Herb Roasted Leg of Lamb with Minted Garlicky Tzatziki, EVOO Tomatoes, and Honey Broiled Feta

DSCN5258Cooler weather means hotter food in the Fountain household, and something that roasts low and slow and fills a Sunday afternoon with the smell of savory cooking meat makes the cold and rainy all that much better. It’s been a while since I’ve made lamb, and the lovely rolled boneless legs they had on sale at Whole Foods convinced me it was high time I muttoned it up.   Not wanting to go too crazy, I opted for a fairly traditional approach: lots of fresh herbs and garlic, a tzatziki sauce, some pita, and some feta.  But, wanted to at least leave my mark on the meal, I also roasted off some fresh tomatoes and broiled the feta with honey, to impart some complexity and sweetness to the plate.  Gamey, tender, cooling, fragrant, and filling; it tasted good enough to *almost* make up for the Patriot’s loss to Cincinnati.  Almost.


Herb Roasted Leg of Lamb with Minted Garlicky Tzatziki, EVOO Tomatoes, and Honey Broiled Feta

2lb rolled and tied boneless lamb leg
1 head garlic
1/2 cup fresh rosemary
1/2 cup fresh oregano
fresh mint
sea salt, cracked black pepper
2 carrots
2 celery stalks
2 medium white onions
2 fresh tomatoes on the vine
1 large cucumber
1 cup Greek yogurt
4-6 oz wedge of feta cheese
3 tbs clover honey

I start with my aromatics.  The oregano and rosemary are from my own garden, so I basically cut off a few handfuls of twigs and destemmed them, then I peeled all the skins from my garlic cloves.

DSCN5240I don’t have a food processor, so I just chopped everything up real fine the old-fashioned way; with my chef’s knives.  Once I had a nice mince, I added some salt, pepper, and EVOO to form a paste – which I then packed all over my roast, reserving a tablespoon to the side.

DSCN5241I peeled my carrots, then cut them into big chunks along with my celery and onions.  These I threw into a large stovetop-to-oven roasting pan with a few glugs of EVOO over medium heat to wilt slightly.

DSCN5243I then halved my tomatoes, leaving the stems on – ‘cuz it would be prettier to serve them that way later.

DSCN5245After making a bit of a nest of the cooking veggies, I placed my roast on top, then pushed the tomatoes cut side down around the perimeter of the pot.   I scatter the remaining herb mix over the tomatoes.   After pre-heating the oven to 325°, I set the already simmering pot inside on the middle rack and shut the door.  I let this whole thing cook for 3 hours, basting every once in a while with the juices accumulating at the bottom of the pan.

DSCN5246While the roast roasted, I peeled and de-seeded my cucumber.

DSCN5247After salting and peppering the chopped cucumber well, I set it into a colander placed over a large bowl to drain as much water from it as possible.

DSCN5248Squishing down on the pieces will release a little more liquid.  Sometimes you get a lot, sometimes just a little – but watery tzatziki isn’t much fun, so this step is usually necessary.

DSCN5249Although Greek yogurt is usually already strained, this container had a few ounces of whey floating at the top when I opened it, so I decided to squeeze it through a cheesecloth to get as much liquid out as possible.  Using two pieces, I formed a cross of cheesecloth over my colander…

DSCN5250… then, by gathering up the corners, I was able to squeeze a few more ounces of whey out of the mix.

DSCN5251Now that the cucumbers and yogurt are drained, it’s time to make the sauce.  I mince up about 2 tbs mint, throw in a few tbs of minced onion, a little bit of minced garlic, and some salt and pepper.  This gets added to the cream and cuke, and mixed well.

DSCN5253One can cook a lamb roast to medium rare and serve it bloody, which is delicious, or it can be cooked until it is fully roasted through and falling apart – which was our choice for this meal.  The carrots are tender and sweet, and the tomatoes are deeply roasted, their flavors perfectly concentrated.

sous-vide-duck-breast-with-warm-lentils-feta-and-mushroom-honey-cream_18I actually forgot to take a picture of my feta, but here’s one from an older recipe (a nice one I’d forgotten about, actually) to show you how it’s done.  First, the cheese goes into a nice, oven-proof shallow dish, where it is doused with EVOO and studded with some cracked pepper and a few leaves of oregano.  Into a 400° oven for about 10 minutes it goes, or until the cheese has begun to brown on top.  I then cover it with honey, turn the heat up to broil, and cook the cheese for another 5 minutes or until it is bubbling and gooey and luscious.

DSCN5257A little EVOO dressed arugula, some warm pita, and a drizzle of pan sauce compliments my unctuous herbaceous mutton, my minty cucumber cream, and my richly roasted vegetables.  Clayton and I make little sandwiches by taking shreds of meat, dollops of yogurt, bits of steaming tomatoes, and scoops of quivering honey’d feta and stuffing them into pita before stuffing them into our salivating maws.  As the wind whips outside and the rain beats against the skylight, we enjoy the warmth spreading through our tummies with each delicious bite.  Now that winter’s almost here, the days of salads and seafood a waning, but I’m not minding that one bit if my dinners get to be this good for the next few months.  I’ll just have to make sure I keep ’em coming.

Weeknight Wondermeal: Ginger Honey Glazed Salmon and Scallops, with Pear, Avocado, and Walnut Salad

This dinner is dedicated to some very special friends, for whom – to protect the innocent (and to avoid prosecution by FERPA) – I shall use a delightfully Victorian convention of referring to them by initials only (in no particular order – to avoid any implication of favoritism): AC, TP, KN, MS, CG, TD, CH, AL, SC, and SV. They not only invited me into their summer homes to enjoy lovely dinners prepared by them with affection and good humor, but they inspire me daily with their grace, wit, intelligence, youthful vigor, and general wonderfulness.  However, I am also spurred by a particular comment made by two of the above listed group —  a pair of ladies who suggested that my Weeknight Wondermeals, recipes I tout as super-simple and très-cheap, were “so fancy, and way too complicated!” What the what?  Dear girls, these offerings are the most basic of basics! If you can execute a successful Western blot, or re-engineer the severed limbs of an army of axolotl, you can TOTALLY make any Weeknight Wondermeal, if you have the right stuff in the kitchen.  To wit: tonight’s delectable dinner.  A tender, succulent, juicy salmon filet encrusted with honey and ginger oil, plus a similarly prepared but-also-soy-sauced scallop, served with a super-food salad.  I dare you, young friends, to make this dinner (note to TP: 86  the walnuts!): the effort is simple, but the reward is sublime!

Ginger Honey Glazed Salmon and Scallops, with Pear, Avocado, and Walnut Salad

.75-1lb filet of salmon
2 very large scallops (these equalled .3lb)
1 cup honey
1/2 cup ginger oil (or fresh grated ginger blended with EVOO)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 avocado
1 fresh pear
1 small white onion
fresh arugula
baby tomatoes
parmigiano reggiano
1/4 cup crushed walnuts
sea salt, fresh cracked black pepper, fresh snipped chives (for garnish)

Since I keep honey, ginger oil, and soy sauce in my pantry, my shopping list was pretty slim.  The most expensive items were these specimens of seafood: two huge, fresh sea scallops, and a lovely bright pink wedge of king salmon.  I want them to marinate a bit before I cook them, but they need to do so in separate bags.  Let me explain…

The salmon gets 3/4 cup of honey, 3 oz of ginger oil — a product I purchased at a nearby Asian supermarket, for about $2.49 — and lots of fresh cracked pepper.

I remove the adductor muscles from my scallops (here’s a pic), and then they get the rest of the honey and ginger oil, with the addition of the soy sauce – which is going to add just the right umame to the experience.  I seal both bags up nice and tightly, after removing as much air from them as I could, then I chuck ’em in the fridge to marinate for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, we plug in Little Red and get him all hot and bothered.  Clayton fashions a simple tray out of some foil paper, since we want to catch and cook the marinade as well as the proteins.  You’ll see what I mean a couple steps from now.

I brush a little EVOO onto the portion of the foil that will cook the scallops, but I want to skin of the salmon to stick to the foil (it will make it easier to remove the fish-flesh (and nothing but) later), so I leave that side clean.

The salmon goes on first, and I pour the marinade carefully over it’s pink yumminess to coat it.  It doesn’t matter if it spills onto the foil — in fact, it’s good for some of it to do just that.  As it cooks, the honey will thicken and brown, making a nice glaze.  Again, you’ll see what I mean soon.

The scallops go on next, but they’re doused in less of their marinade, since the soy will have already permeated the meat.  I do save both marinades, in case I want to add more a the halfway point.  For now, though, I lower the lid and walk away for 10 minutes.

My salad tonight was inspired by the similarity between the shape of a pear, and the shape of an avocado.  I surmised that if they had the same figure, perhaps they would go well together…  Yes,  yes – there are all sorts of things wrong with that supposition, but in this case it worked.  I removed the pit out of my avocado, and removed the seeds from my pear, before slicing each half into an equal number of thin wedges.

After fanning the pear slices onto my plates, then layering a fan of avocado over that, I toss some arugula with thin slices of white onion, some shavings of parmigiano reggiano, salt, pepper, and EVOO.

After 10 minutes, my seafood is halfway done, and – as you can see – the honey in the marinade has started to caramelize.  Using a basting brush, I get as much of that honey off the foil and onto the exposed flesh of my fish – top and sides.  It’s slickery — meaning it doesn’t stick to the fish very well unless you sort of scoop it onto the brush and dab it onto the pink.  Be patient, and get as much honey to stick to the fish as you can — it will be SO worth it.

Instead of basting the scallops, I rub them into the marinade darkening on the foil before flipping them.  It’s just like basting, but this time I’m going bottom up instead of top down.

See?  Even through the foil, the scallops are taking on lovely grill marks.  I close the lid for 10 more minutes, and watch the sun sink lower on the horizon over this hot summer day.

When I lift the lid again, my scallops are done (so I remove them to a warm plate to hold), and the honey/ginger marinade for the fish has turned a deep, dark brown.  Never fear!  This is what we wanted!  Using my basting brush one more time, I transfer as much of that black honey to the fish as I can.

Like so!  I lower the lid for another 5 minutes, go indoors, plate my salad, then come back out to fetch supper.  The good thing about using the foil is I only have to pick that up and bring the whole thing inside – no muss, no fuss!  Using a long, narrow spatula, I divide the filet into two equal portions, lifting the fish right off the skin which is stuck to the foil paper.  The flesh slides right off.

After finishing my salad with a couple home-grown cherry tomatoes and a sprinkle of crushed walnuts (for crunch), and garnishing the seafood with snipped chives, we’re ready to dig in.  The whole dinner has taken about 30 minutes of activity, and it cost only about $20 (plus pantry items, like the honey, soy, and ginger oil).  But what deliciosity!

The salmon is sweetly encrusted, with tender, moist flesh and a wee snap from the black pepper; the scallops are succulent and sweet, with the additional amped up savor of rich soy; and the salad is inspired: the fragrant, firm pear is perfectly complimented by the soft, nutty avocado, and the peppery arugula, salty cheese, and crunchy nuts fill the palate with delectable complexity, richness, and freshness.  Each bite was sheer enjoyment!

As the sun sets over Hamilton Street, setting the sky on salmon fire, Clayton and I dig into our salmon dinners with gusto.  So, dear friends — and you know who you are — are you up for trying this yourselves? I promise you’ll enjoy it!

Sweet ‘N Soy Seared Tuna with Broiled Cana de Cabra and Ginger Dressed Greens

It has been some couple of weeks – as in, chock full o’ unfamiliar happenings.  Since Clayton and I are nothing if not creatures of habit, said happenings have really thrown us into disarray.  But my arm has healed and is fully functional again, the particular challenges of study card week (my Harvard peeps feel me)  are over, and Clayton is home from his knee surgery – convalescing on the couch, but home, and happy, and hungry for my cooking.  A proper shout out to the folks at New England Baptist Hospital is due: thanks for taking such excellent care of my man!  He has done nothing but rave about your care, your kindness, and your customer service, and he’s an easier patient now as a result.  Danke, dear friends, danke…

But while Clayton is strapped to the sofa and drugged up on dilaudid, my dinners are going to need to be lighter to compensate for his inactivity and loss of appetite.  So it’s salads or soups, one bowl meals or single skillet suppers, tinier portions and fatter-freer flavors.  Hence tonight’s supper: tiles of tender tuna steeped in classic Asian flavors like soy, ginger, garlic, and sesame, all sweetened with honey and reduced to a rich glaze, atop a bed of gingered greens, and accompanied with a seared slice of gamey goat cheese.  Punchy and piquant; the perfect balance of raw and roasted; a harmony of salad and sea and cream.

Sweet ‘N Soy Seared Tuna with Broiled Cana de Cabra and Ginger Dressed Greens

3/4 fresh yellowfin tuna, at least 1″ thick
soy sauce
sesame oil
1 1″ knob ginger, peeled and grated – about 2 tbs
2 gloves garlic, peeled and grated – about 2 tbs
1 stalk lemongrass, tenderized and chopped finely – about 1 tbs
5-6 leaves fresh mint
1 small bunch scallions, chopped
1 Meyer lemon, juiced
fresh spring lettuce mix
1 bunch radishes
2 1″ thick slices of cana de cabra
sea salt, cracked black pepper, EVOO, white vinegar

I start with my marinade, which has equal amounts honey, sesame oil, soy sauce, and water, along with 1/2 of each of my grated ginger and garlic.

This I whisk together, making sure all the honey is dissolved.

I should really work with lemongrass more often – it’s yummy.   But its tough fibers and woody stalks are a little intimidating, until I beat the crap out of it with the flat edge of my chef’s knife to separate the sweet pith from the spitting pffflat! A quick, vigorous chop up the length of the spine and the gentle flavor of this hard grass is deposited on the surface of my board like the shorn shreddings of an already short beard.

I’ve trimmed my lovely loin of tuna into one perfect rectangle, and one sort of weird shaped piece.  The first I’ll use for my main presentation – since presentation is half the enjoyment – the scrap for filler. I place my fishes into my marinade, spoon the deliciousness over every surface, then toss everything in 1/2 of my lemongrass before setting the bowl aside so it can all soak in.  I let this stew for 15-20 minutes, while I prepare everything else.

I love radishes.  Clayton didn’t like them when we first met, but when I first prepared this perfect simple radish salad for him, he was converted.  I slice them very very thinly, using my mandoline, then toss them in 1/2 EVOO, 1/2 super-cold water, 1 tsp white vinegar, a *very*generous* serving of sea salt and a hearty pinch or two of cracked black pepper. As this marinates – the radishes will soften and mellow, while the dressing absorbs the sharp from the radish, and the salt peppers it all up right.  8-10 minutes sitting in the fridge and this sliced beautiful is ready to enjoy.

At this point, I also chop up my scallions, throwing a bunch into my radishes, a bunch into my fish bowl (which I toss again, for good measure), reserving a few tablespoons for garnish.

In a large bowl, I toss my spring greens with a handful of washed, rinsed, and roughly torn mint leaves.  With the rest of my soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, ginger, garlic, and lemongrass  – plus a few splashes of water and the juice from 1/2 my lemon, I whisk together the salad dressing, which I then toss with my greans.

This nubbin’ of lovin’ is cana de cabra, a goat (“cabra”) milk cheese log (“cana”) with a striated bloomy ring ripening inwards through two more textures of cream.  It’s all the best of a chevre, a double creme brie, and a weird cheese wafer, in one cylindrical package.

Lolita’s crappy oven doesn’t have a bottom broiler, so getting what I want to sear close enough to the top coils to truly broil requires some jerry-rigging.  I’ve learned that turning over a typical Pyrex loaf pan (or any other 2″ deep pan) allows me to raise my cook surface high enough off my top rack to transform it into the salamander I want it to be.  I line my pan with foil, which I sort of fold upwards around the edge to make a bit of a catch pan (since my cheese might melt and slump), and set it with my oven, set to broil.

At the same moment, I throw my fish into my pre-superheated non-stick pan.  I sear it for about 1 minute…

… on each side, including the narrow edges — all the way ’round.  I want a cold, raw center, but perfectly seared edges cooked to at least 1/4 way in.  The marinade on the tuna caramelizes and crisps — this is good.  It’s flavah, baby!

After my tuna is cooked to my whims and desires (about 8 minutes all together), I remove it to my cutting board to settle for a few minutes, while I add the marinade to my hot pan to reduce.  With a swirl every every few moments, it does so quite nicely, making the perfect glaze to finish my plate.

Oh, and after about 6-8 minutes, my cheese is SO READY to be plated.  Look at how perfectly caramelized it is!

A full-flavored nest of ginger-soy dressed tender greens, a tight mound of mellowed radish, red-bellied, totally tanned savory seared tuna, and a creamy, melty, goaty puck of cheese, drizzled with a rich glaze.  Light–fresh–sweet–nutty–milky–and straight from the sea.  With his leg outstretched on the couch, and his plate on his lap, Clayton dove into this delight with more gusto than a man 72 hours after surgery should have – which makes me happy.  Now he’s happy inside, and healing outside, and I got to enjoy a damn delicious dinner, too!  Lolita’s lighter side is gets to enjoy the sun for a few weeks.  While my husband gets better, so shall I.

Weeknight Wondermeal: Pork Chops with Grilled Apricot n’ Raspberry Compote

Here’s what makes a “weeknight wondermeal” in Lolita’s vernacular: very few, very fresh, but easily accessible ingredients; quick prep and cook time; and low cost.  Here’s what made tonight’s meal: several items from the farmer’s market, 2 items from Whole Foods, and a handful of things from the pantry; 20 minutes; $20.  I’m talking meals I whip together without really thinking about it — dinner decided on a dime and in the moment — quick prep to plate time, so I can enjoy the lounging on the couch and the drinking of the post-work beer.  Tonight there was much lounging, and several beers, and then a quick whip through the kitchen and a short visit with Little Red, and goshdurnit if we didn’t have a damn good, snappy savory sweet buttery sugary satisfying supper.  Spiced pork chops covered with grilled apricots muddled with sweet-tart honeyed raspberries fresh from the farm, and super sweet corn rolled in buttered bread and truffled salt: both homey and elegant, rich and tart, bright and balanced.  And it goes well with beer.

Pork Chops with Grilled Apricot n’ Raspberry Compote

2 bone-in thick cut pork chops
1 pint farm fresh raspberries
3-4 fresh apricots
2 ears farm fresh corn
Japanese mystery spice
sesame oil
sea salt and black pepper
lemon juice
2 slices white bread
2 pats butter black truffle salt (optional)
scallions for garnish

These lovely raspberries are from Kimball’s Fruit Farm, located in Pepperell, MA, the best producers of heirloom tomatoes in the state, IMHO.  The  apricots are organic, from South Carolina, purchased at Whole Foods.  The corn was purchased at the Busa Farm Stand located in front of the historic Carty Barn just off Lexington Road (Rt. 2A) just outside of Concord.  It’s called “Supersweet” – and I can totally see why: it tasted like a Kellogg’s breakfast cereal (without the guilt).

And these are my lovely pork chops.  I asked my cool dude butcher to root around for two that each had both the rich, dark tenderloin and the leaner, lighter loin.  NICE.

My mystery spice: a gift from my dearest friend, who brought it home to me from a visit to Japan, in which there is a cacophony of flavors – salty, green, dare I say fishy?, sharp, spicy.  I will continue to snap pictures of its labels, in the hopes one of you, dear readers, will translate for me, and tell me what I’m eating.

Here’s the lid.  Whatever does it mean?

My pork has been liberally sprinkled with mystery spice, my apricots have been halved and pitted, and my corn has been stripped to just it’s innermost husks.  Everything goes out on Little Red, and the lid is lowered for 10 minutes.

After which time, my corn is ready to be turned (see the grill marks and browned kernels?)…

 … my chops to be flipped (see the lovely sear?), …

 … and my apricots to be pulled. I close the lid, and leave my corn and pork to cook for another 10 minutes, while I ready my quick compote.

My warm, grilled apricots are cubed and tossed with a handful of sweet, fresh raspberries, some salt and pepper, about 3 tablespoons of honey, a dash of sesame oil, and a squeeze of lemon juice.  This I very thoroughly roughly mix — a.k.a. “muddle” — which slightly crushes the berries and spreads the warmth of the pit fruit throughout the whole bowl.

A simple piece of white bread with a healthy pat of butter makes the perfect base for my incredibly sweet cob of fresh grilled corn.  The bread holds the butter in place, allowing me to roll my corn with its golden melting goodness all over.  A sprinkle of black truffle infused sea salt takes it up a notch.


My tender spiced pork chops are topped with the sweetartsavorywarm fruit sauce quick mixed from grilled apricots and red raspberries, thickened with honey, but nutty from sesame.  My sugar corn is buttery and umame, burstingly saccharin and blisteringly steamy.  The skies outside might be heavy with pending rain, but the sensation in my mouth is light, fresh, fruity, and delicious.

Fried Chicken and Buttermilk Biscuits with Black Pepper Sage Honey Butter Sauce

I gotta be up front about this: I totally glommed this recipe from the provocatively entitled blog, The Rooter to the Tooter, by Chef Dave Bridges.  No bones about it  (which, idiomatically speaking, is apropos to a cooking blog, albeit admittedly inappropriate for a dish which, technically, does have bones in it) – I unequivocally admit that tonight’s deliciousness sprung from that Southern gentleman’s culinary brain.  Thank you, Dave – and forgive me my thighs in lieu of tails, which the usually bankable Savenor’s sadly did not have in stock — and, surprisingly seemed surprised by my request.  But other than the thighs, and a slight variation on the biscuits (to maximize my buttermilk and minimize my grocery bill) – this recipe is 100% Dave’s.  Lolita just had to lick that sweet spicy sage sauce off her fingertips; she couldn’t wait to crack her incisors against that crispy peppery fried chicken skin; she salivated to sop those buttery biscuits in that sweet honey butter; and she absolutely needed to wipe that steaming bird juice off her chin.  Chicken and biscuits – soaked in honey and spice: it’s the simple sins that make the best guilty pleasures.

Fried Chicken and Buttermilk Biscuits with Black Pepper Sage Honey Butter Sauce

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 qt buttermilk
cayenne pepper
black pepper
garlic powder
1 cup honey
1 tablespoons butter
4 sprigs fresh sage

Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons very cold butter
1 cup buttermilk

The succulent, uber-savory tails of birds are a richly flavored body part with meat so tender, it is almost a crime that they are usually discarded instead of saved by even the best butchers — to wit, my inability to acquire them at either Whole Foods and Savenor’s.  But thighs, anatomically speaking, are pretty damn close to the tail end anyway, and that dark meat snuggled up firmly against those femurs are fantastically full of flavor.  Oh, and bonus: they are also quite easy to fry – being of a uniform thickness, more or less.  4 thighs is about a pound – a perfect portion size for two.  I rinse these in cold water, then pat them nice and dry with paper towels.

These go into a ziplock bag into which I’ve dumped a healthy serving of cayenne (I’d say about 6 tablespoons – at least), 3 tablespoons of paprika, and 3 cups of my buttermilk.  Dave’s recipe calls for them to marinate for 8 hours at least, but I wanted this NOW – so I marinated it for about 2, setting this up right when I got home, before sitting down for a beer and a decompress before really launching into the cooking.

After my decompress, it’s time to start my biscuits. My butter has been sitting in the freezer for the last 15 minutes or so, and I’ve now cut it into small cold cubes.

I add these wonderful bits of fluffy semi-frozen fat to the dry ingredients for my biscuits, which I’ve mixed up all in a large bowl.  Using a couple of knives, I cut the butter into the powders until it looks nice and mealy.

In goes my buttermilk.  I start with 3/4 of cup, mix it well, and when I see it’s too dry I add more until it’s fully damp — just this side of wet.

I spill this out onto a floured surface, and pat it into a rough round shape…

… which I cut into rounds, then set, sides lightly touching, on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.  This goes onto the middle shelf of my preheated 425° oven to bake for about 15 minutes – so I put it in right when I start to fry my chicken.

To do that, I start by adding about 6 cups of vegetable oil to my deepest pan, and I set the heat to high.  I love the heat ripples that form in frying oil.

Oh — and I get my sauce ready, too.  Simple simple: two tablespoons of butter, a cup of honey, a tablespoon of black pepper, and some leaves of sage.  I set this over medium heat to melt together, and to ever so lightly frycrisp the mint leaves.

Back to the chicken: I throw about a cup of flour, some cayenne, paprika, black pepper, and garlic powder (about a teaspoon of each)  into a large bowl, which I mix well.  This will be the crisp on my bird bits.

The buttermilk — flecked with flavor — coats my chicken, and it’s ready to be floured.

And flour it I do.  Each piece goes into my albino meal; each piece gets mercilessly tossed to and fro, all its hanging bits lifted and dusted, all its wetness powdered to dry.

This is usually my deep pasta pot, but I wondered recently why I wasn’t deep frying in it, too.  I usually use my wok, but that means I have to fry in small batches – batches too small even for two full portions, meaning one of us always ate a completely cold meal, or half of each our meals was colder than the other half – but this pan allowed me to drop all my chicken at once.  I do so carefully, though, using my large mesh paddle.

This will fry for about 12 minutes.  My chicken browned too much, and came out unnaturally dark, like George Hamilton, and not wholesome and golden, like a sun-kissed Kate Hudson. Next time I’ll lower the heat a bit and fry the chicken longer — that’ll get me to the right shade of tan.

Still, when it floats — popping back up to the surface even after being pushed back into the deep — that’s usually a good sign it’s ready.

The biscuits come out of the oven, and they are beautiful.  I split four of them with a fork, and lay them open on the plates to receive their offerings of fowl flesh and beehive drippings.

Light, fluffy, steaming hot biscuits topped with juicy, crispy fried chicken thighs, and bathed in a black pepper and sage scented honey butter sauce. The sweetness and the savor – the crunch and the sop – the bready and the sticky: my plate is a palate of  beautifully balanced sensations, all blending together on the tongue, all tantalizing the tummy with the taste of chicken and honey.  I could eat this for breakfast, lunch and dinner – someone stop me before I do…
Fried Chicken and Buttermilk Biscuits with Black Pepper Sage Honey Butter Sauce

Rosemary and Cherry Pork Shoulder with Lemon Green Beans, Emmenthaler Cauliflower, and Rhubarb Compote

Sunday night – and it’s chilly, windy, and rainy outside.  Spring has come to Cambridge, but as of yet warmth still eludes us.  But at least that means I can still use my oven, and use it I did, inspired to cook tonight’s meal by the bottle of Velenosi Querci’Antica Visciole given to me by my excellent comrade, Bill (thanks, dear man — from the bottom of my heart, imagination, and stomach), along with the suggestion that it might pair nicely with something porcine and cherry riddled.  Y’see, a visciole is a sour cherry wine — a rich, deep, complex, sweet and fruity dessert delight, something he’d tried at L’Espalier, an experience I just luckily enjoyed myself (thanks again!)  So – given this lovely bottle and that bit of culinary advice, I set upon tonight’s meal: a roasted pork shoulder wrapped around sour cherries and rosemary, served with a compote stewed with our garden’s first rhubarb of the season; a nest of fresh French sliced haricot vert sauteed with butter and lemon zest; and finally, a baked confetti cauliflower in an Emmenthaler cheese sauce, which perfectly rounds out this light, sweet, and (relatively) healthy dinner.

Rosemary and Cherry Pork Shoulder with Lemon Green Beans, Emmenthaler Cauliflower, and Rhubarb Compote

3lb boneless pork shoulder (enough for leftovers!  This one has a nice fatcap)
4 cups fresh diced rhubarb
1 cup honey
1/2 cup sugar
5oz dried sweet cherries
3oz fresh rosemary
1 small white onion
1 lb fresh green beans
zest of one lemon
3 tbs butter (divided)
4oz Emmenthaler cheese
heavy cream
1/2 tbs flour
sea salt
cracked black pepper

Clayton’s been bugging me to use his rhubarb, and he brought up these lovely stalks for me to incorporate into today’s dinner.  I chop these babies into 1″ pieces.

I dump them into a large saucepan with my honey, sugar, and about a half cup of water — and a dash of salt for good measure.  I set this to boil.

The sugars start to melt, the stalks to break down, and the flavors to blend.  I drop the heat to its lowest setting…

… add 1/2 of my dried cherries, mixing well to submerge them in the simmering liquids…

After a few more moments, I add a few sprigs of rosemary to impart an earthy richness to the tart sweetness, and I let this whole mess simmer for 20 minutes until most of the liquids have boiled off.

I transfer the compote to a small bowl, and set into my fridge to chill until service.  I could have done this yesterday, too, and it will hold for a week or so.   Clayton’s gonna try it as the jelly component of his PB&Js this week.

While my compote is stewing, I prep my pork.  This lovely shoulder will be stuffed with onion, rosemary, and chopped cherries — which will pick up the flavors in the compote compliment later.

I dice 1/2 my white onion, peel some more sprigs of rosemary off the stem, and gather the rest of my chopped cherries.  After sprinkling the underside of my shoulder (into which I ended up cutting another pocket, to stuff more stuff) with salt and pepper (generously), I pack as much of my onions, rosemary, and cherries into the fold as I can …

… before I roll up my shoulder and tie it off tightly into a bundle with butcher’s twine.  Lots of my stuffing falls out.  But just enough stays in, too.

I sprinkle the outside of my roast with salt and pepper before laying my bundle on a rack set over a foiled over cookie sheet.  This yummy pig packet goes into a 350 degree oven for the next 2.5 hours, and it fills the house with the most amazing aroma – sweet and succulent and meaty and fruity, oh my.

See?  My pork is temping at 180 degrees (fully cooked), and my skin is browned and just beginning to crisp.  To make it crisp even more, and to finish off the roast, I raise the temp to 425 degrees, poke the surface all over with a fork (to release the underlayer of fat), and I stick this back in the oven.  Here comes the cracklin’!

Next up is my hericot vert.  I have two of these bean slicers, and they are wonderful.  I’ve used them before, here, here, and here, for starters.  I wanted to buy a few of these tools the other day, one each for my mom, my sister, my friend Tom, but the only place in town I know to get them — this lovely little kitchen store in Concord, MA, The Concord Shop — was sold out.  On the other hand, I went to a Williams and Sonoma, thinking of course they’d have them, only to be rather superciliously put down by the clerk there (really? you’re a retail salesman in Tampa, Florida dude — you’re not in Paris), saying that he’d never heard of them.  Humph.  His loss — my table’s gain.  You snip off the twig tip with the little blade at the end (which I sort of cut off in this picture, sorry), and then run the beans through — shaving the strings off — the vertical slicer to split each pod lengthwise.

See?  Each bean slices into four long, thin strips.  I drop them into boiling salted water to cook through to just tender, drain them, and…

… for a few minutes, right before service, I sautee them with 1tbs butter and lemon zest in my hot wok.

But before that, I prep my confetti cauliflower.  I love this blend: white, purple, green, and orange florets.  I just don’t want their colors to bleed,…

… so I decide to segregate the white bits from the multi-colored bits.  This I reject as a way of life among people — but for cauliflower, which will happily comingle later, both on my plate and in my belly, this initial separation is OK.  I set my bamboo steamers over hot water and cook my florets through to easily pierced with a long-tined fork.

As it steams, I get together its cheese sauce – a simple combination of finely diced onion, shredded Emmenthaler cheese, butter and cream.

Starting with 2tbs butter, which I melt in my large skillet…

… I add my diced onions …

… and sautee them until just softened and fragrant.

I add about a 1/2 tbs of flour to the just-slightly-turning-golden-brown butter and simmering onions, and mix well to form a scented roux.  I then add my heavy cream (about 1 cup), whisk well over high heat to just foaming, before I add my…

… shredded Emmenthaler cheese.

I whisk this vigorously so that it all melts together and it comes to a thickening boil.   I toss my white cauliflower florets with this sauce, then press them into buttered ramekins which I place in my hot oven for about 10 minutes, reserving 1/4 of the melted cheese, with which I toss my colored cauliflower.  At the last moment, once my cheese sauce has baked and browned, I’ll stud the tops of my casseroles with the purple, green, and orange florets to set the whole dish awash with color.

My roast is tender and perfectly cooked, with the skin nicely charred and crispy from the last few minutes of heat.  I carve into it, reveling in the thick veins of cherry rosemary running through its center.

Sweetly savory tender roasted pork dressed with cherry rhubarb compote and sprigs of rosemary, served alongside of nest of fresh citrusy green beans and an ethereal Emmenthaler baked cauliflower.  The colors compete for my glances, and the flavors compete for my tastes; the cherries are rich in the center of the pork and tart in the crush of rhubarb; the haricot vert are light and green while the Brassica oleracea is sensuous and steaming.  This is a dinner of complicated delights – supper and sweet all packed onto one plate.  Delicious!

Rosemary and Cherry Pork Shoulder with Lemon Green Beans, Emmenthaler Cauliflower, and Rhubarb Compote

Herb Roasted Buttered Turkey Breast with Royal Trumpet Mushroom Sauce

It was a lovely warm Spring holiday Sunday today.  We broke out our short sleeves and our bikes, and a’ ridin’ to Whole Foods for feast fodder we went.  I expected there to be a crowd, as there was yesterday (when I saw Giovanni Ribisi walking into the store through the rain – no lie!  Cambridge is a hotbed of celebrities…), but it was surprisingly sedate.  The selection of lamb was way picked over; I was in the mood for a braised shoulder, but all they had left were shanks and stew meat.  No matter; they also had some lovely boneless turkey breast at an enticing price of $3.99 a pound.  Since Clayton’s been making his lunch these days, and loves himself a good homemade sandwich, I thought: why not?  It was festive — fitting for a feast day — and practical, and with a few simple sides and an elegant butter sauce, it would be a perfect way to cap the weekend and welcome the work week.  Hearty but light, rich but simple – please, sir, may I have some more?

Herb Roasted Buttered Turkey Breast with Royal Trumpet Mushroom Sauce, Honeyed Carrots, Mashed Potatoes, and Simple EVOO’d Greens

1 3.5lb boneless, skin-on, rolled and tied turkey breast
fresh rosemary
fresh sage
1 stick butter
1 lb bundle of small fresh carrots
1/2 cup honey
8 oz fresh Royal trumpet mushrooms
1 small shallot
1 lb yukon gold potatoes
heavy cream
sea salt
black pepper
baby romaine lettuce

Even though my beautiful breast is already bound, I cut off this netting so I can season her up real nice like.

You can see that once it’s unrolled, it’s really just a large slab of breast meat folded in half.  Tying it up helps unify the shape, so that it cooks evenly and doesn’t dry out at the tips before fully cooking through the fat center. I rinse this pink quivering solid mass of yumyum, pat it dry, then lay it skin side down on my paper.  I lay a few large sage leaves and a healthy abundance of rosemary in the crease.

I’ll admit right now — I have never learned to tie meat properly.  I lay out my butcher’s twine in what seems to be a logical way, but then I end up mangling the packing into shape submission with a wish and a prayer.  Yes, yes, I know: I’m on a computer when I’m doing this, why don’t I just Google “how to tie turkey breast?” — but I’m busy, people.  Cooking and taking pictures and managing not to cross-contaminate everything in my kitchen with raw poultry lube in the process is tricky – and tapping away at my keyboard to find an answer I feel I should naturally know just seems wrong.  So I’ll keep going trial and error, until I remember to look this stuff up *before* I get all in medias res.

My erratically tied bosom does provide me with the scaffolding by which to tuck more savory herb leaves against the skin, and I sprinkle it all down with sea salt and black pepper.  I make a roughly football sized bundle of meat.

I set a small saucepan over medium heat, melt my stick of butter, and swirl in a few glugs of EVOO.

I’ve cut two lengths of cheesecloth, just enough to cover my turkey breast completely.  This is a technique  I’ve used for whole turkeys before, and I thought it would work nicely for just a breast, which didn’t have the moistening factor of bones within and a full fatty skin without.  I douse each piece of cheesecloth in melted EVOO butter…

… and drape them over my turkey breast, which I’ve set on a rack over a shallow pan (yes, it’s a cookie sheet, but this jerryrig works!), covering it completely, and tucking the ends under.

And I set this rig into a 325° oven for 2.5 hours to slow roast, checking after each 45 minutes …

… to baste with the drippings.   The house fills with the robust aroma of herbs and sizzling savory meat.

For the last 45 minutes of cook time, I set some carrots in EVOO and honey with salt, pepper, and rosemary, and set the pan in the oven to sweetly roast.

I also break out my Royal trumpet mushrooms.  They are firm and majestic… white and supple… and I loved them.

When my turkey temps at 170 degrees, it’s just about ready.  At that point, I pull it out of the oven just to drain off its sweet sweet buttery turkeyey drippings.  I slide the pan back in the oven to bring the turktemp up to 175.

I add about 1/4 of my butter drippings to a large saucepan…

… into which I dump my chopped mushrooms, a minced shallot, and some salt and pepper.  I stir this up nicely over medium high heat, allowing the mushrooms to soften and absorb all the luscious flavorful fat meltings off the turkey.

I add a few tablespoons at a time of the fat, stirring constantly, until 3/4 of it has been added to the mushrooms.  I let this simmer for a few moments, before adding about a tablespoon of flour and whisking well. This doesn’t turn this sauce  into a thick gravy — rather, it adds a substantialness to the thin butter sauce, making it more of a savory glaze, just perfect for spooning over my mashed potatoes (which I’ve also been preparing on the back burner, boiled and then draining and mashing them, then adding the remaining roasting drippings (oh yeah, baby — butter AND turkey) and some heavy cream  and whisking well).

This is one beautiful bosom.  A golden brown, juicy, tender, supple, white tanned breast crusted with crispy skin, dripping with butter, and clothed in leaves of flavor.  I carefully cut all the strings off, and let the meat set for a few moments before slicing.

I carve into my beautiful breast, slicing it thin, reveling in the crackling skin, the sweating juices, and the savory packed herb center.

Dear Tender, meet Juicy.  She’s so supple you can cut her with a glance, and her golden buttery mushroom cape bursts under the most gentle pressure of your feeding fork.  An ethereal potato pillow stages the scene, and the sweetly roasted carrot spears and some quick EVOO-tossed baby romaine (with salt and pepper and nothing but) accessorizes the beauty queen layered insouciantly across the center of the plate.  Sorry, Mr. Knife — you’re not invited to dinner.  Fork and I will do just fine…