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January, 2009 | Manolo's Food Blog
Archive - January, 2009

A Good Finish

finish-job.jpgLately Mr. Henry has been finishing things.

He has not been finishing half-written books, mind you, nor concluding business deals mired in the post-Bushian bog, nor even responding to stale holiday correspondence.

Mr. Henry has been finishing the chops, the fish filets, and the steaks. It’s quick and remarkably foolproof. Indeed, it’s the easiest way to look like a real chef.

Step One

Preheat your oven to 350º

Step Two

Having salted and spiced your pork chop, lamb chop, or what-have-you, sear it in a hot skillet with a bit of oil (and butter, too, if you want to live right). Get a good burn on one side, flip and do the same to the other. Your chop is now beautifully browned but raw in the middle.

Step Three

Pop the skillet into the oven. Depending on your chop’s thickness, this usually should not take more than 10 minutes. Poke it with your finger to feel doneness.

Step Four

Remove and let rest for at least five minutes. Slice and serve. (On a warm plate, if you please. Honestly, having come this far you can do that much extra preparation).

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For serious fun throw some sage leaves into the skillet at the turn. Crisped in the fatty oil they are a heavenly pleasure.ironskillet.jpg

 

On a fish filet Mr. Henry invariably adds a splash of white wine at the turn. Once in a while he adds capers or sage, too. Oh yes, and for a basic meuniere – dredged in flour – he doesn’t skimp on the butter.

Of course you will need a sauté pan with an ovenproof handle. For this operation a good old-fashioned twenty-dollar iron skillet is hard to beat.

Feasts and revels

Wakening refreshed from a mid-morning nap, Mr. Henry realized that for a dozen days he has neglected to post remarks on his obligatory blog. For this oversight he blames our President.

It seems that New York Times reporters cannot manufacture a single story unassociated with the Obama team, the Obama nation, or the Obama wardrobe. (But weren’t the girls adorable in their J. Crew coats?)

Television is all Barack, all the time.

Against this Barack barrage, how can Americans re-focus on the essentials? How long must the country wait before once again re-embracing its own wants and needs, its comestibles and digestibles? Where did our sense of entitlement go?

The “me generation” has been vilified long enough. Service to the country is all well and good in its proper place. Standing together against terrorists, attorneys, and the like is most commendable. But after a fine morning’s aerial bombardment cooler heads anticipate a return to everyday pursuits of life, liberty, and whatever it is we’re fighting for.

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A fitting sense of proportion requires the country to concentrate once more on feasts and revels.

The problem now, and it is not at all a small problem, is that there isn’t any money. When fired for incompetence, titans of banking and finance took it all in bonuses.arties.jpg

The rest of the country is searching for interesting recipes using dried peas or beans.

For those not prepared to soak beans overnight or to make their own stock, at $4.95 per bowl Artie’s Delicatessen white bean and pastrami soup remains New York’s best restaurant value. Sadly, however, Artie only serves it on weekends.

Wines from $10–$20 per bottle remain great values, too, but for cocktails or after-dinner drinks can Rainwater Madeira ever supplant a proper Highland single malt?

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Under their own label Citarella sells a Puglian olive oil which is better than expected – a buttery, dense, fruity all-purpose oil, mildly spicy and without bitterness.  At $14.99 per liter, it’s less than half the price of good Tuscan olive oil.

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After a spell of offering upbeat suggestions for economical meals, Mr. Henry’s enthusiasm flags. Even when deliciously bathed in sherry, saffron, and the subtler aromas of green olives and raisins, how many Andalusian chicken thighs can you consume weekly?

Do what Mr. Henry does. Have a friend take you out for lunch. Order three courses. Eat heartily.

Squirrel stew

Who isn’t trying to save a few dollars these days?

To that end, two recent newspaper articles caught Mr. Henry’s attention this week. In the New York Times Dining & Wine section Marlena Spieler reports from Britain on the increasing appetite for squirrel.squirrel.jpg

Coincidentally the Jacksonville Journal, a daily newspaper deep inside the Gator Nation, reports this week that squirrel hunting is a year-round southern tradition. Although writing in the sports section, the author thoughtfully includes the following robust recipe for “manly” squirrel stew (in case your own family recipe happens to be for sissies).

Note the addition of an entire cup of barbecue sauce (K.C. Masterpiece, original) as well as ¼ cup of flour for thickening. Mr. Henry particularly appreciates the delicacy of adding only ½ bay leaf. Evidently ten squirrels boiled for 45 minutes only achieve those subtle aromatic top notes when seasoned with the slightest hint of bay.

MOLTON’S MANLY SQUIRREL STEW
INGREDIENTS
– 10 squirrels.
– 11/2 cups lean ham (diced).
– 3 large potatoes (chopped into 3/4″ dice)
– 2 medium onions (chopped)
– 1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes (chopped and drained)
– 1 16-oz can whole kernel corn (drained)
– 1 10-oz package of baby lima beans (frozen)
– 1/2 bay leaf
– 1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
– 1 cup K.C. Masterpiece barbecue sauce (original)

DIRECTIONS
Salt and pepper squirrels. Place in large soup pot, adding enough water to cover them. Bring to boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cook it for 45 minutes or until meat begins to fall off the bone. Remove from stock. Allow to cool and remove meat from bone. Add all ingredients to the stock (leaving out the squirrel). If it’s a little thick just add water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add squirrel and simmer for 30-45 min, stirring occasionally. To thicken, mix 1/4 cup of flour with 1 cup of cold water and add to stew. Serve with corn bread.

This recipe vividly reminds Mr. Henry of the special stew served as a hazing ritual for admission to his high school athletic-letter club. After downing a quick bowl, hapless pledges were forced to run wind sprints which never failed to purge the stomach violently. Worthy traditions like this one doubtless help prepare for economic downturns by engendering manly appetites for quarry freely and abundantly available in North Florida’s hardwood forests.

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According to the Jacksonville Journal, you will be relieved to learn that hunting the wild squirrel is not as difficult as it may sound.

“A squirrel is smart, but will usually lose the mental match-up with a hunter of average IQ or better.”

In Britain squirrel hunters only aim for the head in the belief that a body shot spoils the meat. Not so in Florida:

“There have historically been fistfights over whether to use a shotgun or .22-caliber rifle on a squirrel hunt. Neither work any better than the operator when it’s all said and done. The truth is that there’s room for both guns.”

If you can’t stand up to a manly stew, borrow an idea from the celebrated London chef Fergus Henderson.

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Mr. Henderson, who cooks with both poetry and passion, sometimes prepares his squirrels “to recreate the bosky woods they come from,” braising them with bacon, “pig’s trotter, porcini and whole peeled shallots to recreate the forest floor.” He serves it with wilted watercress “to evoke the treetops.”road_med.jpg

There must be more squirrel recipes in this useful kitchen companion.

Martini bigotry

Foster Kincaid Says:

I was shocked to discover that Mr. Henry is advocating fruit flavored martinis. Good Lord, man, have you lost your mind? At long last, Senator, have you no shame at all? I still recall the day I tried something called–I am not kidding–an “appletini.” Sometimes, when I wake in the night, my mouth parched and caked from breathing through the only aperture available (I am a martyr to a deviated nasal septum), I can still taste it, its foul effluviant seeping from beneath an under-maintained filling. As for sage complementing the flavor of juniper berries, I keep an open mind, something for which I am well known among martini bigots.

Mr. Kincaid, clearly you are a man of fierce opinions well-grounded in experience. Carry on. Bigotry in the face of an appletini is righteous, sir, a mark of true character. It is nothing less than virtue itself.

The best Mr. Henry can offer by way of defense for his apparent lapse in judgment is that a) the altitude was high, b) Mr. Henry was low with a cold in the head, and c) there was nothing else in the liquor cabinet or in the fridge. The snow was piling up at greater than one inch per hour. Winds were gusting at 50 mph. The State Liquor Store was several thousand feet down the mountain. Interstate 80 from Park City to Parley’s Summit was closed. For the love of God, can you cede no quarter to a desperate man?

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Admittedly a Meyertini is sweeter than a classic dry vermouth martini, but it is decidedly less sweet than a Tom Collins or one of those frightful Franken-martinis made with outré liqueurs. Because gin is more conducive to good digestion than tequila, and because dry sherry is less sweet than Triple Sec, however, the Meyertini has a friendlier, more refreshing profile than the Margarita. With Mexican food Mr. Henry prefers a Meyertini over a Margarita.mexcalendar_girls.jpg

With spicy, beany cuisine such as that which passes for ‘Mexican’ in the American West one’s choice of drink is not obvious. Beer, especially at night, poses the problem of too many carbohydrates. Which wines work best? Dark reds bursting with earth like Syrah or Zinfandel are the conventional pairings but Mr. Henry finds them too dense on the palate. They are insistent, overpowering, and usually too sweet, as well.

With southwestern style cooking he prefers the clarity of a Chablis or a Sancerre, which is to say a dry Chardonnay (without oak, por favor) or a Sauvignon Blanc.

But since ski bums don’t drink crisp whites, in ski towns Mr. Henry repairs to the next best potion for cleansing the palate between bites, the gin cocktail. Since he only skis once per year, thankfully he need not face this drinks dilemma once again for quite a while.