Tag Archives: Carol

RENAISSANCE LASAGNE

My daughter-in-law is a techie who lives in Silicon Valley. She is a very good cook and she is also a minimalist so she eschews cookbooks. For her, the internet is a perfect source. On the other hand, my daughter Carol loves cookbooks. She has shelves of them in her kitchen, and there is usually at least one tucked in her bedside book stack. For her, reading a cookbook beats reading a romance novel.

It was Carol’s turn to make the main course for our usual Sunday family meal, and the planets came together. Carol was on a diet in which vegetables are encouraged, meat and poultry are essential, and dairy products should be avoided. She found a dish that fit her requirements in a book she was reading, The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Weekends: Renaissance Lasagne. In addition, our granddaughter – the only person in the family who does not like lasagna (Whoever heard of that?) – was away at college. It was the perfect time to give the recipe a try. The recipe originally came from the radio show on NPR, “The Splendid Table.” I don’t know if the authors were touting it as an authentic recipe from the Renaissance. I have my doubts, because most recipes that I have read from the era say things like, “Take a knob of butter and mix with a handful of nuts not too freshly harvested and muddle with a dipper of milk.” This recipe is far too specific for that. I think the point is supposed to be that noodles approximating modern lasagne have been around since Roman times, and tomatoes did not reach the table until well after their transport from the New World after 1492.  This recipe has no tomatoes but is rich with chicken along with raisins and pine nuts. With a store list like that, it is clear that even if the recipe is absolutely authentic, this lasagna was almost certainly served only in the ducal palace or at the table of a wealthy merchant.

Carol’s menu was drawn straight from the cookbook. After our traditional half hour or so for drinks, light snacks and conversation about the events of the week, she served us what is titled in the book as “An Unusual Italian Salad”. It is based on frisée lettuce with curls of Parmigiano-Reggiano, candied lemon peel, toasted pine nuts, a vinaigrette and balsamic syrup. 

Then came the main dish accompanied with crisp-crusted Italian bread: Renaissance Lasagne.  The cookbook describes it as “…the long-lost wayward sister of the lasagne you have known and loved…straight out of Italy’s culinary golden age, the Renaissance.”  The delicacy and thinness of homemade pasta is an important part of the dish, but you can substitute store-bought, especially if you are in a hurry. Then you layer the pasta with “a light chicken ragù and sprinklings of nuts, raisins, spices, and cheese.”

I will not include the recipes for either the salad or the lasagne as they are readily available in the book, on the internet, or on Pinterest. Trust me, the meal was delicious, and the recipes are worth adding to your collection.

Lasagna lagniappe: lasagna or lasagne?

In Italian, one noodle = lasagna; two or more noodles = lasagne. In the USA, the convention is that the dish is spelled lasagna while in other English-speaking countries, i.e. the UK, Australia, etc., the dish is spelled lasagne.  (Think favorite/favourite) Even though the Splendid Table hails from the USA, they have chosen to spell the dish lasagne. Either way – or both – lasagna/e is one of my favorite foods. PPS: The automatic spell check in this software is driving me crazy. It keeps changing “e” to “a” when I am not looking.

 

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THE HUNT FOR KIMCHI

One Christmas gift from my spouse was a kimchi pot. It seems as though I have been fermenting things my whole life. When I was a young boy, I helped my grandmother (from a German farm family in North Dakota) shred bushels of cabbage every fall. We used a wooden slicer with a guillotine-like blade – a rustic mandoline – to shred the cabbage before salting it and placing it in very large pottery crocks lined up along the wall of an outbuilding in her back yard. The crocks were filled to the brim with cabbage, salt, and water. Then we placed a cracked dinner plate on top of each crock and weighed them down with a brick or big rock. It then became my responsibility to check the crocks each day to replenish the liquid if needed. There must have been at least a dozen crocks, and the smell of fermenting cabbage soon became overwhelming in the building, even seeping out into the backyard. For a child, the process seemed interminable although it was probably only a couple of weeks. In any event, when my grandmother decided that the process was complete, it was time to fire up the canning equipment and activate the canning crew of women and children in the family. Steam rose from several big pots on the stove as jars were sterilized, filled and processed; sweat poured from the ladies who seemed happy enough. The end product of all this effort was rows of gleaming jars filled with sauerkraut. They would get stored in the scary basement and serve the family through the winter. At least once a week the evening meal consisted of a mound of sauerkraut, mashed potatoes with no butter, and a sausage (My recollection is that it was actually a hot dog.) That menu is one I resist to this day.

Those memories inspired me to try my hand at sauerkraut making when we lived in Louisiana. I found a small crock at a potters’ in Marshal, Texas. I shredded the cabbage on a wooden shredder we had found in an “antique store” – read junk shop – in some small East Texas town. I set up my fermentation lab in a hallway between the kitchen and dining room that we had dubbed the butler’s pantry. The smell of fermenting cabbage hung in the air of the butler’s pantry.  Our children, some of them teenagers, thought that Old Dad had gone off the deep end, and they were very amused. They loved to bring their friends to inspect the crock and inhale the fragrance. The visits always ended in gales of laughter.

In Santa Fe, Susan gave me a beautiful German crock to rekindle my interest in fermentation. I have written about the sauerkraut that I made with that crock. All of the family enjoyed Reuben sandwiches made with the sauerkraut. Unfortunately, the lid of the crock was broken in our move to California. We patched it together, and we tried to buy a new one, but apparently the German manufacturer has stopped importing to the United States.  The other problem was that the crock made  a LOT of sauerkraut.

Since our move to Southern California, we have had the opportunity to eat many varieties of Asian food. Korean restaurants are especially common nearby, and there are many families of Korean background who live in our neighborhood. We have become fans of kimchi. Susan apparently thought it was time to make another effort on fermentation, so she gave me a smaller glass container specially designed so that it is automatically vented and you don’t have to worry about maintaining a water seal. Of course, you can make sauerkraut or giardiniera, but my first effort seemed like it should be kimchi. I assumed that finding the ingredients should be no problem at our local supermarket, and I headed there with shopping list in hand:

Napa cabbage. Check

Daikon radish. Check

Daikon radish

Carrots. Check

Ginger. Check

Ginger

Scallions. Check

Fish sauce. I went to the aisle labelled “Asian/Hispanic”. The only fish sauce was from Thailand!?

Rice flour. I already had some in the pantry and then U decided not to make the slurry for kimchi paste

Korean chili pepper. I looked through the shelves several times, and all I could find was Gochugang spicy miso sauce.

I totally struck out on salted, fermented shrimp so Carol drove me to the Korean market down the hill. We showed an iPhone image of what we were looking for to two young men who were stocking shelves. They averred that they had never heard of it and they didn’t have it. With persistence, Carol found a jar labelled “shrimp sauce (finely ground), Product of China” which we bought.

Having assembled all of the ingredients, I began to make my first kimchi even though I am certain that our Korean neighbors would cringe at labeling the stuff as such.  The first order of business was to cut the Daikon radish and carrots into 3 inch match sticks. For that I used a French mandoline that sits unused in its box even though it is a beautiful machine to behold.  Then the real production of kimchi began. After sitting in the jar on my desk for four days with little odor,  the kimchi was ready. I transferred it to Mason jars to be refrigerated. I also ate a good portion. If I do say, it turned out to be pretty delicious.

RECIPE

Basic Kimchi

Ingredients

  • 1  medium head napa cabbage
  • water
  • ½ cup salt
  • 2 cups Daikon radish peeled and cut into 3 inch julienne
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 3 inch julienne
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 6 scallions, roots removed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup spicy miso sauce
  • ¼ cup fish sauce
  • ¼ ginger, peeled and minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons salted, fermented shrimp sauce
  • 1½ teaspoons sugar

Method

  1. Cut the cabbage in half, lengthwise. Cut crosswise in 2 inch pieces, discarding the core. Sprinkle the cut cabbage with salt and then place in a large bowl. Cover with water, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 4 hours.
  2. After the cabbage has soaked,  drain in a colander and rinse to remove salt, and return to the bowl.
  3. Add all the remaining ingredients and mix well. Transfer to the fermentation crock. Seal the crock with the venting lid. Place the crock in a cool place, undisturbed, for 4 days. Then bottle or eat the finished kimchi. Bottles may be refrigerated for up to a month.

 

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TETE DE MOINE

A girolle has been on my want list since I first saw one in an excellent cheese shop in Santa Fe. The device is beautifully crafted of polished wood and gleaming stainless steel. The girolle was invented by Nicolas Croiviser in 1982 for one purpose: to shave a unique cheese into flower-shaped curls. The device is an extravagance but it is clearly a must-have for a kitchen gadgeteer who already has a croquembouche mold, a sausage stuffer, and a Swedish sardine grilling basket. Recently we visited a new cheese shop, The Cultured Slice, on Pacific Coast Highway in Hermosa Beach. There was a good cheese selection, and the cheesemonger was very friendly and helpful. But what caught my eye was a brand new, shiny girolle. I yielded to temptation and bought it.

Girolle

The next purchase, of course, was the cheese, tête de moine (monk’s head). Although they had one at Cultured Slice, I asked Sarah to order one from their cheese purveyor for our visit to the Bay Area. Expect to pay around $60 for a round cheese of about 2 pounds. That amount of cheese will likely serve at more than one gathering.

 

Last night was our big event. We planned to enjoy cheese curls before our dinner. First was the unveiling of the cheese. We admired the beautiful silvery foil wrapping and the seal on the top with an image of monks making cheese. The cheese itself was a perfect cylinder with a textured rust-colored rind. We cut off the top to reveal a smooth, sunshine-yellow paste that gave off an earthy fragrance that was much more subtle than I had come to expect from descriptions on the internet. Continue reading

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PERSIMMON NEGRONI

Autumn is edging into winter. You can feel it in the air, and in some parts of the country like our old home in Santa Fe, they have had snow with snowflakes filling the air. Tragically in California there are no snowflakes, only smoke and ashes. San Francisco is darkened by smoke from the Camp Fire, and in Los Angeles the air is heavy with the smoke and smell of the Woolsey Fire. One night this week, Carol was in Redondo Beach and captured the image of the fires over Malibu, 26 miles away. Our thoughts are with the victims. Newspaper reports have been filled with horrible images and frightening stories. I hope the fires are soon brought under control. We need rain.

This week, family Sunday dinner was at Carol’s house. Carol outdid herself. She enjoys cooking and finds it therapeutic. She needed to find some relaxation. She also found a bounty at the farmers market. Just about everything on the menu – except the rabbit – came from the vendors there.

First course was a delicious mushroom soup that she loves to serve in small glass bowls made for sipping. The soup is beautifully seasoned with herbs and an excellent replacement for the usual appetizers. Second course was a simple salad of blood oranges, navel oranges, avocados, and sprouts topped with a tangy vinaigrette. Of course, the highlight of the meal was a dish that Carol called rabbit cacciatore: pieces of perfectly cooked rabbit (The young butcher who sold Carol the rabbit had to ask for help from an older man in cutting up the rabbit.) and noodles with a light sauce and topped with fresh tomatoes and parsley.  Finally, though we didn’t need it, was a dessert of canelés from the bakery vendor at the farmers market topped with a sauce of figs that I had admired at the market that morning.

Besides the change in the weather, there is another way to tell that winter is coming. Persimmons make their appearance. And they are plentiful at the farmers market. Problem is they are not fully ripened and you need to take them home to ripen on the counter for days or even weeks. There are native varieties that are especially common in the South. They don’t make it to the farmers market but they are treasured by those who know about them. There are two varieties at our local market: the Hachiya and the Fuyu. The Hachiya is shaped like an acorn and is astringent (i.e. it will make you pucker) until it is fully ripe. Then it becomes very soft and sweet. The Fuyu is shaped like a tomato and is not astringent. It is firmer even when ripe. Yoo can “ripen” persimmons by putting them in the freezer overnight. This reflects Susan’s father’s adage that persimmons on our farm shouldn’t be eaten until after the first frost.

Because of the abundance of persimmons, our son-in-law decided to make persimmon Negronis for our traditional cocktail hour. He and Carol had earlier planned to make the recipes in Sarah and Evan’s new cookbook, Rich Table. In the book, the drinks look especially good and most easily accessible by the home cook. The recipe for Persimmon Negroni calls for Hachiya persimmons; we only had Fuyu.  We also did not have available the various gins recommended so SIL just went with Hendricks. Honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference. But I could tell my drink was delicious.

RECIPE

Persimmon Negroni

Persimmon Negroni

Ingredients

  • 1 very ripe Hachiya persimmon
  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 1 ounce gin*
  • ¼ ounce (1½ teaspoon) lemon juice
  • ¼ ounce (1½ teaspoon) simple syrup
  • ice

Method

  1. Press the persimmon through a fine-mesh strainer into a small bowl. Discard the solids.
  2. In a cocktail shaker, combine 1 ounce of the persimmon puree with the Campari, gin, lemon juice,, simple syrup and ice.
  3. Shake until the ingredients are well chilled (about 30 seconds)
  4. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a rocks glass containing one large ice cube.
  5. Serve immediately.

*The original recipe calls for ¾ ounce London dry gin and ¼ ounce of herbaceous gin. If you don’t have a large commercial bar stock at your disposal, use your favorite gin, Hendricks provides a nice herbaceous element.

 

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HAM STEAK WITH PINEAPPLE

Finally. Everyone in the family is back where they are supposed to be. The chefs are back in the restaurant. The scientists are back doing what they do. The college kid is in college, and we are back home resting after child care. Carol was the last to return after a business trip to Hawaii. Because of a comedy of errors she missed her return flight. Fortunately she made the red-eye and was back home in time for the first Sunday family dinner since all of the moving around began. In honor of her Hawaiian “vacation” I decided to make ham with pineapple in as simple a version as possible along with cheesy grits (as appropriate a combination as shrimp and grits). Asparagus vinaigrette finished off the meal.  Asparagus was abundant at the farmers market because Southern California is blessed with a second growing season. Along with fall apples we are beginning to find spring vegetables.

Unless you are over 50, there is a good possibility you have never seen a whole ham festooned with rings of pineapple centered by bright red maraschino cherries. In our family while I was growing up it was considered one of the fanciest dinner offerings. The dish showed up repeatedly in magazines and advertisements. These days not so much. It gets harder and harder to find a bone-in whole ham. One of those things provided a 1950s family with a week of meals: first a festive Sunday dinner, then sliced ham with red-eye gravy, sandwiches, ham and potato casserole, and finally ham and bean soup. These days you can often only find tiny little hamettes (water added) or sliced or diced ham products.  And the idea of pineapple rings, especially when they are centered by a bright red maraschino cherry has fallen out of favor. For this recipe I settled for the largest whole ham slices with the bone still in. I think they made a good substitute, and there was even some left over. I also went retro with the pineapple slices and cherries. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.

RECIPE

Ham Steak with Pineapple

Ingredients

  • 2 large ham steaks (about one pound each)
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup canned crushed pineapple, well-drained
  • 1 20-ounce can pineapple slices, drained
  • maraschino cherries

Method

  1. Pat the ham slices dry with a paper towel. Arrange one slice in a foil-lined rimmed baking pan that has been well greased.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, mustard, soy sauce, oil, salt, and pepper. Stir in the crushed pineapple. Spread this mixture on the ham slice in the baking pan and then top with the second ham slice.
  3. Arrange the pineapple slices over the ham. Place a maraschino cherry in the center of each of the slices. Baste with liquid from the filling.
  4. Bake in an oven preheated to 275°F for one hour. Remove from the oven, cut into serving-sized pieces and serve while still warm.

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GOODBYE TO CHILDHOOD

This week’s family Sunday dinner was different. I was excused from any cooking. The reason for the change of routine is that daughter Carol planned a very special dinner of all of her daughter’s favorite foods. Our oldest grandchild will be heading off to college this next week. She will be 2500 miles away on the East Coast so it is not likely she will get to enjoy Mom’s home cooking sooner than the holidays. Our granddaughter is very excited for this new adventure although she’s also a little anxious about the prospects of being so far from a “real beach.” An equal reality is that Mom will no longer get to cook for her daughter.

Here’s the menu: goat cheese, crackers and crudités, barbecued brisket, Hawaiian rolls,  “corny corn,”caprese salad, watermelon,  nectarine fruit salad, and red velvet cake for dessert. The meal was a huge success because everything on the menu is a family favorite. Carol used her own recipe for the brisket: she starts the meat on the stove in a Cameron smoker primed with wood chips, then transfers it to a slow oven for several hours, and then finishes it on the backyard grill.  I’ve written about Susan’s brisket recipe here. That recipe is easy and delicious. The brisket can be cut with a fork, and the juices can be turned into a fragrant, flavorful pan sauce. Carol’s “corny corn” is best made with fresh corn cut from the cob. The summer season is perfect for that. Corn cut from six ears is sautéed in six tablespoons of butter, seasoned with salt and pepper along with the juice and zest of two limes, mixed with a half cup of mayonnaise and about two cups of grated Cheddar cheese, topped with  a cup of toasted panko and more Cheddar and grated Parmesan cheese, and then browned under the broiler.   The salad was a caprese with slices of  mozzarella layered with basil and chunks of tomato from the farmers market. My granddaughter’s favorite ingredient in the salad is the balsamic vinegar. Chilled watermelon and a nectarine fruit salad were also on the buffet.  As if that was not enough food, there was still dessert. We’ve been enjoying red velvet cake, aka Waldorf Astoria cake, since days on the farm years ago when Aunt Mary regaled us with the story, undoubtedly apocryphal, of a friend who talked her waiter in the restaurant at that fabled hotel into mailing the recipe for the cake. When the friend received the envelope, she found the recipe and a bill for $200. We have laughed at that story for years, and we are always reminded of it, Aunt Mary, and the farm whenever we get to enjoy a slice of red velvet cake.

My contribution to the feast was restricted to a big bag of Kettle® sea salt and vinegar potato chips (no other brand will do). I have bought many a small bag over the years as an after-school treat for our granddaughter since she was a little girl. They remain her favorite snack.

The next few days in Carol’s household will be filled with stories, memories, and warm words as they pack up new clothes and special treasures. Soon enough there will also be a few tears. I remember saying goodbye to my mother as I boarded the train in a freak September snow storm, and I remember getting Carol situated in her dorm room as if it were yesterday. Sending a child off to college is one of the saddest, happiest, proudest moments in life. We will all remember Carol’s farewell banquet for years to come.

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FRIED OKRA, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, FRIED EVERYTHING

Our local farmers market is moving into full season. Corn is making a tentative appearance, and there are tomatoes in abundance – all sizes, shapes, and colors – in every vegetable stall. This last week we went to the larger market in Torrance and were surprised to find green tomatoes. I am used to seeing them later on as the season begins to taper off. Fried green tomatoes is to my mind one of the great Southern delicacies. We bought some. Then we saw okra! And the timing was perfect. Carol is away on vacation. She avoids okra as much as she avoids onions. I believe that her aversion arises from childhood. She grew up in Louisiana and spent many days in East Texas. She bought her lunches in the school cafeterias, and she declares (although I think it is an exaggeration) that stewed okra and tomatoes, along with collards that had been cooked beyond recognition, were served every single day. She insists that there is no preparation of okra that will pass her lips. My reply has always been that she just has never had okra prepared correctly. Then we all laugh at the standing family joke.

When we lived on the Texas-Mexico Border, I made the mistake of declaring that I didn’t like menudo. A co-worker informed me that I had never had HER menudo, and the next week she brought a big pot of the soup for lunch. Being a slow learner, I made the same comment at various gatherings, and the outcome was always the same: somebody would bring a batch of their lovingly made tripe soup.  And I would eat the soup along with the ever-expanding chunks of tripe. I still don’t like menudo. Never say you don’t like a particular dish. It will be seen as a challenge.

On the other hand, be very careful in saying how much you like a particular dish. Years ago, we visited Thailand where I was treated royally. The first night was a banquet where they served roasted suckling pig. As the guest of honor, I was treated to the crispy skin along with the tail and snout. I said how much I enjoyed it (I really did; it was delicious) so that for every evening meal for two weeks in various parts of the country, I was treated to roasted suckling pig complete with snout and tail. I have not eaten roasted suckling pig since.

Back to okra. I agree with Carol: tomatoes and okra is not a favorite. The dish seems to bring out the worst quality of okra, the slime. Deep-fried okra with a crispy corn meal coating is another story. In my view, it is delicious. Fried green tomatoes have a distinctive citrusy tang, but they are a variant of the same preparation method, along with hush puppies, fried catfish, battered cutlets, chicken fried steak, or even fried chicken. But that’s one of the things that makes Southern home cooking so good – frying. Think deep-fried Twinkies.

These recipes are not authentic. Usually you can just shake cut okra with some seasoned cornmeal and fry it. The slime binds the cornmeal to make a crispy fried coating. Same with the green tomatoes. Instead, I have used a flour-egg-buttermilk-cornmeal coating; I like the extra body (and calories) that the coating brings. I am certain that Carol would still not like the okra. I served the vegetables with battered pork cutlets. It was a very brown plate, and my mother would not have approved of the absence of green vegetable – collards, maybe?

RECIPES

Fried Okra, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Breaded Pork Cutlet

Ingredients

  • 1 pound (about) fresh okra pods
  • 3-4 medium green tomatoes
  • 4 thin-sliced  pork cutlets
  • flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 dashes Tabasco sauce (optional)
  • bread crumbs
  • oil for frying

Method

  1. Wash the okra and cut it crosswise into ¾ inch rounds
  2. Cut the green tomatoes into ½ inch slices
  3. Dust the pork cutlets in flour and pound with the edge of a saucer to flatten. Turn over while pounding and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Dust the okra slices and green tomato slices with flour.
  5. Combine the beaten eggs and buttermilk. Dip the floured okra, tomatoes, and cutlets in the egg mixture. Then  dip in a plate filled with the bread crumbs until completely covered.
  6. Let the vegetables and pork  rest on cooling racks for 15 minutes.
  7. Fill a deep-sided heavy pot with 2 inches of frying oil. Heat to 350°F. Fry okra, tomatoes, and pork separately, turning frequently, until well browned. Remove from the oil with a spider and drain on paper towels. Keep warm in a 170°F oven until everything has been fried. Serve immediately.

 

 

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