A wicked nor’easter and a plethora of sagging leeks pretty much determined the choice of recipe for this week’s post. Originally, I had planned to prepare Marcella Hazan’s Pan Roasted Pork Loin with Leeks after the grocery store delivered two bunches of the leafy alliums rather that the two individual ones I had ordered. However, when Mother Nature graced us with the worst snow storm of the season, getting to the market to procure the loin was no longer an option.
Housebound by the weather, I looked through my cookbooks for other leek recipes but most that I found used a single leek and I had five on hand. I then turned to the web, where I found a recipe that called for three and for which I had almost all the other ingredients on hand except for drumsticks and half-and half, for which I respectively substituted thighs and heavy cream: Pan Roasted Chicken with Leeks.
For a recent dinner party, I thought a slow-cooker dish would allow me to have everything prepared well before our guests arrived. Michele Scicolone’s The French Slow Cooker provided the perfect recipe for a blustery mid-winter evening: “Short Ribs with Red Wine and Prunes.”
With a cooking time between 8 to 10 hours on low and our guests arriving at 6PM, I figured I’d have to get everything into the slow cooker by 8 or 9AM. So, with prepping the aromatics and browning two batches of ribs, I planned a starting time around 6AM.
Well, as the saying goes about “the best laid plans,” things went astray when I over slept and arose after 9 that morning. My only solution was to pass on the slow cooker and go with the tried-and-true enameled cast-iron Dutch oven for the braise. Fortunately, the internet provided some helpful guidelines for converting the recipe for the stove that suggested reducing the cooking time to approximately 3 hours at 325°F and increasing the amount of braising liquid by about a cup since there is more evaporation with an oven than with a slow cooker.
We keep reading over and over in the news about the rising cost of food owing to the rate of inflation. Indeed, even so-called economy cuts like short ribs and oxtails might today be considered luxury items. In my opinion, one of the best options these days, in terms of value and flavor, is pork; and for entertaining, a boneless pork loin a great choice.
I’ve posted a couple of recipes on this blog for this cut: one for a Bolognese roast braised in milk and another for a Tuscan pork loin roasted with rosemary and garlic. This post, however, features a recipe from a pioneer of California cuisine, Sally Schmitt, who perhaps is best known as the founder of two of Napa Valley’s most famous restaurants: Mustard’s Grill and The French Laundry. Her recently published, beautifully illustrated cookbook, Six California Kitchens, traces her culinary career in Northern California from her childhood kitchen through her five restaurants accompanied by recipes from each of them. The recipe I chose, “Roast Loin of Pork with Mustard Caper Sauce” was from the French Laundry, where she worked from 1978 to 1994.
I first made Marcella Hazan’s Tuscan meat loaf almost 45 years ago. I was a graduate student on a research fellowship in Cambridge, Massachusetts and had kitchen privileges at the home where I was rooming. As the owners were away for the summer, I felt free to invite a couple over for dinner who were as passionate about food and cooking as I was. At that time, pre-internet, I only had a few cookbooks in my room and Hazan’s The Italian Classic Cookbook was my most recent acquisition. I combed through the book looking for something different, something that might surprise my guests as much by its novelty as by its flavor. About midway through, I found it: Polpettone alla Toscana, Meatloaf Braised in White Wine with Dried Wild Mushrooms. Read more
For my second post of the year, my husband suggested a New York Times recipe that had caught his eye and was made more appealing since we had all of the ingredients on hand: James Beard’s Farmer’s Chicken. The recipe first appeared in a feature story on James Beard by Julia Moskin that was occasioned by the publication in 2020 of a Beard biography The Man Who Ate Too Much, by John Birdsall.
Moskin attributes the recipe to a son of a member of Beard’s circle, chef Andrew Zimmern, who told her about his childhood experiences in Beard’s kitchen and “encountering tastes there for the first time, like a braise of chicken with olives, almonds and raisins, a dish with roots in Spain and California that Beard made often.” Beard claimed to have “adapted the recipe from Spanish immigrants who worked on ranches in California.”
However, having gleaned from Birdsall’s book a better understanding of Beard’s showmanship, I have to question the chef’s attribution of his dish to migrant farmers. The recipe’s bend of ingredients, currants, almonds, olives, paprika, seem more Moroccan to me; and after preparing the dish, I found the flavors quite similar to those of a tajin.
After last week’s disappointment with my venture into “retro American,” a plethora of chicken drumsticks found in the freezer along with another retro recipe, this one from the New York Times “Cooking” website, led me to attempt another American dish from 30 years ago: “Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic.” It’s an adaptation by Marion Burros from Jane and Michael Stern’s 1991 cookbook American Gourmet.
Perhaps the pandemic’s blurring of time, Passover seemed to creep up on us unexpectedly on Saturday afternoon. As a result, I hadn’t planned anything for our first Seder. Almost all of our meat was in the freezer and wouldn’t defrost in time for dinner. That’s when my calmer better half suggested fish as an alternative. We had plenty of salmon on hand, and although that too was in the freezer, it only required a couple of hours to defrost.
Other than salt and pepper, Nigella Lawson’s “Roasted Duck Legs and Potatoes” requires nothing else but thyme and time. Indeed, not since discovering Marcella Hazan’s onion-and-butter tomato sauce, have I come across a recipe that requires so little yet delivers so much.
When I moved back to New York from Cambridge in 1982, I found an apartment on Columbus Avenue down the block from the Dakota and across the street from a take-home gourmet shop called the Silver Palate. Their window was always filled with delicious fare, most of which I couldn’t afford but nonetheless aspired to recreate.