Sunday, December 27, 2015

Simple Soup

Brief relief from holiday gluttony.
A simple soup. Stracciatella. Italian egg drop soup this time with poached chicken, spinach and egg noodles.
It couldn't be easier or more comforting. First I brought lightened turkey stock (I usually would use chicken but I had some nice rich turkey stock made from our Thanksgiving leftovers waiting in the freezer) up to a boil and added in thinly sliced chicken and a package or pappardelle (Italian egg noodles). After about 7 minutes I added in a couple handfuls of fresh spinach and a combination of 4 eggs and about 1/3 cup parmesan cheese. I gave the broth a little swirl with a fork, poured in the egg and cheese mixture and let every thing simmer about 3 minutes more.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Dinner 2015

Our country Christmas.

There was a last minute reversal. I wasn't happy with the meat I ordered and just yesterday ran to the store to see what I could find.
Though it's not generally James' favorite I landed on prime rib. I considered a whole NY roast but it just didn't seem festive enough. Right at the meat counter I came up with a plan from a recipe way n eh back of my head. To open up the roast (after it was separated from the bones) slather it with a horseradish, parsley, garlic paste, roll it back up and roast now highly seasoned meat resting on the bones.
"Can you butterfly that for me?" I asked.
Blank stare.
"No, no I wouldn't want to do that," the first butcher replied across the meat counter.
"I've been in some kind of food service for 9 years and I have never heard of anyone doing that," the second butcher -- now interested, chimed in.
I explained the recipe I was thinking about.
"You could do that yourself," the first butcher offered up.
I did.
They doubted but this was one of the best roasts I have ever made. Tender, flavorful, juicy. I might never cook prime rib any other way. My delicious flavor paste, BTW, was 6 anchovies,  about 1/3 cup fresh horseradish (I love horseradish and roast beef -- that was the major attraction of this idea), 3 cloves garlic, 2 tsp chili flakes, about 1/8 tsp fresh ground nutmeg, 1 cup parsley, and about 1/4 cup olive oil cobbled together from a recipe I found in Bon Appetit.
I rubbed the paste inside the butterflied cuts, along the bones that served as a roasting rack and all over the outside of the roast. In another unusual step I started the room temperature meat at 500º for about 40 minutes and then turn doth even down to 350 for an additional about 15 minutes a pound until the temperature hovered around 130-135º for medium rare.
Beautiful and delicious -- exactly the kind of showstopper I was hoping for.

I just wanted to do something fun for dessert. Of course there were cookies and gingerbread cake pops made from my signature Christmas cake batter but after hours and hours or watching The Great British Bake Off (I'm totally hooked and binging) I felt like a stretch. Oh there is never enough time and I decorated and redecorated. Never happy in the end I settled for festive but not quite homemade ribbon trim and let the inside speak for itself.

A very Merry Christmas one and all.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

How Do We Know We Are Loved?

Sometimes it's not easy and life goes by so fast we forget to remark on just how remarkable it is to be loved and have people who love you.
It's not the presents under the tree. It's not flashy diamond rings. For me, it's not memories of great events.
It's the little every day reminders and the unexpected.
James comes to rescue me when the car battery dies even though I could call triple AAA. It's raining and he drives me to the store, not because I need him to . . . just so I don't have to.
It's a little box that came right at dinnertime. This time from my brother (and his family).
I've been a California girl for many many years now. But I was born on the other coast, not far from the Chesapeake Bay. I grew up eating and loving steamed crabs. My family might eat a few -- my brother would never touch them -- but I love them. I miss summer on the East coast and settling down to hot spicy steamed blue crabs.
And then this box.
Packed in tidy styrofoam in a well traveled cardboard shell were a dozen out of season (and probably insanely expensive and hard to find) steamed blue crabs.
The taste of my childhood for Christmas.
My siblings and I stopped exchanging gifts years ago in favor of the next generation. I wasn't expecting anything and my brother does't expect anything in return.
But there it was, a just because box.
I heated them in the oven.
Were they as good as the fresh in season crabs I remember from years ago? No. They were better.
They tasted like family and home and love.
They tasted like Christmas.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Au Pied De Cochon, Montreal

 I love everything about Montreal's racous shrine to animal fats, Au Pied De Cochon. The cooking may be serious but everything else is a bawdy ridiculous edible party brought to you by my new culinary hero, the bold, the daring, the fat centric devil may care Martin Picard.
A veritable temple to fois gras, there are croquettes, crepes, burgers, tarts and even poutine -- Montreal's classic dish of french fries, cheese curds and gravy -- featuring the controversial, creamy fattened liver.
Vegetarians beware. Picard's homage to traditional Quebec specialties rests heavily on his love for meat, in enormous portions. Duck, bison, goose, deer, horse (yikes) and of course the namesake pig are all featured in super rich dishes ideal to keep a lumberjack or trapper warm in cold Canadian winters and to assure he won't have to plan for a long retirement.
The menu is short on description but the wait staff, all seemingly truly delighted to be part of this pork fueled rave, are happy to describe any dish. I literally saw stars dancing in our waitress' eye as she gushed about the "meat pie" filled dumplings -- a play on Montreal's Christmas favorite tourtière.
"Every bite is like Christmas," Carol, our waitress, beamed. "Like my grandmother made when I was a little girl."
How do you say no to that?
We quickly ordered 6 dumplings.
Sure enough. Meat and cloves and wine and butter. It's a mouthful of Christmas and a most unusual dumpling served with house-made ketchup sauce. Delicious.
We wanted to try everything but Carol kept us in check. "Too much, too much," she declared. "The leg, dumplings and salad. Is already a lot."
We had no idea how right she was until the pig's trotter stuffed with foil gras, the restaurant's signature and perhaps most publicized dish arrived at the table swimming in a sea of creamy mushroom sauce and snowy beach of cheesy curd potato purée.
"Since I have been here," Carol explained. "Only one has ever eater it all."
That dish could easily feed four or even six sensible people. My willing friend and I were spurred on by the delicious hearty sauce and super tender meat which I later learned from a friendly line cook had been removed from the foot boned, roasted, re-stuffed and cooked sort of sous vide for more than 12 hours and then crisped in the restaurant's beautiful brick oven.
Oh and that salad? Pork cheeks, lardons, radishes and sunflower sprouts grown on the dining room window sill. A spicy, herby, fatty salad.
I suppose one could say that PDC is a lot of show. In another famous dish duck is cooked inside a can (instead of a sous vide bag) which is ceremoniously opened table side. Our dessert of peach preserves and most ginger spice cake topped with crème anglais and maple caramel sauce was given the same "canned" treatment. But this kitchen does not rely on gimmicks. This is real food, with sophisticated  voluptuous flavors expertly prepared and served with an undying sense of pride . . . and fun.
There is no other restaurant like it. I can't wait to come back. I think I am in love with Martin Picard.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Olive Et Gourmando, Montreal

Even in the rain Old Montreal has the feeling of a secret Christmas wonderland. The winding cobblestone streets give way to fanciful shops, elegantly rustic restaurants and not so secret treasures like Olive Et Gourmando.

Honestly it's just a little coffee shop. A little coffee shop where everything is homemade by bakers who believe that turning flour and butter into a reason to get up in the morning is a noble task. That joy in every little bite should be savored and not rushed. That sweet ricotta on crispy baguette toast or a flaky chocolate croissant may just be the highest form of expression. 
I settle in, surrounded by locals and bite into the cafe's signature breakfast sandwich labeled "in your face." With siracha, chorizo, and layered chilis, this deceptively simple sandwich screams my name while all around me gentle French sounds waft through the pastry-scented air. Though decidedly un-European (much of Montreal's cuisine and culture harkens back to it's French roots) this sandwich is delicious. So spicy you try to stop but so addictive you keep going. A perfect wake-up.
Olive Et Gourmando is exactly the kind of place everyone wishes were in her neighborhood. A charming spot for morning coffee and friends behind the counter.
My only complaint? O&G doesn't open until 9. Instead of a daily start it's a day's off treat. 
Maybe that's the way real treasures should be.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Beef Stew

A thanksgiving follow-up with more classic Americana.
Rich wine braised beef stew on buttery noodles, fragrant with fresh rosemary and thyme.
A nice change for a rainy, wintry day.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Of Course There Was pie

Sweet potato with a pecan crust. The last slice of Thanksgiving pie is barely gone and I am already full scale Christmas. The wreath is on the door. The sugarplums are in my head. Christmas dinner is coming.