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Friday, May 17, 2013
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Our last meal together was a capon. During the holidays, we like to make a few singular repasts, things you don’t have every day (such as truffles) or which are part of traditional holiday meals. Capon is an Italian holiday specialty that I was eagerly looking forward to making. Last year, I prepared Bleu Chickens that Sasha went nuts for – she watched the oven for the entire roasting cycle-- and I expected the same enthusiastic response when I ordered an eight pound capon from D’Artagnan. But our little Sasha had become a very finicky eater of late. She began rejecting standard fare for more urbane platings. We first thought this was because her ever-sophisticated palate had become even more discerning, which may have been partly the case, but the hard reality was the cancer had spread. However, it was easier to live in a Fantasyland and imagine she was secretly working for the Michelin Guide or Peter Mayle, rating the food her masters’ provided, and giving anywhere from four paws up to no paws at all.
|The produce at Chino Farms accompanied our holiday dinner|
The last few months were about our little girl, and treasuring every moment we had with her. When we cooked, we did so to please her, to find things she enjoyed and would eat, and to create some special memories for our little family of three. Cooking for blogging purposes wasn’t important. But let’s get back to the Last Capon.
A capon is a rooster that has been castrated – not a very romantic description, but factual, and something I occasionally wish upon my sous chef. Due to castration, the bird lacks a bit of sex hormones, making it milder tempered and easier to handle. Because of this hormonal imbalance, and by not aggressively playing the role of Chief Rooster, the meat becomes more tender and fatty, resulting in a less gamy taste than the typical rooster or hen. Since a capon is larger than a chicken but smaller than a turkey, with supple, moist breast meat, it is the perfect alternative when you are craving turkey but are a small family and don’t want the leftovers for the next week. This is a special meal, the kind you savor, and memories are made from. Not special in the fancy pants, show off sort of way, but the made from love kind. When our Sasha went to Doggie Heaven on Christmas Eve, we hope she took with her thoughts of a scrumptious Last Capon
The Last Capon – Adapted from Golden Oven Roasted Capon, Tyler Florence
Prep Time – 50 Minutes
Cooking Time – 2 hours 20 minutes
1 whole (8 pound) capon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 pound unsalted butter, softened (this is to rub the capon with herb/butter mix – so don’t melt)
A large handful of fresh, whole herbs, such as tarragon leaves, thyme and savory sprigs (if you can’t use fresh herbs, then substitute dried in a an amount you deem appropriate)
1 onion, cut in half (don’t dice, splice or julienne – just cut in half)
4 garlic cloves, smashed (again, no fancy knife skills required)
2 cups water
1/4 cup sherry
DirectionsPreheat oven to 450 degrees F. Remove the neck and giblets from the cavity and rinse the capon under cold water, inside and out. Pat dry thoroughly with paper towels. Season the body and cavity of the capon generously with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, mix together the butter, lemon juice and chopped herbs. Rub the herbed butter all over the capon. Put the lemon halves, onion, garlic and whole herbs inside the bird. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine to help hold its shape. (Note: some capons have a bib of skin that will hold the legs together when placed in bib.)
Place the capon, breast side down, on a V-rack in a roasting pan. When the capon is cooked on a rack, it helps make its skin crisp and keeps it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Pour water into the roasting pan; this helps prevent the fat drippings from burning and smoking.
Roast the capon for about 20 minutes, then carefully turn the bird over breast side up. To do this, take the pan out of the oven, close the oven door to maintain the temperature, and rotate the capon while the pan sits on the counter. Baste the capon all over with the pan drippings. Turn the heat down to 375 degrees F and return the pan to the oven. Continue to roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees to 170 degrees F, count on this taking about 2 hours. Remove the capon to a platter, cover with foil and let stand for 15 minutes so the juices settle back into the meat before carving.
Meanwhile, pour the drippings from the roasting pan into a gravy separator or measuring cup to let the fat rise to the top. Skim and discard the fat and then return the pan juices back to the roasting pan. Place the roasting pan on top of the stove over medium heat. Add the sherry and deglaze, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with the capon. (If you are not a gravy fan, like sous chef, skip the gravy and just dig into the bird.)
|The rainbow the morning we lost Sasha - I guess it was waiting for her at the end of it|
Monday, September 10, 2012
|The Summer Shack Lobster Roll|
It may not be a po’boy but it sure can make you one in a hurry unless you take advantage of a local market’s special like we did. My sous chef pounced when Jensen’s offered uncooked lobster tails for a mere pittance. He loves crustaceans of all kinds and attacks them with unmitigated gusto, although with far more refinement than Jennifer Beal in Flashdance. So when he proffered his treasure with the challenge to “make something good,” I needed my “A” game. One does not waste lobster no matter the price.
|Luscious little lobster tails|
Fortunately, I came up with a great dish that both met the challenge and allowed me to take a little culinary “stay-cation” to Maine. The Summer Shack Classic Maine Lobster Roll is a true delight and worth the splurge! It is a lusciously creamy cold lobster salad stuffed into a light, buttery roll. Add lettuce and some potato chips and you can almost hear the pounding surf and smell the sweet, salt air. And the best thing about this stay-cation is it doesn’t set you back for airfare, hotel and all those gifts you need to bring back for those you left behind.
|The start of lobster salad|
A few quick notes. Make the lobster salad first for it needs at least 30 minutes resting time. If you can’t find New England Style hot dog buns, a longer roll with a split in the top can be used. Just make sure whatever roll you use is light and airy and wide enough to hold the lobster salad. Dorie Greenspan’s Café Style Carrot Salad was a refreshing accompaniment to the lobster roll.
|Everything looks better with lobster|
Classic Maine Lobster Roll
The Summer Shack Cookbook, Page 278
4 New England Style Hot Dog Buns
4 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, Softened
4 Boston or Bibb Lettuce Leaves, Washed and Dried
Lobster Salad (recipe below)
Heat a 10-inch skillet (or tostapane) over medium heat. Brush the sides of the buns with butter and place the buttered buns in the hot skillet (or on tostapane) and toast until golden. Turn and cook other side. (I split my rolls open and buttered/toasted the inside for a little extra buttery crispness.)
Open the buns, add lettuce and top with the lobster salad. Serve with potato chips.
|Toasting the rolls on the "tostapane"|
|Buttery, crisp roll ready for lobster|
Makes 2 Cups
1 Pound Cooked Lobster Meat (I used lobster tails for ease of cooking and freezing until needed)
1 Small to Medium Cucumber – Peeled, Seeded, and Diced
½ cup Hellman’s or other quality Mayonnaise
2-3 Small Scallions
Freshly Ground Pepper
Sea Salt if needed
Cook and cool the lobsters and then remove the meat. I love my seafood scissors for it makes this task a breeze, especially when working with lobster tails or the whole lobster. Cut the lobster meat into chunks, preferably in the ½ inch size.
Place the diced cucumber in a colander and let stand for about 5 minutes to drain any leftover liquid.
Combine the lobster, cucumber, mayonnaise and scallions in a bowl. Season with pepper to taste. If you prefer a little salt, add to the mix but it’s not needed. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes or more. Can be made up to 4 hours ahead.
|Lobster Roll Heaven|
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
The little black truffle season is finally here. While most of the country is regaling in garden fresh vegetables and fruit, we have found one of the most spectacular ways to celebrate the freshness of the season with these black beauties – Italian Black Summer Truffles!
Black summer truffles are still a luxury, but are much more in the realm of splurging on as they are the “economy” truffle. Think of it as the “Tiffany’s” of Truffle compared to the ever so coveted Alba truffles, which could be classified as the “Cartier or Harry Winston’s” of truffles. This truffle splurge is “date night” worthy, and will last the entire week. Truffles stuffed in chicken, garnishing pasta, salad, eggs – you name it you can truffle it!
Just like the little black dress, a simple salad can be dressed up with the addition of truffles. This salad is an exquisite surprise when entertaining as a starter, or if it’s just the two of you it makes a wonderful summer light dinner. The sweetness of the heirloom tomatoes and figs is offset by the salty flavor of the prosciutto. The earthy truffle creates a perfect balance in flavors. Enjoy the explosion of flavor and the season!
Black Summer Truffle Salad
Serves 2 as main course or 4 as a starter
2 heads baby red oak lettuce
2 heads baby green leaf lettuce
1 medium Brandywine tomato
4 small green figs
2 slices of prosciutto
½ freshly shaved summer black truffle
Freshly ground lemon pepper
Fleur del sel
Peach Champagne Vinegar
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Break baby red and green lettuce into pieces in a salad bowl and lightly salt. Cut tomato and green figs into small wedges and place on top of salad greens. Tear two slices of prosciutto into small pieces and place in bowl. Grind lemon pepper over items in salad bowl. Toss with hands. Sprinkle Peach Champagne Vinegar and Extra Virgin Olive Oil lightly over mix and toss lightly with hands.
Friday, July 13, 2012
We’re having a heat wave,
A tropical heat wave.
The temperature’s rising,
It isn’t surprising.
Cucumber soup can can-can.
It sure is summertime, and out here the living is anything but easy. We do everything possible to stay cool, and that includes consuming refreshing foods and beverages. One of our favorites is “Cool as a Cucumber Soup.” It can be made up to two days in advance and, chilled in the refrigerator, it is available to be enjoyed at any time.
While cucumber soup is a rather ubiquitous summer dish, this version is noteworthy because of its secret ingredient—buttermilk. The buttermilk’s tang enhances the cool notes of the cucumber and celery adds a savory layer. Try it this weekend to wow your guests, if you are entertaining, or your spouse or significant other if you merely intend to sit in a dark room and watch The Weather Channel.
Cool as a Cucumber Soup
1 ½ lbs cucumber(s) sliced in half lengthwise, seeded and roughly chopped
2 stalks of celery roughly chopped
1 small shallot coarsely chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
½ cup sour cream
½ cup buttermilk
Freshly ground salt and pepper to taste
Chives for garnish
Place the cucumbers, celery, shallots, extra virgin olive oil and salt into a blender and puree until smooth. Strain mixture through a mesh sieve into a large bowl, pressing out as much liquid as possible.
Whisk sour cream and buttermilk into the mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Serve chilled soup with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and garnish with chives.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
I don’t like getting caught in the rain—although that is not much of a problem here in the desert where we have already had 33 days above 100 degrees—and the only dunes around here are scorchingly hot and unsuitable for spontaneous romance, except by Gila Monsters perhaps. But I do love Pina Coladas, maybe as much as Rupert Holmes.
With the official start of summer only days away, it is time to pull out the blender and hurricane cocktail glasses and make up a batch of this tasty elixir. A Pina Colada always reminds me of the Islands, even if I am just floating around the pool or hunkered down under an umbrella at a sidewalk café.
|Twins! We had baby hummingbirds this month......|
In my experience, the Pina Colada is to be consumed like Lay’s potato chips: more than one is likely, if not essential. But like so many things in life, and particularly in respect of libations, what is tasty is often packed with calories, and the regular Pina Colada is no different. To help keep one’s bikini figure, I’ve found a low calorie Pina Colada that is packed with flavor! Yes, you heard me correctly: L-O-W C-A-L-O-R-I-E and F-L-A-V-O-R-F-U-L. Trust me on this one. The low calorie Pina Colada has become a house favorite and sous chef didn’t even recognize that there were something like 300 calories missing from the drink.
Grab a book, sunglasses, sunscreen and a Pina Colada for the perfect weekend getaway at home.
|The perfect way to spend a summer afternoon|
(Adapted from Cooking Light, June 2012, page 48)
12 ounces Unsweetened Coconut Milk (found in the refrigerated Dairy Section – it’s something like 50 calories for 8 ounces)
2 cups Cubed Fresh Pineapple (I’ve experimented a bit with this – if you cannot find fresh pineapple, Dole has a nice canned Chunk Pineapple in Pineapple Juice that will work and you can use the liquid as well)
2 ½ cups Ice Cubes
¾ cups Gold Rum (we like the Mt. Gay)
¼ cup Pineapple Juice (or the liquid from the canned Dole Chunk Pineapple)
2 tablespoons light Agave Nectar (optional – can be left out if you prefer less sweetness)
Pineapple Slices to Garnish
Place the pineapple chunks in a blender. Cover with coconut milk, rum, pineapple juice, and agave nectar. Top with ice and process until smooth. Pour into a hurricane cocktail glass and garnish with a slice of pineapple.
If you like a more icy texture, freeze the pineapple chunks for an hour before making the Pina Coladas (or you can cheat and just buy the frozen pineapple and save yourself a little clean up).
Total calories: 158 calories per 2/3 cup (approximately)
Friday, May 4, 2012
I am not aware of any flounder, or its relation sole, making it up the All American Canal to the Coachella Valley. Maybe that’s because being a flatfish with two eyes on the same side makes navigation difficult. Or more likely they don’t cotton to our desert clime. So we are at the mercy of local fishmongers who occasionally truck a limited amount of fish in from Los Angeles. Apparently flounder is not a desert favorite as none of the local fishmongers had any in stock. After my sous chef’s patience was tested to the breaking point, we settled on a duo of related flatfish: petrale sole and dover sole (the Pacific variety—not the real thing from off the coast of Great Britain).
|A piece of Modern Art - mixed media|
To make this week’s French Fridays with Dorie challenge even more interesting, my creative sous chef suggested we do a wine tasting between Vouvray and Sancerre to determine which was the best pairing for the light, delicate fish we were about to prepare. I am always in favor of tweaking the challenge, particularly when it involves quaffing some very good wines. For the tasting we chose a 2009 Marc Brédif Vouvray and a 2009 Les Tuilières Sancerre.
|Painting the Sole with egg - the color of this egg is so bright and sunny|
We rarely cook fish at home. First, we don’t have a great retail source for fresh fish, second, my sous chef is adverse to fish smells in the house and, third, we think restaurants do a better job cooking fish than we do. So we generally confine our fish consumption to restaurants. Neither of us has ever knowingly consumed flounder, but we each have enthusiasm for the sole family of flatfish. My sous chef waxes poetic about the petrale sole served at The Tadich Grill in San Francisco. And I am a huge fan of the sole dishes prepared by Chef Bernard Deverieux at his restaurant, Cuistot, in Palm Desert. Chef Bernard is a classically trained French chef, so he knows a thing or two about the preparation of sole.
|Coated both sides of the Sole|
Our concerns about preparing this week’s recipe were quickly dispelled. This is one of the simplest meals I’ve prepared in my life. Prep time was about 3 minutes and, with only 6 minutes of cooking time, dinner can be on the table in less than 15 minutes making it a perfect weeknight meal. That is less time than it takes to order and pick up food at the local pizza joint. And my sous chef discerned no unpleasant fish odors.
|Cook 3 minutes per side in butter|
The fish was delectable - moist, firm and succulent. I ground slivered almonds in the food processor and left it more grainy than powdery to give the coating more color and texture. The result was a crispy, visually appealing crust that I thoroughly enjoyed but which my sous chef felt overwhelmed the delicate flavors of the sole. He likely would feel differently if we had used halibut as a flounder substitute since the addition of flavor would be welcomed. We did agree this coating would make a great crust on chicken or turkey and would be better if ground more finely when used on fish. This coating is a winner and I fell for it hook, line and sinker.
|The almond crust is really fragrant with the lemon zest|
There was no real winner in the wine tasting competition as both wines were excellent and worked well with either the petrale sole or the dover sole. Although clearly siblings, there were some differences. The Vouvray had a slightly floral nose with a small touch of honey in taste – delicate like the fish. Whereas, the Sancerre was crisp with a little gravel hint on the palate and utterly wonderful for the richness of the fish. I recommend you do your own taste test. There is no reason to limit yourself to one bottle of wine with this fish recipe.
|Rhubarb Custard Pie with a little French Vanilla Ice Cream (it is French Friday after all)|
To complete our meal, I made a favorite dessert that presented a nice contrast of flavors to the fish that preceded it. I love rhubarb in many iterations, but an absolute favorite is Rhubarb Custard Pie. Pre-Culinary Diva, my Southern California born and raised sous chef had never been exposed to a rhubarb, except during his baseball playing days. Fortunately, he has taken a liking to the sour, tangy, sweetness of the vegetable, which allows me to indulge my rhubarb passion throughout the summer.
|Sous Chef wanted me to describe the size of the chopped rhubarb, this looks about 1/2 inch to me|
This recipe originates from my grandmother, and I have adapted it slightly to my taste by including more rhubarb.
Rhubarb Custard Pie
4 to 4 ½ Cups Rhubarb
1 Cup Sugar
2 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
Preheat oven to 350.
Rough chop the rhubarb into half-inch pieces and place in bowl. Add sugar, flour, and eggs to bowl with rhubarb and stir until all ingredients are combined.
Line pie plate with pie crust (use ready-made or make your own). Place rhubarb mixture in pie crust, and top with pie crust. Poke holes with fork or knife to vent crust while baking. Place in oven.
Bake approximately 45 minutes. After 30 minutes of baking, rub top of pie crust with butter and sprinkle a little sugar on crust. Bake another 15 minutes and check for doneness. When pie is done, remove from oven to cool.
To read more French Friday with Dorie experiences, or to buy the book:
|It's sort of like a Dump Cake but a Dump Pie - put it all in a bowl and mix well|
|I vent the bottom crust with a few pricks of a fork before putting the mix in|
|Top crust on and vented|
|Flaky, sugary, golden crust combined with the tart Rhubarb makes for a perfect medley|