Category Archives: miscellany

A food-related cabinet of curiosities.

roasted goose breasts w bacon + red wine

There is a new expressway that runs over the dual lane road we used to get around when I was a kid. I am realizing now that we call this the “new” road but it has been there for years. Maybe even a decade or more. You can fly down the new road and reach your destination in a few moments. Over the break I drove from Baltimore back to Delaware and took the new road home when I got off of I-95. I’ve never done it before, but was in a hurry to get to my parents’ place. The old road runs beneath the new one, at least in parts heading south from the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. My night vision is getting more questionable these days but in the periphery I can clearly see the lights in the houses along the old road below, flashing in streaks and dots where houses cluster together and in solitary flickers where a single house sits in a long black stretch of dark woods, or a field. On the homeward leg of trips when I was a child in the backseat, I saw these same lights. There are new settlements and developments now, along the road, but the baseline is still there, and the rickety glass windows in the old houses communicate the light differently than the fancy new ones, and I can easily tell them apart without the assistance of any conscious thought. It seems that the patterns are so familiar to my subconscious that I recognize by the sequence the settlements along the old road—that is Fieldsboro, this must be Drawyers. I am reminded of ancient armies led by the watch fires lit in succession on the hillside, telegraphing the way home. Each solitary man with a torch on his own hilltop, presaging the fires that wait in the hearth. Signaling: you’re nearly home.

This sensation applies to cooking as well. In thinking about the year of cooking ahead of me, I also think about the past. There is a baseline I recognize in my cooking in spite of the addition of ingredients unfamiliar in my home kitchen. For my grandmothers and my mother, cooking is not an exercise in nostalgia, but a critical daily activity. Food must be gotten onto the table. The family must be fed. I might use a splash of wine in the meat, or shallot instead of an onion, but I’m still simply making supper. In this way every meal is a homecoming, and a subconscious recognition of meals before, and a preparation for meals to come. The process is a part of a journey that is both familiar and ancient.

On New Year’s Eve, some neighbors brought by fresh goose breasts. I didn’t get to the camera during the busy meal, but many hands prepared braised cabbage and onions, biscuits, roasted potatoes, salad, and the goose breasts. If you’re lucky enough to have fresh game, you don’t need any pictures anyway. Follow the signals and you’ll be home free. I hope we all have a great year of cooking, eating, and living, linking the past to the future.

Roasted goose w bacon + red wine

Serves 8

  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 8 goose breasts, split, boned, and skinned (this is the meat from 4 geese)
  • 1 large red onion, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 16 pieces of smoked bacon
  • 8 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 3 cups red wine
  • 1/2 cup apricot, fig, or sour cherry jam or preserves

1. The night before or at least an hour before, dissolve the salt and sugar in a bowl large enough to hold the goose breasts. Use enough water to cover the breasts, roughly 2 to 3 quarts. Soak the goose breasts overnight or for at least one hour.

2. Preheat oven to 400 F. Scatter onion slices in the bottom of a 13 x 9 – inch roasting pan. Pat each goose breast dry and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Take each breast and wrap it, covering completely, in 2 strips of bacon. Tuck garlic slices between bacon and goose meat. Place each breast gently in the pan, leaving a bit of space between each one. When all the goose breasts are wrapped, pour soy sauce over them, and carefully pour the red wine into the bottom of the pan. The wine should just come up to the bottom of the breasts, so use less if they are getting covered up.

3. Place goose breasts in the oven and cook until they are cooked to about 155 F. (The USDA safe temperature for goose breasts is 165 F, which is our ultimate temperature destination in this process.) Pour pan juices into a sauce pan and cover the goose and allow it to rest. Bring the juices to a simmer over medium-high heat, and add the jam or preserves. Continue to simmer until sauce is thickened and reduced. Pass the sauce with the goose at the table.

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christmas recipe round-up

For those of you celebrating Christmas, and also the new year, it can be a crazy time balancing cooking with all the other chores you have to do. I recommend focusing on the food this time of year. When you’re old and gray, everyone will remember the coconut squares, and probably not the dust bunnies. Here are a few recipes to get you through the season, including cookies and desserts, winning hors d’oeuvres, and some one-pot winter meals that will work on Christmas Eve, or New Year’s Day.

Whatever festival you celebrate, I hope it is full of light and goodness, in the kitchen and every room of the house.

Cookies & Desserts

Hors d’oeuvres

One-dish wintry meals (these are just a few greatest hits – click here for a full list)

 

 

 

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thanksgiving recipe round-up

Since I have a giant chip on my shoulder about the fact that I am never allowed to alter our family Thanksgiving menu in any respect, I am sure I have mentioned this fact before. I am permitted to cook exactly the Thanksgiving dinner that my mother cooked, which is what her mother cooked, which is what her mother cooked. The meal is matrilineal in every way, except that my father and I sometimes edge in there with his mother’s cranberry-orange relish or winter squash, and I always make sweet-potato rolls, which are definitely something from his (southern Maryland) side of the family. There is nothing wrong with this meal, except that is like saying there is nothing wrong with my house: it’s just fine until you tell me I have to stay inside of it 24/7 for the rest of my life.

The menu is: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole cranberries, jellied cranberries, mashed turnips, winter greens (kale or collards in some combination), sweet-potato rolls, giblet gravy, mincemeat pie (we can our own), and pumpkin pie. In my dreams, I stuff a winter squash, or serve a gratin of turnips, or perhaps substitute a grain or rice dish for some of the carbohydrates in the meal. The stuffing might have mushrooms, or sage. Yet, like Sisyphus, I am ever chained to my fate: preparing this meal each year, pleasantly suggesting alternative dishes, being summarily shot down. (One year I suggested we use a new stuffing recipe and my brother accused me of being a communist. Senator McCarthy has nothing on my family.)

Perhaps you follow in the footsteps of those original pilgrims, who sought, and gained, freedom from the constraints of their life in England. If so, maybe you are empowered to cook new things at Thanksgiving—and in that case, here are a few suggestions:

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birthday cake

Our nephew’s second birthday came around earlier this month, and I am sorry to say I am just now getting around to posting these pictures here. He is a little obsessed with trains, and so the cake became a group project. His grandmother spread green frosting on the platter and meticulously created tracks with shoestring licorice. I baked and frosted the cake, which was really nine little cakes, each a different train car. And his mother used candy to make each train car unique. We were pretty pleased with the results, and evidently he was, too:

What do we live for, after all, but to watch children decide to sink their teeth into their birthday cakes?

If you’d like (i.e., are crazy enough) to make this cake: I used the cake recipe I posted here. I used a double batch of Wilton’s decorating buttercream, which is perfect because it doesn’t melt from the heat from your hands on the pastry bag. And I used this adorable cake pan.

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thanksgiving recipe round-up

In between trying to figure out how we will yet again fit a deliriously happy yet physically impossible number of people into my parents’ dining room, wedging the legs of several different tables with pieces of wood that we keep in the garage just for the occasion, I thought I would post a collection of recipes from the site that might provide Thanksgiving inspiration. I hope your family feasts make many happy memories next week.

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dealing with greens

Every edible green leaf imaginable is pouring into our farmers’ markets right now: from tender butter lettuce to the greens attached to beets and turnips to hardy kales and chards. With the rainy weather we’ve had here recently I have noticed the farmers are bringing their greens to market fairly clean, which is an accomplishment. (When it rains, grit from the field kicks up and coats the leaves of greens. So, counterintuitively, farm-fresh greens are dirtiest right after a rainstorm.) There is nothing worse than taking a bite of greens and getting a mouthful of grit, however! We have to be extremely careful when washing our greens. Especially careful with chards and lacinato kale, which have beautiful (dirt-trapping) texture in their leaves.

Another issue with fresh greens is the space they take up in the refrigerator. I’m lucky that I have a market a couple of blocks from my house each Saturday and Wednesday throughout the growing season. So I don’t have to buy a week’s worth of vegetables one day a week—I can take home smaller amounts twice per week. But still, greens take up a lot of room. And you can’t just toss them in the crisper, really; they need a little special care before you can store them properly. Here are a few tips that will make it easy to eat loads of fresh greens all season long.

1. Cleaning

I have mentioned before that I keep a basic $5 dishpan under my sink just for washing greens. It is just the right size to hold even the largest collard greens, and it’s easy to change water and clean up. I have a large over-the-sink straining basket (which extends over the edges of the sink, see picture of multicolor chard above). These two items make it easy to clean the greens and prepare them either for storage or for cooking.

Place your bundle of greens in the dishpan and fill it with cold water. Swish the greens back and forth, up and down. Then grab them off the top of the water (careful, because all the dirt’s in the bottom), place them to the side or in the over-the-sink strainer, and drain the wash water. If there is grit in the wash water, rinse out the dishpan, replace the greens in it, and repeat this process until the water in the dishpan is clean.

When you’re finished, toss the greens around gently in the over-the-sink strainer to remove the excess water. Now you’re ready to chop and cook, blanch, or store the greens.

2. Storing (short term)

While the greens are still damp from washing, I use thin cotton flour-sack towels to wrap them up loosely in a bundle. (You can also use paper towels.) I place these bundles in a large, flat box that fits in the refrigerator, or in large, flat plastic containers like these. I wrap the types of greens in different towels, but put all kinds in the boxes together if they fit. I cover these loosely with their lids, or not at all. Greens will keep for up to a week stored in this way, without wilting or getting “burned” from the refrigerator.

3. Storing (long term)

If I have bought too many greens, or have an odd assortment of greens left over from the week’s cooking, I want to freeze them to use later in soups or stuffing. (One of my favorite stuffings for pork is garlic and lots of greens chopped in the food processor with fresh breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper.)

To freeze them, the greens should be blanched in a pot of boiling, salted water, then shocked in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Fill a large pot with water and a small handful (maybe 2 – 3 teaspoons) of salt. Bring it to a boil. While the pot is coming to a boil, get out your dishpan and fill it with water and ice.

When the water boils, toss in the greens. Chard may only need 1 minute in the boiling water; sturdier greens may need 4 or 5 minutes. When they are bright green and pliable, pull them out of the boiling water and plunge them into the ice water. When cool, remove them and drain the liquid off of them. Chop them on a cutting board, place in freezer-safe containers, and freeze immediately. Use them in bean soups, with pasta, in omelettes, or in stuffing—whenever you need them!

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spring

 

Here in Connecticut, we have passed the vernal equinox. But it has snowed twice this week and hailed today, and the farmers’ market still primarily features hydroponic salad greens–not that I’m not grateful for them, mind you!–and winter storage vegetables. I’m returning to my pantry for Rancho Gordo beans and other staples again and again.

But in leafing through my food photographs, I found this picture from last year, late May. Garlic scapes are the harbinger of spring and I am hopeful that we will see them in the market stalls again soon. Until then, it’s easy to satisfy myself with the cheese from the first milking of Beltane Farms’ goats, knowing that spring is just around the corner.


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