Archive for July, 2012

The Saketini

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

 

 

Stage and screen actress Jacqueline Knapp recently appeared beside Al Pacino and John Goodman in the television movie “You Don’t Know Jack” about the life of Jack Kevorkian.  She’s headlined in the Broadway production of Dancing At Lughnasa.  The soap of soaps, “All My Children,” gave her Texas ranch-woman character five episodes of plot-line.  Knapp is also the Associate Artistic Director of The Actor’s Studio, and sits on its Board of Directors.

Most relevant here, she summers in a Folly Cove cottage neighboring mine that her great aunt purchased years ago, and has been the family retreat for three generations.  Jacqueline always brings her Manhattan electricity when neighbors meet on The Howlet’s stone porch for cocktails, but a recent warm July evening, she and her partner, Skip Curley, cooled our crew with Saketinis:  icy cold Hendrick’s Gin and Sake floating a fresh slice of cucumber.

 

Cool, round and earthy, the drink was like cold stones and freshly cut grass.  A sip  was like the steel blade of a knife slicing a freshly picked cucumber.

Fishermen say that when bluefish are in the middle of a feeding frenzy the fresh scent of cucumbers rises off the sea water.  I’m not going to say why because the explanation is not pretty but this is a real phenomenon.

In a Saketini, I don’t think there is a drink that so perfectly compliments a steamy night on Cape Ann, the apple tree utterly still except for a branch rustled by plump robins settling into sleep, the bluefish dark and quiet beneath the cold waters of Folly Cove at our feet.

 

 

Because everything should be easy on a Thursday night in the summer, Jacqueline served our Saketinis in shallow glass ramekins; save the stem glasses for the holiday parties.

 

Saketini, Jacqueline Knapp-style

3 ounces Hendrick’s Gin

1/2 ounce Sake

one slice of cucumber

Pour ingredients into a shaker filled with ice and stir will.  Strain into a shallow glass ramekin.  Float a cucumber slice.

 

 

 

 

 

New England Farm Guacamole

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

 

Guacamole purists will choke, so I’ll call this delicious, lively and local variation on diced avocados “New England Farm Guacamole,” the way Rhode Island Clam Chowder and Manhattan Clam Chowder declare their terroir.

 

 

 

Andy Varela of Maitland Mountain Farm in Salem, MA, makers of our region’s greatest pickles, came up with this recipe.  He says any pickle that’s not sweet works here, but I would say the more homemade and crisp the better.  Maitland Mountain pickles have a small spice cabinet in each tub –

 

 

 

They contribute so much flavor no one misses the salsa, particularly when it’s garnished with local edible flowers.

 

 

 

New England Farm Guacamole, from Maitland Mountain Farm

serves 4

 

Ingredients

 

3 avocados small dice

2 pickles small dice

1 tablespoon pickle brine

salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons fresh chives

 

Instructions

 

Combine all ingredients into a medium bowl.  Fold in avocado gently.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve and enjoy.

 

Ana Sortun’s Chef Sets

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

 

I recently talked to Ana Sortun of Oleana about her new Chef Sets, kits for making Turkish-market inspired dinners at home.  Sortun affirmed the last thing the world needs is another celebrity chef product, but she called this a “love affair project,” begun when nutritionists approached her about developing healthy but satisfying recipes for their clients.

 

 

SetPoint Nutritionists wanted the glorious Middle Eastern flavors on Sortun’s menus in meals that accommodated diabetes, obesity, and metabolic concerns.

Sortun was all empathy.

“Since I was five or six-years-old I battled a slow metabolism; I was always on a diet.  I was always sitting at a table watching people enjoy food, but I had to eat the “healthy” thing; it was a punishment to eat healthy.”

“I just think people need a little help,” Sortun says, talking about the struggles of busy lives and balanced eating.  “I see these meals as a tool, a reasonable, healthy solution” to achieving the right balance of protein, carbohydrate and good fat.  The nutritionists made sure that part worked.

Azuluna Pork with Moorish Spices, Saffron Rice, Cherries, Olives & Radicchio is on the menu tonight at Oleana; Sortun’s cookbook is titled “Spice, the flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean;” but, amazingly, Sortun says says it was in developing these products that she learned “the power of spices.”

“(The Chef Set Project) was cooking backwards,” she explains.  “I usually cook starting with local ingredients; I’m usually inspired by the fresh stuff first.”  In designing these recipes, Sortun had to begin with the spices and move back towards the fresh ingredients.

After two and a half years of work, all participants decided the products should be available for retail.

 

 

 

One pan, some fresh ingredients, a set of hands, and a Chef Set means an ample, robust dinner for two in twenty minutes.   Saffron, turmeric, and cinnamon were the centerpiece flavors of my “Couscous with Moroccan Spices and Almonds” dinner.  It required eight ounces of boneless chicken breasts, an onion, two large carrots, and some olive oil.  The finished dinner tasted like real food, nothing re-hydrated or preserved about it.

 

 

“We use the same flavors as at Oleana,” Sortun said, “the spice blends are the very things we would do at the restaurant.”

Another variation  – quinoa, crushed pistachios, and za’atar  – requires fresh salmon, frozen peas, onion and olive oil.  Get the idea?  This isn’t about not cooking.  It’s a tool, Sortun stresses.  For the skilled, the kit eliminates a recipe search and time spent rummaging in the cupboard for ingredients.  For those less familiar with a saute pan, the kit requires some simple cooking, but it’s an imaginative and healthy alternative to frozen pizza.

Many a weeknight I’ve looked at the clock and realized my “simple dinner” has meant I’m standing in the kitchen for an hour and a half.  As Sortun says, “What the hell can you cook in twenty minutes?”  Here we are.

The kits are available at Whole Foods, Sofra, Siena Farms in Boston’s South End, and the Copley Square Farmers Market.   One kit costs $5.99.  With the additional fresh ingredients, it means about $6.00 per person for dinner.

Sortun’s tips on using the sets:

“I use a lot more vegetables.  You can substitute vegetables, too.  (Edamame for the frozen peas?  Koldrabi for carrot? ) Out of the ten products we developed, half use an onion; it’s such an essential ingredient; there’s no substituting what an onion does – the browning, the caramelization.  Don’t touch the onion!” -spoken like a chef, but one, perhaps, still a little ambivalent about cooking from a box.

No need.  Like everything Sortun does, her heart is in this; Sortun has achieved a product that can make daily life healthy and gracious without an Oleana reservation.

teşekkür ederim

 

 

Annie Copps’ Open-Face Peach and Blueberry Tart

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

In the late 1980‘s Annie Copps sauced and sauteed in Boston’s best kitchens.  It was a revolutionary time for restaurants; the word “local” wasn’t yet exhausted, but chefs Jasper White and Lydia Shire were just beginning to create five-star cuisine with American ingredients and traditions.  Michela Larson of Michela’s restaurant had banished red sauce from her kitchen, and was redefining Italian dining, spooning out curiosities like gnocchi, caponata and fresh pasta.  Todd English was just a quiet, heavy-browed guy with a mad passion for Mediterranean flavors and delicate crusted pizza.  Gordon Hammersley and Jody Adams were sous chefs, and Annie Copps was in the middle of it, on the line at Jasper’s, Michela’s and Olive’s kitchens.  Every Sunday off, Copps prepared dinner with her roommate, a young South Boston girl named Barbara Lynch, who also worked at Michela’s and Olives when she wasn’t buried in the great Italian cookbooks by Waverly Root and Elizabeth David.  Copps remembers watching  her zealous roommate studying, and saying to herself, “I’m into this; she’s REALLY into this.” Barbara Lynch went on to open five successful restaurants of her own, including No. 9 Park.  The women are still great friends.

But Annie Copps’ high-octane personality couldn’t be contained in one career.  She began flirting with a television camera in the 1990‘s, working with Jaques Pepin and Julia Child shooting their cooking show, at the same time beginning a masters degree in public health.  Oldways, an organization dedicated to preserving traditional ways of eating, derailed that degree.  Copps spent four years with them traveling to villages in Spain, Italy and Greece, putting together conferences with chefs, local public health officials and food importers, finding ways to promote specific regional foods in ways that would sustain those cultures.  The next time you put farro, bulgher, yogurt, avocados – even olive oil – in your shopping cart, know that most of those ingredients are grocery staples thanks to Oldways’ efforts.

Copps eventually came home to Boston for yet another career variation, this time as food editor of Boston Magazine from 2000 to 2005.  Yankee Magazine lured her away as their food editor from 2005 to 2011.

I’ve worked with people like Copps before – we all have.  Not only are they doing their job better than anyone in the room, but they’re so dynamic you can’t wait to get to work to be with them.   If you’re in the restaurant business, you stay late and sit at the bar with the crew just because that person is going to be there, and you know no one will ever stop laughing.  Copps operates with more horse power when she’s having a simple dinner interview than most of us on our sharpest days.

That’s probably why her next career move was to the Today Show, where, in three minutes and twenty-seven seconds she can teach America how to make lobster an affordable meal:  she whooshes through a warm lobster dip, then baked lobster tails accompanied by a cherry tomato and lobster salad.   And she cripples you with humor.  I had to watch the video three times to finally stop laughing and get the recipes right.

Copps is also currently co-host of WGBH’s Daily Dish, and spending autumn to winter teaching cooking classes on the Oceania Cruise Line, home to a restaurant created by Jaques Pepin.  Here’s Copps on Pepin:  “He’s a great chef, a wonderful man, and (at seventy-seven) still the last one at the party.”

I asked Annie for some sweeping comments on current food trends; she answered, “I”m happy to see foams and smears go.  I still love plates that look really beautiful, but not manipulated.  I want local, regional, and seasonal to stay; they speak volumes for the sustainability of communities.  I hope the word ‘foodie’ goes away.”

Copps is sometimes droll, sometimes ribald, sometimes killing.  Next to that, she’s a practical and smart cook.  Each of her recipes is that hallowed combination of simplicity, just enough surprise and glamour to be more than homey, and deliciousness.

Here’s a recipe for the best open-faced tart you’ll ever make.  As Copps says, “That dough is fantastic.  You can make it, and freeze it, and it is still so flakey (could be all the BUTT-er).  If you leave the sugar out, it’s a terrific top for chicken (seafood) pot pie.”

To see her present the tart and other easy summer desserts on the Today Show, click here.   – and check out the Today Show website for more of her recipes.

 

Annie B. Copps’ Open-Faced Peach and Blueberry Tart

 

Ingredients

1 ½ cups (6 ¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons sugar

½ teaspoon table salt

11 tablespoons (5 ½ ounces) cold, unsalted butter

1 large egg yolk

2 tablespoons whole milk

About 3 cups sliced (1/4-inch thick) peaches (skins removed if you like), or just about any combination of fruits and berries (except bananas)

About 1 cup blueberries (pick through to remove any stems)

1/4 cup brown (or white) sugar

2 teaspoons cornstarch or tapioca

2 teaspoons vanilla or almond extract

almond paste (optional)

 

Instructions

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut the butter into ½ inch cubes and add them to the flour. On low speed combine the butter and flour just until the flour is no longer white and holds together when you clump it with your fingers – 1 to 2 minutes. If there are any lumps of butter larger than a pea, break them up with your fingers.

In a small bowl, mix the egg yolk and milk, then add to the flour mixture (on low speed… about 15 seconds ought to do it). The dough ought to still be a little lumpy and perhaps dry. Dump it onto a clean and lightly floured work surface.  Work it with the heel of your hand, pushing and smearing it away from you then gathering it back together with a bench scraper, until the dough comes together. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, then flatten it into a flat disk and refrigerate for at least a half hour (up to four days—you can freeze it for months and months).

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough into a 13 to 14 inch-round–it’s okay if the edges are little ragged. Place on a baking sheet and stick it back in the fridge while you get the fruit together.

For the filling, you’ll need about 4 cups of fruit total and I am all for whatever makes you two happy, perhaps whatever is in season when you get a hankering for pie. Combine the fruits, sugar, cornstarch, and extract (if using).

If using almond paste, form about 4 to 5 tablespoons into a ball; flatten the ball, then roll out into a thin circle.

Remove the pastry from the fridge and let it sit for a few minutes.  Place the almond paste disk in the center (it’s okay if it tears—you can even break it up into pieces). Heap the fruit in the center of the dough leaving a 2-inch rim around the outside (or carefully arrange it in circular pattern if you are using sliced stone fruit or apples). Fold the edges of the dough over the fruit, pleating as you go.

If you are feeling fancy, you can make an egg wash and brush the exposed dough, then sprinkle it with sugar. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the pastry is light brown and juices are starting to run.

pastedGraphic.pdf

A Ligurian Night at Rialto

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

 

With July 4th behind us, it’s time for the real parties to begin, the lush festivities that answer summer’s lifting of rules, it’s late nights, long sunsets, the urge to celebrate on a Wednesday.

Happy for us, Jody Adams of Rialto in Cambridge has long understood the sensorial call of cicadas and fireflies.  For eighteen years the Rialto team has created an Annual Summer Wine Barbecue.  This year’s theme is Liguria, the Italian region where pungent basil grows on the hillsides above the Mediterranean.  Pesto was born here.

 

 

No one understands Italian culinary treasures as well as Jody Adams, and no one re-interprets them on this side of the Atlantic with such flourish.  (The lobster dish above and the dish below are simply images of Adams’ food I snatched from the internet; they won’t necessarily be served on Wednesday.)

 

 

Here are some photos of last year’s barbecue, compliments of Rialto.  If you’re not actually sipping Campari in Genovese cafe right now, get yourselves to Cambridge for a festive evening that will make you feel far away from home.

In the name of food bloggers, while you’re thinking about Rialto, check on The Garum Factory, a gorgeous cooking blog put together by Jody and her husband Ken Rivard.

 

 

And here are the facts of Rialto’s Wednesday in Liguria:

Summer Ligurian Wine Barbecue

 

What: On Wednesday, July 18 the Rialto kitchen moves outside into the Charles Courtyard for our Annual Summer Wine Barbecue. This year’s event is an evening under the stars with a regional focus on Liguria, the coastal jewel of Italy, birthplace of pesto and home to some of the finest seafood in the Mediterranean. Guests will mix and mingle at the reception while sipping wine or a Liguria cocktail, slurping down oysters and clams from the raw bar and nibbling on hors d’oeuvres. The evening is like a gourmet Italian summer cookout with old and new friends and no mess to clean up!

 

Menu:

 

RECEPTION

Raw Bar & passed hors d’oeuvres

Vermentino, Bisson Vigna Intrigoso, Golfo del Tigullio 2009

Ligurian Basil Lemonade

 

FIRST

Cappon Magro…white fish lobster and shrimp salad, salsa verde, preserved mushrooms, artichokes, ship’s bread

Bosco/Vermentino/Albarola, Bisson Marea CinqueTerre 2010

 

SECOND

Grilled lamb two ways…pesto marinated chop, roasted leg, grilled polenta, smokey eggplant puree, zucchini, roasted tomatoes, lamb jus

Bisson Grenache

 

DESSERT

Jellied jasmine and watermelon

*please note menu is subject to change based on chefs whim and availability

 

Where: Rialto and Charles Square Courtyard, One Bennett Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA 02138

 

When: Wednesday, July 18, 2012; 6:30pm reception; 7:30pm dinner

 

Who: Jody Adams, chef and owner Rialto

 

Tickets: Call 617.661.5050 to reserve your space. Tickets are $125 inclusive of tax & gratuity.

 

Background: This is an annual event that Rialto has produced for 18 years. Each year Rialto hosts a big summer barbecue with over 100 people with a different regional theme.

 

Shauna Joyal’s Rote-Grutze

Friday, July 13th, 2012

 

As berries “currantly” plump on stems all over New England, it’s time to print Shauna Joyal’s great-grand-mother’s recipe, one of the top ten in our Mother’s Day Contest this past spring.  Shauna and her partner are owners of Tangerine, a company that makes beautiful cakes, pastries and pastel-tinted macarons flavored with local ingredients.  The photos are Joyal’s.

 Shauna Joyal

I too come from a long line of women who never put on an apron (unless it was made from Liberty of London fabric) and never thought of themselves as “grandmothers.”  My mother is a talented and innovative cook who’s meals are always served on the perfect antique dish from her collection.  She loves to teach her grandchildren to cook and how to set a beautiful table making your own your place cards and finding flowers in the yard.  As a kid, I often envied friends who’s mothers played board games and soccer out in the yard, but I came to understand that my mother showed her affection through cooking and teaching.  It was in the kitchen that we would connect and I would feel that we were truly in synch.

The recipe that I am sharing is one of my mother’s favorites and one that she loves to show off in one of her fabulous glass dishes.  It’s a fruit soup originally made with fresh currants from my great grandmother’s yard.  My mother adapted it since fresh currants are not easy to find and because she often wanted to make this dish in the winter.  She serves it with heavy cream, but I think a creme Anglaise made with fragrant cinnamon makes a nice addition.  

 

Shauna Joyal’s Rote-Grutze (Red Grits)

serves 4

Ingredients

3 cups cranberry juice

1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries and/or currants or 10 oz. frozen raspberries (my mother usually uses frozen)

2 sticks cinnamon

1/4 cup minute tapioca

Instructions

Bring cranberry juice, berries and cinnamon sticks to a boil.  Take off heat, remove cinnamon sticks and strain through a foley strainer or food mill.  Cool.  Add the tapioca and gradually bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook slowly for 5 minutes. Cool again and pour in individual dishes or one large serving dish.

 

A Beautiful Rockport Meal!

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

 

Ally’s, a new sandwich shop in Rockport, has elevated a panini and salad eaten on a bench to fine dining, not a default.  Rockport, after all, is riddled with wonderful benches, each with a better view of the harbor than the next.

 

 

 

And now it has sandwiches and soup to make that bench an easy lunch away from the crowds on a day strolling Rockport’s gardens and shops, a sand-less snack for a day at the beach, even a meaningful dinner destination before your concert at the Shalin Liu.

Open just eight weeks, (although the sign strangely says “since 2011”), wedged into a former ATM, Ally’s miraculously offers a couple of stools and some clean wooden counter space.   If you choose to take a seat you’ll probably meet the already committed Ally’s fans coming in for third and fourth visits.  A well-coiffed Rockport grandmother in pearls, waiting for her order, told me she was “working down the menu.”  She’d been there several times with her granddaughter, and “everything was excellent and fresh;” she loved the “Good Boy” (roast beef, black forest ham, roast turkey, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, and honey mustard) – the “Rockporter,” (honey ham, melted brie cheese and raspberry jam), and the watermelon gazpacho.

We couldn’t resist the sound of that Rockporter, but added a “Drop It” (turkey, avocado, bacon, swiss cheese, and mango habanero aioli), a “Motif #Yum” (peppered turkey breast, roasted artichokes, Pete’s basil pesto, and provolone cheese) and a Cobb Salad to our order.  The Cobb Salad was tacked on after a woman came in asking if she could pay to have more of it –  it wasn’t too small, she just liked it so much she wanted more!

We got that.  The salad was both crisp and meaty, with tender chunks of chicken, the greens still cool, the bacon, avocado, hardboiled egg, and blue cheese happily balanced.

The grandmother in pearls was right about a lot of things;  the paninis and wrap were built with fresh, high quality ingredients.  Peter Zopatti, formerly chef at the Seaward Inn and designer of Ally’s creations, makes his own spreads like the mango habanero aioli and pesto.  But mostly our elegant Rockport critic was right about the soup.  I tried the tropical mango and cucumber, a light, cold touch.  It transported my bench to a cafe in St. Barts.

 

Disregarding the adorable names, the choices are creative enough to satisfy jaded sandwich eaters without losing traditionalists.  Ally’s is still a sandwich shop.  But it’s hard to find a meal anywhere with fresh ingredients and flavor beyond french fries and mayonnaise.  To add a stone bench with Rockport harbor at one’s feet to a well-made Cobb salad and “Rockporter” is like dressing up Cinderella for the ball, but Cinderella had good bones to start.  Ally’s has a great product, easily dressed up as fine picnic-ing.

A little French Bistro Dinner compliments of Marx Foods

Friday, July 6th, 2012

 

When Fed Ex placed on my front porch an insulated box full of grass-fed New Zealand rib-eye steaks, I realized just how good it is to be a guest blogger for Marx Foods.  The only better thing to be is a non-vegetarian friend of Heather’s invited for dinner.

For the record, the Marx Food business began five generations ago as butchers in Brooklyn.  Today, they are amazing purveyors of seriously high quality delicious foods, from edible flowers to ostrich, all over the country. Restaurants have loved Marx as suppliers of meats for years, but now their products are available as a retail source, too.  Adorable Justin Marx is infusing all kinds of modern energy into the family business;  look for them featured in July’s Food and Wine Magazine.

My  opened box revealed ravishing marbled bricks of angus beef, “Silver Fern” steaks from steer who supposedly have known only open New Zealand fields and blue New Zealand skies.  (Silver Fern is a farm cooperative, managing the procuring, processing and marketing for more than 20,000 New Zealand sheep, cattle and deer farmers.)  My steaks came from cattle who began and ended their lives grazing.  (On their blog, Marx Foods makes sure we know that, while the steer lived in the open air, they didn’t get cold; the Silver Fern people provide their angus with windbreaks and other structures “for shelter in inclement weather.”

 

 

Yes, these steaks are all that an animal raised lovingly should be when butchered and sent to market, so it really is acceptable, like many great artisanal foods, to do as little as possible to them.  Manipulate not, most people would scream.  But, as a guest blogger I wanted to do something; Anthony Bourdain’s ever honest-to-blunt-to-crude discourse on brasserie cooking in his Les Halles Cookbook felt like the right French swagger for a steak with such a bucolic provenance.  Even though it’s grill season, I turned to France for carnal inspiration.

 

This is what Bourdain says about rib eye steaks:

The entrecote, or rib eye, and its big bone-in brother, the cote de boeuf, have perhaps the perfect balance of fat, lean, and marbling – the best mix of flavor and texture.  Dismayingly, all too many restaurant customers complain that it’s “too fatty,” as they are just too dumb to appreciate the best steak on the steer.  They should probably stick to the leaner but very flavorful sirloin, which is what their dumb asses were probably thinking of when they put in their order.  

The current nutritional buzz on fat and grass-fed animals is all good news.  A Time Magazine Article on the grass-fed revolution in cattle farming makes these claims:

Grass is a low-starch, high-protein fibrous food, in contrast to carbohydrate-rich, low-fiber corn and soybeans. When animals are 100% grass-fed, their meat is not only lower in saturated fats but also slightly higher in omega-3 fatty acids, the healthy fats found in salmon and flaxseed, which studies indicate may help prevent heart disease and bolster the immune system. Ground beef and milk from grass-finished cattle also have more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which recent data suggest may help prevent breast cancer, diabetes and other ailments. Moreover, grass-finished meat is higher than grain-finished meat in vitamin A and vitamin E, two antioxidants thought to boost resistance to disease. “Grass-fed meat is beef with benefits,” says nutritionist Kate Clancy, author of a recent Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report. UCS, a Washington-based nonprofit, reviewed scores of studies and concluded that a change from grain-based feedlots back to a purely pasture-based system “would be better for the environment, animals and humans.”

The fat on these steaks is a health food;  so, off I went, Bourdain opened to page 130, “steak au poivre.”  The three big ingredients here are steak, cognac, pepper, and a good radio show to keep you alive while grinding pepper corns for 15 minutes.  You need a lot of pepper.  Ok, there’s butter is in there, too.  New Zealand, welcome to Paris in the 1930’s!

I lay out my New Zealand beauties, patted them dry, and then clicked on an episode of “This American Life.”

 

This was not grocery store steak; this was earth and sky interpreted through flesh.  These steaks bled fescue.  They were tender like buttercups.  The lacey layer of pepper was a forthright compliment to all that richness. The cognac was suave.  (I’m not a vegetarian, but I am an extremely picky meat-eater, therefore a rib-eye steak is almost as exotic and rare as truffles and caviar.)  Grass and sky a great ribeye make.

 

 

The classic way to serve Steak au Poivre is with a mound of pommes frittes, that sauce ribboning all.  It’s so French bistro you can almost hear the plates clinking and the surly waiters’ splintering French slang.  Call me lazy, or uncommitted, but I served these steaks with frozen french fries, not twice-fried, hand-cut potatoes.  Let’s just say I didn’t want the fries to out-shine the steak, nor did I want to resent the steak for the labor the fries demanded.

I recommend buying these steaks for a fabulously special dinner, but be easy on yourself; find fancy, organic frozen french fries.  Just make sure you drizzle the sauce over all, or you’ll hear it from le serveur. 

 

Thank you, Marx Foods; thank you, New Zealand.

 

Anthony Bourdain’s Steak au Poivre, from Les Halles

serves 4

ingredients

4  8-ounce steaks

2 ounces olive oil

2 ounces freshly cracked peppercorns (not powder)

4 ounces butter

1 ounce good Cognac

4 ounces strong, dark veal stock (Bourdain says here, “right now, you really could us a tiny bit of that demi-glace I told you to keep in your freezer.”  True confessions, I used beef demi-glace.)

salt and pepper

Instructions

Cook the steaks

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Moisten the meat very slightly with the oil, then dredge each of the steaks in the crushed peppercorns to thoroughly coat.  Don’t be shy with the pepper.  Heat the remaining oil in the skillet over hight heat.  Once the oil is hot, add 2 ounces of the butter.  Place the steaks in the pan and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes per side.  Transfer the pan to the oven and cook to desired doneness.  Remove the pan from the oven and remove the steaks from the pan to rest.

(Bourdain says, “have I told you yet to ALWAYS rest your meat after cooking?  I’ve told you now.”)

For the sauce

Return the skillet to the stovetop and carefully stir in the Cognac. As much fun as it is to create a column of flame as you add flammable material to an incredibly hot pan, it’s not really desirable or necessary — especially in a home kitchen. Unless you’re a pyromaniac, I recommend carefully adding the Cognac to the still-hot pan off the flame, stirring and scraping with the wooden spoon to get every scrap, every peppercorn, every rumor of flavor clinging to the bottom of the pan

Now place the pan on the flame again and cook it down a bit, by about half. Stir in the veal stock and reduce over medium heat until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Whisk in the remaining butter and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with French fries or sautéed potatoes.

* Note on searing: With any recipe that calls for searing meat and then using the pan to make a sauce, be careful to avoid blackening the pan; your sauce will taste burnt. Avoid by adjusting the heat to, say, medium high, so it will still sear the meat but not scorch the pan juices. But stoves and pans vary, so pay attention.

 

How do you know a great recipe when you see it?

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

You’re having a dinner party.  The cookbooks stack ten-high beside your bed.  In the morning you trip on the ones you’ve cast to the floor, the ones that hold no answers.  The appetizers are all little balls of soft cheese rolled in diced something.  The entrees are either dated one-dish meals or include ingredients like lobster that are too obviously “special.”  The desserts are too homey or too grand.

Your eyes have changed a glasses prescription for the hours you’ve spent squinting at Epicurious.  What good are food bloggers if they can’t offer you one great dinner party recipe?!  You go to the basement and heave up a stack of old Bon Appetites and curled Cook’s Illustrated.  Hours slip by as you flip through them.  Occasionally you say to yourself, “I don’t have time for this!  Why, in all these recipes, isn’t there ONE that jumps out!”

Most of us who entertain know these moments.  If you’re lucky, your whole dinner party will revolve around the ONE recipe you find that is the honest one, the pure one, a religious composite of ingredients that you instantly recognize as perfect:  perfect because the ingredient list isn’t crazy.  Perfect because the ingredient list has just enough “wow!” to it.  Perfect because the instructions aren’t that time consuming, no critical last minute procedures that include high heat or – god forbid –  hot oil.

In fact, it’s perfect because – well, you don’t really know exactly WHY it’s perfect, but you just see the recipe on the page, and you know it will work; you know it will invite the oohs and aaahs for which we strive when we cook for others, and that you will be at the table, relaxed, to hear them.

But how DO you know a great recipe when you see it?  People who cook just do.  Maybe it’s because we’ve followed enough failed recipes, we’ve assembled thirty-five ingredients and ended up with nothing more than spicy tomato sauce, or we’ve spent dinner parties alone in the kitchen assembling last minute salt cod fritters while the guests drink, feeling awkward and guilty.

I asked Mary Ann McCormick, who with her daughter Nicole Nordensved, owns Lark Fine Foods, maker of wonderful cookies like rosemary shortbread, about that kind of recipe masterpiece, a recipe you know will work as soon as you see it:

“The first one that comes to mind is a recipe from The Silver Palate authors’ The New Basics, for Sante Fe Pork Stew. I’ve been making it for years so I can’t recall much of my first reaction to the recipe except that it has ingredients I like (namely sweet potatoes, capers and black beans in addition to the obvious pork) and it’s a stew, which I really like.”

Mary Lou Nye, a graphic designer and landscape designer, offered some thoughts on how we know a recipe is a winner:

“I think I look for something I am familiar with, can relate to, but something that sparks my imagination, the ‘I can do this, but it’s better than what I’ve done before; it’s a reach. If something is a little bit of a challenge, then you put your whole effort into it, which usually makes whatever it is better.”

Nye also suggested that sometimes a great recipe is anchored by one fabulous ingredient, like the garlic in the classic “chicken with 40 cloves of garlic” or the addition of chipotle peppers to an ordinary corn bread recipe.

Barbara Gavin, a passionate home-cook who works at Pearson Education, says this about finding a recipe masterpiece:

“Funny you should bring that up…I was looking for a beet salad recipe; I must’ve scanned 30 recipes and none were right, none seemed to achieve what I wanted. And I knew it in, maybe, 15 seconds.  – like scanning resumes when you are hiring?…Maybe some recipes, for some mysterious reason, give us license (or ideas or space or options) to improvise?”

Gavin offered me this recipe from the blog “Food52.”  I instantly knew it was a winner.  It won’t suffer for being made ahead.  The dressing is a hallowed combination:  lemon, honey and garlic.  It includes the summery taste of  squashes, the surprise crunch of  pistachios, and the sweetness of golden raisins, elevating all out of the sometimes drab “cooking from your local farm-stand” category.  This is an example of one of those recipes to which you know you will return many times.   To be honest, the 66 rave reviews on the Food 52 website gave me confidence, too.

Summer Squash Couscous with Sultanas, Pistachios and Mint from Food 52

 

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 tablespoon lemon zest

Juice of one lemon

1/2 teaspoon honey

Olive oil

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 1/4 cup veggie stock

1 cup couscous

1/2 cup diced yellow squash

1/2 cup diced zucchini

1 medium shallot, finely chopped

1/2 cup sultanas/golden raisins

1/4 cup chopped pistachios

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

In a small bowl, whisk the lemon zest, lemon juice, honey, and 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add the garlic cloves and let them steep for about 30 minutes.

Next, bring the veggie stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in the couscous, cover, and turn off the heat; allow the couscous to sit for about 5 minutes, or until it absorbs all the liquid. Toss the couscous with a fork so the grains don’t start clumping together, pour into a large mixing bowl, and set aside.

In a skillet over medium high heat, add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Then, add the chopped squash and zucchini, shallot, sultanas, pistachios and a pinch or two of salt. Only cook for about a minute or two — you still want the squash and zucchini to be al dente. This just ensures they aren’t too al dente, and all the flavors can marry before they hit the couscous. Set aside until everything reaches room temperature.

Once the veggies have reached room temperature, add them to the bowl with the couscous and combine.

Then, remove and discard the cloves of garlic from the dressing, and toss it with the couscous (add the dressing gradually, as you may not need it all). Fold in the mint, season with additional salt and pepper if necessary and serve at room temperature.