Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Last week, during an after school conversation about Thanksgiving, I experienced that moment when I knew I would leave a  lasting impact on society after I'm gone.  (This is something you think about when you pass your mid 60's...) Morgan,  grandgirl #2, who is almost 13, informed me that, to her amazement, not everyone celebrates Pie Day.  Her younger sister chimed in saying that a lot of her friends actually BUY their pies, adding "And, mostly, they taste awful!".

Every year, on the day before Thanksgiving, we gather to make the pies. This means that the Northern California contingent must arrange to be down south by midday Wednesday, not an easy feat, and all the parents take off work for the afternoon to be part of the action.  Dinner that night is pizza since it takes hours to bake the pies. 

Pecan, Pumpkin and Apple Crumb.  One year I tried to introduce an Cran/Apple/Walnut that I had enjoyed on Cape Cod, and another year a Salted Honey Pie like the one I'd loved at Sweedeedee in Portland, Oregon, but the old standards win out every time. 


While I've been doing pies for Thanksgiving for almost 50 years, this family group effort started about 20 years ago, before any of the grandchildren were here.  It started as a communal lesson in pie making for a younger generation, my niece and some of my sons' friends and their wives.  Soon after, #1 grandgirl. Julianne, was standing on a chair rolling pie dough and stirring the pumpkin filling. Gradually we added a girl here, and another boy there, until we have six, and Pie Day now has become as much a part of Thanksgivng for the Grandgirls and -boys as turkey, olives on every finger, cranberry jello, and yeast rolls.

Each child is given a small pie plate to fill with the pie of their choice, and this can be a difficult decision for some (especially Lexi!).   And, someday, they will probably graduate to a full piece of pie.  I've been wondering if this will be Julianne's year since it's her first year at college.  However, she has brought three roommates home to share our Thanksgiving, so we have extra small pie plates for them, just in case.   

Two years ago, each child was given their own rolling pin

and last year we all autographed each other's new aprons.  They are all racing towards adulthood, and I want them to have the memories along with these treasures to carry forward, to encourage them to have homemade pies and special family days as they grow their own families.    

So, maybe thinking I'll have a long-lasting impact on society is a stretch, but, if Pie Day is my legacy, I'm good with that!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Updating you on your birthday, Frank Fischel

The business of life is the acquisition of memories.  ... that's all there is.
Mr. Carson, Downton Abbey

And I have so many.

This week is a double whammy.  Today would have been my husband Frank's 70th birthday, and this coming Sunday, the 2nd anniversary of his death.   Doing the math to calculate what his age would have been just freaked me out, and, I realize, he has really stopped in time at age 67 in my mind.  Though he turned 68 the week before his death, it never registered since he was essentially unconscious starting on that birthday and through out that following week.  Whoa- 70!  Whew!  Not sure he would have been real happy about being 70.... and I would have said "But, yeah, the alternative...".

I have run pretty hard and fast for the past two years, in part, probably, to avoid the reality of my new life. And, while I have 47 years of memories with Frank,  there are so many new ones that I wished I could have shared with him: the many new friends I've added to my life, all of whom he would have loved and who would have loved him, too; the new places, learned, and old places, revisited, meals eaten and laughs had, family's growth and evolution.  I no longer pick up the phone to call and share an event with him, but I so often wish I could.  So, here's a small sampling, Frankie: 

I know you would have loved to see Max sprout up and over 6" tall, embracing golf as his game.  While Mike has nurtured this love, it started with you.  I wish you could know what a beautiful person Julianne is, both inside and out, and that she was captain of her golf team as well as "Golfer of the Year".  How you would have cheered at that golf banquet!

And to see Morgan and Lexi, with their naturally competitive spirits on the soccer field would amaze you!   And their growth- both physical and emotional, has been so great.   Morgan now has limbs so long she certainly could no longer stand on the headboard of our bed as you called out the circus announcement "Laaaadddiiiieessss aannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd Gentlemen!  Presenting, for your pleasure, Miiiisssss Morgan Fischel!" as she tumbled on to the mattress.  And, you are missing Lexi's impish personality and dagger smart mind, which contrasts/compliments, so well, her innate and unique sense of style.                                            

And the family that Brian and Edina have been able to forge, after all, for themselves and Rebecca and Jacob. I look at them with wonder, as it hasn't been an easy process, I know.

All of this, and more, because of the great parents, and people,  Mike & Vicki, Zach and Jen, and Brian and Edina are.  You would be so proud and so impressed with what they have accomplished, as I am.

If only you were able to see the most wonderful life that Josh and Abbie have established for themselves, and how they compliment each other so well.  You would have taken such great pleasure to know that Josh has found a way to pull together all that he loves in the Riot Stage project, and he able to do this because of Abbie's most wonderful support and hard work, too. 

And Ben and Sage, who have returned to Portland and live life on their terms: Sage, returning to school, Ben meeting his goal to work in a restaurant and learn by doing.   I miss them terrifically, but know they are where they need to be. 

And Dan, with the help of dear Barbora, has been able to begin to explore the greater world, as I think he has always been meant to do.   They have expanded their trips to visit Barbora's family to include other areas of Europe, and, though we have missed them at the last two Christmas celebrations, I know they have enjoyed the experiences. 

And I see you in each of our children.  Josh's new focus as an impresario and community activist is you; Zach's caring, gentleness and involvement with his girls is you;  Ben's desire to do what he does at the very best level possible is you.

Their support, along with Linda, Luke, Darin, and others,  has been all that you would have hoped it would be. And, you should know that we still love you terrifically, miss you constantly, think of you often.  


Thursday, December 19, 2013

I've always been a bit of a do-it-myself-er, sewing drapes when it was probably less expensive and certainly easier to buy readymade; hand making birth announcements for all three children when most were using Hallmark to announce their new arrivals; passing the days in Tacoma, circa 1968, picking berries for jam and making bread to spread it on.
So it shouldn't be much of a surprise to find that I like to make my gifts for Christmas.  Especially for Christmas because the commercialism has gotten so carried away, and the craziness of it all makes me want to experience a Little Women holiday- cozy fires, mulled wine (ok, a nice Cabernet Franc, maybe) and home made gifts for those I love the most.
This year I'm making an assortment of things- chocolate covered walnuts like the ones I discovered in Perigueux in September; salted butter caramels using the Salies-de-Bearn from my tour of the Pays Basque on that same trip; Limoncello from lemons plucked from the lemon tree at my friends', Luke and Darin, place, The Clinic @ Palm Desert; and the Panforte that my niece, Vicki, and I fell in love with in Sienna last year, also using more lemon peels from The Clinic, but this time candied to sugary perfection and tossed in with candied orange and hazelnuts.  And, finally, Luke's  Granola, which was originally Alton Brown's granola recipe, but became Luke's and then mine after a few tweaks and turns.  

This granola starts my day at least 4 days of the week, sprinkled on plain yogurt with a scattering of blueberries on top, or some sliced bananas, or peaches... it all depends on the season.  As with all things you make yourself instead of buying already prepared, it's so perfect to know exactly what is in there, and in what proportions, especially since there are so many ways this could go way wrong: too much oil, or too much sugar, or too much salt. While making it myself I am able to use organic oats, local honey, organic maple syrup, unsweetened coconut, and any combination of nuts that strike my mood at the time.

I made a double batch today, and the maple syrup, honey and oil may look like a lot, but it was just 3 cups total for a yield of 48 cups of granola, or almost two hundred 1/4 cup servings.   I used sunflower oil, by the way- another nod to my travels to Southwestern France and the sunflower fields at Petit Clos, Hank, Cindy & Caleigh Petterson's seductive home and Bed & Breakfast. It was there, on a lovely fall evening, that I was so hypnotized by the beauty of their life, that I decided, temporarily insane as I was, to pack and move without thought for anything practical like income or shelter, but rather an urgent need to permanently sit at their table and enjoy the magical light before sunset (while snacking on saucisson from Sunday's market and sipping a wonderful, chilled rose', of course).

Back to reality! This can easily become your own granola, depending on what you want to add to it.   For my gift version this year I threw in some ground flax meal (about a cup and a half), and substituted dried cranberries in place of about 1/3 of the raisins. While I used sliced almonds and pecans this time, you could also use pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, or cashews.  Let your imagination be your inspiration!
Luke's Granola
• Ingredients
• 9 cups rolled oats
• 3 cup slivered almonds
• 3 cup pecans
• 2 ¼  cup shredded coconut
• ½  c  honey
• 1/2 cup maple syrup
• 1/2 cup vegetable oil
• 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 3 cups raisins 
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.  Line two sheet pans with silpat mats or aluminum foil.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, and coconut.  In a separate bowl combine maple syrup, honey, oil, and salt. Combine both mixtures and pour onto the 2 sheet pans. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.   Turn off the oven and let the pans of granola remain in  the oven for about 1/2 and hour to further dry.  The end result should be moderately toasted and slightly caramelized, however, watch it carefully while the heat is on so that it doesn't burn and become bitter.
Remove from oven and transfer into a large bowl. Add raisins and mix until evenly distributed. Store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

It started, as so many good ideas do, with a call-to-blog from Mrs. Wheelbarrow.   Her suggestion, to host a dinner to honor one of my favorite cookbook authors and a personality I had always wanted to meet, Marcella Hazan, on October 26th, and to blog about it, was just the thing to welcome Fall to the dinner table.  I live in California- we get a late and very mild rendition of Fall compared to the rest of the country,  but we still like to acknowledge the transition from one quarter to the next with a change in menus from salads to soups, from grilled to braised.  Marcella had passed away at the end of September, leaving behind many eloquent and amusing tributes on Facebook, all making me regret even more the fact that I had never crossed her path, but terribly happy that she had crossed mine. 
First up, the guest list, which brought together close friends and provided an opportunity to include a couple I had been planning to invite since our food and wine saturated trip to Napa and The French Laundry in January, their daughter and soon to be son-in-law who were visiting that weekend, and another good friend and her new partner, someone we were all just getting to know but knew we liked.  It seemed like a good group to gather, knowing they would enjoy the food and appreciate the salute to a great woman.

And, then, the menu planning, a step I always enjoy because it's so like researching a term paper: plowing through cookbooks and marking what looks good, then honing the list down to a grouping that is balanced, complimentary and accomplishable. Generally, my menus are more than anyone could cook  for one meal, and this was no exception.  I had two of Marcella Hazan's books- Essentials of Italian Cooking and Marcella Cucina- and took this exercise as a good excuse to order two more-Marcella's Italian Kitchen and Marcella Says,  on  Her books are everything I love about good cookbooks, chock full of good, solid, dependable recipes woven with personal stories or cultural references from the writer.   From Marcella you get a picture of how a recipe came into her repertoire: one a childhood favorite of hers, another that she learned to please her husband, Victor, because it had been a part of his childhood memories, or then one that she recreated after sampling a version in a favorite restaurant. 

And from Marcella, you got a unique, exacting and precise language. Or so it seemed, until you learn that she never, herself, wrote in English but rather gave that task over to Victor, giving him the manuscript to write in what he knew to be his wife's voice.   After learning this, I always wondered whose personality I was picking up on from the recipe books- Marcella or Victor.  One article I read suggested it was a bit of both, and, after 58 years together, I imagine this is true. Reading through the recipes I found myself focused on the language,  as I read sentences that instructed, on the proper slice for fennel in one recipe, "If you have a mandolin this would be a good time to use it"; to salt the mozzarella if, after tasting, it was found to be "...very insipid";  and described the town of Treviso as both "beautiful" and "gluttonous".  Sounds like my kind of town! In these recipes, there was never any ambiguity in the intended direction, whether they were rife with ingredients and took days to put together like the Ossobuco that was my first Marcella recipe attempt over twenty years ago, or a simple three ingredient tomato sauce that took less than an hour from start to finish.  

It seemed important to make this a meal served in courses, with each course given it's full due.  Kara, the daughter and bride to be, brought her camera and black box and was put in charge of a picture of each course- and she did a spectacular job!  My small condo barely holds a small table for six, so the guests had to create our banquet table by carting in two banquet tables and all of the chairs, hastily placing the settings from the silverware, china and crystal placed ahead of time on the buffet.
We started off with my favorite of the night: a Butternut Squash and Parmesean Pudding (Marcella Says, pg. 98) served with a thinly sliced Belgian endive lightly dressed with olive oil ( another Marcella instruction : "Only dress a salad with Olive Oil") and white wine vinegar and accessorized with the prescribed tomatoes.
And, our second course, Aquacotta, a Tuscan peasant soup with kale, cabbage and cannellini beans (Essentials of Italian Cooking, pg 104) was served as suggested, with a slice of bread at the bottom and a grating of parmesan on top.  In the interest of my guests, who I feared would run off if faced with too, too much food ( and how do you know when it's too, too much?), I did leave off the egg that was also a topping choice. Also, I was dealing with a pescetarian guest or two, so omitted the  beef stock (or bullion cube) that was called for in the recipe and, even without it, the soup was thick and heavy with flavor.  I wondered about that bullion cube- after reading of the compromises pushed on Julia Child by her publishers because of a lack of available ingredients at the time they published Mastering the Art of French Cooking and a concern for the American cook's willingness/ability to carry out the traditional steps for a recipe- was that bullion cube just such a suggested compromise?
Of course, we had to have a pasta course!  Potato Gnocci (Essentials, pg. 260) dressed with that three ingredient Tomato Sauce (Essentials, pg. 152).  Just tomatoes, onion and butter simmered, uncovered, for 45 minutes.  Simple and delicious.  However, every meal has it's challenges, and I have to say, I messed up on those Gnocci.  Luckily, Darin, my savior pastry chef friend was cleaver enough to suggest that I give them a little swirl in a pan of sizzling butter, which converted them from gooey to glorious.

 Served side by side were two main courses: Sautéed Scallops with Cime di Rapa, Garlic, and Chili Pepper (Marcella Cucina, pg. 246) and Drunken Roast Pork (Essentials, pg. 419).  The Scallop recipe was tasty and a bit spicy, and would even make a wonderfully tasty side dish without the scallops.   And the pork, studded with carrots and braised in a full bottle (okay, I used more than suggested in the recipe!) of Barolo, was succulent and tasty!   
This is where I forgot to serve the fennel and orange salad that was prepped and ready to toss.  It was very good the next day.  And, given the length of the meal, I'm happy to say, this is the only thing I forgot!

And finally!!! Two desserts- each lovely in their own way.   An Orange Cake, Anacona Style (Marcella Cucina, pg. 422), a simple cake with a fresh orange juice glaze.  And a richer Limoncello Panna Cotta (Marcella Cucina, pg. 436, plus my own addition of 2 Tb. Limoncella) layered with a homemade lemon curd, served in my grandmother's Fostoria crystal. 

We finished off the night with espressos and shots of Sambuca, Limoncello and, venturing off to southwestern France, Armagnac, which made it possible to deal with the three dishwasher loads of dirty dishes and an overflowing trash can.   Through out the evening, and especially as we sipped these after dinner drinks, we toasted Marcella, thanking her for what she gave us this night and forever.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It's Been Such a Fine Year of Meat...

Keeping in mind that the first picture of each post becomes a thumbnail on a facebook post, and a few people have let me know that the three dead ducks in my kitchen sink were a bit much, I thought I would start with these lovely beans, tarbais from southwestern France, ordered from D'Artagnan, which are the heart of the cassoulet.  For this uber challenge there was little question of what I would make.  I had only eaten a cassoulet once, a few years ago, at a small French restaurant on the peninsula in Newport Beach.  Owned by a couple from that southwest region renowned for cassoulet, it seemed like the perfect first try.  However, possibly just that night, or maybe always, this cassoulet tasted as though the salt cellar had fallen into the pot.  And, yet, the desire for a good cassoulet remained...

A hunt for the perfect recipe seemed over before it began, because the one posted as part of the Charcutepalooza Ruhls from Kate Hill looked like it was the perfect recipe.  But, then, a look on line brought me to a recipe from Michael Ruhlman and Tony Bourdain.  I saw nothing wrong with stealing from both.

And then a call to D'Artagnan to order some pig: fat back, 3 lbs.; pigs feet, 10 to a package; 3-7 ounce containers of duck fat; and, just because we were already ordering, and because we are from California, one foie gras lobe for good measure.  Sadly, they did not have pig skin necessary for the Saucisse de Couenne and the beans. 

Next, the day before the D'Artagnan box was to arrive, a trip to the Asian market mentioned in an earlier post to load up on ducks and, miracle of miracles, all of the pork here still had the skin on it!  So, one pork belly, with skin, a few ham hocks, with skin, and one leg cut with skin, too.   Back at home, the cutting of the ducks gave us 6 legs and thighs to first cure Thomas Keller's "green salt" for 24 hours, and then confit in the fat that we rendered, with a little added help from D'Artagnan. 

The Saucisse de Couenne, a wonderful sausage made with fatback, pork shoulder and the skin  from the pig, along with herbs and spices, was made that week and half was served up for dinner that Saturday night along with the duck breasts in garlic and green olive sauce, and an oven roasted foie gras (great dinner!).  The other half was stored in the freezer after a quick hang in the outside refrigerator to dry.

And then, Saucisse de Toulouse joined the pancetta and duck proscuitto for  a little hang time.  

Three weeks later we have all the components and are ready to go!  Wooo Hoooo!

Our Cassoulet
2 kg dried beans (we used tarbais but you can use any other plump thin skinned white bean).  Soak beans over night, or cover with water, bring to a boil, and let sit one hour, then drain.  I always go for the bring to a boil and let sit for an hour- why?  Well, one, I'm always short of time. But the other reason is a science teacher once told me that this was supposed to reduce the chances of flatulence from you flageolet, or any other bean.  I have no evidence that this is true, but figured it can't hurt.
1 onion, peeled
1 whole carrot
4 cloves
4 garlic cloves
Thick slice of pancetta, salt pork, bacon, or ham ends
1 pork foot or 1 ham hock
Fresh pork rind (couenne) about a 8 x 12 inch strip or about 100 gram, rolled and tied with string
Bouquet garni- bay leaf, thyme and parsley stems
24 black peppercorns, slightly crushed

Duck Confit- 1/2 leg per person
500 grams Saucisse de Tolouse
500 grams Saucisse de Couenne

Cover with 3 liters of water, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer.   Let the beans cook gently for 1 hour or until the beans are barely tender.  Remove the skin and meat from the pig foot and chop.  Chop the onion, carrot, pancetta, and add to the beans along with the reserved pig foot meat. Add salt to taste at this point. Remove and reserve about 1/4 cup cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, remove the confit'ed duck meat from the bones and shred.  Grill the sausages for additional flavor, but don't cook them all the way through.  This will allow them to release some of their juices into the beans while they all cook together.

Using a large, deep casserole (unless you are lucky enough to have an authentic cassoulet), layer first beans, then sausages, then beans, then confit, then finish with beans.  Place in a 350 degree oven for one hour.  Reduce the heat to 250 degrees and cook for another hour. Remove from the oven and cool before placing in the refrigerator overnight. ( We, of course, did not go for the over night here, but instead let it sit out while we baked a loaf of bread for dinner)

Return the pot to a 350 degree oven and cook for one hour.  Break the crust, add 1/4 cup of reserved cooking liquid, reduce the heat to 250 degrees, and cook for another hour.

This time, I was not disappointed!   Each bite was perfection, with the sausage casing almost vanishing into the mix so that the beans and meat became one great taste.  As it turns out, the Saucisse de Couenne is my favorite of all the charcuterie made during this challenge- a totally unique sausage with it's very own lovely flavor.

In case you were wondering what happened to all those pigs feet- Our appetizer was a luscious Pied De Cochon with a Sauce Gribiche  from Thomas Keller's Bouchon.  My son Josh spent a few hours sorting through the bones and tendons for what little meat there was. It was worth his effort!

The cast who got to enjoy this meal!   The two boys  helped with the sausages and putting this dinner on the table; their women who are always great support staff and cleaner-uppers; my friend Linda, who enjoyed the dinner despite her memory of her dad's pickled pig's feet; and my lovely husband, who has enjoyed the results of all of the challenges this year.  

Monday, December 5, 2011

Duck, Duck, Duck...

It occurred to me, as I looked over the last month of Charcutepalooza challenges, that  I had the opportunity for some extra credit, to sort of prove the point of the whole experience you might say.  I knew I had to prepare for the grand finale, the December challenge, which for me was going to be to prepare that mixed bag of meats and beans, a cassoulet.  But I also had, hanging out there, the challenge from the very beginning of the year, the one most of us missed but still had to be done- the duck proscuitto.  So, I needed duck breasts for the proscuitto, and I needed legs and thighs to confit for the cassoulet, plus some fat to do the confit.  And I know it's cheaper to cut the fowl into parts than to buy them already apart.   And, so, off to the nearest Asian market to buy three beauties.

It helped hugely to have just recently boned and skinned a chicken just a few months before.   The challenge for me here was to use as much of the bird as I could.  So I cut;

   and I simmered;

I rendered (cover fat and skin with water and simmer until the water has evaporated and you are left with this luscious clear fat);

and confited;

and four breasts became a Saturday night dinner

with a garlic and green olive sauce,

and  two, using a recipe from the Charcuterie cook book, were covered with salt and then hung to dry.  After a suitable amount of time, they were cut down from the garage refrigerator

and served as an appetizer.  The duck meat itself was rich and flavorful, though a bit salty, but I kept going back to the recipe to be certain I had not made a mistake in leaving the skin on the breast.  The universal comments concluded that it was tough, chewy, and way too fatty to enjoy eating without cutting the skin off.  Which we did.  We did, however, end up with a good supply of duck stock and duck fat, two things I know we will happily use!