Half and Half

Here I sit at my house on Lummi Island, exactly one week post-op.  Last week was a bit of a blur, the edges filtered through narcotics.  It hurt, yes ma’m.  I think the uterus fairies had a prior booking that day and all that were available were Thing 1 and Thing 2.  They banged around and generally bruised everything, but the job was done, in the end.  For a few days following, there was no keeping ahead of the pain.  It showed up every three hours on the dot and demanded a handful of pills as ransom.  I complied and then watched life happen around me in dreamy snippets, half in and half out.  Standout images were of Gabe rustling up a massive Thanksgiving dinner:  20something lb. turkey, two dressings, two kinds of potatoes, gravy,  and cranberries.  Anton playing his bass.  The boys taking Giest in and out for little diversion adventures:  fake hunting in the field, swimming and fetching practice in the strait.  We also became obsessed with this Mansonish hippy band/cult and watched everything they had on the internet.  Yes, our interests range in odd directions.

Then, some Jehovah’s Witnesses actually knocked on my door on Saturday morning.  They were dressed in professional clothing, including panty hose, and I truly admired their dedication to canvas the island on a rain-spitting Saturday morning.  This, and the Pilgrims, and Edward Sharpe tumbled around in my mind and reminded me of myself at one of my most zealous times of life.  I was raised in a small, country,  evangelical community, which if you define cult as “of forming its own culture”, then it was a cult for sure, with its own practices and expectations within a closed membership.  When I was of high school age, I didn’t want to abandon my Christian beliefs, but I became interested in the allowable counter-culture expressions, largely derived from the Jesus Movement.  I was fascinated with communal living and if I had had the connections, would possibly have spent some time doing industrial amounts of cooking and becoming disillusioned in a Christian commune.  These were my first two cookbooks, aside from the Betty Crocker cookbook that was the only one I knew my mom to own.  These books fueled my imagination about the processes behind ingredient driven, formula-based cooking that still interest me today.

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tassajara

My favorite little cafe in Durango, at that time, was called The Warm Flow.  They served food on hand-thrown pottery dishes and had daily postings of their bread, salad, soup, and quiche.  The first thing I cooked from the Tassajara cookbook was a cauliflower and swiss cheese quiche with whole wheat crust.  Proudly presenting this to my family for dinner, it was about as close as I got to seeing my dad cry.  It wasn’t that he was proud of my accomplishment, it was that he couldn’t bear thinking that this was what he had to eat for dinner.

Today is the last day to use up our Thanksgiving turkey and I think I’ll borrow a recipe from my old Tassajara Cooking, making their Half and Half Pie Crust in a pot pie that I think even my dad would love.

Half and Half Pie Crust

Adapted from The Complete Tassajara Cookbook

The half and half title comes from using half white, half whole wheat flour, and half butter, half oil for the fat.

Makes two medium-sized or one large pie crust

  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup oil (I used olive)
  • 5 Tbsp. ice water

Mix together the flours and salt.  Cut in the chilled butter, leaving pea-sized chunks.  Mix in the oil and enough ice water to bind.  Form into one or two disks and chill or freeze until ready to use.  When ready, bake in preheated 400 degree oven until browned.

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Farmers’ Market/Thanksgiving Turkey Pot Pie

This was a delicious use for not only the rest of our shredded turkey, but also the Farmers’ Market vegetables I had optimistically stocked up on two days before my surgery.  They were gracious enough to wait for me in the crisper of the refrigerator until I could come back around.

Cut all vegetables to a similar size.

  • 1 large onion
  • 3 stalks celery and some of the leaves
  • 3 peeled carrots, preferable multi-colored
  • 3 small potatoes, peeled
  • 1 small head of cauliflower
  • 1 small bunch of kale

4 cups shredded meat (preferably turkey)

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup flour

4 cups poultry stock (preferably freshly made turkey stock)

Sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and good quality paprika to taste

In a large,  heavy-bottom pan, saute vegetables in olive oil until beginning to soften, then pour water over them, covering the pot to let them sweat for 5 minutes more.  Add shredded meat.  Sprinkle flour and stir to coat ingredients.  Cook the floured mixture for 2-3 minutes more.  Add poultry stock.  Allow the sauce to thicken a little.  Adjust seasonings.

Pour filling into a deep baking dish.  Roll out pastry and lay over the top.  Place in 400 degree, preheated oven, with a baking sheet underneath to catch drips from boiling over.  Bake until pastry is browned and filling is bubbling.  Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes to cool and allow sauce to thicken.

A Polish Country Dinner

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I was listening to The Splendid Table about a month ago when Lynn was interviewing Anne Applebaum who has authored a new cookbook: From a Polish Country House Kitchen:  90 Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food.  Visit this link to hear the podcast for yourself.    This was late January and we were up to our necks in root vegetables here in Tunis so I knew I would be able to identify with the book.

In 1988, Anne and her Polish husband, along with her inlaws, bought a broken down manor-house in Northwest Poland.  Over a decade, they renovated the house, along with the grounds and gardens, part of which was a large greenhouse.  Deer, wild boar, and geese can be hunted on the property and many types of fish are caught or farmed locally.  They preserve what they grow in the harvest season, in the traditional ways, and use what they have in the lean months in masterful ways.

I have been inspired and a little haunted by this Polish way of eating.  I was in Poland last winter and I still carry an unshakable sadness for one of the most tragic places I’ve ever been right next to a curiosity to more deeply know one of the quaintest and most beautiful places.

I was cooking this afternoon.  I needed four onions, but I only had two.  Rifling through the refrigerator, I found a bundle of leeks that had been stored for a couple of weeks.  They hadn’t yet been cleaned so they were still dirt caked and were also beginning to yellow on the outer layers.  A more finicky me would not have bothered with them and would have composted the entire bunch.  The compost can be a great rationalization sometimes when you just don’t want to bother with produce that will take a little work.  But, I needed the onions, now.  The produce shops were already closed for their afternoon siesta and I needed my dish to simmer in the meantime.  This is where the country cook comes through.  I washed and trimmed the leeks, finding plenty of good onion left to use and then slow-cooked them in a braise that was delicious.  I think that many of these old country recipes began from meats, vegetables, and fruit preserved using methods that were possible given the climate and technology of the time to provide foods of interest and variety in the bleak months, but since then, generations of cooks have refined the techniques until they have become exquisite dishes in their own rights.  They have evolved from necessity to art.

I became a little obsessed with the idea of cooking a Polish feast and I thought about it and planned it for weeks.  The atmosphere of the meal was simple with lots of candlelight, rough linens, and pottery,  and the menu was entirely Polish.  Here is what we had:

Blini with Smoked Salmon and Caviar
Barszcz or Borscht (the Russian name)
Pierogi:
     Potato and Ricotta, with Fresh Peas, and Bacon
     Sauerkraut and Wild Mushroom
Braised Pork Shoulder with Sour Cherries
Brown Sugar Pavlova with Fresh Strawberries and Creme Fraiche
Mint Tea
 

Here are a few photos.

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Cooking a disciplined dinner like this is really a massive laboratory exercise, especially when you are cooking recipes that are all new to you.  I learned many things.

1.  Even when you have stuffed the borscht stockpot, the massive one made for industrial kitchens, with beef on the bone, many, many onions, leeks, celery, beets, carrots, porcini mushrooms, and garlic,  simmered and simmered, and then reduced the final consume, it can still be a bit thin on body.  It wasn’t all that I expected, in the end, and I will keep trying to find “my recipe” that makes the borscht I am tasting in my head.

2.  After two complete pre-party pierogi run-through batches, I still prefer the peirogi dough recipe I referenced last summer when we were making crab peirogis.  The addition of sour cream or creme fraiche to the dough not only gives it a tender bite, but also makes the dough taste like more than flour.  Following is the abbreviated version.

Dough: 3 eggs, 8 ounces sour cream or creme fraiche, 3 cups all-purpose flour, 3/4 tsp. salt, 1 tablespoon baking powder

Blend all ingredients and 1 cup flour in mixer with a dough hook.  Gradually add remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until dough pulls away from the bowl and is not too sticky to work with.  Beat dough a few minutes more, then let rest for 5 minutes before beginning to roll.

3.  If you find, like some Polish country cooks do, that moths have hatched an entire colony in your precious stash of dried sour cherries, cranberries work just as well.

4.  Not many people could tell you what Polish food is, but when they taste it, they love it.

Whole-Milk Ricotta Cheese and Milk-Braised Pork

I am not a fearless dairy woman.  Last summer, I documented my lifelong squeemishness about cowy milk containing thick chunks of cream or downright butter.  I like a pasteurized layer of separation between me and the bovine source of my dairy.  But, in every place I have lived outside of the US, there are only extremes in dairy production and no middle ground.  One either buys raw milk, still steaming, delivered directly from farmers in metal cans or you buy ultra-pasteurized milk in UHT boxes, with all culture cooked out of it to allow it a shelf life of years.

I have been wanting to dabble in the queso-arts lately, but I’m not brave enough to flag down the local farmer who I see delivering milk from the back of his truck, using a giant dipper to pour it into the residents’ own jugs.  I think that is a beautiful thing and I should try it, but actually I don’t have the language skills to even approach it.

When I was in London two weekends ago, we went to the venerable royal provisioner temple of Fortnum and Mason.  Mostly, we bought English cheeses that we can’t get here:  cheddar and Stilton.  I will now admit, though, that I tucked in two quarts of very creamy whole milk with a cheese-making project in mind.

The process for making ricotta or cream cheese is actually as simple as claim says.  The difference between the two is the ratio of butter fat to milk:  more fat= cream cheese, less fat= ricotta.

Once the curds have been lifted from the whey, the whey can be used in a very nice meat braise, like milk-braised pork shoulder.  This was another of the recipes I piloted during my month-of-endless-cooking in April.  The leftover meat is fantastic shredded into tamales or on tostadas.

Whole Milk Ricotta and Cream Cheese

© 2010 Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift

Makes 1 1/4 pounds

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon high quality whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Instructions

1. Line a large colander with a layer of cheesecloth and place in the sink or over a bowl if you want to save the whey. Wet the cheesecloth to hold it firmly in place.

2. Over medium-high heat, bring the milk and salt to a gentle simmer in a heavy large pot. Stir in the lemon juice and continue to simmer gently until curds begin to form and float to the top, 1 to 2 minutes. They will first look like spatters of white, then gather into soft, cloud-like clumps. When you see the liquid begin to clear of cloudiness and the curds are firming up but not hard, scoop them out with a slotted spoon or sieve.
3. Let the curds drain thoroughly in the lined colander. If very soft, press gently to extract a little moisture, but take care not to dry out the cheese. Turn into a bowl, cover and chill.

Refrigerated cheeses keep for a week, but the ricotta is at its best eaten fresh.

 

Milk-Braised Pork

From Wood-Fired Cooking, Mary Karlin

Ingredients

  • 1 (3-4 pound) boneless pork shoulder, some fat trimmed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 onions, coursely chopped
  • 3 juniper berries
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs rosemary or savory
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 1/2 cups whole milk (or whey)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

Directions

Season the pork with salt and pepper.  Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy casserole over medium-high heat until it starts to shimmer.  Add the pork and sear all over until well browned.  Transfer the pork to a plate and set aside.  Remove all but 3 tablespoons of fat from the pot.  Return the pot to medium heat and add the onions, juniper berries, bay leaves, and rosemary and cook until the onions are tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and continue to cook until the garlic is lightly golden, about 3 minutes.  Return the pork to the pot and pour in the milk.  Cover and place in the oven (350 F) to braise for 2 hours, turning the pork 2 or 3 times during the course of cooking.

Uncover the pork after 2 hours and cook for 30 minutes, or until the meat is fork-tender.  Transfer the roast to a plate and tent with aluminum foil.

Remove the bay leaves, rosemary, and juniper berries from the milky sauce.  Skim any excess fat from the top.  The milk may have curdled in the cooking process.  Using an immersion blender, process the sauce until smooth.  Add the nutmeg and walnuts.  Return to the oven to heat through.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Slice the meat and serve with the sauce spooned over the top.

Olive Oil Poached Fish with Fragrant Salt

I just got back from Spring Break in Italy where I was inspired to restock my kitchen in Tunis with some specialty supplies.  First of all, the table at the agritourismo we stayed at had a bottle of chili oil every night and we got addicted to it,  wanting to pour a little on everything.   I bought the hottest chilies I could find at my market when I got home and got my own bottle started steeping.  This is such a simple thing that I had completely forgotten about making.  My friend, Lauren, just gave me this pretty Polish pottery stopper for my birthday so I made up a lovely bottle in minutes.  I wanted to keep most of those cute chilies whole so I just made slits in the ends so the oil could come into contact with the chili flesh and seeds. I filled the bottle to the top with our grassy, green olive oil.

Then, the PAM grocery store, outside Siena, had a tremendous selection of specialty salts.  I have about every salt I need now to cook through Mark Bitterman’s book, Salted, cover to cover.

I made up another salt mixture, based on a recipe from Saha, A Chef’s Journey Through Lebanon and Syria, by Greg and Lucy Malouf.  This is easy to put together and keeps for 6 months.  It is a nice quick cure for a piece of fish.

Fragrant Salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds, ground
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt

Put the ground spices, toasted sesame seeds and salt in a skillet and gently warm through so they merge into one fragrant powder.  Store in an airtight jar.

Olive Oil Poached Fish

adapted from Saha, by Greg and Lucy Malouf

Dust the fish all over with the Fragrant Salt and refrigerate for an hour to lightly “cure”.  Before cooking, rinse the fish and dry it thoroughly.

In a deep cast iron skillet or fish poacher, put a layer of sliced onions.  Place the fish on top, skin side up.  Pour in enough olive oil to barely cover onions and fish.  Put the pan on the stove and heat gently to 140 degree F.  Cook for 8 minutes then remove from the heat and let the fish sit in the oil for another 2 minutes.  You can easily skin the fish at this point, if desired.  Carefully lift the fish out of the oil and place it on paper towels to drain.

Make the Tarator.

Tarator

  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pistachios, toasted and finely chopped
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, finely shredded
  • 1 small purple onion, very finely diced
  • 1 red finger-length chili, seeded and finely diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground sumac
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients and pack onto the top of the poached fish before serving.

Extravagance with Artichokes

I want to do wildly extravagant things with artichokes.  They are so cheap and plentiful that this is my time, if ever, to try all of those artichoke recipes I’ve always dismissed as being for people who live in California.  One little hurdle in my mind can be getting past the separation of leaves and stem.  First, it is physically challenging to peel and de-choke an artichoke.  It’s not impossible, but I wish I had a better technique.  Second, if I don’t use the whole artichoke, I feel like I’m wasting the meat on those leaves.  I am currently steaming them off separately and Allan and I will either just sit and have a big artichoke leaf fest or I will try scraping the meat off of each individual leaf to add a layer of artichoke paste to a lasagna.  That’s my current plan.

Concurrently, I have been saving nutrient rich greens from the cutting room floor all week.  The vegetable sellers here are very quick to cut the greens from the bulbs of carrots and fennel, and on to beets and turnips, which we know are delicious.  I bought a bunch of beets a few days ago and had my back turned when the owner chopped off the greens and tossed them in a bundle on the shop floor.  When I asked for the greens, he put the decapitated heads of two other customers’ bunches in my bag, too, so now I have plenty of beet greens.  Plenty.

I bought a beautiful cookbook last summer, Turquoise, by Greg and Lucy Malouf that I am long overdue to start learning from.  The subtitle is A chef’s travels in Turkey.  Greg is an experienced Australian chef, Lucy is an evocative writer and they also had a fantastic photographer along because every page makes you want to crawl right inside.  They try everything they can, but then Greg puts a little Australian spin on the dish so it’s just a tiny bit fusionized for Western cooks.  This is my first recipe to actually cook from the book and it’s perfect for what’s available to me at the moment.  Rather than chicory and chard, I used beet and turnip greens.

Bitter greens, artichokes, and shallots with poppy seeds

Adapted from Turquoise, by Greg and Lucy Malouf

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 fresh artichoke hearts, cut into quarter and kept in acidulated water
  • 12 small shallots, peeled and halved
  • 1 leek, white part only, cut lengthwise into thin strips and washed
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds, lightly crushed
  • ¼ teaspoon hot paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Ground sumac
  • 1 1/3 pounds chicory, roots trimmed
  • 5 ounces Swiss chard, shredded lengthwise
  • 5 ounces chicken stock
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter

Directions

 Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan and add the drained artichokes, shallots and leek.  Saute over a low heat for a few minutes, then add the poppy seeds, paprika, pepper and 1 teaspoon sumac and cook for a further couple of minutes.  Add the chicory, Swiss chard and stock.  Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 8-10 minutes until the artichokes and onions are tender.

Remove the pan from the heat, then stir in the lemon juice and butter well and put into a warmed serving bowl.  Sprinkle with a little more sumac and serve.

Serves 6

I prepared this using two separate pans to keep the beets from turning everything pink.  If you use chicory, kale, or endive, you can just use one pan.  I had never sauteed raw artichokes before and I love this method.  I will do this more often this winter.

Greens Soup

This recipe is the follow up to the vegetarian stock that I previously posted.  As I wrote there, I planned to make a soup of greens that I heard described on The Splendid Table (NPR).  Anna Thomas was the guest and she just published a new cookbook:  Eating Well.  From listening to the interview, I believe that Anna’s definition of eating well means eating whole foods, extracting as much of the foods’ flavor and nutrition as culinarily possible and I definitely agree.

            If you’ve got the vegetarian stock already packed away in your freezer, this can come together after work.  If you need to start from stock, then this is a weekend project, but worth it.
            I won’t summarize the recipe first, but I do need to comment on the onions.  Anna made a big point about caramelizing those onions to what may seem like an absurd degree.  Her rule of thumb was when you think you’ve overcooked them, go another ½ hour.  The bit of water you sprinkle over them once they’ve browned, and lidding the pan, keeps them from burning and steams them a little.  I almost had caramelized onion paste when I finished and that’s probably about right.
            This is not a bright, springy type of green soup.  Recall all of the browning of vegetables that has occurred both in the making of the stock and in the soup.  Additionally, the Arborio rice base you create before cooking the greens sets a nutty, warm palette.  You will need to finish it with good salt and fresh lemon juice to bring up some pop.  I also especially enjoyed the lingering heat of the cayenne and don’t think that drizzle of olive oil is optional.  Buy the grassiest, first-cold-pressed olive oil you can find and top it off with just a touch.
            The soup is an excellent team player.  Just on its own, it might be a little heavy.  I had it once alongside a sparkling salad of fennel, parsley, and cranberries, with a citrus dressing, and they were perfect mates.  We all went home that night and dreamed of dancing vegetables.  I had it a second time with a brunch of potato/gruyere quiche and blood orange juice and couldn’t imagine a more delicious combination than that.  Make it up, pack in the greens, and pair it up with just about anything.
Basic Green Soup
From Eating Well, by Anna Thomas
Yield:  8 servings
Ingredients
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions, chopped
1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 tablespoons, plus 3 cups, water, divided
1/4 cup arborio rice
1 bunch green chard (about 1 pound)
14 cups gently packed spinach (about 12 ounces), tough stems trimmed
4 cups vegetable broth
Big pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice, or more to taste
Drizzle of first, cold-pressed olive oil
Instructions
1.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over high heat.  Add onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to brown, about 5 minutes.  Reduce the heat to low, add 2 tablespoons water and cover.  Cook, stirring frequently until the pan cools down, and then occasionally, always covering the pan again, until the onions are greatly reduced and have a deep caramel color, 25-30 minutes.
2.  Meanwhile, combine the remaining 3 cups water and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a soup pot or Dutch oven; add rice.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes.  Trim the white ribs out of the chard (save for another use, such as stir-fry or another soup).  Coarsely chop the chard greens and spinach.
3. When the rice has cooked for 15 minutes, stir in the chard greens.  Return to a simmer; cover and cook for 10 minutes.  When the onions are caramelized, stir a little of the simmering liquid into them; add them to the rice along with the spinach, broth, and cayenne.  Return to a simmer, cover and cook, stirring once, until the spinach is tender, but still bright green, about 5 minutes more.
4.  Puree the soup in the pot with an immersion blender until perfectly smooth or in a regular blender in batches (return it to the pot).  Stir in 1 tablespoon lemon juice.  Taste and add more lemon juice, if desired.  Garnish each bowl of soup with a drizzle of olive oil.

It Begins with the Stock

I make chicken stock regularly.  This ritual has been a staple in my life for years and though I have wished for a vegetarian stock that is the chicken soup equivalence, I have yet to discover one that satisfies me.  I have tried many:  organic store bought, concoctions involving brewer’s yeast, but I’m sorry to say that they have, for the most part, come out tasting strongly of a strange, particular ingredient or else… dish water.  Usually, when a recipe calls for vegetable stock I substitute homemade chicken stock.

            I love The Splendid Table on NPR.  I feel happy in the radio presence of Lynne Rossetto Kasper, the host.  She is wise, yet so fresh with food.  She is also constantly affirming of all the guests on her show, taking a sincere interest in their culinary discoveries and implying that she is eager to learn from them, too.  Even Amy Sedaris.
            I am on a trajectory this week to make a greens soup that was described by a guest on The Splendid Table, Anna Thomas, who wrote a book called Eating Well.  I am going to save her greens soup recipe for a few days because I first need to make a deeply flavored vegetable stock.  I turned to the experience of Lynne Rossetto Kasper on this.  She has a recipe for a Hearty Vegetable Broth.  Her words, “There is nothing weak-kneed about this vegetable broth.  It’s big flavors hold their own in any dish…”
If you are used to tossing a bunch of raw ingredients in a pot, covering them with water, and walking away to let them simmer when you make stock, you may find this is a little more complicated.  To bring up the sugars in all of the vegetables, you cook them down until they are brown and beginning to stick to the pan.  You then deglaze the pan with white wine and let that cook off.  Finally, you add the cooked vegetables to some fresh ones, cover it all with water, and simmer it for a couple of hours.  This process, along with a large portion of sautéed mushrooms, gives the stock depth that I think rivals a beef stock.
Hearty Vegetable Broth
Lynne Rossetto Kasper, The Splendid Table, NPR
Ingredients:
2 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil
2 large carrots, coursely chopped
2 large stalks celery with leaves, coursely chopped
4 medium onions, coursely chopped
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, coursely chopped
3 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon dry basil or marjoram
2/3 cup dry white wine
6 large romaine lettuce leaves, coursely chopped
1 large ripe fresh tomato, chopped, or 2 canned plum tomatoes, crushed
A pinch freshly grated nutmeg
About 4 to 5 quarts of water
1.  Heat the oil in a 12-inch saute pan or skillet (not non-stick) over medium-high heat.  Add the carrot, celery, onion, and mushrooms.  Cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spatula, until the onions are golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and basil and cook a few seconds more.
Vegetables caramelizing and beginning to stick to the pan
2.  Add the wine and stir, scraping up any brown glaze in the pan, until most of the liquid has evaporated.  Transfer to an 8-quart stock pot.  Add the romaine, tomatoes, nutmeg, and enough water to cover the solids by 3 to 4 inches.  Bring to a gentle bubble, partially cover, and simmer slowly for about 90 minutes.
Deglazing the pan with white wine
Simmering stock
3.  Strain the broth into a large bowl, pressing down on the solids to extract as much flavor as possible.  Cool and chill.  Skim off any solidified oil from broth’s surface.  Refrigerate or freeze in 1 quart portions or in ice-cube trays.

I felt like I was making an Asian soup with the lettuce and the mushrooms.  The broth has a complex, yet natural flavor and this is only the stock.  On to the greens soup.

Tamales

Oh, how quickly a week goes by.  The boys have been here nearly that long and we’ve done all we could.  There was a caroling party with mulled wine by the outdoor fireplace, chill-out time to watch old favorite movies or play at the beach, and a big-bang, Mexican feast birthday dinner.

For festive occasions, I often plan to make homemade tamales.   It is probably partly because I know I can put on a huge pot of pinto beans, braise some falling-off -the bone meats, and simply add a really tasty cooked salsa and a salad and I’ve got the meal.  Then, it’s the little tamale packages that make it special and just a couple per person adds enough of the corny side dish to bring the whole plate of flavors together.
When you make tamales, you have to enlist an assembly-line of recruits.  This is double fun, however, because as you facilitate and begin to steam them off, you get to enjoy all of the hilarious conversation amongst the filler, wrapper, tiers.

Many, many years ago, I bought a cookbook called The Kingston Hotel Cafe  Cookbook.  The subtitle of the book  free-spirited recipes to warm the soul is accurate to the type of recipes within:  inventive takes on comfort foods.
From Judith Weinstock I learned two things about making tamales.  First, for the liquid, use a puree of milk and whole kernel corn to give the tamales some fresh kernel liveliness.  And second, use butter instead of lard.  Lard alone might be the reason many people don’t attempt tamales.  Just use butter instead of lard.  Consequently, this also makes the tamales appealing to vegetarians.
I don’t have my Kingston Hotel Café Cookbook at hand, but I’ve adapted a standard tamale recipe and have had great results.  Making the dough is the main deal.  From there, you can fill them with the smallest amounts of whatever you have that is delicious:  cheese (my favorite is actually goat’s cheese), cooked meat, or roasted vegetables.  You can make up your own fiery salsa (I prefer a cooked one) or even buy an artisan-quality premade jar.  The main point is to get your storytellers around your kitchen counter where tamales will fly.
Ingredients
1 bag of dried corn husks
4 cups masa harina
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups milk
2 cups whole corn (canned and drained, frozen, or fresh from the cob)
1 cup butter, softened
Directions
Go through the dried cornhusks, separate them and discard the silk, be careful since the husks are fragile when dry. Soak them in a sink filled with warm water for 30 minutes to soften. 
In the bowl of a mixer, combine the masa harina, baking powder, and salt.  Add softened butter and incorporate well.
In a blender, puree the milk and whole corn kernels.  Add to the masa and beat until the dough has a spongy texture.
Rinse, drain , and dry the corn husks. Set them out on a sheet pan covered by a damp towel along with the bowl of masa dough and your filling.  Start with the largest husks because they are easier to roll. Lay the husk flat on the countertop with the smooth side up and the narrow end facing you. Spread a thin, even layer of masa over the surface of the husk with a tablespoon dipped in water. Do not use too much! Add about a tablespoon of the filling in the center of the masa. Fold the narrow end up to the center then fold both sides together to enclose the filling.  The sticky masa will form a seal.  Alternatively, you can roll it like a cigar and tie the ends with string

 

Stand the tamales up in a large steamer or colander with the pinched end up. Load the steamer into a large pot filled with 2-inches of water. The water should not touch the tamales. Lay a damp cloth over the tamales and cover with lid. Keep the water at a low boil,  checking periodically to make sure the water doesn’t boil away. Steam the tamales for 20 minutes to an hour, depending on size.  The tamales are done when the inside pulls away from the husk. The tamale should be soft, firm, and not mushy. 
To serve, unfold the husk and spoon about a tablespoon of salsa on top.

          This concludes the home cooking segment of my blog for the year.  I now switch into travelogue mode where you can expect to read about Christmas markets and opera houses in Germany, castles in Prague, and my quest for the best darn pierogi in Poland.  Lots of fun to come.

Turkey Deconstructed

            As I said, we’re not going to be home for Thanksgiving Day this year.  But I’m still sentimental about turkeys, even though I already made an early Thanksgiving dinner with my boys when I was home on Lummi Island in October.  I do highly recommend that butter and wine shrouded turkey we made.

            But when you live overseas, your options are limited both by the availability of turkey and by the size of your oven.  We are fortunate in Tunisia that turkeys were introduced here as a Peace Corps initiative decades ago and they are available year-around.
            For preparation methods, this is a good time to consult the wisdom of American star chefs who live abroad and one of my favorites is David Tanis.  He is the head chef for six months of the year at Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, and then lives a French life for the other six.
I don’t have a small oven here.  I was fortunate to inherit an imported GE Profile, regulation American size.  It is a completely common oven in the US, but here, it is a prize and I do love it.  More the norm, though, is a small oven that can’t hold anything of much breadth.
            David Tanis had this problem and writes about a fortuitous French communication error that ended up leading to one of his best Thanksgiving meals ever.
Americans Abroad
            One year, I was the one making Thanksgiving dinner in Paris, and for this particular meal, it seemed as if we had every expat in town descend on our little Paris apartment on the rue St. Jacques.  There were going to be about forty-five of us in all.  So I went to my neighborhood butcher, Charcellet, to get my turkey.  They have really good turkeys in France—small but tasty—and Parisians know about la fete americaine.  I told the butcher that I wanted him to take the breasts off, take the legs off, and save me all the bones.  I told him I needed three birds, see you tomorrow, au revoir.
            I came back the next day and he showed me what he’d done; instead of cutting off the legs and breasts, he had deboned the whole turkeys, as only a master butcher can do.  I marveled.  It turned out to be a brilliant solution because we have the tiniest oven in the world.  At first the birds were flat as roadkill, but I put salt and pepper all over them, smeared the insides with garlic and thyme and sage in great quantity, molded them back into a bird shape, and tied them with string to keep them compact.
            Long story short, I found that three compact little re-formed turkeys would fit side by side in one roasting pan.  When they came out of the oven, I had perfectly cooked roast turkeys with not a speck of unusable anything!  And the cooking time was only an hour and a half.
            Our friends said it was the best turkey they’d ever had in their lives.  You could slice through the body as if it were a galantine—all meat and no stuffing.  And this technique applies to every bird in the world.  All you need is a good butcher or a lot of patience.  Simpler by far is the recipe for the deconstructed bird that follows.
Roasted and Braised Turkey with Gravy
            I always prefer to cook a smaller turkey.  The secret to great flavor is to season the turkey overnight so begin this process the day before.  You can make the broth a day ahead, too.
            Have the butcher remove the legs with the thighs attached, cut off the wings, and cut the boneless breast in 2 pieces.  While you’re at it, ask him to chop up the carcass for your stock.  You’ll be going home with 2 whole legs with thighs, 2 wings, the skin-on breast in 2 pieces and a bag of bones.  Make sure to get the giblets, too.
For the turkey
One 12- to 14-pound turkey, cut into six parts (as above)
Salt and pepper
1 bunch sage leaves, chopped
1 small bunch thyme, leaves stripped and chopped
6 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
For the broth
3 pounds turkey carcass and bones (or other poultry bones)
1 large onion, peeled, halved, and stuck with 1 clove
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 or 3 slices dried porcini mushroom
About 6 quarts water
For the braise
3 tablespoons butter
2 large onions, chopped
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
Parsley or watercress sprigs
Put all the turkey pieces out on a big cutting board and season well on both sides with salt and pepper.
            Mix the sage, thyme, and garlic in a small bowl and add the olive oil.  Spoon the seasoning mixture over the meat and smear it in well.  Put the legs and wings in a container, cover, and refrigerate.  Wrap the breasts in plastic and refrigerate.
            To make the broth, preheat the oven to 400’F.  Put the turkey carcass and bones, onion, carrot, celery, and bay leaves in a roasting pan and into the oven.  Roast for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until everything is nicely browned.
            Transfer the browned vegetables and bones to a big soup pot.  Splash a little water into the roasting pan to dissolve any tasty bits left in the pan, and put into the pot.  Add the dried mushroom and water and bring to a boil.  Skim off the scum, turn the heat down to a simmer, and let it cook slowly for 1 ½ to 2 hours.
            Strain the broth through a sieve.  You should have about 5 quarts of turkey broth.  Cool, then refrigerate; when ready to use, skim off the fat that has risen to the surface.
            To make the braise, preheat the oven to 400’ F.  Put the legs and wings in a large roasting pan, with enough room so they’re not crowded.  Put the pan in the oven and let the parts roast while you prepare the braising liquid. 
            In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the onions and season them with salt and pepper.  Let them cook gently, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes.  Turn up the heat and let the onions color a little bit.
            With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour and tomato paste and mix well.  Add the red wine and 2 cups of the turkey broth and bring to a simmer, stirring as the sauce thickens.  Gradually stir in 2 more cups of broth.
            Remove the pan of legs and wings from the oven.  They should be nicely golden, but not too dark.  Pour the braising liquid over the legs.  Cover the pan tightly with foil and return to the oven.  Reduce the heat to 350’ F and let it go for about 1 ½ hours, or until the legs are tender when tested with a fork.  Transfer the legs and wings to a cutting board and let them cool slightly.
            Strain the braising liquid through a fine-mesh sieve into a saucepan, skimming off any fat tat rises.  This will be your gravy.  Taste the sauce for seasonings and texture.  If it’s too thin, reduce it a bit over medium heat until it reaches a consistency you like.  Set aside.  (The braise can be done hours ahead or the day before and refrigerated.)
            When the turkey parts are cool enough to handle, remove the let meat from the bones in large pieces and tear the meat from the wings.  Cut the meat into rough slices and put in a baking dish.  Cover and hold at cool room temperature.
            Remove the breasts from the refrigerator and let them come to room temperature.  The breasts will take only about a half hour to roast, so they can be started up to an hour before dinner in a 375’ F oven.  Put them in a shallow roasting pan, skin side up, and into the over.  Check at 30 minutes—you want an internal temperature of 140’F (The temperature will continue to rise as they rest.)  Let them rest on a platter, loosely covered, for 15 to 30 minutes before carving.
            Shortly before serving, reheat the dark meat in the oven for 10 to 15 minute, until heated through.  Reheat the gravy and put it in a serving bowl.
            Slice the turkey breasts on an angle, not too thickly.  Arrange the turkey on a warm platter and garnish with parsley or watercress.
(Tanis, David.  2010.  Heart of the Artichoke.  New York, Artisan.)
This is going out to all of my expatriate friends all over the world.  Happy Thanksgiving with the families you’ve pulled around you.