Alan had to go home, but the rest of us schlepped up to Vermont for more eating and occasional walks with the kids. The first night we had more steaks, which had marinated since before Christmas in a bit of soy and rice vinegar, then got a rub of coffee, garlic, pepper, salt, and grated dried Chinese mushrooms (the intensely chocolatey ones, which were the inspiration for the cappucino-mushroom soup that I’ll get to someday) and seared up just right in an iron pan. With various sides, including a 2001 Dead Arm, to my taste the most French of Aussie wines, except maybe for Grange, which is 3 times the price.
The next night we had carrot risotto, Mat marinated (sesame oil, soy sauce, tabasco, lemon) and grilled salmon and swordfish (amazing, especially the swordfish) asparagus, and Andrew’s salad. A Sine Qua Non pinot noir #6 took this already fantasic meal to a whole other level. I’m very glad that I have two more of them in store.
Mat & Emily, Andrew, and Alan joined us for Christmas dinner. We roasted a capon, stuffed with our version of her Mom’s stuffing: whole wheat bread, onion, celery, shiitake, Moroccan lemon, smoked pork broth, lots of herbs, and that which did not fit into the bird got well basted with fat and baked in a pan separately.
Along with the bird came roasted kabocha squash, gravy made from a purée of burdock and dried Chinese mushrooms whisked into a roux made from the hot bird fat, cranberry sauce (sweetened only with maple syrup) and kale. We began with yet another Pleiades, and finished with a 2002 Sirius. Dessert was a pretty perfect pear tart (the glaze was strawberry wine cooked down with orange whiskey and honey to a syrup) and vanilla ice cream. Fantastic.
As per Christine’s family tradition, we had pea soup for dinner. This one was pretty great, since it had layers of flavors due to its composition; the last of the frozen smoked rib-based soup from the summer, plus smoked pork broth from the huge hunk that ended up as pulled pork, plus a new batch that began with bacon and finished with Fleisher’s homemade kielbasa. All added together, and simmmered until the new peas were just right (and the older ones were a perfectly smooth velvet) this one was a real symphony of pork flavors suspended in a creamy substrate of peas. With crusty bread and creamy, funky cheese, it was a perfect beginning to a week of family and more or less constant eating.
Chris, Sirkka, and Nissa all came for dinner before their trip, and I had gone shopping for Christmas so we had lots of good stuff in the house. First, the last of the cauliflower soup, increased a bit with more milk and butter, then served in little cups and finished with pepper and a drop of truffle oil.
Then, big shrimp, cleaned but with the shells on, dredged in cumin, cinnamon, pepper, salt, curry, garlic, and oregano, then seared in an iron pan and finished with a bit of wine.
I wilted a big bunch of spinach with garlic and oil, mashed a pile of steamed sweet potatoes, and finally seared a big top sirloin steak that had a coffee, garlic, salt and pepper rub liberally worked into it. This meat (from Fleisher’s, of course) is really like land sushi; I just seared both sides for about 3 minutes each and then let it rest for 10 to heat through. Gorgeous.
We drank another new Pleiades (see what I mean?) and then a 2003 Cheze St.-Joseph Ro-Rée, which also represents a great mouthful of wine for the price.
As a sort of Hanukkah meal I made sweet potato latkes, pan-seared salmon, and kale. The latkes really worked; while much less fatty than traditional ones, they had a lot of flavor and covered the full spectrum of texture from crunchy outside to creamy farther in and still a bit al dente in the middle. The salmon got an apple cider/honey/soy reduction and we washed it down with another Pleiades.
This started off as a roasted cauliflower with a cheese and porcini enhanced béchamel poured on it, the product of a rainy day and some boring cheddar in the fridge. The next day, I threw it all in a pot, added some more mushrooms, buttermilk and water, and once it was totally soft stick blended the whole thing into this creamy goodness. Mushrooms and cauliflower really get along, and the combination of cheese, milk, and buttermilk really elevated the earthy flavors.
Upon return from Miami, I found some lamb chops in the freezer, and since I had eaten pretty badly on my trip got excited to make some home cooking. So parsnip and sweet potato purées, steamed kale with lemon and garlic, and the chops crusted with mustard and herbs. We drank one of the new Pleiades (XV) which just arrived, and it’s a particularly good one. It will be fascinating to see how it ages, but I doubt we’ll be able to keep it around long enough to find out. For the money, I think it’s the best wine made in America.
In Chicago, with Christine’s Mom, Aunt, & Uncle, a smaller gathering called for a more modest meal and thus turkey was not on the menu. Instead we had a roasted pork loin, stuck with garlic, and a cranberry/red wine reduction with ginger and lemon, and mushrooms cooked in the pan drippings then flamed with cognac to finish. Along with this lovely roast, which had brined all day and was really juicy and flavorful, we had roasted roots (carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips, onions, red and yellow beets, celery root, garlic, and apples) and puréed roasted red kuri and kabocha squash, plus kale and Arlette’s roasted asparagus. We began with Susana Balbo’s Torrontes, then moved on to a 2000 Carver Sutro petite sirah which is finally hitting its stride.
For dessert we had a pear tart I made earlier in the day (with a passion fruit/clementine/cointreau/honey glaze) and Arlette’s chocolate cake. A good simple Thanksgiving- not a big blowout, but better for the quality of people and food, and the space to enjoy both.
Fresh from a shopping trip to Chinatown in the city, all the new treats inspired this inaccurate but damn tasty dinner upon my return. It’s hard to find gai lan and long beans anywhere else, so I loaded up on them, as well as baby bok choy. The long beans sautéed in the last of the pork belly, then had garlic, sambal oelek, rice wine and ponzu added to finish. The gai lan tossed with tons of garlic and ginger finished with rice wine and the last of our soy sauce (I wish I had bought some more on my trip; it’s so much cheaper down there.) We had two kinds of dumplings: shu mai with a filling of puréed lotus root, black beans, and umeboshi paste, and gyoza filled with shredded bok choy, carrot, and onion. I fried the gyoza and steamed the shu mai, and the dippng sauce was ponzu with some heat added.
Sometimes we get lucky, and my evening survey of the fridge immediately suggests a plan. This was one of those times. We liked to order malai kofta from our local Indian place back in Brooklyn, and I saw the makings of a mutant variation in the remnants of recent meals. So, for the balls, leftover steamed Brussels sprouts, parsnips, and cauliflower puréed along with brown rice and sweet potatoes as well as onion that I cooked fresh with oil, various seeds, and a thumb of ginger all went in the food processor along with half an egg an a bit of flour. These fried in a pan to firm them up, then went into a mixture of black beans, coconut milk, tomato paste, eggplant, spinach and spices which I stick-blended into a gorgeous thick sauce. Garnished with cilantro and lime, it tasted pretty authentic considering it was made of scraps and I have no idea how it’s actually made.