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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Foodies Read 2016: Review of Vertical, plus a little Sideways excursion.

Back in the beginning of January I signed up for the Foodies Read Challenge. Read that post here.

Vertical, a Novel by Rex Pickett, was my first pick.

Vertical, The Follow-Up Novel to Sideways

This post took a long time to write. It's more than a review of the book, it's also about a trip we took while in California visiting our son and his girlfriend for the holidays to visit the locations in the film, Sideways. I wanted this post to be succinct. Thoughtful. Not too wordy. And above all, I didn't want to wine. :)

Not sure if I totally succeeded, but I hope Foodies Read 2016 will find a few morsels to digest here, especially if you like the film, Sideways? It's one of my all-time favorite films, and as I say, the hubster and I were recently knee deep in a post Christmas lull in sunny SoCal, we went, uh, decidedly Sideways.

What was it really like there in Sideways land? Fascinating. Delicious. And a little surreal.

I looked up where and when the filming took place - in the fall of 2003, and the release of the film in 2004, a whole 12 years ago. I printed out the Sideways itinerary from the Santa Barbara site and we set our sights on the road trip adventure. For me, I love Miles, Maya, and Stephanie. They're all very unique. Very human. Very believable, and Jack too, even if he wasn't my fave. I love to not like him. So you're welcome to take Jack and his plight. Yes, please, take him.

As a writer myself, I'm always curious to get the inside scoop. How did the film became the icon it did? I read about the author of the novel, Sideways, Rex Pickett. After a few paragraphs I learned about his journey of writing, and ultimately selling the novel; but only after it had been turned down 78 times, and garnered a modest $5,000 and even then only after it had been green-lit to being filmed.

How did Mr Pickett feel about that? The film made a boat load of money. Did he see any of it? I also got more curious about his follow-up novel, called Vertical, as I had followed the news of whether it would, or wouldn't, be made into a film as well. I quickly kindled Vertical but didn't begin reading it till we had completed our Sideways adventure in Buellton, Los Olivos, Solvang, Santa Maria, and the Santa Ynez Wine Valley. And I'm glad that I didn't. Really glad. If I had, it would have greatly impacted our little Sideways nostalgia trip. Vertical is nothing like Sideways. Nothing!

The view out the window is much better than the view of the 
breakfast bar at the Windmill Days Inn in Buellton. Trust me.

The Windmill, the Sideways Motel.

We motored north through Santa Barbara, and turned off at Buellton. It would have been impossible to follow google maps instructions and turn left into the oncoming traffic and onto the little side road just before the Shell station.

Would the Sideways hotel look as I imagined?

Just then the hotel appeared. I'll be honest, the windmill startled me - it was large. I expected to see Don Quixote and Pancho Villa round the corner. My initial reaction and sigh was by far the best part of the whole experience. Inside the motel rooms were really shoddy, and, the breakfast was horrendous, I can't even bear to go into it. It might have been just as well if the Windmill Days Inn had lifted up and spun away across the Santa Ynez Valley, ala The Wizard of Oz. I sure didn't think any of our cast would appear. Not Miles, Maya or Stephanie. Or even Jack.

But it was great great fun to visit many of Sideways spots and quaff wine where Miles and gum-chewing Jack had.

We made it just in time to swirl wine in Los Olivos at Artiste Winery and Tasting Studio and Carhardt Winery's Tasting Room, but missed having dinner at the Los Olivos Cafe. Again, too packed.

We tried to get in the Hitching Post, the restaurant where Maya waited tables, and in the film it seemed to be a nice little walk from the Windmill. Not so at all. We likely would have been pummeled like a bunch of merlot grapes if we had tried. Was the place so packed because it was only a few days before New Year's? Again, apparently not. The place, so they say, is almost always teeming with people; since Sideways. So we went to the Firestone Walker Brewing Taproom instead.

The next morning we ate an aebelskiver in the quirky and ever so Danish Solvang Restaurant where Miles and Jack had their tense breakfast over what was going to happen on the trip.

The Solvang Restaurant

So even 12 years later, the Santa Ynez Valley is still feeling the effects, some good and some not so good, from the movie, and as we followed the film itinerary we made some additional yummy discoveries, like a great breakfast at Jovi's Delights in Santa Maria, and the most amazing selections of fromage at the Santa Ynez Cheese Company, and an appetizer at the Succulent Cafe in Solvang.

I'd happily take Miles and Maya and Steph to any of these if they ever pop out of their parallel universe; which I'm betting begins somewhere near Blackjack Ranch. Or Foxen Winery. Ok, maybe Jack, too.

Here is a great page that talks about all the Wines in the film.

One of my posts on Instagram. Follow me @ Madamelevain.

Once back in Glendale I was so obsessed that I started fantasizing about writing a spin-off to Sideways, one that asked the "what if" question of whether Jack, Miles, Maya, and Steph could step out of their parallel universe and up to the plate to turn back the clock and solve the problem of California's drought.

But luckily for everyone, I started reading the follow-up novel, Vertical, instead. Yes finally we're going to talk about that.

The basic plot of Vertical is another road trip, and not only does Miles team up again with his cad-like compadre Jack, but he has also sprung his paralytic mother, Phyllis from her rest home, and stolen back her dog, Snapper, from a former girlfriend; with the ultimate plan to take them both back to Sheboygan, Wisconsin to live with Phyllis's sister, Alice, who loves making pot-roast. If you did actually took your mom out of the rest home, would you only get a phone call? I would have thought this was kid-napping, or mom-napping, but what do I know?

Riding side-saddle to Phyllis is Joy, her Filipina caretaker addicted to Med-Mary. This unlikely bunch lurches in a rented wheelchair accessible ramp-van towards the International Pinot Noir Celebration, yes it's a real celebration, shall we go? in the Willamette Valley in Oregon where Miles is the MC.

There were times I felt weary and disgusted and nauseous as the first 2/3's of the story is decidedly one note. Sex and alcohol and debauchery is a major theme, a muscle that was way overworked to the point that Jack ends up in the ER because he is unschooled about Viagra, and thinks in his inebriated state that more is mo better. But he learns that more is painfully, way too much! It's not that I'm a prude, I am a chef after all, but there was very little complexity involved, and the narrow arc of the characters almost broke my patience for a good story. The quartet hurl north in the rampvan while uncorking and drinking the most elegant of Pinot's - except for Phyllis who is addicted to Chardonnay - and Joy who takes her tokes very seriously. But the wine seems more like product placements, ho hum, and I quickly lost what appreciation I once had for Miles' affinity and identity as the elusive grape, Pinot Noir, which Sideways catapulted to stardom. Fame and stardom are no good, which is a recurring theme.

I thought about Christopher "story guru" Vogler's adage:

“I realized that the good stories were affecting the organs of my body in various ways, and the really good ones were stimulating more than one organ. An effective story grabs your gut, tightens your throat, makes your heart race and your lungs pump, brings tears to your eyes or an explosion of laughter to your lips.”

Now Miles and Jack had plenty of organs being stimulated, but please believe me when I say that it was my stomach that turned over again and again as they consumed bottle after bottle of fine wine. This couldn't be the same Miles who had proclaimed his insignificance in Sideways with the now famous line:

"I'm a smudge of excrement on a tissue surging out to sea with a million tons of raw sewage."

(Interested in a bit of Sideways trivia? Bukowski didn't write that, Rex Pickett, the author, did.)

Miles, baby, in most of Vertical, yes, this is what you have become, a smudge of excrement. But the pull of Sideways is so strong for me, that Miles is not someone I can hate. But for the first part of Vertical, I was bitterly, I say bitterly! disappointed. Then came the last third of the novel when the Miles I love returns; and the story is about a son and his dying mother. There was meat on those bones. Something for me to digest and my nausea left me.

So is Vertical about the American dream; fame and fortune? If so, then fame and fortune are a pair of screaming monkeys on Miles' back. I suppose this has always been true. Why did I expect so much from Miles? In Vertical, people were expecting a lot from Miles, too. It seemed no matter what he did, that he couldn't disappoint them, because they weren't really seeing him. He could stand up and pour a spit bucket over his head, aka the scene in Sideways at Foxen Winery, and people would cheer. He could say the most asinine things. and the crowd would cheer. Maybe Miles never really believed that he had made it. Never really felt like he deserved his success.

And maybe Rex Pickett felt somehow that Vertical was his screw you to the millions of fans who loved Sideways, because he had not really been recognized for the novel, from which the film Sideways was made. There is a backstory to that "transaction." I wanted to tell Rex/Miles that he didn't have to perform like a circus bear. Look how far he had fallen. It made me wonder if three worlds have been blurred in Vertical; the novel, the film, and true life?

In Vertical, the novel that supposedly made Miles famous is called Shameless. But as we know, in Sideways Miles wasn't trying to sell a novel about his road trip with Jack, the novel that didn't sell, was an existential one about his father's death. In Vertical, the story seems to be that now Miles has become what he wrote, and made famous, Shameless.

In Sideways, I love Miles, he is my hero. I recognize him. I know him. His pain, his struggle. But now this Miles. has changed his game. He is the one, not Jack as in Sideways, leading the chase; sucking down great gulps of the fame and notoriety that has bought him the attentions of willing women, that was so fleeting before. Of course this led to my having to adjust MY attitude as the women were also a big part of this, they were the ones throwing themselves at him. I wanted Miles to show us, teach us, and these women, that he was a bigger man, and not in a Viagra sort of way, but that there was a deeper and better response to fame than to be a puppet in the scripted dog and pony show.

Now to be sure Sideways had its unsavory moments as I mentioned above - as part of the story is Jack's approach - his Sideways approach? - to getting married. But Jack's plight was something he believed in. And in Vertical we see how that panned out for him. He's still struggling with it, is getting a divorce, and must deal with guilt over seeing/not seeing his young son.

What about the women? The women of Sideways are visited in Vertical, but given short shrift. Steph is rumored to now be a hooker in Vegas. Really, the Steph who broke Jack's nose with a bicycle helmet has sunk so low as to become a hooker? Maya has one scene where she is bitter about her and Miles' relationship. I don't know about you, but this is not the Maya who we see at the end of Sideways when Miles knocks on her door, I felt so much hope about her opening the door to the future, and I often wondered where they might be now.

For me, that Miles and Maya, are still there.

And yes, there is a next book in the series, Chile 3, which I'll read. But first, maybe I'll go back and read the novel, Sideways. Or should I save that for last? I guess I feel a little like a Star Wars fan in that regard. I have to see if Miles ever makes it to Barcelona to see his "one true love" Laura. And has he maintained his redemption that he worked so hard for at the end of Vertical? But then I have to wonder, what kind of story would that make?

But since this is a Foodie Reads review, here are a few Foodie moments.

"Scampi. Pickled Olives. Smoked paprika. Saffron. Seafood. Paella. I make an amazing Paella," says Laura, from Barcelona, to Miles in the middle of their love-making.

"Bring her the Australian lobster tails," Miles orders for Joy at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Fresno. But Joy is not as interested in food as in smoking. Which kind of goes against everything I thought I knew. :)

Phyllis, does like to eat out and often, and before dinner arrives at Fleming's she explains why. "All I ever did was cook, cook, cook, we never went out. And when we did it was pizza. That's what killed your father, all that damn pizza."

At Tina's in Dundee, Oregon - "the eclectic offerings included seafood, lamb, duck, steak, rabbit, and a wild mushroom risotto."

Phyllis also waxes on about Sunday night suppers when she was growing up in Sheboygan. We revisit some of those memories in the last part of the book.

Also towards the end of the book Miles and his mom go to the Blue Lake Resort on the shores of Lake Michigan and order seafood salads and a Chardonnay "which for a moment the wine affording her a lift that in her words made her, 'fly like the angels.' " There is a Blue Lake Resort in Michigan, but it doesn't have a restaurant.

Back at Phyllis's sister, Alice's place, a pot roast dinner waits with all the trimmings.

A poignant moment is when Jack returns with Snapper, Phyllis's dog, and since Miles has quit drinking, he and Jack no longer have anything in common. Without alcohol, their relationship has dried up.

After visiting the Santa Ynez Cheese Factory we spied a BBQ place, but they were closing and we were directed back to the Hitching Post as the best BBQ in the area. You might know, or you might not, that in California BBQ means that the meat (or sometimes vegetables like artichokes) is grilled over a red oak fire. There is no sauce a'tall.

Artichokes, Before Roasting

Here is the Hitching Post 2's owner, Frank Ostini.'s recipe!

Artichokes with Smoked Ancho Chile Mayonnaise by Frank Ostini

I revised this because it was snowing and there was no grilling to be had. Roasting was the ticket.

4 large globe artichokes

4 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup Hitching Post Smoked Tomato Pesto*

1/2 cup mayonnaise

Trim artichokes with scissors to remove leaves' sharp edges. Bring 1 to 2 inches of water to boil in a large pot. Add artichokes, and steam 30 minutes or until inside leaves and heart are tender. Drain and cool slightly.

Oven-Roasted Artichokes

Cut each artichoke in half. Snip around fuzzy thistle (choke), and remove with a spoon. Grill artichoke halves 8 to 10 minutes or until hot, basting with butter and sprinkling with salt and pepper. Combine pesto and mayonnaise in a small bowl; serve on the side.

Smoked Ancho Chile Mayonnaise, almost

the roasted artichokes, dechoked, and filled with yumminess

*Note: You can purchase the Smoked Tomato Pesto at Hitching Post 2. To make a similar version, combine 1 teaspoon chopped chipotle pepper in adobo sauce and 1 tablespoon minced sun-dried tomatoes in oil.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Read with Me: Foodies Read Challenge 2016 and a Confession

This morning as the rain drops fell on our last full day in SoCal, I was exploring one of my favorite blogs, Heather Schmidt-Gonzalez's Girlichef, and came across the Foodies Read Challenge 2016. As it is only January 5th, and it feels like there is still time for all things.

So. I. Decided. To. Accept. The. Challenge.

I reasoned that I am already reading and fooding, and this would be the proverbial piece of cake, or perhaps even better, a bowl of Roasted Pumpkin, Butternut Squash or Sweet Potato Ice Cream! which was a dish I made inspired by Dawn Tripp's novel, A Game of Secrets, but this was way back in gasp, 2011.

Roasted Pumpkin Ice Cream from my review of Game of Secrets

Game of Secrets, A Novel, by Dawn Tripp

Enter another challenge for me.

I read voraciously, and I have a slew, I tell you, of drafts of book reviews of all kinds that have inspired menus, and that I have never posted because they were always something to come back to, because my real job, the one that pays me, (and believe me I feel dirty even saying that, because I am so lucky and love what I do!) is teaching cooking and leading tours to France for both Teens and Adults with C'est si Bon!, my cooking school in Chapel Hill, NC.

Let me add one more ingredient to the stew of the slew of drafts. I confess I am hugely ADD. This means it is very easy for me to be lured by the brilliant flashing lights that beckon when starting things, but not necessarily when finishing them. But I look forward to joining a community of other bloggers for motivation on sticking with something that has eluded me for a long time. Finishing my writing work.

So in light of all this, I commit to finishing the book related posts I had begun, taking the small steps that each one needs to live and breathe as a little story in and of itself. With a wonderful menu. Of tested recipes.

The level I choose is that of Chef de Cuisine which means reading: 14 to 18 books.

I. Can. Do. This. Can't I?

Yes. You. Can!

Ok. We're. In.


If you also find yourself reading books with food in them, whether they are stained with soy sauce or red wine, or olive oil, consider joining in too! Sign-up for the Foodies Read Challenge 2016 which is being hosted by Heather - a DVM who owns a Senegal parrot named Jules, over at Based On a True Story.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Merry California: Cumin Roast Chicken with Three Wise Salads

We've been celebrating and enjoying time with our youngest son, Jaryd, and his girlfriend, Ana, in sunny California. It's been Cali-cool, in many wonderful ways. 

The gift of time with them is cool, which we all are short of most of the year -- but it is plentiful now and not to be taken lightly or for granted. 

The gift of sun (and yes, the pun too) is well, warm, and cool, :) and not to be underestimated. 

And then, unexpectedly, the gift of rain came trickling down. That kind of cool is very much needed here. As we went to pick out the Christmas tree it poured and so an iconic song of my youth is "It Never Rains in California, But Man It Pours"  rang through me. It has rained three times, since we arrived, but I don't think its officially El Nino season yet.

That rain influences another cool gift for sure, cooking together! We have a list of cookies that are special to both of our families, as well as making croissants from scratch, and I look forward to the ins and outs of folding, mixing, and seeing the beautiful Cranberry Bliss Bars side by side with Jam Thumbprint Cookies on a plate. I have so much to learn, and share!

Last night Ana and I headed to the kitchen; inspired by the coming days of cookie baking, ingredients in their pantry, their Farm Fresh to You CSA box, (how cool is that?) and recent episodes of Chopped! we created a unique dinner of Cumin Roast Chicken with Three Wise Salads ~ Quinoa Lentil ~ Raw Cauliflower ~ Arugula Mint ~ Dressed with Creamy Carrot Top Dressing which will gift us with leftovers while we finish up Christmas preparations, and begin, I hope, singing.

Thank you, Ana and Jaryd, for your very warm gift of time. (And Farm Fresh To You carrot tops!)

Creamy Carrot Top Dressing 

Cumin Roast Chicken with Three Wise Salads

Cumin Roast Chicken with Three Wise Salads ~ Quinoa Lentil ~ Raw Cauliflower ~ Arugula Mint ~ Dressed with Creamy Carrot Top Dressing

Cumin Roast Chicken
1 bone-in Art’s Meat Market and Deli chicken breast
1 teaspoon each salt, oregano, cumin, coriander and crushed red pepper

Quinoa Lentil Salad
2 cups quinoa, washed and rinsed
2 cups green lentils
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon each crushed red pepper, oregano, and cumin
1 cup chicken stock
3 cups water
stems from 1 bunch of kale, finely chopped
hearts of 4 farm fresh to you carrots, chopped

Rice Vinegar Dressing
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
¾ cup rice vinegar
½ cup olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste

Raw Cauliflower Salad
½ red onion, finely chopped
5 carrots, ribboned with a vegetable peeler
1 medium head of cauliflower, chopped medium fine
1 bunch kale, destemmed and chiffonade

Basil Garlic Lime Vinaigrette
Juice of 5 limes
8 cloves of garlic, salted and minced
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup of fresh chopped basil

Arugula and Mint Salad
1 bunch arugula, chopped
few sprigs of mint, chopped
½ head green leaf lettuce, chopped

Creamy Carrot Top Dressing
carrot tops from 4 farm fresh to you carrots, washed
½ cup each yogurt and olive oil and orange juice
½ cup pumpkin seeds
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon Spanish paprika
1 small handful cilantro, washed
salt and pepper to taste

Begin with the Cumin Roast Chicken as that takes the longest. Combine the salt and spices in a small bowl and rub mixture into the skin of the chicken breast.

Place rubbed chicken breast in a glass casserole, skin side up, and roast in a 350 degree oven for 50-55 minutes. Leave cool and then remove meat from bones and set aside for serving.

Make the Quinoa Lentil Salad:

Combine 2 cups/12 oz/340 g of well-rinsed uncooked quinoa with 2 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt in a medium saucepan. bring to a boil, cover, decrease the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the lentils, and the remaining 1 cup of chicken stock and cook another 15 minutes. At the end of this time add in the chopped kale stems and the chopped carrot remains. Continue cooking for 5 more minutes, then turn off the heat. the quinoa and lentils should tender but not mushy, and you should be able to see the little quinoa curlicues.

Transfer while warm to a large mixing bowl and add the ingredients of the Rice Vinegar Dressing directly onto the warm lentils and quinoa. Stir and mix. Taste and adjust if needed. Set this salad aside for serving.

With the Quinoa Lentil Salad done and the Cumin Roast Chicken still roasting, begin the Raw Cauliflower Salad. Chop your red onion, cauliflower, and chiffonade the kale and place all in a pretty serving bowl. Ribbon the carrots using the vegetable peeler, and then chop the pile of ribboned carrots slightly and fold into the salad. Prepare the Basil, Garlic, and Lime Vinaigrette, then dress and toss with the Raw Cauliflower and friends. Set this Raw Cauliflower Salad aside with the Quinoa Lentil Salad, both ready to serve.

Wash and chop the Arugula Mint Salad and set aside in a third pretty bowl for serving.

In the last moments before dinner, make the Creamy Carrot Top Dressing in the blender. Super simple, toss everything in the blender and give it a whir. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Suggested Serving. Let each person serve themselves, but one way to build your salad is to lay down some Arugula Mint Salad, then a bit of the Quinoa Lentil Salad, then Raw Cauliflower Salad, and finally the Cumin Roast Chicken topped with the Creamy Carrot Top Dressing.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Great Quick Gifts From the Kitchen: Granola, Ginger Vinegar, Limoncello, and Freekeh Mushroom Soup MIx

Are you going nuts trying to think of something to give? There's nothing more special than homemade gifts from the kitchen

The first recipe, granola, is the most extensive in terms of work, but worth it, I think. The others can be done in a short time; just needing a blender, jars and pre-planning for shopping for ingredients.  

I know you're busy so I won't fill in with stories and such. Just the Facts, er the recipes, Ma'm. 

Candied Ginger and Berry Cherry Granola 

makes 20 (2 cup) bags or tins

12 tablespoons coconut oil
12 cup combo of walnuts and pecans or unsweetened coconut 
10 cup combo of salted pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds
1 pint each sweet dreams brown rice syrup and barley malt syrup (substitute honey if you want a sweeter granola) 

30 cups or a bag each organic kamut and barley puffs
4 cups organic rolled oats

8 cup combo of dried cherries and berry blend
2 cups chopped candied ginger

preheat oven to 350 degrees
line 2 full-size or 4 half-size sheet pans with parchment paper and set aside

heat the coconut oil in a large deep pan (you might need two large turkey roasting pans) heat over medium heat and when hot stir in the nuts (hold off adding the coconut) and seeds. stir well and toast lightly.

turn the heat off and stir in the syrups, when well mixed then add in the coconut, dried fruit and candied ginger, stirring well again. finally add in the puffs, 1 bag at a time, and the rolled oats, and stir until all is well combined and coated. divide between the two parchment lined sheet pans  and bake for 12 minutes, stirring once. remove from oven and let cool. package for gifts in zip-lock bags and then in decorative bags or cookie tins. 

Cayenne Pepper and Ginger Vinegar

for a recent pig-picking we made al carson's original recipe for secret sauce. it was killer and so easy. but then as i had these cayenne peppers from the garden bottled in vinegar for a couple of months in the fridge, i thought and i thought, till my puzzler was sore. and then voila!  

1 quart pickled cayenne or jalapeno peppers in vinegar 
3/4 cups firmly-packed brown sugar
1/4 cup salt
2 4-inch hands of ginger with the vinegar, sliced

process the peppers with their vinegar in a blender. do the same with the ginger slices. be very careful as the fumes themselves with the vinegar can make you cough. place the contents of the blender in a large stainless-steel pot over medium-high heat, bring to a boil. reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. remove from heat.

ladle into jars while still hot. fill within 1/2 inch of the top. seal and turn the jars upside down. by bottling hot, it will seal itself. does not need refrigeration until after opening and then only to protect flavor.

this sauce can be pretty fierce, but the sweetness gives it a good balance. 
Don't Freekeh - Mushroom Soup Mix in a Jar  

Inspired by a visit to Stone Barns Agricultural Center in New York in May. We learned about Freekeh, a roasted green wheat. 

makes 2 quart gift jars - or 4 pint jars

1 1/2 pounds lentils 
1 1/2 pounds freekeh
1 cup dried mushrooms
1/4 cup dried shallots
1 tablespoon each cumin, caraway, and anise or fennel seed

make a label and include these instructions to make the soup

additional ingredients: minced fresh garlic to taste and 1 quart water or stock. to prepare soup: bring water or stock to a boil in a large pot over medium high heat, add soup mix plus fresh garlic. bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. cover, and simmer for 45 minutes, or until lentils and freekeh are tender.

Limoncello with Cherry and Tarragon

10 lemons
1 (750-ml) bottle vodka or everclear
3 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 large bunch tarragon
1 cup dried cherries

remove the peel from the lemons in long strips (reserve the lemons for the chutney).

trim away the white pith from the lemon peels; discard the pith.

place the lemon peels and the tarragon in a 2-quart jar. pour the vodka over the peels and screw on the lid. steep the lemon peels in the vodka for 4 days at room temperature.

stir the water and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. cool completely. pour the sugar syrup over the vodka mixture. cover and let stand at room temperature overnight.

strain the limoncello through a mesh strainer. discard the peels and tarragon. add the cherries and transfer the limoncello to bottles.

seal the bottles and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours and up to 1 month.

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.


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