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On my last visit to McCall’s Meat & Fish I bought some beautiful plump sausages. I didn't have anything particular dish in mind, and at first I thought I'd make that great British delicacy, Bangers & Mash, but there really isn’t a recipe for it and the dish would be all about the mashed potatoes anyway. Then I remembered an episode of Made in Spain with José Andrés where he made Catalan Pork Sausage with Mushrooms (By the way, the television series is fantastic. Part travel show, part cooking show, Andrés gives an amazing culinary tour of Spain and then cooks regional dishes at his home in Washington DC. It’s hard to match Andrés for the enthusiasm he shows his craft, and for that reason I have bought several of the DVD as gifts).
Now, the sausages I had were not Butifarra (a mild Spanish pork sausage) but they were pork so I figured they would be more than satisfactory for the recipe. Once you have all the ingredients prepared the dish only takes about 20 minutes. The combination of the sausage, chanterelle mushrooms, and sweet dessert wine gives off a wonderful fragrance while being prepared, and once it’s ready to serve I feel it doesn’t need much to accompany it, probably just a nice light salad to compliment the richness of this aromatic dish from Catalonia.
I love sardines but they're not always easy to find, so when I visited McCalls Meat & Fish in Los Feliz and they had some in the display I snapped up half a dozen. These little fish reminded me of a holiday in northern Spain when I was 14. We spent some time with a family we knew in La Coruña who took us on a picnic one day, out in the beautiful Spanish countryside, and the father grilled some fresh sardines over an open fire. I love how the memory and smell of food can transport you back to another time and place. Since I didn't have any particular recipe in mind when I bought them, other than I knew I wanted to cook them whole and probably grill them, I searched through the database for a recipe and narrowed it down to: Grilled Sardines from Made in Spain: Spanish Dishes for the American Kitchen by José Andrés, Roasted Sardines from Italian Easy: Recipes from the London River Cafe by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, Roasted Sardines with Bread Crumbs, Green Garlic, and Mint from A16: Food + Wine by Nate Appleman and Shelley Lindgren, Sardines Stuffed with Coriander, Garlic and Cumin from Moro: The Cookbook by Sam & Sam Clark, but in the end I liked the look of Barbecued Sardines on Toast with Shallot Chutney and Basil from Fish by Tom Aikens.
The chutney is easy, basically throw all the ingredients into a pan and after about an hour you end up with a wonderfully fragrant relish. Next I cleaned and boned the sardines, which I wasn't looking forward to since I thought it would be hard but Mr. Atkins provides some helpful instructions. After stuffing the fish with basil and garlic the recipe instructs you to loosely tie each one 4 times with string using a granny knot. Now I consider my self pretty adept at tying meat, poultry and fish but I had an awful time with these little fish, so after some time, and after I had pretty much destroyed the first one, I ended up cutting single pieces of twine to tie across the fish which worked just fine. The results were what I expected. The grilled olive oil garlic bread, topped with the shallot chutney and the sardines is a great combination. The recipe seemed to take a lot longer than I was expecting but that’s probably because of the time needed for the relish (which could be made a day in advance), and then for me the tying of the fish, but the meal it provided was certainly worth it.
This is without doubt my favorite way to make rice. I was first introduced to it by our friend Christine, who's originally from Missouri so she’s about as Persian as Samuel Langhorne Clemens, but she had a Persian Mother-in-Law who was an accomplished cook and showed her how to prepare it. It's a very easy and impressive dish to accomplish, and though it might not be the quickest way to make rice, prep time and cooking can be about an hour and a half, the results are worth all the effort. Try to buy your basmati or jasmine rice from your local Persian or Indian market.
What really makes this rice dish special is the wonderful crust on the outside called the tah-dig (Persian for “bottom of the pot”), and for many it’s the most coveted part of the dish (If you're the last one at the table you might find yourself enjoying only the rice). It's a mixture of yogurt, saffron, olive oil, and rice, and when done it’s deliciously chewy and has a very fragrant, toasted, and nutty taste. I think of the bottom of the pot as a canvas that I can use to give the dish an extra visual touch. In this case I placed some sage leaves bushed with olive oil on the bottom of the pot, and also added some fennel seeds to the yogurt mixture that gives the crust an extra aroma and taste. There are also versions of the dish that have a crust made from layers of thinly sliced potato, layered on the bottom of the pan before the yogurt mixture is added.
It has to be cooked in a non-stick pot, which is the way I always prepare it, but it can also be made in a rice cooker, which will give you a more perfect looking but less rustic tah-dig. Make sure the cooker has a non-stick interior or all you’ll get is the rice while the crust will be stuck to the bottom. Serve it with plenty of yogurt, it's the first thing my Daughters will ask for, preferably Persian or Greek with some chopped mint and garlic added to it. I follow the recipe for Saffron Steamed Plain Basmati Rice (Chelow) in A Taste of Persia by Najmieh Batmanglij, but you’ll also find it in The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden, and Mark Bittman has it as Stuck-Pot Rice with Potato Crust in How to Cook Everything.
After I had posted the story about Mussels in Bruges, I asked my wife to Retweet my post to all her follows (since she has a lot more than I do). She said no. At first I thought, "what the fava bean!", but then she reminded me that as a vegetarian she promotes vegetarian values and it would go against her principals to promote anything where there was the consumption of something living. I have to admire that. She is also is the one helping with my awareness of paying attention to a balanced diet if we want to take care of our health, and the health of the planet for that matter (in particular a conscienceness about the global impact of factory farming), and we can start by reducing our consumption of dairy products, meat (I'm trying), processed carbohydrates, and junk food. So making these soups were inspired by her. First I made Lentil and Chestnut Soup with Fennel from Vegetable Soups by Deborah Madison. This is a hearty soup, very nice on a cold evening. The recipe is well laid out with a nice introduction before the ingredients. There's a fair bit of prep but it's worth the effort, it tastes good and I like any soup that has wine as an ingredient.
The second soup was the very simple Carrot and Fresh Coriander Soup from My Bombay Kitchen by Niloufer Ichaporia King. This is a very simple and light soup, definitely as a beginning to a bigger meal as it's not very filling. This also has a nice introduction, and it's very simple to follow and quick to make. She also suggests it cold, so I thought it would make a lovely gazpacho for the summer.
And finally, Easy Split Pea Soup with Spinach from New Vegetarian by Robin Asbell. A very simple and colourful soup that tastes great when ready. The instructions are short, but that's all they need to be since basically you just have to put all the ingredients in the pot. I like this new book and will certainly try some of the other recipes.
In December we went to London for the Christmas Holidays, and during the trip my Wife and I took the train for a two night excursion to Bruges in Belgium while our daughters stayed in London with my sister. It's such a lovely city, and even though it was cold and wet we enjoyed wandering around the cobblestone streets, admiring the beautiful architecture. I was really looking forward to some Moules Frites. I had to satisfy a romantic notion of having one of my favorite dishes in the region that’s famous for it, so I felt I couldn't go wrong no matter where I ordered it. How mistaken I was. How hard can it be to make such a simple dish. Obviously too hard for some places. Admittedly, it was just one restaurant, and I'm sure it's possible to get a fantastic Moules Frites at any number of places in Bruges, but it was a big disappointment to be there for such a short period of time and to be let down with one of my favorite dishes. I guess there's always the waffles.
So to compensate for the disappointing culinary experience in Bruges I decided that when I got home I would make myself the best Moules Marinière I could. Knowing that you must be careful buying Mussels I went to Santa Monica Seafood where they inspected each one they selected, and I got a little more than I needed in case there were still some questionable ones. For the wine I bought a lovely bottle of Sancerre (when cooking with wine I follow Keith Floyd’s advice, “if you can't drink it, don't cook with it”). You can find the recipe in plenty of cookbooks but I chose to follow the one on Page 80 in Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. He likes to cook the shallots a little longer which I like to do too. There really isn't much to it, with good ingredients and a little bit of time you can prepare this classic dish. I have to say I think it was the best Moules Marinière I've ever had. Make sure you have plenty of crusty baguette to mop it up.
I made the Lemon-Rosemary Flan from page 162 of El Farol by James Campbell Caruso. It's a lovely dessert, and very simple to make, but to be honest I don't think it's a particularly well written recipe, especially if you're making flan for the first time. I would suggest using the ingredients from this recipe but following the more descriptive instructions from somewhere like the Caramel Custard recipe from The Way to Cook by Julia Child. A rosemary sprig is shown in the book but the sugared rosemary sprig and candied lemon peel are my own addition (presentation is everything). You can find instructions on how to make candied lemon peel also in The Way to Cook by Julia Child. And the way to sugar rosemary sprigs is to wash them, pat they dry and then brush them lightly with egg whites. Then sprinkle sugar over them (I used vanilla sugar) and then let them dry.
This is the Whole Roasted Chicken on a Bed of Root Vegetables from Page 22 of Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller. This is my kind of food, particularly during the Winter months when it can be very comforting (also comforting to know that there’s some left over to reheat the next day, I love day old food, where the flavors have time to infuse even more). It’s one of those recipes that you can taste just by reading it, and though I stuck exactly to the recipe I imagine you could substitute some of the vegetables with any of your favorites. As usual with Keller, everything is neatly explained, it’s very hard to go wrong with his recipes if you follow them closely. By the way, next to the recipe there are some very simple and helpful instructions on how to truss a chicken.
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