Going Full Pépin

February 29, 2016 – March 6, 2016

Vegetable soup

Monday: Vegetable Soup with Avocado Toasts

Roasted Tomato with Feta Cream Toast

Tuesday: Left-over Vegetable Soup (much better)
with Roasted Tomato and Feta Cream Toasts

San Quentin Chili

Wednesday: Jacques Pépin’s San Quentin Chile, app of Belgian
Endive and radishes with fromage-fort

Poulet a la creme

Thursday: Poulet à là Crème, Cheese and Pickle Apps
Fast Fougasse

Linguine with Clam

Friday: Gloria’s Linguine with Clam Sauce
Baguette
Saturday: Frank Caliendo Comedy Show
Drinks, snacks at Lucca

Avocado Toasts with Sumac

Sunday: BLTA brunch (Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato and Avocado
Sandwiches)
Avocado toast with radishes and Sumac! (finally procured this spice – it’s worth it)
Puerto Rican Pork and Beans
Green Salad

You can see, from last week’s menus, that I have gone full Pépin.* The best meal of the week was the plebeian-sounding ‘Puerto Rican Pork and Beans,’ which Jacques learned to cook from his Puerto-Rican born wife. (Their ski-resort romance is worth reading about.) If you have a favorite meat-loaf or chili recipe, you’d better make some room for what will surely become a new staple in your repertoire if you have any sense of taste whatsoever – and you’re reading this blog, so you must. The recipe is below the notes below.

*How ‘full Pépin’ have I gone? I’m reading his autobiography, The Apprentice, and can recommend it highly, not so much for the recipes from his youth, his training and his current family life, which are scattered through the text, as for the story of a remarkable, self-made man. I use ‘self-made’ in the American-sense of not being born to money. And, indeed, Pépin was born into a working class family with no capital. But, in another sense, he was made by his environment – his Mother owned and operated restaurants, his family and friends and the surrounding culture took food seriously and built family get-togethers, holidays and rites of passage (graduation, marriage, christening) around cooking and sharing food. He was also made by the apprentice system which produced so many great cooks – no recipes, no textbooks, simply observing and emulating the sous-chef or chef for whom you worked, slaved, chopped, cleaned, etc.

There is no man born innocent, and very few of us avoid the pettiness and gossip that seems to characterize our current age. But this autobiography seems to have been written by a man without guile. His agenda is to explain his fortunate life and the great joy his trade and his family have been and to propagate his view of cooking and food.

One reason for this lack of guile and pride, is that Pépin still views his profession as that of an artisan – not an artist or a celebrity. At an early age, a string of coincidences led to his becoming chef for the Premier of France but, he notes: “Ours was a heady position but, paradoxically, in the context of that time, not prestigious in any way. Chefs . . . were not looked upon as artists. We were employees of the household.” This partly explains why later, after success in America, he turned down the offer to become White House Chef for the Kennedy’s and went to work for Howard Johnson, instead.

The book will also give you a history of the changes in American cuisine from the 1950’s to the present – the rise of fast food (the logistics of which were invented by Howard Johnson –not Ray Kroc; nouvelle cuisine and the movement toward local produce, simpler recipes and sauces and a nod toward health; and the rise of the celebrity chef-teacher among whom Jacques with his great friend, the loopy-voiced Julia Child, was a pioneer.

I’d like to think that, like Pépin, we keep our serious interest and delight in food under control – somewhere just behind God, family and the Steelers – and please don’t tell me otherwise. But I’m not sure we are quite as sane as this delightful man who learned to cook without any books or recipes, though he has written some of the best cookbooks of his generation – and a very good autobiography

The “Extra” this week (Soda Bread) can be found just below the recipe for Puerto Rican Pork and Beans

Puerto Rican Proke and Beans

Puerto Rican Pork and Beans
(You can find this recipe in the book Essential Pépin)

Supplies

4 Country-style pork loin spareribs (about 1.5 lbs.) – these are cut from the pork shoulder, ask you butcher to trim off as much fat as possible.
1 lb. Dried Red Kidney Beans
Tablespoon Canola Oil
4 Cups cold water
Medium Carrot peeled and cut into ½” cube
2 medium onions cut into ½” dice
6 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped (we used 3 large cloves)
3 bay leaves
Teaspoon Dried Oregano
16 oz. can whole tomatoes (crush by hand – watch out for squirting)
1 or 2 Jalapeno peppers chopped
2 Teaspoons salt
1 bunch cilantro with stems and leaves separated and chopped (about 1/3 cup stems, 2 Tablespoons leaves)
Tabasco Sauce for serving
Boiled Rice for serving

Cooking

Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan and, when hot, add the pork in one layer and brown over high for 15 minutes. (If you have a high-BTU burner, you may need to back off the heat a tad to avoid burning – but don’t be afraid to brown deeply.) Turn one or more times to brown on all sides.

Add everything else except the cilantro leaves and Tabasco and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer gently for 2 to 2.5 hours (unless you soak the kidney beans overnight, you will need all of 2.5 hours or longer – we did 2.5 and the dish was great, but some of the beans were still a bit chalky). Make sure the meat is tender and the beans are soft.

We served with boiled rice. Jacques recommends serving with Tabasco, which is good, but the dish is plenty flavorful without the heat.

Extra –    Soda Bread

Soda Bread

You can bake bread. Yes you can. Hey, you can. (To be spoken in the voice of Robert DeNiro’s character from “Analyze This.”)

This is a simple, no-fail recipe for Soda Bread from Jacques Pépin (also from Essential Pépin). I know, I know – you don’t bake. Well, if you eat bread someone has to bake it. This recipe takes 1 hour and will make you a hero to your family. (Pépin says that his last meal will be really good bread with really good butter, or, as he pronounces it, “bu – err”)

Preheat oven to 425 F
Supplies
3 Cups all-purpose flour, plus 1 Teaspoon (reserved)
1 and 1/2 Teaspoons salt
1 and 1/2 Teaspoons baking powder
1 and 1/2 Cups of Milk (use whole milk unless you want wimpy bread)
½ Teaspoon Canola oil

Cooking

Mix salt, flour and baking powder in a large bowl. Add the milk and mix gently but quickly with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together (don’t overwork)

Line a cookie sheet with an oiled silpat or with parchment brushed with oil. Place the dough on the sheet or silpat and, using a piece of plastic wrap, mold it into a round loaf, about 1 inch thick. Discard the plastic wrap!  Sprinkle the reserved teaspoon of flour on top of the loaf and, using a serrated knife, make a cross cut about ¼ inch deep on top of the loaf.

Place a stainless steel bowl upside down over the bread and bake for 30 minutes.* Remove the bowl and back for another 30 minutes until golden brown.

*I used a dutch oven.

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