Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas Croque

I just finished washing the last of the wine glasses from Sunday dinner, which turned out to be a very relaxing and warm way to spend a December evening. It rained like crazy here on Sunday, with big dramatic gusts of wind, thunder that sent our dog trembling into the corners and downpours that soaked me as I ran about doing the last of the dinner errands. I now know that San Francisco rain is the poor man's snow, so I was excited about the "storm", since inclement weather of any kind makes it feel cosy indoors.

I never did find a pig foot, but the boeuf bourguignonne didn't seem to suffer much. It actually ended up being the perfect party dish since I was able to stretch its preparation out over many days. By Sunday all I had to do was reheat it and make a salad. Thankfully, since as ever I was a bit ambitious with my other plans: alphabet Christmas cookie seating cards, a bevy of other sweets and a croquembouche.

I had a few extraordinarily clumsy days last week (grace incarnate I am not) and the croquembouche was the prime showcase for this klutz. The pastry cream threw itself from the refrigerator when Sarah unwittingly opened the door, spilling and invading the crevices between the floorboards of our rustic pine floors. Our dog, for once, came in handy. Then, as is inevitable, I burned my thumb on the molten caramel I was dipping each cream puff into. But the result was really lovely, I thought. Dear Sarah made a comment, somewhere between baking the cream puffs, whipping up the filling and swirling pans of caramel, that she hoped this dessert (for which I had enlisted her help and used many, many pans) would taste as good as it looked. Actually, I think the comment was more along the lines of, "do you think this will be worth it?"

What can I say?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

There are trotters, then there are feet

Do any of your remember my post about food for emotional invalids?

Well, now I have to post about food for physical invalids. My dear dining and life companion, Sarah, seems to have fractured her foot in an innocent stumble down the stairs. When she awoke on Monday morning her foot looked like a brined piece of meat (gross, I know, but it did), so swollen that you couldn't tell if she had bones or an arch. After an exciting seven hour stay at the hospital, she returned with a fresh set of crutches. Now she's hopping and hobbling her way around. It's a little cute and a little annoying, and since every task now requires monumental effort on her part, I've tried to streamline her life a little by making her dinner, since I'm working tonight.

I whipped up a lovely potato-leek soup using all the surplus ingredients from last week's trip to the Berkeley Farmer's Market. A nice bunch of baby leeks, an onion, 1 clove of garlic, ten baby yukon gold potatoes, skins on. I melted a knob of butter, added the chopped garlic, leeks and onion, sauteed them until translucent, then added 4 cups of chicken stock and the halved potatoes. Boiled until the potatoes were tender, whizzed in the blender and added some chopped parsley. Active time: about 7 minutes. Really.

I used some homemade chicken stock that I had in the freezer. Having homemade stock (or any good edible, for that matter) in the freezer makes me feel like a rich person with a stocked larder, ready for dinner at anytime. It's like money in the bank. That's why yesterday, on yet another scouting mission for the Sunday supper, I deliberated in the soup aisle comparing the ingredients on a bunch of "premium" packaged beef stocks. A quart of prepared stock costs abut $3.00 and doesn't require any effort or time. They taste OK, but usually lack the body and deep flavor of their homemade counterparts. Finally I decided that this is a special meal for special people who deserve homemade beef stock. So I wheeled my cart to the meat counter, got 5 pounds of beef knuckle hacked into pieces, went home, browned the bones in the oven, set off the smoke alarm, deglazed, dumped the whole mess in a pot, covered it with water and let it simmer away for three hours. The result? A big cup of surplus beef fat (sweet bonus!), 16 cups of premium deep brown stock (some for dinner on Sunday and some for a future pot of French onion soup) and a sense of happy contentment.

For me, that's what good cooking is all about--a sense of happy contentment. Now, go make yourselves some soup.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A week of grants and trotters

Where does the time go?

It's already mid-December and I've been terribly remiss in my postings. Needless to say I've had quite a lot on my proverbial plate this month, including a scholarship application for a food writing conference and a grant proposal. The grant proposal is in its final days, meaning that I've been scrutinizing each word, making a lot of coffee and waking up at 4am to fret in the darkness. I'm proposing a food-based oral history project for Northern Maine, a region with a remarkable ethnic diversity and a wonderful mix of the kinds of foods we ought to be preserving. While the food of New England is perhaps less storied than that of, say, the South or Northern California, there's a lot of very cool stuff happening there now and I'm proposing to go and record it.

The rest of the time I'm busying myself with holiday preparations. We've invited a gang of friends over for a Sunday holiday supper and I've been brainstorming and planning for the meal. The words "pig foot" have made it on to my grocery list for several days running--who knew it was so difficult to find a pig foot. I don't want to ruin the surprise for dinner guests who might be reading, but I'll be sure to give a full update on the meal on Monday.