This will serve 4 hungry people.
Oh and as far as my crappy Monday I did accomplish to apply for unemployment.
Sundays are the best...well except when football games start but that's a whole other post. Frank loves to make breakfast and that's if you eat breakfast sometime around noonish. It always involves eggs cause this guy can cook eggs a shitload of ways and not for nothing but Max and I just love to watch and wallow in our (my) good fortune:
Today we are having a cheese omelet with three cheeses, ermenthaler, Irish aged cheddar and creamy Laura Chenel's chevre, the herb of choice is tarragon, yum, yum, yum.
...and of course toasted bread and my famous tomato jam!