Last night we had our first frost, and the row covers worked well to protect the less hardy greens. My hope is that we’ll be able to keep some things going at least as far as full Winter, if not longer for the kale and collards. Those I planted a month ago will have a great head start in the spring if they survive. In any case, it will be a good chance to learn about what does well and what doesn’t, and whether some more robust winterproofing is in order for next time.
Tonight I made falafel for the first time in a long time, which is odd because it’s so easy and so good. The key is to soak and then cook the chick peas early in the day so all that’s needed come dinner time is to fry them up and assemble the garnishes. These included fresh radishes, pickled beets, hot and mild garden salsas, mixed late greens (arugula, mustard, mizuna, sorrel) and of course tahini (but with an avocado mashed in for good measure.) A very nice balance between the crispy fried and the crunchy raw ends of the spectrum, all tied together with creamy sauce and a little spice.
The other accomplishment today was the crock of kimchi- two perfect cabbages, carrots, scallions, a couple of radishes, garlic, ginger, and a minced cayenne pepper combined in salt water- in a week or so I’ll check its progress. I’m pretty excited for this; it’s so healthy and so good and will help wake up many winter favorites. All our hot pepper preparations are going to require lots of beer or riesling this winter.
The chicken carcass became broth, and I made “meatballs” with the leftover lentil salad, a dab of pâté, an egg, and some flour, then poached them in the broth. Soba and braised pan di zucchero finished the bowl. The meatballs were OK, but needed more zing- ginger, garlic, and chile, maybe, and some matzo meal to improve the texture. This dish also underscored the urgency of making the big crock of kimchi I’ve been planning for the minute our cabbages are big enough; with our first frost likely to come on Sunday night I’ll probably make it on Saturday just in case my winterizing doesn’t work.
A roast chicken, with Japanese yams and whole garlic cloves in the pan, plus sautéed kale with lemon and a lemony gravy made with the pan juices. Just right for a rainy day and I got to work right up to dinner time. A 2001 Cheze St.-Joseph Cuvée Ro-Rée was well suited to this simple meal, though I think I like the 03 better.
Today was another, even warmer perfect fall day and the leaves are peaking. I got to work outside for a couple of hours and enjoy the sounds and smells of the season. The scarcity and magic of these days makes them even more valuable, and the undercurrent of melancholy at the fleeting warmth gives each moment added weight. Time is fat like pumpkins right now.
To balance the divine excess of last night, a couple of clean and healthy dishes tonight. Little puy lentils simmered with carrot, onion, and celery and finished with olive oil, parsley, and fennel fronds accompanied a puréed soup of celery root, leeks, fennel, onion, sorrel, and potato with a broth fortified by the bones of the two legs of duck confit we had last week. The soup really worked; with good texture and a broad range of integrated flavors- from the meaty duck to the bright lemony sorrel- it was light for a warm day yet still rich for the time of year. Ditto the lentils, but from the other direction: vegan, but intensely earthy and substantial. Speaking of earthy and substantial yet light, a 2001 Guigal white Hermitage matched both these dishes quite well.
Fans of Patton Oswalt (he was the voice of Ratatouille, you know) might recognize the title for this post. Today, because I’m the daddy, and it was an impeccable crystalline warm fall day- with all those fleeting perfections of smell and light and feeling that fill one at once with both pure distilled joy of life and sad dread at its evanescence- a meal to celebrate the exact intersection of those two emotions.
At Daniel‘s Bistro DB in the city he makes the famous “DB Burger” and I made it my mission to rival it in pure sensuous fabulosity (if not refined elegance.) Having a bit of the pâté mixture left in the fridge, I seasoned organic ground beef with salt, pepper, and garlic and stuffed the orotund patties with a generous dollop of same. Then, chopping the bacon cracklings also remaining from pâté fabrication, I studded the outside of the burgers with them and got to work on the fries- sweet potatoes, fried twice, then salted, that is. Once the burgers were done, I caramelized leeks in the combination of beef, pork, and duck fat that the burgers had rendered out and then mopped up the last of it with organic whole wheat English muffins.
The toppings were thus HP Sauce, leeks, and fresh-picked frisée, with a good raw-fermented dill pickle on the side. Crunchy, sweet fries, insanely decadent burger, crisp, tangy, and sweet condiments. Not a drop of ketchup or mustard to be found, and I must say that this burger succeeded in every imaginable way, including some I’m not going into here. We opened a 1998 Gros Noré Bandol, which is a great burger wine, with hair and fruit and depth and the focus to cut through the fat and scour the cholesterol from your arteries. This wine, for the price, is a must-buy, but you do have to sit on it for 8-10 years to reap the benefits.
A final tasting note on the Chambolle-Musigny from last night: left on the counter overnight with a cork in the bottle, the last glass has opened up into a rounder, darker-flavored wine that suggests more time will bring this to a much nicer place and indeed make it an excellent bargain.
Another variation on Ma Po tofu tonight, using a bit of the pâté mixture I made yesterday in place of ground pork and carrots as well as peas. The pâté has a lot of flavor, but I still added rice vinegar, lime juice, nama shoyu, wine, and sesame oil to round it out. After it was done, the green outer leaves of a head of pan di zucchero, braised with their own residual washing water, garlic, lime juice, and sesame oil left the wok clean & shiny so dishes were a snap. We tried a 1999 François Parent Chambolle-Musigny that was better than his Vosne-Romanée we had a few nights back- ironically, given that this one is cheaper. The nose is good, but it’s sour and thin in the mouth. Whether more time will improve it is hard to say; it will never be epic, but if the tartness gives way to the soft fruit and truffles hinted at in the nose it will be well worth the 20+ bucks.
Tonight, a mix of old and new; more thinning and picking in the garden gave us a couple of fantastic fresh additions to the lamb and puréed greens from the last couple of days. The lamb, pulled apart and seasoned with some ras-el-hanout, became a sort of Moroccan pulled lamb, with the preserved lemon flavor really coming through the complex spices. There is no substitute for letting stews sit in the fridge for a day or two. Baby kale made a brilliant, tender salad, while chopped cabbage and collards got the Italian treatment with smashed garlic and lemon. These four dishes, served with reheated brown rice, offered a decidedly new meal on a used chassis. Not much to look at, but the flavors really zinged and the ratio of meat to grain to greens was perfect.
The sharp focus and deep comfort of this combination had worthy companionship in a bottle of 2004 Savigny-les-Beaune 1er cru “Les Narbantons” by Mongeard-Mugneret which is the first really good modestly priced Burgundy I’ve had in a while. Still tight, it has the classic nose and good potential to become something special in a few years if the hole in the middle fills in.
One of the many pleasures of a garden is that it tells you what to eat; on any given day something is à point and must be picked immediately for best flavor. Yesterday, the thinned kale became a nutritious garnish in place of herbs. Today, it was mustard greens and sorrel that needed beating back. Combined with chick peas I put out to soak and some salmon that Christine bought it all became a pretty decent Indian-inspired meal.
The greens got stick-blended into a lovely thick purée along with fenugreek, mustard, coriander, and cumin seeds plus a grilled serrano chile, and the chick peas cooked long and low with vindaloo paste and a bunch of different dried spices. For the salmon, lemon rind and juice, tomato and tamarind pastes, and a turmeric-based curry powder. All atop brown rice with our peach-habañero chutney and handsomely accompanied by a 2005 Sancerre by Franck Millet; the delicate fruit and good acidity weren’t overpowered by the fairly gentle heat of the food (I am also cooking for a three-year-old, after all.)
Rick and Julie extended their visit long enough to have an early dinner, so I braised some lamb ribs in wine, tapenade, preserved lemon, and mirepoix. While they were getting tender, I steamed a big parsnip, a celery root, and the leftover potatoes from the night before then mashed them up with some butter. Baby kale (thinned from the winter bed) and green mash to finish. Fall makes for such good eating, and drinking, though a 1999 Vosne-Romanée by François Parent did not impress.
Rick and Julie are visiting for a couple of days, so after last night’s birthday party at Liz’s house- a pot luck in the grand tradition of our tribe- tonight was a more refined 3-course meal designed to highlight some great wine. First, a zucchini-shiso soup with minced serrano chiles for garnish paired with a 1989 Moulin Touchais Coteaux du Layon which had a rich sweetness that matched quite nicely with the creamy, slightly spicy soup. Then, a variation on frisée aux lardons, with our own frisée tossed in an egg yolk-mustard-lemon vinaigrette and topped with our shredded duck confit, paired with a 1983 Domaine Dujac Clos la Roche which shone ever brighter as the evening went on.
The final course was grass-fed sirloin, seared on the grill, and sliced over our mashed yukon gold potatoes with a red wine-coffee reduction, pan di zucchero mash, tiny whole potatoes crisped in duck fat, and leeks caramelized in the selfsame fat. This we matched with their 1989 (coincidentally) Kathryn Kennedy cabernet that had all the understated elegance of our refined take on meat and potatoes. Simple, local (mostly homegrown) food, old wine, and good company: an unbeatable combination. The cheesy tablecloth added rustic color and protects my Grandmother’s dining room table from wine-related mishaps.