Monday: Crispy Chicken Thighs with Mushroom Ragout, Fricassee of Brussels Sprouts and Bacon (the fricassee was a try-out for Thanksgiving – it made the list)
Omelets with Roasted Mushrooms – Sunday brunch
Tuesday: In Elizabethtown for Leading Age Conference
Wednesday: Pork Medallions with Grapes in Pomegranate Sauce
Thursday: Sirloin Steak and Leak and Artichoke bread pudding (the pudding also made the Thanksgiving list)
Friday: Birthday dinner with Billy at restaurant of his choice – the unsettling, but caring and delicious UMAMI.
Jacques with our dear friend and great cook, Julie
Menu from tribute – hand-painted by Jacques Pepin
Saturday: Tribute to J Pepin – Duquesne Club – a great man, a great dinner with great and generous friends.
Sunday: Arancini Appetizer, Pan-fried chicken with mushrooms
Well, you can see from the picture at the very top of this post that we have had one high-falutin’ week in Pittsburgh. Gene and Sandy O’Sullivan invited us to a dinner for one of their many philanthropic causes – The Pittsburgh Botanical Garden’s Tribute to Jacques Pépin at the Duquesne Club. Now we would go with Gene and Sandy to a wiener-roast in Irwin, so enjoyable is their company, but here was a chance to meet the charming fellow whose recipes and techniques have helped us to feed family and friends for many years. And our son Billy surprised us by showing up (he was invited by a friend) and allowing us to show Jacques that his good food produces children much taller than their parents.
The menu was dynamite (you can view it above), with the standouts being the wonderful canapés, particularly the braised lamb cheeks, and the spectacular potato-leek soup with caviar and the most perfectly roasted mushroom I have ever tasted.* The night turned, however, on the charm and wit of Jacques, who is a serious ‘dude,’ with a sort of Jean-Claude Killy haircut. Gene and Sandy, in a surprise that is just like them, gave us their seats in the private dining room with Jacques, where we also met his witty daughter Claudine and his beautiful grand-daughter, Shorey. The Pépin family are down to earth and warm and just happen to have one of the world’s greatest chefs, and perhaps its greatest culinary instructor for a patriarch.
*In Pépin’s memoir, The Apprentice, he notes that his mother tells him that his cooking is no longer French. But, he notes that his tastes have remained as simple as his rural background and “Leek and potato soup will always be a standard in my house.”
In truth, it was a rare week for us, eating out two nights in a row. The night before the Pépin dinner we treated Billy to a birthday dinner at a restaurant of his choice, the unsettling, but friendly and delicious UMAMI. To get to the restaurant, you climb two precipitous flights from a small door just to the left of the Round Corner Cantina in Lawrenceville. Then you enter a handsome but, until you get the hang of it, disorienting space, where you are served water and given a menu which, unless you are a veteran of Japanese street food, you will need help with. The accommodating waiters know that, of course, and the atmosphere is relaxed and – hey – just try the grilled octopus and have a martini (in an old-fashioned goblet), and you’ll be a fan. We had oysters with a wonderful mignonette that I will spend much of next year, I suspect, trying to recreate. But the dish of the evening was the Nasu Shigiyaki, a pan-fried half of narrow eggplant topped with savory ground chicken and a sauce I can’t begin to unpack.
Great pleasures indeed – and now for some smaller but easily reproducible pleasures. For the keeper recipes of the week, even I don’t have the arrogance to suggest what you should cook on Thanksgiving. That would be like being elected President and changing the National Anthem by executive order. (Please, Mr. Trump, don’t even think about it.) Nor will I ever be able to cook like Keith Coughenour of the Duquesne Club or the bandanaed chefs at UMAMI.
So why read this blog at all, you are wondering. Well, when you need a day off from fancy food, try the tomato soup recipe below (this is the soup that goes with last week’s grilled cheese). And if you need to re-purpose Thanksgiving left-overs, try the Shepherd’s pie. And finally, as an Extra, I’ll share a knock-out of a dish from Italian street food – Arancini (rice balls) – a recipe form Tony Casillo’s Family Cookbook. This cookbook was created by Tony for his over-achieving children as an attempt to get them to slow down and cook their own food (Tony is an overachiever himself – a successful CEO). But, unlike most family cookbooks, Tony’s was published with beautiful pictures and lively text by Reader’s Digest. Tony is a friend of Gene O’Sullivan’s and Gene and Sandy gave us the book on the same night they took us to have dinner with Jacques Pépin. We like hanging out with Gene and Sandy. (And no, we won’t introduce you.)
DEE DRUMOND’S BEST-EVER TOMATO SOUP
Well, sure, we were skeptical too. “Best ever”? But the ‘Pioneer Woman’ has created, stolen or borrowed a recipe so simple you’ll feel guilty about not doing more to create the creamy, but textured (sautéed onions and diced tomato pieces) comfort of this superior potage.
Ingredients: With Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, feeds 8
1 onion, diced (1/2 of the large honkers we get at the Giant Eagle, or 1 medium onion)
28 – 29 0z. canned, diced tomatoes
46 oz. Tomato Juice
1-2 Tablespoons of Chicken Base or 3 bouillon cubes (Chicken base is a concentrated stock – like glace for beef – Whole Foods and most markets carry it)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup, sherry (optional – if you are using, I’d use just 1/2 cup, unless you crave the taste of sherry, in which case, by the by, you might consider becoming an Anglican priest or a Cambridge Don)
1/4 cup each of choppped basil and chopped parsley
3 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
Ground black pepper, dash of salt
Timing: 20 minutes, including prep – look, dice the onion before melting the butter
Cook the Soup:
Melt the butter in a Dutch oven, then add the onion and cook until translucent – 5 minutes or so.
Add the diced tomatoes and stir, then add the tomato juice.
Add 3 tablespoons of sugar (or more, to taste, Dee adds up to 6, depending on high acidic the tomatoes are), and then add 2 tablespoons of chicken base.
Add lots of ground pepper and stir, then heat to just before a boil and turn off the heat.
Add sherry, if using, stir in the cream, add the basil and parsley, stir and serve warm.
THANKSGIVING LEFTOVER SHEPHERD’S PIE
You are beyond the sliced turkey sandwich stage, but you still have 3 pounds of left-over mashed potatoes, 4 cups of odds and ends of turkey, green beans, onions, peas . . . . This is a truly first-class way to re-purpose all of that. It’s a hearty, comforting meal, so play some touch football or talk a walk in the woods and get a bit chilly before sitting down to this. (It’s so simple to cook that you can prepare it before your walk and be eating it shortly after you take off your coat, build a fire and make a cocktail.)
I have adapted this from a rather complicated recipe I have which bears the attribution “Published November 24, 2014” and no other marks of authorship. The original calls for uncooked pearl onions and uncooked cranberries. Who has this after Thanksgiving? We didn’t even have the cooked pearl onions, but we were hungry and had lots of leftovers. Here’s what we cooked last year and plan to cook today:
Timing About 20 minutes prep and cooking and assembly – Then about 20 minutes to finish off, after your walk
Ingredients: Feeds about 4
3 ½ Tablespoons of butter
1 Tablespoon canola oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 ½ Tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ Cup white wine
1 Cup or so of whole cranberry sauce (optional)
Teaspoon or so of orange zest
Teaspoon or so of dried thyme or 2 of fresh
Kosher Salt and ground black pepper
1 – 1.5 lbs. cooked turkey
Left-over beans or broccoli or just throw in some canned or frozen peas (run some cold water over them to thaw)
Whatever else you’re willing to eat in such a dish
Enough mashed potatoes to cover, about 1/2” thick, the above ingredients placed into a baking dish. (If you run out of mashed potaties, used sweet potato casserole)
Make a Roux:
Melt a tablespoon of butter in saucepan over medium and add the onion and stir until lightly browned and tend – 5 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon to a plate
Melt more butter – 2-3 tablespoons and when it has begun to bubble add the flour and whisk continuously until it turns brown – 2 minutes or more. Gradually add chicken broth, whisking and bring to a gentle boil until the sauce thickens. Stir in the wine, orange zest, thyme, ½ teaspoon of salt and some ground black pepper. Toss the onions back into the roux, then remove from heat and correct the seasoning.
Assemble the Pie:
Preheat the oven to 375 F
Butter the baking dish (slather it on- don’t be shy) Cut or tear the turkey into strips and place in the dish, add any other ingredients you are using (peas, etc., whole cranberry sauce if using) and distribute evenly. Pour the roux over the turkey. Spread the mashed potatoes over the mixture as evenly as you can. Note: You’ll probably need to reanimate the potatoes by heating them with a little cream or milk and butter and stirring them.
Sprinkle a little paprika on the potatoes.
Cooking the Pie:
Bake the pie, uncovered, about 15 minutes. Then, on a rack 4-5 inches from the broiler, broil it until the potatoes start to brown. This will take as little as one minute, but may take longer. Put down that martini and that iPhone and watch it.
Serve garnished with sprigs of thyme or parsley.
EXTRA – New keeper chef – Tony Casillo’s Arancini (Rice Balls), from Tony Casillo’s Family Cookbook
This is another simple dish – a popular Italian street food. Between a good hot dog and arancini I would have a hard time choosing. But if you’re married to a svelte beauty like SWMBO, the hot dog is probably out of the question. You’ll have some trouble selling the arancini because of the starch but trust me, the taste would have made Twiggy eat like a high school football player.
Ingredients: Appetizers for up to 10 people – with salad, a light meal for 4 or 5
(Note: we used half the recipe and had appetizers for 5)
1 ½ cups cooked, drained and cooled Arborio rice
1 large egg, beaten
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 cup dried bread crumbs
½ cup sunflower, canola or other mild vegetable oil for frying
Salt and ground black pepper
Cooking: 24 minutes tops (if you use half the recipe – about 15 minutes)
Mix the rice, egg, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper in a large bowl, using your hands and then shape into about twenty 2 ½ inch balls. (If things get too sticky, wet your hands from time to time.)
Roll the rice balls in the bread crumbs, coating all over, and set aside
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium and, working in batches to avoid overcrowding, add the rice balls and fry until golden all over – about 8 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Serve hot.