IMG_0566-0.JPGIt was a busy Wednesday, Christmas Eve, and when I talked to Clint the manager of the meat department, he said that they were totally out of the proper cut for Beef Wellington (filet mignon) and the substitute piece I might have used was not something he could recommend.

So I bought a big chunk of boneless leg of lamb. Read the rest of this entry »

IMG_5540.JPGOf course, it’s pretty basic, so let me explain the process and its history.

Waay back in the 17th century or perhaps even earlier, French peasant farmers would take some of their waterfowl, geese, or perhaps pigs and slaughter them for the coming winter. Confit apparently comes from the term confire which means ‘to prepare’.
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IMG_0923.JPGOK. While I’m not exactly obsessing over last night’s Fesenjan Fiasco, my wife revealed to me that her auto-immune condition in her gums was acting up again so she would appreciate if I could make my cooking a bit more…sedate and potentially soothing to her poor, recovering inner gums.
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Hmm. Chicken, to me, while a reliable protein source, is pretty uninteresting to me for cooking. There are enough people out there who can make fried chicken in their sleep better than I, so to keep things interesting (for me), I tend toward the less typical cuisines when cooking this fowl.

So when I saw a recipe from New York Times this week, I was all over it. And as I had a goodly amount of pomegranate molasses just sitting there in my fridge awaiting inspiration, all I really needed to pick up were some more walnuts.
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When the hour is late and its time to make dinner, maybe by 930 you’re not thinking steak and potatoes for dinner, so something simple and available is probably the ticket. I had some naan bread left over so I pulled out the one solid round I had and started rummaging through the refrigerator.
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IMG_0910.JPGAs one of my staff is still under the general impression that he is exempt (mostly) from working Sundays, he never showed up for work and I had to mostly work alone today and had to work late, in addition. Moreover,somehow I misplaced my hoodie and had to bike home in the cool ‘Fall’ air with only a long- sleeved shirt on.

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IMG_5492.JPGThis morning after a business meeting at the house, my wife raced off to work a bit late and I was left alone in the kitchen. Alone with the three Terrines de Campagne which I had prepared the night before.

I set the oven temperature to 325F, heated up some water for the bain-marie water bath, and placed them in the oven and some 90 minutes or more. Later, once the interior temperature reached the requisite 155-160F, they would be half-ready.

I took them out to cool on a rack, and went back to my movie (Guardians of the Galaxy is good fun). Afterwards I prepared the weights for the terrines to help compact them as much as possible, which would take at least four hours.

Tonight after a rather lackluster dinner out for German cuisine, we returned and I removed the weights, wrapped up all three of the terrines with plastic wrap, and returned them to the fridge where they will be fine for at least two weeks. Still, as our guests will arrive in a week, there will be plenty of pâté for them to consume, and maybe enough for us to do a tad of ‘testing’ and entertaining before they arrive.

Look, a subtle reminder…pâté is meat loaf. Just much better and much tastier than that stuff folks usually slather catsup/ketchup over.

IMG_0902.JPGHere’s the thing: the more I learn about French cooking, the more amazed I become with myself…and the more I realize…it’s just cooking. It’s not particularly difficult, let me tell you. For instance, a pâté or a terrine or a mousse when cooked in the French style?

It’s frickin’ meat loaf,ok?

There, I said it. Americans go to Betty Crocker and prepare a meat loaf and don’t get all giggy about it,but if you put a French accent on it, by calling it a terrine de campagne or a mousse, well….it must be just too hard. And maybe that’s where I am actually a bit different from other cooks: I. Don’t. Care.

Fail? Sure, it can happen. It has. But…so what? You learn from your errors, you correct and adjust, and the next time, it works better. But then, there is the other rub: people that fail once often don’t try again. Still, for reasons which confuse me. Fear? Of what? Ridicule? Embarrassment?

But it’s just French frickin’ meat loaf, boys and girls. Get over it.

In anticipation of my wife’s cousin and Belgian/Flemish husband coming to stay for a few days, it was time to pull out the stops. I’ve made French pates and terrines now several times, and so far, they have come out splendidly. The first one was vegetarian, if you can believe it. Another was a fruity one.

So it is doable. You can be fearless and try it.

A pâté with forcemeat (ground up meat) is pretty straightforward. In this case I started with sautéing a cup of onions, some garlic, thyme, and a bevy of herbs like bay leaf, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and allspice along with a couple of eggs and cream. Line a loaf pan with bacon (or caul fat if you want to be fancy) or just simply parchment paper (to keep the meat out of contact with the metal walls of your loaf pan) or use a terrine designed for it as I did.

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Or in this case, use both, as I had a pile of extra meat to cook, so I used two little half-loaf pans to fill up. Put these in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight to let the meats blend with each other and the other herbs and ingredients.

Tomorrow I’ll bake the three of these in a Bain-marie (water bath) at 325F for 90 minutes to 2 hours. After letting them cool, I’ll put weights over each of them to press the meat down a bit. I’ll leave them in their containers for a few days (it will only make them taste better) and release them to our guests next week. This is perfectly safe so long as they are kept covered and wrapped.

IMG_5480.JPGNigel Slater’s recipes always seem to come off as…effortless. As if the combination of ingredients he’s chosen and the manner in which he combined them is the most natural thing in the world. In this issue of The Guardian he discusses three different soups and I selected the Chicken, Butter Bean, and Tarragon recipe.

On cooling fall or winter nights, when the sun goes down before 5pm and its dark so quickly, a nice, thick soup seems only more than natural to prepare.

I start with a lot of onions, cooked in some EVOO, a tab of butter, and half a liter of chicken broth. This cooks gently for 15 minutes, which is followed with two chicken thighs (sans skins which are broiled and crisped to act as a garnish) and a can of butter beans which will simmer for about 40 minutes.

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Crisp that chicken skin!

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Once the meat is thoroughly cooked through, it is removed and the meat taken from the bones, to be dressed with tarragon, parsley, salt and pepper and put aside. Using an immersion blender, one then blends up the soup till about half is puréed smoothly, then all is divided into two soup bowls, the chicken placed artfully in the center of the bowl, and a piece of crispy chicken skin adorned on the top. Pretty simple…and sounds pretty good.

Aaaaand…it is. Stunningly tasty. While I feared at first that the dish would be pretty underseasoned, as only the chicken skins and the chicken were given any salt of pepper. To cover my bases, I added perhaps a teaspoon of salt to the onion/bean broth mix. It proved to be just enough.

And there is even enough for a leftover for my wife. Lucky girl.

PS: I’ve been running hot the last couple of weeks with the general success of my cooking. It’s…scary…and daunting, and I await the next Bombing In Manila event.

IMG_0540.JPGMy favorite cooking– from scratch, pulling out ingredients from the fridge, pantry, wherever. I brought home some fresh pasta tonight made from Phoenix Pastaficio‘s pasta made specially for Berkeley Bowl.

As my wife was wildly impressed with the result, here is the process that I used while the pasta water came to a boil. She insisted that I record the ingredients and the process as best as I could remember, and I have done so. Note that your own results may vary slightly. You could use ground chicken or even beef broth and still have a similarly nice result. Don’t sweat it. Basic key is slow cooking, layering of flavors, and the pasta water at the end.

Sautée some ground pork in the skillet. Add some ground rosemary (dried) and stir till mostly browned.
Add minced shallots until they, too get a bit golden.
Add in some sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil. Continue cooking.
Find a decent tomato in your refrigerator and dice and add to the mix. Ditto with about a tablespoon of tomato paste.
Continue cooking.
Add a splash of red wine. I happened to use some cheapo Crane Lake petit Syrah. Be sure to pour yourself a glass at the same time. Sip.
Continue cooking the sauce on a low heat and add whatever handy broth you have; I happened to have some organic vegetable broth. Stir.
Panic briefly and opt to squirt a jism-sized load of Heinz’ ketchup into the sauce. Do you think I’m kidding? I toldja I was running with what was available.
Continue cooking.
Taste the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remember that at the last few minutes you will be adding in a small handful of olives, cut into bits and pieces. Tonight I used French cured black olives.
Add the olives. Stir.
Taste the sauce. If it is starting to dry up a bit, add some more red wine and/or that handy vegetable broth.

Somewhere along the way your salted pasta cooking water will be ready. Cook according to package directions or, if you’re a bit smarter and time is a concern, use fresh pasta as it will only take about 3 minutes to cook.
Prepare a colander for the pasta.
Take a small ladleful of the pasta cooking water and add it to the sauce. This is important, as it will add a bit of the accumulated starches of the pasta and will add a nice Je ne sais Quois to your sauce.
Taste your sauce. Adjust for seasonings. If you like how it tastes, it’s ready.

If you don’t like it, call first and come on over. I can make this in my sleep, but it’s important to note…it will come out different every time but if you follow these general instructions, you should have a pretty decent sauce.

Oh. And that mention of ‘ragu’? I knew the term was Italian and it had to do with sauce, but wasn’t sure what kind of sauce. A ragu is a Northern Italian style pasta sauce made of ground meat, red wine, onions and tomatoes. So now I know…and so do you.

It came out very well, and my wife was even pushing her limits to have another helping (which pleases me greatly) though there wasn’t much sauce left.

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