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

Shot of rye

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Like a hero of the old west or an executive on Madison Avenue, these days Mr. Henry reaches for a shot of rye. He drinks rye on the rocks before dinner, rye on the rocks with a little water for Chinese food, and rye in a snifter after dinner. Having explored its qualities in the glass, he is moving on to explore its qualities as a flavor additive.

This morning he flavored french toast with rye. That is, he put a tablespoon of Hudson Valley Manhattan rye whiskey in the egg and milk batter. The flavor was subtly aromatic and perfectly delightful, better than his usual zest of lemon, far better than a splash of vanilla.

Caramel in color and flavor, a carefully distilled rye whiskey resonates with elegant overtones of vanilla and berries. A liberal pour over vanilla ice cream is terrific. The recipe for tiramisu calls for a shot of spirits. There, too, rye is an excellent choice.george_washington_1772.jpg

Anywhere you might use vanilla or molasses, think instead of rye. Brush it over the top of your pie crust before baking. (This was Mr. Henry’s French step-grandmother’s secret to flaky crust.) Add a splash to cornbread or Boston baked beans.

Rye is the quintessential American whiskey. George Washington not only drank it, he distilled it, too.

Okra

Mrs. Henry wants nothing to do with them. Little Henry calls them hairy and slimy. Invited guests look at them in fright.

Overlooked, maligned, misused and abused, okra are African stepchildren still relegated in western cooking to a subservient role either smothered in fry batter or subsumed in spicy gumbo.

In fact okra is a versatile and appetizing vegetable, its flesh nutritious, its seeds rich in oils. Prepared whole it can be fried, grilled, broiled, steamed or cooked in a microwave. Sliced okra releases a unique mucilage that thickens and binds a braised dish with or without meat. Okra can be pickled or eaten raw. Even its leaves are edible.

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Because certain valued family members, despite clear evidence to the contrary, insist okra to be disgusting, Mr. Henry usually cooks them for his own pleasure by nuking a single bowlful and eating them plain. Sometimes, however, he sautées whole ones or runs them under the broiler, a quick and foolproof method for cooking almost any vegetable.

Mr. Henry enjoys the interplay between oily, crunchy seeds and soft green flesh. Such elegant little nibbles, they even come with dainty stems ready-made to grasp between thumb and forefinger. (Might this be the origin of their nickname “ladyfingers?”)

Along with sorghum, millet and watermelon, okra was one of man’s first cultigens in sub-Saharan Africa. Okra is a staple food in India as well as in China, southeast Asia, and the Caribbean. Its curious stickiness creates a medium in which spices blend harmoniously.

Why, then, at the western table can there be no rôle for okra? Is there simply too much goo?

Baby okra can be eaten whole just as they are. For larger ones, take a paring knife and, without piercing the pod’s interior, peel away the rough exterior of the cap. Then scrape away any little hairs along the ridges of the pod. If you want to use sliced pieces without drawing too much mucilage, slice the okra into rounds and let them dry in the air. The slices will seal themselves.

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Courtesy of Nadia, here is a marvelous okra stew, a Tunisian recipe called Ganawiyeh after the Gnaoua, a Saharan brotherhood of itinerant musicians:

Okra stew Ganawiyeh

1 lb. London broil, skirt steak, flank steak or sirloin steak cut up for stewing.
1 medium onion, grated
2-3 cloves of garlic chopped or pressed
3 tbs paprika, 2 tbs dry coriander, 1/4 tsp cayenne, salt and black pepper
1/3 cup or less vegetable oil
1 cup strained Pomi (or any other tomato purée)
1 red pepper sliced in strips
Handful of pearl onions (optional)
2 or more cups okra (Fresh is better, but you may also use frozen.)

Place meat and oil in a stew pot
Pour onion,  garlic and spices on top
Brown the meat well
Add tomato purée
Reduce for about 15 minutes
Add enough warm water to cover
Cook meat for 1 hour or more covered until almost fork tender
Add red pepper and onions
For the last 20 minutes of stewing, add okra

All told the meat should cook for about two hours.

This recipe serves four persons and should be eaten with bread.

Irish stew

Finding an Apple-friendly wifi connection in Ireland is harder than parsing the difference between Guinness and Murphy’s, the two rival national stout porter ales.murphys-irish-stout.jpg

Although Mr. Henry slightly preferred Murphy’s, a blind taste test between them might fool even the most seasoned pub crawler. (After the first two pints no one cares, anyway.)

Following a day riding around the Blaskett Islands on ten-foot North Atlantic swells, for dinner you need a hearty dish that won’t upset your queasy stomach.

Traditional Irish stew is lamb with potatoes, often prepared with carrots, leeks, onion, parsnips and rutabaga. Unlike other savory stews the meat is not first browned and therefore the broth is not dark.

Having eaten it daily in Ireland, Mr. Henry had a good idea of what it should be. You can use shoulder but Mr. Henry bought lamb neck, the tastiest and least expensive of cuts, but one that takes a bit more trouble.

Traditional Irish stew

three lamb necks in one-inch pieces
chicken stock
six potatoes, Yukon gold
two large carrots
two large parsnips
two leeks
one medium white onion
two cloves garlic, whole
bouquet of fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme
chopped parsley
zest of lemon
ground nutmeg
splash of Worcestershire sauce
salt & pepper

Have your butcher cut the neck into one inch pieces. Bring lamb to a boil in chicken stock with garlic cloves and simmer until tender. Let cool so you can skim the fat. Remove the meat and the marrow, and cut into bite sizes. Discard bones and garlic.

To broth add diced onion and leeks you’ve first wilted in a sauce pan. Dice one potato and add this right away so it’s starch will thicken your broth. Then add potatoes cut in larger shapes as well as the other root vegetables.

Seasoning is mild. Like the song says, use “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” tied in a bouquet. For a richer aroma add ground pepper, a little grated nutmeg, and a splash of Worcestershire sauce.

You can cook on stove top (low) or in the oven (350º). When your vegetables are nearly done, about one hour, combine the meat and salt. As with any stew, prepare it ahead of time and let it rest so flavors may combine.

Never afraid to fiddle with her husband’s kitchen creations, Mrs. Henry tasted the broth and pronounced it redolent of osso buco, perhaps, therefore, in need of a gremolata at the table, which in this case turned out to be a simple mix of finely chopped lemon peel and parsley. Brilliant.

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Next came the question of what to drink. In an Irish pub the black brew on tap is without question the drink of choice. Light in body, dark in color, richly malted, toasted to a crisp, nutty finish, Irish stout porter is divine.

Contrary to general expectations, red wine was too strong for such a mild dish. Wine drinkers at the Henry table chose a sauvignon blanc.

Striving for a more traditional pairing, Mr. Henry enjoyed his stew with the superb new Manhattan Rye whiskey from Hudson Valley, the first distillery built in New York since prohibition. Sláinte.