Monthly Archives: November 2014

THANKSGIVING LEFTOVERS

Well, Thanksgiving is over, and it often has the same feeling: too much food and too much stress. Rich Table was closed, so our family, Sarah, Evan and their boys and Peter, Rene and their girls, took over the place. Sarah had planned to do the cooking, but because of the baby’s three-day illness and her being up for three straight nights, Evan took over. That was a busman’s holiday for sure.

I had baked rolls for the occasion in Sarah’s kitchen, including Sibella’s recipe from her blog. They turned out ok though not as beautiful as hers, but they were done in when Sarah forgot them in the oven while reheating them. They were sort-of edible cinders. Rene brought kale chips and stuffed mushrooms, and Evan made tacos from the turkey legs along with the usuals, including three kinds of cranberry sauce, as if one is not enough.  A pastry-chef friend, Bill Corbett, sent a spectacular pecan tart.

There was a play about pilgrims performed by the little ones, and then everyone pitched in to leave the restaurant as clean as we found it.

Apologies for the images. They are shakier than usual, but I had to give you an idea of the cinders and the spread.

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FAMILY MEAL AT RICH TABLE

We are in the Bay Area to celebrate Thanksgiving with our family. Rich Table will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, and our family will take over the space. In the meantime, grandkids are out of school while their parents are working full-time, so I am baby-sitting in San Francisco and my wife is child-tending (The girls are too old to be baby-sat, they remind us!) in Silicon Valley.

Thus, I have spent some time at Rich Table during the past several days. It is always interesting to watch the rhythm of work in the kitchen during the day. Most of us don’t even think about all the preparation that is required for a busy evening in a restaurant, but the day starts before noon. All of the line cooks are there, and preparation is going full blast along with the music playing on Pandora.

The line crew prepping for the night ahead

The line crew prepping for the night ahead

Sarah and I are there to analyze a new dessert offering that has not yet made the menu because it is not quite right: too sweet, not enough tang, subtleties that evade my amateur palate.

The pastry crew has arrived even earlier, and loaves of the popular fennel-pollen-scented levain have already been baked and are sitting on the counter to cool.

 

Fennel-pollen-scented levain cooling

Fennel-pollen-scented levain cooling

Marrow bones have been roasted, and the unctuous marrow is being spooned out to make a puree for the yogurt and bone marrow dip that goes with beet chips and sorrel.

Marrow bones

Marrow bones

Today  it is Stephen’s turn to make family meal, the early evening dinner that the whole crew – cooks and wait staff – share right before service. Family meal is a chance for each of the cooks to show his or her stuff and to share his real family’s favorite foods with co-workers. The meal also builds the camaraderie that is so important for a well-functioning kitchen.

Commerial mandoline - a potentially lethal instrument.

Commerial mandoline – a potentially lethal instrument.

Stephen has chosen to braise a pork shoulder and turn it into pulled pork, to be served with freshly baked home-style biscuits. The braise includes Stephen’s own flavorings, including whole mustard seeds. He has offered me a sample which, of course, I do not refuse. It is delicious, and I only wish I could join the crew for family meal.

Pulled pork - braised pork shoulder

Pulled pork – braised pork shoulder

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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BLUE CORNMEAL WAFFLES WITH PINE NUTS AND BACON

Food with blue corn in it is always popular when family comes to visit. Blue  corn tortillas are ubiquitous, and blue corn chicken enchiladas with green chile sauce and a fried egg is one of my all-time favorites. Blue cornmeal pancakes are also good. Add pine nuts  and you have a classic New Mexico combination. During her recent visit, Carol specifically requested blue cornmeal waffles,  so of course I had to accommodate her.

RECIPE

Blue Cornmeal  Waffles with Pine Nuts and Bacon

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup blue corn meal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • ¼ cup pure maple syrup
  • 5 tablespoons, bacon drippings, melted
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • ½ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • ½ cup crumbled crisp-fried bacon

Method

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, corn meal, baking powder, soda, and salt.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, syrup, bacon drippings and 2 yolks from the separated eggs
  3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir together until just combined.
  4. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold in thirds into the batter being careful not to overbeat.
  5. Fold in the pine nuts and bacon pieces
  6. Spoon a little more of the batter than recommended by the manufacturer into a hot waffle iron. Bake until golden brown.
  7. Serve immediately with butter and maple syrup. Eggs and bacon on the side is a nice addition
  8. Makes about twelve 4-inch square waffles.

 

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NORTH DAKOTA CHEESE BUTTONS (KÄSE KNÖPFEN OR KASE KNOEPFLA)

The State of North Dakota has only one official food. That’s the official fruit: choke cherry, used for jams jellies, and of course home-made wine. Many believe that cheese buttons should be the official food. As far as I have been able to learn, they are absolutely unique to the state. My step-grandmother made them often as a celebratory dish when I was growing up. I loved them, but I have never eaten them since she stopped making them many years ago. She came from a large German family who farmed on the prairies of eastern North Dakota. No doubt they were part of the immigrant wave of German farmers who came to the Dakotas at the end of the nineteenth century. The immigrants actually came from Russia where they had originally moved with the urging of Catherine the Great. There they were successful wheat farmers, so successful in fact that the native Russians grew increasingly hostile and drove them out. Apparently, North Dakota has many similarities with that part of Russia, so it was only natural that the immigrant Germans again became successful wheat farmers.

My step-grandmother cooked meals for an itinerant threshing crew headed by my grandfather. He had two little boys in tow after their mother had died in the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918. Both my grandfather and my step-grandmother thought the little boys needed a mother, and so they married. The little boys and their offspring grew up eating a lot of German food including sauerkraut and cheese buttons. There are many variant spellings of the local name of the dish. Perhaps the most common is kase knoepla, but the literal German translation is Käse knõpfen, so I’ll go with that.

Cheese buttons have some amazing similarities with Italian ricotta ravioli. The recipe for the noodle dough is exactly the same as a common recipe for pasta, and the recipe for the farm cheese is similar to at least one version of ricotta. You will note that the dish is remarkably deficient of any green vegetable. Instead it is heavy on bread and flour from the wheat as well as eggs, milk,  and butter from the barn yard. That should serve as a warning that this is not a dish for you if you are worried about your cholesterol. But if you like butter, it is hard to think of a better dish. It goes without saying that you cannot substitute margarine or oil.

RECIPES

Farm Cheese

Ingredients

  • 2 quarts whole milk
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • pepper to taste

Method

  1. Pour the milk into a large, heavy bottomed pot and heat slowly over a medium-low flame, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching on the bottom. When the milk has reached 150°F, stir in the vinegar, remove from the heat, and cover. Stir occasionally as the mixture cools, and the curds form, about 45 minutes.
  2. Line a large colander with fine-mesh cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel. Pour the curds and whey into the towel and allow them to drain. The curds should form a ball in the bottom of the cheesecloth. Twist the cloth gently between your hands and over the sink to squeeze out any remaining whey.
  3. Transfer the cheese to a bowl and combine with the eggs and salt.  Add pepper to taste and set aside.

Cheese Buttons

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour + more for kneading and rolling
  • 3 large eggs
  • 5-9 tablespoons water + more to seal the edges of the buttons

Method

  1. Pour the flour in a mound in the middle of a large, clean, flat work surface. Make a deep well in the center of the mound
  2. Break the three eggs into the well, and using a table fork, beat the eggs gently. Stir in 3 tablespoons of water and then begin to draw the flour in from the edge of the well, stirring and mixing as you go. Continue to draw in the flour, adding 1 more tablespoon of water. Avoid adding too much water, or the dough will get sticky. When the flour is completely incorporated, form the dough into a ball and knead for a 5 to 10 minutes until it is glistening and forms a smooth ball.  Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let rest for 20 minutes.
  3. When you are ready to roll out the dough, flour the work surface lightly. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll out one piece with a rolling pin, covering the remaining pieces in plastic while you work. Roll each piece into a round about 16 inches in diameter. Dust the dough lightly with flour if it is too sticky.
  4. Cut the dough into 2 inch squares. Place a scant teaspoon of the cheese mixture in the center of each square. Moisten the edges of the squares with water and fold over into triangles and/or rectangles (Your choice!). Gently squeeze the edges between your fingers until they are well sealed.
  5. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. In batches, add the cheese buttons to the boiling water. They will sink to the bottom but eventually float. Let the buttons continue to cook for a few minutes after they have floated. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon and keep warm in the oven until all of the buttons have been cooked.
  6. Cut any extra noodle dough into thin strips, boil for 4 -5 minutes, drain, and add to the buttons.

 

Fried Bread Sauce

Ingredients

  • ½ to 1 cup (1 or 2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • about 5 ½-inch slices of home-made or good quality white bread, crusts removed and cubed

Method

  1. Melt the butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat
  2. Stir in the bread cubes and sauté until the bread cubes are lightly browned and crisp.
  3. Pour over the boiled cheese buttons and noodles, stirring gently to mix.
  4. Serve immediately.

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PISTACHIO-STUFFED MUSHROOMS

Stuffed mushrooms are so retro. They were very popular in the 1960s, but you almost never see them now except at the Olive Garden. That is too bad, because they are easy to make and delicious to eat. They are perfect with cocktails and also make a good first course. The important step is to sauté the mushroom caps before you stuff them. Then you can let your imagination run wild and stuff them with whatever sounds appealing. We have a big bowl of pistachios that we have been snacking from for days, and even though pistachios are surprisingly low-cal, they are not when you eat them by the bowlful. Stuffing them into mushrooms seemed like a good dodge. That’s partly because I have no idea how many calories are in a stuffed mushroom.

RECIPE

Pistachio-Stuffed Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 8 large crimini mushrooms (the largest you can find not labeled as Portobellos)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 scallions, including green ends, chopped coarsely
  • ¼ cup shelled pistachio nuts, chopped coarsely
  • ¼ cup shredded Swiss cheese
  • ¼ cup fresh bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons Pernod
  • salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Method

  1. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat and add the mushroom caps. Sauté for about 3 minutes and turn over. Sauté the other side of the mushroom caps until cooked through. Remove to a plate, draining any liquid that has accumulated in the caps.
  2. Remove any woody part of the mushroom stems and chop finely. Return them to the sauté pan along with the chopped scallions. Add more olive oil if needed. Sauté until cooked through. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the pistachios, Swiss cheese, bread crumbs, sour cream, and Pernod. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
  3. With a small spoon, fill the mushroom caps with the pistachio mixture. Sprinkle the tops with the grated Parmesan cheese, and place under a hot broiler until the mushrooms are heated through and the tops have browned.
  4. Serve immediately.

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CHEESE BLOSSOMS THREE WAYS

Cheese straws are such a classic Southern tradition that it seems almost cliché to write about them. They are served at ladies’ luncheons, cocktail parties, and holiday festivities. I have been making them for years except that  during my early attempts I had a hard time turning the dough into “straws”. I used a cookie press, and the treats came out flowers. Never mind, my kids loved them so I have been making them that way ever since.

Cheese straws/blossoms are required at every family gathering, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I make double and triple batches and lug them in my carry-on luggage when I travel. That way they don’t get turned into cheese crumbs.  Even at that, the little gems disappear before everyone has had his or her fill. In fact, after many years, I have learned that some of the family have hidden away private stashes, not trusting the others to share gracefully.

This year, Carol and Cameron will be visiting from Los Angeles for a few days. Then my wife and I will head to the Bay Area to enjoy Thanksgiving with the others. I decided to make three batches and to try different cheese combinations. The usual version uses extra sharp Cheddar cheese. I gave Swiss (Emmentaler) and bleu (Roquefort) cheeses a try as well. The recipes are not wildly different, but because of the different moistures and consistencies of the three cheeses, a little different approach is required for each. In the end, though, I was pleased with the result.

RECIPES

Cheddar Cheese Blossoms

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces extra sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (one stick) chilled butter, cut into 8 pieces. Important: Do NOT use margarine.

Method

  1. With the grater blade in place, grate the cheese in food processor. Transfer to a plate and let come to room temperature.
  2. Change to the metal blade of the food processor. Add grated cheese, flour, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper and salt in the bowl of the food processor. Pulse until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl from time to time.
  3. Add the butter and continue to process until it forms a ball.  Do not over-process or the butter will melt and separate.
  4. Turn out on a work surface, Knead until any extra crumbs of the dough are incorporated into the ball.
  5. Working in batches, use a cookie press to form flower shapes on an ungreased cookie sheet, spaced about 1 inch apart.
  6. Bake in the middle of oven preheated to 300°F for 20 to 25 minutes. Bake a few minutes longer if you want a darker color. Cool on a baking rack and store in an air-tight tin.
  7. Makes about 6 dozen.

Swiss Cheese and Dill Blossoms

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces “Swiss” (Emmentaler) cheese
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon Kirsch
  • 2 tablespoons dill fronds, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (one stick) chilled butter, cut into 8 pieces. Important: Do NOT use margarine.

Method

  1. With the grater blade in place, grate the cheese in food processor. Transfer to a plate and let come to room temperature.
  2. Change to the metal blade of the food processor. Add grated cheese,flour, Kirsch, dill and salt in the bowl of the food processor. Pulse until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl from time to time.
  3. Add the butter and continue to process until it forms a ball.  Do not over-process or the butter will melt and separate.
  4. Turn out on a work surface, Knead until any extra crumbs of the dough are incorporated into the ball.
  5. Working in batches, use a cookie press to form flower shapes on an ungreased cookie sheet, spaced about 1 inch apart.
  6. Bake in the middle of oven preheated to 300°F for 20 to 25 minutes. Bake a few minutes longer if you want a darker color. Cool on a baking rack and store in an air-tight tin.
  7. Makes about 6 dozen

Roquefort Cheese Blossoms

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces Roquefort cheese
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon Pernod
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (one stick) chilled butter, cut into 8 pieces. Important: Do NOT use margarine.

Method

  1. Crumble the cheese into the bowl of the food processor. Add  flour, Pernod,  and salt. Pulse until well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl from time to time.Add the butter and continue to process until it forms a ball.  Do not over-process or the butter will melt and separate.
  2. Turn out on a work surface, Knead until any extra crumbs of the dough are incorporated into the ball.
  3. Working in batches, use a cookie press to form flower shapes on an ungreased cookie sheet, spaced about 1 inch apart.
  4. Bake in the middle of oven preheated to 300°F for 20 to 25 minutes. Bake a few minutes longer if you want a darker color. Cool on a baking rack and store in an air-tight tin.
  5. Makes about 6 dozen

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PECANS THREE WAYS

The first real blast of winter is due to hit us in the next few days, so we have definitely moved into winter, and the holiday season is fast upon us. (Here if you count Halloween.) One of the best things of the season is that it is time for the fresh crop of nuts of all kinds. For me, they are really a sign of the season. When I was a child, my mother would always set out a big bowl of English walnuts, hazel nuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, and pecans. My father could shell and eat a bowl by himself. Later on, there were other good memories associated with nuts, especially pecans.

I remember a trip through southern Louisiana when Reggie and I, along with a couple of friends set out on a quest to find the best pecans and pork cracklings. Both are recognized as two of the great pillars of Cajun cuisine. We went from plantation to plantation, along with more than one country store. I confess, we also had more than one or two Abita or Jax beers. (Unfortunately, Jax beer no longer exists, and the brewery has become a trendy tourist shopping center in the French Quarter.)

Another memory is of my father-in-law sitting on the porch of his East Texas country house shelling pecans with his special nutcracker that got the nuts out whole. He would spend hours doing that, not saying anything and just looking out at the sunset. He definitely preferred that to going inside and getting caught up in what he considered a trivial conversation.

We, too, always spent hours shelling pecans that we bought at a seasonal market down the street. They sold the nuts already cracked, so you had to shell them immediately before they spoiled in the shell. Of course, pre-cracking came with a premium. In those days, that added a dime to the cost, bringing the nuts to the price of 89 cents a pound. Today, shelled pecans have become a luxury, costing anywhere from $12 to $20 a pound. Even so, they remain a treat that I look forward to every year.

Our daughter, Carol, and her son are going to visit us this next week, so I will have some pecans ready for them. Then I will take the leftovers to our Thanksgiving celebration with the rest of the family. Here are three very simple recipes for pecan halves that I have gathered over the years. Every one is delicious in its own way.

RECIPES

Salted, Butter-Roasted Pecans

This is the simplest recipe, using only pecans, butter, and salt. The recipe comes from my mother. You can dress it up in lots of different ways. I have substituted kosher and Maldon sea salts for regular salt, but you could use garlic salt, onion salt, cumin, chili powder, or whatever powdered flavoring you can think of.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups raw pecan halves
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • salt to taste

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 250° F.
  2. Arrange the pecans in a baking pan and top with the butter, unmelted and cut into eight pieces. Place on the middle rack of the oven.
  3. Roast for 20 minutes, stirring frequently to distribute the butter as it melts and to check for burning.
  4. Remove from the oven. Sprinkle with salt or other seasonings to taste. Cool.
  5. Transfer to a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Karen’s Orange Pecans

Pecans-2

Many years ago I received a Christmas gift of pecans from my secretary. They were so good, that I asked her for the recipe, and she obliged. The pecans are sweet and almost a candy, but many folks enjoy them as a snack with cocktails.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 medium orange, zested and juiced
  • 4 cups raw pecan halves

Method

  1. Combine the sugar, orange zest, and orange juice in a heavy sauce pan that is big enough to hold the pecans comfortably.
  2. Bring to the boil over a medium flame. Then stir in the pecan halves.
  3. Continue to boil and stir until the pecans are completely coated, and the syrup is completely absorbed.
  4. Remove from the heat and continue to stir until the pecans are separated and sugary.
  5. Spread on wax paper to cool.
  6. Transfer to a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Jean’s Texas Barbecue Pecans

Mis en place for Jean's Texas barbeque pecans

Mis en place for Jean’s Texas barbecue pecans

This recipe comes from a good friend who grew up in Texas and spent much of her adult life there. These are smoky and salty, so it is nearly impossible to eat only one when you have a drink in hand. My philosophy is why worry.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup liquid smoke
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups raw pecan halves

Method

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the liquid smoke, water and salt. Stir until the salt is completely dissolved.
  2. Stir in the pecans with a slotted spoon. Let stand for 1 hours, stirring several times to make sure the pecans are completely coated with the liquid smoke mixture.
  3. Transfer the pecans to a baking pan, using the slotted spoon to make sure the liquid is well-drained.
  4. Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 300° F for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Bake a few more minutes if the nuts have not dried out, but watch carefully to avoid burning.
  5. Remove from the oven. Cool.
  6. Transfer to a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.
From left, salted butter-roasted pecans, Karen's orange pecans, Jean's Texas barbeque pecans

From left, salted butter-roasted
pecans, Karen’s orange pecans, Jean’s Texas barbecue pecans

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