Tuesday, April 29, 2014
I started drinking rosé last week. Out of sheer meteorological protest. Spring this year, like every year in New England, is a big heap of bullsh!t. For every deceptively warm 65 degree Tuesday, there is a weekend of sleet and four more mornings where you can hear the heat kick on as you hit the snooze. April is the month of accidentally wearing flip flops before learning that it’s laughably cold out and returning home to change with frozen pinky toes. So I decided that if the weather is going to continue to be rude, I’m going to start drinking like it’s July, whether it’s ever coming or not. I’m kind of proactive like that.
Rosé is my favorite summer drink and in my line of work, in late March when you see pre-sell sheets with pink wine on them you gasp a little bit and allow yourself to get hopeful: this winter will end! Now, in late April, as the wine starts arriving at the store I’m such a hound for it that I’m actually defensive when customers ask for it. ‘Are there any rosés yet?’ In my head I’m like ‘back off. That first case is coming home with me, hombre.’ The fact that the whole entire goal of my job is to sell product is replaced by my blind devotion to pink wine and the promise of warm weather it brings. We need time to be alone. I’ll call you when we’re ready.
Now, because I’m a well rounded individual, I don’t JUST drink seasonally…I’ve naturally also started embracing the bright green produce of spring as it filters into the store. I guess I just don’t guard the ramps and asparagus quite as violently as the first few cases of Raventos i Blanc 'La Rosa'. When I peeped this salad in last month’s Bon Appétit, it smacked of spring to me and also brought back onto my radar one of my favorite simple delights of warmer weather: quick pickles. They are so easy (and in this case pretty!) and delicious on salads, layered on sandwiches, even set out with some good cheeses, crusty bread and cured meats for an appetizer. I made this salad for both a dinner party and Easter lunch and in both cases it was as well received as a bowl of sunshine on a not-quite-warm-enough April day.
BABY GREENS and HERB SALAD with PICKLED RADISH,
ROAST VEGETABLES, PISTACHIOS and FETA
(adapted from Bon Appétit)
Quick Pickled Radish:
1 cup rice vinegar
2 tbs. sugar
1 tbs. kosher salt
3-4 good size watermelon radish, peeled and very thinly sliced
Salad and Dressing:
2-3 tbs. olive oil
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into ¾ inch slices on the diagonal
½ bunch asparagus, cut into 2 inch sections
Several cups mixed greens (I used baby spinach and baby arugula)
¼ cup herbs (I used mostly chives, followed by mint and just a bit of tarragon)
½ cup shelled pistachios, toasted and roughly chopped
¼ - ½ cup crumbled feta or shaved parmesan cheese
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tbs. lemon juice
1 tbs. rice vinegar
Kosher salt and black pepper
Heat oven to 400 degrees. On a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet, toss carrots and asparagus in 2-3 tbs. olive oil. Generously salt and pepper and set to roast until tender (maybe a little less than 20 minutes). The key to cooking these two vegetables together evenly is to keep the slices of carrots on the thinner side. You want them cooked through, but not roasted to oblivion, because over-roasted vegetables in salads tend to be the wrong version of mushy. While the vegetables roast, pickle the radish and toast the nuts:
Bring vinegar, sugar and salt to boil in a small saucepan. Let simmer just a few moments until salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from heat and drop in the radish. Let sit until just tender (about 10 minutes- although leaving a batch overnight in the fridge had no adverse results). This whole concoction will turn a fluorescent hot pink. It’s so pretty! If you have trouble finding watermelon radish, use a bunch of traditional radish. They will still turn pink, but maybe not as brightly fluorescent as the watermelon variety. Toast pistachios in a small skillet over low heat until browned and fragrant. Coarsely chop.
Combine greens and herbs in a large salad bowl. Finely mince chives, tear mints leaves from their stems and leave whole, pick tarragon leaves from their stems as well. In the spring, I adore chives, so I used a whole bunch of them here. I used slightly less mint than chives and even less tarragon, because mint and tarragon can be a bit pronounced, I didn’t want them to overwhelm the salad. Lightly salt and pepper the greens and herbs before layering on roasted vegetable, nuts, pickled radish and whichever cheese you’re using.
The first time I made this salad, I used crumbled feta, on round two, I shaved parmesan with a vegetable peeler over the top. Both versions were delightful, so choose whichever you have on hand. Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar, clamp the lid on and shake like crazy to emulsify. Pour about half dressing over salad, gently toss, salt and pepper a bit more to taste and serve with extra dressing along side.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
You don’t want to know about this. I assure you, you really do not. I picture this blog post as a written version of the scene in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (anything with John C. Reilly is amazing. Anything) when he happens upon his friends doing drugs in the bathroom. As they list every single appealing thing about the drugs in question, they frame the statement with ‘you don’t want this.’ Only in this particular scene you are sweet, young, naïve Dewey and I am a bad, bad influence. Just as the endless winter breaks, when you can almost feel the sunshine on your pale, soft, winter body, as you commit yourself to a healthy eating and fitness plan to prepare for summer’s entry, here I come along, like the devil himself, with a snack so delicious it’s completely shameful indeed. I’m telling you: you don’t want this, man.
A close friend’s sister emailed me the other day. The subject line was “Marinated Sheeps Feta” the email text was brief: “you introduced me to this a long time ago at the fruit center, I'm just wondering, is it normal to scoop it up and eat it with cape cod potato chips? I think I have hit a new low...” The fact that a friend I haven’t seen in quite some time feels comfortable enough with me to email me of her secret snacking habits reminds me, I’ve been in this game for years. Pimping snacks so shameful you feel the need to confess. I’m like the Avon Barksdale of appetizers and I truly can’t be trusted.
But the cycle works both ways you see. Not only did she shed light on her addiction, but she also placed this sweet, sweet nectar right smack dab on my radar as well. Just as I can almost feel the sunshine on my translucent, dimpled upper arms, here I find myself again, with a jar full of bad news marinating in my fridge. If we’re going down the wrong path, at least we have each other.
MARINATED FETA with GARLIC, ROSEMARY and PINK PEPPERCORNS
4-5 oz. piece feta cheese*
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 sprig rosemary, snipped into 2 or 3 pieces
2 teaspoons pink peppercorns (or 1 tsp. black)**
¾ - 1 cup good quality olive oil
*if you can find it at the right price, sheep’s milk feta is the creamiest and takes best to marinating; however, I made this batch just using the basic block feta my store sells by the pound. A good rule of thumb is, the better the feta, the better this will be. But I’m quite sure you’ll enjoy it any old way.**I use pink peppercorns because I think they are a) pretty and b) tasty and mild. But you can use plain black peppercorns here; they are just a bit spicier, so I would use less.
This here snack was something we originally carried from an Australian cheese maker at my store. And it was so good I pretty much had to never buy it ever. Which was fine and not that hard to do because it was like, 8 bucks a container and so popular it was often out of stock. Then, the evil geniuses in our gourmet department decided to start making their own. And now not only is it always in supply, but it is often available to me in a giant, fragrant, delicious tub, there for the taking, impossible to resist. I decided to try my hand at making a batch at home because apparently I’m a total masochist. Pray for me.
Use a wide, shallow, large mouthed jar or somewhat equal sized Tupperware container for this. Slice feta into a few slabs and place in jar, along with garlic cloves, rosemary sprigs and ½ of peppercorns. Pour olive oil over and add an additional clove of garlic, another sprig of herbs and remainder of peppercorns. Clamp the lid on and swirl a bit in order to coat everything with oil. Let marinate in fridge for at least 1 or 2 days (I know!). 100% olive oil will always solidify a bit and get cloudy when chilled, so for the best presentation remove jar from fridge before serving and let the temperature rise enough for oil to clarify a bit. If you’re eating this alone, in secret, well, scoop it straight out of the jar standing in front of the fridge with the door ajar. Maybe with some Cape Cod Potato Chips. You won’t find any judgment here.
Thursday, April 3, 2014
I’m quite sure my father may have been born with stew coursing through his veins in lieu of human blood. At least, his dietary choices certainly point to that. Whenever we find ourselves at a pub (which is incidentally where you’ll often find us) if I see beef stew on the menu I can call without a moment’s hesitation what he will order for his meal. On Friday, the seafood restaurant near his house serves fish chowder. So if you ever had trouble tracking him down, you should just head over to the bar at the Union Chowder House in South Weymouth on Fridays at noon. I will bet you $100 he will be tucked into a stool there with a cold Heineken in hand and a steaming bowl of fish chowder under his chin.
When my parents split up and my dad was in his own apartment, I felt like every single time I would visit for dinner, or ask him what he was cooking, the answer would inevitably be some sort of stew, but more often than not, it was chicken cacciatore. I started to suspect a bit it was either the only thing he knew how to cook, or perhaps his favorite food in the whole universe, even ahead of beef stew or fish chowder. In the end the answer I think is as simple as this: it’s a meal you can count on. Simple to pull together, truly satisfying and given to producing a moderate sized pot of leftovers which are perfect for eating for the next few meals. Regardless of the reasoning behind his dedication for chicken cacciatore, I knew it was something I needed to make for him, as I did just a few Sundays back. This straightforward easy dish is perfect for dinner guests. Relatively inexpensive, easy to pull together and (my favorite) provides you with enough hands off time during cooking to make a martini and relax with your guests before getting it on the table.
(from Marcella Hazan)
1 3-4 lb. chicken, cut into pieces
¼ cup flour
4 tbs. canola oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. rosemary
2 cloves garlic
½ cup dry white wine
1 can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
Salt and pepper
2-3 tbs. flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium high heat. Salt and pepper chicken pieces liberally and then dust with flour, shaking the excess off. Brown chicken in batches, about 8 minutes or so per batch, until the skin is crisped but chicken is not cooked through. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
Reduce heat to medium and add onion, carrot, celery, red pepper, herbs and garlic to pan; stir constantly to prevent garlic from scorching for about 5-6 minutes, or until onions are golden. Turn heat up to high, add wine and use a wooden spoon to scrape up browned bits from the bottom of the pot, until wine is reduced by half (about 4 minutes). Pour in the juice from tomatoes and then add tomatoes one at a time, crushing each by hand before adding to the pot.
Return chicken to pot, reduce heat to low and cook, mostly covered, for about 30 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Salt and pepper sauce to taste and scatter parsley into pot. Pull chicken from pot with tongs, into a large, shallow bowl; pour sauce over, garnish with a bit more fresh parsley and parmesan cheese, if desired.
Serve with pasta, rice or garlic mashed potatoes.
EASIEST GARLIC MASHED POTATOES
Approximately 2-3 lbs. russet potatoes, scrubbed clean, peeled and cut into chunks
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
Half and half
My go-to mashed potato recipe is not so much a recipe as it is a loose framework. I use about one potato per person, depending on the size of the spuds. Scrub ‘em clean, peel and cut into large chunks. Then cover with cold water in a large stock pot and add the whole cloves of garlic. Bring the pot to boil on high. Once boiling, remove lid and let cook until potatoes are tender when pricked with a paring knife. Drain water, return potatoes and garlic to pot and add a few pats butter, two super generous pinches (I’m talking a thumb and three fingers, potatoes need salt) of kosher salt and a few cranks of black pepper.
Splash in about a scant ¼ cup of half and half and mash, with a potato masher; or, use my preferred tool and pulse with an immersion blender. If the consistency is too dry, add another pat of butter and another splash of half and half. Taste and adjust butter/ salt/ pepper. Adding whole cloves of garlic at the onset of cooking gives it a mellow, delicious flavor throughout and using your instincts will get you the consistency of potatoes you desire. I like mine almost whipped, but some people prefer them a little chunkier and drier. Who am I to tell a man how to mash his potatoes? There are some subjects you just don’t butt into.