Creamed Corn Skillet with Flounder, Beets, Bacon, and Cilantro Oil

DSCN4255I get my inspiration for dinner in all sorts of random ways.  Sometimes just a whiff of something wafting through the air will remind me of a ghost of flavors past.  Sometimes a color engenders a need for the flesh of something similarly hued.  But usually, I trawl food porn websites like Tastespotting or FoodGawker (neither of which has ever accepted any of my photos for their site — a challenge I will continue to try to overcome!) for images that get my juices running.  I also skim the menus for restaurants I can’t afford and try to make what I read there, so that I can enjoy their chef’s imagination without having to pay those prices (sorry peeps, we’re on a *very* tight budget these days).  For this meal, I have The Phantom Gourmet to thank – sort of.  I often have their TV show on local Boston-area restaurants playing in the background while I’m futzing around on Sunday mornings.  Sometimes they have my complete attention, but more often than not I just hear what they’re talking about — and that’s what happened here.  I vaguely overheard something about creamed corn, and something about a skillet — and that’s all I needed.  Creamed corn is one of my favorite side dishes, hailing from my mother-in-law’s down-home redneck kitchen; she’d pick the corn herself from their garden and spent hours and hours creaming it and freezing it in gallon bags to eat throughout the year.  I never went to visit without picking up a few frosty sacks of that golden goodness, but now that we live 2000 miles away I have to make it myself.  And although I LOVE her simple Southern recipe, I have made some adjustments to mine to amp up the deliciousness to Lolita standards.  In this case, a piping hot cast iron skillet blisters a healthy serving of cheesy creamy corn, topped with some flaky pan-seared flounder, chunks of bacon, gemstones of purple beets, and an artful drizzle of bright, herbaceous cilantro oil.  A filling but also light warm winter’s night meal, wholesome and delicious.  I think Rose, my mother in law, were she here in Boston instead of down in rural Georgia, would agree.

Creamed Corn Skillet with Flounder, Beets, Bacon, and Cilantro Oil

1 bag frozen yellow corn
4 slices bacon
2 beets
1 bunch cilantro
3/4 lb flounder filets
1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
1 cup heavy cream
milk
EVOO
4 tbs butter, divided
2″ sprig fresh rosemary
sea salt, cracked black pepper
flour for dusting
juice of 1 lemon

DSCN4238My beets will take the longest, so I get them started by scrubbing them clean.  I’m really only planning to use a few little cubes — I have a vision, y’see? — but cooked beets hold well so I’ll use the leftovers tomorrow in a salad.  (I know I said I hate leftovers, but beets are an exception, since they taste as good cold as warm.)

DSCN4243They get doused in EVOO, salt, and pepper, and paired with my sprig of rosemary, then wrapped tightly in foil paper.  I throw them in the oven on 350 for an hour or so – until they are tender enough to be easily pierced with a fork.  (In all honesty, I was baking cookies in the oven at the same time, and I sort of just let these go until I’d made all 6 batches.  You can’t really overcook a beet.   But I was worried that my cookies would taste like rosemary, since the oven was so redolent with the scent … they didn’t.)  It takes beets a while to cool, so I let them do so on the counter for about 20 minutes, so I could peel them and dice them before setting them aside.

DSCN4240Next, I remove the leaves from a bunch of cilantro and throw them into my blender thingy.  I add about 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), a squeeze of lemon juice, some salt and pepper, and a blend the hell out of it until I have a thick green viscous liquid.

DSCN4241Using my mesh spoon, I strain the green oil from its solids…

DSCN4242… using a spoon to press as much flavor and color out as possible.  I pour the oil into a squeeze bottle.  The rest of the green delish mush can be frozen and used to flavor something needing a pop of cilantro paste later.

DSCN4245Time for the creamed corn.

DSCN4246It all starts with bacon.  I chop my slices up roughly, and fry the bits out with lots of black pepper.

DSCN4247I remove the bacon to a paper plate to drain, then wipe most of grease out – leaving about a teaspoon of fat and as much of the toasted black pepper as possible in the pan as well.

DSCN4250I then set the heat to medium low, add the corn, cream, and grated cheese to the pan and get everything to a low simmer.

DSCN4251As that heats, I prep my flounder.  This huge filet came from Whole Foods today.  I had to trim a bit o’ skin off one edge, but it was a beautiful piece of fish.

DSCN4252As is easiest – and often best – with flounder, I toss it with salt, pepper, and flour…

DSCN4253… and pan-sear it in brown butter over high heat for about 4 minutes on each side.

This last bit went really fast, and I didn’t get to catch the picture.  After my fish is fully cooked, I move the pan off the heat, and place my two 8″ skillets onto two hot burners on my stovetop.  Using my hand blender, I whir a cup of my creamed corn into a thick mush before returning it to its saucepan for a hearty stir.  Then I pour half of the corn into each skillet – which are now hot – bringing the liquid gold to a bursting, bubbling boil.

DSCN4256I layer my planks of tender seared flounder over my thick, rich cheese and corn gravy.  A handful of perfect ruby beet cubes provide cool bites of sweetness, while the unctuous chunks of bacon stud the dish with salt and savor.  Generous squirts of cilantro oil add green to the visual and grass notes to the palate.  The sizzling pans keep the meal hot until the last bite, which Clayton and I scraped up with some crusty buttered bread.  I  need to use these cast iron babies more often, because every time I do, magic like this happens.

Brown Butter Seared Scallops, Lentilles de Puy, Dressed Cress and Scallion Oil

As I sit out on my deck this Sunday afternoon, I feel the coming autumn chill in the air.  Clayton may be in a tank top sitting in a sliver of sun, but here in the shade I actually need a light sweater.  Although I’m sad that my tan will soon fade (leaving me the color, and general muscular consistency, of tapioca pudding), I am looking forward to how the cooler weather opens up my kitchen, allowing me to cook indoors without cooking myself in the ambient heat during the process.  Last night, although muggy, was temperate, so I reaquainted myself with my stovetop.  What better way than to pan-sear some plump, juicy, never-frozen, tender scallops?  Thanks to Marcus at Whole Foods for the recommendation (even if he was talking to someone else – and I was merely eavesdropping), although their sheer size and perfection had already reeled me in.  As I wandered the aisles with my six scallops in tow, I alighted upon the bulk bar, and before I knew it I was loading up on some lovely French lentils.  After throwing a few more items into the basket, I headed home, figuring out the meal I’d make on the way.  I visualized a bed of fragrant, steaming, and toothsome lentilles de Puy topped with perfectly crisp-crusted scallops and drizzled with a verdant, herbaceous oil.  And I’ll be damned if that’s not exactly what I made…

Brown Butter Seared Scallops, Lentilles de Puy, Dressed Cress and Scallion Oil

6 very large fresh sea scallops
3 tbs butter
1lb French lentils
3 slices bacon
1 medium onion
6-10 cloves
1″ peeled fresh ginger
3-4 cloves garlic
1 medium carrot
1 qt chicken broth
zest and juice of 1 lemon
watercress
curly parsley
scallions
1 shallot
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper

Remove the paper husk of the onion, cut it in half, and stud 1 part of it with the cloves.  Mince the other half.

Peel and cut the carrot into 1″ pieces, crush and remove the paper from the garlic, and peel about an inch of fresh ginger root.

Rinse the lentils several times, and pick through them looking for little rocks and stuff, which I’ve never found but I still look for (thinking the one time I don’t look I’ll crack a tooth on something).

Bacon.  I cut these three slices into, like, 4-5 pieces each.

Into my deep saucepan it goes, where I fry it to just crisp.

Add the studded onion carefully to the pan, along with the carrots, minced onion, garlic, and  ginger.

Add the lentils, and stir everything well.

Cover everything with chicken stock, bring to a boil, lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and cover the pot.  It takes about 45 minutes for the liquid to be absorbed, and the lentils to soften (but not mushify).  When their texture is just right, remove from the heat…

… remove the clove studded onion and knob of ginger…

… and stir in the minced shallot, the lemon zest, and some chopped parsley.  Set aside, tilting the lid so some steam can escape, until service.

To make the scallion oil, chop the green onion roughly, then saute it for just a moment in hot EVOO – just long enough for the green color to pop, but not to fry.  Dump into a blender with 1 cup of chopped parsley and the juice from the lemon, then whir until smooth.  Transfer to a small squeeze bottle, and keep warm.

My scallops weren’t cheap…

… but they were amazing.  I should have put something nearby to demonstrate scale; these bad boys are at least an inch thick, and even fatter the way ’round.

I melt 3 tbs of butter to foaming in my small non-stick fry pan, and set my scallops – which I’ve dusted with sea salt and cracked pepper – on the heat, leaving plenty of room between them to breathe.  I leave them undisturbed to sear for 5 minutes, or until I see the opacity of the scallop deepen halfway up its side.

Using tongs, I gently flip each scallop, revealing their caramelized, butter-encrusted faces.  Another 5-7 minutes of searing on the reverse side, and they’re ready for plating.

Fragrant lentil caviar sweetened with carrot and emboldened with bacon; fork-tender sea-sweet scallops browned with butter and encased in crisp; scallion lemon and parsley EVOO dressed watercress and daubs of herbaceous oil.  A perfect marriage of land (pig), earth (beans), and sea (scallops) – all brought together for a fulfilling and delicious dinner on a stormy late summer’s night.

Gnarly Roasted Carrot Studded Osso Bucco

Osso bucco.  Those four syllables are synonymous with “the brightest delights of heaven concentrated on the tongue in a symphony of rich savory flavorful meat and vegetable loveliness” … or something like that.  And when the veal is from the inestimable Cato Corner Farm, in Colchester, CT — a place more known for its cheese than its equally fine pork, veal, and beef selection (thanks to H & W for taking us there after last weekend’s epic pig roast!), and the carrots were grown by my husbandman Farmer Clayton in Concord, MA, then the waxing poetic effect really kicks in with a vengeance.  I’m not sure why veal shanks braised in tomatoes and wine always commands such a massive price on restaurant menus, especially when superlative meat is available for $7.99/lb, like it was at the farmstand — which I why I make the dish at home whenever I can.  The enjoyment to be gleaned from this dish, however, is worth any price: a homestyle, chunky tomato sauce full of fresh farm flavors, draped over tender morsels of sweet meat falling off round smooth bones shot through with rich, delicious marrow.  Traditionally, the meal is served with a saffron-scented risotto and topped with a snappy garlic/parsley gremolata, but I wanted to capture more of a rustic feel, so I stewed the sauce with oregano and sage and served the dish with some beautiful gnarled roasted carrots.  (Clayton has been collecting the ugliest carrots he could find, digging them up all week.)  Hearty, honest, silken, savory and warm; we might not live on the farm, but we sure know how to bring, and use, the best of the farm home with us to the city for dinner night after night.

Gnarly Roasted Carrot Studded Osso Bucco

4 cross cut veal shanks (mine equal about 1 3/4 lbs)
EVOO
several celery stalks
8-10 carrots — the more gnarled, twisted, and mutant, the better!
1 small red onion
1 small white onion
1 head garlic
1 cup red wine
1 qt beef stock
1 large can crushed tomatoes
2-3 sprigs fresh oregano
1 handful fresh sage leaves
1 small loaf french bread
grated parmesan cheese
black pepper, sea salt

This dish starts like many other braised meat recipes: I rinse and dry the yummies, dredge them with flour, salt, and pepper.  I roughly chop my celery, onion, and a couple of my least interesting carrots (read: anything straight enough to have purchased at the supermarket ), then separate, crack, and peel all my cloves of garlic.  A swirl of EVOO goes over medium-high heat in my largest, deep-sided pan.

Searing the meat does several things: it locks in juices and flavor, it caramelizes cut sides of muscle, jump starting the cooking process, and it adds a crusty fond to the pan, which will contribute deliciousness (and thickeningness) to the sauce.

Using tongs, I flip them shanks when the bottom side has developed a healthy brown sear.  The house already smells good.  When both sides are properly encrusted, I remove them from the pan and set ‘em aside for a few moments. I return the pan to the heat and …

… dump in my chopped veggies.  They get stirred around over the heat until they just start to soften.  The smell in the kitchen just intensified to fantastic.

Here’s where I add the wine.  This is just a nice table red; Clayton enjoyed drinking the rest of the bottle with his dinner later.

I splash about a cup into the pan and stir well, scraping up all the nice brown bits of meaty meat clinging to the hot surface.

I coulda shoulda woulda used fresh tomatoes today, but I done forgot to ask Clayton to pick some.  It would have added about an hour to my cook-time, too – and given the hour plus I needed to braise the veal, that would have meant a very late dinner.  So, a can it is; this brand is organic and quite tasty.

We don’t have to get our herbs from the farm, since our little roof-deck garden is still producing sturdy rich oregano and robust sage leaves.  I don’t bother removing these from their stems…

… I just throw them, stems and all, along with my quart of beef stock, into the pan.  After a good stir, encouraging the wine, tomatoes, and stock to get to know each other and submerging my herbs in their luscious liquid, I reduce the heat to simmer, cover, and walk away for an hour — during which time the fantastic aromas emanating from the stove shoot heavenward, ascending all the way to “maddening”.

Now that’s what I call a chorus line.  Look at all them legs!  Clayton’s collection of heirloom ugly carrots are a delightful study in what vegetables really look like.  Not only are they more visually stimulating than the typical, perfectly conical, dully orange Bug Bunny carrots, but they taste richer, more carrot-y, too.  I scrub them very well, using a vegetable brush, and paying close attention to the little bits of stem left.  No – I don’t peel them.  It’s rusticity I want; my carrots don’t need denuding.

These lovelies get laid Walton-family style in a sweet little package of aluminum foil, draped with EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper, and a sprigs’ worth of oregano leaves.  I wrap the package up tightly, being careful not to pierce the foil, then I put this on a baking sheet and throw it into a 350° oven.  They take about 35-40 minutes; just enough time for me to finish off the rest of the meal.

It’s been an hour, and my veal is so tender it has already begun to fall off the bone.  I remove the lid so that the liquid can reduce…

… and so I can melt some butter.  I don’t have a microwave, but I do have stainless steel bowls I can float over already boiling stuff to jerry-rig a quick double-boiler.  What?  It’s efficient! I add about a tablespoon of fresh minced garlic, and mix well.

This gets spread across my split french loaf.  Add some healthy sprinklings of grated parmesan cheese, chuck in the oven for 10 minutes, and I gots me some toasty cheesy garlic bread for sopping.

Didn’t I mention the meat was falling off the bone?  Or perhaps it’s more apt to say that the bones are falling out of the meat.  Either way, it’s ready.

I remove the meat from the sauce to a warmed waiting serving platter.  Using a deep spoon, I transfer the sauce from the pan to a large deep bowl.  Although I could serve it chunky like this, I like a smooth sauce for my Michael Shanks..

I’ve used a variation of this trick to pound peppercorns in my mortar and pestle without scattering them all over the kitchen, and it works for hand-blending, too.  This bowl is too big for a single-width of cling-wrap, so I tightly affix two overlapping sheets to the bowl’s edges, sliding my hand-blender through the open pocket.  Then I happily whirr away, enjoying the sensation of *not* flicking my eyes, face, clothes, and kitchen walls with hot tomato sauce.

See?  All these spatters are *not* all over me.  And I have a perfectly pureed garden tomato sauce!

The last step is to plate my carrots, which are absolutely tender and slightly caramelized when I unwrap them from their foil sleeping bag.

An aromatic hour and a half later, and I have a full platter of richly stewed tender veal shanks with roasted sweet carrots.  The flavors are hearty and wholesome, warming to the core, fulfilling and comfortable.  Clayton summed up my cooking just right the other day; he called it “urban comfort food” – and I couldn’t agree more with him.  My place in the city serves the farm on a plate, and this married-to-a-gentleman-farmer-redneck girl loves it.

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
EVOO
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 Tastespotting.com’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
EVOO
3/4 lb pork sausage
12 oz Guinness beef
brown sugar
butter
flour
salt and pepper
sour cream
milk

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.

See?

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

Spring Game Hens in Lemon and Thyme, with Duck Fat Fried Potato Haystacks and Shitake Cream Puree

Tonight’s Sunday dinner was all the elegance and food-lovin’ warmth I demand for my final weekend meal.  But it was also surprising easy, and surprisingly cheap — frankly, it could qualify as a Weeknight Wondermeal, given it required only a few purchased ingredients, cost less than $25, and took less than an hour to make.  Anyhow, it included the delightful, and heretofore unattended to in Lolita’s kitchen (fulfilling my goal to use a new ingredient or technique each week) variety of poultry known as the petit poulet, or Cornish game hen.  I just recently stumbled upon an historic and if-it’s-not-yet-it-sure-should-be canonical exemplar of food writing (such an inelegant term): Michael Paterniti’s exhilarating description of Francois Mitterand’s last meal on earth, from Esquire Magazine’s 1 May 1998 issue.  READ IT.  You must.  From it I learned of the ortolon, the ultimate culinary delight: an exquisite mouthful of whole fattened, brandied, and roasted miniature songbird – apparently, the richest gastronomic experience Western civilization has to offer.  Although I’ve been eying the starlings that flitter and tweerp in the bushes I walk by each morning (same size, right?), my instinct for self-preservation, and respect for civilized urban behavior, lead me to the next best – and easily accessible – thing: the Cornish game hen.  My idea was simple: a hen (flavorfully roasted), by a haystack (of fried potato straws, made extra special by virtue of a duck-fat sizzle), in an earthy yard (a pillow of mushroom puree), next to field of cover crop (of snappy, peppery EVOO’s alfalfa sprouts).  Winner Winner Sunday Chicken Dinner!

Spring Game Hens in Lemon and Thyme, with Duck Fat Fried Potato Haystacks and Shitake Cream Puree

2 small Cornish game hens (these are slightly under 1lb each)
1 lemon
fresh thyme
1 large shallot
3 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
6-8 oz shitake mushrooms
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
3 large russet potatoes
1 cup duck fat
sea salt
cracked black pepper
fresh alfalfa sprouts

These little babies were free-range, vegetable fed, naturally raised chickadees, and I did love them.  Don’t know if they were male or female (they may be called hens, but in all actuality, some of them are runty roosters), but I stripped them mercilessly of their plastic modesty wrappers, and hosed ‘em down like Rambo at the Hope lock-up.

Even though Cornish game gens are really just little chickens (and not from Cornwall – but originally from Connecticut), their meat under the skin is a wee bit purple, hinting at more-than-just-simple chicken super-richness to come after roasting.  I would like to try squab sometime, too – I gather those cute little baby pigeons are mostly dark meat, too.  I pat them both dry with paper towels…

… shove a wedge of lemon and a few sprigs of thyme up each well-salted and well-peppered cavity…

… then I truss ‘em both up good, fold their wings down under ‘em, douse them with EVOO, and scatter them with sea salt and cracked black pepper.  I then place my dish into a 375 degree oven, and roast for the next hour.

My “yard” was going to be composed of a rich mushroom cream sauce.  I purchased some beautiful shitake mushrooms, and, along with some thyme, shallot, and garlic, I had all the earthiness I needed.

These are just beautiful — meaty, firm-fleshed, and hearty.

I start by sweating my diced shallots and minced garlic in EVOO over medium heat, then I add a few sprigs of thyme before…

… throwing in my mushrooms, a bay leaf, and my chicken stock.  I cover this, and set to simmer until the mushrooms are softened — about 30 minutes.  Right before service, I’m going to remove the stems and bay leaf from the mix, move everything to a deep sided saucepan, then burr it with my hand-blender.  I’ll put it back on medium heat, add my heavy cream, whisk it together once again until it reaches a thick, smooth consistency – almost like a porridge.

But for now, I’ve trimmed my potatoes into rough rectangles, and, using the largest setting on my mandoline, I slice them into thick sheets…

… then I cut them into thin strips.  I float these in water, until everything is cut, and then I rinse everything in cold water before…

… I spread them out on paper towels and pat them dry as much as possible.

I roasted a duck a few weeks ago (and it was good), and I  preserved the rendered fat which, I admit, has been burning a hole in my fridge (to co-opt the phrase).  I thought the duck fat would add the je ne sais quoi my fries needed to elevate them above the norm.  I heat the fat to very high — almost smoking — before I slide my spuds into the sizzling bath…

Bubble bubble toil and quack – my spud spears sizzle spectacularly in their searing hot-tub of duck fat.  I cook each batch until crispy, lift them with a mesh screen to drain, then toss them with sea salt and set on paper towels until they’re all fried up.

I trim (almost all) the butcher’s string from my bird, and let it rest for a few moments before moving it to my plate which is layered with the piping hot, creamy mushroom base.  I loosely haystack my fries alongside, and create a nest of alfalfa sprouts dressed with EVOO, sea salt, and a lemon wedge.  Using a deep tablespoon, I drizzle some of the hen drippings over my bird right before I set her in front of Clayton’s ravenous visage, as he’s poised with fork and knife, his napkin tucked into place, and his mouth open and salivating.  Fork and knife? Totally unnecessary!  With a wee twist of forefinger and thumb, each leg slides out of its boney sheath, the quivering, juicy fowl flesh steaming and scented of lemon and thyme.  The skin is crispy and delicious, and each forkful/fingerful is slathered with yummy earthy mushroom umame, the crispy duck-fried French fries are redolent of the bird’s rich interior, and the peppery bursting cold green of the alfalfa sprouts adds just the right snap and sinew to the total texture of the plate.  It’s not an ortolon, but each bite of this succulent bird reminds me that smaller IS better.  At 4’10” tall, such reassurances are always welcome – just like this dinner.

 

Spring Game Hens in Lemon and Thyme, with Duck Fat Fried Potato Haystacks and Shitake Cream Puree

Rico Suave Osso Buco with Garlic Pommes Anna

Another cold day in Boston, and another snowstorm, too — this one bringing the euphemistically named “wintery mix”, which just means interlined layers of fluffy snow and slickery slush.  So we headed out to Whole Foods early in the day and tried to purchase whatever we’d need to feed ourselves for the whole weekend.  Maintaining my pledge to showcase some new technique each week, I focused my attention on side dishes.  Pommes Anna is a potato dish, not unlike a gratin, but with butter instead of bechamel or cheese in between paper thin layers of starchy yumminess.  The recipe is simple; it’s the execution that is time consuming.  But it is an elegant and delightful way to serve your spuds, and one which – once you master – you’ll crave like crack.  On the main dish hand, Clayton and I wanted something hearty and rich, and we wanted to fill the house with the aroma of slowly and lovingly cooked meat.  Whole Foods had some lovely osso buco cut veal shanks, and so… the idea for dinner was born.

Rico Suave Osso Buco and Garlic Pommes Anna

2 medium sized (about .75-1lb each) cross-cut veal shanks (a.k.a. ossobuco)
flour
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
EVOO
2 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, peeled and finely chopped
2 medium shallots, peeled and finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 tbs rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 tbs fresh oregano
1 cup nice red wine
1 can whole tomatoes in juice (mine are San Marzano – ‘cuz John Stage said they were the best, and he would know)
2 medium-large yukon gold potatoes
1/2 stick butter, melted
2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 bunch flat parsley
3 tbs minced garlic
the zest of one lemon
green onions, lemon wedge (for garnish)

Look at these beautiful calves wrapped around these sturdy tibias; their marble-lines look almost like they were etched into the muscle by ancient Egyptian calligraphers.

I wash them, pay them dry very well, then sprinkle them with sea salt and cracked black pepper before dredging them thoroughly in flour.  I add them to a large pan set over medium high heat and sizzling with hot EVOO.

I love bone marrow — with a passion not unlike an addiction.  Osso Buco is one of those dishes where bone marrow makes an especial appearance, and it plays an important role in the pan well before it meets the palate.  To wit: see how the white tube of marrow at the core of this leg-bone has begun to, well… bleed?  As my shank browns nicely on one side, the heat is transfered through the meat, but it passes more quickly through the light whipped texture of this tissue – providing the observant cook with a nice hint regarding flipping time.

Perfect: my shanks are just caramelizing and crisping, so I turn ‘em and brown ‘em…

… on all sides.

Once thoroughly browned, I remove my shanks from the pan and set them aside, then dump my finely chopped celery, carrots, shallots, and garlic to my pan, along with another glug or two of EVOO to coat.  I stir well, making sure not to brown, only to sauté until just softened.

I then add my herbs and spices, as well as some sea salt and black pepper.

After a few moments, I add about a cup of red wine (we had a nice sangiovese Clayton was planning to enjoy with the meal anyway) to deglaze the pan.  I reduce for about 4 minutes on medium high.

Enter the “rico” part of tonight’s sauce: rich, sweet, complex tomatoes.  I love this brand — they are hands down better than the awful tomatoes available in the market these days: bland, chalky, watery, boring.  The citric acids will help soften the sinews of my normally tough cut of veal, breaking down and absorbing all the savory the meat-flavored fats.

I add my ossobuco back to the pan, then add enough beef stock to bring the liquid level up to cover at least 3/4 of the meat.  I cover, set on low, then walk away for an hour and a half.  I spend the first half of that time drawing smiley faces in my windows as they fog up with delicious veal shank steam.

For the second 45 minutes or so, I prepare my potatoes for my Pommes Anna.  I set up a large catch bowl with salted cold water, then hook my cheapo mandoline to the rim.  I’ve washed and peeled my potatoes, and these I run along my blade, slicing them at the thinnest possible setting.  I’ve recently purchased a cutting glove; which makes this task so much less dangerous.

See how thin?  Lovely.

All you need for Pommes Anna is butter (most recipes call for clarified butter; I needs me some cheesecloth, so…), salt, and pepper.  The classical technique calls for cast iron, which I don’t have, so I’m using these small ceramic ramekin instead.  Also, varying from the classical technique, I’m making individual spud stacks, instead of one large pancake to be shared by the table.  Finally, I’m adding thinly sliced fresh garlic – sliced on the same setting on my mandoline as the potatoes themselves – in between some of my layers to kick up the flavor.  I start my brushing down each ramekin with melted butter, and studding them with a sprinkling of sea salt and cracked pepper.

My potato slices are so thin, you can barely see them in this picture, but I’ve layered four spud sheets, fanning them out to cover the whole surface of the bowl, dropped two garlic flakes over them, then sprinkled with more salt and pepper before dotting everything again with melted butter.  I do this, over and over and over again (only adding garlic intermittently)…


… until I’ve filled my ramekins to their brims.  I set these babies into my oven, which has been preheated to 400°.  These need to bake for at least 2o minutes.

Meanwhile, I prepare my gremolata, the traditional condiment for an osso buco — a fresh, zesty, snappy relish made from minced garlic, chopped parsley leaves, and lemon zest.

I add a few glugs of EVOO, some sea salt and pepper, give it all a good mixing, and it’s good to go.

It’s been almost 2 hours now, and my veal shanks are so tender they are absolutely falling apart.  I fish them out of the pan, trying to hold them together (if I’d had kitchen twine, I would have tied them), and set them aside while I finish my “rico suave” gravy.

I transfer the tomatoes, soft veggies, and cooked spices (everything but the bay leaf) to a high-sided Pyrex, with a large enough neck to accommodate my hand blender.  I whir the contents of the glass on high, pureeing all those lovely flavors together into a fluffy, yummy base.

See how my potatoes have crisped and browned?  Oh yeah!  I very carefully slip these babies out of the ramekins, before flipping them right-side up again on my plate.  A dollop of sour cream and some shredded scallions round out the presentation.

My gently braised veal falls apart with barely a sharp glance, and the zesty fresh gremolata offsets its richness, complimenting the vegetable thick tomato gravy puree.  A silky tender flaky cloud of buttery and snappy garlicky potato adds just the right amount of starch to soak up all the perfect flavors present on my plate.  This is beautiful, inviting, fragrant, and heartwarming — a classy culinary cap after a desolate and dreary winter day.

Rico Suave Osso Buco With Garlic Pommes Anna