There were some particularly beautiful organic artichokes at our local store yesterday, so I picked a couple out and today they came in super-handy. Milo wanted kidney beans, and we had white ones, so I put them in water to soak and then went to work, jumping back in around 3 to simmer them with sautéed onion, garlic, and rosemary so they’d be ready at 5 when I normally knock off for the day. (Pre-child, we’d often eat at 9 or 10 but that’s now ancient history.) Leftovers and perishables dictated the rest of the meal.
I made more of the arugula-dandelion mash, because it’s awesome, and goes with everything. I wrote a post about mash here, and I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s intensely flavored, raw, super-healthy, and as comfortable on a plate of vegan fare as it is offering a fabulous counterpoint to red meat. It’s infinitely variable, and can be made with any fresh seasonal greens (including weeds like dandelions, purslane, and garlic chives.) Expect to be bored silly by how many times I mention it in the coming months.
So tonight’s resulting dinner was the white beans folded into the leftover parsnip purée, topped with an artichoke, accompanied by mash, and finished with lemon juice, the artichoke cooking oil, and parsley. Artichokes are notoriously cranky wine partners, but cooking them this way so that they caramelize makes them much friendlier. It also means that the eater doesn’t have to do any work because the cook already did; everything on the plate is edible, and said caramelization guarantees that every little bit will be eaten. This (and the less-healthy “alla giudia” method) are simply the apotheosis of artichoke preparation- you don’t ever go back. We drank a 2006 Sancerre by Franck Millet, which for the money is a pretty nice wine that flattered this complex spectrum of flavors like good lighting does good painting.
Since I’ve been galavanting, I wanted to make a dinner tonight that made up for my absence, so I stopped at the store on my way home (after very nearly running out of gas because one of the service areas was closed) to get a few things. So we had elk medallions on parsnip purée (with the now-customary combination of yogurt, vanilla, and truffle oil) with a reduction sauce of red wine, hama-natto, cinnamon, and a bit of butter to thicken, plus some slaveringly good arugula-dandelion mash on the side. It felt great to pull out the suribachi and pulverize some greens, and I’ll need those muscles toned for the impending onslaught of gardeny goodness. The ume plums in the mash did a nice little thing with the miso beans in the sauce, and the plate covered the full spectrum of tastes; with a little bit of tweaking this dish could star Keira Knightley and win like a million Oscars.
I had a 1999 Tempier Bandol on the counter, meant to go with the Gros Noré we drank the other night when our guests had to cancel. So we didn’t get to try them together, but I’m glad- this was a great companion (supporting actor, if you will) that really handled all the strong flavors well while still asserting its own considerable character.
Thursday I caught a ride with John to Boston for Micro’s 10th anniversary show; it had been a while since I saw them play, and nothing beckons like a night out with dear friends while other dear friends play 2 sets of Moroccan-infused face-melting alien sex funk. Before the show, Andrew and I went to get many fabulous pizzas from nearby, which we ate with a White Barn 2005 Syrah-Grenache blend, a 2001 Chèze Saint-Joseph, a Cali syrah made by an alumna of Sine Qua Non, and a 2005 Turley zin. John brought the three Cali wines; I forget the details. An elegant feast in the cramped confines of the backstage lounge, and music that truly be the food (and drink) of love.
Today I returned from NYC where a different lineup (it changes every night) played at Alex Grey’s place; I had some stuff to do in the city so I combined business and pleasure, as is my wont. Before that show, my Brother and I had a bite at my favorite Chelsea joint. It’s my oasis of choice when I need respite- in the form of gnocchi and espresso- from the gallery slog, and was right around the corner from the gig.
I’ve been tending to forget to make pre-fermented pizza dough the night before, so lately I’ve been using a much simpler (if less tasty) recipe that only takes about three hours to rise- though I do make it half white- half whole wheat for better taste and nutrition. Unfortunately, our tired-ass old yeast just didn’t have what it takes to make the dough light and bubbly. The end result was more like a really big ugly cracker with pizza toppings on it. (Having said that, they were pretty good crackers.)
The first one (pictured) had caramelized shiitakes with garlic, parsley, and spinach, and the second one was an all-time favorite: onion, garlic, Kalamata olive, capers, and parsley. It’s essentially a pizza puttanesca, though without anchovy or hot pepper for the kid’s sake. An astonishingly rich and layered combination of flavors that show each other off wonderfully. To drink, a 2001 Saint-Joseph “Cuvée Ro-Ree” by Domaine Chèze; a favorite under $20 and just the ticket to transform a big ugly pizza cracker into a thing less risible.
We had made plans with Chris and Sirkka to get together for dinner, so this morning I pulled a giant (8 lb.) lamb shoulder- complete with ribs that I could have turned into chops if it hadn’t been frozen- and got to work. It was too big to fit in anything but the oven, so I broiled it for a bit to render off some fat and get a good brown on it. Then I stuck it in our giant pot with mirepoix, tomatoes, olives, preserved lemon, espresso, 5-spice, cumin, a bottle of white wine, and a few bits and pieces from the fridge.
After a few hours I came in and hacked it into smaller pieces so they could all be submerged in the liquid. After a few more hours I separated the meat from the fat, strained the liquid into a bowl and put it in the freezer to cool. Once the fat hardened, I pulled it off and added some of the liquid back to the meat on a low simmer. I made garlicky kale pesto and more cranberry tapenade since it’s so good with lamb (and pork; it straddles the two very different meats brilliantly.) I also steamed some parsnips and puréed them with yogurt, feta, vanilla, and truffle oil. Using white wine makes for a more delicate jus, and the tapenade and pesto did very different things to enhance varying aspects of the falling-apart meat.
Meanwhile, our friends had to cancel at the last minute, so Christine and I had it all to ourselves, along with a 1998 Gros Noré Bandol which is a wonderful lamb wine and also went well with a couple of stinky cheeses for dessert: a positively rank taleggio and a blue castello. There’s a ton left; anybody want some?
I had a great meeting (which will lead to some bad-ass future posts, methinks) about 2 hours North of here this afternoon. At meeting’s end, the host gave me some eggs we grabbed from out the chicken coop on the way to my car. Upon return home, I took the last slices of roast beast from the fridge and gave ‘em a sear in a buttery pan, followed by two of these freshest eggs; they stood up in the pan when cracked in. Then I ate them, with a splash of the wine reduction sauce that remained and a whole wheat English muffin to mop up the polyvalent goodness. To accompany, a 2001 J. Lohr Paso Robles cabernet (brought by someone to the memorial dinner) that is a lip-smacking Cali cab of the sort I would never buy but would happily quaff, say for example hypothetically with steak and eggs for dinner after a long, productive day.
Probably because of the anniversary of my Mom’s death, but also because of impending spring and the burgeoning joy and optimism which normally attend the change in weather (and bolstered by having ordered a ton of seeds) we had an excellent sequence of Sunday meals that culminated in our family favorite back when I was a kid. To begin, pancakes, but with yogurt mixed in for extra richness. To compensate for the all-carb beginning, for lunch we had a fridgestrone that has been in the making all week: the chicken/lamb broth, Israeli couscous, orzo, kale, green beans, the chick pea stew, leftover sweet potatoes and canned tomatoes, and a bunch of other things. Built over a couple of days, it was at its peak of rich complexity.
Then, dinner. I was in the garden earlier snipping microgreens for a salad, so I washed them. A big hunk of beef, rubbed with the special house espresso-based rub, and barded with some of the still-fatty pig skin (that I saved because pig fat) got a good roasting in a hot-ass oven. While said roasting was under way, I took the leftover cauliflower and brought it to a boil in more of the broth, then stick-blended it with a chunk of feta into a lovely purée. I also busted out a quick Yorkshire pudding batter (you see where this is going, right?) The soup was intended to be our first course, and it was, but upon tasting the meat and the red wine reduction I made to go with I realized that with a bit of horseradish stirred in the soup would be a genius side for the meat. So for seconds that’s just what I did. We opened a 2005 Beaune “Clos du Dessus des Marconnets” by Pernot that did not justify the hype the 05′s have gotten; with a mouthful of meat it was fine, but it either needs time to relax or it’s just kind of stingy. A couple of hours open helped only a little.
So today I was told, pursuant to Christine’s trip to the market, that a nice vegetable coconut curry would be a good idea for dinner; that seemed a doable, if predictable course, given the quantity of animals we’ve dispatched this week (last night, a lovely lamb stew at our neighbors’ house.) But then, upon throwing wide the fridge door, I did see shiitakes, and broth made from lamb and chicken bones, and our own kale from the freezer, and lo I transported the country of culinary inspiration to Italy instead. Just like that, because I can. Italy, India- what are a few letters when ignoring my wife’s request is what really matters? Besides, she loves everything I make.*
Thus the chick peas I had soaked and simmered became the base for a lovely rich stew that included the juice from a can of tomatoes, leftover steamed sweet potatoes, and a big hunk of what was fatback and became- post trimming for my homemade lardo that’s now under way- a big strip of pig skin with some fat attached. This all simmered for a bit while I caramelized the mushrooms with garlic, and deglazed with wine, then threw the kale into the same pan with still more garlic and deglazed that with lemon juice. Not a pretty plate, but deep, varied, and satisfying, and well met by another 2006 Saint-Cosme côtes du Rhône- a sturdy and assertive country table wine fit for this kind of peasant fare.
* This assertion has a margin of error of plus or minus one broken whiskey bottle wielded menacingly while I cry and apologize.
The rain continued through the morning, though later on we got nice bursts of sunshine and the air was gorgeous- cool, sharp, clear, fresh- suffused with that early spring wet smell that takes me back to being a kid and spending all my free time in the woods. Alone, or with a friend, it was all about being outside and exploring. The smells of the seasons are instant time machines back to simpler days when catching frogs or kicking down dead trees were the sum of an afternoon’s agenda.
Tonight it was just Milo and me, and we had a nice piece of salmon to play with. I cooked his, because he likes it better that way, but sashimi’d mine. To accompany, steamed sweet potato and kale (our two-tiered bamboo steamer was perfect for this) and a salad/salsa of mango, avocado, and Asian pear with lemon juice and olive oil. For the sashimi, I made a little lemon/sesame oil vinaigrette with lots of pepper and some sudachi powder. A 2005 Siduri pinot was a good match to these lighter flavors, but after all the other lighter wines this week I was acutley aware of how front-loaded it is; on the nose, a lovely flowery-ass pinot funk, and good tart fruit in the mouth, then not so much, with decent acid to finish. I’ve always believed that the defining quality of a higher-priced wine is that middle palate, and the samplings this week have only strengthened that opinion. You don’t get what you don’t pay for.
It’s still raining, and our stream has risen to the point where it overflows through the field and rejoins itself down below the garden. This happens a couple of times a year; at some point I may rebuild the stone wall where the water comes through- especially if I plant some fruit trees out there. We have had an absurd amount of precipitation this winter.
So for a rainy evening, something rib-stickular and warming: roasted chicken thighs (separately, with whole garlic cloves) roasted cauliflower, brown rice, and the ever-ridiculous pesto gravy to tie it all together. I can’t say enough good things about this gravy; it’s as good as the burdock-shiitake gravy from Thanksgiving a couple of years ago. We finished the Rasteau, and opened a 2002 Las Rocas grenache- this was one of our cheap favorites in Brooklyn that we always bought for barbecues on the deck, and someone brought it to the dinner in Boston. I wanted to see how it was with a few years on it, so we took it home with us. It has the classic tartness of grenache, with not much complexity, but no glaring faults. A good picnic wine. (I shot this before I added a nice green garnish of chopped parsley, but made up for it by having it float eerily like a UFO.)