Monday, November 26, 2012

My Thanksgiving (update).

In case anyone out there is wondering, my Thanksgiving was a great success.  Believe it or not every single thing on that crazy menu of mine got made and from what I can tell, was delicious.  The had to be a few minor substitutions of course.  First of all, the scallop crudité had to become a red snapper ceviche as I could not find scallops good enough to serve raw anywhere.  And the fried green plantains I wanted to serve with the ceviche had become so ripe by the time I was ready to fry them, they were just a big mess, so nice crostini and chips were served instead.  The pistachio éclairs did not happen either as the universe had prevented me ( very wisely, I may add) from getting to the “Whole-in-your-wallet” grocery store ( you know the one I am talking about), hence I could not get pistachio paste and good quality nuts, so I just made empty éclairs with glaze and pearlized sugar on top… who needed the cream after that meal anyway!

So here are a few highlights.
A beautiful ( and still empty ) table before the guest arive
The kitchen elves hard at work ( I wish I had more of them)
One of the best things I ever made was that Pork Shoulder that was part of the salad stuffed into those mushrooms.  The salad was watercress, roasted butternut squash and roasted red peepr.  The whole thing was finished with a sauce I made from recuing the braiaing liquid of the pork.
This was the Pork Shoulder roasted in Apple Cider and aromatics. This is a suclant perfection of sweet, savory and spicy.  I thought I was crazy to roast a whole shoulder for a few pieces used in a salad, totally worth it - it is the kind of thing you can pick at all day until there is nothing left.
Goat and blue cheese stuffed puffs
Rustic bread served with another favorite Salmon Rillett
Which by the way makes the most amazing spred for breakfast, lunch or a late night fridge raid

Edemmame stuffed dumplings with spicy peanut sauce.  Always a favorite in my house.
A refreshing Red Sanpper Mango ceviche
Another favorite in my house -  Seared duck breast with Fig Blasamic glaze and Arugula and Rasberry salad with spiced peppitas
This one was crowned by the hubby as a personal favorite.  Unfortunally the finished product did not photograph well but these were the
Mini-lamb meatballs with spicy beet slaw and yogurt saucefor which I promise to post a recepie on the recepie page soon.
And the reason we are all gathered here today....
Hands down the best turkey I ever cooked.
And a few notes on desert:
A pretty rose apple tart
The empty eclairs with glaze and pearl sugar on top
The makings of cranberry truffles ( these delicius tart balls were dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts)
And most importantly a table to gather your family around to be thankfull for all the good and to be wize about all the bad.  To share a laugh, to tell a story, to be together.... That was my Thanksgiving.

P.S.  I promise the recipes in the near future - whatever near I can master.



Friday, November 16, 2012

Thanksgiving… where do I start?

I don’t put too much weight on holidays.  Birthdays come and go ticking away years and producing yet another reason to frown at your wrinkles in the mirror.  Anniversaries pass by largely forgotten and kicked to the side of the road.  New Year eves, although mostly fun, blend together in a spiral of booze and obscene costumes.  Thanksgiving is the only holiday when I truly look around and take stock of my life.  I celebrate everything that’s good in it and look back with some wisdom on what is bad.  Thanksgiving is when I go all out… for the ones who choose to celebrate it with me.
This has been a tough year, for me, for my family.  We lost loved ones, we fought, we battled home renovations (which should be equated to a natural disaster) and we endured natural disasters as well, straining me to the point of hysterics.  Now with only a few days left before Thanksgiving, I am mortified that I will not be able to put on my show ( in truth, I am mortified every year, but pour a bit of wine in me and it always miraculously works out).
I usually start my Thanking menu planning in mid-October, but now with only a few days to go, I am still playing with menu ideas and frantically trying to put a shopping list together that is now all of three pages long.  So here is this 2012 Thanksgiving menu.  Hopefully it will all work out and actually get made ( where those elves when you need them?).
Fig and Berry glazed Duck Breast salad with arugula, raspberries and spiced peppitas
Mini-lamb meatballs with spicy beet slaw and yogurt sauce
Goat cheese puffs
Spicy lemony olives
Smoked Salmon toasts with honey mustard butter
Mango Scallop crudité served with fried plantain chips
Mushrooms stuffed with miso-glazed pork belly and squash salad

Harrissa deviled eggs
Edemame dumplings with spicy peanut sauce
Spinach and tomato confit roulades
Irish soda bread served with chicken liver mouse and salmon rillettes

Main course
Apple-cider and ginger brined turkey
Orange cranberry sauce
Chipotle caramel root vegetables
Parmesan and roasted garlic mashed potatoes
Wilted spinach with pears and pomegranate gremolatta
Fig corn bread

Wheat berry and corn salad with bacon and mushrooms
Haricot vert with roasted hazelnuts

Apple gallette
Salted Caramel grape pie
Spicy orange chocolate mousse with whipped crème fresh and pine nut brittle
Rum Pecan pie
Cranberry Truffles
Pistachio éclairs
Fresh fruit

If anyone knows of a good place to go into a food induced coma, speak now….

My Thanksgiving starts when I begin cooking and I always begin by making stock.  You can make stock weeks, even months ahead, frozen it will keep up to 6 months.  For me, home-made stocks are essential; I stopped buying the store-bought kind a long time ago.  There are just no shortcuts in making it, but the rewards are countless.
You cannot rush stock, it takes hours, as many as you got, you cannot cook stock too long.  The longer you cook it, the more concentrated the flavor gets, your sauces will taste deeper and richer.  And good stock does not come from meat, it comes from the bones, a great way to use up the entire animal.

These are the stocks to have in your freezer at all times:

1.        Chicken Stock

-          One full chicken or the bones from two or more birds

-          1 onion whole

-          3 ribs of celery

-          2 carrots

-          5 cloves of garlic

-          1 small parsley root

-          1 tbs of pepper corns

-          2 tsp of salt ( see Note)

-          5 springs of fresh thyme

Put all the ingredients in a large pot ( I don’t even bother peeling the vegies, the stock gets strained anyway).  Cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil, skim the shmutz off the top and reduce to a barely visible bubble ( Do not cover your pot, the stock will be cloudy, at least that’s what my mother always said).  Simmer on very low heat anywhere from 2 to 5 hours.  When done, strain the stock into containers and freeze right away if not using.

If you are using a whole chicken, you might ask “What do I do with all the meat”.  For goodness sake, don’t throw it away, it is moist and delicious and can be used for chicken salad, for pasta filling, grind it up, brown it with butter and a shallot and mix with pasta.  As a last resort, give it to the dog….

2.        Veal stock

-          Veal bones ( 6 or 7 if small)

-          2 tbs of olive oil

-          3 tbs of tomato paste

-          1 onion whole

-          3 ribs of celery

-          2 carrots

-          5 cloves of garlic

-          1 small parsley root

-          1 tbs of pepper corns

-          2 tbs of salt ( see Note)

-          5 springs of fresh thyme

-          A handful of fresh parsley

Smear the bones with olive oil and tomato paste.  Roast in 425F oven for 1.5 – 2 hrs until the bones are deep brown color.  Once done, remove the marrow ( reserve for another use).  Place the bones and all other ingredients in a large pot.  Cover with cold water and bring to a boil.  Reduce to simmer and cook for 6 to 8 hrs on a very gently simmer, periodically skimming off the shmutz from the top.  Strain and freeze right away.

3.        Duck stock

Duck stock is made exactly like the chicken stock, except only the bones are used.  First of all, you do not want to waste any of the beautiful meat for stock.  Also, all the skin and fat would make the stock too oily.  So do what I do, learn to debone a duck ( I am so proud of myself now that I can do it in 10 minutes or less).  Reserve the legs for the confit.  Reserve the breasts for searing.  Take off all of the remaining skin and fat, place in a glass, oven proof dish and roast at 350F until most of the fat is rendered.  Strain the fat and part yourself in the back for acquiring culinary equivalent of gold, without spending an extra penny.  Now you are left with only bones, follow the steps for chicken stock ( I sometimes omit the garlic from my duck stock, I find that it interferes with the gaminess of the stock)


4.        Dashi – This is a staple of Japanese cooking and is used as a foundation for broths, sauces and glazes. It gives an absolutely unique umami flavor so I highly recommend it.   It is not a pretty stock, so strain it extra well ( I use a cheesecloth).

-          2 large strips of Nori ( this is a dried seaweed sold in all Asian markets.  There are many varieties and you will just need to experiment and find the one you like most.  If in doubt, look for a package that specifically, in English, says “for Dashi”

-          2 cups bonito flakes ( this is a shaved cured tuna. It is funky smelling but don’t get discouraged.  You can buy it at almost any Asian store or on-line.

Place Nori and bonito flakes in a medium pot.  Cover with water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 30 minutes.  Strain very well.

5.        Shellfish stock

Next time you are eating lobster or peeling shrimp, don’t throw away the shells.  Cooked or not, they have all the flavor.  Place them in a pot with some onion, celery, black peppercorns and a little salt and simmer the hell out of them for at least a few hours.  Strain and freeze.  This stock makes for a great sea food risotto or anytime you want to enhance a sea food dish.  Trying boiling your pasta in it… you will see.

Note:  I prefer to either not salt my stocks or salt them very little.  When you use them in recipes you will be adding salt anyhow and it helps to have a blank canvass.  I do not add any salt to Dashi, the stock will probably taste pretty bland, but the saltiness of the bonito will come out once the stock reduces. 

               Wish me luck in this year's cooking project.   I hope to post after the holiday with the update on how it all turned out.  I think, I will need  a few days of rest though….


Friday, November 9, 2012

When the lights go out…

When Hurricane Sandy racked havoc on the North East last week and everything went dark, I learned a few things…
I learned that the first few hours of darkness are actually the brightest ones.  As the house is still warm, and the twinkle of candlelight and fire is romantic.  You can sit and play board games and joke about the “adventure” of it all, but as you listen to the wind howling outside I little worm of worry starts to uncoil in your chest.  Your mind starts to conjure up bad and worse case scenarios and you start taking a mental note of your supplies.  “Maybe it will not be as bad as they predict” should be right up there with “Oops!” as famous last words.
I learned that even after a day or so of darkness, as it gets colder, as long as you have a fun crowd to “survive” with… it is not so bad.  You can communally cook the contents of each other’s fridges in a bazar pot-luck style of ingredients waiting to go bad without the icebox. 
I learned that the site of cars lined up for miles to get gas, people, swaddled in their warmest, standing in endless lines with canisters, waiting…., police escorting every gasoline track… give me the creeps.  And not the kind of creeps you would get at the horror flick, the other kind, the cold on the inside, imagine the end of the world kind.  The kind that makes me want to hug my kids and move some place where nothing bad can ever happened… I wonder if Idaho is taking immigrants.
I learned that throwing out everything in your fridge is much harder than it sounds.  A week before the storm I made a freezer full of stocks, beautiful, perfect stocks, made the right way, for hours… all gone.  All my stashes of exotic meats in preparation for Thanksgiving… gone.  All  the little things I always have on hand in my fridge, condiments, jams, sauces, things I know I almost never have to buy… gone.  It made me sad, I hate to waste good food, especially if I worked so hard to hoard it.
I learned that, as the dark and cold lingers, your house, your home feels like an enemy.  The place of comfort and security turns on you and you feel bitter and resentful within it’s walls.
I learned that friends will offer to take you in, even with your dog, offering him various degrees of confined accommodations.  One more day of the cold and the dog would have stopped holding out for a better offer.
I learned that once the lights do go on, shopping from scratch, to fill a completely virgin fridge is quite challenging, considering the supermarkets closely resemble “a-day-after-the-end-of the-world” scene. 
But most importantly, I learned that there is no better feeling in the world, than driving up to your home on a stormy night (the heck, any night) and seeing the light in the window.  To open the door and feel the warmth and a smell of cooking.  To be home…

My heart goes out to all who have lost their homes in this disaster.  I wish them a speedy and smooth recovery, which they so deserve….