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Archive for the ‘Main dishes’ Category

There were Maine shrimp in my fish market last week! They’d been gone for three years, since commercial shrimp fishing in the Gulf of Maine was closed down after a disastrous 2013 season. The moratorium is still in effect, but thanks to an increase in the amounts shrimpers may take for scientific sampling purposes – and then sell – this year, small quantities of these delicious little critters are getting to our area. Hooray!
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maine-shrimp-in-shell

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These bright red shrimps are really tiny. That’s half a pound of them, raw in their shells. Most often I just drop them in boiling water for one minute, then cool, shell, chill, and serve them with a homemade cocktail sauce. They make a lovely shrimp cocktail. This time I was going to use them in a pasta dish, so I shelled them raw. Stripped of their long heads, shells, tails, legs, feelers, and roe, they came to a mere 3½ ounces. Wish I’d bought more!
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maine-shrimp-shelled

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Even though the shrimps were going to combine with pasta, I wanted to keep everything simple: Maine shrimps should shine through their accompaniments. So I chose for the sauce of my pasta dish a basic agli’e olio (It’s not spelled that way, I know; but in this Neapolitan-American household, it’s pronounced that way), the making of which is Beloved Spouse’s specialty. So while our spaghetti was cooking, he minced some cloves of garlic, seethed them in olive oil without allowing them to color, and tossed in chopped parsley, salt, and a pinch of crushed red pepper.
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aglie-olio

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Moments before the spaghetti was done we added the shrimp to the saucepan and stirred them around until they just lost their translucence, about two minutes. All that remained to be done was drain the pasta, put it in bowls, and dress it with the shrimp and sauce.
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pasta-and-shrimp

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So simple, and so scrumptious! Delicate as Maine shrimp are, their sweetness and succulence contribute immensely to any dish they’re invited into. I hope there’ll be enough of them for me to invite into several more meals this winter, before their very short season is over.

For my next batch I’m thinking I might want to see how Maine shrimp would handle the spicy sauce of Galatoire’s Shrimp Remoulade. And if that works, maybe try giving Galatoire’s Crabmeat Maison a Yankee twist by substituting Maine shrimp for crab. If there’s time enough, we shall see.

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For most of my adult life I had zero interest in cooking kidneys. I enjoyed them at good French restaurants, but whenever I’d tried them at home, their urinary undertones were too distressing. Then, a few years ago I found a recipe with a technique that it claimed would solve that problem – and it did! Ever since, I’ve enjoyed an occasional dish of that recipe’s kidneys in mustard sauce.

olney-menusWith the most recent veal kidney from my butcher shop, I thought it was time to try a different approach. In Richard Olney’s The French Menu Cookbook I found a recipe that uses the same “kidney cleansing” technique. Olney’s simple Sautéed Veal Kidneys with Mushrooms is fairly similar to my previous recipe; its main differences are using cognac instead of calvados, omitting mustard from the sauce, and including mushrooms.

The hardest thing about any kidney dish is preparing the kidney itself. Unlike small, smooth, round lambs’ kidneys (delicious but very hard to find locally), a veal kidney is an agglomeration of soft meat lumps held together with a complicated internal chunk of fat and tubes. Beloved Spouse did his usual heroic job of reducing this one to manageable segments.
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horizontal-kidney

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For the cleansing technique, I melted butter in a pan; tossed the salted and peppered kidney pieces in it over high heat very briefly – just until they turned grayish on the outside; and set them up in a strainer, where they gently exuded the reddish-yellowish liquid that carries the uriny taste.
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draining

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The next thing to work on for the recipe was the mushrooms. Coincidentally, I’d just bought a small batch of fresh chanterelles, which I thought should be very compatible with the kidneys and sauce.
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few-chanterelles

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I cleaned, sliced, and sautéed them in the butter remaining in the pan, then set them aside and did the same with minced shallots. When those had softened a bit I deglazed the pan with cognac, white wine, and a little very concentrated homemade broth. The recipe doesn’t call for broth, but I did it because in the headnote Olney remarks that, among professional chefs, “meat glaze usually lends additional body and intensity to the sauce.” Sounded good to me.

At that point I returned the chanterelles to the pan, stirred in heavy cream, and cooked gently until the sauce had reduced and thickened somewhat. Then I was able to set it all aside until dinner time.
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chanterelles

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When dinner was nearly ready I folded the kidneys into the mushrooms and sauce, warmed everything through, being careful not to let the sauce boil, and served.
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kidneys-served

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It was marvelous. Everything blended beautifully, the kidneys were delicately flavorful, and the chanterelles truly loved the sauce. In fact, they were almost tastier than the kidneys. An accompaniment of small boiled potatoes and white asparagus completed a highly satisfying dish.

I know innards aren’t everyone’s first love, but properly prepared they aren’t overpowering. They have gentle flavors, different from those of the familiar muscle meats – and for me, at least, a change is always welcome. I love prime rib, but I don’t want it all the time. Kidneys, liver, brains, sweetbreads: They all have something different to contribute to the kind of diet we’re fortunate enough to be able to enjoy.

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A place in my neighborhood, billed as the only 100% Paleo restaurant in the city, puts a chalkboard on the sidewalk listing daily specials. I love to walk by and envision a Neanderthal family sitting in their cave breakfasting on something like No-Yo Matcha Parfait: coconut milk, maple syrup, taro root, almond butter, matcha, banana, and grain-free granola. Where in the world could a group of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers have collected that combination of foodstuffs?!

Such absurdities make it impossible for me to take the Paleo diet seriously. While I’m quite happy to eat meat, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, there’s no way I’d give up all dairy products, grains, bread, pasta, sugar, salt, and coffee. (Not to mention wine.) But leaving aside the pros, cons, and controversies of the Paleo approach, it can be fun on occasion to eat something “primordial” – and there’s nothing more primordial than roasted marrow bones.

Here’s the batch that we had one recent evening:

raw-bones

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They’re perfectly easy to prepare: Place the bones in a roasting pan with the wider side of the marrow openings up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put the pan in a 450° oven until the marrow softens and begins to ooze out – about 15 minutes. Serve. Except for the salt and pepper, any Paleolithic cook could have done it.

roasted-bones

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It’s hard to overstate how elementally satisfying the succulence of marrow is at the end of a grey, cold, winter day. However, I destroyed the Paleo purity of the dish by having a loaf of crusty ciabatta bread as its accompaniment.

bread-loaf

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There’s nothing roasted marrow likes better than to be scooped out and spread on a slice of warm toast, there to be blissfully devoured.
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plate-of-bones

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And one more post-Paleolithic touch: Marrow loves a good, soft, round red wine. So do I.

bone-tower

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Beloved Spouse was in Italy this past week for a wine writers’ event, so I was making dinners for one. For these occasions I tend to feed myself things that I like much better than he does – which helps keep both sides of the family happy.

This time I had a new recipe that would be perfect for such a meal: Lentil Salad fabrizia-lanzawith Mint and Orange Zest, from Fabrizia Lanza’s Coming Home to Sicily, which I remembered as a dish my friend Hope served at a dinner some months ago, and which I liked very much. However, since Beloved Spouse regards most salads with a distinct lack of enthusiasm, I hadn’t yet found an opportunity to make it at home. But now, for myself alone, I had my double–0 designation!

For six servings, the recipe calls for two cups of green – but not Le Puy – lentils. I had to do some online research to be certain of the kind I needed here. That was a variety known as Laired green lentils – which, as you can see here, are not very green at all.

package

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But they were the right kind, and apparently their color can vary quite a bit. For the half recipe I intended to make, I picked over one cup’s worth of them.
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laired-lentils

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I rinsed them, put them in a pot with two cups of water, and simmered them covered until they were tender. When they had cooled, I found they had quadrupled in volume, yielding far more than my lone self wanted to deal with. So I put half of the half recipe’s worth of lentils in the refrigerator for another use and dressed the rest with a quarter of the recipe’s condiment quantities.

The first one of those was fresh mint. For the whole recipe, that was to be the leaves from “a large bunch” of the herb. I had no idea what a Sicilian cook would consider a large bunch. I do wish recipe writers would give measured amounts of their ingredients! I bought the 25-gram package that was what my local market offered.

mint

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I chopped up about 3 tablespoons of leaves and mixed them into the 2 cups of lentils. The quantity looked about right in comparison to the book’s photo of the dish. (I should know by now not to trust food photography!) I also added a teaspoon of grated orange zest, ½ teaspoon of dried oregano, 1½ teaspoons of olive oil, 1½ teaspoons of lemon juice, and a generous sprinkling of sea salt.
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lentil-salad

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I’d dressed the salad in mid-afternoon, so the flavors would have time to blend, leaving it at room temperature. Come dinnertime, I served myself a meal that, while it looked appealing to me, would have brought no cheer to the man who normally sits across from me at the dinner table: broiled chicken thighs, plain broccoli rape (neither of which he likes much), and the lentil salad.
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dinner-plate

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Quickly I became glad he wasn’t sitting across from me that evening, because the salad was a big disappointment. The mint presence was much too strong, and I couldn’t detect the orange peel and oregano at all. I tried fishing out the visible bits of leaf, but the flavor had permeated the lentils. I don’t know what kind of mint this was; the package label didn’t say. But it was extremely sweet and pungent, as if the lentils had been dressed with melted peppermint candies.

Puzzled by why my dish turned so much less pleasing than Hope’s, I asked her what kind of mint she’d used. Lo and behold, her salad had not been from Lanza’s recipe! Yes, we’d discussed the book that evening, but her lentil salad came from Made in Spain by José Andrés. At the time I hadn’t asked what recipe she’d used, so when I much later found the one in Lanza’s book, I just made the assumption.

Subsequently, I looked up the Andrés recipe on the Web. Aside from the lentils themselves, there isn’t a single ingredient in common between the two recipes. The Spanish one contains shallots, chives, garlic, bay leaves, green and red peppers, and sherry vinegar – all things I like a lot more than I like mint. I may have found my use for those other two cups of cooked lentils.

So we live and learn. Or not.

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A few days ago, Beloved Spouse and I went shopping for fish for that night’s dinner. With two excellent fish markets nearby, we have many good choices. This day, his eye fell on a display of fresh smelts. He loves them, knows that I don’t, and heroically offered to bypass them. But smelts only appear here occasionally in winter, and this was He Who Must Be Indulged (at least, sometimes). I insisted that we buy them.

smelt-school

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He was content to have the little fishes simply batter-fried, and perfectly willing to do the slightly messy work of heading and gutting them. For my part I dug out the recipe for fish-and-chips batter in the Cooking of the British Isles volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series. This is a fairly elaborate batter, which I chose because it makes a thick but light, stick-to-it-ive coating.

We needed only half a recipe’s worth for our small school of swimmers, so the first thing I had to do was separate out half an egg yolk and half an egg white. The half yolk got mixed into half a cup of flour, along with a tablespoon of milk (it should’ve been beer, but we didn’t have any in the house) and a pinch of salt.

That produced a dense globular mass. Next I was to “stir” into it 1½ tablespoons of milk and the same amount of water and keep stirring until the batter was smooth. No way: I had to whomp it with a whisk and loosen it with additional milk and water, but it finally smoothed. Then I beat my half egg white into stiff peaks and folded it into the batter. It rested on the kitchen counter for a couple of hours.
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three-batters

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At dinnertime the two of us worked together. I dunked the smelts in the batter

dipping

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and he managed the frying, in small batches.

frying

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The batter clung nicely. It made a thin crunchy crust with a gently cushioned interior.
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served

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Even I, the non-smelt-fancier, enjoyed picking up the little beasts by the tail and biting my way into them. You truly can’t notice the bones! Beloved Spouse, who ate 8 to my 5, was in a state of bliss. Here’s what he has to say about the meal:
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I plain and simple loved it. Here in New York, smelts are a strictly seasonal treat, usually coming onto the market in late December and hanging around until early February at the latest, so we have to grab ‘em whenever they appear. Most of them, I gather, are caught in fresh water as they come in from the oceans to spawn, and I’m told that in California smeltophiles can take them from the beaches with hand nets during their run. Californians have all the luck! Smelts are always tasty little devils, with a slightly fishy flavor that falls on the scale as strong for a freshwater fish and mild for a saltwater species. Frying, whether deep or shallow, seems to be the fate they’re born for. Many people insist on drinking beer with smelts, but ours were very happy – as were we – with a Paumanok Vineyards Minimalist Chenin Blanc, which turned a simple fish fry into an elegant dinner.
                                                                            – TM, a.k.a. BS, a.k.a. HWMBI

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No, I don’t mean the goose from last year’s Christmas – only the one from three days ago. But cooking it so traumatized me that I swear it’s the last goose I’m ever going to make. Let me tell you about it.

There are many opinions on how to roast a goose, all meant to confront the problem of the truly enormous amount of fat a goose has under its skin. This is a plus in one sense, because the fat makes a splendid cooking medium for many other foods (not least potatoes). But separating that fat from its native bird is a serious undertaking.

Some recipes say to start with a very hot oven for a while, then turn it down to low heat. Others say use only the high heat, while still others say only the low heat. How to choose? I’d only ever roasted one goose before in my life, some way to cookyears ago, and I can’t remember how I did it or how it turned out. This time I decided to rely on the ever-trustworthy Julia Child. In The Way to Cook, she has a recipe called Steam-Roasted Goose, which she says renders out the most fat and gives the most succulent flesh of any technique she’s tried. I can’t say she’s wrong, but what a production number it was!

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Beloved Spouse and I started working on our 11-pound goose a whole day in advance, since there was a lot of other cooking to be done for our 5-course Christmas Day dinner. I cut off the wing tips and added them to the giblets and neck to make stock for the eventual gravy. I pulled all the loose fat out of the bird’s cavity and rubbed it all over with lemon juice. I pushed two long skewers through the body, one to secure the wings and the other the legs. I tied the drumstick ends together against the tail. And I made shallow, angled stabs all over the fatty parts of the skin.

trussed-bird

Thus trussed, the goose went onto a rack in my biggest roasting pan, into which it just barely (whew!) fit.

close-fit

I poured in two inches of water, covered the pan tightly, and steamed the goose for an hour, checking several times on the water level. The goose rendered quite a lot of liquid, much of which was fat. It also stiffened and tried to stretch, but the skewers and string held fairly well. After the pot had cooled I lifted out the goose on its rack, poured off the liquid, rinsed the pan, and returned the goose to it. That was all the cooking it got that day.

steamed

There was no room for that big roasting pan in my refrigerator, so I turned off the heat in my study, opened both windows wide, closed the door, and left the covered pan there, hoping for a good cold night.

The next day the goose was fine. In the late afternoon I unskewered its legs to access its cavity and put in a stuffing. Rather than Julia’s suggested stuffings I made my own, softening onions and mushrooms in a lot of melted butter and squeezing them into a bowl of shredded bread, along with salt, pepper, and chopped pecans. Then I sewed up the vent and neck cavities and re-skewered the legs.

Back into the roasting pan the goose went, breast down, its rack lined with a double layer of foil. I strewed chopped carrots, onions, and celery around the pan, and poured in a few cups of the goose’s steaming liquid.

ready-to-braise

I covered the pan again, brought its liquid to a boil on top of the stove, and put the pan in a 325° oven for 1½ hours, basting every 20 minutes. By this time the dinner party was under way, with other cooking and serving tasks interleaving in the usual hectic manner. And there was still one more cooking stage for the goose: 30 minutes in the oven, uncovered and breast up, after which it had to be kept warm while its gravy was made.

Turning the goose breast-up was the fiendish step. How do you turn over 11 pounds of hot, wet, slippery, legs-jutting-out bird that’s lying in a deep roasting pan? I don’t know how Julia did it, but we could think of only one way: I gave Beloved Spouse my two heavy oven mitts and held down the foil and the rack while he heroically lifted the goose out and turned it over, without causing either of us third-degree burns or precipitating the bird onto the kitchen floor.

I can’t show you a photo of that action because we were both too fully occupied to take one, but here’s the finished bird ready to be carved. It’s quite ungainly looking. I could only get a quick snapshot, because the dinner guests and the scalloped potatoes, red cabbage, applesauce, rolls, and gravy were waiting.

done

It was indeed a very tasty goose, though the skin hadn’t really crisped. But, in our somewhat rattled state by then, both Beloved Spouse and I completely forgot about the stuffing. We never took it out of the goose, so nobody ate it. Too bad, because it was probably pretty good. We’ll find out when we can work up our courage to tackle the leftovers.

Despite all the Sturm und Drang, I call the evening a success, but I never want to have another like it! Cooking a goose that way almost cooked my goose: It just takes too much time and energy in the context of all the other components of a major holiday meal. Next Christmas maybe just a simple standing rib roast of beef. Beloved Spouse says “Yes, please!”

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A few times a year, I get an urge to try cooking pork tenderloin. This is strange, because in the past I’ve hardly ever achieved a successful dish with that cut of meat. I don’t know why; I’ve just assumed it was “not in my skill set,” as a work colleague of mine once said when he was asked to take on a task. But I keep trying, and this time I think I succeeded.

1000 Italian RecipesThe recipe I used was Balsamic-Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Arugula and Parmigiano, from Michele Sciolone’s 1,000 Italian Recipes. I liked the look of it because it had enough other flavorings to be attractive but not so many as to turn the dish into a big production number. And it was extremely easy to prepare.

condimentsThe main – almost the only – effort it took was to stir together a glaze of minced garlic, balsamic vinegar, honey, salt, and black pepper, a combination of tastes that promised interesting results. I happened to have some very fine balsamic and a jar of good acacia honey to use for that.
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I laid the tenderloin in a snug baking dish, brushed the glaze over it, and roasted it in a very hot oven, pouring a little water into the dish after the first 15 minutes. The pork was ready after 20 more minutes, without any basting.
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tenderloin-cooked

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While the tenderloin rested in its pan for 10 more minutes, I tossed a bunch of baby arugula with a balsamic vinaigrette. Then I placed the meat on a platter for slicing, drizzled the pan juices over it, spread the arugula around it, and sprinkled grated parmigiano over the salad.

tenderloin-served

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(Actually, the recipe calls for making cheese shavings with a vegetable peeler, but I didn’t have a chunk of parmigiano available. The grated cheese was fine.)

The result was the excellent medley of flavors I’d hoped for. The meat was only gently imbued with the glaze, but it had created a very nice, light pan sauce. I love arugula even just plain, and dressed as it was here, it made a sparkling foil for the sweet, succulent pork.

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