Monday, February 6, 2012

Dessert First, Always

 I just about always think about dessert first.  Even when I go out to eat, I ask to see the dessert menu along with the customary one.  Seeing what's for dessert informs what I'll eat before its turn.  
My friend, Roy, was coming up for the weekend.  I needed to plan at least our first meal together.  I mean the first meal at home, because soon after he got off the train and stashed his stuff in his bedroom we drove up Warren Street to Grazin' Diner for one of their delicious, local, grass-fed beef burgers (more on them soon).   Dessert - I had some red wine poached pears that I cooked the day before Roy's arrival at the ready.  

I used red comice pears.  Place the peeled and cored pears in a deep, non-reactive sauce pan. Cover them with  hearty red wine and a bit of water.  Add about 1/2 cup sugar for 6 small pears, 3 slices of orange and the juice of the remaining piece, and a cheese cloth packet of cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, cardamom pods, and a few fennel seeds.  Poach the pears at medium-low heat (don't let boil) until a tester easily passes through them - 1 - 1 1/2 hours.   Remove the pears from the liquid with a slotted spoon and reserved.   Remove the orange slices and spice packet from the liquid and turn up the heat. Boil until a syrup the consistency of maple syrup is achieved - about 20 minutes.  Watch carefully as the syrup can turn to glue in the blink of an eye.  Pour the wine syrup over the pears and refrigerate.  They last for days and days.  So, even if you're only feeding 2 people - make 6, because what a nice surprise to have the pears just waiting for you to have one for dessert, any time, simply with the syrup poured over the top, with some ice cream (in this case, Jane's rum raisin), heavy cream, yogurt or, you know, my favorite, ricotta.

Around the same time as I poached the pears, I made a salsa verde - green sauce, convinced that it would somehow work with dinner.  Dinner starred the last pound of Nantucket bay scallops that I had frozen on December 28th, 2011, the day after they were shucked - and I returned home to Hudson from spending Christmas on Nantucket.  Scallops freeze very successfully.   And, the salsa verde - which is a bit like the chimichurri  recipe  I gave you over a year ago seemed like an excellent match.  However, here's how I make the green sauce:  add lots (almost 2 cups) of fresh, flat leaf (Italian) - cleaned and dried - parsley leaves to a food processor with a large clove of garlic, 1 small hot pepper (I used Thai), the juice of 1 juicey lemon, 1 heaping tablespoon capers (I used the kind that are preserved in salt, rinsed - because I think they have more flavor), and a few anchovy fillets which are optional.   With the processor's motor running, slowly add a cup of extra virgin olive oil, or more.  Process until the parsley is chopped somewhere between finely and coarsely. You want this sauce to be slightly loose.   The sauce will last for weeks, refrigerated.
I had a bag of polenta from Wild Hive Farm that I had purchased at - where else? - Lick the Market a few weeks ago and I had been looking for a way to use it.  Dinner was  coming together.   Scallops and polenta and salsa verde.  So Venetian.  Wet, loose polenta, in the style that  the Venetians refer to as all'onda - like a wave, with seafood.  Just the thing.  Roy patiently stirred the polenta.  This is NOT instant polenta - and who would want instant polenta anyway????  Add 1 of cup polenta to 6 cups of barely salted water and cook it  slowly stirring with a whisk (to keep lumps from forming) for almost 40 minutes - which goes quickly when 2 people are standing around the kitchen with a tasty cocktail. The result was a perfect polenta  which was finished with a large lump of butter and a bit of grated Parmesan cheese.   At the same time the polenta was finishing off I added  butter to a skillet over high heat.  As soon as it melted I added the scallops and let them cook for 90 seconds, at the most.  They don't need much. They just need to become opaque.  To serve; add the polenta to a warm bowl, add scallops and splash with as much salsa verde as you like.    And a sprinkle of just-gifted, Hawaiian pink salt.  You know, salt is the gift to give someone who has jut moved to a new home so that they will never shed tears.
The Wild Hive Farm polenta was great.  Very corny and a nice texture.

The next day we made the rounds of all the Hudson food establishments then took off for Rhinebeck.  There was an special occasion which brought us to Rhinebeck and the Blue Cashew, Kitchen Pharmacy - it was a personal appearance by the cookbook author, Rose Levy Beranbaum who was at the shop to sign copies of her latest book, Rose's Heavenly Cakes.  Roy did the prop styling for the book so we were especially pleased to be there.  Personally, I was happy to continue with the dessert theme.  There were a few samples of Rose's cakes, and  champagne-filled flutes.

The author, Rose Levy Beranbaum.

Sean Nutley, co-owner of Blue Cashew, and guests.

Ben Fink and his husband, Joe Tully.  Ben photographed the book.  He loves food and it shows in his stunning work.

Roy Finamore - prop stylist for the book, Cynthia Lathrop, art archivist and Steve Izos, co-owner of Gris an antique shop in Hudson.

Bryan Graham, owner Fruition Chocolate, and friend.

You probably already know how to refresh a baguette (or any bread) by sprinkling water on it then heating it up in the oven until it's dry and crunchy again - well, Roy just showed me another way to achieve the same thing.   Dampen a paper bag, add the bread that needs perking up to it and put it in the oven.  When the bag dries the bread is ready.   Good as new.

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