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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Britishish Brunchishness

So, this month's book (okay, we don't read a book every month, but humor me) was Atonement by Ian McEwan. I thought a British book called for a British menu, so decided on:
Ginger-Hazelnut Scones with Crème Fraîche, Rhubarb-Ginger Jam and Fresh Strawberries
Salmon-Wrapped Poached Eggs with Avocado, Asparagus and Lemon-Chive Sour Cream Sauce
Rhubarb Custard Pie à la Mode

Preparations began on Friday with all the rhubarb stuff. I used a recipe for Rhubarb-Ginger Jam that I got from Adriana last year, but this time I decided not to add water (as called for in the original recipe) and see how it turned out. So, chop about 2 lbs of rhubarb and mix in a non-reactive pan with 2 C sugar. Then (here's where I deviated), let the mixture sit for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. This draws the juices out of the rhubarb, so it can cook without adding additional water. Here is what mine looked like after about three hours:

Then add about 3 oz. fresh ginger root, peeled and cut into pieces that will be easy to find and fish out later (ie., not too small). 3 oz. ginger is more than it sounds like--not just a thumb or a couple of fingers, but pretty much a whole hand. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb has softened. Then scoop or strain out the rhubarb, and simmer just the liquid and the ginger until it's thick and syrupy. Toss the ginger, stir the rhubarb back in, and then put in jars. I used two pint jars, made sure the rims were clean, screwed the lids on tightly, then turned upside down. When they were cool, I put them in the fridge, and they seem to have sealed. The acidity of the rhubarb plus the sugar should mean it'll be good as long as it's around.

Then I baked the pie, the crust for which I had mixed up earlier in the day. I used a recipe that appeared in this week's Oregonian FoodDay. My only note on this recipe is that 3 lbs is more than enough rhubarb, even for a 9-inch deep pie dish. Next time I won't use more than 2.5 lbs. Before going to bed, I set the table with linen and lace I got from my grandmother, and our nicest china and goblets.

Saturday morning dawned bright and early, after an odd dream (aren't they all?) in which MWR was a grower of organic red onions, and we met Portland chef Leather Storrs (great name, eh?--he was interested in the onions), and he looked like Jeff Spicoli. I cut some black tulips from the garden for a centerpiece, then headed out for the last of the provisions: asparagus, strawberries, smoked salmon, brioches, fresh eggs. Then I came home and whipped up the scones. I've tried lots of scone recipes, but not since I tried the one for Dorset Scones in Sheila Lukins's Around the World Cookbook. Here's how I made them yesterday:
2 C flour
1 T baking powder
3 T sugar
1/2 t salt
1/2 C chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 large egg
a little less than 1/2 C milk
1/3 C chopped crystallized ginger (I use ginger chips from the Ginger People)
1/3 C diced roasted hazelnuts

1. Put dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, salt) in food processor and pulse briefly to combine. Add the butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal.

2. Break egg into a Pyrex measuring cup and whisk lightly. Add milk to just over the 1/2 C mark, and whisk lightly to blend. Pour all but 1-2 T over the flour/butter mixture and process until the dough is just starting to come together. DO NOT process until dough comes all the way together and makes a ball going around the food processor bowl.

3. Dump dough into a medium-sized bowl, add ginger and hazelnuts and blend quickly with your hand. Make into one large 1/2-3/4" thick disk for big scones, two disks for mini ones. Use a bench scraper to cut each disk into 8 wedges, and place on a parchment-lined insulated (this is important if you don't want scorched bottoms) baking sheet. If you have time, chill shaped scones on baking sheet, 15 minutes-overnight (I was in a hurry yesterday and skipped this, and they turned out fine, but I did start with very cold butter and I didn't overwork the dough).

4. Preheat oven to 450. Brush tops of scones with reserved egg-milk mixture, sprinkle with sugar, and bake 10-15 minutes, until tops are lightly colored. Cool a few minutes on wire rack before serving.

Here you can see the table setting during the first course, including the black tulips just visible at the top of the frame. My friends pointed out that the lace placemats echoed nicely the filigree of the Lane Twitchell prints (Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters) hanging in my dining room.

For the main course, we had Salmon-Wrapped Poached Eggs from The Gourmet Cookbook. I am not normally a fan of either poached eggs or smoked salmon, but this recipe won me over. The only thing you really need the recipe for is the sauce, a lemon-chive-sour cream sauce instead of the more traditional hollandaise. It was easy to make, didn't risk breaking, and was delicious.

1/2 C sour cream
2 t fresh lemon juice
1/4 C olive oil
1 T finely chopped fresh chives [another good one to grow, dear readers!]
1 1/2 t chopped fresh tarragon [I skipped this because I don't particularly like tarragon, but in hindsight I wish I'd added some of the fresh dill I had in the fridge]
1/2 t kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together sour cream and lemon juice, then add oil in a slow stream, whisking until blended. Stir in herbs, salt and pepper.

For the rest, slice individual brioches into 1/2-3/4" slices, and toast lightly then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with a little sorrel or arugula [I skipped this, but I think watercress or baby spinach would work great, too], then thinly sliced red onion [I skipped this, too, because I forgot to pick one up at the market, but all tasters agreed it would have been great], and sliced avocado [do NOT skip this--it really made the dish]. [I put a few spears of blanched asparagus next to the toasts, but I would probably skip this next time--the flavors just didn't go as well as everything else.] Then poach the eggs, season with salt and pepper, wrap with thinly-sliced smoked salmon [I used lox and it tasted great], and put them on the toasts. Drizzle sauce over all and serve, sprinkling with a few more finely chopped fresh chives [or dill!] if desired.

I seem always to forget to take pictures before things are half-eaten, but this kind of gives you the idea.

And the bottom picture is the pie after we were done with it. I served it with Tillamook Vanilla Bean ice cream, which was perfect. I think the juices wouldn't have run so much if I hadn't reheated the pie in the morning. If I decide to make this pie for a brunch again, I may try assembling it the night before and leaving it in the fridge, and baking the next morning. Then I can serve it warm without reheating.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Um, really?

Was listening to public radio the other day on the way to pick up Number One from school, and the BBC newsreader at the beginning of The World pronounced Beethoven beeth-oven, just as it's written (instead of bait-oh-ven). I kid you not. Is this some kind of weird alternate British pronunciation?

Then, today the sub host of Fresh Air, introducing a movie review of the new Alain Resnais film, pronounced the director's first name Elaine (well, not eee-laine, but uh-laine, anyway). Wow. If Alain Delon accomplished nothing else in his movie career, I thought at least he might have helped spread an at-least-approximate pronunciation of this name. I don't expect total fidelity to the français, but at least say uh-LAN. Am I crazy?


Mmmmm, pastries

So I popped into St. Honoré Boulangerie today, to see if they would have brioches available tomorrow when I need them for my book group brunch (stay tuned for recipes!), and I did happen to notice that they had small sort-of-individual (ie., one person could eat one, but probably wouldn't feel good about themselves afterward) St. Honoré cakes. So, Swizzies, please, please, pleeeeeeeeeeeze come visit me, and I will make sure we get one every day.

They probably won't have the brioches by when I need them tomorrow (darn!), but that didn't keep me from buying a pain au chocolat and a mille feuilles for my afternoon snack (I did share the pain au chocolat with Number Two). My question is, Is it ever possible to eat a mille feuilles without the custard gooshing out the sides? Seriously, because that reminded me why I very rarely buy them (usually opting for éclairs, with their more-easily-contained pastry cream).

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Portland, Glorious Portland

It's been quite the week here in my hometown. The Food Network named it "Delicious Destination of the Year," and it was featured in the New York Times travel section (thanks to MWR for this link). That article missed some of my favorite spots, but did give a shoutout to one of my fave neighborhood joints (a mere 10 blocks from my house), the Saint Honoré Boulangerie. Way to go, town!

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Et tu, New Yorker?

I hate seeing a booboo in this magazine, because it's usually so well copy-edited. But today I was reading a Talk of the Town piece about Zimbabwe, and they mentioned how an opposition leader had been injured, and had received a severe laceration to his skull. Is this some everyday usage I'm not aware of? Did my early inclinations toward medicine as a career forever make me unable to deal with this kind of inexactitude? Wouldn't it have been better and more colloquial to say he'd received a laceration to his head? And better and more exact to say he's received a laceration to his scalp? Is it just me?


Monday, April 16, 2007

Sesame Street Makes My Day

Grover, imagining himself as a crow being scared by a scarecrow, saying he "will return nevermore, nevermore, nevermore."

Sesame Street always and ever gets a free pass in our household--can you see why?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Oink Oink

Mavis had a birthday this week, and requested something piggish for dinner. I told him to check in the basement freezer, and from the available options, he chose a pork loin roast (other alternatives were a Boston butt, chorizo and andouille sausages). I then gave him the option of herb-crusted or maple-glazed, and he opted for the herbs, with a side of polenta and peas.

No pictures, sorry--the camera batteries were dead and I was disinclined at that moment to fetch more. Besides, it tasted better than it looked.

I used a recipe from the March-April 2007 Cook's, deviating slightly, which in retrospect I wouldn't recommend. Well, I also deviated in not brining the meat, which I don't regret in the slightest. I get my pork from a guy who raises heirloom pigs, and this roast was heavily marbled and not in the least lacking in moisture or flavor. Where I shouldn't have deviated was in trying to take a shortcut in making the crumb mixture for the top of the roast, which shortcut resulted in a kind of bread paste instead of a crumb coating. Tant pis.

Anyway, you make a crumb coating with about 1/2 C bread crumbs, a minced shallot, a couple tablespoons of grated parmesan, salt and pepper and about a tablespoon of olive oil. You also make an herb paste with a couple cloves of garlic, about half a bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, one sprig's-worth minced rosemary, about ten sprig's-worth minced thyme, 6 T grated parmesan, 3 T olive oil and salt and pepper. You butterfly the roast (I used a boneless blade-end loin roast, as specified in the recipe, though the proportions on mine were different than the one pictured in the article), and spread about 3/4 of the herb paste inside. Tie it with a few pieces of string, then brown all over in hot oil. Then the recipe says to remove the strings (which I don't think I would do again--it kind of flopped apart in the oven as it cooked), spread the rest of the herbs on top and cover with the bread crumb mixture, then roast at 325 until the thickest part measures 145.

It was delicious, and a side bonus was that I figured out and got to use the meat probe that came with my stove. Very nice not to have to keep opening the oven to take the meat's temperature with an instant-read, when instead you can just check it on the oven's display.

For the polenta, I use this stuff from Bob's Red Mill, a local miller whose products are widely available. The package has instructions for both a slow, traditional cooking method, and a quick, easy one. Guess which one I always use? Then just stir in a bunch of grated parmesan, some unsalted butter, and frozen petite peas after taking off the heat, and voilà.

On a completely unrelated note, I had a great sandwich for lunch today, a salmon egg salad made from a couple ounces of leftover roast spring chinook, an Easter egg, chopped capers and dill, mayo and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Mmmmmm.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I've Got Balls

I had all sorts of grand plans for Easter candy this year, including trips to the houses of Leonidas, teuscher, and possibly Bernard C., but scheduling difficulties resulted in one quick trip to Cost Plus World Market on Saturday afternoon for both small toys and chocolates. You see, I knew that CPWM has the best local selection of the large bags of Lindor Truffles. Did you know that Lindt now makes a Lindor ball with 60% cocoa? They come in black wrappers, and they're just simply divine. I also purchased the standard blue-wrapped dark chocolate balls, plus mint (green), hazelnut (brown) and peanut butter (orangey-brown). No, no red (milk chocolate) or gold (white "chocolate") balls were purchased, though I admit I did purchase some for a big dinner party in January, because they matched the decor. And never ever will the raspberry (pink) or orange (orange) balls cross my doorstep, because fruit with chocolate is an abomination. But look--how handy. Now I don't even need to get my Hugh Jass out from in front of the computer.

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Monday, April 9, 2007

Roasty Caramelly Goodness

For dinner tonight I revisited a recipe trial from a while back. It originally appeared in Real Simple (with just sweet potatoes and onions--I'm sure just about any root vegetable combination would work), and I've modified a little to suit my family.

Maple-Glazed Roast Chicken and Root Vegetables

3 small garnet "yams," peeled and cut into two-inch chunks
4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
2 small shallots, cut into wedges
2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 T olive oil
3 T maple syrup (real stuff only, please)
kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Put cut vegetables into baking dish, and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper to coat. Put chicken breasts on top, skin side up, and season them a little with olive oil, salt and pepper as well. Then drizzle maple syrup over all. Bake at 400 degrees for an hour and a quarter, stirring vegetables once (I skipped this step tonight and was wishing I hadn't--it ensures the vegetables cook evenly and are well coated with the sauce).

The shallots, especially, turned out yummy. They were smaller than the potatoes or sweet potatoes, so they slipped down to the bottom of the pan where they could caramelize in the syrup and oil. Basically they tasted like onion candy.

Served with steamed broccoli and cauliflower, though a green salad would work very well if that's what your eaters will eat. And d'oh! I forgot the fruit salad, even though I had on hand a kid-pleasing combination of strawberries, kiwi and banana.

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Happy Easter from the chovy family

Hope you had a lovely Easter weekend. Ours was nice, but full and rather more rainy than we had hoped for. Saturday morning Number One's first baseball game was rained out, so both boys got to hunt Easter eggs in the primary president's ginormous backyard. Number One did have a soccer game in the afternoon (those are never rained out), and we decorated a few eggs with those shrink wrappers that come in some of the egg-dying kits (I had saved them from last year). We never used them when I was growing up because we preferred our eggs dyed, but they were really cool and shrank the instant they touched the simmering water.

Sunday morning we checked out what the Easter bunny brought, and then did our traditional egg hunt in our living and dining room. Both boys were pretty good at finding eggs, except for the few in that above-six-feet-high blind spot. The world looks different when you're a kid. :)

We had a simple dinner before church (remember, the big feast was last week) of macaroni and cheese with ham and peas. This is another one of those foods that are almost as easy to make from scratch as from a box. Here's how I do it:

Cook 1/2 lb elbow macaroni (I like Barilla best) in boiling salted water until it's fully cooked (definitely beyond al dente). Drain in a colander. In the pasta pot that's just been vacated, make a very small amount of white sauce--say, a couple of tablespoons of butter (melt until foaming just subsides), a couple tablespoons of flour (saute in butter until homogeneous and starting to brown), a splash of milk (no more than a cup)(whisked in until smooth and thickening). Add macaroni back to pot, along with grated cheese of whatever variety (for us this time a little more than a cup of grated medium Tillamook cheddar and a quarter-cup or so aged Gruyère). Stir until blended and melted, and then stir in freshly grated pepper and whatever else you'd like to add. If you add cold ham (Niman Ranch ham steak from Trader Joe's) and frozen peas as I did, you'll need to pop the whole thing into the oven or microwave so it's all hot.

You'll notice that I don't believe in taking the white sauce all the way to a cheese sauce before stirring in the macaroni. For that to work, you have to make a whole lot more white sauce, and I prefer my mac and cheese cheesy rather than milky. Make sense? This recipe originally came from an early microwave cookbook of my mom's, but since even that recipe required cooking the noodles on the stove first, I thought I'd transfer the whole operation to the stovetop. One advantage to making a white sauce in the microwave, though, is that it won't burn. And one item from the original recipe I didn't include this time is a little onion (sometimes I use shallot) sauteed in the butter before you add the flour.

In the afternoon, we went to church, where Mavis and I sang with the choir, etc. etc. We got a few pictures at church (for which the weather was sadly not cooperative), and afterwards tore home for a quick bite and clothing change before heading back to the church sans boys for the stake Easter Music Program, in which I was singing with a subset of the Portland Mormon Choir. The performance went pretty well, thanks.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Repurposing Leftovers

Even though spring has fully sprung now, I haven't fully satisfied my craving for hearty soups. The leftover meaty lamb bones from Sunday provided a perfect opportunity to try something new. Instead of looking through my collection for a suitable recipe, I just punted, and it turned out great.

I started with a thinly sliced onion, two peeled and sliced carrots, and one rib of diced celery. I sauteed them in a little olive oil (with a little salt and pepper) until the onion had softened and started to brown, and fond was accumulating at the bottom of the pan. Then I deglazed with some homemade chicken stock (a little less than a cup), added the meaty bones and water to just cover (3-4 quarts, I'd guess), a bit more salt and pepper, and a pound of French green lentils.

I simmered for about two hours, then pulled out the meat and bones and picked through it to remove the bones, gristle, and random oogy parts I didn't think the kids would like if they happened upon them in their bowls. Then I adjusted the saltiness, tossed in two russet potatoes (peeled and cut into one-inch pieces), and simmered until the potatoes were tender. At this point the lentils were fully cooked and lending some of their thickening power, augmented by the starch leaching out of the potatoes. A final check of seasonings, the addition of two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and the last quarter-cup or so of the wine-onion reduction from Sunday, and voilà! I heated the last few leftover rolls in the oven in foil packets at 300 and served them alongside. Number Two ate two whole bowls full of soup!

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Consanguineous Amusement

After dinner Sunday, as the grownups were chatting in the living room, Number Two and his cousin ran the circuit, frequently holding hands as they went.


Sunday, April 1, 2007

Palm Sunday Feast

Typically this would have been an Easter Feast, but with our hideous 3-6 pm church schedule (2-6 if you count choir practice, pretty mandatory for us), I knew there was no way I could make it work for Easter. Today was General Conference, so no regular church meetings => stay home and cook all day and eat dinner at an earlier, holiday hour.

The meat was the same as last year, except that I thought ahead and purchased a locally-raised leg of lamb before the end of the farmers' market last fall (last year I was scrambling and ended up with one from New Zealand--the Australian ones were too big to fit in my roasting pan!). I added a vegetable recipe that appeared in the paper (some time in the undetermined past--it didn't show up when I searched the paper's website), par-for-the-course orange and green mashed potatoes, a fruit salad provided by my sister-in-law, and rolls (those ultra-buttery ones that separate into flaky layers) from my great-grandma's recipe made by my mother.

Slow-Roast Leg of Lamb with White Wine Reduction
Orange and Green Mashed Potatoes
Roasted Asparagus with Thyme, Blood Oranges and Pine Nuts
Salad of Kiwi, Strawberry and Pineapple
Buttery Flaky Rolls with butter and homemade marionberry jam
Rhubarb Cupcakes with whipped cream, diced roasted hazelnuts and crystallized ginger chips (repeat from last night)

I used rainbow chard for the greens in the mashed potatoes, chopping and adding the stems at the same time as the onions, and the leafy parts when the onions had softened and started to brown.

For the roast asparagus, clean a bunch of asparagus, snap off woody ends and snap remainder into two-inch pieces. Toast a handful of pine nuts in a dry skillet, and zest a blood orange, and set aside in a small bowl. Section three blood oranges, chop the leaves from a few sprigs of fresh thyme, and add them to the asparagus in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil, and toss to distribute evenly. Roast in a single layer in a parchment-lined pan at 475 degrees for 10-15 minutes (10 was perfect for me), then toss with reserved pine nuts and zest. I prepared the pan of asparagus and oranges and set it aside until I pulled the lamb out of the oven. Just be on the lookout for kitchen "helpers" who steal raw asparagus (hi Mom! She's actually a really great sous chef, but she does have a weakness for snitching, as you can see below).

The potatoes just before transferring to their serving bowl:

Simmering the lamb sauce to reduce it further:

My plate, just before digging in (lookit all the pretty colors!):

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