Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

And another Thanksgiving is in the books, for Ann and me, our 6th, this one a good bit smaller than in years past. But though it was smaller, it is always a pleasure to gather with friends and family at the table to celebrate another year. It was really easy this year. With it snowing on Wednesday, there wasn't any business at the restaurant and I was able to prep most of the meal at work, letting us go slow and relax on Thanksgiving itself.

Ann and her Parents

Who is That Photo Bombing the Girls?

Appetizers: Turkey Rillettes, Galantine, and Cornichons

A Really Nice Right Bank Bordeaux

Ann Always Sets a Beautiful Table

Apple Cider-Brined Turkey Thighs Only This Year; No White Meat for Us
Ann's Bread and Saltine Cracker Dressing

Ann's Bistro Mash: Half Sweet Potatoes, Half Red Skin Potatoes

Sweet and Sour Brussels Sprouts with Pork Belly

The Obligatory Cranberry-Orange Sauce

Sweet Potato Tart with Cassis Cream and Black Walnut Streusel

And a 1991 Port to Finish off the Meal

Thanksgiving Galantine

For appetizers before our Thanksgiving feast this year, I indulged in a couple of favorite works of charcuterie, turkey neck rillettes and a classic galantine, a boned out chicken stuffed with a pork, blueberry, and pistachio forcemeat. Here's a little step-by-step show-and-tell on how to make a galantine.

Cut Through the Skin Along the Backbone
Start with a nice large bird (bigger is easier to work with); this is about a 4-pound fryer. Make an incision from stem to stern (neck to tail). Cut all the way down to the backbone.

Following the Carcass, Cut Down to the Breast Keel
Using a flexible boning knife, follow the carcass down the sides. When you find the oyster, the little pocket of meat on the back just above the hip, you will find the hip joint just below (towards the tail). Work around the hip joint and then when you can see it, cut right through the joint. As for the wing, as you are cleaning the backside of the rib cage, you will find a free-floating bone above the ribs that leads directly into the wing joint. Grab this bone and pull it up into the wing joint where it will snap off. Where it snaps is where you will find the wing joint. As you did for the leg, clean around the joint and cut through it. Once through the wing joint, locate the wishbone and scrape it down to its point. Do the same thing on the other side. Be sure to remove the wishbone.

Carcass Removed, Legs and Wings Intact
Once you have cleaned the carcass all the way down to the breast keel. Lift the carcass so that you can see where the skin attaches to the breast keel and very carefully separate the skin from the bone with the tip of your knife, being very careful not to puncture the skin.

Expose the Thigh Tips and Clean Down to the Leg Tips
For each leg, make an incision from the hip joint down into the leg joint, following the bone. Scrape the flesh away from the bone to expose it as you see in the photo above. Carefully cut around the leg joint and scrape the meat down the leg bone. Cut off the bone tip with a cleaver or heavy knife and remove all the bone.

Remove the Wing Tips; Scrape Down the Wing Bones

For each wing, remove the wing at the second joint and then scrape the meat off the remaining bone to remove the bone.

Boneless Bird, Squared Up, Meat Evenly Distributed
Lay the boneless bird out on a cutting board and square it up. Where the breast is very thick, cut it down and use the breast meat to fill in places on the skin where there is no meat. Your finished product should be rectangular and roughly the same depth in meat all over as in the photo above.

Add Forcemeat to the Center, Bring the Two Halves Together
Place the forcemeat in the center where the carcass used to be. It will take about a pound and a half of forcemeat to fill a 4-pound chicken. Bring the sides together and tie with butcher's twine.

Tie and Roast
Here you see the finished bird, breast side up, rolled and tied and ready for the oven. Bake in a moderate oven (350F) until a meat thermometer reads 145F. Remove, let stand so that the carry through will bring the final temperature up to 155F, and chill.

Slicing the Chilled, Finished Product

Chicken Galantine with Pork, Blueberries, and Pistachios

Monday, November 24, 2014

Puerco con Mojo y Arroz Amarillo

Puerco con Mojo y Arroz Amarillo
The starter in Ann's Jeep decided to crap out on Saturday, effectively quashing any plans we may or may not have had to get out and about on Sunday. And so we planned to stay home and cook. First, we went up to the grocery store in my beater truck to score some turkey thighs for Thursday: they're not super popular and so the store never orders many of them, making them difficult to come by. But score we finally did. And while we were there, we starting surfing the aisles for some inspiration for dinner. Nada.

So off we went to FoodMaxx where we do the bulk of our shopping, hoping to see something that would trigger an idea for dinner. As we were turning into the parking lot for FoodMaxx, Ann asked, "What about that Cuban pork you do and arroz amarillo?" Done!

To be fair, the dish I do is no longer strictly Cuban, but a hybrid of Cuban puerco con mojo and Mexican (or New Mexican) chile verde, in that my sauce is a mash up of mojo and salsa verde. We got some garlic, a pork picnic shoulder, tomatillos, limes, orange juice, and culantro.

Pork Shoulder in the Slow Cooker
Without my good knives at home, skinning and boning out the pork shoulder was nearly impossible, but after 15 minutes of struggle, I managed to get most of it "cubed" and into the slow cooker. The skin and bones will go into my stock for Thursday's gravy, along with a couple of chicken carcasses that I have stashed away and a bunch of turkey necks.

Veg Ready for Roasting
Roasted Veg and Fresh Culantro, Ready for Blender
I roasted some yellow onion, tomatillos, poblanos, and garlic and then transferred them to the blender along with the bunch of culantro that you see in the photo above. I added lime juice and orange juice, my hack to replace the sour oranges that we almost can never get here in Virginia, cumin, lots of oregano, salt, and a few red pepper flakes (this is not a spicy dish).

Pork and Sauce Ready for Cooking
About five hours in the slow cooker while we watched movies and the pork was done. I removed the mojo to a pan and reduced it until it was thick and then put it back over the pork. Meanwhile, I made a little achiote oil and then cooked a little diced onion, diced poblano, thinly sliced culantro, and minced garlic in it. Then I added salt, rice, and water and 15 minutes later: arroz amarillo. To make achiote oil, warm a few achiote seeds in oil until the oil is strongly colored and then strain the seeds out. There is no reason to ever use prepackaged junk (such as Goya Sazón) to make arroz amarillo.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lo Mein

Lo Mein: Wheat Noodles and Vegetables
Our dinner from last evening: very quick and easy. Boiled lo mein noodles tossed with a stir fry of lop cheung, green onions, orange bell peppers, snow peas, ginger, garlic, cilantro, and a really fun little package of sweet and spicy pickled radishes that I picked up at the store. The package wasn't labeled in English at all (and actually isn't legal for sale as it has no ingredients list or nutrition information listed, not that I care).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Easy Dinner: Naan Pizza

I was just plain tired yesterday. Saturday night at the restaurant was bone-crushing. Sunday came all too soon with too little sleep; thanks doggies! Monday was a scramble all day to catch up on paperwork, run errands, and to plan for this coming Sunday's catering, not to mention rushing to make a late afternoon meeting with our financial adviser.

In short, I just wasn't in the mood to cook. And so we had a Costco dinner: a package of naan, a jar of pesto, a roasted chicken, a ball of fresh mozzarella, and some cheap Pinot. It doesn't get much simpler than naan pizzas when you are too tired to really cook. Five minutes start to finish and not much to clean up.

Ready for the Oven: Chicken and Pesto Naan Pizzas

Cheap Pinot

Delaplane Cellars/Clam and Bacon Risotto

Bill, Drew, and Ann on the Patio at Delaplane Cellars
Sunday, social planner Ann made plans for us to introduce Bill and Drew to Delaplane Cellars, despite the fact that I was there two weeks ago catering and will be there next Sunday as well. We are fortunate to have friends that would make the hour-plus drive out from DC to visit for a couple of hours. The day was just fantastic, sunny and in the upper 50s and so we took advantage of what might be the last nice day of the year to sit out on the patio and take in the sun.

Duet and Left Bank: Somebody Has to Drink Them
It's always fun to watch people's faces as they take in the gorgeous tasting room and the perhaps more splendid view for the first time. After Bill and Drew admired the view from the catwalk outside the tasting room, we did a tasting so that they could get an idea of the quality of the wines being poured. And then we ended up outside with a bottle each of Duet and Left Bank. We tasted Left Bank (Cab dominant) against Williams Gap (Franc dominant) and then Duet, a blend of the two vineyards. Left Bank is the name given to the wines made from the estate fruit. Williams Gap is slightly north where route 7 meets the mountains in Loudoun County.

Dinner: Clam and Bacon Risotto
We stayed for perhaps an hour after Drew and Bill left before heading for home and thinking about dinner. For dinner, Ann wanted something "rich and comforting" made from the clams that we had left from last weekend. I don't tolerate fresh milk products very well but those things are what get Ann's juices running. She wanted a classic New England clam chowder and wouldn't be swayed to a nice Manhattan clam chowder. In exasperation, I told her I would make the chowder and she could eat it and I would find something else to eat. She finally asked me for an idea that was rich and comforting that I could actually eat, so I suggested clam risotto. And there you have it: a risotto of bacon and shallots, Arborio, white wine, thyme and parsley from the garden, a touch of butter, and some pecorino. This was a great dinner to top off a great day with friends.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Taco Party!

Black Bean Taco, Cotija, Cilantro, Chipotle Salsa
Sunday afternoon Ann got a text from Kelley asking if we could meet at a winery on Monday afternoon, that they were in Virginia for the day. Because of renovations at the restaurant, I couldn't meet but suggested that we have dinner at our place early Monday evening. On Monday morning, Ann and I talked about what to make for dinner and we got precisely nowhere. Some time later, she texted me saying that she felt like Mexican. I suggested do-your-own tacos and she suggested cheese dip and chips. Deal done.

Pregame Margaritas
After a long day at work, I finally got home with groceries and set to prepping dinner. I asked Ann to throw some music on, a little banda to prep to, to liven things up. While I was getting things ready, she found a can of margarita mix in the freezer and put together a batch of margaritas for us. The margaritas were a great pick-me-up after a long, hard slog at work and running all over town doing errands for the restaurant.

Happy Trio
Mark and Kelley arrived about 90 minutes after I did and I had just managed to finish prepping dinner maybe 10 minutes before they arrived. As Ann requested, I made some nasty cheese? dip for chips: Velveeta, cilantro stems, chorizo, chipotle salsa, and a little Sherry vinegar to help cut some of the fat.
Queso Fundido and Chips
I got both corn and wheat tortillas. I'm a fan of corn, Ann of wheat. For fillings, I cooked some fresh chorizo, some black beans with onions and poblanos, and some shrimp with mango and chipotle. For toppings, we had pico de gallo, cilantro, chipotle salsa, nopalitos, and queso cotija. And we all sat around the island in the kitchen, made tacos, and caught up. It was a great evening!

Taco Spread: Chorizo, Black Beans, Shrimp and Mango

Perciatelli with Clams and Cannellini

Perciatelli with Clams and Cannellini
Sunday was going to be a great day. We've been scraping by and watching our finances for months and finally came up with enough money to have a real date at a restaurant for lunch on Sunday. Ann chose the Wine Kitchen spin-off in Purcellville called WK Hearth. We love the wine flights concept of the Wine Kitchen in Leesburg and though the food wasn't amazing when we were last there, it wasn't bad either, and the overall experience was a good one. So we were really looking forward to our Sunday lunch at WK Hearth.

Suffice it to say that things started off badly there and quickly went from bad to worse. At one point in the meal, Ann caught my eye and said one word, the name of another restaurant we ate in some time ago where the food was so bad that we left our meal uneaten, paid our bill, and stopped by the grocery store on the way home to buy a box of pasta for dinner. Sunday, we also left our food largely uneaten, our wine undrunk, paid our bill, and scrapped our plans for visiting a random Loudoun County winery in favor of going back home and making pasta. And that's a hell of a note. We scrimped and we saved and we deprived ourselves and when we finally did get to go out, the whole experience sucked. At least we can see the humor in the situation!

Regardless, we had planned to have pasta for dinner, pasta with clam sauce, so we just moved our timetable up a little and ate dinner a little earlier than we might have otherwise. My clam sauce is pancetta (plus a little bacon because my next batch of pancetta is still curing), shallots, garlic, clams, white wine, butter, and parsley. There was also a pint of cannellini in the fridge from something that Ann had made earlier, so in they went too.

All in all, despite the restaurant woes, Sunday was a great day. Any day that I get to spend with Ann is a great day.

Linguini with Clam Sauce

It felt good to get back in the kitchen yesterday, if only for a few minutes to make a late afternoon lunch of linguini with white clam sauc...