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Archive for the ‘American’ Category

Winter is barely started, and I’m already pining for summer vegetables. Many of the standard grocery-store vegetables available this season seem to be limp, tired, and nearly tasteless. Pandemic-related supply chain delays, perhaps, but very disappointing. So I was pleased to come across a recipe based on two vegetables, plentiful now, that don’t wilt easily.

The recipe is in a cookbook recently passed along to me by a friend. The Greens Cook Book presents dishes from a “celebrated” San Francisco vegetarian restaurant called Greens. I confess I hadn’t known of it: It didn’t exist in the long-ago years when I lived in California. Several of its recipes interested me, beginning with one for Fennel, Mushroom, and Parmesan Salad, which its headnote calls a good first course for a winter dinner. I proceeded to make half a recipe’s worth.
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My fennel bulb was bright and crisp, with a good spray of feathery leaves. The recipe didn’t specify a kind of mushroom, so I used cremini. The recipe did urge using a very good extra virgin olive oil and a good piece of young parmigiano reggiano cheese, to which I certainly couldn’t object.

The first thing to do was make a vinaigrette. This was quite a production number, involving mincing lemon peel, mashing garlic, and crushing fennel seed. It was also heavily lemony, using a two-to-one proportion of olive oil to lemon juice. My scaled-down quantities made only a scant quarter-cup of dressing, which didn’t look to be anywhere near enough for a whole salad, but I did as directed.

Then I had to slice my mushrooms thin and marinate them in some of the vinaigrette. But how much of it? The whole recipe said a few tablespoons, but even halving that, I’d have to leave enough for two other doses of dressing. I stingily sprinkled the mushrooms with some of it, which was instantly absorbed by the slices that touched it. So I tossed and turned them, hoping to make them share, and added freshly ground black pepper, hoping it might draw out some moisture.

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I left the mushrooms to marinate for a few hours, covered closely with plastic wrap to keep them from browning, and went on to prepare the fennel. It had to be sliced very thinly and dressed with “most of the remaining vinaigrette,” plus chopped fennel greens, chopped parsley, salt, and pepper.
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Now, after sprinkling additional fennel greens and parsley on the mushrooms – which had softened a bit but were still fairly dry – I could compose the salad. The recipe called for layering the ingredients on individual plates, with mushrooms on the bottom, thin shavings of parmigiano next, fennel on top of that, and the remaining vinaigrette spooned over it all.

I didn’t like the way that arrangement would look, with the fennel hiding the mushrooms and the parmigiano flakes squeezed between them. Instead, I tossed the mushrooms and fennel together on a serving plate, shaved the cheese over them, and trickled on the last of the dressing.
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(If you look very closely, you may see the dressing – about two large drops of it.)

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Knowing Tom’s very limited enthusiasm for most salads, I gave us each a small plateful to start.

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I liked it well enough, and I ate quite a bit of it. (Tom not so much.) The three main ingredients all tasted like their own good selves, and they didn’t clash. But neither did they do anything for each other. Nor did the fussy little flavorings in that dressing do anything to pull the dish together.

With all its components and processes, this is clearly a restaurant dish: I would say a characteristically overelaborated California one. (I’m surprised there were no bean sprouts in it!) For me, the salad would have been just as good with a generous dose of plain olive-oil-and-lemon-juice vinaigrette. I may make it that way myself for some future winter appetizer course.

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Christmas Baking

I started my Christmas baking promptly this year, making three kinds of cookies without which the holidays are unthinkable at our house: peanut butter, Toll House, and hazelnut kourabiedes.
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A few days later, I added a non-traditional variety: ciambellini al vino. These crunchy, sugar-dipped rings made with olive oil, red wine, and anise flavoring come out rustic looking, but they’re delicious, and they somehow feel positively nourishing – almost savory but still with a pleasing sweet edge.
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Finally, with the baking urge still strong upon me, I decided to try a festive sweet bread of some kind. Hubris, this was, since twice in past Decembers I’d attempted to make panettone, without notable success (e.g., here). The doughs just wouldn’t rise for me. Still hopeful, though, I chose a recipe for a Norwegian Christmas bread from Bernard Clayton’s Complete Book of Breads. The recipe is attributed to a family in Indiana whose maternal forebears had been making it since 1870. I figured it must have risen for them.

The filling ingredients for a half recipe’s worth, which was to provide one large loaf, were half a cup each of dates, walnuts, glacé cherries, and mixed candied fruit.
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As you see here, I substituted hazelnuts for walnuts. I had dates and candied citron and orange peel, but not glacé cherries. I couldn’t find them anywhere. So I made some myself, from a recipe I found online, using jarred maraschino cherries. Unfortunately, the candying got away from me, so they came out like dark sticky little gemstones. Well, they’d have to do. My holiday breadmaking jinx loomed.

Making the dough itself went smoothly enough. The first stage was actually a batter. I beat together a cup of flour, a cup of milk, and a package of yeast; covered the bowl and let it stand on the kitchen counter for two hours, while the yeast did its bubbly thing.
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Next, I added half a beaten egg, ¼ cup of sugar, ½ teaspoon of salt, and a whole stick of softened butter; beat that well in the heavy-duty mixer; slowly added 2½ cups more flour; and kneaded it until smooth.
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Now came the tricky part. The instructions were to press the dough flat and work the fruits and nuts into it. Neither my cut-up dates nor my halved cherries were at all willing to separate from each other. I had to sprinkle on some flour to make them un-glom even a little. And I had to knead the dough very lengthily to get the additions distributed. It already looked like a lot to go into one 5 X 9 loaf pan, and it hadn’t even risen yet.
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I returned the dough to the bowl for its first rising – one hour, the recipe said. Hah! In 2½ hours, it still hadn’t quite doubled in bulk – but the day was moving on, so I did too. As I’d expected, that amount of dough would have filled a single pan right up to the brim, and I could imagine what a mess it would be if I let it rise like that. I deflated it and divided it over two pans.
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The second rise was due to take 45 minutes. Hah again! Here’s what mine looked like after two hours: definitely not doubled.
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With a very feeble hope that the loaves would rise further as they baked, I put them in a 350° oven for 45 minutes. They browned nicely. They didn’t rise at all. AARRGGHH! This is what happens to me more often than not with filled or flavored breads, and I don’t know why. It’s not the fault of my yeast; my normal good white bread rises perfectly.
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Adding insult to injury, the next morning when I sliced a loaf for our breakfast, it was clear that the dates and cherries had never really separated, but had somehow gathered themselves back into big messy globs. It was an embarrassment to look at.
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But there’s a happy ending to this otherwise frustrating story. Despite its sloppy appearance, the bread was really good. It had a light, delicate crumb, and the chunky interspersions of fruit and nut were interesting and tasty. I decided I wouldn’t have to run out and buy a panettone from a store after all.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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I didn’t have high hopes for the recipe I tried this week. We’d be broiling a handsome fillet of John Dory for dinner, and I felt like making something new with shrimp for an appetizer. Looking through the Shellfish volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series, my eye was caught by a recipe called Shrimp Panned with Corn. An odd pairing, I thought: I’ve never regarded shrimp and corn as having much to say to each other.

But the recipe looked easy and quick. My freezer usually holds a small bag or two of shrimp, and in winter it has several bags of kernels cut from four-minutes-boiled ears of corn, fresh enough to use as if raw. The only other ingredients in the recipe were fridge and pantry staples. I’d take a chance on it. At worst, the shrimp and corn could just ignore each other.

The full recipe called for 1½ pounds of shrimp to serve 4, as a main course. I wanted small appetizer portions for 2, using only 10 medium shrimp.
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I had major scaling down to do for the other components. Lest I confuse myself (easily done!), I first penciled in calculated reductions for each ingredient, right on the book’s page, and got to work. In a sauté pan I cooked half a cup of the defrosted corn in a little butter and olive oil, for about two minutes.
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Then I added the peeled, raw shrimp.
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When the shrimp had firmed a bit and turned pink, about another two minutes, I stirred in a small clove of finely chopped garlic and poured on 1½ tablespoons of white wine and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. This was supposed to cook for “a few moments” until the liquid bubbled up around the shrimp and glazed them. Actually, they didn’t glaze, even after a few further minutes. Fearing that longer cooking might toughen the shrimp, I just sprinkled them with salt, pepper, and two teaspoons of finely chopped parsley, and stirred it all together.
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Well, to my surprise, it had become quite an interesting little dish. The different sweetnesses of corn and shrimp were made very compatible by the blend of wine, lemon juice, garlic, and parsley, producing a sort of umami savoriness. This was truly a serendipitous find.
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You couldn’t tell from reading my blog that Tom does a lot of cooking in our house. He does, though. Not big on following recipes, he’s a versatile utility cook. Soups, stews, steaks, chops, pasta, frittata, vegetables – let him look in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, and he’ll put together something good for a meal.

One of his big talents is hash. Tom sees hash as the perfect way to use leftovers to make another, different meal. No two of his versions are ever exactly the same, and he never measures ingredients, but all are a simple pleasure to eat. This week I watched with my camera while he made his latest concoction. Here’s what would be going into it:
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In the front, a few formerly fried potatoes, the last chunk of a good smoked ham, raw celery, and remnants of a roasted duck. In the back, two eggs, an apple, red onion, carrot, and raw potatoes. (The apple isn’t chopped yet, to keep it from turning brown.) As you see, he doesn’t feel hash needs to be overly heavy on meat.

The condiments, lined up in readiness, were Mexican hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper.

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And so, to work. He started by parboiling the raw potatoes and carrots for 10 minutes.

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Drained, they went into a frying pan with the onion and celery, and gently sauteed in olive oil for about 10 to 15 minutes. No browning yet wanted.

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Next, he stirred in the ham, duck, and already fried potatoes, cooking the mixture slightly more briskly for another 10 minutes. Generous salt and pepper, plus splashes of Cholula sauce and Worcestershire went in at this point, and everything was vigorously stirred together.

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Finally came the apple and another vigorous stirring, followed by gentle cooking together for 10 to 20 minutes, until the mixture began browning on the bottom and forming a slight crust. The hash was ready.
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Then it was my turn to step in, to poach eggs to top the hash. You need very fresh eggs for poaching, to keep the whites neatly surrounding the yolks. On this day the eggs I had were pretty old, so as an experiment I put a pair of English muffin rings into the pan of simmering water and eased an egg into each one.
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I can’t say it worked completely well. Even though most of the whites stayed contained within the rings, some escaped and floated around wispily in the water. But it didn’t seem to hurt the eggs any.

So here is a plate of the day’s hash, crowned with its egg. The hash itself was richly flavorful, as always. The apple, which he’d never used in a hash before as far as I remember, gave  a nice little touch of sweetness to the succulence of the meats and vegetables. And the liquid egg yolk made its usual perfect sauce.
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Hail to the chef!

 

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A cobbler can be a great fruit pastry for an ease-loving home baker. You do have to make and roll out dough but, unlike making a pie, you don’t have to fit a round of dough into the baking dish, fit another round over the fruit filling, trim and seal the two together, and shape an attractive rim.

The cobbler section of Lee Bailey’s book Country Desserts opens with a two-page spread showing a rustic blackberry cobbler, made with dough merely partially folded over the berry filling, leaving large (artistically placed?) gaps.
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In the recipe headnote, the author declares this to be his favorite kind of cobbler. I’ve made and enjoyed his peach cobbler, so the prospect of an even tastier one was very tempting. And berries are easier to work with than other fruits: no peeling or slicing needed.

There were no fresh blackberries in my Greenmarket yet, so I bought a commercial pack. Happily, it contained three cups of berries, which was exactly right for a half recipe’s worth.

I usually make pastry in my heavy-duty mixer, but this recipe requires a food processor, because it calls for frozen butter and frozen vegetable shortening. That’s certainly a way to keep the dough cool, but I’ve never had trouble using just chilled fats and very cold water.  This should have been my first clue that Bailey’s favorite cobbler might require a bit more effort and complication than other, less special, ones.
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The processor noisily and laboriously turned the frozen fats, flour, and salt into a rough crumble. Then I had to trickle in more ice water than called for, in order to make it gather into a mass. Good thing the fat was frozen: in the process, the machine had thrown a lot of heat.
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The dough, shaped by hand into a ball, had to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. I used the time to clean the dough residue from the processor parts, which was harder than cleaning my stainless steel mixer bowl. Another clue? Hmpf!

When it was time to roll out the dough, I faced a mathematical question. If a whole recipe needs a circle of dough 15 inches in diameter, how big should the circle be for half a recipe? It was obvious that a half-sized circle – 7½ inches – would be too small, so I resorted to my trusty A = π r² formula and rolled the dough to 11 inches.
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Probably unnecessary precision, as I realized later. I could just have eyeballed the job. I think I was already a little spooked. Anyway, I draped the dough over a small pie dish and heaped the berries in the middle, adding sugar and dots of butter.
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Here I diverged from the recipe. For three cups of berries, it would have wanted six tablespoons of sugar – much too much, I thought. I gave it three tablespoons. Then, just before closing over the dough, I chickened out to the extent of one more tablespoon. In the upshot, that was unnecessary: Those berries were plenty sweet already.

Back to following directions, I folded the overhanging dough around the filling (it wasn’t supposed to cover completely), and sprinkled a little more sugar over the crust.
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The cobbler baked at 425° for 45 minutes, to come out lightly browned and bubbling – and with a large puddle of breakthrough juices. Hmpf again!
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Inartistically messy as it looked, my blackberry cobbler was delicious. Perhaps a bit too sweet for us, but richly berryish and with a firm, tasty crust. Well worth the amount of unexpected effort it took. (Though next time I might try making the crust with unfrozen fats.)
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The half of it that we couldn’t finish for dessert that evening made a sinfully good breakfast the next morning. That none of it lasted longer than that is a testimony to how much we enjoyed it.

 

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The herbs I planted on my building’s roof garden, which I mentioned in my last post, are doing well.

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Picking them has been perilous for a few weeks, because of a militant mockingbird that attacked anyone who stepped out onto the roof, which he considered his territory. At last, his babies have fledged and left the nest he was guarding up there, and I can tend my tiny herb garden in peace.

The herb that most needs frequent cutting back is the dill, which has been flowering so fast, it’d soon be setting seed and dying off. To help redirect its attention to new shoots, I snipped some of its feathery-leaved flowering stems to use in two recipes I made for the first time this week.
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Dakhini Saag: Spinach with Dill

This dish from Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian India is a specialty of Hyderabad, a city in southern India. Jaffrey says it’s “a simple but very flavorful spinach dish.” Given the number of ingredients listed in the recipe, I wasn’t sure I’d regard it as simple, but by the same token I could see it was certainly going to have a lot of flavors. It looked like fun.

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To begin, the spinach had to be wilted in boiling water, drained, cooled, and squeezed. Then I called my bespoke knife man into action, and he gallantly rose to the occasion. Clockwise from lower right, here are the spinach, chopped; sliced fresh spring onion; diced heirloom tomato; sliced Spanish onion; chopped dill; chopped garlic; salt, cumin seeds, turmeric, and red chili powder.
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Actually, once those components were prepared, the dish really was quite simple to make. First, I sauteed the cumin seeds, Spanish onion, and garlic for a few minutes over medium heat.
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Next, I lowered the heat, added the spinach, dill, salt, turmeric, and chili powder, and cooked all that for two minutes.
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Last, I stirred in the diced tomato and spring onion.
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Another two minutes’ cooking made the dish ready to eat.

And very good it was.The very first taste was purely moist, tender spinach, but each forkful opened in the mouth to reveal the flavors of the seasonings – mainly dill, but also subtle accents of spring onion, cumin, and chili. (The tiny cubes of tomato, being of necessity hothouse, served mostly for appearance.) A nice middle choice between plain spinach and a composed dish.
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Jennifer’s Dill Bread

Long ago, my friend Jennifer, with whom I’ve shared many recipes back and forth, gave me her hand-written one for dill bread. It had her small variations on a recipe that a family friend had given her even longer ago. I saved it in my big recipe binder, but this folksy American yeast bread made with cottage cheese never quite caught my interest enough to try. Now, with my dill needing to be used, it seemed to be time.

The recipe directions were simple in the extreme – they started with “Soften yeast in water. Combine all except flour.” The “all” was cottage cheese, sugar, salt, baking soda, minced onion, softened butter, an egg, and dill weed.
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Next was to add “enough flour to form a stiff dough.” Here, I had to go astray. The ingredient list said 2¼ to 2½ cups. In my heavy-duty mixer with the dough hook, 2½ cups of flour produced only a thick, heavy batter. I added more flour. And more. And more. (I think there was too much whey in my cottage cheese.) This is apparently supposed to be a no-knead dough, but mine was thoroughly kneaded by the time I achieved a dough thick enough to hold together in a ball.
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It rose nicely in a gently warmed, turned-off oven, though with all that extra flour, it took longer than the expected one hour to double in bulk.
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I punched the dough down, shaped it into a ball, and was then supposed to put it in an 8-inch round casserole to rise again. I don’t have a dish that size, so I substituted a buttered 8-inch pie tin and prayed that the free-standing loaf would support itself as it rose in the turned-off oven. It did.
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A bit over an hour of baking at a more moderate temperature than I usually use for breads (350°) produced a plump brown loaf. The final touch was to brush the crust with butter and sprinkle it with sea salt.

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Sliced, it revealed a soft, light crumb with a wheaty sweetness and a gentle fragrance of dill. (Might have been dillier if I hadn’t had to add so much extra flour.) It was good as a dinner bread, good for sandwiches, and good for morning toast. Although it will never replace my all-time favorite White Bread Plus from Joy of Cooking, this folksy recipe made a versatile and tasty loaf.
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A brief heat wave earlier this month made me think about a picnic. Normally, I can take picnic fixings up onto my building’s roof garden, but this spring a very aggressive mockingbird who has a nest somewhere up there has taken to dive-bombing anyone he regards as encroaching on his territory. His beak is sharp and his aim is good.

Oh, well. A picnic in the dining room can be pleasant too, and there we have air conditioning, comfortable chairs, and a good CD player. And no avian attackers.

One of Tom’s and my favorite dishes for hot-weather fare is a big salade niçoise. But it’s still too early in the season for the fully ripe field-grown tomatoes and freshly dug potatoes that the dish wants, so I looked for other cold-platter combinations.

It so happened that I had many new choices just then. My friend Betty, who was downsizing her book collection, had dropped off a pile of cookbooks for me to look at, in case I might want any of them. A 1986 volume called A Taste of Italy, by Antonio Carluccio, a British restaurateur, had a number of interesting looking recipes, including three new-to-me antipasto items that I made for my picnic platter.

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What you see here are raw-beef meatballs, eggs stuffed with tuna, eggplant rolls, an heirloom tomato (hothouse, but best I could find), and a wedge of sheep-milk ricotta. The green wisps around the edge of the plate are bits of cilantro that I managed to snip from a plant in my rooftop herb collection before the militant mockingbird chased me away.

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Uova Ripiene di Tonno

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Deviled eggs are a time-honored summer treat. I usually mash their yolks with whatever condiments I feel like pulling out of the refrigerator that day – mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, soy, Worcestershire, Cholula, pimentòn, capers, cornichons? This recipe, more restrained, calls for a lot of canned tuna and only a little mayonnaise, parsley, capers, and black pepper. That way, the balls of filling are the main component of the dish, the whites merely a casing. Especially if made with the rich Italian belly tuna called ventresca, it’s a tasty little dish. (The parsley was also from my roof, snuck out under the baleful eye of that bird.)

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Insalata di Carne Cruda

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While steak tartare is always eaten immediately after its preparation, the raw beef here is minced together with parsley and garlic; dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and black pepper; and held in the refrigerator for a whole day before being eaten. That made the lemon juice “cook” my beef like seviche, turning its bright red color to grayish pink and somehow flattening all its rich meatiness. The headnote calls this a popular Piedmontese recipe, but the versions of carne cruda that I know are made with veal, not beef; and lemon juice is added only at the last minute. For me, this was a terrible way to treat excellent sirloin.

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Involtini di Melanzane

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These eggplant rolls tasted better than they looked. My eggplant (store-bought; too early for local ones) had excessively well-developed seeds. Sliced thin, the flesh around its seeds had very little substance. Browned in olive oil, drained, and spread with a chopping of parsley, pine nuts, capers, and garlic, the slices were too fragile to roll properly. Folded over and baked for 20 minutes, they darkened too much at the ends and partially burst open at the middle. Annoying! But this treatment has promise. I’ll try it again, with a fresher, less mature eggplant that I’ll cut in somewhat thicker slices.

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All in all, though, that platterful made a nice first-of-the-year indoor picnic. So far, I’d call the score for this cookbook a hit, a miss, and a maybe. I’ve marked a dozen of its other recipes for trying someday, so we’ll see how that score changes over time. Good thing it doesn’t have a recipe for spit-roasted mockingbird!
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Mushrooms and onions are workhorses of my cooking repertoire: essential support players in many dishes, on many dinner plates, but rarely the stars. When I found a recipe in the American Cooking volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series that gives leading roles to both vegetables, I was happy to try it.

Here are all the ingredients. The mushrooms are cremini, the sliced onions are Spanish, and the condiments are salt, pepper, lemon juice, parsley, butter, and sour cream.

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The cooking was quite easy, and I did most of it well in advance, though the recipe doesn’t say you can. First I sautéed the onions in the butter until they were lightly colored. That took seven minutes.
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Next, I added the mushrooms, mixed them around a bit to get acquainted with the butter and onions, covered the pan tightly, and cooked for another seven minutes.

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At that point I turned off the heat and moved the pan, partially covered, to the back of the stove, where it sat peacefully for a couple of hours.

When it was time to eat, I pulled the pan up to a front burner and stirred in salt, pepper, lemon juice, and sour cream. I brought everything to a simmer, stirring until the sauce was heated through and taking care not to let it boil, lest the sour cream curdle.
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The final step was to sprinkle chopped parsley over the mushrooms in the serving bowl.

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At the dinner table, the mushrooms, onions, and sauce shared the plates with a pan-roasted rib steak and braised bok choy. It all would have been more attractive if the sauce had coated its vegetables evenly!


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I’m sorry to say the dish was disappointing. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it mediocre, but the good-in-themselves components didn’t mesh in a way to enhance each other. The mushrooms were just mushrooms, the onions just onions. The sauce was all right, as long as you like sour cream, but it was just as pleasant on the steak and bok choy as on its own vegetables.

 

Another time I may well make the dish entirely without the sauce. I’d slice the mushrooms rather than leave them whole, double the quantity of onions, and maybe deglaze the pan with a bit of white wine just before serving. I bet it would be very good, done just that simply.

 

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A whole (or even half) ham is not something you choose lightly when cooking for a two-person household. But it’s spring, tulips and daffodils are blooming, and life in our city is opening up a little at last, allowing us to gather vaccinated friends around our dinner table: Just the occasion for a festive ham.
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I can’t even remember the last time I cooked a ham, but I knew I didn’t want to smother this one with sweet glazes or sticky tropical fruits. Rather, something more restrained, amenable to whatever excellent wine Tom would bring out for us from his collection. In Julia Child’s The Way to Cook I found the perfect recipe: Braised Whole Ham in Wine and Aromatic Vegetables. It’s quite a big deal, occupying a two-page spread in the book, and though it calls for a 14-pound bone-in whole ham, it turns out to be perfectly adaptable to a half ham.
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In fact, the half ham I ordered from our butcher weighed in at 12 pounds. They’re growing pigs mighty big these days! I had him slice off a thick ham steak, which left me with a hefty 10-pound hunk of meat.
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I set it on a rack in my biggest roasting pan and strewed the pan with sliced carrot, onion, and celery, black peppercorns, allspice berries, sage leaves, and bay leaves. The recipe gave several options for the wine, which was to be poured in next: dry white, French vermouth, or Port. By the rarest of coincidences, I happened to have 3/4 of a bottle of a pleasant dry white Port in the refrigerator. In it went.
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After adding about a pint of good broth, I covered the roasting pan and braised the ham for three hours at 325°, basting with the pan juices every half hour.

When the ham came out, the knife work began. Tom manned the cutting board and painstakingly trimmed off all the bits of rind, fat, and hard, tough, ragged pieces.
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Julia says it’s normal for the ham to look a mess after this step. I’m proud to say my ham was absolutely normal.
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All the above work was going on in the afternoon. Per the recipe, it should have been done much closer to dinner time, to be ready for its final metamorphosis in the oven. But, with all the rest of the meal to manage, a lot of it needing similar late-stage work, I took a risk that the ham would tolerate a lengthy pause at room temperature. (Which it did, thank goodness.)

Meanwhile, I strained the juices from the roasting pan, to be warmed and served in a gravy boat, and turned several slices of my homemade white bread into fresh crumbs. Later, but still before the guests arrived, I transferred the ham to a shallow roasting pan, brushed some of the juices all over the ham, and pressed the bread crumbs onto the entire surface. I must say, I was very dubious that the crumbs would adhere but, by golly, they did. That made the ham look much more civilized.
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As time for the main course finally approached, I drizzled some melted butter over the breadcrumbs and put the pan into a 500° oven, uncovered, for just 15 minutes – enough time to brown the crumbs and warm the ham. (Julia assured me the ham could even be served tepid, if desired.) Then it was ready to slice.
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I’d like to have shown you the ham and its accompaniments on a full dinner plate, but I got so absorbed by the conversation with the guests that I forgot to take any further photos. It was a wonderful ham: not at all heavily smoky, but rich with the essences of the braising ingredients. The light gravy was equally rich, with just a touch of fruitiness from the port.

To complete our pleasure, the ham and the wine Tom had chosen for it – a white 2017 St. Joseph from the Rhône – could have been born for each other. He is a great fan of Rhône whites, and here the earthiness and roundness of the St. Joseph, and the distinctively intense fruit of its southern French grapes, meshed perfectly with the meat sweetness and light smokiness of that ham. As Italian cooks would say, un buon abbinamento.

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It seems I’ll never learn to leave well enough alone. I essentially ruined a nice slab of beef short ribs this week, because I wanted to oven-roast them.
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Short ribs are wonderful for braising. Long, moist cooking makes them meltingly tender, the meat just falling off the bone. Why can’t I be content with that?

Well, I can truly say “the devil made me do it,” because the recipe that led me into temptation is called Deviled Short Ribs. I found it while browsing in the Beef and Veal volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series, where it’s credited to the American Cooking: Eastern Heartland volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series. Both sets of books have given me many excellent recipes.

I had to start early in the afternoon to make a marinade for the ribs: mixing minced onions and garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, Dijon mustard, salt and black pepper in a large bowl. That seemed a promising start.
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I cut my ribs into three pieces and turned them around in the marinade to coat thoroughly.
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I covered the bowl and left it on the kitchen counter for two hours, turning the ribs every 20 minutes to give all the surfaces good contact with the marinade. Then I transferred the ribs to a rack in a shallow roasting pan.
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The ribs were to roast at 400° oven for 20 minutes, then at 350° for another 1¼ hours, “or until the meat shows no resistance when pierced.” That was where my trouble began. Checking initially at one hour – just in case – I found the meat still very firm. After the next 15 minutes, it had softened only a bit. Another 15 minutes brought an improvement, but there was still resistance. The ribs were looking quite dark and somewhat shrunken. I was afraid they were drying out. A final, nervous 10 minutes, and out they came.
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The ribs were far from meltingly tender. Many outside bits were hard and dry. The thicker parts of the meat were chewable and even tasty, though the marinade hadn’t made any noticeable contribution to the flavor. And the abundant collagen layer that in short ribs holds the flesh to the bone – and that melts away in braises – remained as a tough skin that was hard to cut away from the meat.
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When we’d eaten what we could, there was much left to be discarded, alas. But, to look on the bright side, it all went into Tom’s soup scrap bag in the freezer, to ultimately join with other odds and ends of vegetables, meats, and bones in a big kettle of water and be cooked into excellent all-purpose broth.
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Maybe the devil likes his short ribs this way, but I won’t be inviting him to dinner any time soon. So I’ll just draw the curtain over this whole incident, listen to my better angel, and go back to braising for all the short ribs in my future.

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