The G3 have been AWOL over the holidays. I’m not sure about the others, but I have no excuse other than there’s been more cooking and eating than writing about eating and cooking going on. Starting on the 15th, when the three of us got together on a snowy night to recreate a Del Posto menu, it’s been non-stop simmering, roasting, braising and even a little baking around here. There’s been butter and cream and red meat and burrata and toasted coconut ice cream with chocolate sauce and a significant narrowing of the arteries and a few extra pounds on everyone in the family except for maybe Nick who never seems to grow.
But now the year has turned and it’s another snowy day. Ann Arbor is under the loveliest blanket of white I’ve seen in several years. Walking in the woods this morning reminded me of all the snow-filled children’s books we’ve been reading lately; the bushes and young trees so laden by snow that they bent into arches over the paths forming a long tunnel of glittering white. Zack-the-dog ran around in great looping circles and buried his nose in drifts and put his rump up in the air and seemed to be under the impression he was a puppy and not a sedate seven year old. Even the girl who had stayed up until 2:30 with her friends, putting in curlers and making music videos, came out of her pre-adolescent sulk to make snow angels and slide down a hill on her snow-panted butt. Then we came home for hot chocolate and macaroni and cheese and scrambled eggs.
It seems like a day for a few recollections and resolutions.
Since the Del Posto dinner (and a word here to anyone who tries the braised beef recipe; we can’t figure out how a six quart pan is supposed to hold seven pounds of meat, a mess of vegetables and three bottles of wine — while we can hardly bear to say it, we think Lidia screwed up. Go for a bigger pan), there was a work dinner with two soups (butternut squash and wild mushroom) and fancy charcuterie. And there was dinner at my mother’s house where I found myself in a slightly bewildered state — and not entirely of my own volition — turning out roast beef, mashed potatoes and creamed onions (Mom’s 1946 edition of the Joy of Cooking, a wedding present in 1950 came in very handy).
Then we came home to the Christmas-birthday fete of scallops with wild mushrooms and polenta (accompanied by a half-bottle of real champagne), duck breast with roasted grapes and creme fraiche, a potato and bacon gratin (with a knock-out bottle of Bordeaux we had been given for Christmas) and that coconut ice cream. Nick was allowed to stay up for the first course. He had already eaten his scrambled eggs and green beans, but I made him a token plate for the ritual of the thing. He squinted at the scallop and declared “I am going to eat that” and popped it into his mouth. Then he stole several more from the rest of us and ate a bunch of polenta. The mushroom however, he immediately disdained, acting upon some atavistic child’s aversion to fungi. One look at it and he shoved it aside. “Don’t want that.” Naomi seconded his opinion, although she good-humoredly obeyed my injunction to “try a bite of everything.” While Nick was carried, protesting, to bed, I cooked the duck breasts to a just-right medium rare that was immensely satisfying to me-who-had-never-cooked-duck before.
There was a lot more, of course. A Molly Steven’s braise of lamb shoulder with fennel and orange and ginger that is worth recommending for the smells that filled the house, but tasted just okay (I suspect if I had marinated it the recommended overnight rather than five hours it would have been more flavorful). There was the discovery that The Produce Station is smoking fish now (and, for that matter, selling a small but interesting selection of mid-priced wine). We sampled an absolut citron smoked whitefish that was very tasty (although cut a little thickly for my tastes). All in all, I have to say, the house has smelled really good the past week.
But this madness must end. It’s time to get simple for a while. In pursuit of that simplicity, I’m trying to restrain my tendency to a long list of difficult to achieve New Year’s resolutions. Culinary-wise, I have pared the list down to four, published here with the idea of generating accountability — and perhaps future posts:
- Finally learn to poach that egg (I know, you’ve heard this before)
- Learn to make a pie/tart crust
- Do more cooking with fish
- Learn about yeast baking
I’m easing into that last (and most terrifying) resolution by returning to the famous no-knead bread. I made this a few times in its blog hay-day when just about everyone was doing it, and it was good, especially warm with butter, but never quite as good as I wanted it to be. The last time, something went terribly, demoralizingly, awry, so much so that I ended up with a great slurp of saturated dough that I had to scrape out of the pan and into the garbage. I put my Dutch oven away in shame. But among the many cooking-related presents that turned up under the tree (and there were many; my loved ones were very kind to me) was a subscription to Cooks’ Illustrated and the first one came this week with a recipe for almost no knead bread and so out came the dutch oven and the parchment paper and it turns out that if you add a little beer and a little vinegar and about 15 gentle kneads after the dough has rested for 18 hours, you get something pretty damn spectacular. The new year is off to a good start.
A special thanks to all who took a chance on our Menu for Hope prize and contributed to raising more than 90,000 dollars to support the school lunch program in Lesotho, Africa. Make sure to check back on January 9th to see if you won. And Happy New Year from the G3 to all our readers — it’s been wonderfully exciting to watch your numbers grow this past year. We look forward to sharing many more culinary adventures in 2008.
And tonight it’s soup. There’s probably a lot of soup in store for January. And no, we will NOT put any of the leftover creme fraiche on it. Well, maybe a dollop.