Saturday, May 03, 2008

Passover, the Papa & Heritage Turkey...

So... Obviously, I am behind in writing about these dinners. And truthfully, I really did try to write this entry before I left town on Tuesday, but I had so many other things to accomplish that I just couldn't finish it.

I am so glad I waited to sit down and write, because it lets me share a little secret: It is a fuck of a lot easier to write a blog entry from the balcony of a room at the Cancun Ritz Carlton than from one's sofa in Queens.

Did I mention the music of the crashing waves on the beach, playing loudly in front of me?

So it turns out that Hemingway was onto something (and, in no way am I comparing myself to Papa.) I aspire to drink a little more, beginning in an hour, and find out just how onto something he was... I'll report back, hungry little kiddies!

Seriously-- can we just write the whole book from here? With this kind of inspirational setting, we might create something worthy of one of those fancy "Kitchenaid® Awards for Cookbook Excellence..." But, enough about me and my nascent sunburn. On to our "Passover, the Papa and the Great Thanksgiving Dinner."

Here's The Invite:

Hello there, hungry kiddies!
Sacrelicious! (I stole that from Karl, who stole it from Homer Simpson...)

Passover is upon us, and the Papa is coming to NYC. I hope he isn't planning on converting any Passover celebrators? We would like to celebrate this strange collision of events by cooking a sort of traditional Sunday Dinner... via Edna Lewis. (she is the closest thing that I can truly believe in when it comes to Saviors, so it seems especially appropriate to me). Think of it as The Great Thanksgiving.... in Spring!

Roasted Heritage Turkey with Lemon/herb gravy
Karl's special cranberry sauce
Roasted Beets and their tops in vinaigrette
Biscuits!! (not with the Papal Seal)
Wilted Salad
Asparagus with cucumber dressing
Peas and cream or last of the tomatoes i put up last summer and baked bread... or both
Some sort of cake or pie..... perhaps caramel?

If you can't get tickets to see the Pope, join us for a family style Sunday Dinner instead! Same as always rules apply-- First 20 people get the seats. Address will be sent to you with confirmation.

In love and garlic,

Tamara (Mrs!)

Sunday, April 20, 2008
Dinner Promptly at 6pm (for all you worker bees!!!)

"Turkey dinner in April? This is bullshit, man..."

Something I learned from this dinner: there is a reason real Thanksgiving is held in the Fall, when cranberries are in season, i.e. You cannot fucking find cranberries, dead or alive, in April.

Huh. How about that?

The truth of the matter is, I hate cranberries, but they are a very important part of Karl's Turkey Experience, so I didn't feel like I could axe them from the menu. And I hope he sees it as a testament to my love for him that I visited every grocery store in Astoria, all the veggie markets and BOTH organic stores before I located some, and they were frozen and ridiculously overpriced.

I will assume the sauce was good, since people ate it all, and it sure looked pretty.

I also learned how to make Millicent's drop biscuits. It is unbelievably easy-- I shudder to think how many i may have consumed had I but known earlier! flour, BUTTER, baking powder, milk....... fucking simple, people! And, true to their form, delicious!

I also learned how devastatingly sad it is to use one's LAST pint of canned tomatoes, put up last summer. Good thing it is getting warm again and I was able to plant 6 new tomato plants in the ground... More Later.


Okay, truth be told, I kept getting sidetracked at the Ritz-Carlton by the fucking GLORIOUS ocean.... but now I am in Puerto Morelos, where it is much more downscale, and not nearly as distracting. Zora and I are holed up, writing furiously in the heat.... 88 degrees in the shade, y'all! I know it sounds like I'm bragging, but I'm not. I mean, there are mosquitoes! I just had to walk all the way next door to get a beer... and it is my first one of the day! (it's almost 6pm, for Christ's sake!)

Okay, back to Turkey Dinner. Jesus -- maybe one of the reasons that I can't get this thing written is that it feels indescribably ridiculous to be sitting in Mexico, and writing about a Thanksgiving Turkey dinner that we served in April...

Things that I already knew but which were confirmed for me:

Everyone, except me, loves beets.

I am happy to make them because people just swoon. For these, we tossed them in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted them on about 350 degrees for a little over an hour. They cooled, were peeled, (ok, that part is a pain in the ass), sliced them into quarters, and set them aside.

Meanwhile, the tops were blanched in salted water and set aside, and I made an aioli with tons of lemon and garlic. They were then served with the tops on the bottom (!) coated with some of the aioli, and with the beets on top, with more olive oil, salt and pepper. They were instantly devoured.

Peas with butter, cream and fresh mint is simple, delicious, and very comforting to eat. It is like someone loves you in springtime, in a bowl.

Wilted Salad with BACON is always a highlight of every one's week. Buy yourself some slab bacon, dice and fry it up with a couple of tablespoons of water to keep it from browning too fast.

When the bacon is done, drain it on paper towels and set aside. DO NOT EAT IT ALL. You will want to. Trust me.

Tear up Green Leaf, Boston and Red Leaf lettuces and toss in a bowl. Slice radishes and cucumbers thinly and toss them in too. If you have any parsley or dill, throw that in. Then, reheat your bacon fat (yes, I am going there), and add at least 1/3 cup of cider vinegar and a tablespoon of sugar (more if you've cooked more than 1/2 lb of bacon.) Whisk until it comes to a boil, add salt and pepper, and toss the whole damn thing over your salad while it's still hot (the salad will 'wilt.') Serve it up. The tartness of the vinegar combines beautifully with the fat, smoke and salt of the bacon, and the brightness of the sugar mellows it all out...

Mashed Potatoes need more butter and cream than anyone really wants to know about. And you know what? That's the way it's supposed to be. The next time you find yourself making mashed potatoes and holding back on either butter and cream in the name of "moderation" I want you to imagine me frowning a terrible, stern, disappointed "haven't you fucking learned anything?" frown, and ADD SOME MORE. Mix, serve, and know that every person at your table will be grateful, even the lactose intolerant ones.

Heritage Turkeys (there are still, as of this writing, a few available from Heritage Foods) are absolutely FABULOUS. Even after having been frozen and thawed.


Flavorful, juicy, fresh turkeys who lived happy lives... in short, a standard to which all turkeys should aspire!

I put ours in a big roasting pan, and rubbed it thoroughly inside and out with pomegranate compound butter (a mixture of 1/2 pound butter with about 1/4 cup of pomegranate molasses and 1 Preserved Lemon, chopped.) Then, I put the remaining butter (maybe 1/4 stick,) into the cavity with a regular lemon cut in half, a medium onion cut into quarters, and a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme and sage, chopped.

I browned the turkey neck in a medium saucepan with some shallots and covered with water to make a stock for gravy and basting.

Finished up by pouring 2/3 of a bottle of dry white wine into the base of the pan and popped the whole thing in a 375 degree oven to roast for between 4 1/2 and 5 hours. I basted about every 1/2 hour. When the pan juices ran low, I added a little turkey stock and more wine. For the last 20 minutes, I cranked the oven to 425 to get a delicious, crispy skin without drying out the breast. I pulled it out of the oven, let it rest for 2o minutes, and then Karvin Karl did his thing. I think the picture speaks for itself.

There were deviled eggs to start, good old fashioned ones topped with a little paprika,

and Edna Lewis' Asparagus salad with Cucumber Dressing. This was blanched asparagus and white onion slices, cooled to room temp and finished with a dressing made of dijon mustard, sherry vinegar, red wine vinegar, olive oil, chopped dill, parsley, tarragon and thyme, and capers and cucumbers, diced into tiny pieces. Unbelievably refreshing.

And lastly, the Tomato Bread.

Crusty bread, cut up and topped with pats of butter and canned tomatoes, sugar and salt. Tossed in the oven for about 20 minutes. Via Edna Lewis. I have said it before and I will say it again: Like the hot, deconstructed version of a butter and tomato sandwich. Fuck yeah!

Karl made some good old fashioned Banana Cream Pudding, with Nilla Wafers. We did not make the wafers-- Keebler or Nabisco, or whoever the hell makes them seems to have it down, and I truly don't think I could do any better. I do think, though, that Karl makes a hell of a good banana cream pudding!

He used Edna Lewis' recipe up to a point, and then winged it in true SND In Astoria fashion. There were at least 2 ladies I know, who housed theirs, housed seconds, and then got sent home with takeaway thirds because they were too embarrassed to eat it right then and there. Now that is success you can measure!

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!