Thursday, November 20, 2008

Coq au vin

So, I did it. I cut up a whole chicken--or at least deciphered the instructions from How to Cook Everything while W. wielded the knife. Then I fussed in the kitchen for hours making Julia's coq au vin, which I've heard is the gold standard. I cut little Xs in the bottom of countless baby onions. I sauteed the mushrooms separately. I deglazed and flambed and braised. I even boiled the bacon, which just sounds wrong, and looks even wronger.

Gross, huh? But I had faith--in me, in Julia, in the power of a cold fall afternoon and hours to while away in the kitchen, pretending to be productive.



It was ugly purple chicken, which was fine, but it also tasted, well, eh. Flabby bacon still doesn't get me going, neither does flabby chicken skin. Honestly, I'd rather have a crispy roast over crispy potatoes and served with a crispy salad and crisp-crusted bread.

What went wrong? Why did I fail at making the gold standard of homey French chicken dishes? Are we just not coq au vin people?

Is it because I went around mispronouncing the name of the dish for the last 10 years? Vahn. Oops.

Is it because I used this 10-cent garage sale book instead of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, like any good Juliaophile would have?

Did I fail to sufficiently brown my onions? My mushrooms?

Was it the Charles Shaw? Are we too poor to make a proper wine-braised chicken? (It worked just fine with the lamb.)

On the upside, this was pretty cool:

And now we can do this:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Greens soup

By about December, W. is saying, "Green soup, again?" But I crave it fall, winter, and into the spring. We are getting arugula in abundance from our CSA, and braising green mix is at the farmer's market again--kale and chard and other healthy leafys all in one bag. So Saturday lunch, after we get home from the market with bags of produce, is more often than not a big bowl of salty broth and smooth greens, studded with my concession to childhood--little cheese raviolis. It is especially welcome after a morning whiled away with too many pastries and too much coffee.

There's a part of me that is so absolutely satisfied by this kind of recipe, one that uses up those bits and pieces of kitchen scraps that are usually discarded. Orangette's recipe for tomato soup using up your cilantro stems? All over it. Broth coaxed out of the bones and chewy bits that are left behind after we tear into a roast chicken? Oh yeah. Cheese rind in soup? Yes please.

The above picture is the soup made heartier with chickpeas made in bulk earlier in the week and served with toast and the last of the last of the end-of-season tomatoes, roasted slowly all day and stored in Mason jars with their oily juices and garlic.

Green Soup (serves 4) (inspired by a recipe from Verdura, by Viana La Place)

a splash of olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
dried red pepper flakes

1/2 pound braising greens or mixed dark-green leafys (kale, spinach, chard, mustard greens, etc.), roughly chopped, large stems discarded
several large handfuls of arugula, roughly chopped, large stems discarded

the rind of a small wedge of Pecorino Romano cheese, chopped (about 1/4 c.)
several handfuls small dried raviolis or other small pasta

Put oil, garlic, and pepper flakes into a heavy soup pot. Cook over medium-low heat until fragrant. Add 4 cups water and a pinch of salt, turn heat to high, and bring to a boil. Add greens, then sprinkle cheese over the top. (If you add the cheese first, it will stick to the bottom of the pot. If you dump it all at once instead of sprinkling, you'll have one big clump of cheese instead of nice chewy bits throughout your soup.) Add raviolis, press down a bit to make sure they are partially submerged, and return to a boil without stirring.

When your soup is bubbling, turn heat to medium-high, stir, and let boil gently until your ravioli are done. Taste to adjust seasoning. You can add cooked chickpeas or white beans at this point, letting them just heat through, if you want a more substantial soup.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sunday (lamb) shanks

The baby slept in this weekend, until 7:30, and the grownups in the house felt like new people. We could walk without running into doorways, talk without sniping at each other, contemplate new projects. W. put up and painted crown molding in the kitchen. I spent the day braising meats and finally screwing up the courage to cut a chicken into pieces, a process long in my recipe deal breaker category. (More on that later.)

For Sunday dinner, I turned to The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook again and made braised lamb shanks with Pennsylvania red cabbage and Bavarian bread dumplings. The shanks were from the whole lamb we picked up last week, cooked a good part of the day with wine and onions in the Crockpot. The red cabbage was a mound soft maroon shreds flavored with bacon and cloves and apples and vinegar. The dumplings I made a little too carelessly with bread that was a little too fresh and onions chopped a little too large, and they fell apart in the simmering water. But the pieces we scooped out of the pan? Rich and bread-y and perfect with the lamb’s hearty sauce.

This meal was the kind that makes W. swoon and declare his love anew. The taste of a German childhood on a crisp fall day.

Braised Lamb Shanks (for 2) (based on a recipe from The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook)

2 T. olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced (about 1/2 pound)
1 T. chopped fresh rosemary
about 2 T. flour mixed with salt and pepper
2 lamb shanks
1 1/2 c. red wine
1 1/2 c. chicken or beef broth
1 bay leaf

Put 1 c. wine, broth, and bay leaves into your slow cooker. Turn to high to heat liquids.

Cook the onion in half the olive oil over medium-high heat until browned, about 10 minutes. Stir often, but take the time while the onions are cooking to coat the shanks in the flour mixture. Add the rosemary to the onions and scoop them onto a plate.

Add the rest of the olive oil to your pan and turn heat to high. (Honestly, I never measure olive oil for sautéing, just splash a bit into the hot pan.) Brown the lamb shanks on both sides, about 5 minutes a side. Transfer your shanks to the plate with the onions.

Pour 1/2 c. wine into the hot pan, stirring and simmering a couple minutes, scraping brown bits up off the bottom of the pan. Pour into your slow cooker (with other liquids already in it). Add lamb and onions.

Leave on high for 30 minutes, then reduce to low and cook about 5 hours, until the meat is starting to fall off the bone.

You can let cool, cover, and refrigerate at this point if you are cooking ahead.

Transfer shanks to a plate and liquid to a pan on the stove. Boil liquid until it reduces to a sauce-y consistency. Add shanks to pan, reduce heat, and cook until the meat is hot through.

Easy yum!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Connectivity restored, for now

The election, over.

History, made.

Work, beginning.

Deep breaths everyone.


Our month of DSL hell seems to be at an end. Not in time for NaBloPoMo, which I likely would have spared my few loyal readers anyway. Imagine, an entire month of posts with time stamps of 9:15 pm (bedtime for those woken by toddler at 4:30 am) and content like this: "Hi, I posted" plus a few choice swear words.

I really timed an outbreak of potty mouth perfectly. The newsletter of our CSA just linked to my blog. (Sorry, Cheetah, more than you bargained for!) From now on, fewer four-letters, more food.

(Obamabat courtesy of Jeff Domke.)