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

GOOP

Gwyneth Paltrow, of all unlikely persons, has a new lifestyle blog – GOOP – the name derived from her initials G and P. In the food section (“Make”) she offers practical good-sense recipes suitable for young women like herself at home with small children, recipes even more suitable for young women like herself at home with cooks and nannies and part-time bloggers.

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When GOOP was attacked on the websites of both Tina Brown and Arianna Huffington, the internet’s evil step-sisters, right away Mr. Henry felt compelled to rise to poor Gwyneth’s defense. After all, isn’t she the only American screen actress ever to have delivered a convincing English accent?

As a fellow celebrity Mr. Henry appreciates Gwyneth’s conundrum. How do you spread the simple joy of being you without appearing to gloat or preen?

Is it wrong for an artist to be self referential? Back in the 17th century did not Rembrandt’s rivals accuse him of painting too many self-portraits? Who today would make that argument? (And it should be noted that Rembrandt in black leotard body-suit didn’t cut half the figure Gwyneth cuts doing leg raises for her new workout video, or rather he cut twice the figure Gwyneth cuts…….let’s not belabor the point.)

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Granted, some of her recipes aren’t really recipes, the one for boiling frozen peas, for example. Instructions on how to eat an artichoke may perhaps be unnecessary for “grownies” reading her blog. Moreover, to season a roast chicken do we really need to hunt down ½ teaspoon of Mallorcan hibiscus salt? For reasons left unexplained the only other meat she discusses is turkey, mostly ground for meatballs or sausage.

Nevertheless the site is beautifully designed and the writing is replete with sunny, winning, personal asides. Her noteworthy blunder, however, comes in a discussion of what she calls detox or “Master Cleanse.”

“If your bowel movements get sluggish, you can accelerate things by drinking half a cup of castor oil or using a mild herbal laxative. Bowel elimination is paramount for correct detoxification.”

Whatever the merits of this grandmotherly advice, when earthbound mortals imagine stars nestled in their starry pantheon, thoughts of sluggish bowels have no place in the picture. A certain mystery is lost. For future posts it might be best, darling Gwyneth, to leave poop out of Goop.

A hash of things

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This is the story of a duck that became a ham but failed to find happiness roasted atop lentils. Chopped into hash and sautéed in two spoons of its own pure white fat, however, the duck found bliss as simple peasant fare.

Following instructions has never been one of Mr. Henry’s signal virtues. He subscribes to the well-worn opinion that “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do,” an argument applicable to husband or father, young or old. When banging kitchen pots and pans, a real man resents the intrusion of recipes. This applies equally when asking directions from his car.

What to cook for Valentine’s Day? What would be rich, robust, and lusty? Chocolate soufflé is well established, perhaps too well established.lentilsduck.jpg

Mr. Henry decided to do duck, a dish he rarely attempts principally because its stubborn flesh refuses to become tender. Either it emerges undercooked – chewy and bloody – or it emerges overcooked – dry and tough – its rich dark flavor forever lost in murky, carbonized grease.

For help Mr. Henry turned to a platter of figs, his favorite new cookbook.

After cutting away a thick winter’s layer of fat and skin, leaving only a modest covering, he brined duck sections for two days and then boiled them for 45 minutes. The results were neither beautiful nor appetizing.

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In the leftover duck stock he cooked lentils which were quite tasty. Then he sautéed a mirepoix (diced carrots, celery, and onion) in duck fat. Mixed into the lentils, the result was scrumptious, precisely fulfilling the requisite Valentine profile of a rich, robust and lusty meal.baked-beans.jpg

Because the duck hams were dry, oh so dry, Mr. Henry put the brined, boiled, and baked fowl out of its overwrought misery. He chopped the flesh into hash, giblets and all. Mixed with lentils and reheated in a skillet (with another tablespoon of duck fat), the mishmash magically transformed into a wintry romance.

The remaining ham stock will be used to make Boston baked beans. The remaining pint of rendered duck fat, Crisco of the gods, snowy promise of singular flavor, will be used to coat duck legs for that ultimate slow-cooked taste delight – confit – or else to make the very best fried potatoes.

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Steak tartare

Not for fifteen years has Mr. Henry enjoyed steak tartare.

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In the 1990’s finding himself hungry for lunch alone in London’s Soho, he remembered a genuine French bistro where years before he had enjoyed a very good steak tartare, the kind of bistro where middle-aged French waiters make a genuine career out of good service.

“Steak tartare?” said the waiter with a touch of alarm. “Steak tartare?”

“Yes,” replied Mr. Henry assuredly. “You still serve steak tartare here, do you not?”

Oui, monsieur.” Addressing his colleagues sharply he barked, “Steak tartare tout de suite.”

Mr. Henry waited quietly. The day’s International Herald Tribune lay undisturbed by his side. Would it be gauche to open it at the table? Perhaps he should wait until after he had finished eating.

The waiter arrived at tableside with steak properly minced, not ground, and with capers, mustard, lemon, egg and onion. He prepared the tartare quite expertly and Mr. Henry consumed it quite completely.

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Restored and content Mr. Henry opened his Herald Tribune. On page one a bold headline cried “Mad Cow Disease Discovered in British Beef.”

This kind of shock takes some time to get over. Impelled by recent reviews of Mr. Henry’s new neighborhood bistro, The West Branch, however, with particular mention of the duck confit salad, the pulled pork panino, and the steak tartare, last Wednesday he strode through its old-time portals on a bold mission to vanquish the perfidious tartare.

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Without thinking it through, Mr. Henry automatically ordered a glass of pinot noir which was a tad fruity and absolutely the wrong accompaniment to steak tartare. After the first bite he ordered a cold glass of sauvignon blanc.

White wine with steak? Perfection. Perfect as well, was The West Branch’s tartare recipe that used shallots, not onion, plenty of Dijon mustard, and if the Henry nose is not mistaken, a touch of white wine vinegar.

Save your pinot noir for baked salmon. Vive le vin blanc.