Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Monday, November 28, 2016
THANKSGIVING DAY, that quintessentially American feast of feasting, lasted three days for us, beginning on the designated Thursday in this dining room, seen just before eight of us sat down to dinner in the Santa Rosa home of one of our best and oldest friends, the woman who introduced the Contessa and me to one another all those years ago.
The dinner was conventional and classic and extremely satisfying: roast turkey and dressing; mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes; Brussels sprouts and pearl onions; gravy and cranberry sauce; green salad; rolls and butter; and a delicious pumpkin pie, the traditional pumpkin purée ingeniously coated with a thin layer of caramel, then decorated with toasted sugared pecans set around the rim. It was a delicious dinner.
NEXT DAY AT HOME fourteen of us — our local extended family — enjoyed exactly the same menu at our own dining table : oven-roasted turkey and dressing; mashed potatoes and (I am told) sweet potatoes); Brussels sprouts and pearl onions (and cippolini); gravy and cranberry sauce; green salad; rolls and butter; and a delicious pumpkin pie, without it must be said that suave thin layer of caramel. But also mince pie, made with mincemeat Cook had put up perhaps twenty years ago, deep and old and rich and evocative, like Cook herself.
Ribolla gialla, Rodaro (Friuli Colli Orientali), 2014 (alas no better than it might be);
Garnacha Tintorera/Monastrell 70/30, Laya (Almansa, Spain), 2014 (quite nice);
Château d'Yquem, 1980 in half bottle (faded but impressive, and thanks, Elin!)
YESTERDAY WE WALKED down the hill to the neighbors — who are in fact part of that local extended family — for a taste of something different. We'd enjoyed fireplace-roasted leg of lamb there just a few nights ago, and returned to the rest of it: rare at the center, full of flavor; accompanied by roasted potatoes with salt and rosemary; green salad; pumpking pie; a fine blue cheese whose name I did not get.
And tonight we've begun attacking leftovers.
this photo: Eric Monrad (cropped to protect the diners!)
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
LUNCH WAS FINE, of course; we ate in the Café, in Berkeley, where I had a delicious salad: radicchio with a mustard vinaigrette, with shaved fuyu persimmons (I may learn to like this fruit), toasted almonds, crisp little fried sage leaves, and Pecorino; then a savory pizza with halibut brandade, tomato sauce, capers, and wild fennel.
We might actually have skipped dinner, but I was concerned about my companion's cold, which has her coughing and complaining. Well, not complaining a lot, but still.
So I bought a quart of chicken stock, since we were in Berkeley and there's a reliable poulterer there; and then an onion and some Gruyère, and made her my version of a French onion soup. Nothing could be simpler: bring the stock to a simmer, adjust the flavor with salt and herbes de Provence, toss in very finely sliced onion, add a tablespoon or so of brandy. Let it simmer until the onions are cooked through. I sliced a baguette thin and toasted the slices in a black iron skillet, floated them on the soup, and added grated Gruyère cheese.
We'd warmed up with my version of a Hanky Panky: a jigger of gin, another of good Italian red vermouth (Carpano for a preference), a half jigger of Fernet Branca, shaken well with ice, garnished with orange peel.
Monday, November 21, 2016
I LOOKED IN A NUMBER of books — Mireille Johnston's Cuisines of the Sun, Richard Olney's Lulu's Provençal Table, Austin Croze's Plats régionaux de France, Curnonsky of course, a couple of others. I have a favorite never-fail recipe, but it is in a small book of Provençal recipes that I have been unable to locate on our shelves for years now; perhaps we lent it to someone, or perhaps the Contessa sold it in a fit of downsizing. I hope not.
A daube, as I understand it, is a meat stew more or less regional to the south of France. It can involve lamb or mutton, but is usually based on beef. The other apparently indispensable ingredients are carrot, onion, red wine, and orange peel. It is cooked in a daubière, a clay vessel with a specially shaped lid into which you can pour liquid while the stew cooks. The liquid does not go into the daubière; its only office is to evaporate fairly quickly into the oven, causing a certain shock within the vessel, thereby encouraging condensation. I never do this, as I'm afraid of breaking the daubière, which we bought many years ago in Vallauris.
After consulting all those sources I simply made up my own daube. I began with a slice of bacon, cut in half, covering the bottom of the pot. Then I cut a carrot into pieces and put them, together with a small bay leaf, half a dozen peeled pearl onions and half a turnip cut into sixths, on top of the bacon.
On top of that I put about three quarters of a pound of grass-fed beef stew, salted of course; and on top of the meat another carrot chopped up, the other half the turnip, and another half dozen pearl onions. One piece of turnip was studded with three or four cloves. I added a good-sized piece of orange zest, taken off with a potato-peeler.
I poured in a little brandy and a glass or so of red wine and a splash of olive oil, ground in more salt and pepper, and put the thing in an oven at 325•, where it cooked for a couple of hours.
At that point I added three potatoes cut into sixths, and brought the liquid up further with water. Daubes are traditionally served with pasta, not potatoes: but I'm a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy, and this was my daube.
In another hour and a half I took the stew out, spooned it into soup bowls, ladled the gravy over, and served. It was good.
Green salad afterward; then a Clementine and some pear.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
COOK IS A LITTLE under the weather today, so I stepped in and made dinner, in rather an improvised way. I stopped in at the local supermarket and bought a couple of slices of roast beef at the deli, but they were so thin I picked up a fillet of carne asada at the same time. Also some potatoes and a few more cipollini.
Over there to the left you'll see one of my very favorite knives. It cost us $23,000 — a bargain, because with it came a two-bedroom brown shingle house in Berkeley, California. I found the knife on the workbench in the single-car detached garage, carefully wrapped in newspaper and tied up with jute cord. The newspaper was Chinese and dated, as I recall, sometime in the 1920s. The knife was completely covered in a sixteenth of an inch of rust.
I took kerosene and steel wool to it, touched it up a bit with a stone, and admired the steel. Hand forged, of course. We'd bought the house from a Chinese immigrant, a widow, who'd occupied it for half a century I'm sure. Her husband must have brought the knife with him from the old country, and forgotten it on the workbench.
Oh: dinner. I sliced four potatoes, as you see, and fried them in butter. I sliced the cipollini and treated them the same, first having seared the roast beef and carne asada and set them aside. When things were done, or approximately, I combined the potatoes and onions and set the meat on top and put a lid on the pan while some romanesco steamed in another. No salad today! No dessert!
EARLIER WE HAD MET a couple of guys an hour north, in the next county, where we had lunch at a cheerful enough pizza joint near the courthouse. I had strozzapreti with meatballs in tomato sauce, and they were okay. Ditto the bay-leaf (California myrtle, not nobilis) flavored panna cotta, and even the French press coffee…
Saturday, November 19, 2016
IF MY BRAIN seems unusually active today it is because we dined for the third straight evening on fish, and we all know that fish is brain food. (I have occasionally wondered how often brain is fish food.) I don't feel unusually intelligent just now, but perhaps these developments take time.
Cook opened a jar of her excellent tomato sauce, made per the instructions in Alice Waters's My Pantry — have I written about that? — and emptied a can of tuna into it when it was heated; then tossed the result with the cooked pasta, and dusted it with Parmesan cheese.
Green salad afterward, and then…
People say, now and then, on hearing of my Companion, gee, you must eat a lot of wonderful desserts. Well, no. The last thing a retired pastry chef wants to do is make dessert every day; it would be like a retired newspaper critic maintaining a daily blog. So elaborate desserts here on Eastside Road are limited to the occasional birthday, or family dinner, or dinner for invited guests.
Instead we generally make do with a piece of chocolate or a fruit plate. I thought tonight's was pretty: a Clementine bought a few days ago from Didar, at the Berkeley Farm Market; a couple of dates, a few bits of candied citrus peel given us months ago by friends who grow citrus in Ojai.