Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Other Whaling Town part II

Julia Child said, "You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces - just good food from fresh ingredients."  Child's 100th birthday was August 15th.  Fortuitously it landed on a Wednesday making for headline stories of remembrance by  her friends and admirers in that day's standard newspaper food sections.
Fifteen years ago, to mark Julia's 85th birthday food professionals - and just plain enthusiastic cooks were asked to prepare meals and invite friends and acquaintances to come for dinner and pay a fee that would  be donated to the I.A.C.P.'s (International Association of Culinary Professionals) Julia Child Scholarship Fund.   I was on Nantucket then, as I was for her centenary.   
Back in 1997 I was living in a little rental cottage - built from a Sears Roebuck kit in 1927 - that didn't have electricity but was sophisticated in every other way.  I used a small Craftman generator to pump up water that ran clear into a beautiful soapstone kitchen sink and through an outdoor shower under a wild apple tree.  My friend Roy came to visit so that we could make a dinner to honor Julia's 85th  birthday.
This is part of what I wrote in my journal, 15 Aug 1997 - "up & to work - brought Roy to Laura's so he could do his part (he needed an electric mixer) - I ran to town for a few things - then to work.  Down to the wire as usual.  Got the food finished - shook out the house - arranged flowers - showered - then showtime.  Wonderful evening - everyone in good spirits.  Great pizzas from Roy - mascarpone, smoked salmon and scallions - chard, blue cheese & potatoes.  Carrot fritters, zucchini and potato fritters.  4 bluefish - 2 roasted - 2 grilled - rice salad with tomatoes, corn, feta, basil and pinoli - grilled eggplant & zucchini - green & yellow beans with mustard oil, orange and chive dressing.  Blueberry pie w/ cream & angel food cake with blueberry sauce.  Good mini speeches by Roy (who had dined with Julia at her Cambridge, MA home) & Nancy Barr (a guest,who was Julia's assisstant for decades) - (we toasted) her cent'anni (100 years)."



And here I was again.   Julia's 100th birthday on Nantucket staying with my sister Laura. (Read all about my July trip to the island here.) To celebrate Child's birthday we honored her directive and ate good food with fresh ingredients: tomatoes with basil, eggs with olive oil, cucumbers with cilantro, and fresh mozzarella (from Hudson) that had been gathered from garden and coop less than an hour before we consumed them .  I know that we respected Julia's dictum.  


As we did for successive evening meals all gathered in the same a la minute way - except maybe for the local summer flounder that may have been caught 12 hours earlier.
The eggplant was cut into 1/2-inch slices roasted on an olive oil-smeared baking tray with sides until deep gold, flipped over, covered with sliced tomatoes, grated parmesan cheese , a spritz of olive oil and sprinkle of salt.  When the cheese melted the dish was finished.  I added a chiffonade of fresh basil to serve.
The flounder was topped with a paste made with chopped flat-leaf parsley and garlic, fresh lemon juice, salt and olive oil.  It baked for 5 minutes in  a 400 degree F. oven


Nantucket's farmers' market happens on Saturday mornings during the summertime.  Every weekday there are  farmers who pull their trucks into designated spaces on Main Street.  Bartlett's Farm sells seasonal vegetables, and a few others, including Nantucket Wildflowers sell flowers and plants - all making warm weather mornings on Main Street even more charming than usual. 


My friend Steve Bender farms the most delectable oysters that have ever slid down your throat at his Pocomo Meadows Farm in Polpis Harbor.   Steve's wife, Anne, our dogs; Hugo and Allegra, and I got a chance to watch Steve and son Emil sort through the bags of oysters keeping the large ones and returning the smaller ones to the water to grow a bit more - but we didn't get a taste this time as they all were destined for island restaurants.

It doesn't take too much to make a delicious meal - just choose your ingrients wisely - the closer you are to the source - the better the umbellished food will taste.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:   Aside from all the usual thrills and chills; livestock exhibits, carnival rides and games, food,  a tractor pull, a demo derby, etc. that you will experience at the Columbia County Fair - at the historic fairgrounds (it is the oldest continually operating county fair in the the USA) in Chatham, NY opening on August 29th and running through September 3rd you will be able to partake or be a spectator at the Hudson Valley bounty cooking contest.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Saturday Serendipity

Sometimes things just happen like that.  Snap.  Could be serendipity - a little good luck - or an accidental discovery.  Serendipity is how I would describe a recent Saturday dinner that was meant to be here on the right bank but wound up on the left bank.  I'm talking about the Hudson River banks - not the Seine.

I had invited some new Hudson friends to dinner and thought they would mix well with some old Kingston friends - and then, I thought I'd add in a fairly new Kingston friend.  He readily agreed, but with an offer.  "Why don't you bring the whole dinner to my house," he asked.   Well, it was an offer not hard to refuse.  This friend, a painter of some renown, lives, from time to time, in a very eccentric Second Empire house complete with a concave slate roof, iron roof cresting, a columned veranda, and a jaw-dropping view of the river.  The lavishly painted and decorated rooms change every time one visits.   Houses are this man's avocation.  There are others - not just the Ulster County perch.

We began our trip to the Left Bank with a drinks stop at the old friends' mid-century modern home - also fairly eccentric - in Kingston.   James and Mark call their place, Ringtop Ranch after the street on which it's located.    They served their summer of 2012 signature drink, the Ringtop Blackberry Breeze
Mark makes the base for the cocktail with:
1 1/2 cups simple syrup
1 pint blackberries (or blueberries)
a handful of fresh mint leaves

Blend 1/2 cup simple syrup with the berries and mint.  Strain into the remaining simple syrup.  Pour into a pitcher and chill.
Make the drink by adding ice to a capacious glass then the guest's choice of gin or vodka - or another clear spirit such as white rum or tequila - mix in an equal amount of the blackberry mix.  Float the top with tonic or sparkly water.  Garnish with fresh mint. 

The drink looks spectacular in their vintage gold-embossed Gucci glasses.

After drinks we caravaned down to the other end of Kingston and our host's home, Cordts Mansion.

Remember, we catered dinner.    I made chicken tonnato.  This is my kinder and gentler version of the classic northern Italian summertime dish, vitello tonnato - veal with tuna sauce  I poached the chicken - place the breasts in a saucepan and cover with chicken broth and white wine, bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer - until the flesh seems tender and springs back into place when you press a finger on the thickest area.  Remove the breasts from the pan and place them in a dish with sides.  Soak some paper towels in the broth and cover the breasts with them.  Let cool until ready for slicing.   Meanwhile puree a can of olive oil-preserved tuna (Italian, if possible) - drained - with a few capers in a food processor.  Remove the puree to a medium mixing bowl.  Make a mayonnaise in the same, unrinsed food processor with 1 egg (or two) the zest and juice of a lemon.   Run the processor until the mixture becomes pale and frothy, then slowly drizzle in a mixture of canola oil- or another neutral oil, and olive oil - until a loose mayonnaise is achieved. Combine the mayo with the tuna puree and  reserve.
To serve:  Very thinly slice the chicken breasts against the grain.  Arrange the chicken slices like cascading dominoes up and down a large serving platter.   Smoothly, and generously cover the top with the lemon-tuna mayo.  Sprinkle capers over the top to garnish.  You might want to frame the platter with lemon slices or wedges as well.

I also made a roasted eggplant dish.  I used the slender Asian eggplant from Blue Star Farms.   I cut them in half and then into quarters.  I rubbed them in olive oil and roasted them in a 400 degree F. oven until they were golden brown on all sides - about 15 minutes.   While they were cooking I made a mixture of goat milk yogurt  ( R &G, from Cheese! at The Hudson Farmers' Market), extra virgin olive oil, chopped fresh dill and mint, sea salt and a bit of chopped fresh hot pepper.  As soon as the eggplant came out of the  oven I dumped it into the yogurt mixture and tossed it to coat and let the eggplant absorb the flavors.  Serve at room temperature with fresh herb garnish.

James made a delicious panzanella. The bread and tomato salad is having its season right now due to the abundance of heirloom - and other - tomatoes overflowing market bins.  He also made a just-right corn and potato salad.

Mark made what is my personal favorite summertime dessert, peach crumble - his is particularly melt-in-your mouth because of the way he manufactures the seemingly simple dish.  The rich flavor  comes from letting the sliced peaches macerate for a bit in sugar and lemon juice. They are topped with mixture of oatmeal, whole wheat flour, cinnamon, brown sugar, and a pinch of salt which is added to softened butter  and mixed together until small clumps form. Cover the fruit with the clumps and bake in a 350 degrees F. oven until the top is golden and the sides are bubbly - 45 -50 minutes.  The whole wheat flour and brown sugar give the crumble topping an almost nutty taste.
Mark reheated  the crumble and served it with  pomegranate molasses, and blackberry ice cream from Lick brought to the party by the Hudson contingency.

Like characters from a Victorian novel we moved from room to room in the grand house in order to find just the right spot to eat our meal.  We began on the veranda but were soon covered in mosquito bites.  Then we tried one parlor after another 'til we found the coolest one - temperature and setting.

Never refuse a last minute suggestion.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:   "Elegantissima" Louise Fili's monograph has just been published.  For those of you who love design, food, all things Italian and a good story need to get a copy of this book SUBITO - immediately.  As you look and read through the book you will delight at her designs for book covers, food packaging and restaurant logos that you recognize.  Although this is Louise's work to date - I hope that she is now busy filling her files with new work for monograph part II.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Super Hot Weekend, Cool Monday

My first cookbook editor, and now, himself an author, old friend, Roy Finamore  came to Hudson last weekend to visit, and be the featured author at the Hudson Farmers' Market's Book Tent.   I prepared for the arrival by filling my house with brightly colored zinnias purchased from Eger Bros. Farm Stand at the junction of routes 9 and 23, Hudson.  I'm also addicted to Eger's white donut peaches.  The skin slips off with a tug and the super sweet flesh can be consumed in two bites.  Right now the stand is loaded with all sorts of fruits; peaches, several varieties of plums, early apples, blueberries, strawberries, cantaloupes - and SEEDLESS watermelon with which I made the endlessly refreshing and thirst-quenching juice - which just involves processing chunks in a blender (Roy makes it in a food processor then strains it).  Think about freezing some of the orchard fruit or berries to have a for tasty treat when the ground is covered in snow next January or February.
Roy and our mutual friend, Marian, arrived from NYC on Friday afternoon when the temperature and humidity were on the rise.  Actually, the humidity was impossible.   Only one solution for dinner -
The Red Barn.  Their grill was fired up - why turn on any cooking appliance at home?

A few months ago I had purchased a large, very large Muscovy duck from Turkana Farms which Roy and I had been discussing, on and off, what to do with it ever since.   The 9 pound bird needed to start thawing in the refrigerator 4 days before we started to work with it.  

Friday afternoon, shortly after his arrival, Roy butchered the duck.  The breasts were refrigerated.  I made a rub for the legs, thighs and rather hefty wing joints by pounding cloves of garlic, black peppercorns and coarse salt in a mortar with a pestle.  I rubbed it on the meat and set the pieces in a shallow receptacle in a way that they all would be exposed to the air. This would become a confit - preseerved duck. The dish was put, uncovered, into the refrigerator to dry out a bit and allow the rub to do its job.  Roy made a stock with the duck carcass, wing tips, onions, celery, carrots, and bay leaf.  The stock cooked - on very low heat, "with an occasional lazy bubble " for 18 hours!  Yes, it cooked while we slept.  Imagine the heat.  And, then again imagine the delicious risotto or soup that I'll make with it next fall.

On Saturday Roy bravely sat in Book Tent - a veritable Turkish bath - and signed copies of his books for all the stalwart shoppers who came by the Book Tent.  Thank you.    We cooled off by going to Grazin' Diner for a long, slow lunch.  And no, none of us ordered their famous burgers.  I had a melted cheese sandwich on Hawthorne Valley's rye bread toasted to a crunch, every bite oozing  Consider Bardwell's  Rupert cheese.  There was an egg sandwich and one with liverwurst at the same table as well.  It took all our strength to get up and leave the air conditioned diner.  There was work to be done.

I melted about a pint and a half of duck fat, then transferred the pieces of  refrigerator-exposed duck to another saucepan and poured the liquid fat over it -  Roy said as I poured, "You'd better hope that it covers it".  It did.  Whew.   I let the duck simmer, again, you want just an occasional bubble to appear, in the fat for a little over an hour, then placed them back into their dish, let it cool down then sealed it closed, first with plastic wrap then with tin foil.   When I pull the confit out in the cold weather it more than likely will become an ingredient in rib-sticking cassoulet.  I'll tell you all about it when it happens.

I made another rub.  This one was for the duck breasts.  I pounded star anise, fresh hot peppers and coarse sea salt into a paste then rubbed on the breasts.  

Roy made a velvety, cognac-laced duck liver pate to serve with our cocktails.

He also made a lovely saute of tiny new potatoes and radishes of the same size, in butter and a bit of duck broth.  They were finished with chopped chives.

The stranger who a few weeks ago presented me with a bunch of his garden vegetables has subsequently revealed himself to be David Ludtke.  David sells his baked goods at the Hudson Farmers' Market and also grows what appears to be a great variety of vegetables in his garden.  "This week's goodies", he said to me as he presented me with branches of spigiarello an Italian leaf called spigarello in English - close but not quite the same pronunciation - and some erba stella a.k.a. minutina or buck's horn in English.  Think of those branches of spigarello as coming from a broccoli tree.  I ripped the leaves from the branches, sauteed them with a bit of olive oil and chopped garlic until al dente.   Tender enough to chew but with enough sturdiness in texture to accompany its subtle, almost sweet broccoli flavor.

It grew dark by the time I put the duck breasts on the grill.  No photos (to speak of) - no lights outside and it was very dark.   That big old Muscovy duck was full of flavor and the potatoes, radishes and spigarello were just the right escorts.

Dessert should have been a plum tart.  Roy rightly said, "I'm not turning on the oven" and stewed the plums with some honey and white vermouth.  The room temperature plums, covered with heavy cream and garnished with crumbled amaretti cookies sweetened the palate in a pleasing way.

This is the salad I made with the leftover duck.   I tossed the ever-so-slightly bitter erba stella and a few peppery, spade-shaped arugula leaves - also from David - with a dressing made with Dijon mustard, sesame oil, soy sauce, sriracha (hot pepper sauce) and a splash of heavy cream.   I placed slices of cold duck on top (the star anise flavor really comes through after a day or two) and then garnished with some toasted walnuts.  Should have added some thinly sliced radishes  too.

Monday cooled down and the humidity dropped to a reasonable level.  Heaven.   And when you're in heaven you go, with a few friends, in a convertible along route 66 to Chatham, NY to the Hudson Valley Bounty Dinner at the Columbia County Fairgrounds.  Twenty restaurants, food shops and caterers, etc. made some of their specialties with products sourced from HV farmers.  The result was a dizzying selection of dinner options.  Options?  I think that I tasted everything.  Mark August 2013 on your calendar for this event.  What an embarrassment of riches.  And to be in the main building of the this country's oldest, continuous operating county fair is particularly pleasurable.
Pictured above Uncle Barry's Famous Waffles with Beth's Jam from The Cascades.
SUSANSIMONSAYS:   This Saturday, August 11th, at the Hudson Farmers' Market Book Tent come and meet Zak Pelaccio and let him sign a copy of his new book just for you.  He'll be there from 10:30am - 12:30pm. Well known restaurateur - Fatty Crab, Fatty 'Cue (to name a few) - Zak is poised to open a dining spot in Hudson, on 3rd street between Warren and Union Streets.  Aren't you just a little curious?