Thursday, May 01, 2008

Enough Already-- Bring the F***ing Spring On!

Here's The Invite:

And Now For Something Completely Different... Dinner Next Friday, April 11 @7pm!! Hello Hungry Kiddies! Yes, you read it right... Sunday Night Dinner on a FRIDAY. As in, NEXT FRIDAY. I realize we have never done one on a Friday, so what in the hell-- let's give it a whirl. You people have jobs-- you work, you're tired and hungry when the week finishes... maybe you want me to feed you! Zora will be back in the wilds of New Mexico... (let's hope she doesn't become one of those addicts we read about in the Times yesterday!) Karl will be back at work, and my friend Mark will be dropping in from Anchorage, AK where he defends the public against the oppressive reach of the State... (it sounds like Feige wrote that!!) I am Starving For Spring. Truly, it is killing me. I know, Tuesday was 60 degrees, but it was raining! Yesterday just about drove me off the deep end. I know, it was sunny and gorgeous, but it was 47 degrees!

Jesus Christ, can I have some heat already? If I can't get it outside, I am going to create it in the kitchen. Here is my "Enough Already-- Bring the Fucking Spring On" Menu:

Minted Pea Soup
Asparagus with Miso Butter and Poached Egg
Braised Veal Shanks with Green Olives, Capers and Gremolata
Balsamic Glazed Onions and White Beans with Rosemary
Bulghur with Mushrooms and Parsley
Baby Dandy Salad
Some Sort of Dessert. (hasn't come to me yet, but it will...***

*Also -- do know that I am on the lookout for Ramps-- if they show up at the market, they will show up here.
So get yourselves over here after work for dinner, drinks,and conversation. Help me remind my friend Mark how wonderful civilization is.

As usual, The Rules apply: First 20 replies get the seats. RSVP as soon as you know, these things sell out Fast!
Address with confirmation. Friday, April 11, 2008 Come anytime after 6:30PM, Snacks at 7PM, Dinner at 7:30PM

So this will be another one of those very rare birds on this blog: a post WITHOUT (sans) pictures. WHY no pics, you ask? Well, it is actually very simple. It turns out that I can cook dinner for 20 all by my lonesome while my dear friend Mark sleeps off his 15 hour flight from Alaska in my office, but I cannot take pictures of myself doing it. And since Karl was with one of my new FAVORITE actors, working on a teevee show, there was no one to remind me to take pictures...

Use your imagination, people. (While you are using your imagination, imagine Mayor Bloomberg's voice saying that last sentence. "Peeee-pull...")

Truthfully, this dinner came off pretty well, with a minimal number of hitches, except that the end got a little hairy. And, there was a scary moment when the veal shanks hit the table and my initial fears of underbuying at the butcher ("should I get 4 more shanks?") ended up being founded. I was still reeling from the "so much food we are all going to die" situation of last week, so I erred on the conservative side.

Then again, veal shanks are suuuuuper rich, so chances are if people had eaten much more (and people will eat as much as you feed them, as I have learned!) they might have felt less than stellar, ultimately, so I'm going to call it forced portion control.

The first thing I did was to melt some chicken stock from my freezer, and dump in 3 bags of frozen (no, your eyes are not failing you-- FROZEN) sweet peas. I cooked them for about 5 minutes-- just enough to shake off the chill. Then I pureed them with heavy cream, salt, and white pepper to taste. I finished the soup with fresh mint chiffonade, chilled it in a water bath and then put it the fridge for the rest of the afternoon.

Veal shanks were browned and then set aside. I chopped onions, garlic, rosemary, thyme and sauteed them in the pan with the veal fat. I then added a bottle of white wine, and some veal stock remaining in the freezer from Karl's Unemployment Stock Cooking Period, a couple of months ago. Cracked green olives and some thinly sliced lemon pieces went into the pan, the whole thing got covered tightly, and went into a 325 degree oven for the rest of the afternoon -- about 5 hours. Time. The luxury of time. A note here regarding time: Had I been required to go to a normal people job that day, I could have prepped the veal in about 15 minutes, put the oven on 225 degrees, covered the shanks tightly and gone to work. The dish would have been finished and perfect when I got home nine hours later. OR, (even better) I could have prepared it before going to bed the night before, and woken to the smell of savory shanks and morning coffee. Confusing, perhaps, but divine, trust me. I like to confit duck legs in the manner, but that's a different post. For the record, the capers were added at the very end, and a gremolata (lemon zest, garlic zest and chopped parsley) were sprinkled over just before serving.

I had some heirloom beans-- Gigantes and Jacob's Cattle from Rancho Gordo in CA. I soaked them overnight and cooked them in chicken stock for about 45 minutes. I removed them from the heat, and let them soften while I sauteed chopped Vidalia Onions in olive oil with fresh thyme and garlic. When the beans were soft I removed some of the bean/chicken stock and combined with about 1.5 cups of balsamic vinegar in a separate pan and brought to a low simmer. It cooked down to a glaze over the next hour and half or so, and I then combined with the beans. The beans were served at room temperature and were a HUGE hit. Onions, stock, beans, garlic and fresh herbs. Keep in in your back pocket. People love it and it is cheap to make.

The Mushrooms were sautéed with a little butter, salt, pepper and sherry. They were then ready to be tossed with bulghur that I had cooked in a veggie stock. I added a little more butter (not much) and a good handful of chopped parsley to finish. The green of the parsley really played nicely against the butter and earth of the 'shrooms.

On to Asparagus with Miso Butter and Poached Egg, bastardized from a recipe belonging to the fantastic David Chang. Say what you will about him, the motherfucker can COOK. I have no idea how the original recipe reads, but here is what I do:

Melt equal amounts of white miso and unsalted butter together in a pan on LOW. Whisk to combine while they are melting. Add a small splash of sherry vinegar, and a larger splash of good sherry (I use Oloroso, but in a pinch, Fino will work.) Taste with your finger. The vinegar should balance out the butter and miso. If it is too thick, or breaks up, add a little bit of water to combine, whisking the entire time. You can make this early and let it rest, and then reheat (whisking) right before pouring it over the cooked asparagus...

Speaking of the asparagus, I salt the water a little more heavily than usual, and blanch them for 2 minutes or thereabouts, so the stalks retain a bit of crunch. Remove the stalks from the pot, place on a platter and reduce the water to a simmer. Soft poach a few eggs in the meantime -- no more than 3 minutes in the water. Pour the miso butter over the cooked asparagus, and gently place your poached eggs on top of that. Top with freshly ground pepper, a pinch of salt, and away you go! Believe me, this dish has NEVER failed me. To my mind this dish, and the Beef Cheek Ravioli (at Babbo-- NOT the cookbook recipe!!!) are the closest thing I have ever experienced to "sex on a plate".

Lastly there was a Baby Dandelion Salad with Watercress, European Cucumbers, Radishes and Capers. I threw together a Dijon Cider Vinegar Salad Dressing with some honey to sweeten and threw it to the wolves. The perfect foil to the rich asparagus.

Butter and sugar crepes for dessert, the perfect thing for the beleaguered cook. This came about because I basically forgot to do anything about dessert, and had to start looking in the fridge to see what I could make... I prepared a crepe batter right before we sat down to dinner, so it had the requisite resting time. After dinner, while dishes were being washed, KT and I buttered our skillets and cranked out 25 crepes, keeping them warm in a 200 degree oven until we were ready to serve dessert. Each crepe was brushed with butter and sprinkled with a little Demerara Sugar to finish. I added a dash of orange flower water and almond extract to the batter - delicately aromatic. Again, a simple and perfect way to end such a bacchanal.

Oh! And The scooby snack that kicked off dinner was made with lardons, spring onions sauteed in the remaining bacon fat (WHAT?!?!?!?) fresh thyme and cracked black pepper, all of it spread onto puff pastry with grated Gruyere Cheese and baked at 350 for 20 minutes or so. Yeah baby. Bacon, Onion and Gruyere Tart. Messy, but a crowd pleaser.

How about that? No pics and much more text!

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