Nach Waxman’s Brisket of Beef

IMG_1150It promises to be a blustery cold weekend coming up and it occurs to me that, before we all delve willy nilly into holiday cooking, this might be the perfect time to make a brisket.

Now, I’d never really thought about brisket before I married Jeff in 1988. It hadn’t ever appeared in my coterie of Episcopalian go-to recipes, and I don’t think I’d ever even had it before my first Passover Seder where I was charmed and amazed by this disarmingly flavorful wonder.  How had this meltingly delicious, hearty braised masterpiece eluded me?

Needless to say, though I’m not usually a very observant wife to my lovely Jewish husband,  I have happily produced this brisket each springtime to rave reviews.

I started thinking about brisket again during the magical  “Fire, Flour & Fork” festival earlier this month, when I found myself standing under a wind-rippled tent on Broad Street, happily learning the fine points of central Texas-style barbeque from the masters Chris Fultz and Alex Graf of Richmond’s very own ZZQ.

Now their brisket is indeed, a thing of wonder. It also involves an enormous smoker and close to a day of their determined efforts.  Since it’s going to be a little while before I can again avail myself of their stupendous Q, I got to thinking about my dear old springtime treat and the sheer joy of that lovely cut of beef.

Upon consideration, I realized that it has all of the necessary elements for a  perfect cold- weather Sunday supper, whether you’re Episcopalian, Jewish or even of no religious persuasion at all.    Hence, I’ve decided to loudly proclaim:  Baby, brisket’s not just for Passover anymore.

This recipe comes from Nach Waxman, the founding partner of New York’s famed Kitchen Arts & Letters bookstore which is located on Lexington Avenue between 93rd and 94th Streets.  Needless to say, the next time you’re in New York, you should drop by and see this amazing shop.  Before then, however, and to hold you till you get there, you should rustle up this superb brisket.

I found the recipe in The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins.  I see from its tattered title page, that Jeff gave it to me for Christmas in 1989, which means, this is the brisket I’ve been lovingly making for 25 years now.  Nach serves his  with potato pancakes, fresh sauerkraut and green tomato pickles.  I serve mine with sour cream  mashed potatoes which I think is perhaps the perfect vehicle to catch the amazing jammy oniony gravy with which the brisket emerges,  happily bedecked,  from the oven.    Oh yes, and Brussels sprouts quickly sauteed with some pancetta are good here too.

However you accompany it, for goodness sake, make this brisket before Thanksgiving is upon us.  It’s easy and so incredibly delicious.  Plus you’ll be primed and ready to appreciate the joys of that inevitable new world bird, with a hearty Eastern European brisket under your belt.

 

 

Nach Waxman’s Brisket of Beef

serves 6

 

 

1 brisket of beef, 5 to 6 pounds

1 to 2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour

Coarsely ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup corn oil

8 onions, thickly sliced and separated into rings

1  6-ounce can of good quality tomato paste

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

2 cloves garlic, quartered

A handful of peeled baby carrots

 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

Dust the brisket with the flour and sprinkle on the pepper.

Heat the oil in a large heavy  relatively shallow casserole, such as a Le Creuset.  Add the brisket, and brown on both sides over medium-high heat until some crisp spots appear on the surface.

Transfer the brisket to a dish and, keeping the heat on medium-high, add the onions to the casserole and stir, scraping up the brown bits.  Cook until the onions have softened and developed a handsome brown color, 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove the casserole from the heat, and place the brisket, along with any juices that have accumulated, on top of the onions.  Spread the tomato paste over the brisket as if you were icing a cake.  Add the garlic and carrots, and cover tightly.  Place the casserole on the middle rack in the oven, and bake for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the casserole from the oven, and cut the meat into 1/8 to 1/4-inch-thick slices.  You can do this by removing it to a cutting board first, but I usually just carefully cut it right in the casserole dish.  Splay the slices so they’re at a bit of an angle so that you’ve effectively reassembled the brisket slightly slanted.

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Correct the seasoning it necessary, and if absolutely necessary, add 2 or 3 teaspoons of water to the casserole.

Cover and return the casserole to the oven.  Cook until the meat is brown and fork-tender, 1 3/4 to 2 hours longer.  Your house will smell amazing!

Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

–Adapted from”The New Basics Cookbook” by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing, New York)

 

 

 

 

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Apricot Compote

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I remember precisely the view when I opened my eyes that first morning.

My growing realization as the white plaster wall came into focus, that I’d finally found my way to my dream of the Greek island of Evia.   Stories of this magic place had enlivened my imagination since adolescence. I was expecting the exotic beauty, the beloved friends, the splendid joys of the island unfolding before me.

What I wasn’t expecting, however, was the overwhelming, sweet aroma wafting from the kitchen where a sublime treat was gently bubbling away in preparation for our first Greek breakfast.

Before too long, our party assembled on the porch, hankering after mugs of dark coffee and earthy yogurt brought up the hill from the village in large crockery bowls.  To my delight, one of our number had resumed her apparently normal island habit of rising early and starting a magnificent fruit compote to bake in the bowels of the ancient and enormous kitchen stove.  While the lazy slug-a-beds completed the luxury of a completely quiet, completely restful sleep, little did we know that alchemy was going on back there.  That a simple stone fruit, to which I’d previously never paid much attention, was being transformed into solid gold.

Fast forward to my own kitchen here in Richmond.  When I spotted the apricots in the grocery store the other day, it all came flooding back.  If I couldn’t be in Greece, then at least I could have myself a proper Greek breakfast, or at least magically transport myself there through the wonder of culinary tinkering.

To quote  Eric Cantor, our recently defeated  house majority leader, in his high school yearbook, ” I want what I want when I want it.”  so the slow cook method wasn’t going to fly.  Instead, I came up with this speedy recipe from Jean-George Vongerichten, which, with a little tweaking,  had me virtually bobbing and blobbing on the Aegean in no time.

So don’t just sail on by those dear little fresh apricots the next time you see them in the market.  Grab those unassuming orbs and make this, because, who knew?  You’ve heard of a golden parachute, but these little darlings are a golden passport.

IMG_0954Apricot Compote

makes 2 cups

1 pound firm, ripe apricots, halved and pitted

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 -3 tablespoons honey

Greek yogurt for serving

fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped (optional)

 

Combine apricots, lime juice in a large skillet and drizzle the honey on top.  Cook over medium heat, turning occasionally, until apricots are glazed and syrupy, 7-8 minutes.  Transfer to a small bowl and chill for up to 1 day.  Serve with yogurt and garnish with a tiny sprinkle of rosemary if desired.

–Adapted from a recipe by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Dan Kluger

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Clare’s Muesli

IMG_1114I’m extremely fond of breakfast but summertime presents its own challenges.  As an inveterate oatmeal eater during those grey times of the year, once the berries come in, I’m longing to give in and feast, but somehow, slathering them over a piping hot bowl of porridge just doesn’t cut it.

I was wrestling with that dilemma recently when I recalled my much ballyhooed summer of 1975.  I was young, I was impetuous and I was driving my parent’s completely bonkers in every way imaginable.

I was also, to their despair, living in a squat in London’s Belgravia.  Think “Upstairs,Downstairs”  generally and Eaton Square more specifically.  With a gang of boarding school pals, I was inhabiting the glamorous, though vacant home of Bernie Cornfelt, ne’er-do-well financier and sometime boyfriend of Victoria Principal.  Ole’ Bernie  had conveniently gone on the lam, leaving us to live it up in his digs.  That is, until we were supplanted later that fall, by a band of Hell’s Angels who were altogether bigger and badder than we were, even in our wildest dreams.  Alas, that, is, as they say, another story.

The thing is, during that wild summer of 1975, we had no electricity. Nor hot water, for that matter, which necessitated lots of visits to the Chelsea baths, just down the King’s Road, though that is another story too.  It was hilarious, to say the least, that while we were being written up in the London press as, “Gentlemen Squatters” we were both hungry and dirty.  A fact brought home to my father who was visiting from Richmond, when I paid him a call at the posh Berkeley Hotel round the corner.  The front desk rang upstairs saying, “Dr. Osdene, there is a young woman here who purports to be your daughter.  What shall we do with her?”  Sadly, he didn’t find it quite as amusing as did I.

Cooking that summer was a great challenge, but one of our number found a “squatter’s co-op” which was custom-made for people in our, shall I say, situation.  The great coup there was our successful  provisioning of an enormous, and I mean, enormous sack of rolled oats which became our standard fare that summer.  How we survived without scurvy, I do not know.

Fast forward to my recent disenchantment with my regular oatmeal.  Somehow I remembered those raw oat days, and realized I could probably do a bit better than that, even without setting foot outside my kitchen.  Sure enough all sorts of embellishments came immediately to hand and I created what I’ve now dubbed my muesli.

It’s completely easy and particularly delicious when teamed with any of the fruits you’re finding in the farmer’s market at the moment.  I know it’s recommended to soak muesli overnight, however, I tried soaking it,  but found that I like to just pop it in the bowl, add the fruit, slosh milk over it and gobble it down.  Or maybe it was just that I was magically transported to London in 1975.

Perhaps that won’t happen to you, but it’s so easy–not even a proper recipe really–why not give it a try as a  cold cereal alternative.  And, if you, dear reader, are a young person, please don’t drive your parent’s bonkers this summer.  Just eat the muesli and comfort yourself that a young woman in 1975 did just that, so you don’t have to.

Clare’s Muesli

makes 18 servings

9 cups extra thick rolled oats

1 1/2 cups sliced almonds

1 cup unsweetened desiccated coconut

3/4 cup flax seeds

1/2 cup wheat bran

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

fresh fruit and milk to serve

 

Combine all of the ingredients and store in an air-tight container.  To serve, place about 1/2 cup in a bowl, cover with fruit and pour on milk to cover. Serve immediately.

 

 

 

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Lamb Meatballs with Spiced Tomato Sauce

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Wow.  Somehow when I read Sam Sifton’s article and recipe in last Sunday’s New York Times magazine, I just knew.  And last night, when I cooked it and subsequently tore into it, I was sure.  I’ve stumbled upon a new keeper, bound to make frequent appearances at my table, and maybe at yours too.

Extremely easy, and only a bit time-consuming (about an hour all together, mostly sitting around getting hungry as the yummy aroma wafts about the kitchen), it’s  bound to be a family pleaser–and in fact, is destined to be Felix’s welcome home meal when he returns from school in the not-so-distant future.

So, here it is, with my slight adaptations from Sam Sifton’s adaptations from brilliant Suzanne Goin’s original recipe.  If you try it this weekend, it’s bound to perk things up, and who can resist a little perking up?

Lamb Meatballs with Spiced Tomato Sauce

serves 4

 

For the meatballs:

1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced

1/4 cup heavy cream

2 egg yolks, extra-large

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Pinch red-pepper flakes

Pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste

2 pounds ground lamb

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1/4 cup chopped parsley

 

For the sauce:

1 28-ounce can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 small sprig rosemary

Red-pepper flakes to taste

1 medium onion, peeled and diced

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Pinch ground cinnamon

Pinch cayenne pepper

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon white sugar

1  3-inch strip of orange peel, pith removed and the juice of that orange

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

For the topping:

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons thinly sliced mint leaves

 

To serve with: either spaghetti or couscous

 

In a large bowl, mix together the onion, cream, egg yolks, cinnamon, cumin, red pepper and cayenne.  Put the lamb in the bowl, and season it aggressively with salt and pepper.  Add the bread crumbs and parsley, and combine the mixture well.  Shape the meat into compact balls that are a little larger than golf balls.

Saute the meatballs in batches in a skillet until they have a nice crust on them but are not cooked through.  Set them aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Next, make the sauce.  Heat a largish oven proof dutch oven, like le Creuset,  on top of the stove for about one minute.  Add olive oil, rosemary and red pepper and shake to combine.  Cook for another minute and then add onion, thyme, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne and bay leaf and saute until the onions are translucent, approximately 5 to 7 minutes.  Put the can of tomatoes in a large bowl and whiz them up with your handy immersion blender until they are mostly smooth.  Add the tomatoes, sugar, orange juice and peel , along with salt and pepper to the sauce.  Cook for 8 to 10 minutes over medium-low heat, until reduced by a third.  Adjust seasoning.

Transfer the meatballs into the sauce, putting them about 1/2 an inch from each other and bake for 15 or 20 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the meatballs are cooked through.

Serve with plain spaghetti or couscous and top with crumbled feta and scattered mint.

–Adapted from Sam Sifton, who adapted the recipe from Suzanne Goin in “The A.O.C. Cookbook”

 

 

 

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Polpettone

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How’s about a little tweak for Valentine’s Day?  Polpettone, which sounds very glamorous indeed, is Italian for meatloaf and I have to say, in the light of the crazy blizzard around here, you may want to consider losing your plans to sally forth to some overcrowded, overpriced  restaurant and instead, wire up this baby for tonight.

Now I do know that this photograph is not, well, perhaps my best or most inspiring.  If it’s any kind of recommendation, however,  please know that the polpettone was very picturesque, just moments before this when it came out of the oven.  Before I could so much as grab my camera, the hungry maniacs around here had torn into it and this is all that I could salvage for a photograph.  In fact, it was such a hit, I was grateful even to have snagged this rather pathetic shot. That funny gooey thing poking out from the middle is the salami/smoked mozzarella with which it’s stuffed.  I know. Completely over-the-top.  But “what th’?” as Mark Trail would say.  It’s only Valentine’s Day once a year, so why not give him something to make those statins worth it.

Now, I have to say that my normal meatloaf, which I recounted here in November 2010 is pretty darn good.  In fact, I continue to get reader response about it all of the time,  and people have literally stopped me in the street to opine on how great it is.  It’s easy as can be, delicious and, while not fancy, for some reason the only thing Felix ever wants to be his welcome home dinner when he arrives back from college.  High praise indeed I would say, because there’s no telling what fancy-schmancy stuff that kid could  be looking for on those rare occasions when his old ’83 diesel wends its way back from Williamsburg.

Now the original recipe for polpettone comes from my friend, Silvestro Silvestori, at the Awaiting Table cooking school  in Lecce in Puglia, Italy.  We made it when I was there in November and it was superb.  That being said, I’ve added and subtracted some things from Silvestro’s recipe to make it, well, my own.  I guess it’s more Italian-American now, and I do hope Silvestro won’t take offence as I’m headed back there in September and perhaps we’ll even make it then. 

In any case, I made this using a batch of my own meatloaf, the recipe for which you can find in the index on the right of my blog, or very easily by googling: “ClareFare meatloaf” , when it will pop up instantaneously.  

Should you decide to make it, I promise it will look prettier when it emerges from the oven.  No matter how it looks, however, please be prepared, for your Valentine to  take his first bite. He may swoon, but when he picks himself up off the floor, he will definitely proclaim you to the very best Valentine in the world.  

But really, there’s no need to send me flowers.  Just have a very happy Valentine’s Day, with lots of love from ClareFare.

Clare’s Polpettone

Serves 6

I batch of my meatloaf mix to be found on ClareFare from November 16, 2010

3/4 pound thinly sliced Genoa salami

3/4 pound smoked mozzarella, chopped into 1-inch dice

 

Prepare the meatloaf as directed in the previous post. Place half of the meat mixture in the baking pan.  Pat into a loaf-like shape and make a trough in the middle.  Line the trough with 1/2 of the Genoa salami, cover with the smoked mozzarella, and then top with the rest of the Genoa salami making it into a sort of smoked mozzarella filled envelope.  Pat the remaining meat mixture over the top and seal in the filling, retaining the loaf-like shape.

Bake as directed in the previous posting.

–Adapted from a recipe by Silvestro Silvestori at http://www.Awaitingtable.com 

 

 

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Boeuf Bourguignon

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Whisper down the lane.  At least that’s what we used to call it in England.  You know, that childhood game where you whisper a phrase to your friend who whispers it to the next person in line, and, at the end of the queue, the last person shouts out what they heard and it bears no resemblance to the initial phrase?

For some reason, I always found it endlessly amusing at slumber parties,  which is perhaps why this recipe is both amusing to me and perfectly appropriate for today.

A hearty pot of Boeuf Bourguignon will be accompanying me shortly to a “girl’s weekend” with some dear pals at a dairy farm in the wilds of central Virginia.  There we’ll be fireside chatting, knitting, reading and, if I’m not mistaken, laughing up a storm.  Perhaps storm may turn out to be the operative word, in fact, though “bunk activities” as they used to call it at summer camp, might be just what the doctor ordered as far as giving us all a great break from this beastly winter.

One thing we’ll be feasting upon will be this Boeuf Bourguigon, and I’ll be amazed if it doesn’t turn out to be a hit. The recipe I used,  and that I provide  here,  is marvelous and perhaps one of my most beloved.  I used to slave my way through Julia Child’ s Boeuf Bourguignon upon occasion , but an occasion it always had to be.  It was a production indeed which meant the sapid stew could never be in the rotation of daily and delicious, but always only for a special dinner party or other ritzy hoop-de-do.

In August of 2009, I stumbled over a new version of the classic dish in a New York Times article by Julia Moskin, who, excitingly will be appearing at the Woman’s Club here in Richmond, later this month.  Julia Moskin’s recipe was an adaptation of Ginette Mathiot’s  in “Je Sais Cuisiner” (“I know how to Cook”) circa 1932.  This is perhaps–dare I say it–a more authentic take on the famous stew as it gets back to the very roots of what it was meant to be: a wonderful, everyday possible, traditional French housewife’s version.

That’s not to say it isn’t sublime, because indeed it is.  In fact, it’s so good, I’ve been known to serve this version at formal dinners where, believe me, no one seemed to think it wasn’t black tie appropriate.  In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner a deux next week.  Please, don’t let on how easy it was–just revel in the praise that’s going to be heaped upon you, and the romance it’s bound to engender.

So, the whispering continues.  I have very slightly adapted the recipe again from Julia Moskin’s version.  It may be somewhat different than Madame Mathiot’s version, but I think it would be recognizable to any 20th century French housewife nonetheless.

As for this weekend, perhaps I should throw the Scrabble board into my trunk,  just to be on the safe side.    It occurs to me that whisper down the lane might not cut it anymore–outside of the kitchen,  that is.

 

Boeuf Bourguignon

serves 6

 

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 ounces of shallots, peeled and chopped

1/2 pound of thick-cut center bacon, diced

3 pounds of stewing beef, cut into 1 1/2-inch dice and patted dry

1/2 cup flour

2 cups of beef stock

2 cups of red wine ( I use Pinot Noir if I can’t find a Burgundy)

 1 bouquet garni ( 2 bay leaves, several sprigs of fresh thyme and 6 sprigs of parsley tied together)

Black pepper and salt

1/2 pound of mushrooms, sliced

 

Put oil n a heavy pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and bacon and cook, stirring until browned.  Remove them  with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving the fat in the pan.

Add beef and brown on all sides , working in batches as necessary to avoid crowding.

Return all of the beef to the pan and sprinkle with the flour.  Stir until browned and add the stock.  Stir, scrapping the bottom of the pan to incorporate all of the crunchy bits, and then add the reserved bacon and onions, the wine and bouquet garni.  Season with salt and pepper.

Simmer very gently for two hours.

Add the mushrooms and cook for half an hour more.  Serve immediately, OR even better, refrigerate and reheat the next day when it’s even more delectable.

–Adapted from Julia Moskin in the New York Times, who adapted it from Ginette Mathiot’s” I Know How to Cook”,  Phaidon Press

 

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Polenta with Spicy Italian Sausage, Peppers, Onions and Kale

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“Cold, Cold, Cold, Cold, Cold, Cold” – Lowell George, LIttle Feat

I guess I’m showing my advanced age by quoting lyrics from the 70’s, but really, I can’t get it out of my mind.  And speaking of my youth, I don’t ever remember it being this cold.  I mean it must have been, surely, because however else were we seemingly constantly ice skating round and round the lake at the University of Richmond?  I guess it must have been this cold, I just didn’t feel it so much, bursting with the endless joie de vivre and hot internal furnace of youth.

That being said, let me let you in on a little secret.  I know how to get it back.  No, not ALL of the hot blooded enthusiasms perhaps, but at least the means for a happy, warm glow that will get you scooting through this polar vortex or storm Leon or whatever next week’s version is going to be dubbed.

I think it was my trip to Italy in November.  I’m still cruising around with a happy smile slapped on my face and a ready giddy giggle. Yes, I’m suffering from the cold, just like you are, but I’m somehow managing to channel the glorious sun and the sunny disposition of the Solento.   I think the key is the food.

The other day, while the snow was swirling, I decided to pay heed to the exhortations of the authorities to stay home. It meant I had to  make do with whatever I had on hand to produce dinner.  In poking around, since I really was due a visit to the grocery, I found only a few of my usual goodies. Nonetheless, I whipped this simple feast up in no time and barely had to absent myself from my cozy spot beside the raging fire to do it.

It was scrumptious,(and inadvertently gluten-free for those of you who care about such things) and put me in the perfect place to start plotting details for my trip back to Puglia in September.  If you want to come with me, let me know.  When we’re there, we’ll make our very own sausages–which I didn’t do for this feast–and cook with olive oil from just down the lane, and wander in the garden in the warm Solento sun to pick our herbs.  

For now, I have to be content to do that in my heart and in my mind’s eye.  I’m happy to report, however, that eating this really helped propel me there. My body may be sitting beside the fire this winter, but you can find my spirit wandering around in the boot of Italy.

 

Polenta with Spicy Italian Sausage, Peppers, Onions and Kale

serves 6

 

2 cups Polenta ( I use Bob’s Red Mill and follow the directions on the package)

I pound Italian sausage, sweet or hot–your choice, chopped into large chunks

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 red pepper, cored and sliced into long strips

2 sweet onions, peeled and cut in half and thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

1 28 ounce can of San Marzano certified tomatoes

1- 5 ounce package of baby Kale

2 teaspoons dried oregano

salt and pepper

grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving

 

Make the polenta according to the directions on the package.  While it’s cooking, start to saute the sausages on medium low heat until the fat starts to render stirring constantly.  Once the fat starts to render you may turn it up slightly but stir occasionally and do keep an eye on them so they don’t burn.

Put the olive oil in a separate large skillet and saute the peppers and onions over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  When they are soft and translucent add the garlic and cook for one minute, not allowing the garlic to burn.  Add the tomatoes and kale and oregano and allow to simmer until the kale has just wilted.  By now your sausages should be cooked.  Add the pepper, onion and tomato mixture to the sausages and stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up all of the delicious brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Allow to cook together for the flavors to meld about 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper as and serve immediately over the hot polenta, with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to sprinkle on top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spinach Salad

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You know that hideous feeling where you’ve let something go so long, you’re too mortified to know how to address it?  Well, that’s me, somehow finding the gumption to write this.

I’ve just had lunch with a beloved friend, in which we discussed this very quandary.  Well, actually, not this very quandary, but yet another thing that I’ve let get hideously awry.  Anyway, I’ll attack the other thing in a minute after I’ve gotten this post taken care of, but I thought her solution was ingenious and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before: just tell the truth.

So here goes, I apologize for not having written in so long–since October in fact.  The thing is, I’ve been extremely well, happy and perhaps, um, a bit distracted.  I’ve been on a couple of stupendous trips–to Italy to cooking school, away for a fabulous Thanksgiving with friends, had lovely holidays both here and away,  and a lovely, frivolous time hanging about with Felix over his long break from school.  I’ve even been cooking like mad too–things Italian, things French, things southern and things I’ve been making up on the spot.  I’ve made everything from cookies to foie gras and everything in between.  I’ve eaten tons of cool things that I didn’t cook too, everywhere from Venice and Rome and Puglia, to New York and D.C. and right here in Richmond.  Good old familiar things with great old friends, and new, intriguing things with people I’ve just had the good fortune to meet.  It’s been a blast.

Sadly, what I haven’t done is keep up with my photography, nor this blog.

As regards the photography, I don’t feel too bad about it, because I did live in the precious minute of each incredible bite, and each lovely meal with those around me.  No I didn’t reach for my camera, but stayed fully in the the moment .  Oh my goodness, that mushroom risotto in Venice where the waiter brought the pan out into the very glamorous dining room, just to make sure I got every little bit.  And cooking by candlelight in the kitchen at the castle…well, that’s something else that lives in my heart, and leaps into my mind every evening as I reach for my trusty colander, as I glance at an almond, as I taste that grassy green olive oil at the very back of my throat.  Well, I could go on and on.

And since that’s the very purpose of ClareFare, I intend to do just that in the upcoming months.

In the meantime, my inspirational lunch occurred over a very sad and disappointing spinach salad.  Now I dearly love a good spinach salad and really, for some reason, it seems to me that this is just the time of year to be eating them: the spinach is good, mushrooms are crisp and cool, and what’s not discernibly better with good chunks of bacon, slathered with bacon dressing?    They’re kind of retro, (or at least I think they are because I seem to remember my mother and all of her friends having a mania for them) which is sort of comforting for the new year,  and they’re incredibly easy (especially now that we can get those boxes of pre-washed  baby spinach everywhere).  For some reason, I guess because it leaves me with that funny squeaky raw spinach feeling on my teeth, I even feel like they’re good for me.

Whether or not they’re really good for one, it appears that I fortuitously took a photograph of one I made before I fell off the blogging wagon.   Wouldn’t you know it, I just stumbled upon the photo all ready to go,  when I opened the file with the vague thought that it might be time to blog again.   I guess spinach salad is proving to be good for me after all, or maybe it’s just telling the truth.

 

Easy Spinach Salad

serves 2

 

2 eggs, hard boiled, peeled and sliced

5 ounces fresh baby spinach, washed and dried with  any tough stems removed

1/4 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced

4 slices thick center-back bacon, cut into 1-inch dice

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

salt and pepper to taste

 

Put spinach, sliced eggs and mushrooms in a large salad bowl.

Fry bacon until crumbly.  Remove it from the pan and allow it to briefly drain on a paper towel, leaving the bacon fat in the skillet.  With the pan on medium, add the vinegar, sugar, mustard, salt and pepper to the fat in the skillet and heat through, whisking to combine.

Sprinkle the bacon onto the salad, and, once the dressing is heated through, pour it on top of the salad and toss so that the spinach gently wilts a bit.

Serve immediately.

 

 

 

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Flat Iron Steak with Beurre Compose

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“The times, they are a-changin”,  Bob Dylan’s epic album of that name came out in January 1964 which (if my  notoriously bad math is correct) means that  just shy of 50 years ago, things were moving along at the same pace as the world seems to be at this very moment.   My crazy old world is changing by leaps and bounds everywhere I look, and I bet yours may be doing the same thing.

Earlier this year, for example, the names of cuts of beef and pork, 350 of them in fact, were officially changed for the first time in 40 years, leaving me, for one, completely intrigued and confused.

 

Even here in RVA, I have the distinct feeling that something’s in the air; that change is afoot; that things are starting to get a lot more interesting very quickly.  Within the last 24 hours, three notable authors have blown into town for three separate appearances: Anne Lamott, Erik Larson and tonight, Orhan Pamuk. My literary leaning soul is in ecstasy with the dawning realization of just what a bookish city I am lucky enough to inhabit.

What do these seemingly disparate things have in common? Well, in short, it means that I have a new compulsion to find speedy things to get on the dinner table.  And not just any old thing, at that.  I’m looking for quick things that have a certain elegance, can be made likedy-split  when I get home from a stirring literary talk, and that lend themselves to a long drawn out dinner conversation, debating the relative merits of this Nobel prize laureate verses that reknowned author.  In short, just the sort of meaty conversation I adore.

Where as usually, I’m only too happy to hang around making dinner on a Friday night, taking my sweet time whilst listening to jazz, talking to the cats, and nurturing my secret crush on David Brooks on the News Hour, now I want to be out and about, stirring myself up with listening to my fabulous literary heroes.

So, while half the time I have no earthly idea what I’m buying in the grocery store, I’ve taken to randomly buying weird things with weird names and giving them a whirl, which is where this quick dinner came in. When I first tried it I was thrilled with the speed with which it came together, and the sophisticated, elegant meal that I accidently produced.  Jeff in fact, dubbed it a huge success, even worthy of a dinner party.

So tonight, I’m planning on standing up my old beau David Brooks for my potential new one–Orhan. When I get home, I do believe I’ll throw on some jazz and cook up a little flat iron steak.  Yes indeed, a typical Friday night around the old homestead. But my, how the times they are a-changin.

 

 Flat Iron Steak with Beurre Compose’

serves 4

 

1 pound flat iron steak

salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 large shallot, peeled and minced

1/4 cup fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, minced

1/4 cup fresh chives, minced

 

Generously salt and pepper the flat iron steak and allow it to come to room temperature. In the meantime, combine the butter, shallot, parsley and chives and mix well.  Cover and set aside.

Heat a cast iron pan to high and add the olive oil.  Cook the steak for about 4 minutes a side until nicely seared  on the outside but medium rare.

Remove the steak from the pan, cover with aluminum foil and allow it to rest for 5 minutes.  Cut into 1/2-inch slices and serve with a dollop of the composed butter on top.

 

 

 

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Smoked Duck Breast Salad

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Well, it’s no news to me that I’m the luckiest woman in the world, and I never, ever forget to be grateful.

Chief amongst my lengthy list of things for which to be grateful, has to be the joyous, loving relationships I have, and have had, with so many friends from all over the world and from all sorts of disparate times of my life.

Last weekend was a very special get together with a couple of my dearest friends from college.  David flew in from Ann Arbor, Michigan and Richard came all the way from Kabul, Afghanistan in order to send off our beloved friend, Dean, in a  way befitting his important place in the crazy quilt of our shared lives.

As they say: we laughed, we cried, we reminisced and told raucous tales from our shared past with Dean, starting in Charlottesville and meandering through almost four decades and locales too exotic and varied to make much headway in recounting here.

As Dean would have loved, feasting and toasting were all a very significant part of the proceedings and I cooked my way around the globe for our dinner on Friday night, and gathered a group of long-time Dean lovers together–including his beloved Godson Felix–for an epic Mamma Zu feast on Saturday night.

All too soon, after a Sunday morning of Chelsea football and bagels and smoked salmon, David, Richard and Felix were headed back to their respective spots in the world, leaving Jeff and me alone to mull over the weekend that had actually surpassed my extravagant dreams for a proper way to say goodbye to Dean.

When it came time to make dinner, I realized a special treat was waiting for us, somehow left behind in our mad rush to consume the most over-the-top,  very-best-of-everything all weekend as Dean would have wanted, and would have expected us to do.  

David had brought an incredible smoked duck breast all the way from Ann Arbor.  And not just any old smoked duck breast.  This came from Durham’s Tracklements–a smokehouse that lives in the annals of the world’s very best.  

We had already consumed the smoked salmon that he’d brought with the bagels, and that was, to quote Marian Burros in The New York Times, “The best of the best in 20 years of tasting.  Unanimous…no comparison.” I therefore knew that whatever I did with the duck breast, it would need to be something to enhance it, but not to steal its elegant thunder.

Soon enough I’d whipped together this post-feast feast which was the perfect way to wrap up one of the most special weekends of my whole life.  Using some of Sarah’s incredible gift of the dried cherries I’d hand-carried from Traverse City, Michigan, some toasted hazelnuts and a smooth, subtle vinaigrette I made using some wonderful sherry vinegar I’d been “saving for best,” I compiled this simple yet stupendous salad for Jeff and me as the final chapter of our weekend of extremes.

What can I say? Even with many of the people I love being separated from me through time and space, I can’t help but feel them close, yes, and even sitting at my elbow, as I tuck into a splendid meal, or raise a  glittering glass of something especially delicious.  So this is for you, my departed friends.  I am ever grateful to have you forever in my heart.

 

Smoked Duck Breast Salad

serves two

 

1 large superbly  smoked duck breast, (preferably from Durham’s Tracklements),  sliced

Mixed salad greens

1/2 cup hazelnuts,  toasted on top of the stove in a dry pan with the skins rubbed off in a dishtowel

1/2 cup  superb dried cherries

 

Sherry Vinaigrette

1/2 cup best quality extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon sugar

salt and pepper to taste

 

in a large salad bowl, combine greens, hazelnuts, and cherries and toss well to combine.  Make vinaigrette by combining ingredients in a small bowl and whisking well to combine.  Drizzle dressing over the greens, not dousing them with the vinaigrette, but just moistening them.  Toss well and place the salad on two plates and place sliced duck breast artfully on top.

Serve immediately with a glass of something especially delicious, and toast your lovely life and your precious loved ones. Be grateful.

 

 

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