Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Cream of Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese

I'm not sure any longer how we decided to have grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, that quintessentially American comfort food combination. But that's what we had for Sunday night dinner. I do remember telling Ann that the soup needed to have cream and I do remember her telling me that I am lactose-intolerant and that it wouldn't be good for me and I do remember her telling her I would suffer through it and I most certainly do remember suffering, almost immediately. It might have been worth it but it will be a long time henceforth before I touch any cream again.

Cream of Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese
At the farmers market, I picked up several pounds of less than stellarly ripe tomatoes figuring that I wanted more acidity rather than less in the soup. Whew! The acid was huge and I actually ended up adding some sugar to the soup to help counterbalance the acidity.

Ready for the Oven
The tomatoes roasted in a very hot oven with the convection fan running the whole while, for at least 45 minutes until most of the water from the tomatoes had evaporated. Meanwhile, I sweated two minced garlic cloves and half an onion, diced, in butter. Out of the oven, I peeled the blistered skins off the tomatoes and then threw the tomatoes, onions, garlic, and a sprig of basil in the blender. How nice of some local grower to come by the restaurant Saturday night with a sample of his hydroponic basil!

Soup, Cream, Salt, Sugar, and Sriracha Added, Mellowing on Low Flame
Out of the blender and into a pan over a very low flame went the soup, some heavy cream, and a little water. I added salt, sugar, and sriracha to taste.

Another Awesome Loaf
Just as soon as I pulled the tomatoes out of the oven, Ann put in this great loaf of bread. It has the best crust of any loaf she has ever made.

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
I sliced the bread and buttered it, then sliced a big piece of Sweetgrass Dairy Thomasville Tomme, a cheese that featured in our wedding "cake." Into the frying pan went the sandwiches and the rest is history. I have got to say that Ann's bread and its impeccable crust really made the sandwiches! Great job honey!

Cheap Red Sauce Italian

Baked Gemelli with Fresh Mozzarella
On the way home, there's a newish cheap red sauce Italian place whose owner worked for me for about a week some years ago. His current place is a dive but the food isn't that bad. I got off early one day last week and Ann wanted me to grab some to-go from there on the way home. But I have a real problem paying good money for something as trivial to make as baked pasta. So I brought home a brick of mozzarella that we made at the restaurant, some pasta, and a can of tomatoes.

Ann cooked the pasta while I made the sauce and sliced the mozzarella. Fifteen minutes of work and cleanup and a half an hour in a really hot oven to brown and we were done. Easy and delicious.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Pease Porridge

Depending on who you ask, we've been on borrowed time for anywhere from three days to two weeks. Our luck ran out overnight on Saturday: our first frost of the year followed by a 28F freeze the following evening. Earlier in the week in preparation for the coming cold weather, I picked all the basil and made pesto and Ann asked if I would make a pot of split pea soup on Sunday to accompany the chilly weather and a loaf of her delicious bread.

I've never really considered split pea soup and by considered, I mean in an academic nature. [Cue groaning noises from my wife.] Been making it all my adult life, but I never considered from which culinary tradition it has come. I didn't know anything about the history of the dish.

I certainly did have a guess that since we have a nursery rhyme about the dish ("pease porridge hot/pease porridge cold/...") that the dish is very old. And that it is, the rhyme is first recorded in the early 18th century but the dish is mentioned by Aristophanes and that was nearly 2500 years ago. Split pea soup is downright ancient on a human timescale. Further reading leads me to believe that cooked dried peas and pork is common to most of northern Europe; it certainly is extremely common in many militaries and all throughout Scandinavia. That it appears across such a broad swath of the world tells us that this dish is so old that it predates our modern notion of cuisines and international boundaries.

And its antiquity probably explains why we love it so: at this point, love for the soup is probably recorded at some level in our DNA. All joking aside, it is one of the few dishes that I, the ultimate omnivore, came to kicking and screaming. When I was a youngster of about 8 or 9, my mother made for the first time in my reckoning a nasty looking green soup which she assured me was delicious. I've never really balked at foods, but I bet it took her a solid half an hour of cajoling me while she was cooking it to get me to try that damn green stuff. I guess the color put me off. But once I finally nerved up enough to taste it, I was hooked.

[The only other thing that I came to balkily was sushi. At 25 years of age, I had never seen raw fish before. These were the days before you could buy sushi in any town anywhere. Four or five beers it took to get into the raw fish, but after that, I was likewise hooked.]

My split pea soup is always made with green split peas, a ham hock, an onion, a couple of carrots, some garlic, a bay leaf, and some thyme. Except this batch.

Not My Usual Split Pea Soup Mise
I was fresh out of carrots, so I grabbed a sweet potato for color. That's the only reason carrot is in the soup: for contrasting color. And I grabbed a few small pork sausages because I don't have a ham in the fridge and I didn't feel like getting one out of the back and unwrapping it. The secret weapon in my soup is what we call "pork goodness," the juices that congeal in the bottom of the pan after we have roasted our pork belly. I added about a pint of that at the very end. Because it is so salty, I add it at the end instead of salt.

Ann's roasted garlic loaf was incredibly delicious. Alas the photos did not turn out. The short day did not afford enough daylight and the picture quality was awful. Pictures or no, the soup and bread in front of the fire was a great way to temporarily chase away our first taste of winter.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Delaplane Cellars

It's been a long time since we have been to a winery. We try to skip them in September and October when our friends are working so hard to bring in the harvest and get it crushed. But as things start winding down--and this year Hurricane Joaquin brought things to an early close by dumping inches and inches of rain on us over many days forcing everyone to pick early--we start visiting again as we do frequently during the winter months.

We needed to pick up some wine and I needed to talk to Betsy about a couple of catering jobs coming up in the next couple of weeks, so after our morning coffee, we got dressed and made the quick and pretty drive to Delaplane.

Annie at Delaplane

Lunch

Williams Gap 2013
It was too cool and windy to sit outside, though some poor fools were trying it, so we camped out inside the tasting room and enjoyed a rare bit of grown up time talking about this and that and nothing at all. Ultimately, Jim came up from the cellar, complaining of being sore from all the punchdowns, and sat with us for a half an hour or so while we shot the breeze. We asked him why some of the Cabernet Sauvignon is still hanging. "Infected with botrytis," he replied. "Last year we brought in 9 tons, this year 3." 2015 was such a promising year (in fact, the whites are going to be really great) up until the hurricane struck.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Final Grilling 2015

We had a spot of nice weather Monday this week and I had a pork tenderloin that wasn't being used for anything else, so I determined to hit the grill. By 7pm though, I was grilling in the dark. Fortunately, as a professional chef, I know what a cooked pork tender feels like, even in the dark. Sadly, I am afraid that the lack of daylight signals the end of grilling for 2015. Though I'm looking forward to comfort food, I know it won't be long before I am jonesing for the grill again.

Grilled Pork Tender, Roasted Potatoes, Garlic, and Asparagus
We had some potatoes and garlic at home, so I decided to roast them because, quite honestly, there is hardly anything better in my book than potatoes roasted with whole cloves of garlic. And, yes, that is asparagus in October. As much as it offends my chef sense of seasonality, it makes my wife happy and so I roasted some asparagus for her. Annie, you are corrupting me!

A Really Expressive Willamette Pinot
Pork and Pinot is such a classic combination and this 2013 Terrapin is delightfully expressive, lightly extracted, and blessed with zippy acid. For an inexpensive bottle, this wine is a great value.

A One-Pan Vegetable Roast
Though my wife will try to argue this point, I always try to keep the number of dishes and pans that I use to a minimum, especially at home where Ann and I are the dishwashers. Here's a great trick. The potatoes and asparagus have vastly different roasting times. In a hot oven, the potatoes will take 25 minutes or so to become golden brown while the asparagus only want about five minutes with the convection fan running to become soft and tender. So I cook the potatoes until they are about five minutes from being done and place the asparagus right on top for the final five minutes. Two roasted vegetables, one pan to clean.

It may be the end of grilling season 2015, but we can always roast potatoes!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Porcini, Chanterelle, and Bacon Risotto

Though we celebrated our anniversary last Sunday, Wednesday the 30th was our actual anniversary. I wasn't sure until the last moment if I could get the night off from work, but in the end, I managed to get home bringing some Arborio, dried porcini, fresh chanterelles, and some grated Pecorino Romano.

Porcini, Chanterelle, and Bacon Risotto
I was tired, but risotto start to finish including prep takes under a half an hour. And besides, I know how much Ann loves risotto. Any amount of labor for that girl!

Modern Style Amarone
Amarone has historically been a tough wine for me to drink and even tougher to pair with food. The litany of woes with old school Amarone is long: low acid, tendency to develop volatile acidity, cloying flavors, vast alcohol, botrytis and so forth. Fortunately, a new generation of winemakers have applied new technology to the wine and their products are so much better now, notably in the preservation of acidity and the taming of off flavors. This Degani Amarone is a great example. There is no doubt that it is Amarone, but it is drinkable and more importantly, it did fine by our risotto.

Happy Anniversary Ann. It wasn't much, but it was all I could do not knowing if I would even be able to get home early enough for dinner.

Our 52-Hike Challenge 2017

On January 1, 2017 as Ann and I were headed to Harper's Ferry WV for our first hike of 2017, Ann told me of something she read about on ...