Archive for September 2011

Silky Shin Stew

September 26, 2011

Rainy day? Fall in the air? Beef shanks in the fridge? Last night’s dinner hit that trifecta and went on to a very satisfying finish. Is that good enough, or did it have to win the race to merit being featured here? Shel and I debated that point: although this isn’t the pinnacle of perfection, the gosh-darndest best thing you ever had on your fork, the dish that will win me eternal fame and fortune, I have to say that it’s really, really good. It’s beefy, since the shin, or shank, is one of the most flavorful bits of beef. It’s silky, because the leeks and marrow that are braised with the beef in a heady mixture of wine and cognac are all puréed into an unctuous sauce.  It’s just what it ought to be, a fancy trick done with an inexpensive cut, and you’ll save on heating your kitchen too as this dish braises all afternoon, warming the house and filling it with appetizing aromas before you settle down to mmmmm your way through dinner. Try it and see if you don’t.

Silky Shin Stew

2 T butter
2 T olive oil
3 1/2 lbs beef shanks, crosscut
3 medium leeks
1 ripe tomato
3 cups red wine (I used a Cheverny, you don’t want too much fruit or tannin)
1/4 cup cognac
1 bay leaf
1 tsp thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Salt and pepper the meat generously, using more pepper than you might think is prudent. Melt the butter in the oil in a heavy Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Brown the beef thoroughly, in two batches. When well browned, remove the beef to a plate and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 225°. Wash and thinly slice the white and light green portions of the leeks. Dice the tomato. Add the leeks to the Dutch oven and stir until they are lightly golden. Add the diced tomato and stir again. Add the wine and cognac, then the bay leaf and thyme and stir to combine. Return the beef to the pan, all in one layer, and spoon a bit of the leek and wine mixture over the meat. The liquid will only come about halfway up the side of the meat. Cover the pan tightly.

Set in the oven and let braise for about 4 hours, until the meat falls off the bone and is fork-tender. If you have any doubts about the tightness of your lid, check halfway through to be sure there’s still enough liquid in the pan, if not, add a bit more wine.

When the beef is tender, remove pot from the oven and carefully remove the hot beef from the pot and set it on a plate, leaving the sauce in the pot. With a knife, poke out the marrow from the bones and return it to the pan. Remove the bay leaf. With an immersion blender, purée the sauce until creamy and smooth. If it’s not as thick as you’d like it to be, set it to boil for 5-10 minutes until it reduces.

Pick the beef clean of any bits of connective tissue that have not dissolved during the braising, then return the beef to the sauce. Warm it all together, and add a fresh grinding of pepper, as well as additional salt as necessary. For non low-carbers, serve over polenta or mashed potatoes to soak up the delicious sauce. Low-carbers, be sure to have a spoon handy, you’ll want to lap up the sauce all by itself, and you should.

A Comfy Little Blanquette

September 18, 2011

This isn’t the sort of blanquette you take to bed with you, but it’s comfy enough that when you’re craving a snuggly sort of supper, this is a perfect recipe. Nor is this a classic blanquette de veau, because it’s my very own low carb version. I wouldn’t hesitate to serve it to a French friend, however, as it’s beautifully fragrant with leeks and dried porcini, creamy and delicate all at once, the very thing for a drizzly day when autumn threatens and grilling out no longer seems as appealing as it did just a week ago.

I’ve been waiting to find good veal here in the US, rejecting the tragic crate-raised stuff, waiting for real farm-raised veal to come my way. When finally it did, it was shockingly red, instead of the barely pink meat I’m used to in France. My butcher explained to me that it had spent some time in the pasture, whereas the veal I buy in France is élevé sous la mère, raised under its mother, or what we’d call milk-fed. I definitely prefer the taste and especially the texture of the French milk-fed veal, but this tasted very good indeed. Use the best meat you can get, and I predict that this will become a staple when you’re looking for an easy yet fancy low-carb dish to put on your table with pride.

Abra’s Blanquette

2 lbs veal shoulder, cut for stew
4 medium leeks
2 T butter
2 T canola oil
1 bay leaf
1 tsp thyme
1 1/2 cups white wine, a Vouvray is perfect, a Viognier would also be great
1 heaping cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

Wash the white and light green parts of the leeks and slice them thinly. In a heavy casserole like a Le Creuset melt the butter with the oil and sauté the leeks gently for a few minutes until they are bright green.

Add the veal to the pan and sauté lightly, you don’t want the meat to really brown, but it should no longer be red on the outside. Add the bay leaf, thyme, salt, and pepper, and wine. Stir to combine, cover, and simmer over medium-low heat for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, soak the dried porcinis in a bowl of hot water to soften them. When the 40 minutes have passed, add the porcinis, along with a few tablespoons of their liquid, to the pot. Be careful to spoon up the mushroom liquid rather than pouring it out of the bowl, because sand and grit may have settled to the bottom. Add the cream, stir to combine, cover the pot, and simmer for another 30 minutes, or until the veal is very tender. The sauce will thicken considerably, but if you want it a bit thinner just add a little more of the porcini soaking liquid.

Serve with the same white wine you used in the cooking, and if there are non-low carb eaters at your table you can serve this with mashed potatoes or buttered noodles.

Tomatillo Time

September 16, 2011

We’re always craving Mexican food when we’re in France, and when we’re in the US we eat it as often as we can. That project has been considerably aided this year by a local farmer who has produced a bumper crop of gorgeous tomatillos. I’ve made several sorts of salsa verde, one of which found its way into

Shel’s beloved chicken  enchiladas with green sauce. But most often I’ve made a splendiferous version of guacamole that includes tomatillos and is the freshest, greenest-tasting, zingiest version of guacamole that I’ve ever encountered. Not to mention that it keeps in the fridge for several days, the acidity in the tomatillos evidently preventing it from browning like regular guac has a tendency to do.

This recipe comes form the current issue of Saveur magazine, which  you should run out and buy while it’s still on the newsstands, because it’s full of lovely salsa and pesto recipes. But in case you miss it, and especially for Annie and Rebecca, who recently raved about it, here’s the recipe. I use more lime and less chile than Saveur does, but that’s something you’ll need to adjust to your own palate and the acidity of your tomatillos.

Guacamole Taquero*

8 oz tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and chopped
1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 serrano chile, seeded and chopped
1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
1/2 small white onion, chopped

Toss all of the ingredients in the food processor and whiz until smooth and creamy. Eat with everything imaginable.

*adapted from Saveur magazine

The Glass Half Empty

September 10, 2011

Ten years ago I was a glass-half-full sort of person. 9/11 changed all that. I didn’t lose anyone myself, which allowed me to lose everyone, everything. Not having a specific person to remember lets me remember them all. Not knowing them lets me imagine that they were all my brothers and sisters, my parents, my spouse, my friends.

For a long time I dreamed of people jumping. With my fear of heights, that was the most terrible thing. I wouldn’t have jumped, I tell myself, I couldn’t have jumped. I would have called home, I couldn’t have called home, I would have tried to save myself, I would have tried to help others, I would have been powerless, I couldn’t have changed anything, I would have screamed, I wouldn’t have been brave. All these things I know, and yet, I know nothing. I wasn’t there, thank all the powers in the universe. But somehow I’m still there, and I know that I can never leave.

I’ve tried to keep the flame of love burning ever since. Tried not to think of burning. Tried to think about how life goes on. Yesterday at lunch the kitchen staff was speaking Arabic, the Somali woman in a peaceful blue hijab smiled at me. I wanted to feel the love, but the flames licked around the edges of my heart. Something in me is cold now, changed, and not for the better. Ten years should be long enough to forget a little, maybe even forgive a little, but I can’t manage it. It wasn’t my nightmare, but it still fills me with rage and trembling. Tolerance is hard won now, acceptance is so much harder to come by.

Hope does shine out of the darkness, but now I know fear. It shadows me on the brightest days, although I hate to admit it. I fear tomorrow, the tenth anniversary, still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Psychologists should have coined the Other Shoe syndrome, I think many of us suffer from it now. There’s still goodness in the world, of course, and compassion, and love. And there’s innocence, even though I feel that most of mine has been stolen, now that I know that there are people who will gladly die to kill people like me, innocent though I may be.

I see crazy shadows now, hear things that aren’t there, fear where no threat has been proven. All this, yet I wasn’t even there, not even anywhere close. All this, yet I lost no one. All this, because I lost faith, trust, in human kindness, in peaceful solutions, in negotiation and compromise, in underlying goodness, in the thread of humanity that I thought ran through us all.

Last night Shel took this picture of the moon, and although I know it’s the same moon that shines over Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and every other part of the world where terror reigns, I try to let it fill me with peace.

I no longer believe that there will be peace in our time, nor that we can save the world from itself, nor do I even really try. In the end, that’s what I lost on 9/11: I lost the vision of peace, and without that, full moon or no, the world often seems a very dark place. Still, somehow, I keep on looking for the light, and if it exists somewhere, I hope to find all of you there.

Basking In Beauty

September 4, 2011

It’s back to school time for some, but for me, it’s finally time to live outdoors. All of a sudden, the things we were missing all summer long have burst into bloom, even though some are out of synch with the Earth’s rotational space-time demands. Sweet peas in September, that’s not usual. I bury my face in them and sigh anyway.

Also unusual is the fact that this one Swiss chard plant, as well as several lettuces, have been feeding us since early Spring, never letting up, because there’s been no sun until now to tell them it’s time for a break.

My sole tomato plant has managed to produce two, one more than I expected, ripe tomatoes that actually taste pretty decent, not as insipid as cool-weather tomatoes can be. We’re supposed to be having a heat wave next week, and maybe we’ll even get a third tomato, which would be a thrill. Yesterday we grilled cheeseburgers for lunch and ate them with our firstborn tomato. There’s something that feels deliciously decadent about grilling at lunchtime, when other people are at work, but even that illicit pleasure couldn’t outweigh the joy of having actually produced a tomato. Those of you who live where ripe, sweet tomatoes are a regular summer feature don’t know how lucky you are.

Heat wave, such a delightful phrase to those of us in the chilly north. But it won’t be enough to help these eggplants, which even though I chose the plant because it’s makes little Japanese fruits, has only now started blooming. I might as well snip those flowers and put them in a vase as hope for something actually edible to ensue, but they’re beautiful anyway, and I’ll take that.

Since I can’t grow much at home, the farmers’ market is our mainstay, and it’s happily stocked this year with almost everything I need from the vegetable kingdom.

Shel has discovered the joys of cooking over fire, which used to be exclusively my domain. and now he fusses over the coals possessively while I prepare mountains of luminous vegetables to add to our almost daily meat-grilling extravaganza.

And for the first time this year our little market offers island-grown tomatillos and poblanos, an irresistible invitation to salsa.

The only indications of impending autumn are the denuded state of the blueberry bushes and the crabapple tree. I’m leaving the last berries for the birds who need to fuel their upcoming migration

although it’s the crows who devour the crabapples, so sour, so hard, and as they don’t go away for the winter, it must be for pure enjoyment that they stuff themselves with the fruit.

We’ll be flying away like the birds ourselves, in just another month, so for now we too are stuffing ourselves with summer on the island, loving everything about it, while it lasts.