Monday, March 6, 2017

Cheese! Cherries! Chocolate! or: Mardi Gras for Three



Mardi Gras/Maslenitsa? Check: friends came over for dinner this weekend, bringing a special Pauillac wine they lucked into. To celebrate, I put on my toque and made duck in cherry sauce, roast potatoes, steamed spinach.
At this time of year I click with the Lenten spirit – at least the pre-Lenten one, heh, of a celebrating the end of winter with an animal fattishly festive dinner. This was my method for 2017: I let the wine lead. Staying with the classic pairing of Bordeaux with duck in a cherry and/or pepper sauce, I found plenty of luxurious duck/cherry recipes out there, but they were all a little…too…unctuous. To compromise, I toned down a recipe from Epicurous (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/seared-duck-breast-with-cherries-and-port-sauce-353376) with a sauce treatment I found in Cooking Light recipe (http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/duck-breast-with-cherry-pepper-sauce ). Here’s how I did it:
1.       Make the Cooking Light sauce with these changes:  ditch the dried cherries and use the drained canned ones (this ensures you will have nice juicy plump cherries in your sauce, which isn’t cooked long enough to reconstitute dried cherries), and save the honey to add at the end, along with the cherry puree (make only half, and omit the butter).
2.       Keep fat on duck breast. Score, salt, and pepper the fat side. Pre-warm a nonstick pan over almost-high heat, and add duck, breast-side down. Cook until skin is deep golden brown, about 7 minutes; as fat renders, pour it into a bowl so you’re not frying the duck in its own fat, and so you can save the duck fat for another use. (Be sure to leave about a teaspoon of fat in the pan when finished cooking the duck, however.) Turn duck over with tongs, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook for about 5 minutes more (interior temperature 125F for medium-rare). Cover with foil and a few dishtowels while you make the sauce.
3.       Saute 1 Tbsp finely minced shallots in the duck skillet, using the remaining teaspoon of duck fat to help collect any browned bits into the mix. Add the Cooking Light sauce, amended as above. (Note:  you MUST use homemade beef broth!) Cook for a few minutes, until sauce is reduced by half. Add the canned drained cherries and warm up. Taste. Add honey and the Cooking Light cherry puree to taste, add salt and pepper to taste (it should be ever so slightly peppery), and serve hot over warm up, and pour over sliced duck.
The sides for this dish were roast potatoes, which I made according to the Roastie Gospel of Jamie Oliver. Given the absence of Maris Piper potatoes in New York City (prove me wrong if you can!), I tried both peeled Idahos and strip-peeled red bliss, both organic. I used the mix of olive oil and butter, and added fresh herbs (thyme to the Idahos and rosemary for the red bliss) at ¾ through the roasting process. My guests and I couldn’t really tell the difference so I served them together! (The taste profile was very similar but of course the red bliss got crustier thanks to their mostly-remaining skin.)
Since I am not in the mood these days to hand-craft every part of my dinner parties, the dessert course this time was FoodKick’s amazing flourless chocolate cakes. Individually sized, these wee dark beauties pack a wallop of chocolate richness, and at the end of this dinner, we could only manage about half of a cake each.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Favorite Recipe: Poached Egg, Ham, and Roasted Tomato and Mushroom Breakfast

I love this breakfast on those days when I need extra energy. It keeps me charged for half the day! I adapted it from several recipes I've read over the years.

This is a recipe for one person, but will serve up to six: just prepare additional egg, ham, and English muffins for each person.

Ingredients
1 pint cherry, grape, or other small tomato
1 pint mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed, quartered
2 tsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Eggs
Vinegar
1 clove garlic
Whole wheat English muffins
Ham (I like Applegate Black Forest)
Parsley (optional), chopped

Instructions

1.Heat oven to 350F. Toss mushrooms and tomatoes separately with one teaspoon of olive oil each, and salt and pepper to paste, in oven-proof baking dishes. Put the mushroom dish and slice of ham (the latter on its own baking sheet) in the oven and roast for 10 minutes; then add tomato dish alongside it, and roast 20 minutes more. Keep in oven to stay warm.

2. Toast English muffins and lightly rub each toasted half with the clove of garlic. Add to oven to keep warm.

3. Fill a one-quart pan with water and one teaspoon of vinegar. Bring to boil. Add egg(s), one at a time, and soft-boil to desired consistency (I prefer two minutes for a nice runny soft boiled egg).

4. To serve, top the English muffins with cooked ham and poached egg. Spoon heated roasted tomatoes and mushrooms alongside. Sprinkle chopped parsley on top of everything for extra vitamins and happy green color. Nice with tea or coffee.

Prepare-Ahead Instructions

Roast the tomatoes and mushrooms, and keep covered in the refrigerator. Before serving, heat up with the ham, and proceed from #2 above.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Kusmi Irish Blend: A Trip to Sunny Ireland





I just rated this tea on Steepster. It took me quite a while to identify all the flavors/essences I picked up in this tea, but here's what I chose from the pre-set list. (I would have added Heather, but that wasn't an option on Steepster. Not yet, anyway!)

Flavors: Almond, Apricot, Astringent, Brown Toast, Citrus, Dandelion, Floral, Fruit Tree Flowers, Green Melons, Honey, Leather, Marine, Meat, Muscatel, Nuts, Ocean Air, Peat, Rainforest, Root Beer, Sweet, warm grass, Tannic, Tobacco, Wet Wood

My review:


I bought a box of the muslin bags of this tea at the Kusmi store on 3rd Avenue/62nd street in Manhattan. Perhaps they’ve changed the formula, or perhaps it’s my brewing approach, but this is not the undistinguished tea the two reviewers from six years ago described.

I brewed it light and quick, in a 6oz teacup. I think most Kusmi teas come into their own when you use less tea/time and water off the boil for at least a minute. This results in a light but gorgeously scented cup of tea. Before you shrug and say, “Oh, more bark than bite? Next tea please,” I’d like you to entertain the possibility that the enjoyment of a cup of tea can be mostly olfactory. Taste and smell are pretty chummy senses, after all. And this Irish Blend has the power to captivate in its scented steam. I know Kusmi is terrific at scented teas but I believe this one is mostly or perhaps all natural — no perfume from Grasse could cover all the wholesome notes this tea possesses. The label indicates no ingredients except Assam and Darjeeling teas.

Funny thing about this blend is that it’s not what you might expect from the epithet “Irish” — no big malty hug here. It’s a brisk tea, with a soothing and gently predominant honey scent. I imagine the Ireland of this tea is a Russian traveler’s memory of a rare sunny day in the Emerald Isles, the clouds scuttled off to the Irish sea, and feeling the land dilate and relax in the nurturing warmth. Growing against the sheltered southern wall of a stone cottage, an apricot tree soaks in the sun as well as the wet fresh sea air, layering rich flavors into its fuzzy orange-red fruit. The dandelions open, dotting the green hills with bright yellow. The bees pick up scents of a flush of different flowers, nectar on the breeze. Things start to really dry out – the old wooden door, the leather tobacco pouch, the earth itself — releasing a host of subtle, light, harmonious scents you had forgotten they had when everything was perpetually sodden.

Milk dulls some of the scents in this tea, particularly the almond and meat.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013














Happy 2013, everyone!

I promised a friend last night that I'd share my eggnog recipe so here it is. I've been making this every holiday season since December 1986, when my freshman roommate Anne found this recipe in her English mother's cookbook. After a few adjustments (like halving the alcohol!), it became a keeper. My family, who are no strangers to good food, call this eggnog "ambrosial."


HOLIDAY EGGNOG (serves 12)

6 eggs, freshest you can find
3/4 cup sugar
1 pint heavy cream
1 pint whole milk
1/2 cup bourbon
1 oz. rum (gold rum is best)
Whole nutmeg
Real vanilla extract

Directions: Prepare a day in advance.
Separate eggs and reserve whites for tomorrow. Beat egg yolks well, using an electric hand blender. Add 1/2 cup of sugar slowly, blending well. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the milk and cream gently, then stir in the bourbon and rum. Add 2 tsp. vanilla and 1 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg and stir. Cover bowl and place in fridge overnight. (Curing the eggnog is essential: the alcohol, butterfat, and sugar need to harmonize with each other overnight. Same day, the mix tastes weird -- "who put eggs and sugar and milk in my bourbon" weird.)

Before serving the next day, whip egg whites (works best if they are at room temperature) until frothy and add remaining 1/4 cup of sugar gradually and beat to soft-peak stage. Fold into egg yolk mixture until fully incorporated; final texture should be foamy and creamy. Grate more fresh nutmeg on top of the bowl and serve! Stir with a spoon to keep mix from separating; eggyolk mix will sink to bottom of serving bowl eventually, and eggwhite will rise to top.

[I do not know the nutritional profile of this eggnog. Suffice to say it's probably fine if you have it just once a year! I have used raw eggs for this recipe for over a quarter century and nobody ever got sick from it.]

Friday, February 10, 2012

Black tea blend: Baker Street (caffeinated)

Sherlock and Moriarty take tea at Baker Street  ©BBC
Yesterday's tea was Upton's Baker Street blend, a lovely mix of Lapsang Souchong, Keemun, and Darjeeling. "Perfect for an afternoon uplift," says Upton of this lightly smoky tea, "another special whole-leaf blend from our London source of fine teas."

I haven't had a cup of caffeinated tea for a few days, but I threw caution to the wind. I have been Netflixing the BBC's excellent new "Sherlock Holmes" with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, so had 221B Baker Street on the brain. I drank just six ounces of this tea yesterday afternoon but paid for it that night, sleeping poorly, even though I tried to override the caffeine with a big roast chicken dinner and a wee glass of ruby port.

Or maybe it was just the intrigue of the tea prodding my brain to stay awake and figure out some mysteries. It really was a nice cup of tea, and the picture above captures quite a few of the impressions it left on me -- antique book pages, and a wisp of smoke from the cooling fireplace. This would be a good tea to serve during a chess game.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Black tea: Kenilworth Estate OP (caffeinated)

Today's tea is a Ceylon, which was the old colonial name for Sri Lanka, that island off the South East coast of India; tea is a significant export for this republic. The Kenilworth Estate comprises 700 acres in western Sri Lanka, and holds the record auction price for Orange Pekoe. Even though they are grown from the same variety of Camellia sinensis as the Assam teas, Ceylon teas are the lightweight members of the Orange Pekoe clan, and more likely to be described as "brisk" -- their tannins come through more easily since they lack the "malty" or "biscuity" texture/flavor of the straight Assam teas. I understand Ceylon teas are often used in black tea blends; drinking a straight Ceylon like this is a purist's enterprise.


I don't think I'm a Ceylon purist. This tea -- even though brewed for 5'30" -- reminded me of the weakish brew served by my favorite cranky old English guy, my friend Sophie's dad, who wears a grey wool sweater he's darned himself with many different colors of yarn, reserves feelings of devotion for very few things including the BBC, and swears he can tell the difference between a cup of tea whose milk has been poured in at the bottom of the cup and one whose milk was added after the tea was poured. Milk-first is his preference. "The toffs had milk pitchers, but my class had none of that fancy business, so we had to pour in the milk first." With each cuppa, the professor honors his roots and snubs the rich capitalist b@stards.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Black tea: Java Malabar Estate OPS (caffeinated)

Tea Plantation in West Java
Today's breakfast tea. An Orange Pekoe; the folks at Upton say that "'S' stands for 'Souchong,' a larger leaf on the tea plant. I haven't tried tea from Indonesia before, but liked Upton's description of this tea as "refined, with a sweetness and delicate caramel flavor note." They also mentioned it was grown in West Java at an elevation over 1500 meters (nearly 5,000 feet), and I do like a trip to the mountains. I brewed one cupweight (thanks to my new digital tea scale from Upton) in 6 oz water just off the boil for 3'30". I tasted it without milk, and it seemed interesting, but a bit raw-edged from the tannin. A little bit of milk really helped and made this into a very satisfying cup of tea: it was flavorful but not heavy at all, with an interesting note of something that reminded me of chocolate, and a very smooth finish. Really a nice way to start the day, as though someone you like has chucked you gently on the cheek with the nappy grain side of a tan leather glove.