Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Pheasant Thanksgiving for Two

Returning to the U.S. last Sunday, one thing was very clear on the calendar. We were four days from Thanksgiving. Holidays, on the whole, have been completely lost to us in the all consuming tornado that was the wedding. I'm still not completely convinced Halloween actually happened. We had planned ahead for Thanksgiving, as far as telling the families as politely as possible that as much as we loved them, there was no way that three days after returning from our honeymoon we were going to climb aboard a bus during one of the busiest travel periods of the year to go visit the relatives we had seen exactly two weeks before at the wedding.

I had thought, in the naive period that was October, that I should invite New York friends who may not have a place to go for Thanksgiving to our apartment, and I would take on a turkey, which despite my many cooking adventures I had never attempted. All of them had other plans, and in the jet lagged fog that was early last week, all I could think was "Thank God." Since it was down to just Will and me, I decided to take all of the money that would have gone into creating a feast for 6-10 people, and invest it in a fancy dinner. My first thought was lobsters. Oh how I dreamed of two lobsters, steamed and dipped in butter as the perfect Thanksgiving feast. I started calling my usual lobster suppliers but it turns out they would rather spend Thanksgiving with their families then selling me crustaceans. Bastards. I researched keeping a lobster in my fridge over night, but words like "at your own risk" kept cropping up. I hate that phrase. Why can't it ever be at someone else's risk.

Two days before Thanksgiving and I seemed to be failing at the planning. Finally I hit on it, for months I have been dying to try my hand at Pheasant. A game bird just the right size for two people, and it had that whole Dickensian holiday meal feeling. The only thing more Dickensian would be a fine fatted goose purchased by a street urchin. After a lot of research (apparently Quattro's in Union Square Farmer's Market, where I had seen the birds before, is only there on Saturdays, which was unhelpful) I found Leonards' Prime Meat and Sea Food on the Upper East Side that would sell me the birds, though without a pre-order I had to go with frozen.

It was the most expensive little bird I may ever buy; at just under 3 pounds it cost about $40, but as I wasn't making a huge feast I justified the purchase. (If my readers know of a cheaper place to purchase them, please leave it in the comments) I decided with such a fancy fowl, I wouldn't go overboard on number of side dishes, but make one really decent side dish and a lovely desert. Since reading about making stuffing in muffin tins to make little stuffing cakes in the NY Times two weeks ago, I had been dying to try it. The stuffing they made also involved pears, which I had read went well with Pheasant. For dessert, since I was making an untraditional meal, I decided to go with a classic, Pumpkin Spice Pie, which I will be dealing with in a special Tuesday post, otherwise this blog becomes about the length of War and Peace.

I made the pie the day before, as to not want to kill myself with three labor intensive dishes on what is supposed to be a holiday. I had a parade to watch on TV after all. Will was actually working on Thanksgiving, leaving me short one sous chef. At about 3pm I started chopping and measuring ingredients, lining them up in little cups on the counter and in the refrigerator. Chives, parsley, thyme, pancetta, onion, shallot, all were tackled with my chefs knife and set aside. I actually live tweeted some of the events of the day, along with the soundtrack I had in the background. I am a digital whore.

First I turned my attention to the stuffing. Doing the big shop for this a few days ago, I sought out Chantrelle mushrooms, which I had never used before. There was a huge sign at Whole Foods telling me that they were on sale for $20 a pound, down from $30, right behind a basket of mushrooms. I carefully measured out my 1/4 pound, and then did the rest of the shopping. Upon check out, the clerk remarked on my Porchini's. "Aren't those Chantrelle's?" I asked. A pitying look told me there had been a mistake. Chantrelle's, she informed me, were a reddish color. Also they were less expensive, and the Porchini's (of which I have only ever used dried ones) are $50 a pound. Gah. God bless that clerk though, she walked me back to the produce department, showed me where the Chantrelles were (in front of the basket of Porchinis) and waited for me to come back, so I didn't have to go through the pre-holiday grocery line again. Sometimes even New Yorkers can be cool people.

I had forgotten to set the ripped up bread aside the night before, so after leaving it out for a mere five hours, it wasn't stale enough. No worries, I popped it on a baking sheet and toasted it. Worked fine. Score one for me.

Chantrelle and Pear Bread Stuffing

Ingredients:

About 4 cups of Pullman loaf or other firm white bread torn into small pieces (I used Italian, again, worked fine)

1/4 pound chanterelle mushrooms

1/12 pound pancetta, diced small

2 1/2 tablespoons butter, more for greasing muffin tins

1/2 small chopped onion

1 minced small shallot

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 teaspoons white wine

1 diced pears ( firm, ripe varieties like Bartlett or Anjou)

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1 heaping teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon minced chives

4 teaspoons chopped Italian parsley

1/2 cup turkey stock (since I wasn't making turkey, I used chicken stock. I leave this to your judgement and personal menu)


Directions:

1. Dry bread, cover with paper towels and leave out overnight. Or, place on a baking sheet in batches and lightly toast. Set aside.

2. Wipe mushrooms with a clean, damp towel. Trim tough ends. Slice some thickly, chop others. Set aside. Place pancetta in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook slowly until fat is rendered, about 7 minutes. Remove to a plate.

3. Add 1/2 tablespoon butter to fat in pan and turn heat to medium high. Add onion and shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until just soft. Do not brown. Remove to plate holding pancetta.

4. Add 3/4 tablespoon butter to pan. Add mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and quickly sauté until starting to brown. Remove and add to plate.

5. Add wine to pan and deglaze over medium high heat, cooking until wine reduces by about half. Pour remaining liquid over mushrooms. Wipe out pan and add remaining butter. Add pears and sugar and season with salt and pepper. Sauté pears, in batches if necessary, over medium high heat until they begin to brown slightly.

6. In a large bowl or roasting pan, add sautéed ingredients to bread. Toss lightly to combine. Add herbs and toss again. Slowly pour 1/4 cup stock over mixture and toss. Add more broth to make a very moist stuffing. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.

7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Generously butter muffin tins and fill each with stuffing, pressing down so each cup is well filled. Top each with one tablespoon stock. Bake for about 20 to 30 minutes, until a golden crust forms on bottom. To serve, use a butter knife to remove each stuffing muffin and invert onto the plate.

Yeah, so that part in step 7 where you are supposed to top each muffin cup with a tablespoon of stock? Guess what I forgot to do. As a result the little stuffing cakes were a bit resistant to holding their forms, but by holding parchment paper over the top and then flipping the entire thing, I was able to get enough of them to hold in a delicate state that was presentable
for the meal.

The Pheasant and I were now staring each other down. The legs, I have read, are really not even worth thinking about eating. As game birds the little suckers run around a lot, making the meat tough and unappetizing. Better to just hack them off altogether and save for stock. And so, at about 5pm Thanksgiving day, I was breaking the hip joints and cutting off the legs. I live such an enchanted life.

Roasted Pheasant with Apricots and Dates
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine

Ingredients:
1/4 cup dried apricots
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
  • 1/8 cup fresh lime juice (from about 1/2 a lime)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • A 2 1/2- to 3-pound pheasant
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoons dried thyme, crumbled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • vegetable oil for brushing pheasants
  • 1/4 cup pitted dates, chopped

  • Garnish: fresh thyme sprigs

In a small heatproof bowl cover apricots with boiling water and soak 10 minutes. Drain apricots and cut into quarters. In a small saucepan simmer wine, liqueur, lime juice, and sugar 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut off legs of pheasant and reserve for another use. (Glamorous work) Sprinkle pheasants inside and out with pepper and salt to taste. Put 1 teaspoon thyme and 1 bay leaf in cavity of the pheasant and close cavity with skewers or toothpicks so that pheasant holds its shape.

Brush pheasant with oil and in a roasting pan arrange, breast side down. Roast pheasant 20 minutes and discard any fat in roasting pan. Turn pheasant over and to pan add apricots, wine mixture, and dates. Roast pheasant, adding about 1/2 cup water if all liquid evaporates, 25 minutes more, or until thermometer inserted in thickest part of breast registers 160°F. Let pheasants stand 10 minutes.

Transfer pheasants to a cutting board and cut each in half. Serve pheasants with apricot date sauce and garnish with thyme.

Okay, confession time once again. The recipe as I have provided is halved from a recipe for making two pheasants. This means there should be twice as much liquid for the sauce in a full size roasting pan then there was. I did realize this, and planned to check in on it about ten minutes after putting it in, but at about minute 7 I started to smell something burning. I ripped it out of the oven, and the liquid was very dark in color. I added water and some extra wine, and it was passable, but not very attractive. Next time I might just make all of the sauce, and allow for there being extra, rather then burn the halved version. Oops.

Pheasants, as game birds, are leaner then, say, a chicken. This makes it very easy to dry out, so I was keeping a very close eye on mine, and even took it out of the oven a few minutes early. The recipe says to let it rest for about ten minutes, but a British website the TimesOnline states about Pheasant "All meat continues to cook after it has been taken out of the oven because it is still relatively hot. If the meat is served while this process is still in motion, it is likely to be tough. When you come to carve, if steam escapes from under the knife, the meat has not been rested anywhere near long enough... A rough rule of thumb is to rest meat for about the same length of time that it spent in the oven. This may sound an implausibly long period for some, but try it and I promise that your roast will taste more forgiving." I erred somewhere in the middle. Will wasn't yet home when the bird came out of the oven, so I put it in a dish with a lid and let it rest on the table until he arrived, which was greater then 10 minutes but not quite 45.

In the end this untraditional Thanksgiving fowl was a success. The breast retained its moistness, and paired well with the apricots and dates, even if the latter two were a bit overdone. The stuffing was a huge hit, flavorful filling, and I now have a tupperware full of the less structural ones to snack on or put in a sandwich. The pie, well it was a great follower but a bit of a challenge in its own right, so if your curious be sure to stop back tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Guinness is Good for You

Top a' tha marnin' toe ya. Heather and I just recently got back from Ireland as many of you know and we had a fantastic time. One of the Highlights of our trip was visiting the Guinness storehouse. Don't get me wrong. Heather and I know how touristy a thing this is to do, but if we didn't go it would be like going to India and not seeing the Taj Mahal. (Side note: The Irish might consider the storehouse a thing of equal beauty and spiritual significance.) We trekked through the rain and wind to the west side of the city center to get there and we arrived just in time to grab a departing tour. Or should I say intro to a tour because the tour is self guided.
The first two things they tell you are equally ridiculous. They start by showing you a copy of the lease that Arthur Guinness signed to build the brewery at St. James's Gate. The lease is for nine thousand years. This was in 1759. This is the eighteenth century equivalent of saying elevendy billion years or perhaps saying forever and ever and ever. The second thing they tell you is that the interior of the storehouse is built in the shape of a giant pint glass. He then goes on to tell us how many pints of Guinness it would take to fill a pint glass that size. I don't remember the number because I didn't care. It's not like they would do it. That would be foolish--entertaining but foolish. Hearing that made be think that perhaps the Irish think in those terms on a daily basis. If an Irishman were to see the Grand Canyon, do you suppose his first thought would be "I wonder how many pints of Guinness..."
The ground floor gives you a rundown of the ingredients used to make beer and how Guinness's ingredients are better than everyone else's. It then goes on to say that the fifth ingredient is the founder himself, Arthur Guinness. I'm not sure whether they're saying that his interminable spirit brought the company to fruition, or if they're saying that his ashes were scattered amongst the ingredients thereby making him the fifth ingredient. You know, like a soylent green situation. Also, because the brewery was founded shortly before the American revolution, the portraiture of Arthur Guinness makes him look like a founding father or something. It might be that in Ireland, brewing a decent beer is as important as founding a nation. Then moving upward there are little videos and displays showing you how Guinness is made. There's even a little tray of roasted barley to taste. Eating roasted barley is a lot like eating coffee grounds--interesting until about two second into chewing. Then you just have to deal with it until swallowing.
There are lots of little videos about how Guinness was transported through the years. The tone of the videos makes the mission seem so noble--like this is God's work. Don't get me wrong, I love Guinness, but I don't think the motives were entirely altruistic. The highlight of the floor is the tasting lab where we both got a free taste of Guinness. A little something to tide us over until our free pint at the top.
The next floor is a tribute to advertising throughout Guinness's history. Man is there a lot of it. Much of it includes dubious health claims like "Guinness is good for you" or "Guinness makes you strong" spoken by virile men with handlebar mustaches. They even pulled a publicity stunt at one point in which thousands of bottles were dropped into the ocean each containing a message from king Neptune telling you to drink Guinness. Apparently they are still being found today. I will say that these ads, despite being false and environmentally unfriendly, were effective because I really wanted my Guinness. We blew through the next few floors because they didn't have as much stuff on them.
We got to the penultimate floor and it's perfect pint display. This is where they have a bunch of taps set up and you get to try your hand at pouring the perfect pint. You have the option of either getting your free pint this way or going upstairs to the gravity bar and having them pour it. Heather didn't want to be put on the spot--also she's lazy--but I'm all in. I waited patiently in line until it was my turn where I was instructed to start pouring with the glass at a 45 degree angle, straighten it out and stop at mid-harp (the Guinness glasses have a harp logo near the top.) Then I was told to wait two minutes and then fill up the rest by pushing back on the tap (rather than towards me) to top it off with only Guinness and no nitrogen. Very scientific stuff, I won't bore you. My performance was good enough to earn me an honorary certificate.
video
I had my pint; the only thing left to do was get Heather hers. We headed up to the gravity bar, got her pint and sat down. The bar has a 360 degree view of Dublin. It would be a really cool place to hang out again if we didn't have to pay eleven euros (student rate--because we're liars) to get in. The view was rainy but pleasant and a great way to enjoy our well earned stouts.
Before we left we hit the gift shop where I got my dad chocolate in the shape of a Guinness pint and we got ourselves two bottles of Guinness Foreign Extra--one of their original recipes with extra hops designed for foreign travel. I've never had it before and I didn't know if they sell it in the U.S. We only got around to trying it two nights ago and it was pretty good. It was nice and hoppy and not as thick while still maintaining its Guinness-ness. I think I like the draught better but sometimes it's nice to live life on the edge. I'm glad we went to the storehouse. It gave us something fun, interesting and uniquely Irish to do on a crappy day--which there are a lot of. I would recommend it highly.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

When in Dublin

Greetings blogosphere! Oh how I've missed you. When my plane landed, I had 208 items in my Google Reader. Apparently you don't spend much time reading or writing blogs on your honeymoon. The wedding was great, and I wish I could tell you all about the food at my brunch reception, the eggs, the potato dish, the apple crisp, the cake, but I'm afraid I didn't really eat all that much of it. After all the planning and selecting, I was nervous and excited and laced into a corset, all of which equaled not very hungry. I hear the waffles were quite good though.

The second I got to the Philadelphia airport I did one of the things I've been dreaming about in these final months of diet and portion control, I ordered a giant Cheese Steak. It was awesome and gooey and the chipped beef had that almost crispy and not soggy thing going; it was pretty much heaven on a roll. Screw you corset, I'm allowed to eat again. I've bagged me a man and now it's time to gain 30 pounds, wear nothing but sweatpants, and stop washing my hair. That sounds about right.

The honeymoon in Dublin was fantastic and, as with any trip abroad, littered with gourmet quandaries. Ireland is a country nearly devoid of coffee. Espresso drinks, no problem, but the Emerald Isle does not understand the delicate beauty of a simple cup of coffee. I am a coffee snob, I get mine every morning from a French press, but the few cups of java we did come across were instant. Shutter. The first morning we entered a shop called "Insomnia Coffee Company" and I ordered a cup of coffee, without looking at the menu. You generally don't when COFFEE is right there in the name of the place. That name was so intriguing, I like the idea of them hawking their beverages by advertising that it will give you a sleeping disorder. They asked if I needed anything in it, and answered "cream" for which I received a strange look. I was then handed an Americano with whipped cream on top. I stuck to cappuccinos for the rest of the trip. For the most part, to save a bit of money we stuck to pub food, potato wedges, sausages and the like. I could already feel the pounds creeping back, but as it was my honeymoon (and I'm heading for the sweatpants) I choose to ignore. I made sure to order Irish Stew at one point, with its hunks of lamb and potato, which made for a deeply satisfying dish. Will, who is not a soup fan, looked at the gravy based dish and remarked that it was kind of like a lamb pot roast, which with its slow cooking in a bed of vegetables is pretty apt.

Will and I have a friend from college, Colleen (left), who is doing grad school in Ireland. One night we met up with her, and after a few rounds, I insisted we find a pub that had food, as we had theatre tickets for later in the evening, and it would be nice if we were coherent enough to remember the show. (The Birds at the Gate Theatre by the way. It was quite good, I'd recommend it) We had started to brainstorm about where to go next, when Colleen exclaimed "Chippers!"

Inquisitive looks were proffered her way. She explained that we needed Chippers, or burgers or some such to soak up the alcohol. After she started suggesting places, we realized she meant fast food. Apparently, after I looked it up, the term used to refer to Fish and Chip shops in the UK, but now has come to encompass anywhere that sort of does fast food with fries. Now, here's the thing. I don’t eat fast food. Ever. I gave it up cold turkey almost 5 years ago, and while I occasionally break down and eat a fry that might have been made under golden arches, they really haven't gotten my money in years. I watched Super Size Me and read Fast Food Nation and that was pretty much the end of that. But I was traveling in a foreign country and Colleen insisted that if you've been drinking in Dublin and you need to get something in your stomach, Chippers are the way to go.

Refusing to give my Euros to an American company in this transatlantic adventure we settled on Supermacs, which is basically the same thing except it's Irish so that makes it slightly okay in my head. In we went. Will chose to go with chicken tenders, but if I was doing this thing, I was doing it full tilt, cheese burgers with fries and a soda. It was…. well kinda awful. The beef was flavorless, the tomato was under ripe, the bun less then fresh. The fries (or "chips") were actually pretty decent though, leaning toward that Irish form of potato wedge rather then shoesting, so there was some recognizable vegetable in there, and I of course poured on a bunch of salt. Just like the old days. Will's chicken was a bit more meaty then most fast food, but they lacked crispiness, the breading was just a bit too soft.

It did the job though, and we arrived at the theatre ready for some chilling drama. As we waited in the lobby there was coffee being sold in real china cups, cause the Europeans are awesome with their shunning of Styrofoam. Two Euros later I took a hopeful sip… damn. Instant.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Good Morning Blog Readers

I'm back in the USA! It is currently 9:30pm ET, which is like 2:30am Dublin time. Yeah, you're not getting a Monday blog. Tuesday sounds like a saner idea. I will, however, make a recommendation. Between the airport, the plane into Philadelphia, and the bus to NY, I have been sustaining myself with O'Neills shortbread cookies. They kind of rock. Especially compared to plane food. Can anyone tell me how bow tie pasta and creamed spinach counts as "Vegetarian Lasagna"? Explain that to me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Honeymoon Teaser

I've arisen from my jet lagged haze to say a few words about Dublin, Ireland. It feels like we've only just arrived so we haven't done a ton of exploring. I've managed to have two pints of Guinness and a glass of wine--a Cabernet Sauvignon if you're curious. It's been a little while since I've had a Guinness but I think it tastes better in Ireland. It feels like it's fresher. Maybe it's not better but perhaps smoother and creamier, like a chocolate milk shake. My perception might be further skewed by the fact that Guinness is best enjoyed around the fall and winter months.
It's been a fun day or two but the best is yet to come. We've got two nights of theatre and a drive to Kilkenny come hell or high water. We also plan to hit the Guinness bottling plant as well as the Jameson distillery. I'm sure there will also be a pub or two worth mentioning. Who knows? Maybe I'll even get in a fist fight. I can always use more blog fodder. Be sure to check back next week for a much more interesting post.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Roast Tomatoes

As you are reading this, the wedding is officially over. So I know what you're thinking, "Oh thank god, she officially can't bitch about how much work it is to plan a wedding and how tired she is anymore!" Turns out, you're wrong. This blog was prescheduled from before the wedding. I choose to forgive you for your outburst, however, and grant you with my new discovery. A super easy, low calorie, comfort food known as Roasted Tomatoes.

Slow roasted tomatoes are the brainchild of the South, but they buck the Southern trend of taking food, frying it, dumping butter on it and frying it again...and then pouring BBQ sauce on it. Take that Paula Dean. This more sophisticated dish was a gift from god on nights that I just didn't want to move or think anymore, but still wanted something fresh that didn't come from a box reading "Kraft." While I've been using this as dinner, spreading the results on toasted bread and settling in with a book (or DVDs of Sex and the City, don't judge me) it could also be used as an impressive side dish or pasta dish. The tomatoes caramelize and create a rich, almost sweet flavor that just melts me, and I love how accomplished a dish it is for how extremely little effort it takes. The brown sugar is my own addition, I believe brown sugar should go in every tomato sauce and dish. It tempers the acidity and add a deep richness to the flavor. I'm a fan. The cheese is optional, but it just seemed like an obvious addition to me.
Roasted Tomatoes
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine (may it rest in peace)

Ingredients

  • Olive oil for greasing pan, plus additional for drizziling
  • 6 Plum Tomatoes halved lengthwise
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon brown sugar
  • Parmesan Cheese for sprinkling
Directions:


Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Oil a shallow baking pan. This is very important, as these suckers are going to spatter.
Arrange tomatoes, cut sides up, in 1 layer in pan and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and brown sugar.
Roast tomatoes until skins are wrinkled and beginning to brown on bottom, about 1 hour. I usually drizzle with olive oil after about 45 minutes and then put it back in, but you could also do this at the end, or leave it out all together if you would like to cut calories. Transfer to a serving dish and keep warm, covered with tented foil (do not let foil touch tomatoes), until ready to serve. Serve warm or at room temperature.


And there you have it, simple, delicious, and super non stressful. Even the ingredients are easy to procure, no running out of your way for that perfect cut of meat or anything. This dish has saved my life in the last few weeks, or at least saved my diet from going down the path of eating potato chips for dinner. Now that my life is going back to normal I'm still really glad to have this on file, because if I'm making a big fancy main course, sometimes it's hard to give a damn about the sides. Plus, simple meals mean more time to watch fictional Manhattanites discuss shoes and being slutty. A few left over tomatoes can even be wrapped up for lunch the next day, which saves both effort and money. I'm so good at this domestic thing. Will's lucky to have married me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Icy Delights

You know, it's amazing the difference ice can make in a cocktail. I've been thinking about this subject a lot lately because it's been coming up in places like the New York Times. When we first moved to New York over two years ago, we needed to buy ice trays. My first attempt was a set of trays I got at the dollar store. They worked fine the first time, then they broke. It was one dollar I would never get back. I decided to invest in my icy future and buy a couple of silicone trays from Bed Bath and Beyond and they've been working out great for us. They give us ice that is cubic, strong and aesthetically pleasing. Occasionally I see novelty ice cube trays that will give you ice in the shape of a palm tree or a jolly roger or a pot leaf. I can't tell you how many times I have been enjoying a cocktail and thought to myself, "This would be so much better if I had little pot leaves floating in it."
When I used to bartend at Ruby Tuesday, there was a grape martini that we had to shake extra hard. The result of all that shaking was that tiny ice shards would end up in the drink. I suppose it's kind of novel and cool looking at first, but it melts pretty quickly and ultimately waters down your drink. Heather had a gimlet the other week when we were at a bar in PA that was made the same way--tiny ice shards. She was unhappy, and kept grumbling about how she had to get back to New York so she could have a decent cocktail. This is a girl from suburban Pennsylvania. New York has spoiled her. I am of the opinion that overshaking a cocktail--while a great way to release pent-up rage--is ultimately harmful to a cocktail.
I had a cocktail two nights ago at Dutch Kills that had Rye Whiskey, Bitters, Absinthe and an ice cube that allowed me to see straight to the bottom of the glass. I made reference to these ice cubes in my post about Benedictine, but I wanted to go into a little more detail. The cube was big enough to keep my drink cold but not water it down. The mass to surface area ratio was so high that the cube was still pretty big by the time I was done. I'd draw a diagram but I think you get the idea.
Heather had a drink that had a long ice cube in it about the size of a cigar. I got the image in my head of a guy in the back with a chainsaw carefully crafting each cube until it's ready to go out. I imagined this ice artist was peering out from behind a curtain to see if she was enjoying her drink and commenting on how great the ice was. She was. It was not just an ice cube but a conversation piece, it made us feel like her cocktail was so special, a new shape of ice had to be invented just for it.
I would like to experiment more with making custom ice for my home bar. If anybody reading this blog has any insight or suggestions on where to buy trays for kickass ice, leave it in the comments section.

Monday, November 9, 2009

J'adore Le Cruset

I have been in a cooking funk lately. The wedding drawing close, I long for the part of my brain back that has been relegated to questions of favors, flowers, and dresses. With a large part of my brain power (not to mention my daily energy) now commandeered by these trivialities, it's been hard to answer the usually exciting question of "What's for dinner?" In these last weeks to the finish line, I've also had to balance out my stress eating (a girl's best friend) by cutting out red meat and refusing to make any sweets myself. If other people make sweets and they happen to cross my path, however, well that's just fair game. Take Out has become an unusually large part of my sustenance, and Indian, Chinese, and hot dogs have filled out my diet. Meanwhile I've glared at my pots and pans and informed them I simply did not have the time for them this week.

The wedding was ruining my urge to cook, but that all changed when the first wedding present showed up at my door this week. A simple brown box, I gasped with glee when I read those beautiful words on the side, "Le Cruset." God bless you Mr. and Mrs. Jacobson. I tore into the package with glee, emerging with a 5.5 Quart dutch oven in Carribean Blue. Will may have been laughing at me as I celebrated my new equipment, but I was ignoring him. Men don't understand the possibilities contained in new cookware. My mind was on two things. One, getting rid of the crappy five quart pot I'd gotten second hand from someone when I moved to New York, and two, the pair of apples sitting unused in the fridge. This was, it seemed, the perfect time to tackle one of my favorite fall dinners, Pork Roast with Apples and Onions.

My schedule being what it is, I of course didn't get to it over the weekend, but so determined was I to use my new exciting cookware that I started the meal at 7:30 pm last Monday night. Luckily Will doesn't mind eating at 9 pm, and was making cocktails for me in the interim. The original recipe calls for 2 tbs of mustard with fennel seeds pressed into it. Will is not a fan of mustard, nor do I adore fennel. Therefore I use a touch of mustard--just a thin layer to create a glaze--which Will doesn't mind as much and I pressed in Rosemary from the pot on my window sill. I find these to be great improvements, but follow your own tastes. The original recipe also calls for 15 minutes of roasting, which was a woeful underestimate. It took about 25 minutes, and I threw the lid on for the final ten, so use your best judgement there as well. In the end you will have a fantastic fall meal, all cooked in one pot. My only hope is that your pot is as awesome as the one I used.
Adapted from Bon Appetit

Ingredients:
1 large pork tenderloin (about 14 ounces)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard (or to taste)
2 teaspoons chopped rosemary
1 large onion, sliced
2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 cup dry white wine


Directions:
Preheat oven to 450°F. Season pork with salt and pepper.


Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large nonstick ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and sear until all sides are brown, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes. Transfer pork to plate. Cool slightly. Spread mustard over top and sides of pork; press fennel seeds into mustard. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to skillet. Add onion slices and apples; sauté over medium heat until golden, about 5 minutes. Spread evenly in skillet and sprinkle with salt and pepper.


Place pork atop apple-onion mixture.Transfer skillet to oven and roast until apple-onion mixture is soft and brown and meat thermometer inserted into center of pork registers 150°F, check after about 15 minutes. If not done, cover and roast another 10 minutes. Transfer pork to platter and tent with foil. Let stand 5 minutes.


Meanwhile, pour white wine over apple-onion mixture in skillet. Stir mixture over high heat until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Cut pork on diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Spoon apple-onion mixture onto plates. Top with pork and serve.


Note to the readers: By next Monday I will be all married and honeymooning in Ireland! This is exciting, nerve wracking, and a bit time consuming. My hope is to have a blog scheduled for next Monday, but I can't promise. Keep and eye on the Twitter feed for the status of this. The good news is I'll have my wedding brunch and a bunch of Irish restaurants and bars to review once back, not to mention the upcoming exciting project of the Thanksgiving Lobsters. Oh yeah. It's always an adventure at Epicurette in New York.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Because We're Nerds

One snowy December--some time back--I had given Heather a copy of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy for Christmas. Why did she want that? Because she's a nerd. Actually she was tired of hearing references and allusions to great works of Russian literature and not knowing what they were. Screw her for trying to better herself. The last time I read something that was 750 pages...come to think of it, I've never read anything that was 750 pages. Does a two year subscription to Mad Magazine count as literature? Anyway, though Heather is a more avid reader than I am, a dense 750 page translation from Russian is still a pretty daunting task.
Somewhere along the line, I pointed out that 750 is also the number of milliliters in a standard bottle of liquor. Why do I know that? Because I'm a nerd. I mused that if one were to drink one milliliter of liquor for every page read, one would conceivably finish the bottle at the same time as the book. Heather thought it was a fantastic idea and we immediately set to work on a game plan. The liquor would have to be vodka, the obvious choice for Russian literature. Thank god she wasn't reading Dickens, she really hates gin.
Bottle in hand, we mapped out a strategy. Because drinking one milliliter after every page is wholly unsatisfying, we decided that fifty milliliters after every fifty pages is a nice round number and will fill a shot glass to the brim. And so Heather set out on her Russian adventure. She braved her way through fifty pages of character introductions and expository passages and was ready for her reward. In keeping with the theme of the exercise, I made her a White Russian. It is constructed as follows:
-1.5 oz. vodka (roughly 45 ml but we stretched it to 50)
-1 oz. creme de cacao
-.75 oz. heavy creme
Shake with ice in a cocktail shaker and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with chocolate if desired.
In an effort to make this blog a multimedia forum, I thought that rather than just giving you the recipe, I would show you in an entertaining video in which a handsome man constructs a White Russian. Also Heather hasn't had a chance to play with the video camera since the ice cream video in August. Enjoy!

Monday, November 2, 2009

How to Survive Without an Italian Grandmother

Long ago in a land far away known as the Pennsylvania suburbs I was 23 and working in a mall jewelry store. I was living with my mother, and I had far too much free time on my hands. It was during this period of my life that I began to teach myself to cook. Two things had piqued my interest in culinary craft. One was the store's subscription to Gourmet Magazine. The other is that we were two stores down from a Williams Sonoma. While poking around this expensive cooking wonderland and grabbing a free sample of Monkey Bread one day I picked up their catalog and discovered they published recipes every month. This is how I got my very own recipe for cheese stuffed meatballs.

Every woman is supposed to have a decent spaghetti and meatballs. If your family is Italian, you lucky bitch, you probably inherited a recipe from your grandmother. In this era of our busy career moms, however, good luck if being taught said recipe involved much more then being handed an index card with 40 year old scribbles. The rest of us generic Americans have made due with either the Betty Crocker cookbook or a jar of Ragu and the frozen food aisle. I adore the small spin on the traditional meatball, shoving a hunk of cheese in the middle is not hard to do and makes you seem creative and original, and is also gooey and delicious.

I will admit heavy cheating on this recipe. While I am too much of a snob for Ragu, I admit to Newman's Own Tomato and Basil for the sauce. When I first started cooking this I was so new to the whole "from scratch" idea that after all of the work involved in the meatballs, it wouldn't have even crossed my mind to make the sauce. One day I'll devote a whole day to the project, start the sauce in the morning, make the meatballs, maybe even make some bread to go along with it, but that day is not this day. This day I open a jar of Newman's Own. (Note about the above picture, Will is completely grossed out when I stick my hands in raw meat. I've seen the man kill a spider and build a bookcase, but get him near ground beef and he has the constitution of a five year old girl.)

The recipe I use is huge, and calls for two pounds of spaghetti. I cook one pound of spaghetti, and freeze half of the meatballs and sauce. This work fantastically well, allowing me to have a dinner, a few days of lunches, and then to do it again a few weeks later with almost no effort. It has saved my butt when a guest comes into town, because who doesn't like spaghetti and meatballs?...other then vegetarians who, for obvious reasons, don't count. The recipe also uses a huge amount of olive oil for frying, so if you usually use really expensive olive oil, maybe buy a cheaper bottle for this recipe. In bulk. Despite Will not loving the whole "raw meat" thing, he did help me roll meatballs for this recipe this week. I have had so much practice with this by this point though, he got through about 10 before I had finished all the rest. My sous chef needs meatball rolling practice.
Spaghetti with Stuffed Meatballs (Adapted from Williams Sonoma)

Ingredients:
1/3 cup milk
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground veal
1 lb. ground beef
1/3 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more
for garnish
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper1/3 lb. mozzarella or provolone cheese, cut into
1/2-inch cubes
Olive oil for frying
About 6 cups tomato sauce
2 lb. spaghetti, cooked and drained
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving

Directions:
In a large bowl, combine the milk and bread crumbs. Add the ground pork, veal, beef, the 1/3 cup parsley, the eggs, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix briefly with your hands. Form the mixture into 2-inch balls. Press a mozzarella cheese cube into the center of each ball, sealing it inside.

In a large deep 12" pan on medium-high heat, heat 1/2 inch of oil until almost smoking. Add 1/2 the meatballs and cook until browned, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined tray.

Discard the oil in the pan. Pour 1/2 the tomato sauce (or 1 jar, if using jarred) into the pan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until cooked through, about 30 minutes. Uncover and cook for 10 minutes more.

Put the pasta in a warmed large, shallow bowl. Top with the sauce and meatballs and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately and pass the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese at the table. Serves 10 to 12. (or 2 if you want a few lunches and to freeze half the batch) Make the second batch during your meal, or after, depending on the tone and timing of the evening.