Potato Wrapped Cod with Bacony Garlicky Greens

2014-01-03 19.36.09Happy New Year, my dear blog friends!  I hope you and yours have had a healthy and happy holiday, and that you’ve eaten as well as I have since the last time I checked in.  It’s been a whirlwind couple of months for me – filled with friends and frolic – but I’ve missed sharing with you what Lolita has been making and eating.  I’ll start back again today with an elegant, delicious meal I’ve tried a few times before with limited success.  It’s the technique really; I’d never effectively executed the pan-searing of this lovely piece of scallop-potato wrapped whitefish before, at least, not without the potato slices falling off whenever I tried to flip the fillet.  But I’m not one to give up, especially on a succulent meal, and after doing a little research online about how others have made this lovely spud-swaddled delicacy successfully, I tried it again with incredible results.  A crispy wrapping of thinly sliced potatoes is *exactly* what a plank of cod needs to make it something extra-special, and when served atop a bed of bacony garlic greens, it makes a perfect meal: balanced, light, and helluva tasty, yo.

2014-01-03 15.35.21

Potato Wrapped Cod with Bacony Garlicky Greens

1lb cod fillet
2 slices bacon
1 large russet potato
4 cloves garlic
1 bunch lacinato kale
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons EVOO
hickory smoked garlic salt, crushed black pepper, crushed red pepper
freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 qt frying oil
(Ignore those mushrooms and that onion; I didn’t end up using them)

2014-01-03 15.39.10I start by peeling my potato, removing as many surface blemishes as possible.

2014-01-03 15.55.19Using my mandoline’s lowest setting, I slice my potato into the longest wafers I can.  I drop these into a bowl of water to keep them from turning color.

2014-01-03 15.58.20I layer the slices of potato between sheets of paper towel to dry them once I’m finished slicing up the whole spud.

2014-01-03 16.03.02After heating my quart of oil to 375, I drop a few slices of potato into the fat at a time, par-frying them for barely a moment.

2014-01-03 16.04.23Fishing them out with a slotted or mesh spoon, I lay them in a single layer across some fresh paper towels (with a paper bag underneath for extra absorption) to soak up all the excess oil.  This par-frying technique softens the slices by leeching off a good deal of the starch; this makes them easier to wrap around the fish.

2014-01-03 16.18.58Speaking of which: look at that beautiful thing.  I asked the fishmonger at Whole Foods for this mostly uniform sized and shaped plank of cod, so I could cut it into two equally sized pieces – one for me, and one for the husbandman.

2014-01-03 16.20.23Some dear friends of mine (Hey, Montana Palmers!) sent me a lovely care packages of their homemade spices as a Christmas present, and I’ve been working them all into my recipes ever since they arrived.  This hickory smoked garlic salt was just the fit for this meal.  I sprinkle it, and some cracked black pepper, generously over my fish.

2014-01-03 16.23.09After laying down a large piece of plastic wrap, I assemble my slices of potatoes by overlapping them at the very edges and ends to form a “sheet” large enough to accommodate my plank of fish.  It takes 8 slices for each piece.

2014-01-03 16.27.17I place my piece of fish on the center seam of spuds…

2014-01-03 16.27.43… and using the plastic wrap, I wrap one half of the spuds over the fish.  I lay that part of the plastic wrap on the counter again…

2014-01-03 16.28.10… before using the other side of the wrap to lift and layer the other side of the spuds over the fish, overlapping the potato slices already in place.

2014-01-03 16.28.46Then I tightly seal the plastic wrap around the whole package, before repeating with the other portion of fish.  I place these beauties in the refrigerator to chill for about an hour.

2014-01-03 17.52.51Meanwhile, I cut my two slices of bacon into inch long pieces before frying them out in a large pan.

2014-01-03 19.05.27I also prep my kale by removing the stems and cutting each leaf into bite sized pieces.  I also mince my 4 cloves of garlic.

2014-01-03 19.08.19After an hour, my potato slices have adhered to the fish planks nicely, and they’re ready for cooking.  I sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of each “package”…

2014-01-03 19.24.45… and place them in a hot pan in which I’ve heated my butter and EVOO to frothy and sizzling.  I cook these arroser, which means I use a deep spoon (I use a miso soup spoon, actually; the flat bottom is very helpful!) to scoop up the fat from the pan and baste the tops of my fish packets while the bottoms sear on the pan’s surface.  Since I have thick pieces of fresh cod, and I want to make sure any worms are safely destroyed (look it up, people – there are Lernaeocera branchialis in most fresh white fish, but cooking to 140° kills ‘em good), I sear on each side – basting continuously – for about 5 minutes.

2014-01-03 19.26.38Meanwhile, I add my kale to the pan with the bacon and cook until slightly wilted.  Then I throw in all my garlic, a few shakes of crushed red pepper, and some salt, and I stir it around really really well.  I don’t want the garlic to burn or brown, but I do want it nicely heated through and thoroughly blended with the greens.

2014-01-03 19.28.42At the last moment, I remove the kale from the heat, shave some parm on it, and plate it.

2014-01-03 19.29.18My fish is ready when each side of it is nicely browned and crispy.

2014-01-03 19.35.47I mix a little Greek yogurt with crushed black pepper and a little lemon juice, stick that into a squeeze bottle, and use it to garnish my lovely fish.  The crispy, potato exterior is the perfect compliment to the flaky fish ensconced within.  The greens are perfectly wilted – still a little toothsome, but not stringy – and the abundance of garlic offsets the unctiousness of the bacon like a champ.  Each bite of this meal is like warm heaven…

Crispy Fried Pork Chops, Sweet Potatoes, Dark and Creamy Umame Gravy

DSCN4332I have been obsessed with frying things ever since I read SeriousEats.com’s tutorial on Korean Fried Chicken.  The technique they describe worked with chicken wings perfectly, so I wondered if I could do the same thing with other fryables.  It worked very nicely with shrimp – creating something of a tempura-type crackling coating – but how about something really substantial?  I mean, chicken wings are pretty small, and shrimp only get so big, too (to wit, at 4’10” am I perpetually addressed as ‘shrimp’ or ‘shortie’, neither of which makes me particularly happy).  How’s about a meaty pork chop?  My days in the south exposed me to the wonders of a perfectly fried chop, coated with a buttermilk batter and pan fried, served usually with a white gravy and some collards.  I decided to work up my own version of a fried pork chop, using a simple flour/vodka slurry as the breading, some sweet potatoes and mushrooms as the complements, and my favorite soy sauce cream gravy (click here to see a variation on the theme).  The results were fantastic!

Crispy Fried Pork Chops, Sweet Potatoes, Dark and Creamy Umame Gravy

2 thick, center-cut pork chops
3/4 cups corn starch
1 tsp baking powder
black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup gin or vodka
vegetable oil for frying
EVOO
8-10 button mushrooms
2 medium sweet potatoes
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream
snipped scallions/chives for garnish

DSCN4305I love pork chops, especially when they look like little T-bone steaks, like these.  This cut includes both a little of the tenderloin as well as the regular rib meat, which provides some textural variety on the plate.

DSCN4307I start by mixing my cornstarch, baking powder, and some spices in a large ziplock bag.

DSCN4308In go my chops, and I shake the bag vigorously to coat them with the cornstarch mixture.

DSCN4310I place the chops uncovered in my fridge on a rack so they can dry out a bit — about 30 minutes.

DSCN4311Meanwhile, I remove the stems from my mushrooms, reserving them to use later.

DSCN4312I get 2 tbs of butter and a glug of EVOO nice and hot in my large fry-pan…

DSCN4314… and I layer my mushrooms in the hot fat, sprinkling them with a little salt and pepper.

DSCN4315I make sure they cook fully on top…

DSCN4317… and on bottom.

DSCN4319While these are simmering, I pull out my chops, on which the cornstarch/baking powder has gummed up a bit – just the way I want it.

DSCN4321In a large bowl, I’ve whisked my flour, water, and gin together to make a very thin batter.

DSCN4323Holding the chops with tongs by clipping it on the T-bone allows for me to dunk all the meaty bits into the slurry to thoroughly coat each piece.

DSCN4323aI add enough vegetable oil to a deep-sided pan to just cover the chops, and I bring this to a medium high temperature – about 350°F.  Of course, I don’t have a thermometer to help me gauge this, so I just drip a little flour batter into the pan periodically until the drop immediately sizzles and starts to brown upon hitting the surface of the oil.  It’s ready for my chops at that point.

DSCN4325I slide both chops carefully into the oil, making sure not to splatter myself like I usually do.  (Thank God for OxyClean, or just about all my clothes would have constellations of oil drips on them.)  Since these chops are thick, I let them fry for about 10 minutes on each side.

DSCN4329While this happens, I add my soy sauce and heavy cream to the mushrooms in the pan, which I bring to simmer on low heat, stirring regularly so the flavors can blend.

DSCN4325aWhen the chops are a nice golden brown on the bottom, it’s time to flip them carefully to the other side. Another 10 minutes or so will do it.

DSCN4326I’ve been baking my sweet potatoes all along, by the way.  After an hour on 350°, I can easily squeeze them with my oven-mitted fingers, so I pull them out…

DSCN4328… remove their bright orange insides to a bowl, where I mash them with my remaining butter.

DSCN4331These savory pork chops have a cracking, super-crunchy, egg-shell thin coating are super-tender and juicy.  The simple sweet mash is offset by a rich, dark, silky and fragrant soy cream gravy, and each button of mushroom bursts with flavor on the tongue.  Not only is this a very easy recipe, but it presents itself elegantly on the plate, and can satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.  Now, what else can I fry?

Steak Tips, Savory Mushroom Sauce, Cheddar Mashed, Arugula Salad

After many helpings of leftover Thanksgiving turkey, it was high time for Lolita to feed her inner barbarian by diving into a steaming hot plate of RED MEAT.  Steak, baby — that’s what I wanted.  The husbandman suggested “beef tips and gravy over rice,” reminiscing as he was about similar meals made in his childhood redneck home, but if you read my blog often enough you know I’m not really a rice fan.  Risotto?  Sure!  Sticky rice?  Certainly!  Chicken and rice?  OK!  But rice rice, ala Uncle Ben’s or Minute or some such derivation I just don’t ever feel a hankering for.  Perhaps it’s because my childhood Puerto Rican home saw rice and beans on every lunch and dinner plate throughout my *entire* youth, and I just got plumb sick of it.  In particular, “rice and gravy” just sounds bland, boring, and blech to me – even more so now that some big-time soup comany has been advertising what a “great meal” spilling a hot can of their Vegetable Beef soup over rice can be for the “working mother”.  The commercial, which is supposed to draw me in and make me crave this fare, frankly turns me off – for various food-snob reasons I best keep to myself.  So I compromised and suggested beef tips in gravy over mashed potatoes.  Since no food would be made or consumed in our household if I didn’t make it, he was rather compelled to agree – if he wanted to eat, that is.  And eat we did: perfectly tender morsels of medium-rare sirloin bathed in rich beef gravy studded with button mushrooms and cippolini onions, served over steaming cheddar-enriched mashed potatoes, accompanied by a fresh and nutty arugula salad.

Steak Tips, Savory Mushroom Sauce, Cheddar Mashed, Arugula Salad

3/4lb sirloin tips
10oz button mushrooms
3 cloves garlic
5-6 cippolini onions
1 quart beef broth
1 lb yellow potatoes
2 tbs butter
1 heaping tablespoon flour
3 cups turkey/chicken stock
4oz sour cream
4oz cheddar cheese
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper
arugula
1 lemon
1 medium tomato
parmigiano reggiano cheese, for shaving

The potatoes will take a while to boil down, as will the gravy which will be reduced almost entirely from my quart of beef stock, so I start by washing and roughly cutting my potatoes and peeling and smashing my garlic.

The garlic gets minced, the onions peeled, and the mushrooms scrubbed.  I also cut the largest mushrooms in half, but keep the smaller ones whole.  I love whole mushrooms.

First, I bring my chicken stock (leftover from Thanksgiving) to a boil – adding enough water to raise the volume enough to cover my spuds, which I throw in and cook until they can be easily pierced with a fork — about 20 minutes.

In a large non-stick frying pan, I soften my garlic in some EVOO for a moment before adding the onions and mushrooms…

… along with about 1/2 of the beef stock.  I set this over high heat and stir often, until reduced by half, before I add the rest of the stock and do the same.  I’m trying to concentrate the flavors by removing as much water from the stock as possible, and the longer steaming time required to reduce this by halves will help the mushrooms absorb all that flavor until they’re completely cooked through.  The onions will soften nicely as well.  This takes about 20 minutes total.

Now that the glorious flavors are rich and deep, I want to thicken my sauce.  First thing I do, though, is remove most of the garlic by fishing it out with a strainer.  Why?  Because, I admit I think I added too much garlic, since the redolence of it wafting through my kitchen was so strong, so I removed the solids in the hopes this would add balance.  It did.  Anyway, to thicken, I needed something akin to a roux; this is how I do it when I’ve already got a hot liquid on the stovetop.  In a very small bowl, I add my flour and 1 tablespoon of butter…

… and using a deep spoon (I keep those plastic Japanese soup spoons in the kitchen for this reason), I fish out some of my boiling hot gravy and add it to the bowl with the flour and butter.

The heat from the gravy melts the butter, and using a fork I mix the contents of the bowl into a smooth slurry…

… before adding it to the rest of the gravy in the pan and mixing well.  This stays bubbling over high heat, which will thicken the sauce.

There was an unfortunate vein of cartilage (OK, I know I’m mixing my anatomical metaphors there, but you know what I mean) through part of one of these sirloin strips, but otherwise they were things of beauty.  I cut them into cubes and season them with salt and pepper before…

… throwing them into a very hot non-stick pan and searing them fully on each edge.

It only takes about 5 minutes to cook these tidbits, which I then add to the mushroom gravy for a couple minutes (not enough time to remove all the pink on the inside, but long enough to allow them to soak up some of the sauce.

Meanwhile, I make the husbandman mash the potatoes (perhaps an indelicate thing to do, considering he wanted rice, but he manned up).  After draining all the water/stock, he adds enough sour cream and butter to make the potatoes creamy, then shreds the cheddar cheese into the mix.  And that’s it; mashed potatoes are so elegantly easy to make.

A side salad to accompany this meal is definitely in order, but I don’t want to go overboard.  Arugula has just the right tang for savory steak, and brightening it with a squeeze of lemon, some fresh sliced red tomato, and some slivered onions is almost all it needs.  But the added bonus of some shaved parmigiano reggiano cheese, to add salt and nuttiness, brings it over the top.

I remember going to Golden Corral as a kid and thinking their all-you-can-eat salad bar and “made to order” steaks were the highest of culinary delight.  My favorite dish was always the steak tips in mushroom gravy, which were delivered to the table from the kitchen in these cool little cast-iron skillets.  I thought it was comfort food at its best.  Ah, youth!  My mother-in-law still enjoys her Golden Corral, so I daresay she’d enjoy this homage to those youthful pleasures, and I hope she’d appreciate the difference between their mass-produced stuff and my homemade version.  My bites of sirloin are crusty-seared without and shot through with pink within, and the mushrooms burst on the tongue with rich beef, garlic, and onion flavor.  The smooth gravy absolutely demands to be sopped up by the cheesy potatoes, and the fresh green salad offsets all the richness just right.  This isn’t a Weeknight Wondermeal because it calls for a decent amount of ingredients, but on the whole it’s a pretty simple dinner to assemble – and it can be pretty cheap.  After days and days of leftover white meat, this is exactly the red meat I needed to put Thanksgiving away until next year.

Slow Braised Lamb Leg with Goat Cheese Mashed Potato

After a miserably hot summer, August has proven to be quite mild this year – the other day dropping to the low 60’s.  Needless to say, I complained about the chill, which gave me a head  cold and has laid me up with the sniffles and whines.  But the cooler weather does mean I can use the kitchen more, whereas a few weeks ago even boiling water increased the ambient temperature in the apartment from unbearable to murderous.  It also means I hanker for more substantive meals – like tonight’s braised lamb leg and chevre infused mashed potatoes.  Hearty and stick-to-your-ribs, this rich, glorious, tender mutton was ideally paired with fluffy potatoes flavored with goat-cheesy gameyness, all topped with cooling cucumber tzatziki.  Even if my cold has gotten worse, the ingestion of such delicious stuff did make me feel better…

Slow Braised Lamb Leg with Goat Cheese Mashed Potato

2lb boneless leg of lamb
1 small onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic
2-3 cups small tomatoes
2 tbs fresh oregano leaves
chicken broth
EVOO
1-1 1/2lbs white potatoes
1/2 cup half & half
4 oz goat cheese
3 tbs butter
8 oz Greek yogurt
1 medium cucumber
1-2 tbs lemon zest
sea salt, cracked black pepper
2 tbs chopped chives

Usually, I make a larger piece of lamb so Clayton and I can make sandwiches with the leftovers, but today I just purchased what looked more like a 3″ thick steak than anything else.  It was rolled and tied, which I ultimately could have removed (since, as you’ll see, it unraveled on its own accord later), but for now I just dusted the whole hunk with salt, pepper, and flour before dropping it into my medium roasting pan with a glug of EVOO heated to high.

I sear each side, including the 3″ wide edges, until the meat is a nice golden brown.

These are some of our little tomatoes, grown on our wee roof-deck.  We’re calling them compost tomatoes, since they sprang unbidden from the compost-mixed-dirt Clayton filled the boxes with before actually planting any seedlings.  They’re delicious — very sweet and complex — although their skins are very thick and a bit tough.  Still – we keep getting scads of these, so I decided to use most of them to make a sort of tomato sauce for the lamb.

After the mutton joint is browned all over, I add most of my chopped onion (reserving about 3 tbs for my yogurt sauce), my oregano leaves, 2 crushed cloves of garlic, and my de-stemmed tomatoes to the pan.

Using the veggies as a sort of rack, I lay my lamb across them and add about an inch of chicken broth the the pan.

Even though it’s cool enough to use the oven, I decide to throw the pan, covered with foil, out into Little Red on the deck anyway.  I shut the lid, and let this braise for about an hour before checking on it.

Meanwhile, I remove the skin and seeds from my cucumber, trying to drain out as much liquid as possible.  Tzatziki shouldn’t be too wet, so I sometimes even salt the cucumber and let it drain some more if I fear it will leech too much into the yogurt.  I also mince some garlic very finely; I’ll only need a 1/4 teaspoon or so, since raw garlic is so very potent.

I mix the remainder of my onion, my chopped cucumber, and my garlic with some salt and pepper before adding my yogurt.

The final ingredient is lemon zest – which gives this sauce a bright flavor.  I put the bowl in the fridge to chill while the rest of dinner comes together.

At the hour mark, my meat is already tender, and I can almost pull it apart with two forks.  As you can see, it also wiggled its way out of the butcher’s net – so I fish that out of the pan and chuck it in the trash.  At this point, I remove the foil paper and close the lid on Little Red again, so that the meat can brown some more and most of the remaining chicken stock can boil off.

Clayton was in charge of the potatoes today, and he got them started before I could snap any pictures.  Luckily, I caught him in the act and snapped this little, relatively uninformative candid.  But basically, we peeled the potatoes, cut them into smaller pieces, and boiled them until tender in salted water.  Then he he added the half & half, butter, and goat cheese to the pan, and mashed everything up together real nice. A little salt and pepper was added, too.

After about 30 more minutes on Little Red, and the meat has nicely browned.  I remove it from the pan…

… which I put on high heat on the stovetop to reduce even further, stirring well to blend all the ingredients together.  This makes the tomatoes spill their guts into the hot oil and chicken fat, thickening the sauce to a red gravy.

The meat falls apart with nary a nasty look, and I add the chunks back into the pan and mix it well with the lovely tomato sauce, until everything is well coated.

A hearty helping of chevre mashed potatoes is layered with tender, juicy, flavorful lamb, the gameyness of which is cut by a perfect balance of tomato and creamy cucumber tzatziki.  I drizzle a little of the red oil leftover in the pan over the whole dish, and scatter some fresh chives for color and zip.  My heart is warmed through by the incredible taste, and my aching body thanks me for providing it with such sublime enrichment.  If I have more dishes like these on my winter horizon, I won’t mind it when the cold weather finally comes.

One final parting shot for my dear readers: the breathtaking Cambridge sky.  If only my camera could really capture all the magnificent beauty.  Dearest Uprooted Magnolia, where are you and your camera-eye when I need you?

Tenderloin Steaks over Truffled Potato Puree with Veronica Romanesco Mornay and Greens

Steak.  Potatoes. Cauliflower.  Three basic ingredients – but tonight’s purchases are superlative ingredients: super fresh, totally unmitigated by pesticides or hormones, and completely locally sourced.  Melt-in-your-mouth fresh filet mignons, simply spiced and pan-seared, over silky truffled potato puree with buttery Veronica mornay, snappy greens two ways, and a rich demi-glace.  Simply delectable.

Our day started early on the Concord Farm.  The sun rose over just-still-green, autumn-crop filled fields, where flocks of geese pecked through the brush looking for their breakfast.

After stocking the farm stand with fresh picked veggies, I zoomed in on these fascinating and beautiful veronica romanesco cauliflower.   Geometry never looked so delicious.

After we finished at the farm stand, Clayton and I headed northwest, driving about 20 miles to the very wealthy country town of West Groton, where the provocatively named Blood Farm has been doing business for over 100 years. One wonders which came first: the family name, or the family business: butchery.

A lovely farm on one side…

… and an unassuming side building…

… inside of which bustle workers in white coats busily butchering beef, pork, lamb, goat, and veal into every cut imaginable.

They have several freezers laden with their wares, but if you don’t want frozen you can get anything cut fresh that you want.  Anything.  The place is kind of a disorganized mess, with very little logical business flow.  The white-coated lady in front of my smiling husband is weighing that dude’s meat cuts – stuff he’d pulled out of the freezer.  She writes the weights on a slip of paper, then walks around to a tiny office, pushing through the people fishing through the freezers, where there is a calculator, and she adds up the total.  No register.  No counter. The place looks more like a storeroom where regular folks really don’t belong than a storefront – but man o’ man are the prices amazing.  More on that later — let’s get to the recipe.

Tenderloin Steaks over Truffled Potato Puree with Veronica Romanesque Alfredo and Greens

2 8oz tenderloin steaks (filet mignon cut)
2 russet potatoes
2 small veronica romanesco heads of cauliflower (these are about 6oz each)
2 large shitake mushrooms
1 bunch watercress several leaves of kale
EVOO
black truffle oil
1 stick butter
1 cup 1/2 & 1/2
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
sea salt, black pepper
1/2 cup concentrated beef stock
1/2 tsp flour

I met a young mathematician the other day; I’d love to serve her these.  We don’t see naturally occurring fractals often — unless we look at frost formations regularly — but these members of the Brassica oleracea species give us the opportunity to EAT MATH.  I mean, look at them!  Technically, all broccolis and cauliflowers are fractals, but these are so regularly shaped in such reducing dimensions…

 … see what I mean?  This little nub is about 1/20th the size of the head, but it is truly an exact replica of the whole, as is each of its nipples, and its nipples nipples. Fascinating.  I trim the outer leaves away from the base, and cut as much of the stem off as I can so that each head will sit upright, but flat.

Then, since I’m steaming these, I cut a cylindrical core out of each head, too — thinking that might help the steam permeate the whole thing more evenly.  I dunno — maybe it was unnecessary, but it did ultimately steam perfectly.  But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

 I set my heads into my bamboo steamer, and get it going.  15 minutes into steaming, I add my two mushrooms to the rack, then cover and steam for another 15 minutes – until the cauliflower is tender.

These steaks are easily an inch thick, and together they weigh in at a little more than a pound.  At an amazing $16.09/lb, and freshly cut from the beast just hours earlier, this may be the best steak I’ve ever purchased.

But the proof will be in the final product, and I don’t want to adulterate my meat with anything too strong, so I very simply salt and pepper the steaks before putting them on my hot non-stick skillet to sear.

For pan-seared steaks, I prefer the flip-once-a-minute technique – as those of you who read my blog know from previous posts (like this and this and this).  For steaks this thick, I lower the heat to medium high, so that they’ll cook more slowly, but still thoroughly, holding in the juices as they redistribute each time I flip the meat.

I watch the progress of the heat by keeping an eye on the cut edge; the redness through the middle thins towards the center as the cooking cooks closer to well.  But we like it medium rare – so I flip these babies about 10 times total (that’s about 5 minutes on each side), until they’ve surrendered the upper and lower outer thirds of their pink.

Using tongs, I sear the remaining cut sides of my two perfect pieces of beef.  Another 3 or 4 minutes total, then I remove them from the pan, tent them with foil, and let them rest.

I neglected to take pictures of me peeling, chopping, boiling in salted water, draining and mashing my potatoes, or mixing that mash with black truffle oil for savor.  I also neglected to take pictures of me roasting off a few kale chips, and adding some concentrated beef stock and some softened butter mashed with flour to the steak pan to make a rich beef sauce. Oh, and I neglected to take pictures of adding some more softened butter mashed with flour to my small skillet, adding half and half, and simmering with parmesan cheese to make a mornay sauce for the cauliflower.  Sorry. I was hungry.

What I didn’t neglect, dear reader, was to dive into this amazing platter of New England’s best farm fresh beef and produce with gusto and abandon.  Using our daintiest knives, we easily shave tender slivers of steak off our loins, sandwiching them between bi-layers of umame flavor – the shitake from above, and the truffled mash below.  Each wee cone of cauliflower bursts with nutty vegetal flavor, and the blanket of salty creamed cheese sauce is the perfect compliment.  A rich, glassy puddle of savory silken beef gravy, some snappy fresh cress and crispy roasted kale add the finishing touches.  The steak is so juicy, so meaty, so fresh and delicious – I’m convinced.  It IS the best steak I’ve ever purchased, and the best steak I’ve ever eaten.  Blood Farm – you’ve made a believer out of me.  See you soon!

Swedish Meatballs, Brussels Sprouts, and Pearl Onions: A Study in Spheres

Ahhhh… meatballs.  Who doesn’t love a wee round wad of savory chopped steak?  Well – vegetarians and vegans, I suppose.  But if you’re an omnivore like me, then perhaps you too enjoy mouthfuls of meat bathed in silky brown creamy gravy.  If so, then this is the meal for you: meat and potatoes, fancified.  I was inspired by this picture, which is arguably more elegant and sophisticated and professional than mine, but I dare say my dinner was at least just as delicious.  I also added pearl onions – simply boiled, to release their natural sweetness – and some roasted brussels sprouts, which browned a little more than I wanted, but were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.  Wonderballs of pork, lamb, and veal, browned in butter, simmered in sauce, served with a coda of smooth whipped potatoes, a sprinkling of garden chives, and playing marbles with buds of brussels and teardrops of onions: a spherical, magical, delectable supper.

Swedish Meatballs, Brussels Sprouts, and Pearl Onions

4 medium/small yukon gold potatoes (about 1 lb)
6 pearl boiling onions
12 small brussels sprouts
1/2lb each ground lamb, ground veal, and ground pork
1 medium yellow onion
3 cloves garlic
1 egg
2 slices white bread
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground white pepper
8 oz half & half – divided
flour
2 cups concentrated beef stock
sour cream (about 4 oz)
1/2 stick butter – divided
EVOO
sea salt and cracked black pepper

I start by boiling my spuds in salted water in a large saucepan, and my onions in salted water in a small saucepan – both set on my back burners.  The onions need about 20 minutes; the potatoes more like 40 – or until they are very easily pierced with a fork.

I dice my white onion and mince my garlic, before sweating them in 1 tbs of melted butter in my largest frying pan.  I season them with salt and pepper, and cook them over medium heat until fragrant and just translucent throughout.  I remove this from the heat, and allow to cool.

I roughly tear up my slices of white bread and toss them into a large bowl with my cracked egg, half of my half & half, my nutmeg, and some salt and pepper.

I blend this well, letting the bread fall apart in the milk and making sure the egg is fully mixed in.

With light, picking fingers, I gently pull apart my lamb, veal, and pork, dropping the bits into the bowl.  I add my caraway and fennel seeds…

… then I add my cooled down onion/garlic mix…

… then, using my hands and the lightest touch possible (the more I handle the meat, the more grainy it will become), I blend all the contents of the bowl thoroughly.  The final product is a disgusting wet pink and white meatwad.

Continuing to employ a light touch, I coax my big meatwad into about 36 small meatwads — each about the size of a walnut.

Along with my marbles of meat, I wanted the much maligned but equally spherical brussels sprout. I’d hoped it would add a flash of green to the plate, but I also wanted crunch (since my meatballs and potatoes and onions would be tender and creamy) — so I decided to roast them.  In retrospect, I should have steamed them first to capture the green, then roast them quickly to crisp the outer leaves – since the results of the choice I made resulted in very brown sprouts, but the flavor was just right regardless.

I trimmed their white wedge roots out, tossed them in an excellent EVOO, seasoned them with sea salt and pepper, and spilled them out on a baking sheet before putting them in my 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes to roast.  Just enough time to…

… fry up my meatballs in batches in 2 tbs of hot browned butter.  I let each meatball brown fully on the 1st side I lay it on, then, using tongs, I flip each one over, allowing it to brown fully on that edge, before rolling them all in circles with the heat to maintain their roughly spherical shapes.

See?  After each  meatball is fully cooked, but still tender inside, I pull them off the heat and set them on a waiting plate lined with tin foil.  I admit, a couple of my first attempts fell apart.  And I also admit, we enjoyed taste-testing those mistakes.

Using the hot butter left in the pan, I add about 2 tbs of flour to the fat, whisking over high heat to brown and thicken to roux.  I then add my concentrated beef stock (this is a delightful demi-glace I splurged on at Whole Foods), continuing to whisk well, scraping up all the brown meaty bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.  I allow this to simmer for about 3-4 minutes.

Using my fine-mesh strainer, I pour my sauce into a large bowl, removing the solids which I discard, before returning the liquids to the pan and low heat to simmer and thicken.

Sour cream whisked into this rich beef sauce  adds just the right tang and creaminess one wants from Swedish meatballs.  Ikea’s saucepack is really tasty – I admit it – but I wanted to make this from scratch tonight (if you forgive the purchased demi-glace), and I’m glad I did – this was a far more honest and hearty a flavor.  Sorry about the splatter, Clayton — I’ll fetch you some Clorox wipes from the closet if you need a refill.  I set my meatballs, and my boiled, peeled, and trimmed pearl onions into the pan, dousing them with ladles of sauce, allowing everything to heat through to steaming and screaming to be supped.

Using the last of my half and half and butter, I first mash then whip my potatoes into a creamy smooth puree that I pipe into a curlicue onto my plate with a modified zipper bag.  My meatballs and onions I lay lovingly spooning my spuds, and I blanket the whole family of flavors with my smooth creamy rich and silky light brown gravy.  Finally, I dot the plate with crisp roasted sprouts, sprinkled with salt and hiding tender green centers.  In the simple pleasures branch of gastronomy’s genealogy, meatballs have a pedigree all their own — what Sweden has to do with it, I’m not entirely sure, but I thank them for their take on these morsels of delight.  I hope they like what Lolita did to their tradition.

Swedish Meatballs, Brussels Sprouts, and Pearl Onions

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
flour
baby romaine lettuce
EVOO


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…