Thursday, January 28, 2016

Cassoulet for a Blizzard

Well, I'm sure glad that's behind us now, the blizzard that dumped over three feet of snow on us and shut down businesses and schools for a week. This was a 48-hour weather event caused by the collision of the jet stream, a tropical air mass from the Gulf of Mexico, and a nor'easter stalled on the mid-Atlantic coast. And, it's not like we didn't see it coming for days. Even the paid weather guys that the vineyard owners all pay good money to, professional forecasters who don't like to go out on a limb, were using the term "historic" in front of the word "accumulation" as far as a week out.

Here's a little time lapse of the storm.

Friday 1:30

Saturday 8:30

Saturday 2:00
And, we got another six inches or so overnight so that when we woke up on Sunday, we had over three feet of snow, with drifts to 8 feet in places, including a 5-foot drift piled up against the sunroom window.

Five-Foot Drift Against the Sunroom

Grace Likes Being Outside, if Her Paws Don't Touch Snow or Water

But Charlie is in His Element

About to Porpoise Through the Snow

An Uneager Shoveler

All the forewarning made it easy for us to close the restaurant around noon on Friday when it started to come down hard. And I had all week to plan for food for a long, snowed-in weekend, a forced vacation if you will. Ann asked the weekend before if I would make a cassoulet on Saturday and so I prepped for that during the week, leaving the finally assembly and cooking for Saturday. Knowing it would be impossible to harvest herbs from the garden for many weeks, I went out on Thursday night and picked some parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme for the cassoulet.

I am no stranger to cassoulet and have waxed poetic about it a couple of times on this blog and have certainly made many, many of them each year at the restaurant. The thing to note about the various cassoulets that I have made is that each is different. Cassoulet is not a formulaic thing, despite many a Frenchman dictating what a cassoulet is and is not, in his not so humble opinion. Cassoulet is peasant food, a dish of beans and a little meat for those who could afford some, made from whatever was at hand. This cassoulet is no different: it is made with what I had on hand.

Mirepoix and Raw Cubed Pork Belly
I started by browning the cubes of raw pork belly and then pouring off most of the lard. Into the pan went the mirepoix to cook until soft.

Smoked Sausages

Rich Pork Neck Stock and Steuben Yellow Eye Beans
I removed two thirds of the mirepoix from the pan and then added a layer of beans topped with a layer of pork neck meat that I had pulled off the bones that I used in making the stock. The beans I soaked overnight on Thursday and cooked for about 45 minutes on Friday morning until they were not quite cooked through. Each layer of beans got a light sprinkle of salt.

I then added another third of the mirepoix and another layer of beans, then the sausages and six or seven whole cloves of garlic. Next in went the bouquet garni of fresh herbs and the remainder of the beans. I then covered the whole with a cup of the highly salty and flavorful drippings from the pork belly that we roast at the restaurant and a few quarts of the pork neck stock. I then put it into a very slow (275F) oven for about four or five hours, until a really great crust had formed over the very juicy beans.

After Assembly

Crusty and Hot out of the Oven

What a delicious and comforting dinner for a blizzard night! Remember kids, there is no definitive cassoulet. Learn the technique and use what you have at hand.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Trying to Feel Normal

I told Ann before her father's funeral that we were going out on Monday night for our first date in almost two months to try to get away from the house and our problems and simply to try to feel normal again, whatever normal is now. What a long, strange journey these past couple of months have been.

We almost gave into the temptation just to stay home but I insisted that we go out though neither of us felt like it. I decided to go to Awabi to get some sushi and sashimi because that it pretty much the one food I don't cook at home. Besides, Marcus and Emma are great people and I wanted to give them some business on a brutally cold winter Monday. And I just don't need an excuse to eat sushi. It is one of my very favorite foods.

Spicy Tuna Temaki

Unagi and Rainbow Roll
As always, I let Ann do the ordering. For the most part, I don't really care what I eat; I like it all. My style is just to go omakase and let the chef send out whatever he wants. Ann's tastes run more to maki; mine to nigiri or sashimi. I did insist on some saba because I love pickled mackerel.

Some sushi, a few Kirin beers, some conversation with Marcus and Emma, and a couple hours later we left feeling a bit more normal. We were both glad that we got out of the house.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Robert N. Chiappetta, 1927-2016

A Wisconsin Boy and His Beer
Although the date on this post is the 16th of January, I backdated it. A lot. It's almost the first of February as I write this. I just couldn't bring myself to write this post any sooner and even now, I'm struggling to get the words out. It's taken me a half an hour just to commit these few sentences to virtual paper, so raw still are my emotions.

I have been blessed to have had two great and wonderful fathers-in-law. Both have now passed on from this life and because of my profession, I feel cursed to have been unable to attend either funeral. It is times like this that make me hate this profession that requires me to carry on while others celebrate, relax, meet, and even grieve. It is times such as these that make me feel less than human.

But, carry on we do, us chefs; even with heavy hearts we do what we do best: we feed people. It was a foregone conclusion, at least in my mind, that I would provide the food for the reception after Bob's funeral. It's what I do: I feed people. And in my own way, this was my tribute to Bob.

After the funeral in McLean on Saturday the 16th, we held that reception for close family at our house in Winchester. The Chiappettas are not a small clan; they are the prototypical sprawling Italian herd of a family. Bob was the last surviving of ten siblings, each of whom had many children and so on: they took their admonishment to be fruitful quite literally. Their tree has so many branches that few of them are certain how they are related to the others. We had at least 50 of them in attendance, including about 20 children. I had hoped to have a bunch of people pictures for this post but I was too busy playing host and welcoming everyone to our home. So sadly, all I have are photos from the setup, before everyone arrived.

And I finish this with the best photo that I ever took of Bob. Something about him sitting there on a beautiful spring day dozing in the sunshine speaks to me. Bob, I wish you spring days and naps wherever you are now.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Roulade of Pork Tenderloin

Ann's mother Mary moved in with us this past week and she spent the majority of Sunday afternoon at hospice with Bob while Ann took the afternoon off and we sat around and didn't do much. We're all exhausted. Late afternoon, we went to see Bob, pick up Mary to bring her home, and stopped by the restaurant to forage for dinner.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin; Roasted Potatoes and Celery Root
I knew I had a couple of unloved pork tenderloins left from a big party and during the day on Sunday while trying to figure out what to do for dinner, Ann asked me if I would stuff them with spinach and ricotta cheese. So we rummaged the restaurant kitchen for some spinach, ricotta, truffled bread crumbs, and pecorino romano for the stuffing.

Stuffing pork tenderloins isn't a problem or even difficult, but I'm a restaurant chef and presentation is key. Just stuffing a pork tenderloin does not lead to a great looking plate. So I endeavored to wrap the two triangular loins into a single prosciutto-wrapped log from which I could cut beautiful slices, a technique that we use all the time at the restaurant, albeit more frequently for rabbit loin than pork tenderloin.

Butterflied Pork Tenderloins
The technique I use is the same for any loin or tenderloin. First, I split the meat down the middle, open it up, and use a heavy pan to flatten the meat into a single uniformly thick roughly triangular steak. I season both sides of the meat.

Ready to Roll
Next, I lay film out on my work surface and then on top of that lay prosciutto out in a rectangle that is slightly wider than the tenderloins are long and half again as deep as the two pieces of meat are wide when laid side-by-side with the pointed ends of the triangles facing in opposite directions, such that the meat forms a rectangle. Hard to describe in words, but easy to see in the photo, and uncomplicated to do.

Once the prosciutto and the meat are laid out, I put the filling on top of the meat and spread it not quite to the edges of the meat. To make this filling, I mixed sautéed spinach with the ricotta, pecorino romano cheese, and truffled panko in no particular quantities, but let's say roughly equal parts of spinach and ricotta and about half the quantity of pecorino and panko. And then I seasoned it.

Rolled and Ready for the Oven
Using the film, I roll the loin making sure that it stay tight and using the extra length of prosciutto to ensure that the roll stays well sealed. And then it goes into a moderate oven on an oiled sheet tray until it reaches 135F in the center. Pull it out and let it rest and the temperature will climb another 10 degrees at least to 145F, exactly where you want it. I like to cook pork roasts lower and slower (say 350F): there's less shrink and less chance of overcooking, yielding a moister product.

Roasted and Cooled
Once the roast has stood for twenty minutes or so, you should be able to slice it easily with a sharp knife. While mine was standing, I popped a roasting pan of potato and celery root cubes into the oven to accompany the pork. I kicked the heat up to 400F and turned the convection fan on to really crisp up the veg.

Potatoes and Celery Root
Mary and I were talking earlier in the day about celery root and how much we like it (too bad daughter Ann didn't get the vegetable gene!) so I made sure to bring one home to roast for dinner. It's quite a versatile vegetable and can be prepared in any way you can prepare a potato and as a bonus, it is wonderful raw. Use a sharp knife to trim off all the roots and skin and then use the cleaned root to do what you will with it. Celery root makes awesome mash, fries, and chips, is amazing raw in celery rémoulade, as well as diced as a replacement for celery in mirepoix. It is unquestionably one of our most underappreciated vegetables.

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