December 30, 2009

As the year comes to a close I find myself indulging in taste memories, flipping through the card file in my mind, calling up my favorite flavors. It's an extremely satisfying way to remember the year.
First up, the glorious smush of chicken liver on toast that begins every smart meal at The Spotted Pig, Disgustingly ugly, insanely decadent, and a fine reminder of how good it is to be alive.
The kale salad at Osteria Mercato in Red Hook, perfect proof that not everything that tastes good is bad for you.
Enrica Rocca's seafood pasta. The secret is that the spaghetti is cooked right in among the seafood, absorbing the stock until the pasta itself becomes one with the shrimp, squid and clams. (This recipe, from Adventures with Ruth, is at gourmet.com.)
Peking Duck buns at Corner 28 in Flushing. Is there a better $1 snack anywhere in the world? I doubt it.
Fish and Chips at the King's Arms in Bath, England. The perfect collision of crackling crunch and smooth silky fish. Eating it with Dianne Wiest, who likes it even better than I do, doesn't hurt.
Nancy Silverton's hamburgers. Everything Nancy makes is wonderful, but her burgers are the best. Her secret? She grinds in extra beef fat so that they are juicy and filled with flavor.
The uni sandwich at El Quinto Pinto on 24th St. Crisp, buttered ficelle stuffed with the soft roe of sea urchins; need I say more?
Tuna with foie gras at Le Bernardin. When Eric Ripert hides a nugget of foie gras perched on a crisp slice of toast beneath a sheer sheet of bright raw tuna, the clash of textures and flavors is so intense that I gasp every time I encounter it.
The one tomato that survived this rainy summer in my garden. It may have been the most expensive tomato on earth, but it was worth it. The promise of a sunnier summer in every bite.
More later. Maybe. I am making myself very hungry…..

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Hoarfrost

December 26, 2009

Woke up yesterday to the most astonishing vision: Every tree was etched in a filigree of frost, delicate lines of white outlining every limb, every leaf. I’ve never seen anything like it before; up close it was as if some giant creature had waved a wand and flocked each tree with snow.

Nick and I went walking through the woods, following deer trails and looking around like two wide-eyed little children. The soft snow crunched deliciously beneath our feet. We came in breathless, red-cheeked, happy, built a fire and began to cook.

Does anything smell better than a really good prime rib, slowly roasting? It’s such a sensual smell, and as it began to fill up the house I iced a cake in billows of 7 minute frosting that looked just like snow, dusted it with freshly grated coconut, and began to braise celery root and apples.

A dozen of us sat down to dinner. Another year has passed, and we’re still together. We toasted the season and each other. It all felt very Dickens as we tucked into rare roast beef, baked potatoes, green beans with shallots, celery root puree and big puffs of Yorkshire pudding. I wonder if Tiny Tim ever tasted coconut cake?

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Best Bites of 2009

December 21, 2009

   Away for almost a month, eating only my own cooking, I find myself dreaming about the taste of New York. At odd moments the flavors of my favorite dishes come drifting into my mind.
    This morning I woke up to the taste of Marea’s sea urchin bruschetta, the rich golden roe encased in a glistening sheet of melting lardo. It is the single most indulgent dish I know.
     Right behind that came the memory of the first bite of a Gray’s Papaya hot dog, that snap when your teeth cut through the dog, the outside of the bun is still toasty, the onions still slightly warm.
How wonderful that would be with an Elio’s martini, so cold that a thin layer of ice floats across the top.
      Spaghetti neri at Esca, the only place i know that gets the balance of the squid ink, chiles and pasta exactly right.
      And now, suddenly, I must have the rice sticks with sausage and Chinese broccoli at Momofuku, a giant mouthful of heat and texture  And while I’m there, just a single bite of the slcik raw hamachi topped with its crisp salty crumbs.
        Caesar salad at Pearl, the most macho salad I know, all crunch and cheese, every bite dusted with garlic.
        Chiles with black beans at Grand Sichuan, pure fire when the chiles are right.
        The ridiculously wonderful $26 hamburger at Minetta Lane.
        A rare Porterhouse at Peter Luger.
        Uni chawan mushi at Sushi Zen.
        Pollo alla Diavolo at Lupa.
       I think it is time to make myself breakfast.  This morning: leftover pureed watercress topped with a poached egg, sprinkled with grated parmesan and a dash of Sriracha. Just the thing to celerate the shortest day of the year. Tomorrow, the days grow longer!
       
      
   
    

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Emergency Crostata

December 20, 2009

There was a foot and a half of snow in the city, but up here on the mountain the storm went right around us, and people kept showing up all day. I just kept cooking.

I began by putting a ham in the oven, letting it cook very slowly while I made applesauce from the last of the Knobbed Russets – they do make the most wonderful sauce.  A luxuriously cheesy Gratin Dauphinoise was as much cream as potatoes; the secret is to slice the potatoes, cook them in cream on top of the stove, and then dump them into a casserole and bake it  the oven.  It’s the most forgiving dish I know. I pureed watercress, and took the leaves off Brussels Sprouts and quickly sauteed them in butter, adding a few toasted pinenuts at the end. 

It was all delicious, but the piece de resistence turned out to be the Cranberry Crostata.  It’s a recipe of Gina’s, but I’ve made it so often now that I’ve ended up making it my own. I generally double the crust recipe and put half in the freeze; you never know when you’ll need an emergency crostata.
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Here’s my recipe:

11/2 sticks butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
2/4 cup toasted almonds, ground
grated rind of one lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla
drop of almond extract
pinch of salt
2 cups flour

Beat the butter with the sugar in a stand mixer until light.  Add egg, then remaining ingredients.
Form into two disks, wrap in wax paper and chill for 30 minutes (or more).

1 package raw cranberries
juice of one orange
1/2 cup apricot preserves
1/2 cup sugar

Cook cranberries, juice, jam and sugar at high heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes.  Cool.

Roll out one disk of dough into a 12 inch circle. Don’t worry too much about this step; it will tear, and you can just press it into a 9″ springform pan, bringing the sides up about 1/2 an inch.  Put cranberry filling into crust.  Roll out remaining disk and cut into 8-12 strips, forming a lattice over the crust. Again, they will be soft, but don’t worry.  You can patch them together.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 45 minutes, until golden. 

Cool on a rack, removing the sides of the springform pan.
(I like it even better on the second day. )

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What we ate last night…

December 12, 2009

  Raucous party: a dozen adults and 5 little kids who spent the entire evening chasing from one end of the house to the other. Loved the noise and the action. And the fact that it was a really easy dinner that tasted terrific.  Here’s what we ate.
 
   To Begin:
    Bacon-Cheddar Toasts – a glorious smoosh of chopped bacon, Montgomery, onions and horseradish, slathered onto thinly sliced white bread and baked in a hot oven until it’s melted into a crusty jumble.
    Chicken liver mousse
    Tomato-Red Pepper Dip with vegetables – an easy take on muhammara made with bottled sun-dried tomatoes, red peppers, toasted walnuts, olive oil, vinegar and pomegranate syrup.
     Guacamole (avocados were ripe and cheap at the store)

     Main Course:
     Pork loin, stuffed with cognac-soaked prunes and braised in white wines with onions. The meat stays moist, and the onion, wine and prunes turn into a sweetly seductive sauce.
     Pommes Dauphinoises – Jacques Pepin’s recipe is one of my go-to dishes.  First you boil sliced potatoes in milk and cream, then you bake the whole thing with cheese until it’s dissolved into a rich potato pudding.
      Sauteed Brussels sprouts. (The oven was full. And I love sprouts when they’re julienned and quickly cooked.  Although I have to admit that I overcooked them.)

     And Finally…..
     Raspberry crumble tart
     Blueberry pie.
     Vanilla ice cream

     We drank a lot of delicious wines.  My favorites were a 2005 Chateau Lagrange and an extraordinary 2006 Raven from Sine Qua Non.
    

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