Monthly Archives: October 2017

THE ETERNAL SAGA OF THE STOVE

My grandmother cooked on her wood-burning cast-iron kitchen stove for many years. Until she finally “went modern.” I don’t remember my grandfather ever having to fix it, and to my knowledge there was no such thing as a cast-iron stove repair technician. I’m also dead certain that the hot monster did not have a mother board or any other electronics.

In the last few years in different places where we have lived, we have replaced a range top, two ovens, and now a slide-in stove. The problem always seems to be the same: the readout suddenly flashes an error message like, “F15”, and the meaning is always the same. Instead of error messages, the control panel should just flash, “Replace mother board” because the remedy is also always the same: back order a new board that should arrive in one or two weeks, and it will cost $900 or some multiple of that figure. (How much does a new stove cost?) Over the years I have come to realize that the probably heat-sensitive main board is almost always located near where the stove or oven is at its hottest. Just sayin’.

My current adventure with a stove started over two months ago. The dreaded error message started to flash, a high-pitched warning buzzer went off, and the stove shut down. There was nothing to do but turn off the breaker switch. Reading the troubleshooting instructions in the service manual was little help, as was a search of the appliance web site. The two sources advised the same thing, call a repair technician. So that’s what I did. Over two months ago.

The first guy arrived with his heavy tool kit and a swagger that sent me the message that it was probably all my fault. We turned the breaker switch back on, the alarm started buzzing, and the error message flashed. Diagnostics were over in no more than 15 seconds. No further examination needed. A new main board would fix the problem.

Weeks later, the guy reappeared with a new board in a box. I knew that there was trouble ahead when it became clear that the technician didn’t know how to access the electronic guts of the stove. He started unscrewing things and bending sheet metal panels until he finally realized that all he had to do was slide the stove out of the cabinet and access the back of the unit. He replaced the board, we turned the breaker back on, and the alarm started sounding in sync with the error message. A frantic call to his boss, and the technician announced that he had done all that he could do. He would be back with a different, better main board.

Two weeks later, the guy appeared again. By this time we were on a first name basis. Adam (not his real name) told me that the new model main board should fix things. Fortunately, this time he knew how to access the electronics of the stove, replacing the board in just a few minutes. I excitedly turned the breaker back on. You have already guessed the outcome: buzzer, flashing message. Adam confessed that he didn’t know what to do at this point, hastily gathered his tools, and left.

The landlord decided to get a second opinion, and in another two weeks, Fred showed up. We went through the diagnostics – breaker, alarm, message – and Fred said that the stove needed a new main box – maybe the previous one had shorted out during installation – along with a new touch panel. He also had some unflattering comments about Adam and the company for which he worked. Then Fred disappeared out the front door with the comment that he would be in touch.

By this time, the landlord and I were in total agreement. What was needed was a new stove. She went to the local appliance store and picked out a beautiful new replacement stove. She and I measured carefully, and we decided the new stove would work. The next week, the stove was due to be delivered on Saturday morning between 7 and 11 AM. I waited dutifully. At noon there was no stove, so I called the delivery service who had notified me on Friday evening to anticipate the delivery. Saturday noon they told me that the delivery had been canceled. They apologized – sort of – for not letting me know and hung up.

Then I learned that the stove would be delivered on Tuesday. Just as before, I got a call Monday evening to say that the stove would arrive between 8 and 11 in the morning. Sure enough, on Tuesday morning, the delivery service called to announce that they were in front with two stoves. After some negotiation with the driver, we came to agreement that I didn’t need two stoves, and I signed the official paperwork that I had refused one of the two stoves. The remaining stove was brought into the kitchen and slid into the space. It DIDN”T FIT! Not because of measurement problems but because the electrical outlet was on the side of the cutout instead of the back so that the stove could not be slid past. This was a recent design revision in all slide-in stoves the delivery man advised me.

It’s not over. Now we are waiting for the electrician to move the plug to the back wall so that the stove can slide in. I shall keep you posted as to progress. In the meantime we will continue with our new slow cooker. I have already made reservations for Thanksgiving dinner at a local hotel.

 

 

 

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SLOW COOKER BRISKET

I have written about the family recipe for braised brisket before. The previous time, two years ago, I combined it with latkes in honor of a family celebration. This time, I have modified the recipe for the slow cooker. That requires essentially no modification, the difference being that you braise a smaller brisket in a slow cooker rather than a larger brisket in the oven. It works just as well, and the results are always the same. Cheers go up from the crowd when the brisket is sliced, and no one needs encouragement to go back for seconds. That’s the same reaction Sarah gets when she does a brisket for family meal in whichever restaurant she might be cooking.

A good friend of Susan shared the recipe over 50 years ago. That was an act of regard and true friendship, because the recipe had been passed down in that family for years and, in the custom of the day, was considered to be a “family secret”. Actually, that’s how we treated the recipe for many years.

There are only a few rules to follow in preparing brisket by this method.

First, you will need to have the butcher cut the brisket to order, as a whole brisket is way too large to fit in the usual slow cooker. If your pot is smaller, you probably only need a 2-pound piece.  If the pot is larger, a 3-pound piece is a good size. That presents the problem as to what to tell the butcher. One end of a full brisket is called the “first cut” or “flat cut”. The meat is leaner and may require longer braising. The other end has more fat and is called “second cut” or “point”. During braising, the fat will render and the remaining shards of meat will be tender and can easily be shredded.

Second, it is important to marinate the brisket over night. This recipe uses a marinade that includes liquid smoke and is then used as the braising liquid. If you have your own favorite marinade, by all means use it.

Third, lower is better, and so is slower. It is hard to get the temperature too low although you shouldn’t try for anything lower than 170°F. Keep in mind that you will need to cook the brisket longer the lower the temperature. At 170°F you should plan on at least 12 hours cooking.  If the cooking is not long enough, the meat will be done but not as tender as you might like. Fortunately, it is hard to ruin the brisket by cooking it too long.

When you are ready to serve the brisket, let it rest on a cutting board for 5 minutes and then slice it thinly on the diagonal with the grain of the meat and with a 45° angle with the cutting board. It should be fork-tender. Shred it, using two forks, if you prefer.

RECIPE

Slow Cooker Brisket

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons liquid smoke
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion salt
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 2-3 pound brisket
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Combine the liquid smoke, Worcestershire sauce, and seasonings in a metal pan. Add the brisket, and cover with aluminum foil.  You can use a large zippered freezer bag if you prefer. Marinate overnight in the refrigerator, turning occasionally.
  2. Place the marinated brisket in a slow cooker large enough to hold it flat. Cover. Set the cooker on LOW (about 200°F in my slow cooker) or SIMMER (about 185°F in my slow cooker) and cook for at least 10 hours, turning frequently during the cooking process.
  3. When the brisket is done to your satisfaction, remove from the oven to a cutting board. Let rest for 5 minutes. Then slice on a diagonal with the grain of the meat. Serve immediately.

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SEEING STARS

Today is a celebratory event in our family. The announcements for the 2018 Michelin star restaurants in the Bay Area had been delayed because of the terrible fires in the Napa/Sonoma region. Sarah and Evan were on tenterhooks because Rich Table had been dropped from Michelin’s Bib Gourmand list from last year. That meant they were either going to get a star or they were going to get nothing. Originally the stars were to be announced one week after the Bib Gourmands, but on the eve of the announcement. Michelin decided to delay. That was a good decision because some of the restaurants were threatened by the fires, and those that weren’t were cooking food for the fire victims.  Sarah already had experience with that. In 2001, she worked at Bouley in Lower Manhattan a short way from the World Trade Center. The restaurant was closed for months after 9/11, and each day for weeks she helped cook meals and then transport them to the site.

Back in San Francisco, there was no further notice about when the list would be released until yesterday. The wait was agonizing, and the silence, of course, stimulated social media gossip including one person who allowed it would be March before the announcements came. No way! Michelin has books to sell.

All morning long I checked my cell phone. Nothing. Until I got a text message from Sarah that burst into a flurry of stars. There were no words, but the message was clear.

It’s official: Rich Table has been awarded one Michelin star. That matches Michael Mina where Sarah worked as sous chef. As well, Coi, where Evan worked as chef de cuisine, has gained its third and ultimate star.

I know that Sarah and Evan plan to celebrate this evening. We are also going to have our own little celebration.

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OSSO BUCO IN A SLOW COOKER

We bought our own slow cooker so that we could return the one we had borrowed from Carol. Susan found a large one because she wanted to try it with brisket. Dutifully, I went to the butcher shop and bought a beautiful 3 pound brisket that was just the right size for the cooker. (I’ll post the family recipe for that at a later date. ) While I was waiting for the butcher to cut the brisket to order, my eye caught some meaty veal shanks lined up in pairs in one corner of the display case. To my way of thinking, shanks of any sort – lamb, veal, beef – are delicious and perfect for braising. They turn out fork-tender and suffused with the herbs and liquids that you use to braise them. Another perfect meal for the slow cooker. I had two wrapped up with plans for dinner for the evening. Those plans would include topping the braised veal with the traditional gremolata, a distant cousin of chimichurri and Italian salsa verde, and scooping out the braised marrow to spread on toast soldiers. I wound up serving the mirepoix – onion, celery, and carrot – but you can strain it out. I think that would be too bad because the braised vegetables are so flavorful. You can also add tomatoes, anchovies, and different herbs – or not. There are many recipes and variations for osso buco, so unless you’re a purist you can take some liberties with the preparation to make it your own.

RECIPES

OSSO BUCO

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cross-cut veal shanks
  • ½ cup carrots, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup celery, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup white onion, coarsely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • bouquet garni ( 3 sprigs parsley, bay leaf, 3 sage leaves, 3 branches thyme in cheesecloth packet)
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Heat the olive oil in the slow cooker set at LOW. Add the veal shanks, turning them until they are lightly browned on both sides, about 5 minutes. Don’t worry if they don’t brown fully on the low temperature of the cooker.
  2. Add the carrots, celery, onion, smashed garlic, bouquet garni, chicken stock, and white wine. Cook, covered, for 3 hours with the cooker set on SIMMER if you have that setting, otherwise, set on LOW. Check periodically and add more chicken stock if needed.
  3. Remove the bouquet garni and correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve the lamb shanks on a bed of the vegetables on individual plates with the braising liquid ladled over them. You can make a thicker sauce if you wish to use another pan. Transfer the braising liquid to a small saucepan over a medium flame to reduce the liquid by half. Top with the gremolata.

GREMOLATA

Ingredients

  • 12 sprigs of parsley, stems removed and leaves chopped very finely
  • 1 large clove garlic, base and green sprout – if any – removed
  • 1 lemon, zest + 1 tablespoon juice
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. On a cutting board, chop the parsley finely and push it into a compact pile.
  2. Using a micro plane, grate the garlic onto the pile of parsley.
  3. Again using the micro plane, zest the lemon onto the parsley.
  4. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
  5. With your fingers, combine the ingredients. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer to small bowl.
  6. Serve on top of the braised veal shank, and pass any extra at the table.

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MILE-HIGH STRAWBERRY PIE

One thing I have learned during the stove outage is that it is very difficult to make dessert without a stove and oven. Not impossible, of course, but difficult. You need to bake cakes and most pie crusts. Fillings sometimes need to be cooked on the stove. Even the custard for ice cream needs to be cooked. Since the breakdown, I have made a cheese plate with grapes and sliced pears. The grandchildren thought that was too fancy and not sweet.  I have served ice cream from the store, but that doesn’t count. This week was my turn for dessert for Sunday family dinner. I looked through several recipe books but had difficulty in finding a cooking-free recipe that sounded delicious. This comes from Marion Cunningham’s The Fannie Farmer Baking Book (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1984). I have freed the original recipe from the oven by using a packaged graham cracker crust from the grocery shelf. I have also added gelatin so that the filling holds its shape. Key tips that don’t appear in the recipe and that you should follow include making certain that you beat the egg whites so they form stiff peaks. Any less and the filling will collapse. If you need it, a pinch of cream of tartar might help. The cream should also be beaten so that it holds peaks. Chilling overnight is highly recommended.

RECIPE

Mile-High Strawberry Pie

Ingredients

  • 5 egg whites
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar (optional)
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 10 ounce package frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 9-inch prepared graham cracker crust
  • 1 quart fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced in half

Method

  1. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until they form soft peaks. Add the cream of tartar if you are using it. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until they hold stiff peaks.
  2. Set aside ½ cup of juice from the frozen strawberries before beating the berries and remaining juice into the egg whites. Continue beating until the mixture becomes fluffy and stands in soft peaks.
  3. Place ¼ cup of the reserved juice in a small bowl, sprinkle with the gelatin and let stand for 5 minutes until the gelatin has bloomed. Meanwhile, heat the remaining ¼ cup juice in the microwave, about 15 seconds on high. Stir the hot juice into the gelatin mixture, stirring until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Beat into the egg white mixture.
  4. Whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks. Fold into the egg white mixture.
  5. Pile the mixture into the prepared crust. Chill overnight in the refrigerator. Arrange fresh strawberries over the top and serve.

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SLOW COOKER CHICKEN SPAGHETTI

Our stove is still unrepaired so I continue using my daughter’s slow cooker. I hope that she doesn’t ask for it back any time soon as we’re still uncertain about how much longer the stove will be out of commission.  The rotisserie chicken for Sunday dinner turned out well. I had done two chickens so there were lots of leftovers for us and for Carol. I tried to think of how I could use the chicken in some slow cooker recipe. Soup immediately came to mind, but it seemed too hot outside for soup. I couldn’t figure out how to make chicken pot pie or chicken and dumplings without a stove. Old-fashioned chicken spaghetti sounded like a good option. We ate chicken spaghetti at the East Texas farm for as far back as I can remember. The recipe was a treasure of Susan’s mother and included a generous amount of Velveeta. I suspect the original recipe came from a Velveeta box and that it has been copied onto 3 x 5 cards in many families. This is not the authentic recipe. I used sharp Cheddar instead of Velveeta. I also wound up cleaning out the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator along with using up all of the leftover chicken.  Since the leftover chicken had been topped with garlic butter, I did not add garlic, but you could if you like. The slow cooker was the perfect utensil for the project.

RECIPE

Slow Cooker Chicken Spaghetti

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 8 ounces spaghetti
  • 4 ounces Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • leftover roasted chicken, bones and skin removed, cut into bite-sized pieces (about 4 cups)
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. Sweat onions in olive oil for about 5 minutes with slow cooker set on High. Add pepper, celery, and optional garlic. Cook for another 10 minutes. Then add chicken stock and cook for 1 hour or until the vegetables are tender.
  2. Break the spaghetti into pieces that will fit into the slow cooker and stir into the pot. Cook for 20 minutes on High or until the spaghetti is just al dente.
  3. Reduce the heat to Low. Stir in the grated cheese until it is melted. Add the chicken and cook just long enough to warm it thoroughly. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

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BUTTERMILK-BRAISED ROAST CHICKEN

It’s been six weeks since our stove and oven quit working. The saga of the long delay will have to wait for another blog – when and if the stove gets repaired. This time I will deal with how someone who likes to cook copes without a stove.

Six weeks is a long time to go without cooking for some households, at least ours.  During this time, we have eaten some delicious meals at Carol’s house, and for that we thank her. We have eaten at some little neighborhood restaurants across the street. But we have also depended upon our supply of plug-in appliances, along with a slow cooker that we borrowed from Carol. Waffles with the waffle iron, panini from the George Forman grill, and rice from the rice cooker have all been on the menu. The main thing I have done, though, is to use the slow cooker. It works beautifully and confirms all of the enthusiasm for its utility for busy people. You toss some things in the pot, turn it on, leave it unattended for a few hours, and return to a delicious dish just waiting to be served. The only problem, in my hands at least, is that everything comes out looking and tasting like stew. I know that there are myriad cookbooks filled with interesting recipes. I know that there are even some enthusiasts who claim you can bake a cake! I have not succumbed.

The one appliance I haven’t used since the demise of household fire is our Sunbeam rotisserie. I have written about it in the past; it really does do a good job of roasting things as if they were on a spit. It’s my turn for Sunday family dinner, so I thought it would be a good time to get out the rotisserie. It also seemed like the opportune time to try out Sarah and Evan’s recipe for roasted chicken that appeared in this month’s issue of Food and Wine. (Check out “Winner, Winner” on page 46 of the October, 2017 issue.) Since Douglas fir trees don’t grow at this altitude in Southern California, I substituted rosemary. Also, since the original recipe was for oven roasting, I have made a few changes to accommodate the absence of the stove and the demands of the rotisserie. Otherwise, everything is the same. The chicken is brined over night in a bath of buttermilk, salt, sugar, garlic and rosemary with the secret ingredient of porcini mushroom powder. The mushroom powder adds distinct umami to the mixture. The final touch of roasted garlic oil is also an important taste profile. Without a stove, I had to use the microwave to heat the garlic slices in olive oil.  Surprisingly, the garlic browned, although I am sure it could easily burn and become bitter. In any event, the process worked well, and the family had a pleasant Sunday dinner.

I will be glad when we get our stove back.

RECIPE

Buttermilk-Brined Roast Chicken

Ingredients

  • Kosher salt
  • 11 garlic cloves, 9 smashed and 2 thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rosemary leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ cup dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • 1 chicken, 3 to 5 pounds
  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Method

  1. Combine ¼ cup Kosher salt, smashed garlic, sugar, rosemary and bay leaves in a large microwave-proof bowl. Stir in 2 cups of water. Heat in the microwave on high for 6 minutes. Remove from the microwave, stir to dissolve any undissolved sugar and salt. Add 2 cups of water and cool.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a large container big enough to hold the brine and the chicken. (I used an 8 quart plastic bread-proofing container.)
  3. Grind the porcini mushrooms to a powder using an electric spice grinder.
  4. Whisk the ground mushrooms and buttermilk into the salt and sugar mixture. Place the chicken in the mixture, cover, and refrigerate overnight. Be sure to remove any giblets that have been packaged inside the chicken.
  5. When you are ready to roast the chicken, remove it from the buttermilk brine, drain it well, and pat it dry with paper towels. With kitchen string, truss the bird: tie the legs together; tuck the wings behind the back and tie them firmly. You should wind up with a compact package that will fit easily on the rotisserie spit. Season all over with salt.
  6. Arrange the chicken on the spit so that it is firmly seated and will not come in contact with the heating element. Cover the rotisserie with the protective lid and turn on the spit.
  7. After 15 minutes, stop the rotisserie, brush the chicken all over with the softened butter.  Restart the rotisserie, and roast for an additional 50 minutes or until the temperature of the thickest part of the breast reaches 165°F as measured with an instant-read probe thermometer.
  8. Transfer the roasted chicken to a cutting board. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 15 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile, combine the sliced garlic and olive oil in a small microwave-proof cup or bowl. Heat the bowl in the microwave on high for 2 minutes. The garlic should brown. Check to make sure it does not burn. Remove from the microwave.
  10. Remove the trussing from the bird. Cut into serving pieces. Brush lightly with the garlic oil. Serve immediately, passing the remaining oil at the table.

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