Monday: Drinks at Atrias with Pittsburgh Stewarts / Dinner at Hannas
Tuesday: Pasta with Sausage, Peppers and Onions
Wednesday: Spinach Salad with Chicken, Radishes and Oranges / Potato Galette
Thursday: Beef Stir-Fry with Bell Peppers and Black Pepper Sauce
Friday: Party for Max and Molly
New Year’s Eve: Dinner and Party at the McSorley’s
New Year’s Day: Porchetta with Creamy Polenta and Fried Polenta, Green Salad, Pears with Coffee and Chocolate.
“The vulgar boil, the learned roast . . . “ – Alexander Pope
Well – Pope was actually talking about eggs and I have no idea whether he knew anything about cooking at all. From the standard portrait of him, it seems that he was not bright about head coverings, but that’s beside the point. The point is that roasting is a rather contemplative way to cook, suited to the long, cold nights of winter, and particularly suited to someone, like me, who likes to have a book in hand, while preparing dinner. And, since my resolutions for the New Year include focusing on cooking techniques. – we’ll be roasting for a month or so.
Of course, the word ‘technique’ covers a multitude of sins and can mean everything from a skill not inherently related to the dish (chopping an onion, e.g. for chicken soup) to a method of cooking, to the overall rigor and quality of the kitchen. Now any jerkwater trying to establish overall rigor and quality in our kitchen will be thrown out the door. And knife skills or the ability to trim an artichoke quickly are difficult to convey in writing, so they’re out. We will focus on one technique (roasting) or dish (say soup) each month and see if we can’t make some progress this year and elicit some comments from the peanut gallery.
We roasted a pork shoulder for New Year’s Day, departing from our traditional kraut and mashed potatoes approach to try what I think of as the Tuscan answer to pulled pork. It was, hands down, the greatest roast pork I have ever tasted. If a pig could choose how to be cooked (and remembered), this would be it. We share the recipe – involved, but not difficult – below
As an extra, I’m going to drift into poaching . . . By sheer accident, I poached some pears for dessert on New Year’s Day. Well, it wasn’t ‘sheer’ accident, but it was fairly inadvertent. What happened was that we had received from UFR a lovely basket from Harry and David which contained, among many other things, 6 beautiful Seckel Pears. Suddenly, it was New Year’s Day and I was enjoying cooking our Tuscan version of pulled pork and it occurred to me that I had nothing for dessert. A quick flip through some favorite cookbooks revealed that Jacques Pépin, who never disappoints, had a recipe for Seckel Pears in Coffee and Brown Sugar. This sounded about right. SWMBO doesn’t go much for extremely sweet stuff and I already had the pears and we never have less than 2 weeks’ worth of coffee in the house. So I gave it a try. All I can say is that I was not worthy, though Billy and Barbara may have been. This was hands down the most luscious dessert I’ve had all year. And poaching (eggs excepted) is surely one of the easiest techniques in cooking. You put something in liquid, bring it to a simmer and time it.
Note: I understand that Harry and David expired decades ago and are being preserved in a fruit locker at the company headquarters. My advice is to look through their baskets very carefully and discard anything that looks wizened.
P.S. The great meals this week were the dinners at Hanna’s and at Katie and Dave’s. And the drinks at Atria’s with John and Linda and Greg and their kids and grandkids were spectacular and had me in bed by 8:00. And the down-time together at home was maybe the tops. But we didn’t take any pictures at Katie and Dave’s or at Atria’s, and I don’t have Katie’s recipe for the wonderful veal stew, and there is no way to make down time at home seem exciting . . . so just roast the pork and, by all means, poach the pears.
(adapted from “Cook’s Illustrated 2016 Annual”)
Note: We cut this recipe by about ½ which gets a bit tricky when dealing with a marinade – but you can figure it out (or call me)
Timing: Trim and Marinate Pork the night before you will be serving it
3.5 hours cooking and resting before slicing on the day you serve the dish
Ingredients: Serves 8 – 10
1 (5 to 6 lb.) boneless pork butt roast, trimmed
3 tablespoons fennel seeds
½ cup rosemary leaves
¼ cup thyme leaves
12 garlic cloves, peeled (we used 5)
½ cup olive oil
¼ teaspoon baking soda
Evening before cooking, make the marinade – Grind fennel seeds in spice grinder or pestle until finely ground, then transfer to a food processor with rosemary, thyme, garlic, 1 tablespoon of pepper and 2 teaspoons of salt. Pulse mixture until fine – 15 or more pulses. Add the ½ cup of oil and process into paste – about 20 seconds.
Prepare the pork – cut slits in the surface fat (fat cap) of the roast – about 1 inch apart in a cross-hatch pattern. Do not cut beneath the fat into the meat. Now cut the roast with the grain into 2 pieces. Turn each piece on its side so that the fat cap is facing away from you and the newly cut side is up. Starting one inch from the short end of each piece and using a boning knife make slits 1” to 1.5” apart starting 1 “ from one end and ending1” from the other end. Each slit should go all the way through the roast.
- Turn each piece so that fat cap is facing down and rub sides and bottom of each with 2 teaspoons of salt, working the salt into the slits from both sides. Rub the herb paste onto sides and bottom as well, working it into the slits. Turn each piece so that fat cap is up and tie each with 3 or 4 pieces of twine into a compact cylinder.
- Combine 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of pepper and baking soda in a bowl. Rub the fat cap of each roast with this mixture, working it into the cross-hatching.
- Transfer the roasts to a rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.
Cooking the Pork:
Preheat oven to 325 F and adjust oven rack to middle.
Transfer roasts, fat side up, to roasting pan – leave 2 inches between them – and wrap tightly with aluminum foil.
Cook until pork registers 180 F – about 2 to 2.5 hours.
Remove pan from oven and increase temperature to 500 F.
Remove and discard foil and transfer roast to a plate while you discard liquid in pan. Now line the pan with foil, remove the twine from the roasts and put them back into the pan on the foil. Return pan to oven.
Cook until roasts are browned and interiors register 190 F – this took us 20 minutes. (we have a hot oven).
Transfer roast to carving board and rest for 20 minutes – NO FOOLING – 20 whole minutes (they will stay hot). Slice 1/2” thick pieces, transfer to a platter and serve. (We served with creamy polenta dressed with sautéed cherry tomatoes, ground pepper and diced mozzarella and a green salad.)
Extra Pears in Coffee and Brown Sugar (Jacques Pépin, More Fast Food My Way)
Timing: 30 minutes prep and cooking – 1 hour cooling – 5 minutes to plate
Ingredients: Serves 4
4 Seckel pears, peeled, seeded and cored with a melon baller
2 cups brewed coffee
¼ cup slice almonds
¼ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon potato starch (we used corn starch)
1 tablespoon water
¼ cup cream Sherry, Madeira or port wine
4 slices brioche or pound cake
1 or 2 tablespoons cocoa nibs or good chocolate grated with a vegetable peeper for garnish
4 sprigs mint
Preheat oven to 400 F and toast almonds on a baking sheet until slightly brown. (The almonds add a smoky crunch that is really important – do this, if you can)
Peel the pears – leave the stems in and core out the seeds from the bottom end of each pear.
Put the pears, the coffee, the brown sugar and the vanilla in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil gently, covered, about 10 minutes or until the pears are tender.
Transfer pears to a bowl and boil the syrup to reduce it to about ¾ cup.
Meanwhile, dissolve the potato starch (or corn starch) in the water, add to the syrup and return to a boil.
Pour the syrup over the pears, add the sherry, madeira or port and mix well, then cover and cool.
Put a slice of brioche or pound cake in each of four dessert bowls – use glass if you have it, the pears are a knock-out to look at. Sit a pear on top of the cake and coat liberally with the syrup, then garnish with the almonds, the nibs or chocolate and the mint.