December 29, 2015 – January 3, 2016
Monday: Poulet à là Crème, Haricots Verts
Tuesday: Parisian Potage, Green Salad
Wednesday: Salade Niçoise with fresh Tuna
New Year’s Eve: Croques Monsieur Toasts, Salumi board
Annie Cestra: Crabmeat à là Hoelzel
Patsy Ford: Crab Cakes w/ Tartar Sauce
Ann Slavish: Endive with goat cheese, radish slivers and parsley
Katie McSorley: Artichoke Dip
Ceil Slavish: English Trifle
Julie Stoecklein: Cranberry Tart
Jojo and Tommy’s Champagne
Rosie’s Curried Pretzel’s
Winter Ragout of Pork over Rice
Green Salad with blue cheese and blueberries
Italian Stecca bread
New Year’s Day: Pork Ribs, pork chops and Kielbasa slow-cooked in Sauer kraut with Mashed Potatoes
Plate of salumi, cheese, mustard and olives
Restorative potations – Hair of the dogs that bit us
Sunday: Steelers brunch with the Harts
Janice Hart’s Tomato-rice Soup
Pizzas: Margherita, Fontina and Sausage, Mushroom,
Olive Oil and Sea Salt
John Hart’s humor
Steelers’ last chance
Dinner –Soda bread with baked beans
We don’t have enough time to write about the triumphs and tragedies of last week’s cooking – and you are too busy to read about it. So we’ll focus on my current favorite chef – an old guy for the New Year (Jacques Pèpin) and try to get around to the other stuff in weeks to come.
But we must begin with the great food our friends cooked for our New Year’s Eve party last week. We were too busy entertaining to take pictures, alas – though here is a shot of what remained of Julie’s Cranberry Tart
(it was so pretty that we wrapped it in foil and hid it from the ravening hordes, which is the only way even this tiny bit survived).
Annie brought that summit of Pittsburgh gastronomy, Crabmeat à là Hoelzel, or, as we like to refer to it, hosed-off crabmeat. People usually go too light on the pepper or the olive oil or too heavy on the vinegar or lemon juice and end up with a perfectly fine appetizer, but Annie nailed this and gave us a Hoelzel that was luscious and impossible to stop eating, as were Patsy’s crab cakes (the same unctuous kick as the Hoelzel), Katie’s artichoke dip (we first had this years ago at her house in Point Breeze and have been asking for it ever since), Ann’s beautiful stuffed endive (should have taken a picture of this for sure), Jojo and Tommy’s confession-and-resolution-inducing champagne, Rosie’s spicy pretzel’s (Billy loved these) and Ceil’s English Trifle, without which New Year’s Eve would have to be postponed, messing up calendars, computers and various religious celebrations around the world).
The gifts continued on Sunday with the trifecta of Janice’s tomato-rice soup, the Steeler’s victory, and the Jet’s loss. There is a God in heaven and all’s right with the world. (Naked pizza from brunch pictured below).
After all that, Jacques Pèpin might seem anticlimactic, but he is not. And his cookbook, Heart and Soul in the Kitchen, is another great gift. It contains not just good recipes but good writing and some pretty good artwork. Here is Jacques on how he develops a dish: He had seen a Japanese chef prepare chirashi sushi – a large tray of sushi rice with pieces of raw fish arranged on top of it – and since his wife loves sushi, he thought he’d try his own version. The preparation he had tasted was topped with tuna and uni (sea urchin roe). His mind began to churn – he could transform this in any way he wanted. The uni was going to stay and he would add salmon since his wife loves it. But he decided that salmon caviar would work better with the tuna. He also decided to add avocado and mushrooms for their taste and color . . . “At some point, the recipe I had encountered stopped being the Japanese chef’s and became mine.”
Well, any of the dishes we cooked last week are worthy of passing along, but we’re going to share a new comforting favorite, Pepin’s Poulet à là Crème. Here is the (for us) irresistible introduction from Heart and Soul in the Kitchen: “Chicken in cream sauce is a specialty of the town where I was born, Bourg-en-Bresse. My mother’s simple recipe included a whole cut-up chicken with water, a dash of flour, and a bit of cream to finish. . . I am not sure my mother would approve of my changes, but this is easy, fast and good. Most of the time, my mother served hers with rice pilaf.”
Poulet a la Crème: (Serves 3 or 4)
Supplies: You’ll need to procure 6 chicken thighs (3 lbs. or so) and remove the skin.* You’ll also need 6 or 8 oz. of whole mushrooms, (sliced by you, not by whatever rabid n’er-do-well butchers the fungus at Giant Eagle), 2 TBS butter,1/2 Cup of heavy cream, 1/2 Cup of dry white wine, 1/4 C of water, a scant Tsp of salt, a scant Tsp of ground pepper, and enough fresh tarragon for about 1 TBS chopped (not necessary – but a great flavor addition).
Cooking: Melt 2 TBS of butter in a large saucepan, then add the chicken thighs in a single layer and brown over high heat (between 2 and 3 minutes a side – you want a good sear as that adds great flavor – you might have to brown in batches because the thighs need some separation to brown correctly). Add the mushrooms and sprinkle on the flour and turn the chicken pieces with some tongs to disperse the flour evenly. Stir in the wine and the water and mix well. Bring to a boil, add the salt and pepper, cover, reduce the heat and cook gently for 25 minutes. At that point, add the cream, bring to a boil and boil uncovered for about 1 minute. Serve sprinkled with the tarragon (and with rice pilaf, if you like). We served it with haricots vert on the side, poured some wine, and put on our beret’s. This dish is made to serve 4, but without the rice, in our experience, serves only 3. Unless you are eating alone, you will not have any leftovers with this dish.
*I got lazy – it was late on a work day and I settled for boneless, skinless thighs (6).
Extra: Spare Ribs, pork chops and Kielbasa slow-cooked in Sauer kraut with Mashed Potatoes
This is a dish we reconstructed on New Year’s Day. We could have coasted and grazed on leftovers, but tradition is strong in our family and Billy was coming to dinner. So, vaguely remembering what Bill’s mother cooked on New Year’s Day we bought a rack of spare ribs, two huge porkchops, a kielbasa, some sauerkraut and potatoes. Early in the afternoon, we browned the meat (cutting up the kielbasa into bite-sized pieces and the ribs into separate pieces), then we layered everything – meat, then kraut, then chopped up red onion, then ground pepper, then meat, then kraut, etc. – in a Dutch oven, brought it to a boil and put it into a 200 F oven for about 4 hours. (I added some more kraut and increased the heat about an hour before serving). This dish is crazy good – the collagen and flavors of the pork and kraut circulate and mingle and you end up with a dish that is impossible to stop eating – we had to put the pot on the porch and lock the door.
Next year we’ll start this earlier in the day and let it cook even longer. And we’ll use the bagged kraut from Giant Eagle only – it was tangier and crisper than the bottle “old-fashioned” stuff we got at Whole Foods.