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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Cook with Me: Nana's Pennsylvania Dutch Potato Filling

Are you cooking today for Thanksgiving? Do you cook and eat to remember? I am guilty of that, for sure.

Is your kitchen divided between making forgotten and yet traditional family dishes along with more modern dishes, made in the style that you cook in the rest of the year?

I've pulled out this menu to remember these dishes and my heritage. Come and Get It or as they say in Berks County, Kuum unn Grick Dess!

The day is marked by the potato. On most fall days, I don't make potatoes of any kind. Living in the south, my Mrs Potato Head comes out more in June and is a summery dish made in our Julia Child Kid-Chefs week.

But at Thanksgiving, I can't think of the day without the garlic mashed potatoes that my son Erick makes, or the sweet potato pie that my son Jaryd makes.

And if you said potato filling, well, all bets are off. It sounds like a mighty strange dish when described. Bread cubes browned in butter and tossed with sauteed celery and onions into mashed potatoes? Yup, that's pretty much it. And my mouth would water for shopping and cooking with Nana.

In my childhood years, our Thanksgiving table heaved under the influence of the Pennsylvania Dutch fall harvest. Nana and I would religiously go to the Ninth Street Farmer’s Market at the crack of dawn on Wednesdays, and the day before Thanksgiving always had a special fervor that I love. The indoor market was filled with farmers selling ducks and turkeys and chickens, and my nose twinged with the sharpness of freshly ground horseradish. Nana was sure to wait till our bags were heaped full till she wound her way around to the one farmer who, she said, sold the whitest celery. I can still picture the cut glass celery dish that she filled and placed on our dining room table on Fourth Street.

Cut Glass Celery Dish with Tarragon

Coconut Custard Pies

The Kissinger Market in Reading, Pa. 

                                      Outside the Kissinger Market House in Reading, Pa. 

The Penn Square Meat Market

Today we're especially thankful when we can share Thanksgiving with our two sons and their ladies, Erick and Kayla, and Jaryd and Ana, and/or with Snover cousins and with our friends.

As they say in Pennsylvania you can take the girl out of Pennsylvania Dutch country but you can’t take the Pennsylvania Dutch out of the girl.

So, Happy Thanksgiving to all! Cook and eat and as you do, you're making more memories!

A collage of dishes as seen on a tee towel from Pennsylvania Dutch Country plus Nana's recipe for Pumpkin Bread. 

Old-Fashioned Pennsylvania Dutch Thanksgiving Menu

Pennsylvania Dutch Pickled Red Beet Eggs

Mrs. Hilbert’s Chow Chow

Apple Butter With Cup Cheese

Saffron’d Oyster And Celery Stew

Fall Endive With Hot Bacon Dressing

Berks County Lima Beans In Cream

Nana’s Roast Muscovy Duck, Chestnut Stuffing

Pennsylvania Dutch Potato Filling

Mamie’s Dried Corn Pudding

Esther’s Waldorf Salad

Aunt Cora’s Mincemeat Pie With Rum

Effie’s Wet Bottom Shoofly Pie

Agnes’ Green Tomato Pie

Apple Schnitz Pie

Nana's Pennsylvania Dutch Potato Filling

Truth be told, Nana always used dried parsley – but I would use fresh today. And I might also substitute turnips or rutabagas for half of the potatoes.

5 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 cup diced celery

1-1/2 cup diced onion

3/4 cup fresh parsley

4 eggs

2 sticks (1 cup) butter

3 cups stale bread, cubed

1-2 cups milk or enough to moisten bread cubes

salt, pepper and celery salt

Butter an 11 by 14 Corning Ware  or Pyrex baking dish and set aside.

Cook potatoes in salted water till tender.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons butter, when sizzling sauté celery, onions, and parsley with a sprinkling of salt and pepper til tender and slightly browned.

Remove from pan and add melt 1/2 stick of butter. when hot add the bread cubes and brown till nice and crispy. Reduce heat to medium low if necessary to keep from burning!

Drain potatoes; return to cooking pot and add in the remaining 6 tablespoons butter. mix with wooden spoon vigorously. Add eggs and milk and mix thoroughly. add celery and onion mixture. Add butter fried bread cubes. more milk if necessary. celery salt, salt and pepper to taste.

Scoop into prepared baking dish and bake at 350° for 1 hour until golden brown.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Watch With Me: Burnt, the Movie with Chef Adam Jones. No, Dude. Just No.

What did I expect from Burnt, the movie? I was excited by the mere idea of seeing it, and looked forward to the event -- and it definitely affected my appetite, which is partly good I tell ya. But its not ALL good, unfortunately. Nope. Though there's always hunger when you go see a food film. Isn't that what it's about?

Burnt, the Movie was positioned as the entree on a proclaimed Foodie Day where the appetizers were lunching and perusing the new Standard Foods in Raleigh, then sliding down to Wine Authorities, to be finally followed by watching Burnt, and the day would be polished off with the dessert of dinner at Ruth Chris which was the first time I went there. But that's another story.

Burnt, the Movie's ambiance still sizzles and smokes well over a week later, as the mood it left is frenetic. But noisy without much to show for it. The film opened with a problem and a quest for Adam Jones, the chef to secure his third Michelin star. I might not quest after that myself, but I was down for the journey, with the hope that he's going to change my mind about why I should want a Michelin star of my very own. But then that desire skirted away like a plate smashed into the wall. I loved the eating and restaurant and chefy scenes in London as a warm-up, and giggled at how to get a chef out of prison, and the mention of their shared lurid life in Paris, (which are even more precious now) but I wanted to deeply feel exactly what Mr Bradley Cooper said he wanted. "I want my food to make people stop eating, I want my food to fill people with longing."

I was filled with longing, believe me. For much more. But not in the way they had intended.

My friend who had suggested seeing it, clearly longed for Bradley Cooper, just in case he jumped off the screen I guess and well, presented us that option. So okie dokes. Go girl. No problem. Moi on the other hand, I hadn't even known that Bradley Cooper was in the movie - in fact I remember thinking who? Bradley Cooper?

My anticipation was built around Tony. I mistakenly thought Burnt was my long awaited movie, with a name change from "Seared" that was a loosely crafted story around the book, Kitchen Confidential. I hungered to sit in the theater and absorb some Tony, even if someone else was playing him. Ok, so I need help. At one time "Seared" was to feature Brad as Tony. Don't judge, but who wouldn't be willing to go through Brad to get to Tony. I don't have to remind you that Tony is Anthony Bourdain, do I? OK, I didn't think so.

[Side Dish: After watching Burnt, I had to be sure I hadn't conjured up the whole "Seared" thing. So I googled "Seared" and found that there was a film called Seared -- and it was released in 2008, But that was the story of a butcher in a sleepy rural town who has his day turned upside down after a visit from a mysterious and beautiful Stranger. But was the butcher played by, Tony aka Brad, or was Tony aka Brad, the beautiful stranger? Neither it turns out. I dug further into the Google-verse, and found that the Kitchen Confidential story was filmed by Fox into a mini-series but scrapped after 13 episodes. The pilot was shot at Maison Giraud in Los Angeles, and a sound stage was built replicating the restaurant.]

In another subplot, Adam gets the girl, in this case Helene, a Chef de Partie who doesn't "know how good she is?" I think there's room for improvement in this love arena. Its also so demeaning to have the female restaurant critic, Uma Thurman, dumbed down to having slept with Adam - the one concession she made to being a lesbian - I mean, really, they both deserve better! It's sadly pretty typical and predictable that the sous chef, Helene, believes in him, and quietly takes care of him, at the cost of her career, and her daughter. Though their relationship does have a trajectory - they start off less than amiable. He lures her to the job with a promise of triple the pay, then ridicules her and abuses her in front of his staff. Dude. No. Just no. I am more impressed by a chef who can communicate without breaking plates or grabbing people and shouting. I mean ho hum, how much imagination and humanity does it take to break plates and beat your chest shouting "Are these knives sharp?" Uh, my appetite is seriously in jeopardy, Adam. And I'm getting increasingly uneasy about these immersion circulators - I'm not sure you really like to cook.

But sigh, Adam Jones is hungry for and going for his third Michelin Star. What does this even mean? He's seriously delusional as once awarded a chef doesn't "keep" a Michelin star for life. His motivation for this isn't really explored either. We surmise its to fill the hole left by his childhood, but I wanted to travel with him till he sat with understanding sandwiched with sanction by the world and chewed down that fleeting and bitter taste. Sanction by the world doesn't mean success. It means that the success owns you, instead of the hole you were escaping. OK, IS this thinking too deep for a food movie?

The journey culminates in a short transformation of His kitchen into his Team's kitchen. When the Michelin Team arrives for real to evaluate the restaurant, Adam simply says, "We do what we do." And so the once frenzy filled kitchen of mayhem and adrenaline and extreme ducking to avoid being smacked in the head by a plate becomes a place where they, at least temporarily, pull off a good enough presentation to warrant a Michelin star. The steps to this place could have been filled with pride and passion, but felt very empty for sure, to me.

And then there's the scene where Adam uses a fork in a non-stick pan while making an omelet, which is like nails on a chalkboard. Arrggghhh. Maybe this scene was supposed to be a take-off of the famous and long and silent end scene in Big Night - where Stanley Tucci makes a silent omelet for his brother, and then the dishwasher comes in and jumps up on the counter to eat it too. There's more feeling in that one scene of Big Night than in the whole of Burnt. One more reason I left hungry, and longing but not in the way Adam (or the director) intended!

Apparently Gordon Ramsey was an executive producer and I wonder if he believes all this hype?

I offer this tarragon-inspired dish as a peace offering, and apologize that there are no borage flowers for garnish.

Bacon-Crusted Foie Gras on Turnip Shallot Cakes, with Pruneau d’Agen Tarragon Glaze

The Finished Dish

The Pruneau d'Agen Tarragon Glaze

The Turnip Shallot Cakes

I developed this recipe for Charcutepalooza in 2012, with one of the different varieties of bacon I made. For this dish it was red date bacon, which we loved loved loved! The dish also melds our family's love for French and Asian food. Perhaps it could be renamed amuse sum or dim bouche to combine amuse bouche and dim sum. Can you imagine? Just don't use an immersion circulator or a blender.

for pruneau d’agen glaze

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup tarragon, or other herb vinegar

4 pruneau d’agen, pitted and chopped

1 tangerine, peeled and sliced

1 bay leaf

pinch salt

for cakes:

2 slices red date, or other, bacon, chopped

2 shallots, thinly sliced

1 turnip, shredded

1/2 tsp salt and szechuan pepper

2 tablespoons rice flour

vegetable oil for frying

for foie gras

2 slices of foie gras, 1 ½ inch thick

4 slices red date, or other bacon, minced to a paste

sea salt and black pepper

first make pruneau d’agen glaze

in a small sauce pot combine honey, vinegar, pruneau, tangerine, and bay leaf.

bring to a boil. reduce heat to medium low and simmer until the sauce is reduced to a thick syrup, 

about 20 minutes. remove from the heat, discard bay leaf. taste and adjust seasoning for more honey 

or vinegar. add salt. keep warm on stove.

next, make turnip cakes

in a large bowl, mix shredded turnip, shallots, and scallions. spoon in rice flour, salt, and pepper. 

mix until incorporated.

heat a cast iron frying pan over medium heat.

add the bacon and fry till crisp. if needed add another tablespoon of vegetable oil. 

divide turnip mixture into five cakes in the hot fat.

fry on medium heat, turning to brown evenly on both sides, probably five minutes per side. 

do not burn.

position on two serving plates. keep the pan on medium. wipe out if necessary.

lastly, sear the foie gras.

mince the bacon. pack the bacon together and press firmly to both sides of the foie gras. sprinkle 

with sea salt and pepper. (if you want to you can refrigerate at this point.)

in the still hot cast iron pan, add the slices of foie gras. being careful when turning, and sear both 

sides. (don’t worry if some of the bacon falls off, just scrape it back on the foie gras for serving.)

place seared foie on hot turnip cake and spoon glaze over the top.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Cook With Me: Erick's Smoked Turkey Curry with Grilled Butternut Squash and Eggplant, Black Garlic & Pork Meatballs & Pickled Shallots

I am so pleased to announce that my oldest son, Erick, Executive Chef at Sato Sushi in Vail, Colorado is joining me to teach a select group of Teen-Chefs in Figs, Foie Gras, and Falconry in Southwest France this summer.

We were recently in Colorado with Erick and Kayla when they had just returned from Japan. Kayla had to jump right back into life as she had left it, work and school. While Erick had a few days off. One of Kayla's tasks was taking an Anatomy and Physiology test after her long first day back and first day back at work! And so while we waited for her return and conquering of the outside world, we did what our family does. Cook! For me cooking together is one of the ways that we connect, reconnect, remember, share stories, laugh, swirl, and taste. Its always fun cooking with either one of my sons and their girlfriends as it turns a mere moment into a memory.

With Erick it becomes a fun sort of "Chopped" episode at times. And I fondly recall the time when he was a teen and already working at the Carolina Inn with Brian Stapleton and he challenged me to a cook off. But that's another story. As far as slicing and dicing, Erick's long since passed me in speed and precision, as Executive Chef at Sato Sushi.

Erick brought back some black garlic (fermented cured garlic) and so, believe it or not, that was one of the reasons for making the dish along with a new cookbook Erick picked up at in Edwards at the Bookworm, Asian American by Dan Halde.

It was a delicious Colorado night, set against the aspens swaying in the breezy night and the gaining moon, while we listened to Erick's stories of ramen, rented cars, sunburn, dumplings, and cheese in Japan we ran outside to the grill and then back to stir at the stove. And when Kayla returned we toasted and sat down to eat and listen to the tale of the rigors of her test.

Veggies to grill

1 small butternut squash, seeded, peeled and sliced

1 eggplant, quartered

Untoasted sesame oil

Veggies and meaties to curry

2 tablespoons butter or sesame oil

12 large mushrooms, sliced

1 onion, thin-sliced

Fresh ginger, 2 inch minced

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 inch fresh turmeric, minced

2 stalks lemongrass, bruised and thrown in

1 leg smoked turkey – meat sliced off, maybe 3 cups total

2 qts chicken stock (1 low sodium, 1 regular)

2 tablespoons red curry paste

Meaties to grill

1 pound each ground pork and turkey

1 egg

Fresh ginger, 2 inch minced

4 garlic cloves, minced

Fresh turmeric, minced

3-4 cloves black garlic, minced

Coconut grits with butter fried onions and sambal (slightly adapted from the book Asian American by Dan Halde)

1 tablespoon butter

½ onion minced

½ bag grits/polenta

2 ½ cups of regular milk

1 can coconut milk

2 tsp salt

2 tablespoons sambal

½ cup hot water

For the shallots

2 shallots, sliced thin

1 ½ c rice vinegar

1 tsp chile garlic paste

1 tsp fish sauce

2 tablespoons sugar

Other garnishes

fresh cilantro

toasted sesame seeds

Pickle the shallots

Slice shallots and set aside. In a small saucepan heat the rice vinegar with the sugar, just till melted, do not boil. Add remaining seasonings and taste, adjust if necessary.

Begin the curry

Slice the butternut squash and the eggplant. Drizzle with a bit of untoasted sesame oil. Set aside in a grilling basket set on a sheet pan.

Mince all the ginger, garlic and turmeric that you’ll need for both the curry and the meatballs and set aside in different bowls. Bruise the lemon grass stalk with your knife and throw that in the bowl with your minced garlic, ginger, and turmeric for the curry. Slice the mushrooms and the onions and throw those in the bowl too. Slice the meat off of the smoked turkey leg, and slice into bite size pieces. When ready to cook heat a large heavy soup pot on medium high on the stove. When hot add the sesame oil/butter and when this is sizzling add the bowl of onions, mushrooms, and minced garlic ginger and turmeric along with the lemongrass. Stir with a wooden spoon and give it some time. Let the onions get translucent, while the ginger, garlic, and turmeric perfume the air. Let this go a little farther and gain some color, caramelizing, and then deglaze with the chicken stock. Stir well and add in your red curry paste, and stir well again. When thoroughly incorporated add in the smoked turkey meat and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let simmer for about 40 minutes. Taste for seasoning, and adjust with salt and pepper or more curry paste.

Make the meatball mix

Add your ground pork and turkey to the bowl with ginger, garlic, and turmeric. Mince the black garlic and add that as well, crack an egg over the top, and then combine it all together with your hands. Once well mixed; form meatballs or slightly flattened into patties if you prefer. Refrigerate until time to grill.

Grill the meaties, and the eggplant and squash

Heat your grill till fire-y hot. And when it is grill half the eggplant and squash at a time in your basket, removing to the sheet pan as it is done. Grill meat patties over high heat. Set aside on a platter.

Lastly, make the grits

Combine the milk, coconut milk, and 2 tsp salt in a small pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the grits about a quarter at a time, stirring constantly. Bring back to a boil and stirring and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook stirring almost constantly or only occasionally if you prefer less creamy grits. To cook completely this will take 15-20 minutes. Add sambal

And season to taste. Covered, the grits will stay warm for about 30 minutes.

Now the moment you’ve waited for. Bowl up.

First spoon in some of the warm grits, then ladle the smoked turkey curry over, placing some grilled meaties and veggies on top, garnish with the pickled shallots, fresh cilantro and sprinkle with a few sesame seeds.


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Cook With Me: Blanquette de Veau for Jonell Galloway's The Rambling Epicure

Simple Ingredients and Time Are All You Need to Make a Superb Blanquette de Veau 

I jumped up to test this recipe for Jonell Galloway, who is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in French cuisine. Over at The Rambling Epicure she is writing a book called, The French and What They Eat. Details of the project are being fine-tuned. So stay-tuned. 

Merci, Jonell, for offering me this opportunity to be a petite part of your book development! I'd love to help again, if you need more testers! 

And since we're knee deep in talking about the thing we love most; cooking, France and her famous food, if you have a Teen interested in cuisine and in going to France, the Mother Lode and Birthplace of Cuisine, please sit down and take a look at our Figs, Foie Gras and Falconry Program offered this summer in Southwest France, Gascony. 

But now back to Blanquette, and to carrots in particular. 


Here is the line-up of our star-studded cast for the White Veal Stew with Apples, Carrots, and Onions. Please find the recipe below, and I hope you will try it, and see what you think! 

Oblique or Roll Cut Carrots

Ten Pounds of Provini Veal Shoulder

Five Honey Crisp Apples, Chopped

Two Large Yellow Onions, Chopped

Veal, Apples, Onions, and Carrots in my Le Creuset pot.

Salt and Pepper are the only seasonings, but just perfect! 

Jonell asked that these questions be answered.
  • Do the measurements work? Should there be more or less of something? Do they comply with American standards (cups, fluid ounces, etc.) that are easy to measure? Yes, very easy. Hardest part is getting the veal shoulder, which I did at our local butcher's Cliff's meat Market. It was a 10 pound shoulder that was frozen and chopped. 
  • Are there explanations that are not complete enough? What details would you add or delete? See Note in Recipe below.
  • Is the tone right for an American audience? Perhaps talk about the difference between French veal and American veal, both the product and the attitude about cooking with it.
  • Are any of the ingredients difficult to find where you live (this can depend on the season, of course)? Is there an ingredient you might replace with another one? I replaced the pearl onions with chopped yellow onions. I think this is what the average American would do, but maybe this is not your audience?
  • Is there anything that strikes you as so very French that you couldn’t possibly make it in the U.S.? No. 
  • Are there any ingredients or recipes that you think Americans wouldn’t like in general, for whatever reason? I wonder about the American sensitivity to Veal.
  • Are there any kitchen utensils or gadgets that you would recommend adding or that most American kitchens don’t have? No.
  • Is the seasoning right? Yes, its a perfect blend of sweet and meaty flavors. It's not traditional, but I added tarragon as a garnish instead of parsley because it was in my garden. 
  • Does the text flow? Is it presented in a logical manner? I changed out how the sauce was made. 
  • Is there anything that shocks you? No. Not at all!
  • I have not generally mentioned for how many people the recipe is developed because American portions are much larger than French ones. If you could give me your opinion about this, I’d appreciate it. You're right and the fact that I made ten pounds of veal doesn't help our reputation. I think the 2 pound version would serve six people, if it wasn't Halloween.
  • Are they too difficult? Are they so difficult that they overwhelm you? No! I love them! 
  • Are you pleased with the end result? Was it too much work? Pleased, yes. It is likely a four hour time investment. And for what you get, its very worth it. IMHO!  
  • Is the color pleasing? Is the texture pleasing? I think most Americans are not used to a "white" stew, so they might just need to be assured its ok and supposed to be the way it is.
  • Is the cooking time correct? It took me a little longer but then I made more than your recipe called for. I think for 2 pounds it is correct. 
  • Do you have any other suggestions? Add a little more information to the description of the recipe, as many Americans might not be familiar with it. 
Thank you!
Chartres-style Blanquette de Veau Recipe / Apple, onion, carrot and veal stew in apple juice and white sauce recipe

This dish hails from Normandy, where cream, butter, apples and calves are abundant. Chartres is not officially in Normandy, but its cuisine is similar.

by Jonell Galloway

1 kilogram or 2 pounds veal shoulder, cut into 2″ x 2″ pieces 
(I used 10 pounds as I was cooking for a crowd of well, 6 hungry feasters, on Halloween, and I wanted leftovers.)
12 pearl onions, or the white of 12 small spring onions, peeled and whole (I used two large onions chopped)
1 apple, chopped (I figured  was multiplying everything by 5, so I used 5 apples) 
4 carrots, cut into large chunks crosswise (I had large carrots so I used 12) 
Apple juice (I used 4 cups apple cider) 
Veal or chicken broth (chicken broth) 
6 small new potatoes in jacket ( I used about 15 "French fingerling", sliced in half)
4-5 tablespoons flour (10 tablespoons)
2-3 tablespoons butter (6 tablespoons) 
1/2 liter or 1 quart milk (1 quart)
Italian or flat parsley, chopped (I used fresh tarragon.)
Dutch oven or similar large pan
  1. Put the veal pieces in Dutch oven.
  2. Add the onions, apple and carrots.
  3. Cover with half apple juice and half veal broth. Salt and pepper. 
  4. Simmer gently for 1 hour, then add the whole potatoes. 
  5. Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked.
  6. Drain broth from meat and reserve it to make white sauce. (Instead I lifted out the meat and vegetables to a tian, cooled and refrigerated them while the sauce thickened and reduced.) 
  7. Melt butter in a large, deep frying pan or saucepan. When melted, gradually whisk in 3-4 tablespoons of flour, stirring constantly until the roux starts to gently brown. (Instead I melted the butter and with  a fork, stirred in the flour.)
  8. Gradually whip (I might use a whisk if I did it this way.) in the milk until sauce starts to thicken. Continue whipping until all the milk is absorbed. It should be extra thick. If not, put one more tablespoon of flour into a ladle and add white sauce to ladle. Mix well to form a smooth paste, then whip this into white sauce.
  9. Gradually whip the broth from the stew into the white sauce. When smooth and thick, pour this back into the stew.
  10. Gently mix, turning the meat and vegetables over in white sauce.
  11. Simmer very gently for 5 minutes, stirring carefully so that meat and vegetables don’t fall apart.
  12. Serve, sprinkling with chopped parsley. (Because  I was cooking a larger quantity, I cooked it for about 2 hours. I think your timing is correct for the 2 pounds of veal. I also changed the next step and removed the meat and apples and onions from the broth and added in the milk, and while that was cool, added in the butter/flour mixture. This seemed easier t me than draining and using another pan. I let that simmer on medium low as it slowly thickened and reduced a bit. Then about an hour before company arrived I turned up the heat and reduced the sauce and thickened it to where I thought it should be, heavy cream consistency and added the halved potatoes and cooked them half way. At that point I added the stew parts back in and let the whole thin cook gently while we had aperitifs)  
Note: This is often served with rice. If you prefer rice, leave out the potatoes. Small turnips can also be added at the beginning, as well as other vegetables, according to taste.

My guests absolutely loved it! And to be truthful, I must admit that some had four servings. I had enough leftover from the dinner for four generous servings the next day. 

Merci, Jonell, for offering me this opportunity to be a petite part of your book development! I'd love to help again, if you need more testers! 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Cook With Me: The Crazy Bee and Beurre Blanc

The hot golden sun meandered lower in the sky, like a ball of butter being pierced by the jagged peaks of the mountains. In the kitchen of the Crazy Bee I readied to give the third and last cooking class in the fish and sauces series to my student, Rudolph.

The purple shallots were chopped. The beautiful iridescent flounder sat on a sizzle platter in the fridge ready to broil. Lump crab rested in a bowl, relaxed and for mixing with minced fresh fennel and herbs. The Plugra butter was on a plate, also in the fridge, ready for The Sauce.

I was relieved to have the prep part in the bag, so to speak. Not because we couldn’t do it during the class - Rudolf was an excellent chopper, but I could tell his patience to get to the good stuff at the stove, had been wearing thin. This, our last class the focus would be on Beurre Blanc. And I wanted it to be the best class yet.

Another reason I had prepped was because my mise en place seemed to transform when I got behind the line, the flat-top and 8 burner stove, the eye-level stainless steel shelves, and the tight corners of Rudolph’s kitchen. And my mise seemed to shudder all the more from a simple flick of a finger.

Rudolph entered and tied on his apron. It wasn’t long now. It was coming. But I was ready. This time, I was ready for it.

Rudolph reached out, his hand was in slow motion, and just like clockwork, and as in the other two lessons, he flicked on the fan; this time to rid the air of the "spicy fumes wafting up off of the onions that were saute-ing in butter with cayenne pepper" he said. And just as before, amidst the whir this kitchen blurred with every other commercial kitchen I’ve ever been in. Was my hair standing on end yet? That’s not an easy feat to begin with. I couldn’t hear Rudolph, even though he stood next to me. I watched him out of the corner of my eye; to check if he was ok with what was going down, it was his kitchen after all, his roaring buzzing kitchen. The noise seemed normal to him. But I still checked carefully to see if he was bored or crying, laughing, or maybe he had been commenting and speaking non-stop for the last three minutes or three hundred years since the fan had been turned on; relaying a very personal and important tale about his kitchen. Had his mouth had just turned down in annoyance because I was ignoring him? Right before he poked me with that same finger that had flicked on the fan, as in - hey, you - I turned and gasped, and nodded quickly as if I’d heard everything.

And I had, more or less as his comments blended with the orders for more parsley being called out from the past, by Chef Henin in the Escoffier Kitchen or from Chef Ryan in the American Bounty Kitchen at the Culinary Institute of America, who also had kitchens where the huge exhaust fans muddled a lot of my mise back then.

But back to Rudolf’s kitchen in the Crazy Bee. I looked again, his mouth was moving.

“I’m sorry, what?” I asked.

He fairly shouted, “Why do you use unsalted butter?”

I grabbed the cool counter of stainless steel. I slowly turned to look at him, stirring the pot of shallots and wine, as if I had become Linda Blair in the exorcist. I sighed. He wasn’t really angry, this was what normal people did to be heard above the fan. But also because of the fan, it seemed like if I shouted back, the butter might curdle, not to mention the cream. Delicate, delicate movements were required to undo this moment of excessive voicing and questions about butter.

“Why unsalted butter?” I repeated. He nodded.

Unsalted butter was the bane ~ and beauty ~ of my existence, and many other chefs who had come before me. WWJD? Julia, help. Julia Child loved butter. That’s all, I wanted to say. But he was a factual person. He wanted facts, I could tell by the way his lips pushed out in defiance. If I insulted his Land O Lakes butter, did I insult him? But wasn’t I a teacher?

I mulled over the story, in about a nanosecond, that I had written about the butter archivist in Paris. The silky Irish dude I met from the Cork Museum of Butter at the IACP conference in Chicago, and the butter tasting, afterwards. The butter that was cut from slabs in fromagier stand in the Raspail Sunday market in Paris. The butter’s perfume hinted of grass and that one nasturtium the blind cow had eaten, been surprised by, and loved.

Salted or unsalted, seems to be a very basic question. I loved this question. I hated this question. I had been asked so many times that my very skin now had transformed into a papery sheer parchment shroud protecting the heart of blonde silky butter that was me, and I was decidedly unsalted.

Butter, I begged, could you please tell the story of my life in the kitchen if I am too weary to answer, and when, if, I died in the next minute from not explaining this, this ethereal notion that can’t be put into words, it’s okay when they would roll me over and find ‘unsalted si’l tu plait’ tattooed on the small of my back.

He stirred his small pot of shallots and wine. He tilted the pan towards me. “Good?”

I nodded my head and made eye contact. Yes, good, go for it, I sternly said to myself. Let’s see what happens. I stirred my pot, too, for we were making tandem batches - one with salted and one with unsalted - to make enough beurre blanc for 8 people. The wine had reduced from 1 cup to 2 tablespoons.

Then I realized, Rudolph really doesn’t know the answer. He wants to learn. He’s not asking in order to be difficult or to test me in some barbarically buttery way. He’s not pulling my leg. Or my slab or my pat, my quarter, my stick, or my tub. I opened my mouth to speak. Then took up the knife. Taste, I thought. That’s “butter” than all the words.

But wait just a minute. We cut little slivers of each butter. Land O lakes and Plugra. I watched him taste. It dawned on me, that’s not the half of it. If he doesn’t know about unsalted butter - how can he know, gulp, about, Beurre Blanc with two capital B’s. I swallowed and tasted the Land O Lakes. Water. It was like a flood. Like Niagara Falls gushing through me. But I smiled. He was watching me. I wiped the sweat off my lips.

“What do you think?” I ask.

I went back over how I came up with this foolish idea to make a butter sauce. Fish and sauces, that was his requested theme for the weekend. We had done Aioli, the classic Provencale garlic mayonnaise with fish, not with salt cod but with Tom’s black bass. So Beurre Blanc was the next obvious choice, and classic and what? There’s another sauce for this fish? Not in my book.

“It’s not bad, is it?” Rudolf asked.

I glanced away first, like this is no big deal, “There’s too much water in salted butter. And the sauce won’t thicken up, won’t emulsify the same. ” There, it was out there. Let the chips fall where they may.

I sliced the creamy slab of Plugra into 12 pieces. I loved how it looked. Pale under the lights. So very rich, thick and it knew who it was. The best. Except for Irish butter, and that butter from the Loire, where Beurre Blanc was born in Nantes. Or the Normandy butter that had crystals of sea salt in it? That was different - very different from Land O Lakes.

I turned the knife around, and he took hold of the handle, I motioned for him to do the same to the yellow Land O Lakes sticks, that oozed water as we spoke, or rather didn’t speak, but just exchanged knives, spoons and whisks.

I added 2 tablespoons of Maple View heavy cream to each of our pots. We stirred and the cream came up to the boil, then one minute later we turned off the heat.

“Ready?” The moment of truth. About to begin.

He nodded.

I nodded too, and threw in the first of 12 carefully cut tablespoons of butter.

He stirred.

“Here, tilt it on the side, like with the Aioli.” I cringed a bit to myself, because this was point where the kitchen gods could decide anything. Would the sauce emulsify or perish? Oh, I see, you don’t believe in Kitchen gods. OK, well, another story, another time?

The liquid looked like milky melted butter with shallots - it wasn’t yet thickening. Come On, Land O Lakes, Land O Grass, Land O Flower, and Land O Bovine, think of the cow that gave her milk on that sunny day when your butter was born. The one nasturtium. Maybe, as I softened, the butter, would, could become unsalted? I chanted. Unsalt thyself.

I turned the handle of the Plugra pot towards him, and we exchanged pots. But this was complicated too. Would he feel less like working this butter, this foreign unsalted being? Perhaps once they got to know each other? But then, I had to be a good example, accept his butter. I smiled at the Land O Lakes pot. He smiled at the pot o Plugra.

By the sixth tablespoon, the salted Land O Lakes Beurre Blanc was looking better, not unctuous, but butter. Had it been his smile? Had the fan spirited all the emotions away? And more importantly, perhaps the fan had extracted the salt? What do you think?

It would be hard to say what the 8 people at the table decided about the Beurre Blanc. The white moon ascended and the raccoons meandered by.

The next morning as I packed up to leave, I opened the commercial refrigerator to see if I had left a bowl or platter behind. And there they were; boxes upon boxes of Land o Lakes, salted butter. A Kilimanjaro of butter. I kissed the extra pound of Plugra in the yellow and red wrapper, and sat it beside the mountain of salted butter. Not too close. But close enough to begin the change. And then I turned on the fan.

I didn’t look back.

Please find the recipe for Beurre Blanc here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Flowing River Revision

I took my morning walk down the hill to Edwards, Colorado and chose sitting by the Eagle River. It's definite a bit chilly, sitting in the shade, but this is easier on the eyes when looking at the computer. 

The flow of the river is very inspiring, melodic and helps me hook into the energy of movement. 

The time for storms is usually 8 hours away. So let's see what kind of progress I can make on this set of revisions. 76 comments to address and 757 questions to answer! 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Write With Me: Is Episodic Fiction Like a Shawl of Pumpkin Leaves?

I haven't blogged in a while and so I apologize for leaving you in a lurch of leeks or a gulch of gnocchi-- where are you and where have you found yourself these past few months?

Over here in C'est si Bon! land, this September morning, summer has departed and the air is cool with golden light filtering through the dogwood tree. Acorns ping the stone patio and birds twitter about. It all seems peaceful, bucolic and rather sedate - but inside my writing room it is not.

I am in the garden of revising this novel, The Way of Psomi, and have been lucky enough to get an evaluation from editor, Brenda Windberg of Free Expressions. You know the score, there is the news of things that are working, and the news about how the story would work better. My challenge is to more clearly draw the linear line from scene to scene so that the goal and the conflict within lead to a resolution and on to the next scene. I am going to do this, just hold your horses. I have just one thing to tell you.

This morning began about nine hours ago, the cool air coming through the open window. From my writing room I can see the garden and it makes me happy to see pumpkins growing while I am working. Gosh those are some leaves, I thought.

It was chilly enough to warrant wearing a sweater, and then with a gasp that startled the squirrels, I had a brilliant idea. I would craft an envious analogy between making a shawl of sorts from the immense pumpkin leaves lining the fence and episodic fiction and narrative fiction.

Why you may ask?

I got curiouser and curiouser about episodic fiction. But as a writer, its not usually what you want. It is something that writers (ahem, this writer) did, did, did, but will never do again - but why is that really so bad? :)

Here's a cool piece about  an episodic story called Birds, by John O'Brien. As it turns out some of my favorite stories are episodic: Don Quixote and Candide. And then there's Dan Holt who wrote, Ten Stories About Coyotes I Never Told You.

Gosh, you think I've perfected this procrastination thing a bit too much? 

I've struggled most of the day to make this analogy and I think I've figured it out.

The theory being that pumpkin leaves, as they grow on the vine, have no particular linear line, You could drape them over your shoulders, again, no rhyme or reason, and have a perfect example of a shawl and of episodic fiction.

Beautiful things strung together with no connection or inciting incident. My theory being is that pumpkin leaves meander all over the place; big and small, gnarly and with delicate little tendrils that hang on for dear life, They are, like life, like all beautiful things, that resist definition and just are. You can't change them.

So I went out to the garden.

Now I reached out my hand for the beautiful pumpkin leaves. I grabbed hold of the vine to lift them - not disturb them - and then, I screamed bloody murder!

Do you have ANY idea how prickly pumpkin vines are? Excuse my language but they are the mofos of the vegetable world. Now I hate pumpkin leaves and totally like, screw them and their refined distant beauty. The idea of making a shawl out of them, turned my blood to stone.

Goal. Make a shawl out of pumpkin leaves.
Conflict. Pumpkin leaves tried to kill me.
Resolution. Pull them all out!

Pumpkin, you span spring, summer and fall, and I once worshiped you but then you tore up my hands. Your seeds, I might add, were saved by a dear friend (hmmm) and given to me for Christmas and then when the sun angled its way to us again, we kindly pushed into the dark dirt in April, and hoped for you. You sprouted double leaves (already I should have suspected as they were so huge) you were set firmly in the May ground. You grew those damn leaves even bigger and decided to crawl over the fence and grow like EVERYWHERE. Oh yeah, you do have beautiful flowers, but I ignored you, was too busy to pick you and fill you with cheese and fry you up, so is that why you got furiouser and furiouser at being ignored and made so many pumpkins?

furious pumpkins

Just what did you think? Your job was to grow? Out here in the garden? And as for my theory?

Goodbye Pumpkin!

I learned once and for all, and the hard way, too, that pumpkin leaves are not like episodic fiction. Hardly. One leaf is connected to the other and pretty soon they are going to cover the school, and then as they cross the patio to the house, frost will nip their tender hearts and any hope they have of getting to me!

There was a goal and a conflict, but the resolution is mine! All mine! Ha! Ha! Ha!

I made a salad for lunch, (not of pumpkin though it should have been :) and as I carried the egg shells and carrot skins to the compost bin I beamed a smile to the heavens and danced a jig over the empty-of-pumpkin ground. And guess what had the nerve to show itself to me?

Another pumpkin, sprouting out of the compost pile.

And, PS there will be lots of pumpkin recipes, to come! 
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