Eating Every Day

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Out to dinner

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Eastside Road, December 17, 2014—
BEAR WITH ME: Yes, our favorite East Bay restaurant again. We had to be in Berkeley for an early meeting yesterday, so drove down the previous late afternoon, the weather being what it is, and dined downstairs with the good friend who'd offered her little apartment for the night.

Monday night downstairs is a shorter, less expensive meal, as a general rule, and tonight was no exception, even though it was the first dinner in a week of menus taken from the new book French Roots by Jean-Pierre Moullé and Denise Lurton Moullé (Berkeley: Ten Speed Press; haven't read it yet; hope to get to it soon).

J-P was the head chef at Chez Panisse for many many many years, just how many would be difficult to reckon as there were interregna from time to time, but dating way back into the 1970s, and I think his long residency has been perhaps the principal influence on the Chez Panisse style as it has evolved — long on technique, attentive to detail, ultimately concerned with bringing basic household cooking, what I think of as cusine bonne femme, into a sophisticated restaurant dining room. (All this married, of course, to the ethical foundation Alice has demanded, with which he fully agrees.)

This was a decidedly bonne femme menu: salad; rabbit; custard. But look how it was elevated:
Smoked Bolinas black cod and endive salad with crème fraîche
fresh young greens, of course, with a well-calculated percentage of softly poached fish and a drizzle of crème fraîche.
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Le lapin à la moutarde de Denise:
Devil's Gulch Ranch rabbit braised with mustard and onions; with glazed carrots and peppercress
I came close to not including this photograph, which does not do justice to the visual beauty of the dish — a complex beauty difficult to capture with a telephone! When the plate arrived I lifted it to my face to breathe in the aroma (I do this often; I hope it doesn't bother my companions), and I said Ah, Bistro! But when I tasted the succulent rabbit I said No, not bistro: restaurant. The sweet flavor of rabbit was certainly forward, but enhanced by bay, thyme, and white wine, and no more than exactly the right amount — to my taste, anyway — of Dijon mustard. The recipe is in French Roots, and I'll be cooking it soon, I promise.

Île flottante
That's it in the photo at the top: Floating Island, but nothing like the one my mother used to make, which was My-T-Fine vanilla pudding in a Pyrex bowl with meringue baked on top in the oven of the uncertain wood-burning cookstove. This was an elegant affair, with various preserved and/or stewed fruits decorating the serving, not an island but an archipelago. I almost asked for seconds, but we were at the early seating…
Pinot gris, Zellenberg (Alsace), Marc Tempé, 2011; Morgon, M. Lapierre, 2012
Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510-548-5525
NEXT DAY WE STOPPED for a snack at Bartavelle, the café wedged between Acme Bakery (where we'd gone for a loaf of bread) and Kermit Lynch Imports (where I wanted to go for a case or two of wine, but forbore). I meant to get only a nibble, but was seduced by the crostini: we had two of the brandade, as soft and nicely calculated a brandade as I've had anywhere, including Spain; and one of the ciccioli, nicely crunchy rillettes from Fifth Quarter Charcuterie, a place we're going to have to explore. With these, a half glass of clean, bright Rosato provided by the neighbor, and then an interesting almond-paste cookie with an amarena cherry inside.

Bartavelle Coffee & Wine Bar, 1603 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley; 510-524-2473red beans.jpg
A DASH ACROSS the bay to the de Young Museum, there to see Keith Haring and (more impressive) great Southwestern ceramics and weavings; and then dinner at a New Orleans-themed place significant to us for the presence of a granddaughter at the host stand — thus does the restaurant industry continue through the generations.

Here I had what the menu listed simply as Red Beans & Sausage. Red beans and rice it was (white for me, thank you, not brown), with a generous amount of pulled pork sustaining the not overcooked beans, and a very nicely grilled, spicy pork andouille sausage, made in house I believe and very tasty.

Like the sausage, the pork in the beans incorporated a certain amount of cartilage, giving bite and texture to the dish. I mushed the rice and beans all together, of course, and ate every bit with pleasure, and was completely satisfied. On the side, collard greens with ham hock, a big serving in a small iron cauldron, easily enough for both of us. With the good hush puppies alongside, this was all I needed for a satisfying supper…
Dolcetto, Palmina Vineyards (Santa Barbara), 2011
Boxing Room Restaurant, 399 Grove Street, San Francisco; 415-430-6590

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pizza with a difference

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Eastside Road, December 14, 2014—
IT WILL NOT SURPRISE Constant Reader to find that I have little patience for the gluten-free craze. I respect those who have legitimate concerns, of course; celiac disease can be no picnic. But the gluten controversy has reached epic dimension, and the blame should not fall, I think, on wheat, which after all has sustained our species for quite a while now. I'm pretty much convinced that to the extent that gluten has been problematic it's been because of method, not substance: I'm persuaded that it's the milling, and the addition of chemicals to the separated parts of the wheat grain before they're brought back together in the milling process, that has upset so many modern guts.

And so I did my little scoff routine when the menu at lunch mentioned a gluten-free pizza. How could this be possible, I asked myself; and then I asked the waitress. Oh, she said, we have one pizza that's made with chickpea flour, not wheat.

Wow! Chickpea flour! One of my favorite things is soca, the sorta pancake you get in Nice, made of chickpea flour. Maybe this pizza will be something like that!

So I has this Margarita pizza — the classic tomato, mozarella, and basil, though since it's Sunday why not bake an egg on top too — cooked on a rolled-out crust made of chickpea flour. And it was, in fact, very tasty indeed; I'd recommend it to anyone, regardless of sensitivities.
White Rhone varietals, "Madam Preston," Preston of Dry Creek, 2012 — a favorite of mine.
• Jackson's Bar and Oven, 135 Fourth Street, Santa Rosa; 707-545-6900
salmon green beans.jpgSALMON PATÉ on toast again tonight, with green beans, delicious ones, cooked in butter with minced shallots. Cook has made a good supply of this paté, apparently, and I'll never tire of it. It's just smoked salmon mashed with lots and lots of butter and minced chives, is all it is, but it tastes like a million dollars. The green salad afterward, and a couple of apples…
Cheap Pinot grigio

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Bravas; salmon

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Eastside Road, December 13, 2014—
MIDDAY SUPPER today, in town, with a couple of old friends who'd drive up for the occasion. We're lucky at our end of the county to a local chain of restaurants, each with its own well-focused personality — a steak house, a couple of small-plate places, a vaguely Italian American standard, and the tapas place we'd decided on.

Bravas serves really wonderful Spanish ham, jamón de Serrano, but I wasn't in the mood today. Instead, my companion and I split a plate of delicious boquerones, white anchovies in vinaigrette, and a tuna-belly salad with lettuces, sliced onion, green olives. She went on to the Spanish tortilla; I had the skirt steak, served on a bed of soft blue cheese and heavily sauced with whole mustard seeds — too heavily for my taste, in fact.
Albariña, Licia; Tempranillo, La Tremenda (nice)
• Bravas Bar de Tapas, 420 Center Street, Healdsburg; 707-433-7700
Supper at home — that's it in the photo — was a bit of leftover risotto — a dish that doesn't suffer from a couple of days in the icebox — and some smoked salmon paté on toast — followed, of course, by a green salad, then fruit.
Cheap Pinot grigio

Friday, December 12, 2014

My turn: lamb shanks

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Eastside Road, December 12, 2014—
I DO LIKE TO COOK every now and again — but tonight revealed that I sure am out of practice. The first course went well enough, a sort of casual salade lyonnaise: I cut two slices of good bacon into squares maybe half an inch on a side and rendered them very slowly in the black iron skillet, made a vinaigrette with olive oil, some of the warm bacon fat, salt, and sherry vinegar, dressed a couple of small heads of frisée with that, then put a poached egg on each serving. Toast on the side, as you see.

So far, so good. But Richard Olney's foolproof recipe for lamb shanks, which I've made a number of times, seems to have moved into the pit of complacency — knowing how simple and reliable it is, I got careless. I browned the shanks in too much olive oil; it never let the lamb take over. The many cloves of garlic cooked too hard, and didn't purée properly in the food mill.

Lamb shanks, finished.jpg

Still, it's a delicious dish. The dry herbes de Provence that I brought back from Nice over a year ago haven't lost their savor. I cooked up a batch of De Cecco's fettucine to put the little bit of sauce on, and though the dish was undersalted it was good enough. Next week I'll do better. It takes time to get yer chops back.

Since salad was the entrée, no need for green salad afterward. Instead, the last slice of Thanksgiving's pumpkin pie, with a little bit of hard sauce.

Cheap Pinot grigio

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chicken with mustard

chicken.jpgEastside Road, December 11, 2014—
CHICKEN, WELL, YES, chicken is a problem. We don't eat chicken nearly as much as we did thirty or forty years ago. We eat organic now, of course, and an organic chicken not industrially raised is not that easily found. When the market's on, in Healdsburg, we buy chicken there from time to time: but tell the truth I'm not as keen on this guy's chicken as I once was. I'm sure it's our fault, not his, certainly not his chickens's. We bought these chicken legs, for example, several weeks ago; they were frozen, and they took up residence in our freezer, and that wasn't the best treatment they could have had.

(Reminds me of that wonderful old joke. A guy had a pet parrot, but the parrot was a little obnoxious from time to time, and though the guy warned him to shape up or he'd have to take a little punishment, the parrot continued to annoy him. Finally he grabbed the thing and threw it in the freezer.

(An hour or so later he got to feeling pretty bad about it. After all, a parrot is native to tropical climes; the freezer was really pretty harsh treatment. So he put his beer down, got up, walked into the kitchen, and let the poor thing out.

(Parrot looks at him, still shivering and downcast, and says Sorry, boss, I promise I'll never be obnoxious again. I'm sure I deserved to be punished, but I'm sorry, and I'm grateful that you let me out. I'll be good from now on, I promise. But — if you don't mind my asking — what did that poor chicken do?)

Pumpkin pie.jpgAnyhow, Cook cooked this chicken leg for a long time, though the recipe she was following referred to the dish as "fried." It starts out with a mix of Dijon mustard, paprika, pepper, and salt; you toss the chicken in that mixture, then fry it in a skillet in which you've browned onion in bacon fat.

The sauce is finished with cream, white wine, and thyme, and the result really made me think of Paris bistros — appropriately, I suppose, because the recipe's from David Lebovitz's book My Paris Kitchen. With the chicken, as you see, mashed potatoes, to carry the extra sauce; and cabbage, because it's winter. The chicken is garnished with parsley.

Since we had cabbage, no need for the green salad. But I did have dessert — the last slice of a delicious cheesecake our granddaughter made fully a week ago. It held beautifully: I have to ask her for the recipe.

parsley.jpgWhen we returned to the kitchen Cook surveyed the butcher-block island that's at the heart of our kitchen. Oh: we should have finished that parsley, she said, with our second helpings. It's a volunteer Italian parsley plant that's come up by the yard can down by the gate. Really, I said, I didn't know there was a parsley down there… Oh yes, she said, What, you haven't noticed it? But we really shouldn't have wasted that…
A frugal woman, that Cook of mine…
Sauvignon blanc, Earthstone (Healdsburg), 2013: simple, unmemorable, pleasant

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Bogman cereal

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Eastside Road, December 9, 2014—
THERE'S NO DOUBT that I've written about this before; it's one of the problems with blogging, especially for seven years: you forget what you've already written; you repeat things. But, as Samuel Beckett writes somewhere, I can't go on, I'll go on.

I also don't recall when I first made bogman cereal. Certainly before I knew what to call it: it was our Prague-born son-in-law, a fellow who knows hard times having grown up in a People's Paradise, who said, on first being introduced to it, that it was exactly what had been found in the stomach of an unfortunate who'd been in a Danish peat-bog for the last thousand years.

In any case it's what we have for breakfast on cold mornings. Here's how I make it:

In the evening, after dinner, I fill the tin-lined heavy copper fait-tout, one of my favorite saucepans, with water, just up to the rivets holding the handle to the pan. That turns out to be a cup and a third: I just checked. It's the first time I've measured it (and the last).

grains.jpgThen, using a little scoop which I haven't been able to find for a year or so so now I use my hands instead, which is messy because some of the grains inevitably get dropped, I add the grain. The blend varies, but always includes both hard (red) and soft (white) wheat, preferably in equal proportion. It may also include oats. It may also include rye. The green grains in this photo are rye groats. I don't know what the suspicious-looking dark objects are; some exotic kind of grain. The two important principals here are, first, never under any circumstance include millet; second, the grains must be whole, not milled or rolled or anything like that.

I pour the grains into the water, using the scoop — the hands don't do this at all neatly — forming a cone of grain; and I pour it in until the peak of the cone just breaks the surface of the water. One of these days I'll measure that too, so I can "publish" a proper recipe. This isn't that day. As you'll see below, it really doesn't matter.

OnBurner1.jpgI then bring this mixture to a boil; then turn it way down to simmer for a little while, how long matters but can only be established by trial and error. When I'm finished for the day, just before retiring, I turn it off if it's still simmering, and cover it. You have to keep the grain covered with water, of course, and I've added it from time to time while simmering if necessary, and certainly top it off before turning in for the night But you leave it on the stove, where it retains its warmth and continues to cook gently until it's cold.

In the morning, first thing on getting up, turn the burner back on underneath the pot, to bring the cereal back to a simmer. Top up with more water if necessary. As you'll notice in the photo at the top, we sometimes add raisins. Chopped prunes or dried apricots or figs work too. Some people I've know will think of adding sugar, or butter, but not Calvinist Me; I eat it with just a bit of milk.

If it's too chewy, you haven't simmered it long enough. Do that next time. Cooking time varies with the grain and how long you've had it. This particular batch is a year old; it lives in a tin box refrigerator. And, yes, that's my nice old coffee bowl in the photo, bought thirty years ago or so in Brittany; and, yes, my caffelatte goes into it when I've eaten the cereal; and, no, I don't rinse it between, no reason to.
PERHAPS IT WILL NOT be inappropriate for me to thank here, in this inconspicuous spot at the bottom of the blog, a few people who have commented lately on Eating Every Day recently, not least of them my own younger daughter. I write these entries more sporadically now than in earlier days, but I find I'm still compelled somehow to write them. It's an almost daily ritual, a mental exercise. It makes me think about things too easily taken for granted.

The comment that precipitated the present discussion followed the recent extensive description of a dinner downstairs at Chez Panisse. A private correspondence followed, in which the question was put succinctly:
I only meant to open the discussion out into an area that seemed to cry out for amplification--i.e., was your primary interest in more "common fare" motivated by a desire to explore food at that level, or were you deliberately
evading (or avoiding) the implied comparison between the mother ship [Chez Panisse] and everywhere else?
To me it's all a question of what we eat, every day. Some days are more everyday than others, of course, and that's one of the (often understated or even completely sub limina) themes here. But in fact a feature of Chez Panisse, in my admittedly possibly biased view, is that its cooks and directors do not think of its cuisine as elevated in quite the way other restaurants do. There is no aspiration to a Michelin star. Not one, let alone three. What is important is source, soundness, clarity, technique. Not kitchen architecture, not whiz-bang postmodern taste combinations, not molecular froth and liquid nitrogen. (In truth much modern restaurant cuisine seems to me to be largely smoke and mirrors.)

So I guess my answer is that I'm motivated by a desire to explore and consider food from the most basic level, and let comparisons arise where they will among any readers. Last night's risotto and this morning's bogman cereal are splendid examples of this: there's a magic in the marriage of grains and liquid and heat; the result is a little like what I imagine dwells within our bodies, fermenting, exchanging flavors and memories, energizing, ultimately decaying. I'm going to stop thinking about it now, and turn to some light reading. It's Fast Day, and there's still plenty of time.

Risotto

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Eastside Road, December 8, 2014—
YEARS AGO, YOU may not believe it, I used to do nearly all the cooking in this family. I was retired; Cook was not. She was still working as a professional pastry chef, and the last thing either of us thought fair was for her to have to cook dinner after a long day at the stoves.

One of the things I always enjoyed cooking was risotto. Cook and I have few disagreements, and it's surprising, perhaps, that so many of them center on this harmless entertainment, this classic dish that is at once so simple and so dubtly demanding. So, while I very much enjoyed tonight's risotto, to the point of having a second helping; and though the not very complimentary photo you're looking at is of Cook's risotto as we had it tonight, I'll tell you how I make risotto — or rather how I made it, in those long-ago days before Cook too reached a well-deserved retirement, freeing her to cook nearly every day at home, for no wages and, I'm afraid, nowhere near the gratitude she (and her cooking) deserves…

Well: you begin with a skillet, we use stainless steel, on that we agree; and you put olive oil in it, Cook adds a little butter I believe, and you soften in that oil some minced onion. Well: I soften minced onion; Cook browns chopped onion, even letting some of the bits get really quite dark. In my opinion the onion should be no darker than the rice that follows, but that's just my opinion.

Next you add the rice, which must be Arborio or perhaps some other short-grained fat Po Valley rice, on that we agree. You cook the rice in the oil (and possibly butter), with the onions, until…

Well, difficult to explain exactly when. I like the outside half, let's say, of each grain become rather transparent, while the central half of the grain is still opaque white. Another way to tell is to take a grain of rice between the teeth, and feel the way you can bite through part of the grain, then meet the interior, which will feel crumbly, not soft, between your teeth.

At this point I begin adding the stock, which has been simmering in a pot on an adjacent burner. You add the stock, we both agree, slowly, a ladleful at a time; and after each addition you stir the rice, moving it about, with a wooden paddle, we agree on that too. You let each ladleful cook down to nothing: it's being absorbed by the rice, though a little of it is evaporating and making the house smell good. When it's all soaked in, you add the next ladleful, and stir, and so on.

When the rice has absorbed all the stock it can, and any more will simply make a soup instead of a risotto, you stop adding stock and instead add a glass or so of white wine. THIS IS A MAJOR POINT OF CONTENTION. Cook adds the wine before the stock; I add it after. My theory is that the wine, which is usually cold, will shock the rice and make it resistant to the addition of the stock. The rice has got nice and hot with its onions in the olive oil, and the stock is also simmering hot: if you add the wine before the stock, even if the wine is at room temperature and not out of the refrigerator, the rice will have to do a little U-turn on its way to perfection. None of us wants a bucket of room-temperature water thrown on us while relaxing in a hot bath; why do that to the risotto?

Pumpkin pie.jpgIn any case: The risotto is finished. Now you may stir in some cooked peas, even some frozen peas which come in handy for this purpose and no other. You may add some chopped browned (not too brown!) bits of prosciutto. You will certainly add some grated Parmesan cheese.

Serve it in heated bowls, of course, and grate more cheese on top, but not too much. Risotto should taste first of rice, then of poultry stock, then of onion and olive oil; the cheese simply glues all these flavors together.

One more point of discussion: how to pronounce the name of this classic dish, surely one of the Hundred Plates? With an open "o," say I: ree-zought-tow, don't slide too much into that final (nonexistant, in Italian) "w."

We had a green salad afterward, with a sherry-vinegar vinaigrette, and then a slice of marvelous pumpkin pie from a delicious, subtly chthonic pumpkin brought home a week or so ago from Ojai. Thanks, Jim and Lisa.
Cheap Pinot grigio