Little Flourishes

great chops

Mike and I have been big fans of the cheese, breads and pastured meats from Bobolink farm and dairy since we first tasted them in New York, and luckily for us, they do mail order. So every so often, we treat ourselves with a shipment of not-so-local goodies, and our most recent indulgence was in the form of some of their excellent suckled veal. Our box arrived on Wednesday, and Mike immediately pulled out a package of rib chops, thawed them in a water bath, then put them in a marinade. On Thursday night, he fired up the grill and cooked them up for our dinner.

Dinner:  July 16, 2009

While these chops are fabulous on their own, I wanted to add a little bit of flare to the plate. A pan sauce was out, since we cooked the chops outdoors, and I was worried that one of the more assertive salsas or sauces I sometimes put together would overwhelm the meat. So while Mike prepped the grill, I took a look at what we had in the pantry and decided to try my hand at a quick currant pickle. The brine had lots of mustard seeds, some juniper and fennel, and a mix of sherry and champagne vinegars in addition to the usual salt, sugar and water. I brought it to a boil and poured it over half a cup of dried Zante currants, then let them sit and steep until we were ready to eat.

The pickled currants were tasty, with a nice balance of tart-to-sweet, and they complemented the grilled veal really nicely, though I think the next time I make them I’ll bump up the salt and mustard just a bit. I’d still call this batch a success, and something I’ll definitely play with again – I can see them partnering well with other grilled meats, and it’s nice to have a variety of accompaniments in my arsenal to add a little bit of pop to an otherwise simple grilled dinner.

Rolling Along

I’ve tried and tried over the years to duplicate my mom’s cabbage rolls, but despite the relative simplicity of the dish, I just haven’t been able to pull it off. If I didn’t end up with crunchy rice, the seasoning would be off, or the cabbage would be unpleasantly tough. Since our produce haul from last weekend’s farmers’ market was a bit on the paltry side, I’ve had to plan meals around what we have on hand, and last night, that head of cabbage that had been hanging out in the crisper for almost too long was calling my name.

After a quick phone call with Mom to check in with respect to the weather we were expecting and to get a bit of guidance about dinner, I got things rolling. To address the rice issue, I decided to partially cook some before adding it to my ground meat mixture. I boiled about a half cup of uncooked rice in double the amount of water, just until it was translucent at the edges, then I drained off the excess water and spread the rice out to cool. I crumbled about a pound of Bobolink’s suckled veal in a big mixing bowl (Mom uses ground beef, but we were out), and added kosher salt, plenty of freshly ground pepper, and a minced shallot to the mix. I added a good amount of dried marjoram next along with the cooled rice, and combined everything well with my hands.

bundles

Next I trimmed the cabbage and separated out some leaves. Since I had a smallish head of cabbage, it was relatively easy to scale down the dish; I think I pulled off a dozen or so leaves to blanch, which would be plenty to feed the two of us with a reasonable amount of leftovers. I dipped the leaves a few at a time into a pot of boiling salted water, then set them aside on towels until they were cool enough to handle. I mounded spoonfuls of my meat mixture in the middle of each leaf, wrapped up the sides and rolled them into little bundles, securing them with bamboo picks (our box of toothpicks has gone missing).

I placed my bundles into a lightly oiled Dutch oven, then covered them with some thawed roasted tomato sauce from the freezer, seasoning that with salt, garlic, a splash of white vermouth and more marjoram. I lidded up the pot, brought it to a boil, then reduced the heat to a simmer and let the cabbage rolls cook until the filling was fully cooked and the cabbage wrappers meltingly soft and translucent. At that point I pulled them out and placed them on a plate, covered them with foil, and reduced the sauce down a bit until it was thick and rich.

Dinner:  January 6, 2009

Mom always served cabbage rolls with buttery mashed potatoes, and I did the same, ladling plenty of sauce all around. These were not my mama’s cabbage rolls, but they were pretty darned tasty – at any rate, they’ll have to do until I can indulge in the real deal again.

Easy does it

“I love how we eat this time of year. Everything is so fresh and good we don’t have to do much to it.”

Dinner:  July 1, 2008

It’s so true. A little salt, good olive oil, and the kiss of a hardwood fire is just about all you need to get the best out of summer’s bounty. Gild the lily with a little balsamic vinegar or lemon, or shards of salty Pecorino Romano, but exercise restraint. Good ingredients need little adornment.

Not-so Buco

Dinner:  March 18, 2008

Osso buco is a classic dish of slowly braised veal shank served with a sprightly gremolata and accompanied by fragrant risotto Milanese. It’s a wonderful combination of flavors, but while a traditional osso buco is a thing of beauty, it’s not exactly weeknight dinner material.

In my continuing quest to pare down the contents of our freezer and pantry before our move, I planned a quick and easy spin on that slow-cooking dish using the last of our suckled veal chops from Bobolink in place of veal shank. I mixed up the gremolata first, smashing and mincing two cloves of garlic and combining them with about a quarter cup of chopped flat-leaf parsley, the zest of one lemon, a pinch of salt and a tiny pour of extra virgin olive oil. I set that aside and got to work on the risotto, sautéing about a quarter cup of chopped shallot in a mixture of butter and olive oil until soft, toasting a cup and a half of Carnaroli rice, then adding the saffron (a good pinch – about 1/4 teaspoon), which I had lightly crushed between my fingers. I made a hot spot and let the saffron toast for a minute, then added half a cup of white vermouth and let it bubble away while I stirred the rice.

I finished the risotto in my usual way, using a mixture of veal stock and water for my remaining liquid, while Mike seared the chops in the cast iron skillet (about 3-5 minutes per side). I added another blob of butter and a generous amount of freshly grated Parmagiano Reggiano into the risotto off the heat when it was done, then spooned some onto our plates, topping each portion with the seared chops and a big dollop of gremolata. This was a great way to get the bold, bright flavors of the traditional dish with minimal time and effort.

Weekend Eats (and Drinks)

Our weekend in photos:

Dinner:  March 14, 2008

I was inspired by Lydia at The Perfect Pantry to pull out the bag of Fregula Sarda I bought recently and have another go at recreating a dish we had at Marlow and Sons last year. This time around, I made my meatballs using only veal rather than a mixture of meats, I used shallot in place of onion, I upped the proportion of breadcrumbs and I made the meatballs a little smaller. I placed a big spoonful of cooked Fregula in our bowls, added a few meatballs, and ladled over some hot chicken stock to which I had added an abundant amount of fresh herbs just at the last minute. I finished each serving with a grating of Ricotta Salata.

off with your head

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Though we are really trying to work through as much of the stuff in our freezer as possible leading up to our move, we did hit the Greenmarket in Union Square on Saturday morning, where we brought home a lovely guinea hen from Violet Hill. Mike took the bird apart and I later braised it in a mixture of red wine, balsamic vinegar and aromatics.

Sunday was crummy and we both felt like hibernating so a comfort food breakfast was in order: Anson Mills grits with cheddar and parm, fried egg and Tamarack Hollow bacon.

After breakfast, I sat down with our freezer inventory, a stack of cookbooks and my little red meal planner, while Mike did some work on his post for the latest Mixology Monday. He mixed up a round so I could take advantage of the late afternoon light for taking photos, and of course we couldn’t let the drinks go to waste.

I served them with a little cheese and baguette to help counteract the cocktail’s high octane level.

Dinner:  March 16, 2008

Finally, dinner. We had also brought home a package of grass-fed Angus short ribs from Elk Trails on Saturday, so we thawed them overnight and Mike braised them, using recipes from John Besh, Mario Batali and Suzanne Goin as inspiration. We had four flanken-style ribs which came in at just under 2.5 pounds, and after he browned them, he softened chopped onion, carrots and celery in the remaining fat in the Le Creuset, caramelized a blob of tomato paste, then added a cup of veal stock, 1.5 cups of red wine, one smashed garlic clove, some thyme, a bay leaf, and about a cup and a half of chopped tomatoes. The ribs went back into the pot, he sealed it up and chucked it into the oven for about 3 hours. When the ribs were tender, he stirred in some chopped chard until it was just wilted, and we served it with my sides: creamy mashed potatoes and a horseradish-spiked crème fraiche.

National Meatloaf Day

Dinner:  October 13, 2007

Until this weekend, I had never cooked meatloaf for my husband. He just wasn’t a fan, he said, having had too many experiences with dense, greasy versions. I love the stuff, but it’s hard to make a proper meatloaf for one person, so I went without. I satisfied my comfort food cravings in other ways, but I still pined for meatloaf, and especially for that most perfect use of leftover meatloaf ever, the cold meatloaf sandwich. From time to time I would suggest meatloaf for dinner, but my suggestions were always met with a less than enthusiastic response. But then came the meatballs, and things changed.

Meatballs aren’t exactly summer fare, but I found myself making big batches of them over the summer, tinkering with my recipe until I found a mix of meats and seasonings I was happy with. And Mike loved them. And then one day a couple of weeks ago, completely out of the blue, he told me he might be ready to try my meatloaf whenever I wanted to make it, because really, isn’t meatloaf just meatballs on a larger scale? I giddily agreed, and planned to work it into our menu for the coming week. But then we had that ridiculous spell of near-90 degree weather. And then came Mike’s birthday week, and special dinners to prepare, so the meatloaf was put off yet again.

But then, just when I was wondering if I would ever get to make my meatloaf, came the announcement: National Meatloaf Appreciation Day was coming, and the folks at Serious Eats were looking for people to share the love. No more excuses, I now had a reason to go forward and a date by which to do it. Saturday was the day – it was meatloaf or bust.

I took our remaining package of ground pastured veal from Bobolink out of the freezer to thaw on Friday night. I had picked up a package of grass-fed ground chuck after our dinner at Marlow and Sons on Friday, and I planned to pick up a package of ground pork from Flying Pigs during my Saturday morning Greenmarket trip, but they were sold out. I really wanted to do a beef/pork/veal mixture, and we don’t have anything resembling a meat grinder at home, so I had to come up with a Plan B. I perused their selection of sausages and grabbed a package of their herbed pork variety – seasoned with mustard, thyme, rosemary, sage and bay leaves, I thought it would work well. I picked up some potatoes, carrots and Brussels sprouts for sides and some mushrooms for my gravy and headed home to start cooking.

bread

We had a hunk of whole wheat pane integrale left from earlier in the week that I decided to turn into fresh breadcrumbs for the meatloaf. I cubed it and put it into the mini chopper, then pulsed it. And pulsed it. And pulsed it some more. Little was happening to the bread, and I could smell the chopper’s little motor beginning to burn, so I gave up, tipped the bread cubes out into a bowl and began tearing them into tiny pieces with my fingertips. It would have to do.

worcestershire

I moistened the breadcrumbs with a bit of water, then squeezed them dry and placed them into a large bowl. I peeled a smallish red onion, chunked it up and pulsed it in the mini chopper, then added that to the bowl. I added a tablespoon of Worcestershire, two teaspoons of tamari, a teaspoon each of dried marjoram and garlic powder, a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper, and an egg, which I beat lightly with a fork before blending it with the rest of the ingredients in the bowl.

wet ingredients + seasonings

I added the beef, pork sausage and veal to the wet ingredients, washed my hands well, then dug in and mixed it all up. I turned the mixture out onto a foil-lined sheet pan and formed it into a loaf, spreading a generous amount of Annie’s organic ketchup on top, then I placed it into a 400 degree oven. I’m not sure of the exact cooking time, but I would estimate it took about an hour and 15 minutes (I checked it periodically after 45 minutes in the oven, and let it continue cooking until its internal temperature was 160 degrees).

I worked on my sides while the meatloaf baked – German butterball potatoes, boiled with their skins on and smashed with a generous amount of butter, milk and cream; sliced carrots and halved Brussels sprouts, tossed with salt and olive oil and roasted until tender; and a mushroom gravy made with criminis sautéed in butter, a bit of flour, and our rich homemade brown chicken stock. When everything was ready I plated it up and served it, holding my breath while Mike took his first bite.

The verdict? It was good. “Really good,” in fact. So good that he said he’d eat it again. My days of pining for meatloaf are over, though wouldn’t you know it – we ran out of bread, so that most perfect of leftovers, the cold meatloaf sandwich, will have to wait.