Archive for October 2012

Stocking Up

October 30, 2012

We have a lot on our plate right now, and so for once I’ve decided to start preparing for Thanksgiving even before Halloween. It seems outrageously early right now, but I’m sure I’ll give thanks to myself later.

I recently saw turkey wings in the store for the first time this year, so I’m starting with the turkey stock. I love making turkey stock, because it makes the whole house smell like a holiday, and keeps the kitchen warm to boot. Since I’m practically allergic to having the heat on so early in the year, this is a definite plus.

This year I thought I’d try a new recipe for the stock, and as soon as I found one that looked intriguing I proceeded to change it. I’m not compulsive that way and have no objection to following recipes, but in this case, I though I could improve on it a little without doing any violence to the original. And indeed, simmering away ever so gently, it smells quite divine. When it’s done it’ll go right into the freezer, and voilà, one thing to cross off my Thanksgiving list. How about it, have room in your freezer for a couple of quarts of stock?

Make Ahead Turkey Stock *

3 1/2 lbs turkey wings (3 large wings)
3 ounces pancetta, cut into small cubes
2 T olive oil
2 carrots, cut in chunks
2 stalks celery, cut in chunks
2 large shallots, quatered
1 cup rosé, or white wine
2 T Armagnac, or use Cognac
3 sprigs fresh thyme

Preheat oven to 425°. Place wings in a large roasting pan , rub them with the olive oil, and rub excess oil around in the pan to film lightly. Sprinkle very lightly with salt, if you plan to brine your turkey, as I do, otherwise be more generous with the salt.

Roast the wings for 10 minutes. Add the pancetta to the pan, along with 1/3 cup water, and roast for an additional 20 minutes. After 20 minutes add the vegetables and another 1/3 cup of water. Roast for another 20 minutes.

Remove the roasting pan from the oven. Place 4 quarts of water and the wine in a stock pot and add the wings to it. Remove the vegetables to a small bowl, add the pancetta to the stockpot. Deglaze the pan drippings with the Armagnac, and scrape the deglazed pan drippings into a small freezer container. Add a cup of hot water to the roasting pan and give it one more good scraping down, adding the liquid to the stockpot along with the thyme.

Bring just barely to a low boil, then reduce heat to the barest simmer and let simmer very gently for 2 hours. Add the vegetables to the stock and simmer for an additional 45 minutes. Remove the wings and strain out the solids. If you have more than 2 quarts of stock in the pot, boil it until it reduces to 2 quarts. Cool, and freeze.

* adapted from this recipe 

Here’s The Beef

October 24, 2012

‘Tis the season to be cooking, and thinking about cooking, and planning festive meals, and all the holiday pleasures. But somehow, amidst the turkey fantasies, I developed a mad craving for beef. I never used to enjoy beef much, but over the last few years I’ve discovered two cuts that I really love: hangar steaks, and côte de boeuf.

The beautiful côte you see here is from Painted Hills, in Oregon. Grass fed, then finished on barley and corn, it’s the most delicious thing imaginable. I’m always looking for more flavor and more fat in beef, and the combination of grass pasturing for flavor and health, then the grain finish, produces just about a perfect proportion of both. Plus, this one got some dry aging, and that dark edge from the aging is utterly delicious eating.

This côte weighed about two pounds and was several inches thick, calling for slow cooking in a butter bath. This is my version of a technique I picked up long ago on eGullet, and although you probably will think it sounds nuts, I can promise you that it works to perfection.

Remove the côte from the fridge an hour before cooking and allow it to come up to room temperature. Melt some butter with a little olive oil in a cast iron pan over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium low and place the meat in the pan. Set the timer for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes flip the meat and reset the timer for another 5 minutes. Now add more butter, and set the timer for 20 minutes. Flip the meat every 5 minutes or so, basting it with the browned butter and juices. Add additional butter as needed, you want to have plenty available for basting. The côte should be getting a more and more caramelized and appetizing crust each time you flip and baste. I like it to be medium-rare all the way through, and 30 minutes is usually just right. If I decide to use the thermometer, I pull it out of the pan at just about 120°. This will produce meat that is red but not bloody, all the way through, and beautifully browned and crispy on the outside.

Let the beef rest for at least 5 minutes. During that time you can either toss some thinly sliced onions, or even mushrooms, into the pan juices and fry them up. Or you can do as I often do and add a good glug of Madeira or Port to the hot pan and simmer for a couple of minutes as it reduces, then drizzle this sauce over the sliced meat as you serve it, along with a shower of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bon appétit!

In Full Flower

October 19, 2012

It’s not flower season, here in the darkening and dampening North West, but still, life gives me beauty. Each day is miraculous because Shel is still here with me. It almost doesn’t matter what the scans show, what the doctor says, we’re still here, together. We’ve beaten the odds again and again, and sometimes it seems like that can go on forever, even though cancer does nibble away at normal life, day by day.

After all these years, now we know we can choose how to react when the doctor says something like “we don’t have any more options.” Sometimes we just say “yeah, yeah, we’ve heard all that before.” Shel’s cancer is slow, our life together has been long. Eighteen years now, although he had cancer when we met. All the things we’ve done together over the years, all the things we still have planned, life is only what you make of it, and we try to make the most, the best, and even beyond that: we try to make a life that doesn’t admit that cancer could ever win. We laugh in the face of danger, ha ha! Who said that, and what were they thinking?

Sometimes it’s dire, sometimes we cry ourselves to sleep. Then the morning comes again, and we awaken to the sight of a hummingbird just outside the bedroom window. The mornings grow colder now, but our new flannel sheets comfort us, and yes, we have a furnace, and we know how to use it. Flannel soaks up the tears very well, and keeps you warm into the bargain.

I’m always thinking: this could be the last time, the last Thanksgiving, the last Christmas. Sometimes I can’t get to sleep for thinking that maybe Shel won’t wake up, that I’ll rise alone to greet the hummingbirds, feed Beppo and Zazou, not bake him his morning croissants, not have someone to make me my beautiful morning coffee. But then, I’ve thought that so many times, and I’ve always been wrong.

When cancer is your constant companion you fear it with every breath you take, and also, if you’re lucky, you slap its face as often as possible, embrace its terrors in the night, refuse its dominion over your happiness. Flowers rule, and sunrises, and cats sleeping on the comforter, and good French wine, and cedar-fragrant evenings, and sitting by the fire, and kissing at day’s end. We are winning this battle, one moment at a time, no matter how fierce. Many days we believe that love can conquer all, and may it be ever thus.

Times Are Changing

October 12, 2012

It’s the sort of weather I normally snuggle cozily away from: blustery, temperature dropping, smelling like rain. But today, to mark the passing of the season, I put on a sweater over my pajamas and went out on the deck. Passing ships looked to be hurrying into port. There was still one hummingbird, being buffeted by the wind. A few flowers needed saving.

The madrona tree is going through its autumnal transformation, shedding its brilliant bark and revealing tender new skin. I identify with it, as I too am trying to remake myself this winter. I’m trying to re-learn how to live well in America.

It’s incredible to still have garden flowers in the middle of October, but I had a few. I snipped them carefully and arranged them in little French apéritif  glasses on the dining room table. It’s time to put the garden and the grill and the smoker to bed for the winter, but I’m taking it slow. A snip here, another there, but no wholesale cleanup. I’ve been watering the Swiss chard, but soon I won’t have to: it’s going to rain, officially, after I believe 82 days without rain. And remember, this is Seattle, the Emerald City.

And speaking of green, is this the sexiest-looking tree you’ve ever seen, or what? Fresh, bursting forth from its tatters, glowing with newness, reaching for the sky, solid and strong. I want that to be me.

Glaciers In The Mist

October 2, 2012

I find glaciers endlessly fascinating, and I hope you do too. The six hours we spent in Glacier Bay National Park thrilled me to the core, that core being swaddled in fleece pants topped with corduroy pants, wool socks and boots, fleece jacket, waterproof jacket, my iconic red Icelandic wool hat, and gloves. Yes, glaciers are cold, and I was determined not to turn as blue as they are while standing out on the bow for hours as we cruised. I’ll let the ice speak for itself, and you’ll see what I mean.

Some people on board saw a humpback whale in the bay, but I saw only this flock of birds

and this pair of harbor seals, looking cozy and comfy on their icy perch.

We didn’t see any actual calving of the glaciers, but the gorgeous Margerie Glacier, which is is nearly a mile wide and about 13 miles long, obliged us with some impressive ice falls, accompanied by loud cracking, thunderous rumbling,

gigantic splashing,

and leaving mounds of frozen debris in the water.

Glaciers push a lot of dirt around as they advance and recede,

and glacial moraine marked the fallen ice, making it look dirty in an interesting way,

and chunks both small

and large floated everywhere near the feet of the glaciers.

As we began to make our way back out of Glacier Bay the sun broke through, and waterfalls were running freely.

The sun made the ice glow even more impossibly blue,

and revealed the turning colors of autumn. This was the last good weather we were to see on our cruise, but it more than made up for the rest of the trip.

Glacier Bay is a magical place, and a vanishing place, as climate change causes the glaciers to recede. Go while you can.