Roasted Short Rib, Sprouts and Roots Skillet with Truffle Parmesan Grits

I hope, dear reader, that sometimes the meal you make makes you cry.  Cry for joy, that is — for weeping in ecstasy is truly one of life’s purest pleasures.  Lucky for me (not to toot my own horn or anything), but this happens for me often – and I cook because I’m addicted to the sensation.  Tonight’s meal plucked my heart-strings in an extra-special way, and now, an hour later, I’m still all verklempt.  The sumptuous flavors and soul-soothing textures are still imprinted on my tongue, still indelibly etched into my being, and my heart beats more happily now that it’s been fed by this rich feast.  This is the kind of warmth normally found only when laying in the arms of a lover on a cold, crisp night; a brand of almost spiritual fulfillment usually reserved strictly for religious experiences; a type of gastronomic indulgence rarely found outside of chi-chi celebrity chef’s kitchens that charge shocking prices after interminable waits-for-tables.  I admit — I was inspired by the Porchetta plate at Kendall Square’s newest hottest  gastro-joint, Firebrand Saints, a hopping establishment with a sexy menu, sexy staff, and good prices.  Their home-roasted porchetta over polenta with wilted greens was a great dinner;  but I admit I feel like I one-upped them here.   Polenta can be a flavor suck, whereas grits are a flavor enhancer (‘cuz they’re less gluteny…), and a concentrated gravy of braising liquids and browned beef adds that much more.  Yet this meal is something I can see being made out on the open range, by cowboys with some roots and hearty sprouts in their packs, a cast iron skillet over a campfire, and some of the last cuts of meat to tenderize with a slow and steady braise.  Honest, homey, and perfect — see for yourself!

Roasted Short Rib, Roots, and Sprouts Skillet with Truffle Parmesan Grits

2 lbs bone-in short ribs
10-16 tiny wee potatoes
10-12 medium Brussels sprouts, larger ones split in half
2-3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2″ discs
2 medium white onions, diced
8-10 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
sea salt, cracked black pepper, truffle salt, vegetable oil
12 oz dark beer
4 cups beef stock
1/2 cup grits
2 cups water
2 tbs butter
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

I headed out on Black Friday with a mind to blow some dough.  Alas, I was mostly disappointed.  Newbury Street was all “15% off your 4th item” and stuff – not the type of discounts I wanted.  But I did find these adorable little cast iron skillets at Marshall’s (#thuglife) for a pittance, and I sort of cobbled my meal together with them in mind.  After curing them fully this afternoon, before I got truly started with tonight’s meal I threw them back in my 350° oven to reheat back through thoroughly.  They’ll come into play in about 30 minutes.

These beautiful beef short-ribs are from my new bestest friend, Blood Farms.  (Holla out to Lucy+ Chris + Andrew! Friends I incessantly urged to take the drive to West Groton to visit said Blood Farm after they waxed philosophic about their tasty bits of slab bacon in my Thanksgiving Brussels sprouts.)  These boney beefy hunks of meat were purchased a few weeks ago and frozen in my sad, crappy freezer, but which were happily defrosted this afternoon in preparation of tonight’s meal.  I rinse them, pat them very dry, then bondage them like the naughty cow parts they are (um… to hold the bones in while braising.)

I’ve moved my skillets from my hot oven to my hot range, and I’ve added a douse of vegetable oil to them to heat ’til just smoking. I’ve dressed my bones in salt and pepper, and I place them, bone side up, into the sizzling frying fat.  They sear 5 minutes on this side.  Using tongs, I flip them so that each other edge sears for at least 2 minutes, until every surface has been kissed with brown.

I add equal amounts of garlic cloves,  carrot, onion to each pan.  Then I toss all this very well to coat with fat and sear with heat.

This is my new daily beer: Session Premium Black Lager.  It’s got the whole cool crisp lager thing going, with a nice malty full bodied richness characterized by the “black” eponym.  It goes great with beef.  6 oz goes steaming into each pan…

I let all that loveliness froth and roil for a few seconds, before throwing the pans into my still 350°hot  oven.  And I wait.  For an hour.

After which time, my meat has begun to tighten on to the bone (the tough stage before the tenderness sets in), and almost all my beer has boiled down to a nice thick glaze.  Nice.  Thick.  Glaze.  But it needs more time, so I decide to meaten it up…

… by adding a couple cups of beef broth to each pan, too.  Back in the oven they go, for another 30 minutes.

The last 30 minutes will turn the starting-to-fray-with-forks-but-still-tough-at-the-bone meat into succulent shreds of deliciousness.  Those 30 minutes will also finish off the wee potatoes, sprouts, and the rest of the onion.  I toss these beauties with the liquid left in the pan (it’s OK to add more beef broth if it’s too dry; the pan should be about 1/2way full of juice), then toss the pans back into the hot oven.

The final ingredient is the grits – a starchy alternative to a soppin’ biscuit, and my preference to polenta when wanting something corny on my plate. 2 cup water, 1/2 cup grits, simmered until tender.

I add my two tbs  butter and my grated cheese to the pot when the grits are just about ready.  Then I add a generous amount of truffle infused sea salt — to add flavor and savor.  Removing the lid and heat source will thicken ’em up.

The beauty of a skillet is that you serve right in it.  I sort of push my lovely caramelized veggies to one side and pour my cheesy truffled grits into the chasm that remains.  They ooze like lava under the tenderific meat bones, the bursting potato pods, the crisp-edged, silky innard sprouts, the sweet carrots and the melting onions.  The smooth corn goodness offsets the deep tones of meat and garden-fresh roasted flavor. With each bite, I ascend to some transcendental place where perfection dwells on the tines of a fork, while the dark deep smoldering heat of the iron underneath anchors me to terra firma, where lust lurks on the tongue.  I challenge you, dear readers, to dive into this delight.  A few easy ingredients, a  few tantalizing hours of house aromas, and you too can experience Nirvana by merely plucking the fruits of your fork.

Weeknight Wondermeal: Stuffed Roasted Pork Chops with Gorgonzola Cauliflower Mash

I really haven’t intended to do this pork chop series, but my wee freezer is chockablock full of fantastic meats from Blood Farm, and I can’t seem to get enough of their super-savory swine.  Their bacon is to die for, but these chops – laden with tender white meat, rich dark (white) meat, and enveloped with tasty fat  – are to kill for.  And they are HUGE — like 12-14oz each!  With only an apple, an onion, and a few pantry items, I compliment this beautiful bone by stuffing it with a fantastic tilling, resting it on a bed of mashed cauliflower enriched with gorgonzola cheese (yup – leftover from my last pork chop supper), and draping it with a simple cream pan sauce.  At only about $15 worth of ingredients and an hour’s work, I assembled a meal as elegant as anything Boston’s best restaurants could produce, while still being as homey and comfortable as Granny’s pork chops and apple sauce.  Thanks to The Crepes of Wrath for the inspiration for the stuffing!

Stuffed Roasted Pork Chops with Gorgonzola Cauliflower Mash

2 large bone-in pork chops
1 egg
1 onion
1 head cauliflower
1 large apple (this is a Macoun)
3 slices sandwich bread
3 slices bacon, chopped
3 oz gorgonzola cheese
4 tbs butter (divided)
heavy cream (about 1/2 cup)
sea salt, cracked black pepper, cinnamon, dried savory, dried chives

I start with my stuffing.  My cracked egg is mixed with my bread, which I’ve torn into pieces, my apple, which I’ve seeded and diced (but not peeled), and some sea salt, black pepper, savory, and cinnamon — a dash or so of each.  I blend this well.

Meanwhile, I render my bacon.  When it’s nice and crisp, I reserve the drippings and…

… add the bacon to the stuffing, which I mix well.

I also remove the leaves and stem from my cauliflower, and cut it into smaller florets. These get placed in my bamboo steamer and cooked off until I can pierce them easily with a fork – about 15-20 minutes.

Using my sharp boning knife, I cut three separate pockets into each pork chop: one in the large loin portion, and one in each portion of the tenderloin (on the other side of the T-bone).  Usually, stuffed pork chops are boneless, but I couldn’t pass up the sweet meat closest to the bone – so I decided to super-stuff them by doing so in each large portion of protein.

About a tablespoon of filling fits into each pocket on the tenderloin side…

… with 2-3 tablespoons of filling on the loin side.  I secure each pocket with a couple of toothpicks.  It ain’t pretty, but it works.

I’ve melted two tablespoons of butter and added my bacon drippings to my large non-stick skillet.  When it’s foaming, it’s ready to be ‘chopped’.

I’ve salted and peppered my meaty bones and in they go.  (See my cauliflower peeking out of the steamer in the background?  It wanted to see what all my oohing and aahing was about.)  I let them sear for about 3 minutes…

… before carefully flipping them to sear on the other side.  I have to use my tongs to sort of press the meat onto the surface in places, since the stuffing has made them bulbous and not everything is making contact.  About 4 minutes on this side, and then I throw the whole pan into the oven on 350° for about 10 minutes to finish cooking through. When they’re ready, I remove them to a plate to keep warm and whisk 1/2 of my my heavy cream and about a tablespoon of dried chives to the pan-juices, bringing it to a simmer over high heat until just thickened (about 5 minutes).  I season with salt and pepper, too.

While my sauce is thickening, using my potato masher, I break down my cauliflower.

I add my cream, butter, and gorgonzola cheese to the cauliflower, as well as a little salt and pepper, and mix well until it’s all incorporated and smooth.

Using mashed, cheesy cauliflower instead of potatoes reduces the heaviness of this meal by several orders of magnitude, even if the heavy cream and gorgonzola add back a little of the weight.  My pork chops are perfectly seared, and the stuffing is sweet and savory thanks to the tart apple and thick smoked bacon.  Each bite falls onto my fork with just the gentlest of prodding, and when slathered with mash and gravy, each bite takes me one step closer to a heaven where the hearth is always steadily aflame, where the rugs are always soft underfoot, and where the company always feels like family.  Another triumph for the other white meat – and another scrumptious supper for me!

Honeyed Pomegranate Pork Chops with Rich Butternut Wedges and Sauteed Spinach

Today’s dinner was a result of “grabbing random things randomly” at the grocery store — or, at least, that’s what I offhandedly said to Claytonman when he fished through the shopping bag to see what I purchased: a pomegranate, a wedge of gorgonzola, and some baby spinach.  I knew I had a lovely butternut squash, the only specimen our little backyard raised bed garden yielded (even if we do have access to all the squash the 27 acres of farmland Clayton works produces – it’s still nice to eat something grown in one’s own wee plot of land), and I also had some perfectly plump pork chops in the freezer from our last foray to Blood Farm.  Since sweet goes well with pork, the butternut squash would fit the bill, and I thought vaguely that the pomegranate’s brand of red tart sweetness and crunchy, bursting seeds would add a little something something to the blend.  The gorgonzola was for cream and bite, seemingly always good accompaniments to most orange produce – sweet potatoes, pumpkin, heck even oranges and cantaloupe benefit from Penicillium glaucum.  And the spinach was the great equalizer: its wilted greenness perfectly offset the complex sugars on the plate (made even more delicious with a little honey butter and rosemary sauce).  With a thick delicious tender chop to round out the meal, dinner was something really spectacular.

Honeyed Pomegranate Pork Chops with Rich Butternut Wedges and Sauteed Spinach

1 large butternut squash
brown sugar
1 pomegranate
1 lb fresh baby spinach
1/4 lb gorgonzola cheese
2 large bone-in pork chops
sea salt
cracked black pepper
1/2 cup honey
4 tbs butter, divided
2 short sprigs rosemary

Clayton’s one and only butternut squash is a thing of beauty — thin-skinned, healthy rich flesh, just a small interior (could I call this a nucleus, I wonder? Hell – I’m gonna call it a nucleus…), and white sturdy seeds.  This baby is going to take at least 40 minutes to roast, so I start with it.  Once I’ve scooped out all the insides, I douse it with EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper, and a hearty sprinkling of brown sugar before putting it on a rimmed baking sheet into my 400° oven.

I can’t remember the first time I ate a pomegranate.  I can’t even remember clearly the first time I ever heard of one, but I do recall the sensation of wonder that accompanied my first glance of its interior, and my first taste of those bursting little seeds.  It was a revelation.  I can’t think of any other fruit that has the same je ne sais quoi, but I thank evolution that we’ve got this ruby orb of delight to enjoy whenever we want to.  I cut my fruit in half, then, using my hands, I break each half down into its 6 segments, each a rough pyramid, each studded on two facets with red gems of juicy goodness.

Gently removing these seeds from their segments in a bowl of water is the trick; they will sort of peel right off without bursting if you are gentle enough, and this way my fingers aren’t be stained with their ooze.  Plus, the seeds sink to the bottom, and any of the other fruit fibers rise to the surface where I easily skimmed them off.

I didn’t have my computer open so that I could see look up methods to juice these little buggers, but I jerryrigged something that worked pretty well.  I first drained off all the water, set some seeds aside for garnish later, then using a large mesh spoon with a large sheet of cling wrap layered over it, I pressed my fingertips against the sieve to squish the berries, releasing their juice into the bottom of the bowl.  The cling wrap kept me from squirting myself in the eye, and from splattering my walls like a crime scene.  I kept pressing until I felt no more bursting.

I ended up with about 3 ounces of rich, red pomegranate juice (now I see why POM is so expensive!)  Along with my honey, 2 tbs butter, and my garden rosemary, I’m ready to make the sauce that will blanket the plate.

In my small saucepan, I add all these ingredients together…

….then bring them to a boil.  I let this simmer on medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until it is reduced and a little thickened.

Meanwhile, I get my other 2 tbs butter and a glug of EVOO heating in my large non-stick skillet.  I wash and pat dry my muscular chops of meat, then sprinkle them with salt and pepper and lightly dredge them in flour.

When the fat is nice and hot, I add my chops, where they immediately start to sizzle and brown.  I cook them for about 4 minutes on the first side…

 … or until I see the meat start to ‘bleed’ on top – which means that they’re cooking nicely through.

Then I flip ’em, and boy do they look good.  The wee bit of flour has created a nice crisp crust on the outside.  After sauteeing for a couple minutes on this side, I throw the whole pan into a 350° oven, next to my squash, which are almost ready.  I bake the chops for about 10 minutes.

When the chops are ready, I remove them from the pan and hold them warm, reserving the fat and yummy drippings.

In goes my spinach.  It only takes a few minutes for it to wilt, and I toss it well.

My butternut squash is PERFECT.  I could just sit down with a spoon and eat this all up, but I gots plating to do! I cut my squash into wedges, removing the peel with intrepid fingers.

They get dressed with a dousing of honey/rosemary/pom butter sauce, and a sprinkling of gorgonzola cheese.

 Pan-roasted pork chops, sauteed spinach, and wedges of butternut squash, all bathed in an ambrosial sauce and topped with crunchy, bursting seeds of pomegranate perfection.  The meat is tender throughout, although the bit closest to the bone is so delicious, I get pork bits all over my face (and even a bit in one ear, I admit) trying to scrape all the meaty meat off the rack.  When sweet and savory come together like this, they form a most perfect union.  Enjoy!






Beef Wellington with Cream and Sherry Duxelle Sauce

What a weekend!  I’ve been busy busy busy – socially, professionally, culinarily, and intellectually.  I’ve been grading the scholarly work of others, and others have been grading me in a vastly different arena.  Challenges abound.  But I’m thrilled to say that it’s been a good weekend, one I will be proud of for quite some time.  You don’t necessarily need to know why, dear reader, that I am so happy right now, but you do have lots to do with it, and I thank you for loyally visiting Lolita’s dinner table week after week to see what I’m serving for my supper.  I’m plumb tickled every time someone tells me they tried one of my recipes, and tickled to hot pink whenever I hear someone say they felt comfortable enough to futz with my how-to in order to make the dish their own masterpiece.  Teaching you all how to enjoy the fruits of the land, the sea, and the grocery store is almost as good as eating my own creations.  Cooking is creativity, friends — nourishment for the body and for the soul.  Cook, eat, drink… and be happy!

Tonight’s dinner was launched on something of a whim.  I wanted to use some perfect tenderloins purchased again at Blood Farm, in West Groton, MA (our new favorite meat purveyor – sadly, but charmingly, lacking a website) as our main course, and I wanted to do something technically challenging, stick-to-your ribs, rich and delicious, but elegant, too: to celebrate! What else but Beef Wellington?  Several recipes I looked up called for mustard, several for foie gras; I couldn’t reconcile the sharp,vinegar taste of the former with the savory, ethereal aspect of the latter, so I split the difference by purchasing a slab of pure duck liver paté mousse with black truffle.  Fancified home-cooking, here we come…

Beef Wellington with Cream and Sherry Duxelle Sauce

2 1 1/2″ thick fresh filet mignons (beef tenderloin steaks)
1 stick butter
4 shallots, diced, divided (about 1 cup total)
an assortment of beautiful wild mushrooms (about 2 cups total, chopped)
4 oz chives (about 1 bunch), chopped roughly and divided
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup dry sherry
4 oz paté (this is duck liver mousse, with cognac and black truffle)
3 cloves crushed garlic
8 oz puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten with a dash of water
watercress, tossed with EVOO, salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice

This is the second set of tenderloins I’ve eaten from Blood Farm, and it is the second best steak I’ve ever eaten at home.  Seriously.  Not only because of how tender and flavorful it was, but because at a little more than $8/lb, it’s cheaper than any tenderloin I can find.  Anywhere.  And this was seared, cooled, then baked in pastry – not an easy thing to get just right, requiring really fresh, wonderful meat to make it happen.  I pat these very dry before sprinkling them liberally with fresh crushed black pepper and sea salt.

In a hot, bubbling mixture of EVOO and butter (a glug of the former, 2 tbs of the latter), I sear all the sides of my steaks for about 1 minute each: that’s top,…

… bottom, and – using my tongs…

…I rolled them across the heat on all their cut edges.  I’m looking for a lovely brown fond on all surfaces – sealing in the juices and par-cooking the steaks before the final bake.

Meanwhile, I’ve scrubbed and trimmed my mushrooms, and skinned and chopped my shallots.  I have a delightful blend of fungi: shitake, chanterelle, and wood ear mushrooms.  Whole Foods had ’em, and I bought ’em.  Given that the tenderloin was so cheap, these represented the largest chunk of tonight’s bill, but mushrooms don’t weigh much, so a handful of each (at from $10.99 – $21.99) at the market still only rang in at less than $10.00.  Totally worth it.

I remove my steaks from the pan and set them aside on a dish to cool (they need to reach room temp before they are wrapped in pastry), collecting all their lovely red beefy drippings to use in my sauce later.  My ‘shrooms and shallots get chucked into the hot pan where the fat is still sizzling, and I stir everything around really well to get it sweating.

A dash of chopped chives add color and snap.

If you haven’t already guessed it, this lovely fungi mixture is my duxelle, to which I’m adding the sweetness of sherry and the weight of cream.  Once the fungus has begun to soften…

 … a little of both (about 1/2 cup of sherry, and 1/4 cup of cream) gets added to the pan, which I set to a low simmer to reduce, burning off all the liquid.

 Like so.  I remove this from the heat so it, too, can cool before being layered into my puff pastry.

Speaking of which, it’s time to prep the pastry wrapping: that which makes this beef “Wellington.”  I break out my rolling pin, and dust my crappy Formica counter with flour.

I admit, this is just Pillsbury puff pastry, and I didn’t love it.  It lacked the buttery flavor I expected, but it certainly puffed nicely.  I’ve been defrosting it in the fridge for a few hours, then on the counter until it reached room temp.  I carefully unfold it, then roll it out to a nice, square, uniform thinness.

Using my paring knife, I cut two nice squares, just large enough to fully encase each steak without leaving too much overlap.

It’s high time I gave credit to The Review Lady, whose Beef Wellington posting largely contributed to this recipe.  Thanks for the inspiration, especially the great instructions on how to wrap the steak: I’d screwed that up before.  Based on her recommendation, I start by spooning a few tablespoons of my creamed, sherried, sauteed wild mushrooms in the center of each pastry square.

Foie gras is the idealization of the flavor of rich duck deliciousness, and it is expensive and not usually found in your workaday supermarket – including Whole Foods.  I can get it at Savenor’s, usually in small enough cuts to not blow the bank, but I couldn’t get there today.  I’ve made this recipe before, but have been turned off by the flavor of mustard with the duxelle, thinking it overpowering and out-of-place.  Lacking liver, but rejecting mustard, I opted for a savory, whipped mousse of foie savored by cognac and studded with flecks of black truffle, wrapped in aspic.  I have to resist the urge to just dive into this with a water-cracker and a side of triple-cream brie…

 A layer of paté is laid over the mushrooms…

 … and the steaks are layered over that.

 I first wrap each corner of pastry over the steak’s center, sealing everything with beaten egg/water wash and a basting brush.

I entirely seal the steaks in pastry dough, using the egg wash to glue all the seams together, and forming the Wellingtons with my hands by shaping the dough package into smart squares.

I have too little experience forming shapes with dough. What I thought would be a vaugely off-set layered leaf effect ended up looking like a swollen nipple – to be blunt. I’ve learned: don’t cut your pastry shapes too small.  Still, it looked promising!  I brush the whole package down – top and sides – with egg wash, then I set both Wellingtons on a parchment lined cookie sheet before throwing it into a 400° oven for 25 minutes to roast through.

Now to the sauce.  A few tablespoons of butter melted in a large saucepan…

 … and my minced garlic, sweetly sweated over medium heat.

Remember how I said to reserve the drippings off the steaks earlier?  The Review Lady’s recipe called for beef stock, but I just used these couple tablespoons of lovely lovely juices.

Beef juice + garlic butter = one hell of a gravy base.  I add 1/2 cup of sherry, and reduce to half.

Here I deviate more from The Review Lady, since I have another 1/2 cup or so of duxelle leftover from topping my steaks.  It seems such a waste to not use it, so I add it to my pan and stir well.

For the last long simmer, I add about 1/2 cup of heavy cream.  With a sprinkling of salt and pepper to taste, and another shot of chopped scallions, my sauce makes for a perfect douse.

After my sauce has thickened, and my puff pastry has browned, I have a perfect package of protein shot through with savory deliciousness and layered on a bed of tender mushrooms enrobed in creamy sherry sauce.

With a simple salad of salted and oiled watercress, my Beef Wellingtons sit pretty on their pillow of umame enjoyment.  From start to finish, this meal took only 90 minutes to make, but the impact was timeless.  A perfect, flaky pasty shell wrapped around a tender, medium rare (if only the picture had turned out!), thoroughly juicy, mushroom caked and richly-moussed prime steak — a dinner perfectly suited to crown an excellent weekend.  Dear friends, my readers, how I hope you begin and end each span of time in your life – be it a moment, or an eon – with such eager anticipation and equally enriching fulfillment, as I enjoyed these past few days.  Eating well, by the one’s own labors, is one of life’s true pleasures.  Try it for yourselves — you won’t regret it.

Pork Chops and Pommes Pommes

Clayton summed up this meal best when he said, “Sometimes I wish I had a retractable jaw, so that I could scrape every last atom of this pork chop off the bone with my teeth…”  So do I, dear husband, so do I.  This is meal #2 from the veritable Blood Farm in West Groton, Mass; pork chops freshly divorced from their porcine whole.  Saturday night’s filet mignon was the best steak I’ve ever eaten; tonight’s pork chops were my encore experience in ultimate protein consumption.  This is when the quality and freshness of the meat shows its importance on the plate: seasoned only with a little salt and pepper and simply pan-seared in its own drippings, floating on a rich puddle of cider sauce, coupled with domino apples and potatoes, stippled with cider-simmered-sweetened warm onion relish.  This is a company meal. Word.

Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Apple Potato Bake over Rich Apple Gravy

2 8oz bone-in pork chops
1 Empire apple (or any other red delicious apple)
2 apple-sized potatoes: 1 red, 1 russet
3 oz duck fat (or clarified butter, or plain ol’ butter – if you’re not fussy)
1 medium white onion
2 cups fresh apple cider
2 cups chicken stock
2 tbs butter
1 tsp flour
4 sprigs rosemary
sea salt, black pepper

The French word for apple is pommes; the French term for potato is pommes de la terre, or “apple of the earth”.  I was inspired by this thoroughly apt linguistic convention, made manifest when looking at the thickness of the skin and the color of the flesh of both spud and apple, which are virtually indistinguishable by sight only – and by Erin Schubert’s recent post on her lovely blog a new bloom (Danke!).  I’d already mastered the domino potato, but interspersing my slender spud slices with slender apple slices was like a thunderbolt of wanticipation! I just *had* to try this recipe.  So, with my mandoline set at 1.3 (centimeters thick? I really should know what that setting means…), I make my potatoes and apples into card stacks.

I roasted a duck a few weeks back (and no, I didn’t blog this one — every once in a while me n’ the husband want to have a private dinner, y’know?), which yielded me 6 oz of perfect duck fat I’ve been dying to use.  Tonight was the night.

I brushed 2 6oz ramekins with the fat, and sprinkled them with salt and pepper.

Slice o’ apple, slice o’ white spud, slice o’ red spud, slice o’ white spud, slice o’ apple… and so on.  My pommes pommes are a domino stack of alternating potato and apple slices, brushed with duck fat (on top and liberally in-between), heartily sprinkled with salt and pepper, and wrapped with a rosemary sprig.  I set these ramekins into a 400° oven to roast for about an hour.

In my small saucepan, I heat a teaspoon of duck fat and sweat my finely diced onion with salt and pepper.

I add my apple cider, my chicken stock, and a sprig of rosemary to the pan, then set this mix to boil until reduced to a mere cup – for also about an hour.

When I’ve got about 20 minutes left, I start on my chops.  Since I’m sampling this super-fresh pork just purchased the other day at Blood Farm (see my last post for more details about this slaughterhouse heaven), I didn’t want to adulterate it with too many spices.  A sprinkling of salt and pepper, and I add them directly to my non-stick skillet along with another teaspoon of hot duck fat.  Just like I did Blood’s tenderloin, I flipped these every minute, searing them for a total of 15 minutes.

The thick band of fat along the edge shrinks a little and causes my chop to curl up a bit.  When this has happened with inferior meat, it often means I get dry, tough meat. But not this time.  Oh no, mon frere, these slabs of pig are so fresh, so good, that they end up being perfectly juicy and tender…

… whereas the fat slab crisps up like cracklin’.  My apple/stock has reduced to a concentrated nectar, so I add my flour blended with my softened butter at the last few moments of simmering to thicken it slightly.  Then I strain the gravy directly onto the plate, on which I lay my porcine steak.

The apple-sweetened onions I add to the pan with the pork’s drippings, and I sauté them quickly to thicken the glaze.

My pommes pommes  are perfectly roasted – the edges are crisp and the apple slices within are baked to softness while the potato is easily pierced with the tines of my curious fork.

My mother never made pork chops and applesauce, so I never really understood the appeal.  Now I do.  This plate just smacks of autumn.  Pigs that have fed well since the spring are ready to grace us with their delicious meat; both the apples from the branch and the apples from the ground are ready for harvest, and the rosemary bushes are fully formed and ready for overwintering indoors.  Together on the plate, these simple ingredients come together in a symphony of sumptuous scrumptiousness.  Sweet and savory, tart and tasty, crispy and creamy, meaty and rich – a fall feast fit for a king!

Roasted Beef with Crisp Domino Potatoes, Italian Plums, and Watercress Puree

Autumn harvest means deep, sweet flavors, ripening colors, and cooling, early-darkening skies.  Ovens warm their coils for gas-fueled flames and spill their recently dormant heat across suddenly chilly kitchen floors, and the crisp cold breeze softens the aroma of roasting meats and freshly dug root vegetables that bake, and broil, and baste in rekindled hearths all across New England. I know this because today I smelt the burning logs wafting their bouquet through the twilight, and today I spied the pillowy puffs of smoke etching staccato patterns across the indigo and azure air.  Some plump purple plums found at Whole Foods formed the backbone of Lolita’s plat du jour; their roasted flesh burst complexsweet against tender chewsome slices of Boeuf au jus nestled in pureed green watercress spooning buttered oregano scented side-stacked slices of crispy salted russet spuds.  Elegant and hearty, crackling crusty and richly meaty, fruit-sweet and beef-rich: a complicated combination of down-home deliciousness & heartwarming wow.  Come, dear readers, and indulge in tonight’s dinner with me.  I would make it for each one of you if I could… because that’s love.

Roasted Beef with Crisp Domino Potatoes, Italian Plums, and Watercress Puree

2lb chuck shoulder roast
1.5 oz concentrated demi-glace (I use More than Gourmet’s)
4-6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
3 large russet potatoes
1 bunch watercress
4 small, fresh ripe Italian prune plums
8-10 tiny chanterelles
10 whole black peppercorns
10 juniper berries
6 tablespoons granulated sugar (divided)
balsamic vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon zest
fresh lemon juice
1 stick butter, melted and clarified
2 tbs butter
1 tbs corn starch
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs fresh oregano
smoked sea salt, Maldon sea salt, cracked black pepper

The chuck roast is a relatively cheap and tough cut of meat, and although a larger piece (say, 3-4 lbs, at least) can be slow-roasted for a nice, medium rare roast beef, I chose to braise it in order to get a more tender piece of meat.    I started by rinsing, then patting the meat dry, before rubbing it with EVOO and sprinkling it with smoked salt and black pepper.  Then I placed it into a hot pan to sear, first on one side…

…. then the other side…

… then, using tongs, all the edges.

Once the meat is nicely seared all around, I remove it from the pan, which I set back on medium-high heat. In goes a cup of water and the concentrated demi-glace, which I whisk in well, scraping all the fond off the bottom of pan so all the tasty goodness will blend right in.  I bring this to a low simmer.

I add my roast back to the pan, stick my unpeeled garlic cloves in the broth (so that the innards will soften up real nice like, but not yet bleed into the sauce), then stick the whole pan into a 350° oven for 2 hours to slow roast.

My plums are the next item.  I saw these little lovelies at Whole Foods, many still with the stems on them, and thought I just HAD to incorporate them into my meal somehow.  I knew I was aiming for a savory dinner, and I thought some sweet roasted plums might offset the richness I had in store. I washed and dried them, trying to leave the stems intact (just ‘cuz they’re so cute!), then put them in a pyrex dish large enough to hold them.  I added my juniper berries, and then poured over them a mixture of 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, my peppercorns, and 4 tablespoons of sugar.

I sprinkle the remaining sugar on top and layer my rosemary sprigs over the plums.  This goes into my already hot oven to roast for about 30 minutes, or until the skins have withered slightly.

See how lovely?  I pull my plums out carefully, and strain the sweet braising liquid (which has reduced considerably) into another bowl to use later.

To prepare my watercress puree, I destemmed my bunch of leaves and peeled and chopped one of my potatoes.  The spuds go into some salted boiling water for 15 minutes…

…. and my watercress gets added for the last 5 minutes or so.

When the potatoes are *very* soft, I remove everything from the pan (reserving the liquid in case I need to thin out my puree later) and move it to a large bowl.

Lolita doesn’t own a blender.  Well, not a working blender, at least.  And using a hand-blender often means Lolita ends up wearing a good deal of what she had intended to blend.  Recently, I starting using this little trick, which I learned in relation to pounding out peppercorns in my mortar and pestle.  Those little spherical buggers used to fly all over the kitchen, and they’d crush underfoot when I walked in shoes across the floor (or they stick like a burr in my barefooted flesh).  Once I realized I could wrap the bowl in plastic and cut a slit for my pestle to pound through, I solved that problem.  Same principle here: the Saran Wrap keeps not only the stuff from flying out, but also helps hold in some heat.

Adding some salt, pepper, my lemon juice and lemon zest to my supergreen watercress puree helps lock in the fresh, snappy, peppery flavor.  I cover this until I need it later.

Finally, I peel my remaining two spuds, cutting out any black spots.

Using my handheld mandoline (handoline?), I slice them both into card thin wafers, dropping them into a bowl of salted water to pull some of the starch out.

Using a strainer, I remove all the milk solids I can from a melted stick of butter.  Any froth left floating on the top I skim off with a spoon.

See?  Clarifying the butter like this will impart a purer flavor to the finished potato product.

I cut a small sliver off the bottom of my potato slices, so that there is a flat edge I can use to plate my dominoes.  I then stack them like a tall deck of cards before tipping them as a single column into a buttered ceramic dish large enough to hold them all.  I dribble my clarified butter carefully over each slice, encouraging some to slide between the layers.  I then salt and pepper lightly, before throwing a few sprigs of oregano into the dish for good measure.  Into the already hot oven they go, where they roast and toast for 30 minutes, or until the edges have crisped up nicely.

My roast is perfectly cooked — nice and browned and easily pulled apart with two forks.  I remove the meat from the pan and set it aside for a few moments, placing the pan on the stovetop over medium heat.

I’ve carefully washed and dried my mini chanterelles.
And I’ve mixed my cornstarch with the remaining two tablespoons of butter, which I’ve softened (a little too much, but that won’t hurt).
The mushrooms and roux get added to the pan, which I whisk well to incorporate.  I also, using a fork, squish the now roasted garlic out of their peels into the sauce.  I pick the papers out, and let this mixture come to a low simmer to thicken.

Although I laid my potatoes in a straight line in my dish, in the heat they redistributed themselves into a pretty little coil.  They are perfect — crispy edged all around, but buttery and fluffy in the centers.  Using a spatula, I very carefully lift each section out to place on my plates.
Resting on a blanket of pureed watercress, my tender beef slices are drizzled with meaty pan gravy, delicate mushrooms, and sensuous plum sauce.  The plums themselves buttress terrifically textured buttered tubers, bringing the salty and the sweet together with the rich and the light.  Each forkful boasts full flavors and complex pleasures — a perfect plate for a discerning palate.  Autumn may have fallen sooner than we’d planned, but Lolita’s kitchen is ready for the task.  If I keep making dinners like this one, it will be a wonderful winter indeed.

Bloomsday Bangers and Colcannon with Brown Sugar Guinness Gravy

Bloomsday: a celebration of all things James Joyce – and, more specifically, everything Leopold Bloom.  June 16 is the day James Joyce first enjoyed a date with Nora Barnacle, who would become the love of his life, and in tribute, June 16, 1904 is the day during which all of the story in Ulysses  takes place.  I read Joyce at Harvard Extension several years ago, to fulfill one of my ALM elective credits, and I fell in love with his voice almost immediately.  Ulysses is a masterwork of English Literature – a simple day-in-the-life-of story, but a complex tapestry of passion, imagination, symbolism, patriotism, spirituality, and erudition.  Joyce’s hero, Leopold Bloom, is a lusty, vigorous man fraught with insecurities and obligations — far too human for me to sum up in a few words.  But I can say this – Bloom ate with gusto:

 “He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes.  Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”

For breakfast, 107 years ago yesterday morning, Bloom enjoyed a pan-seared pork kidney:

“…[he] crushed the pan flat on the live coals and watched the lump of butter slide and melt.  … [H]e unwrapped … and dropped the kidney amid the sizzling butter sauce.  Pepper.  He sprinkled it through his fingers ringwise from the chipped eggcup…. He prodded a fork into the kidney and slapped it over…  [later]… pungent smoke shot up in an angry jet from the side of the pan.  By prodding a prong of the fork under the kidney he detached it and turned it turtle on its back.  Only a little burnt.  He tossed it off the pan onto a plate and let the scanty brown gravy trickle over it… He shore away the burnt flesh and flung it to the cat.  Then he put a forkful into his mouth, chewing with discernment the toothsome pliant meat.”

My apologies to James for my clumsy editing, yet this is a food blog – not a literature blog – and it’s Bloom’s breakfast at the onset of Calypso (and not Molly’s awakening, or Milly’s remembrances) I’m mulling over today.

Yet, dear readers, surely you can see that my picture above is not one of pork kidneys!  Alas, neither Whole Foods nor Savenor’s had the requisite innards on hand – nor, to be quite honest, do I relish said innards as much as Bloom does. (Clayton – even less so.)  But I had to honor the Irish muse and his Bloom and Dedalus and Molly and Dublin somehow – so I took to the internet to find a recipe for an appropriately themed Irish dinner by which to pay homage to Joyce and his creations.  Thank you, Tara, at Smells Like Home for your excellent rendition of bangers and colcannon: your recipe’s beguiling picture (as displayed on the third page of’s search engine return for “irish”) simply called out to me, arresting me in my tracks, compelling me to make her — as Joyce’s faux-chapter-heading’s namesake did to her Odysseus.  On the plate, Ogygia is represented by a mountainous island of craggy white mashed potatoes, stubbled throughout with bacon and cabbage and spring onion, surrounded by a chocolate stout and brown sugar sea.  Like the lotus-eating sailors lounging with lassitude on the water’s edge, seared brown in the sun, my tender pork and garlic sausages lay tanned and glistening on the spud surface, sweating savory juices, just begging to be eaten.

Bloomsday Bangers and Colcannon with Brown Sugar Guinness Gravy

1lb yukon gold potatoes
4 oz bacon
1 head cabbage
3-4 spring onions
3/4 lb pork sausage
12 oz Guinness beef
brown sugar
salt and pepper
sour cream

My basics tonight were thick cut bacon, sausages, potatoes, and cabbage.  Almost everything else I had on hand, so on top of being a celebration of a literary masterpiece, this was cheap enough a meal for even Stephen Dedalus to afford (in today’s economy – relatively speaking, that is).  Whole Foods used to carry bangers, but when I asked the butcher why I didn’t see them in the window, he said no one had ever purchased them or even showed any interest — until they no longer had them.  But they did have a non-Italian styled “garlic and pork” sausage, which was mild enough to stand-in for the traditional banger, even if they were larger.  I purchased 3, knowing I’d split them later.

I start with my potatoes, which I peel, cut into 8ths, dump into salted water, and bring to a boil for about 15 minutes, or until I can easily pierce them with a fork.  Meanwhile…

… I dice my bacon…

… and very thinly slice my cabbage.

The bacon goes into a hot pan, along with a generous helping of fresh cracked black pepper, to render all the fat and crisp.

But oh – there’s not enough fat yet!  I add a couple tablespoons of butter to the pan, and let it melt and foam…

…before I add the cabbage shreds.  I toss this very well, coating all the greens with slick bacon fat, then I set the heat to medium and let this sizzle and sautee for about 10 minutes, until the cabbage is just tendercrisp.

This bundle of spring onions wasn’t the greenest — they felt more like small leeks — but the flavor was fine.  I chop them roughly, reserving and inch or so of each of the ends to julienne for a final plate garnish.

The chopped onions go into the cabbage pan, where they get tossed in well, too.   After about 5 more minutes, salt and pepper to taste, mix one or two more times, then remove the cabbage mix from the pan and set aside.

Now these are some beautiful sausage.  They are a bit understuffed (read: limp) actually, which works rather well in the long run,  since they have some steaming room inside the casing, resulting in more tender meat.  It also keeps them from splitting open during the cooking process, even after you pierce the membrane to release some of the inner juices.

I’ve got my large skillet set over medium high heat, and I’ve got a few glugs of EVOO shimmering hot on the surface.  In go my links, which I let sear on each side until they’re each striped with brown.


When my links are nice and browned, I add my bottle of beer, set the heat to medium, and let my links steam the rest of the way to cooked-fully-through.  My Guinness will reduce and condense, concentrating all its malty chocolate Irish flavor as it goes, getting ready to become gravy.

Meanwhile, I’ve drained, then mashed my potatoes with a fork, and it’s time to cream them up.  I add a couple tablespoons each of butter and sour cream…

… and about a cup of milk.  I return the pan to low heat, and whisk this well into a nice, creamy whipped potato – adding milk as needed until it is just the right consistency.

It’s time to make colcannon out of mashed potatoes.  I add my reserved bacon and cabbage and onion and black pepper and butter mix to my spuds, and stir well, fully blending the two delicious side dishes into one.

My beer has reduced by 2/3rds, and my sausages are perfectly cooked.  I remove them from the pan, and set them aside, leaving the beer boiling over the heat.

I take about a tablespoon of softened butter, and a tablespoon of flour, and I mash it together to form a paste.

I also have about 2 tablespoons of rich, sticky brown sugar ready.  I whisk the butterflour and brown sweetness into my boiling, thickened Guinness, lowering the heat to medium, and I let this ambrosia simmer down to a glossy syrupy glaze.

Clayton O’Fountain and I dig into our bangers and mash with much boisterous toasting and smashing together of our Guinness-filled mugs; we sop our sweet sausages with the savory sugary thick brunette gravy, holding our forks overhand and our knives like spatulas;  we spread our hot baconcabbagepotatopulp over our forkfulls and jackknife our loads heartily into our open mouths; we grunt with satisfaction, and dive in again and again and again, only pausing to swig malt beverage and to mutter our full-mouthed approval.  Afterwards, we lean back in our chairs, loosen our belts, strokepat our tummies, and sing “The Harp That Once through Tara’s Halls” a few times, remembering Dublin at the turn of the century, remembering Joyce.  Ahhh…. Bloomsday!
Bloomsday Bangers and Colcannon with Brown Sugar Guinness Gravy