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Holidays | Manolo's Food Blog - Part 5
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Cape trek


Jhumpa Lahiri and the Henry family are renting houses on Cape Cod
. Although they won’t be staying together, it seems as though they should be.

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For one, Mr. Henry will be carrying her new novel Unaccustomed Earth (in hardcover, Jhumpa, just so you know). For another he will be carrying an iron skillet.

In addition to being famous writers with ardent admirers, Jhumpa and Mr. Henry share an affection for cooking with cast iron skillets both on stovetop and in the oven. Although Mrs. Henry takes issue with its weight, Mr. Henry maintains that the iron skillet’s versatility overcomes that drawback. (The trick is to carry it with two hands – in oven mitts, please.)

All week Mr. Henry has been accumulating provisions for a week far from his best-loved markets. In addition to a skillet, here is a partial list of what the Henrys will tote in their trunk:castironskillet.jpg

Citarella’s Sicilian olive oil
white balsamic vinegar
Sherry vinegar
Dijon mustard
rolled oats
dried cannellini beans
French lentils
Sukoyaka brown rice
Tapioca pearls (for tea)
sea salt, black pepper
herbs de provence
curry, cumin, paprika
Eli’s olive rosemary crisps
pistachios
organic raisins
Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate
Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn, Natural
Twinings English Breakfast tea
Tazo Refresh mint tea
Citarella’s house blend coffee
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Refrigerated items:

bacon (no nitrates)
prosciutto di Parma
Parmigiano-Reggiano

farmhouse cheddar
Laura’s goat cheese log
Cabot’s nonfat yogurt
Cabot’s nonfat cottage cheese
homemade chicken stock (frozen)
Citarella’s green olive hummus
olives (Kalamata and green)
umeboshi
fresh ginger
limes
Xochitl salsa (green and red)

Drinks:

Hendrick’s gin
white Lillet
Manzanilla sherry
sauvignon blanc
pinot noir

Anything else will have to be scrounged at the Eastham Superette.

Mr Henry accepts that on any serious voyage things may get rough. Knowing that the most basic requirements for nourishment will be met, however, now perhaps he will rest easier.

Pickles

On the Fourth of July pickles get to be serious business.pickles.jpg

Fourth of July is the one day of the year when pickles are prominently featured among menu items, one day when pickles are not just eaten but lingered over, examined, discussed, and debated.

Is sugar appropriate in the brining liquid? Is garlic an obligation of faith or a detour from the true path? And what about pickled artichokes, cauliflower, onions, carrots, or odd Japanese vegetables like gobo (burdock root), lotus root, or seaweed?

Yesterday David reported confidently that the secret ingredient in Murray’s Sturgeon Shop’s tuna salad is a splash of pickle juice.

(Mr. Henry hopes he has not revealed one of Murray’s closely held proprietary secrets inadvertently landing himself in a legal pickle. Mr. Henry, you see, is not represented by counsel, nor does he wish to contest a court action from an injured party. The above was revealed in innocence, Murray, as part of a think piece about pickles and America on the Fourth of July. Have a heart, Murray, can’t you? It could all just be rumor, anyway.)

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Like all true pickle eaters, Mrs. Henry holds strong opinions on the subject. At Recipe, a new restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue, Mrs. Henry thought the pickled artichoke had sat too long. Its crunch was gone.

When Mrs. Henry pickles, she pickles for a day or two, not more. Her pickled cabbage becomes a military exercise for mastication muscles and back molars as well as a sharp, crisp cleansing for the tongue.

Mr. Henry’s favorite pickling liquid is sushi vinegar, a sugared vinegar required for proper sushi rice. Every so often in a sauce pan over a mild flame she dissolves ¾ cup of sugar into a bottle of white vinegar. The apartment smells pickley for hours.

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Although Mr. Henry has been instructed repeatedly to leave that bottle alone, he confesses to using its contents with regularity. Add a splash of cold sushi vinegar to freshly sliced salted cucumbers and instantly you get a pickle to rival any vegetable or condiment.

It may not be what Americans remember as traditional, but it’s better than those squishy green things in the bottle.

Mother’s Day Menu

For Mother’s Day brunch Mr. Henry is serving potato latkes with smoked salmon, avocado, tomato, and crème fraîche. (Since guests of all ages will be there, he will not make his more fanciful latkes of Jerusalem artichoke, parsnips and carrot.)

Potato latke

6-8 Yukon gold or russet (Idaho) potatoes, coarsely grated
1 medium white onion, diced
1 or 2 eggs mildly beaten
½ cup bread crumbs
carrots, grated (optional)
splash of half and half (optional)
grated nutmeg (optional)
squeeze of lemon (optional)
salt & pepper

First dice your onion and squeeze a bit of lemon on it, if desired. Add salt. In the few minutes while you grate the potatoes the lemon’s acids will quickly macerate the onion and soften its bite.

Some recipes call for squeezing water from grated potatoes either with a dishtowel or through a strainer. Some even demand you save the starchy white residue at the bottom of the bowl and rejoin it to the mixture. Normally Mr. Henry soaks them in ice water and then rolls them in a dishrag. It’s quick and it works.

Whichever path you decide to take, do it fast. Daylight is burning. People who skipped breakfast to save room for brunch are getting cranky. People who started pouring champagne before the food was served are getting loopy and loud. If the chef wants peace and harmony for mother, he had better get down to business.

Many recipes call for making cute little individual latkes. Instead Mr. Henry makes two big flat crispy ones. Turning a big piece, however, takes some clever sleight of hand. Scrape it free with your spatula, put a plate or another pan on top, turn and hope for the best. carlo-mollino.jpg

Mix everything together. In an iron skillet with a little vegetable oil fry a thin layer (half your mixture) as brown as you can get it before burning. Place the first latke in a warm oven while you fry the second.

Then build a sandwich with smoked salmon (Scottish, the smokiest), avocado, tomato, and crème fraîche (or sour cream). Slice a pie-shaped portion for each person. An arugula salad on the side, some fresh fruit for dessert, and you’re good for another year of mother love.

And here’s a thought for the day: After brunch, when mother is feeling the champagne and everyone else has gone home, dress her in Roman sandals and snap her photograph seated in a Carlo Mollino chair.

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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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.

Inner Hen

Reports of Mr. Henry’s bird have been greatly exaggerated.1923-11-22-life-norman-rockwell-cover-thanksgiving-ye-glutton-400.jpg

A turkey is only a turkey, after all, not a pheasant, a goose, or a quail. Its flavor profile, as the foodies like to say, sings one note – mildly sweet.

Like stock market investors this year Mr. Henry once again fell victim to irrational exuberance. Upon spending $129 for an 8 ½ lb. Heritage Foods turkey raised in Kansas, he expected it to rise up and dance on the platter.

Yes, it was the best turkey he ever tasted. Yes, there was satisfaction in knowing he was eating a bird that according to explanatory information in the FedEx carton enjoyed an active social life (i.e., made it with a Tom or two). Far be it for Mr. Henry to prevent a turkey from fulfilling her inner hen!

But were these small pleasures worth the price? Was this bird three times better than the Citerella no-antibiotics and no-hormones bird of yesteryear?

Not really. Its bones did yield an exceptionally flavorful soup, however, an unanticipated bonus.

thanksgiving-by-rockwell.jpgThe dry salt rub did work perfectly. Skin was crisp and golden. The breast emerged bursting with juice because Mr. Henry cooked the turkey upside down. Although this left the skin on the breast a bit soft and pale, since no one at the Henry table eats skin there were no bruised feelings.

At home you dressed your dressing and stuffed your stuffing. You served a bountiful table. While feasting, discussions kept veering back to the wayward economy or Barack’s brilliant new economic team.

Was that so hard to do? To cook for a large table, that is. To cook at home and eat together is the essential family ritual, after all, the central sacrament of community.
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Marcella Hazan makes excellent arguments in today’s New York Times:

The food Americans eat that is made fresh at home by someone who is close to them is shrinking compared with food consumed at restaurants or prepared outside. And while eating out or taking in may save us time or bring us enjoyment, I would argue that it deprives us of something important.

I am my family’s cook. It is the food prepared and shared at home that, for more than 50 years, has provided a solid center for our lives. In the context of the values that cement human relations, the clamor of restaurants and the facelessness of takeout are no match for what the well-laid family table has to offer. A restaurant will never strengthen familial bonds.

Thanksgiving

Inevitable as taxes or that other thing, turkey day is coming. Family may be coming. Guests should be coming. The table will be heaping.

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If you opt for a restaurant, however, shunning your traditional responsibilities as cook, will you still be able to savor that quintessential American feeling? In this defining moment, will you stand down? Can you so easily shirk the burden of history?lincoln.jpg

Will you nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best hope of earth?

Take heart. Small variations of the Thanksgiving dinner are permitted. Be forewarned, however, your recipes will be compared to those of august and venerated forebears, relatives and antecedents hovering in calendric conjunction.

Don’t screw up.

At the Henry household, labor is divided. Mrs. Henry bakes the pie. Mr. Henry roasts the bird. Unable to reach agreement on stuffing, they each make their own.

Mindful of all that has gone wrong, and of all that can go wrong and be blamed squarely on him, Mr. Henry threw money at the problem. He ordered a Heritage Foods turkey online for the princely sum of $129. (This better be one tasty turkey, brother, because already the vacation is in jeopardy.) It promises to arrive by FedEx on Tuesday before Thanksgiving, which leaves not quite enough time for the dry salt to fully absorb. All the same, Mr. Henry will rub salt and give thanks.

Special thanks will be offered this year to the good Glinda who divined Mr. Henry’s turkey uncertainty and sent him this attractive recipe from the L.A. Times. By the way, the hot oven option works best.sumo.jpg

Dry salt rub is, indeed, an efficacious method for roasting. For years Mr. Henry has been flinging salt on meat like a sumo wrestler entering the ring.

Cranberry sauce is de riguer. This recipe is foolproof.

Mrs. Henry will surely make the classic pumpkin chiffon pie. (The trick is to pre-bake the crust – what potters call “bisque.”)

Stuffing is the cook’s signature dish. Mrs. Henry will make a simple bread and sage stuffing for the masses. Mr. Henry will make Nadia’s aromatic 1001 Nights saffron and chestnut forcemeat. The wine will be a Burgundy, a light one, perhaps a Côtes de Ventoux, who can say?

Honeymoon smoothie

After 30 years of shacking up, Jeff and Gail got married.

In Hanalei Bay, on Kaua’i, Hawaii, in the lee of Bali Ha’i they spent six weeks snorkeling and snuggling. It was indeed their own special island.

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Each morning before the sun’s rays reached the blue sea floor they trundled down to the market to buy a tranche of  ahi or kampachi caught that very morning. After a morning in the water they prepared a lunch of sashimi (dipped in soy sauce and freshly grated wasabi) with slices of avocado, papaya, star fruit, or mango (the Haden variety, with pulp that is not stringy).haden.jpg

Richly dark greens like collard or rainbow chard filled the markets. Oddly enough, however, because the climate is so temperate, tomatoes do not ripen to full flavor there.

On Kaua’i they make a pungent and tangy feta-style goat cheese that pairs well with fresh cilantro and crunchy crackers.

But what was the potion impelling them to bind the ties of wedlock? What was their passion fruit?

It was the rum smoothie.

Gail’s Honeymoon Smoothie

dark rum
young ginger, grated
pineapple
guava
mango
splash of orange soda
dollop of lychee-flavored yogurt
coconut water (crack the nut with a hammer)
ice

Drink before dinner. Watch the stars come out.

Having lived happily ever after, having spent a honeymoon in paradise, and having gotten married, in that order, pretty soon now, yes, any minute Jeffrey is going to propose to Gail (or will it be vice versa?). Accordingly, the next logical step in their backward romance will be that unforgettable first blush of mutual infatuation. Who could not be envious?

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