Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dinner Snapshot - Mushroom and Potato Gratin

This is a killer Williams-Sonoma recipe that I altered for Christmas dinner. The flavors meld as it sits in the refrigerator, making for wonderful leftovers. We fought over every last bite. Please excuse the green dish...It was holiday ware!

1 Tbs. unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 fresh thyme sprigs, plus 1 1/2 tsp. minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 lb. Gold potatoes
1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. mixed wild and cultivated mushrooms, woody stems removed, caps thinly sliced
12 Tbs. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Preheat an oven to 375°F. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish.
2. In a saucepan, combine the cream, garlic, thyme sprigs, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. 3. Bring to a low boil over medium heat, then remove from the heat and set aside.
4. Peel the potatoes and, using the slicer attachment of a Kitchen Aid (or a very sharp knife), cut them into slices about 1/8 inch thick.
5. In a fry pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil and melt the 1 Tbs. butter.
6. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt, and sauté until all of the liquid released by the mushrooms has evaporated, 7 to 9 minutes.
7. Add the minced thyme with a pinch of pepper and cook for 1 minute.
8. Arrange one-third of the potato slices, slightly overlapping, on the bottom of the prepared dish. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and 1 Tbs. of the cheese. Spread half of the mushrooms over the potatoes and sprinkle with 1 Tbs. of the cheese.
9. Repeat these layers, using half of the remaining potatoes and all of the remaining mushrooms, and sprinkling with salt, pepper and 1 Tbs. cheese between the layers of vegetables.
10. Top with the remaining potatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
11. Using a large, flat spatula, gently press on the vegetables to compact them.
12. Pour the cream mixture through a strainer into the dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
13. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a sharp knife, about 45 minutes.
14. Remove the foil and bake until the mixture is golden brown and bubbly, about 20 minutes more. Let the gratin rest for about 10 minutes and serve immediately.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dinner Snapshot - Jambalaya

We made jambalaya last Sunday and ended up eating it three nights in a row. The flavors just got better and better as the days went by. The first night, this dish was good. The second night, this dish was incredible. By the third night, the flavor was mind-blowing and it made us want to cry into our bowls when we ate the last bite.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces andouille sausage or kielbasa, quartered lengthwise and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 1/4 cups jasmine rice (9 ounces)
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1 1/2 cups water
1 thyme sprig
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound lump crabmeat
12 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 scallions, finely chopped

1. In a medium, enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the olive oil.
2. Add the andouille and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
3. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic to the casserole. Cover and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes.
4. Add the Old Bay, rice and andouille and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is opaque, about 2 minutes.
5. Add the stock, water and thyme, season lightly with salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
6. Cover and cook over very low heat until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes.
7. Fluff with a fork and stir in the crab, shrimp and scallions.
8. Cover and let stand for 3 to 4 minutes, just until the crab is hot and the shrimp are opaque; discard the thyme sprig. Serve in bowls doused with plenty of Tabasco.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Making Christmas, Making Christmas

For presents this year we decided to make a fancy variety of nuts, like those you find at Western Nut Company. We went down to Sunflower Markets to pick up some raw, unsalted whole nuts and set forth turning them into presents.

First, we soaked a gazillion pounds of almonds in a mixture of kosher salt and water. Ten hours later, we removed the almonds from the water and laid them out to dry.
While they were drying, we worked on other varieties.

Curried cashews.

Chipotle-Spiced Pecans.

A day after we dried the almonds, we loaded our smoker full of hickory wood and set forth slow smoking the almonds. For five hours they smoked. Every fifteen minutes that passed would require one of us to go outside and stir the nuts. After the five hours were up, we personally inspected each and every nut, weeding out any that had been too close to the flame. This step made me realize that there are actually people in the world that do this sort of thing as a job. It was back-breaking, mind-numbing work. Hats off to them as I could never be a professional nut sorter.

Once done, we packed the nuts into assorted sizes of takeout containers, labeled them, and smacked a holiday sticker on the top.

All done.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Art of Eating

As I travel the world and eat meals in the homes of locals, I notice the stark contrast between the ritual of eating in the United States versus everywhere else.

In New Zealand, it is a focus on fresh and local cuisine served simply usually using ingredients from right outside.

In Thailand, it is a focus on family and community. In the cities, everyone ventures to vendors to share meals family style. In homes, food is the same way. Piles of it shared for long periods of time between multiple family members.

All countries seem to use a combination of those two. Remote islands, Latin American countries...except for the United States.

If I was to host my Guatemalan friends in my home, how could I show them my country through its food? We're so much of a melting pot...are there any central traditions? Members of our society don't usually buy food street side, it takes thousands of miles to reach us, is usually prepared by someone else and eaten standing up, driving, etc.

Being a cook, it drives me crazy that I can't define my culture outside of fast food. The passing of a recent holiday answered my question. I would make a full Thanksgiving meal for visiting foreign friends. I can't think of anything else that our country, as a whole, sit down to regularly.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Season of Thanks

With the turn of a calendar page, an end is near. Three hundred and sixty five has been reduced to 31, leaving me to marvel at how quickly the year has gone by. It seems only days ago that I was starting the November countdown yet November has come and gone, gracing us with friends and family as it passed.

This Thanksgiving marked a first...two families under one roof. David's mom (Lucille) and one sister (Nyron) made their first trip up for the holidays to join the two of us and my parents. For several days, we gathered around the kitchen table sharing old memories and making new ones. There was none of that tension so common around the holiday table but there was plenty of laughter and love. It was a table of excess: bacon-wrapped dates, goat cheese stuffed dates, filled philo, wrapped olives, tapenade, mashed potatoes, 24 pounds of turkey, fresh cranberry sauce, canned cranberry sauce, spiced yams, brussels sprouts with bacon and chestnuts, stuffing, green beans, rolls, pumpkin pie, chocolate pecan torte, and plenty of wine.

While we dined like kings, we took delight in life's greatest pleasure...a home filled with good food and loving family.