Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pickled Eggs

I have been pickling a dozen eggs every few weeks, with some seriously engaging effects. I guess growing up in New Jersey, they weren't one of those things I saw on a regular basis, or ever, but they are quite addictive. The recent batch is flavored with fenugreek, coriander, cinnamon, fresh bay leaves and myrtle. The key is to use whole spices rather than powdered or the whole thing gets cloudy and unappetizing. Pictured here are one of the more gorgeous experiments, with quail eggs. You can see the ingredients below: aged pu-erh, black cardamom, juniper, long pepper, licorice, star anise and grains of paradise.

You basically just boil eggs until barely hard and either crack them up gently for this mottled effect, or peel entirely. Then heat the spices gently in a dry skillet and add to the hot water in which you boiled the eggs. About a quart. Add two tablespoons of salt, a cup of vinegar. And put them in a glass jar on the countertop. Untraditional, I admit, but they still seem to taste better if Flatt and Scruggs are playing while you make them.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Duck Season

The scenario is now familiar, so too the modus operandi and dramatis personae. First I get a call from Christine. An hour later she shows up bearing some species of wild animal, which is then cleaned and dressed, as hoodies start showing up to help. A lot of bourbon passes lips and suddenly the whole neighborhood is crammed into the kitchen eating directly from the pans. I would have it no other way.

If I had planned for a minute there would ahve been something to go with it, but nope, just ducks. Ten of them. Ranging in size from a mere fistful to barely game hen. My first thought was panic. I tried calling Hank, expert in all things wild duck, but no answer. Are they widgeon, widget, teal? So we decided to "wing" it. They were actually very easy to pluck. Just as easy to eviscerate. A few I took apart to cure, then a few breasts and legs went immediately into a pan with rendered fat, and they were very fat. Everyone agreed this was the best, just barely pink. Some were roasted, some pan sauteed and chopped crosswise as Chinese chefs do. They were frankly delicious, dripping with fat, as fresh as food gets.

So sweet little ducks, we thank you. We thank the person who brought you down, and she who brought you over, and those who brought you to the kitchen cleaned, and those whose gullets you graced.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bartolomeo Scappi Dinner 1570

Yesterday I cooked for a benefit, directly from Scappi's Opera. Pictured here is the first cold antipasti course, a not untypical 16th c. starter: my olives and salami, a fennel salad, and my first mozarella (made from raw milk). I saw someone doing the whole pasta filata trick and thought, I can do that. My hands are still tingling - ouch. It went with my sourdough nicely. The second course was a minestra di foglie di rape (II:205) followed by a charming subtlety of sausages made from trout (III:153). The process was wacky, chopped trout into casings, poached in red wine, smoked for an hour and finally sauteed. They looked exactly like pork sausages, so I served them with my fresh sauerkraut and a pickled lady apple. I think Scappi would have approved the nod northward. The main course was a petto della Vitella mongana (II:34) braised in a clay pot in the oven for about 8 hours with prunes, cherries and a riot of spices. It was dizzyingly unctuous and went so well on bright yellow saffron and rose scented rice. A simpler apple pie to end. In all not a very expensive meal, but in terms of man-hours, an absurdity. Scappi had an army of cooks in the Papal kitchens and we are beginning to understand why.

Monday, December 7, 2009

(Mother) Hubbard Squash

You don't get a sense of the scale of this mother unless you look at the teapots on the shelf below. It was so big and gnarly that few people believed it was real. The smaller part fits nicely on my head. What you see is the squash bissected, scraped out and left to dry. Our friend Jean, a plant breeder, brought it on Thanksgiving, so I can believe it is a prodigy. The second shot, you can see what became of her. And I still have several buckets of cooked down squash - I can see soup on the horizon. Perhaps pie.