I’ve had a couple of things in mind to write about but we are leaving for Paris this evening and time is tight, so I’ll jam them into a single (long) post.
Paris for Valentine’s Day!
Tonight we head to Paris for our annual Valentine’s Day visit. Usually we go for a weekend, but schedules allowed a week this time. It’s going to be warmer than here, but wet, so I guess we’ll spend most of our time indoors and eating. What a chore.
Normally I go with restaurant reservations in hand, but this time I haven’t a one. I know we’ll head to the rue de Rossiers to our favorite falafel place. I know we'll do some heavy duty macaroon eating. I know we will go to a tiny dive of an Italian restaurant we love where the pizza is fabulous. I know we’ll have at least one picnic in the room, where we shop at a morning market and spread the bounty on the bed for a feast of bread and cheese, meats and salads, olives and wine and spectacular patisserie desserts. (The only downside is sleeping in crumbs – somehow they always find their way in.)
But aside from that, we are playing it by ear. We have lots of favorite places near the hotel we always stay at, but this time we are staying somewhere else and we’ll check out the new neighborhood (right next door to the old one) and see what looks good. Hope to post from there, but we’ll see how the internet connection goes.
An unexpected bonus of middle age has been reconnecting with an old high school friend and finding out that we have more in common now than we did then. Ronnie is writing a cookbook about food memories and family traditions, and she has started a blog to share the stories she is collecting, and to encourage some more participation in the project. Visit her at http://aroundthetable.typepad.com and say hello.
Adventures in Braising III
Last summer I was on a braising kick – trying to perfect the art of braising pork roast in milk. Never got it exactly right but the learning’s been fun (and I’m not done yet.) Meanwhile, on my list of things to try has been Seven Hour Lamb – leg of lamb cooked at a very low temperature for, yes, seven hours until the meat just falls off the bone – rosy pink and totally tender.
Saturday I had folks coming over for dinner and with the opening of our winter market the week before, access to great drug-free, grass-raised, happy, healthy meat from the Royer and Fiedler Farms. I bought two legs of lamb (one from each farm) –- one bone in, one boneless -- and braised them together (adding the boneless two hours after the braise started.)
combined a couple of recipes, but the whole thing couldn’t have been simpler. As per Paula Wolfert, I boiled the meat for
15 minutes before I browned it. She says
this helps ensure that there is no surface bacteria to spoil the meat as it
cooks at low temperatures. I have no
idea if it’s necessary, but it surely didn’t hurt.
Once the meat was boiled (and looking a
pretty ugly pasty gray) I salted and peppered it and seared it in olive oil til
it turned a crusty, yummy-smelling brown on all sides. Removed the meat and sautéed a couple of
onions, chopped, in the oil until they caramelized. Added a cup of dry white wine and scraped up
all the bits that stuck to the pan, cooked the wine down by half. Added the meat back to the onions in the
dutch oven and poured in a cup of chicken broth, a cup of canned diced tomatoes
with their juice, and a teaspoon or two of dried thyme. Added 50 cloves of garlic (no panic – they
cook to a mellow sweetness in seven hours!) and brought the whole thing back to
a simmer. Stuck a piece of cooking
parchment on top of the lamb, but overlapping the sides of the pot, clamped it
down with the lid, and put the whole thing in a 200 degree oven where it spent
Occasionally I turned the lamb (I added the second browned leg at the two-hour mark) and I did end up cranking up the heat to a wild 250, just to get it to maintain a low simmer, but that’s about it. I didn’t want the meat to boil in a ton of liquid, so as the meat shrank a bit and the juices increased, I ladled some of the broth off and let it simmer in a separate pan. At the end I removed all the meat (which just totally fell apart), cooked the sauce down til it was thick and gravy-like and served it to happy guests.
Side dishes were the braised endives from last week, but prepared faithfully according to Molly Stevens' recipe this time, which means halved endives are seared in butter on both sides and laid cut side up in a baking dish, chopped up prosciutto is quickly slicked in the butter and then tucked in among the endives. Salt and pepper. A half a cup or so of chicken broth is swirled in the pan to catch the fried bits, then poured over the endives. Foil is crimped tight over the pan and the endives braise at 350 or so. When they are very tender, remove the foil and let cook til browned and liquid is reduced. Then pour a half cup of heavy cream over them and put back in the oven without a cover and cook til the cream is mostly absorbed. Oh my god, what a fabulous dish.
I also made the crispy potatoes from the last issue of what has become maybe my favorite cooking magazine -- Fine Cooking. Boiled new potatoes (I braised mine in the oven in broth with garlic instead), are flattened on a baking sheet, drizzled with oil and salt and pepper and roasted until they crisp up. I think they come out like very adult tater tots. Really delicious.
And for color (because so far this is an awfully brown meal) I roasted carrots, parsnips and onions (separately) at 400 degrees in olive oil with salt and pepper. When each vegetable was shriveled and caramelized, I added it to the serving dish. Checked for salt, drizzled some balsamic vinegar over all and voila, vegetables that taste like candy. Yum.