Friday, November 25, 2011

A Very Eggy Thanksgiving

Despite a couple of kind offers, I chose to stay home and dine solo this Thanksgiving, in the company of my favorite kitty. Freed from the responsibility of cooking for other people’s palates, my menu options were so wide open it took a while to figure out what to fix. One of the multitude of holiday cooking shows I’ve watched recently mentioned that although turkey may not have been served at the first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts, lobster and venison likely were. Aha! A starting point. I had a couple of lobster shells left from the recent sale at Lobsta Bakes of Maine, and I could pull a package of venison out of my freezer.

For my Autumn Seafood Stew, I made lobster stock with a chunked onion, the stalks and part of a bulb of fennel, four evacuated corn cobs, a healthy handful of fresh sage, and two lobster shells. I filled the pot with almost enough cold water to cover, then half a bottle of white wine. Trouble was, that was a lot of water and the lobster shells themselves didn’t give off much flavor. Next time I’ll try to remember to add some fish trimmings (or do what I did today to tweak the leftovers – I bought some lobster stock from Kevin at Lobsta Bakes – he has more fish trimmings and lobster shells to work with than I could ever hope to). Last night I took about a third of the stock, added clam juice, fennel seed, celery seed, and dried chipotle pepper and reduced it significantly, then added the other half bottle of wine and reduced some more, until it finally started to taste like something.

I fried a couple slices of Eckerlin’s double-smoked bacon, sautéed fennel, onion, garlic, and corn in the renderings, then quickly cooked some oysters. Part of this mélange went on my dinner plate and the rest, along with shrimp, lobster, and roasted red pepper, went into the reduced stock to which I added a bit of cream and brandy – a definite boost to my rather weak stock.

For my meat course, I went with an old favorite, venison carpaccio, which, I am thankful to say, went in a delicious new direction this time. First I thin-sliced a couple of these butterflied steaks.

I had in mind to do a little taste-testing with my carpaccio, so, using the corn as a colorful divider, on half the venison I used fleur de sel and Banyuls vinegar from Le Bon Vivant, along with some Meyer lemon and blood orange olive oils I’ve been hoarding since my trip to California last year. On the other half I tried three products from Stuarto’s Olive Oil Company I came across on my Wednesday night trip to Lexington: wild mushroom and sage infused olive oil, espresso salt, and espresso balsamic.

I will have much more to say about the magnificent dinner/cooking class I attended at Azur Wednesday night. For now I will mention that Azur chef Jeremy Ashby used Stuarto’s products in several of the evening’s dishes, and Stuarto’s owner Stuart Utgaard was on hand to talk about his products and offer some for sale. The first time I happened onto chef Ashby was at the Incredible Food Show in Lexington in October, and during his demo there he raved about one of Stuarto’s olive oils that he described as being an excellent all-purpose finishing oil. It was not available either at the food show or on Wednesday at Azur, but I had a moment to ask the chef for a recommendation. When I told him I planned to make venison carpaccio for Thanksgiving, he suggested the wild mushroom and sage oil (which I purchased), and then his eyes lit up. They weren’t among the products Stuart brought that evening, but Jeremy went into his kitchen and came back with these samples of Stuarto’s espresso salt and espresso Balsamic. Thank you, Jeremy! I would never have thought to mix espresso flavors with my tried and true carpaccio, but these were amazing, giving the dish a whole new dimension and depth!

I topped the seasoned venison with capers, sliced garlic, and, in place of my usual parmesan, shards of sheep’s milk cheese from another KY Proud company, Good Shepherd Cheese.

This dish made me so happy I didn’t think twice about not having turkey for Thanksgiving :)

It just wouldn't be right to have a holiday dinner without dessert, and I came up with one that entailed hardly any work. Last weekend at Jean-Paul's Paradiso, I picked up some house-made pumpkin sorbet.

I love chocolate with pumpkin, so I made some ganache. If you’ve never made your own ganache before, what are you waiting for? It is dead simple even if you, like me, are no pastry chef. Just chop some chocolate (Joy of Cooking says 8 oz.).

Bring some cream to a boil (Joy of Cooking says 3/4 cup).

Remove the cream from the heat and stir in the chocolate. That’s all there is to it (although I like to add a splash of Grand Marnier to mine). It keeps well in the fridge, and a few seconds in the microwave will return it to a creamy consistency. Don't let the fancy-sounding French name intimidate you – this recipe is almost impossible to mess up.

I drizzled a little ganache on the pumpkin sorbet.

Because it was a holiday, I added some toasted pecans. And then, my best idea of the evening hit me: I added a bit of that espresso salt from Stuarto's! What a magnificent match with the chocolate!

So there you have it, how I holiday cook when left to my own devices. And I enjoyed every moment of solo, stress-free self-indulgence. Of course I missed being with family and friends. But this just wasn’t the year for it. I’m still in overly protective mode since Scout returned from his 2-1/2 week walkabout and didn’t want to go off and leave him for the long weekend. But I am happy to report he has bounced back from his ordeal – so much so that today he went outside for the first time in a week. You can bring the kitty indoors, but Scout is one kitty you just can’t take the outdoors out of.

Thankfully, he came back in too.

Wishing you all the best of holiday weekends, and if you’re out shopping, please shop local and handmade.

xoxo, eggy

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing all of you a happy holiday filled with good food and good company! I am so thankful for the friendships, old and new, I have made via this blog and by getting out into the community and meeting some terrific folks dedicated to raising and preparing good food. This has been a year truly filled with good blogging karma.

Of course, I am especially thankful to have Scout home from his 2-1/2 week walkabout. He has regained the weight he lost, and is actually wanting to go back outdoors, although I have not yet allowed that to happen.

Not wanting to leave him for a long weekend, I'm having a quirky holiday of my own. It started Wednesday night with a quick getaway to Lexington, where I attended Azur Restaurant and Bar's first Chef Series Cooking Class, a spectacular five-course meal created by Chef Jeremy Ashby interspersed with demos by Jeremy and a couple of his local culinary cohorts. I came away with a full stomach and a lot of inspiration! Stay tuned for a full report.

And now I'm headed into the kitchen to whip up a holiday dinner with only one palate to please, taking inspiration from two ingredients I was recently reminded were likely present at the first Thanksgiving, lobster and venison. If my dishes, and photos, turn out worth a hoot, I'll be back with a little report on that as well.

With much gratitude for all your kindnesses,

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Fine French Weekend Avec Mes Amis et Le Scout

These magnificent pear and apple tarts were actually served at Le Bon Vivant's October Third Friday's wine and cheese tasting, made by owner Catherine Meguire herself. When I arrived at last Friday's event, taking us to Burgundy, I was so swept up in the camaraderie that I forgot to pull out my camera until we'd reduced the magnificent cheeses to, well, this.
I was delighted to meet up with blogger friend Stephie of Small Girl Adventures again, who already has her own post up about the evening. Catherine welcomed us both with open arms, and I was happy to see a number of other delightful folks I had met on my last visit, and meet some new ones, too. It was definitely one of those evenings where being in the moment trumped taking photos for the blog.

I did not, however, come away empty-handed. This time I bought a bottle of one of the evening's five excellent Burgundian wines, a 2008 Domaine Nathalie et Gilles Chablis, which was a revelation as to what Chablis can be. I also purchased the Banyuls vinegar I'd had my eye on (a favorite of Jean-Robert, I hear). And of course, I couldn't walk away without replenishing my supply from Chocolats LaTour, which Le Bon Vivant carries.

After spending most of Saturday keeping a watchful eye over my recently returned kitty (ok, let's just say we both snoozed together a lot – I had no idea how exhausted I was from worrying about him), I had a taste for pizza. Not just any pizza, the Northern Woods pizza from Jean-Paul's Paradiso, made with a mix of wild mushrooms, a hint of rosemary, topped with goat cheese, on one of my favorite crusts, as only Belgian Jean-Paul can make it.

Jean-Paul puts his magnificent dough to use in other forms, like these tomato cheese breads.

The shop offers daily soups and much more. (Since my Thanksgiving plans turned wonky, I wish I'd learned earlier that they were offering T-Day carry-out; orders are now closed.) Do not miss their patisseries!

I bought some of Jean-Paul's pumpkin sorbet to hedge my bets for whatever I end up throwing together for Thanksgiving, and was happy they had my favorite chocolate mousse cups available, too.

As I head into Thanksgiving week, I am filled with gratitude toward all my friends and family, new and old, far and near. And especially thankful for the return of one of my very best friends, my Scout man guy, after his 2 1/2 week disappearance. He's purring again, and has finally meowed. He felt like a feather when he came back, but I am happy to report he is eating and putting weight back on. He has spent most of the weekend sleeping on or near me, something we both needed. He has eyed the front door a couple of times, but so far hasn't seriously wanted to go back out. Prayers work in mysterious ways - and cats work in mysterious-er ways. Thank you all for sending good wishes our way, and in return I wish you the best of Thanksgivings. Scout would too, if he weren't sleeping :)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

He's Back!

I could hardly believe my eyes when I got home from work tonight. As I walked up to the house, a little buff-colored guy appeared at my side and nonchalantly headed indoors with me as though nothing had happened.

Thankfully Scout seems uninjured, although he definitely lost weight during the week and a half two and a half weeks he disappeared. He headed straight for his food dish once he got inside, followed by a good deal of water slurping.

No doubt something happened during his feline walkabout, although I’ll never know what. He’s atypically docile this evening. He’s shown no interest in going back outdoors and just wants to sit on my lap. I am ever so happy to let him do just that.

ETA: I guess I've been in such a funk over this I lost my ability to do math. Scout was gone for 2 1/2 weeks!

A big thank you to all for sending good vibes our way, and checking back repeatedly. I am immensely relieved to have good news to report at last.

eggy and scout

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Doesn’t Everybody Cook This Way?

In honor of National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day, I thought I’d share this dish. Not only did it turn out to be tasty bowl of comfort food, it reminded me of one of the things I like most about cooking: Puttering with what’s on hand.

Sure, I ooh and ahh over dishes I spot on other blogs as much as the next cook. I wouldn’t want to count how many recipes I’ve clipped, or copied and pasted. I confess I’ve never actually prepared the overwhelming majority of them – although they often serve as inspiration when I’m trying to figure out what to do with a specific ingredient, or feel my well of culinary creativity has run dry.

But sometimes the best inspiration comes from simply looking inside my fridge . . . surveying my pantry . . . and pondering my typically overzealous farmers market purchases.

The concoctions I’ve come up with have been peculiar on occasion. A few so disappointing I either disposed of them immediately or let their leftovers languish until I had to throw them out, refrigerator container and all. But one of the bonuses of cooking for oneself is playing around in the kitchen unfettered. I’m not chained to recipes. I have no need to impress anyone. No one else’s palates to please, or food prejudices to work around. And I can make things as complex, or as simple, as I choose.

This time I went simple. I fried a couple slices of bacon. Threw some diced garlic and chopped fennel into its renderings. Added in some fresh sage, then – why not? – tossed some whole wheat penne and white wine into the skillet to see if I could adapt that risotto-like first stage to pasta. When the pasta began to soften, I added some water and covered with a lid. Checked back periodically to add liquid and check on the doneness of the penne. When it was close and had absorbed most of the liquid, I added more sage, a handful of mushrooms, some shreds of butternut squash cut with a vegetable peeler, (which I knew would cook in a flash), fresh clams, and more white wine.

I pulled the clams as each opened, not wanting to overcook those precious puppies. Glad to find only one would not (a sure sign to discard), I returned the rest to the skillet for a moment to rewarm. I turned out my veggie-pasta-clam mélange into a bowl, then – because it pleased my whim – topped with some torn prosciutto, cubed parmesan, cherry tomatoes, and fennel fronds.

All in all, a successful experiment. With some warm bread and a glass of wine, that pasta dish was just what I wanted to tuck into in front of some food television as I nursed a lingering cold and kept an ear cocked for anyone scratching at the door.

Sadly, Scout has not returned, nor have my efforts posting on Craigslist, calling animal shelters, etc. turned up anything. It’s hard to be optimistic, especially as days pass and with our cold, rainy, windy, dismal weather. I thank my many friends for opening your hearts to me and checking back for news. After 14 years, he may have used up all nine of his lives patrolling the neighborhood, making friends with kids and old people alike, and adventuring in his own fashion (with more dire consequences than my simple cooking experiments).

Scout came into my life, tiny and not yet weaned, when someone dropped him off at a state park where one of my best friends worked. (why people think this is a good idea, I do not know). Della took in many strays herself and was relentless in finding homes for more. I have now been missing her for the better part of a decade. In the event Scout turns up, I will hale his return loud and wide.

Meanwhile, I am doing my best to envision Scout and Della reunited somewhere they are both pain-free and enjoying themselves as the perennial teenagers they always were in their own minds. Scout, you’re on your own when Della cranks up her 80s head-banger rock :) But you’ll also find Della is a cat whisperer who will protect you like no other tiger mom who never had kids of her own.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Haiku Monday: Adventure

My thoughts are straying from food. With thanks to everyone who has asked after Scout, I am sorry to report he has not returned and at this point I am about out of hope. I dedicate this post to my buddy of 14 years. Moi at Bite the Apple is hosting Haiku Monday this week. Click on over to read a plethora of much more poetic and upbeat entries.

Uncontained Adventurer

Silence here deafens.
Strut your stuff on heavenly
walkabout, my friend.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Lobstas and Oystas and Middle Eastern, Oh My!

Lobsta Bakes of Maine had such an overwhelming response last weekend to their $9/lb lobster special that they're doing it again. Call Wed. (513-561-0444) to order yours for either Friday or Saturday pick-up this time. They'll steam 'em and crack 'em if you like. Loved these I picked up last weekend. Lobster doesn't get much fresher, cheaper, or easier when you live in Ohio.

On the food truck scene, which is (sigh) waning as we head into winter, New Orleans to Go has flown in some oysters for Oyster Peace-Maker Po-Boys. Now that they've got a great regular gig going in Springdale on Tuesdays, I'm hoping NOTG's supply holds out for what I'm hearing will be this Thursday at 5th and Race. Toya and Randy, save me one, please!

Prassino/Greek To Me has opened on Court Street, and I ate at Turquoise, newly opened on Vine Street, last week. Thank goodness their ezme (which I first fell in love with at Cafe Istanbul) is back.

I'll return with more food and photos, although it may be a bit. Lots going on outside this little food blog, and I'm sorely worried that I haven't seen a certain buff-colored furry guy since Sunday.

On a more upbeat note, my niece's Glee-esque show choir, named Happiness, Inc., was just voted best in the nation at Parade Magazine. Click here to listen to to their version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," a song that both inspires me and makes me cry every time I hear it. I'm looking forward to my first trip to Nashville to see her group in the Nationals - and to taste Nashville food!

Yikes, I just listened to that video again, and welled up with gratitude to blogger friends who recently sent me kind words out of the blue. Much appreciated.

Till we rendezvous again,
xoxo, eggy

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lobsters for $9/lb Saturday at Lobsta Bakes and Culinary Smackdown Results

One of my favorite fishmongers, Lobsta Bakes of Maine, is running a special this Saturday: Lobsters for $9 a pound. They'll steam them for you, if you like, and even crack them upon request. Call 513-561-0444 to reserve yours. The pic above is one I got at Lobsta Bakes, in Newtown, for my very first entry in the Culinary Smackdown, Battle Lobster.

Owner Kevin Smith, a native Mainer who comes from a family of lobstermen, knows his stuff – and where to get the best fish and shellfish from all over. In addition to fresh seafood, you'll find prepared foods made in-house, like cioppino, lobster bisque, clam chowder, lobster quiche, roasted shrimp salad, and lobster rolls, available on a rotating basis. Lobsta Bakes also smokes some items in-house, like their sensational seafood sausages, which are also on the menu at Brown Dog Cafe, where local food blogger Jen from Our Good Food Life (October's Smackdown host) joined me for dinner during Restaurant Week.

If you stop by this weekend, be sure to add your name to Lobsta Bakes' email list. Or sign up via their website. They send out a weekly e-newsletter with current offerings and prices, and it's also the best way to find out about specials like this Saturday's lobsters or events like their open-to-the-public lobster bakes.
If you, like Jen, are looking for a fishmonger to call your own, I can't recommend Lobsta Bakes highly enough. The friendly and knowledgeable crew will make you feel welcome every time you stop in, and they'll bend over backward to accommodate special requests.

As judge and host, Jen has also posted her round-up and results of Battle Squash. Congrats to Boxer, with able assistance from Nephew, on her win for these Butternut Squash Cupcakes topped with cream cheese icing, candied apricot, and chopped walnuts!

And thanks to all of the participants, from Smackdown veterans like La Diva Cucina and Buzz Kill to our newest newcomer, Jeff from a Dork and His Pork. If you're interested in participating in the future, remember that all are welcome. The Smackdown is all in good fun, and in the interest of not stressing anyone out during the food-holiday heavy months of November and December, I think Boxer is going to wait to schedule the next Smackdown for January (with an as-yet-unrevealed ingredient/theme she promises will be very challenging). As resident cheerleader for the Smackdown, I'll update when I know more.