I like to cook. Sometimes my daughter likes to eat.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

House o' Pork

Pork is my absolute favorite meat, no contest. Lamb is very, very good, duck breast does not suck, but pork? Fugheddiboudit. Pancetta is the basis for so many great dishes, nothing beats braised pork shoulder... pork belly, pork loin, pork ears and feet and even liver. I even dig ground pork, where ground beef always makes me a little queasy.

When I met R., he wasn't much for the pork, it being über-treif and all. But I would not be swayed. This is a man who loves shrimp, scallops, crab. So dammit, he'll eat the pork. And I cook the pork.

So I do not speak lightly when I say that if you make one thing out of a magazine this month, make it the glazed pork chops out of the Cook's Illustrated April issue. So easy. So good. Serve it with braised red cabbage and you'll think you're in Munich.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Happy Passover, Happy Spring

I had recipes and posts in mind, but MZ's ear infection/roseola outbreak forced a retreat. Just posting on Wine Blogging Wednesday nearly drove me past the point of exhaustion (where are my priorities, you might ask, but the four cups could not compete with the Navarro Pinot Gris after three days of nursing a sick baby, plus I drank the wine on Tuesday). And did I mention that our freezer got left open, thus necessitating two days of mad cooking to save what could be saved? Necessity is the mother of invention, but it remains to be seen whether I was successful since almost everything went back in the freezer in its re-cooked state.

So, Passover recipes will come, maybe in a few days when hiding the matzo takes on a whole new meaning. Here's one idea, from last year, which I plan to make again with some permutation of lamb shanks... it may not feel very Spring, but with all this rain I'm thinking a wedge of this kugel might be good cold, as a snack on the ark.

Vegetable Passover Kugel

1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
4 small zucchini, grated
2.5 t salt
1 carrot, grated
2-3 eggs, beaten
1/4 t each oregano, smoked paprika, turmeric, black pepper
1/2 t salt
2 T chopped parsley
1/4 c unsalted matzo meal
1 t EVOO

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine onion, 2 t of salt, and zucchini, drain 20 minutes. Squeeze out excess liquid, and add next four ingredients. Stir to combine, then add matzo meal and parsley, stir again till thoroughly combined.

Lightly grease a tart plate (ceramic is better than one with a removable bottom), pour in mixture and bake 45 minutes, till golden on top and a knife comes out clean.

Best served with something saucy like lamb shanks.

As I type this, I realize this is dangerously close to my neo-latke recipe, but you'll have to wait for Chanukah to do the comparison.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Wine Blogging Wednesday: '02 Navarro Pinot Gris

Wine Blogging Wednesday is a monthly international event that I learned of over on the excellent Vinography blog. This month it's being run by Wine for Newbies, if you're interested in what people had to say about white wines beyond the Big Three (Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc), check out his wrap-up. If you're interested in a wine primer podcast, check out his site.

I took the event as a great opportunity to try something from one of my favorite wineries:
Navarro Vineyards, in Mendocino. Navarro is exactly what I want a California winery to be: beautiful setting, lovely people, delicious wines, and a tasting room that is comfortable without being big and corporate. We manage to get up to Mendo every few years, and when we do, we always enjoy our visits to Navarro, Husch, Handley Cellars and Lazy Creek. Inevitably, we come home with a case of wine, which we dole out across the years to remind us of our wonderful get-away.

While not the subject of this tasting, it's worth noting that Navarro makes fabulous non-alcoholic grape juice. Both the
Pinot Noir and the Gewürztraminer show true varietal flavors, and make a lovely spritzer with sparkling water and a twist of lemon or lime. Navarro spritzers have gotten me through the wine-craving days of my pregnancies. Don't look for these in stores, Navarro sells strictly from the winery or online store, but you can give them a try at Zuni or Chez Panisse, or at virtually every Mendocino-area restaurant.

Now for the subject of this post: the 2002 Navarro Pinot Gris, a gift to my dad that he graciously shared with us. He's been storing it for a couple of years, to great effect. I'm not a big fan of pinot gris (or pinot grigio when from Italy) in general, it can be much too light for my taste, leaving me craving something with a little more substance. While I enjoy light wines in context (Muscadet with shellfish, for example), perhaps I just haven't found the proper context for most pinot gris.

Or perhaps this is an issue of the winemaker not knowing how to handle the grape. According to the folks over at
Terroir French Wine Guide, Pinot Gris is an Alsation grape-variety, also called Tokay d'Alsace. They tell me it's a very exacting variety that might be light and fruity or robust. Somehow Navarro managed to make the '02 both fruity and robust, almost like a lightly-aged Riesling Spätlese trocken in weight.

According to Navarro, each vineyard lot of pinot gris is fermented and aged separately in French oak casks and in the spring Navarro's staff ranks them in quality in order to blend the cuvée. They have hillside vineyards as well as grapes on the valley floor, and the combination results in a suprisingly rich and balanced pinot gris, full of fruit (they tell me melon, fig, mint, muskmelon and tangerine) on the palate but with a completely dry, minerally finish. That transition from rich to crisp left me wanting the next sip almost immediately, I found myself tempted to gulp this wine -- but that may have been more the result of a day spent with a sick and clingy baby.

All in all, a wonderful way to close out the day.

Friday, April 07, 2006

What to do with lots of carrots and fennel

It's early spring and our CSA box is filled with carrots and fennel, as well as gorgeous green garlic. R. is not especially fond of fennel, and I am not a fan of carrots as a vegetable side dish. But when we were in Paris last Fall (and there is no way to write that without sounding pretentious), MZ was served a fennel and carrot mousseline, scented with herbes de Provence, that we all swooned for.

Our days of baby food past us, I'm not enthused about breaking out the food mill. So how about fennel carrot soup? The whole time I was making it, I was sure it would be a disaster. I didn't feel I had enough taste memory to know where I was going. But when R. tasted it, he was enthusiastic, as was Tante Judy, who hasn't been easy to satisfy these days. The recipe is indeed a keeper, made so I'm sure by the wonderfully fresh ingredients and the addition of sausage and cream. If you can't get a hold of
Fatted Calf sausages, look for a really good fresh (not smoked) garlic sausage with a fine grind. Do not use a Whole Foods sausage, they are always too coarse and over-seasoned.

This makes a lot of soup, because I had a lot of vegetables, easily enough for dinner for four with a light butter lettuce salad, some crusty whole wheat bread, and a bottle of Sancerre. And maybe some fresh raspberries for dessert.

2 T butter
1 T olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced green garlic, white and light green parts only
1 leek, cleaned, quartered and thinly sliced
1.5 teaspoons salt
2 cups carrots, a flavorful farmers market variety if possible, cut in small dice or thin quarters
2 cups fennel, cut in small dice
1.5 teaspoons crumbled herbes de Provence
1/2 cup crisp, dry white wine (not oaky)
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
3 cups water
2 links of Fatted Calf Toulouse sausage, or another good fresh garlic sausage
1/2 cup heavy cream

Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add the green garlic, leeks and carrots. Sprinkle with salt and cover the pot, allowing them to stew for five minutes. Do not brown. Add the fennel and herbes de Provence and stew a few minutes longer. Turn the heat to high and add the wine. Allow the wine to cook almost completely away, then add the broth and water. When the soup comes to a simmer, cover and turn down the heat. Cook until the vegetables are quite soft, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, add a bit of olive oil to a nonstick pan over medium heat. Remove the sausage from its casing and crumble into the pan. Brown, but do not cook completely. Set aside to drain in a colander or on paper towels, then chop into small pieces.

When the vegetables are soft, add the sausage and simmer for 10 minutes. Add water if necessary to achieve a thin consistency. Remove 1.5 cups of broth and solids and puree. Return to pan with the cream. Simmer for 3-5 minutes, until the soup loses the raw cream flavor, adjust salt and serve.

Riff references: Dinner at Les Fables de la Fontaine