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Archive for the ‘Main dishes’ Category

If you’re going to start a year with leftovers in your refrigerator, caviar is a mighty nice one to have. For some years, Tom’s and my Christmas gifts to each other have not been those that can be wrapped and put under the Tree to await the magical gift opening time. Mostly, we indulge ourselves collectively with special things to eat – like foie gras and caviar.

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Some of this good American transmontanus caviar was left over from our Christmas Eve indulgence. It would’ve been a sin to let it get stale. Months ago, I’d marked a recipe in Faith Willinger’s Red, White, and Green cookbook for Tuscan-style white beans and caviar. She calls it a terrific combination, declaring that beans are “a far better match for caviar than tasteless white bread toast,” and extra virgin olive oil is “a more sophisticated match than butter.” Really? Here was my chance to find out.

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The white beans I currently have in my pantry are alubia blanca, a small, delicate, creamy variety that I get from Rancho Gordo. I gave half a cup of them an overnight soak in cold water. By morning, they’d swelled to triple their bulk, as usual. Following the recipe, I drained them, put them in a pot with three cups of fresh cold water, and added a sage leaf, a piece of bay leaf, and a tiny clove of unpeeled garlic.

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As they came to a boil, I skimmed the white scum that arose, then covered the pot tightly, simmered it until the beans were tender – only about 40 minutes, because they were so fresh – and moved the pot to the back of the stove.

In the evening I reheated the beans, drained them and tossed them gently with salt, pepper, and a good extra virgin olive oil. There were more of them than we’d be able to eat for an antipasto course, but I knew the extras would keep. I distributed modest portions of beans on two small plates and topped them with all the remaining caviar – a couple of big tablespoons each. Tom opened a small bottle of champagne to go with them, as appropriate for caviar and a new year.
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The combination really was very good! I wouldn’t quite call it a far better match – the white bread I make is definitely not tasteless – but an interesting and different one. The beans and caviar set each other off very nicely, making an intriguing blend of homeliness and elegance. This is a dish that I can see gracing many future holiday meals.

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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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As chilly late-fall weather is settling in, I’m again looking forward to hefty, long-cooked, stick-to-the-ribs dishes. A recipe that I’ve been saving for just this season is a peasant dish of pork chops baked with cabbage, a specialty of France’s wild, mountainous Auvergne region and a preparation with some unusual aspects.

The recipe for Côtes de Porc à l’Auvergnate is in the Cooking of Provincial France volume of the venerable Time-Life Foods of the World series. Written by M.F.K. Fisher, with consultants Julia Child and Michael Field (how’s that for a culinary trinity?), it was one of my earliest cooking bibles.

The amount of cabbage called for seemed enormous: three pounds for four servings. Half a big head of Savoy cabbage was just enough for two portions. Chopped up, it looked like a bushel’s worth!
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I usually give Savoy minimal cooking to preserve its sweetness, but this cabbage had to get a lot of cooking. To begin, I boiled it for five minutes, then drained and sauteed it in butter with a little onion, garlic, salt, and pepper for another five.
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With the cabbage transferred to a bowl, I used the same pan to brown two big pork chops, in more butter and oil. These were quite a bit thicker than the recipe called for, but since there were two hours of oven cooking ahead, I hoped that wouldn’t be a problem.
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After removing the chops to a plate, I deglazed the pan with ¼ cup of white wine, cooked until it reduced by half, and poured the liquid into the bowl of cabbage. And here I did something wicked.

I was supposed to have discarded most of the fat in the pan before adding the wine. I did draw off the fats, but I couldn’t bear to lose all those good pork and butterfat flavors. Also, my cabbage had instantly absorbed the entire wine reduction, so I just stirred in all the excess fats as well. Cabbage loves fats.

Now I was ready to assemble the dish for baking. That needed a small, deep, heavy casserole. The procedure was to lay in one-third of the cabbage, then a chop, another third of the cabbage, the other chop, and then the last of the cabbage. I was sorry not to have had a still smaller casserole, because a lot of my cabbage went into the space around the chops, rather than making generous layers between them and over the top one.
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Next was to scald half a cup of heavy cream and pour it into the pot. Sweet cream and cabbage are a combination I’d never have thought of. Seemed bizarre, but I did it; then brought the pot to a simmer, covered it tightly, and put it in a 350° oven. It was to bake for 1½ hours, but because my chops were so thick, I gave it an extra 15 minutes. It was perfuming the kitchen with a rich, savory aroma.

And we weren’t done yet. The last stage was to sprinkle the top layer with a small mixture of dried bread crumbs and grated parmigiano, and return the pot to the oven, uncovered, for another half hour or until the top was crusty and browned. Again, after testing the chops with a fork for tenderness, I kept the pot in the oven for an extra 15 minutes.
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When I disentangled the meat from the cabbage, it was clear the two chops had had very different experiences in the oven, the one dark and crusted, the other pale and soft. My fault, I guess, since I couldn’t get the upper chop sufficiently covered with cabbage. But putting them on the cutting board allowed me to carve us each some of each chop.
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The cabbage, happily, hadn’t turned into a mass of mush. Though the cream had clotted into it a bit, it had absorbed all the good cooking flavors, to taste almost like a meat-sweet sauerkraut. The chops themselves were a bit disappointing. I just don’t have good luck with pork – it tightens up, no matter how I try to keep it moist and tender. The taste of the chops was fine, but their texture distinctly chewy.
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However, with the addition of little boiled German butterball potatoes, the dish made a satisfying peasanty sort of supper, with the lush, fragrant cabbage actually the star of the show.

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I normally don’t keep canned vegetables in my pantry. Fresh or frozen veg (and if the latter, frozen fresh by me) is what we eat. But my newest Indian cookbook, At Home with Madhur Jaffrey, which I’ve posted about here before, has some very interesting looking chickpea recipes that specifically call for canned chickpeas. I tried one this week.

In the book, Jaffrey says she’s made all her recipes simple and straightforward. And so they are, in the sense that there’s nothing difficult to do or components that are hard to find. But it’s Indian cooking, and that means a lot of ingredients. Here’s what it takes for two portions of her Chickpeas with Mushrooms:
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The spices in the back row are salt, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cayenne, turmeric, and cinnamon stick. In the middle, the chickpeas, part of an heirloom tomato, and cremini mushrooms. In front, fresh ginger, garlic, and shallot (my substitute for red onion).

Almost everything happens fast in Indian cooking, so the first thing I did was prep those ingredients and set them up on the stove next to the pan they’d be cooked in, in the order they had to be used.
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Everything then went very quickly. When the oil in the pan was hot, I put in the cinnamon stick and cumin seeds.
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They sizzled for just a few seconds before I added the onions.
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As soon as the onions started browning, I stirred in the ginger and garlic.
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Next, almost immediately, came the mushrooms, to cook for about five minutes.
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Semi-finally, I added the ground coriander, cumin, turmeric and cayenne; the tomatoes; and half a cup of water.
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At this point, I covered the pan, turned the heat to low, and cooked for 10 minutes. After that, the drained chickpeas finally entered the pan, along with another cup of water. I must say, these canned chickpeas were very plump and fresh-looking, with a mild, pleasant scent, not at all smelling of the can. They were as appealing as I’d expect if I’d boiled up good dried chickpeas of my own.
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When that fragrant mixture came to a simmer, I covered the pan again and cooked it gently for 15 minutes, stirring a few times, until the chickpeas were perfectly tender.
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Jaffrey says the dish can be served as a meal in itself, possibly rolled inside flatbreads, with or without a chutney or, alternatively, with chopped fresh tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. I felt there already was a bountiful supply of flavors in that pan, so I served the chickpeas just as they were, alongside plain baked spareribs.
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That was a good combination. The lively, spicy chickpeas and mushrooms played well against the sweet, succulent pork. No single spice was dominant: all had blended into a complex, pleasing flavor that was a recognizable hallmark of Indian cuisine. I’ll be trying more of Jaffrey’s chickpea recipes.

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I’m just back from 10 days in Rome. Much about the trip was lovely, some was stressful, but from the gastronomic viewpoint it was a pure delight. Tom and I ate wonderfully well at old favorite restaurants and a few new ones, mostly choosing traditional Roman specialties. I already long to taste those dishes again!

Our last dinner on the trip was at La Matricianella, an almost aggressively traditional Roman restaurant in the city’s historic center, which we’ve patronized with pleasure for more than a decade. This time, after a carciofo alla giudia (deep-fried artichoke) for me and two fiori fritti (batter-fried cheese-stuffed squash flowers) for Tom, we both ordered trippa alla romana: tripe Roman-style.

Here is a poor photo of my dish – the room’s lighting confounded my simple camera – but take my word, it was ambrosia. We thought it was the best trippa all romana we’d ever had.
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As soon as we began planning meals at home, I knew I wanted to try recreating that dish. I’d never made tripe in that style before, but there are recipes for it in every Roman cookbook. The main problem is, we can’t get the right kind of tripe here in the USA. We have only honeycomb – one of the four kinds of beef tripe used in the dish in Italy. All are just different enough in flavor and texture to make the true dish inimitable. Still, I’d do my best.

I picked up a pound of tripe from the butcher, and Tom cut it for me in bite-size chunks.

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For the cooking, I adapted steps from several cookbook recipes. First, I boiled the tripe in plain salted water until it was tender. That took all of three hours. Fortunately, I’d expected as much and had started very early. When the tripe was ready, I sauteed a mince of carrot, celery, and onion in olive oil for five minutes.
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I added the drained tripe, stirred it around in the pan, and poured on a quarter cup of red wine – which the tripe just sucked up immediately.
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Next came a cup of my own tomato sauce, preserved from the summer’s San Marzano tomatoes, salt, black pepper, and a pinch of ground clove. All that simmered, covered, for half an hour, to blend the flavors, and the dish was done.
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The pan sat at the back of the stove until I reheated it at dinner time. I served the tripe topped with freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese. (The cheese should have been mixed with chopped mentuccia, the special Roman mint, but I have only ordinary domestic mint, a flavor so different, I didn’t want to chance it.)
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So: This was a perfectly good plate of food. Tripe tender and flavorful, sauce very tasty too. Unquestionably pleasing for innard lovers. But overall, it didn’t rise to the character of true trippa alla Romana. It was a bit monotone from the single variety of tripe, and it lacked zing, somehow. Probably I should have added a peperoncino, that tiny dried red pepper that perks up so many Italian tomato sauces. But we still wouldn’t have had the Ur-Roman ambiance of La Matricianella.
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Image from matricianella.it

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Sigh. When will we ever get back to Rome again?

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Wild Boar Stew

For a special dinner recently, Tom placed an online order for foie gras from d’Artagnan, and then, on an impulse, he included a package of wild boar stew meat. I’ve only ever cooked boar a few times in my life, but I was game to try working it into the menu for his special dinner.

A truly wild boar, from which this meat was asserted to come, is a tough, muscular animal. It requires long cooking, traditionally preceded by long marination to break down the fibers and tenderize it. Evidently, all that marination actually does is enhance flavor, but I don’t see anything wrong with enhancing flavor, so I was willing to marinate my boar anyway.

Most recipes for boar are extremely complicated, but I found a relatively easy one for stufato di cinghiale, wild boar stew, in Wilma Pezzini’s Tuscan Cookbook. This modest book has produced consistently excellent results for me, so I happily adopted its approach. It called for two pounds of wild boar shoulder meat, which would be perfect for a dinner for four.

 

The marinade was a lively mixture of red wine, wine vinegar, cinnamon, cloves, salt, black pepper, and three fresh herbs: basil, sage, and thyme. The pieces of boar soaked in it for two days: in the refrigerator at night and on the kitchen counter during the day. I turned the pieces a few times, when I remembered to do so.

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When it was time to cook the stew – one day before the dinner party, because stews are always better the second day – I drained the meat, rinsed it in warm water, and dried each piece individually.
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Then came flouring, salting, and peppering the pieces before putting them in a casserole, where they browned in olive oil along with chopped garlic and fresh rosemary.

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I must admit they didn’t brown very much, having taken on a purplish hue from the marination. But the surfaces sealed, which was the point. Next, I added two skinned and chopped plum tomatoes, a cup of mixed broth, and half a cup of red wine, stirring well to deglaze the casserole.
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Covered, the stew simmered over low flame for an hour to start. At that point it had to receive another cup of broth and half cup of wine. I also added an ingredient not in the recipe: half a pound of small cremini mushrooms. It just seemed like a good idea. (It was.)
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After a second hour and part of a third, the boar had become nicely tender. I turned off the heat and left the pot on a windowsill, covered, for the rest of the day; then refrigerated it overnight. The next day, as dinner time approached, I slowly reheated the casserole – uncovered, to thicken the sauce.

The meat had turned a rich, warm golden brown, as had the gravy. And the stew was superb – mushrooms included. Luscious! Everything you could ask for in a dish of wild game. We at the table were very happy indeed.
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Here’s a little background about that special dinner. It arose because Tom needed a post for his blog about his October cellar selection wine, which was a 1989 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Émile, vendange tardive. The foie gras was ordered to match with that extraordinary late-harvest wine. Which it did, splendidly. You can read about it here.

It would have been a sin not to share that experience with other food and wine lovers, so we’d invited two good friends to dine with us. The rest of the dinner took shape around that match.

We had aperitifs in the living room, with champagne. The foie gras and a dab of fig compote, with the Riesling. The boar, with fresh egg noodles and roasted green beans, with a 2006 La Millière Châteauneuf du Pape. A cheese platter, with a 2004 Château Léoville Poyferré Saint-Julien. And for dessert (without wine), a silky panna cotta with a compote of fresh peaches.
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That was a dinner to remember! It’s too bad we have no more of that gorgeous old Riesling to serve as an excuse for another such indulgence.

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Chicken with peppers is a favorite dish of mine. I like to prepare it Roman-style, usually from my own recipe in La Tavola Italiana. This time I made a Piedmont-style version from Faith Willinger’s cookbook Red, White & Greens, which my friend Betty recently gave me. The recipe is very different from the Roman approach.

The difference is characteristically regional: southern Italian simplicity vs. northern Italian complexity. The Roman dish uses very few other ingredients: tomatoes, white wine, salt, and pepper. The Piedmontese dish calls for a bevy of additional items, including pork, aromatic vegetables, sweet spices, and vinegar. I was intrigued by the number of flavors, and also by some small procedural matters.

Willinger says the recipe is primarily used for rabbit but can be made with chicken to accommodate squeamish persons. She urges skinning the chicken, for rabbit-like leanness. I like rabbit, but Tom doesn’t (too many tiny bones). We don’t mind chicken skin, but I did skin my cut-up half chicken, just for appearance.
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Tom minced onion, celery, carrot, garlic, pancetta, and rosemary for me, which was to be cooked slowly in olive oil for 10 to 15 minutes. Normally I’d warm the oil in the pot and then add those ingredients. Willinger’s way is to put them in a cold pot, pour on the oil, stir it around, then turn on the heat. OK, I did that, and it worked all right.
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While the vegetables were softening, I salted and peppered the chicken pieces, tossed them with a little olive oil, and browned them lightly in a nonstick frying pan. Again, Willinger’s way was just the opposite of mine: I’d have heated the olive oil in the pan, then put in the chicken pieces. But again, I did it her way.
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Meanwhile, I assembled the next batch of ingredients: sliced peppers, chopped tomatoes, cinnamon, cloves, and ½ cup of red wine. Willinger suggested peeling the raw peppers, for digestibility, but we’ve never had any such trouble with peppers, so I didn’t.
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Next, the chicken and all those accompaniments were to be mixed in with the vegetables and the pot simmered, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes; with ¼ cup more wine added if necessary. There I felt I had to diverge from the instructions. Perhaps I’d taken too large a pot, but cooking it uncovered for that long would have reduced the liquid so fast, it’d have needed far more wine to keep the chicken from frying. I covered the pot. And that worked all right too.
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When the chicken was tender, I transferred the pieces to a serving dish to keep warm and stirred the final condiments into the peppers and sauce: a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. After five more minutes, I poured peppers and sauce over the chicken and served.
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This was a very good dish. All the varied seasonings had blended into a rich, mellow sauce with just a touch of sweet spice. The peppers had absorbed and basked in the flavor, which gave a nice balance to their natural acidity. The chicken, oddly, hadn’t. With all the time it had simmered in that sauce, the bird still tasted only of itself. A bit of a mystery there, but the peppers and sauce were so good, they overrode the plainness of the chicken. But next time maybe I’ll try a rabbit.

 

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Surprisingly, the stands at my Greenmarket last weekend were still offering corn on the cob. I couldn’t resist one final end-of-season batch, though the ears all looked a bit dry and weather-battered. I felt they needed something to liven them up, so I went on a recipe hunt in my cookbooks.

Not much luck at first. Even in American regional cookbooks, the recipes were for rather heavy puddings or fritters, and books of most other countries had none at all. Then I hit gold in an unexpected place. At Home with Madhur Jaffrey, my newest Indian cookbook, has “Corn with Aromatic Seasonings”: a stir-fry, billed as working well with most Indian meals and also Western-style roasted or grilled meats.
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Preparing the ingredients is always the most work in making Indian dishes. Three ears of corn, shucked, made two cups of kernels – just the right amount for half the recipe.

 

Here are all the measured aromatics. Clockwise from the top, a bay leaf, whole mustard seeds, chopped fresh ginger, chopped fresh jalapeño pepper, a piece of cinnamon stick, two whole cloves, and two cardamom pods.
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The actual cooking went like a breeze. I heated olive oil in a frying pan and tossed in the whole spices.
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In a few seconds, when the mustard seeds began to pop, I added the ginger and jalapeño.
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A few quick stirs, and in went the corn.
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After about two minutes, I added half a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of heavy cream.
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Then about three more minutes of stirring, until the corn had absorbed all the cream, and the dish was done. I served it alongside simply grilled pork spareribs.
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And very good the corn was. None of the individual spices dominated in it; all blended to make it a lightly piquant, full-flavored dinner vegetable. Jaffrey says the dish can be made with frozen corn too. It went very well alongside the spareribs, and I can see it working equally well with a steak. This dish could be starting a long career with us.

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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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This Burgundian recipe from Mireille Johnston’s The Cuisine of the Rose is whimsically titled in French “Le Steak,” as if there were only one kind. The English title is “T-bone Steak with a Mustard, Sherry and Cream Sauce.” Neither name acknowledges the coating of crushed black peppercorns, for which I’d have called it steak au poivre.

I made the dish to match with a beautiful Burgundy wine – a 2001 Bonneau du Martray Corton Grand Cru – that was Tom’s special cellar selection for September. Since the dinner would be just for the two of us, whose capacities are far below what they were in the days of our youth, I’d chosen a boneless strip steak, rather than a whole T-bone apiece. (How big are French steaks, anyway?)

I coated both sides of my steak with crushed Tellicherry peppercorns two hours in advance.

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The recipe’s cooking directions surprised me. I was to sear the meat quickly on both sides over high heat. Period. I’d expected to be told to lower the heat and continue cooking to the desired degree of doneness, but no: That steak had all it was going to get. Fortunately, we both like our steaks bloody rare.
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I put it on a platter in a warm oven to wait while I made the sauce. The ingredients for that were two tablespoons each of sherry, cream, and Dijon mustard. They had to be added to the “coagulated juices” in the frying pan one after the other, stirred “vigorously,” brought to a boil, and cooked for five minutes over lower heat. Not so easy. First, there were no coagulated juices – the steak hadn’t released any. Second, over that high heat, the sherry evaporated immediately, the cream boiled instantly, and the mustard thickened everything almost to a paste.

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To loosen the sauce, I had to add more cream and even a little broth that I had on the stove for another purpose. Even so, it was just about enough sauce to spread over the steak for serving.

Well, despite the peculiarities of the recipe, the steak and its sauce turned out very well. I served it with a gratin dauphinois and peas braised with butter and shallots.
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The beef was tender and flavorful, the peppercorns contributed spice as well as heat, the mustard’s bite was mellowed by the cream and sherry, and – best of all – the food and the wine were a marriage made in heaven.

See Tom’s blog for more about the lovely Corton.

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