Mother’s Grits and Debris

I snuggled in behind the wheel of what became known as the Starship Enterprise, it was no longer a minivan fit for a family vacation.  Instead it morphed into a party pod for a convoy of misfits headed to Mardi Gras.  I was old enough to know better but I never let that stop me.

Fortunately,  we only lost one car and one person both of which later turned up in Florida.  I guess they just needed a change of venue, besides the important thing is we all managed to stay out of jail.

I could smell the chicory coffee wafting out the front door and blowing down Tchoupitoulas.  It drew me in like a voodoo king casting a love spell and deposited me at Mother’s front door.  The sign about the world’s best baked ham didn’t even register as I walked past it and sat down near a window hoping the low morning sun would cast some clarity onto the crumpled two day old newspaper I was trying to read.  I thought the sunlight might help me focus but it didn’t and in the end I had to leave that to the coffee.

The bite of the chicory brought me around long enough to order another cup and a bowl of Grits and Debris, which was really all I could afford.  What the coffee couldn’t do, breakfast did.  I didn’t realize how bad I needed food.  It was one of those occasions when you realize booze and nicotine isn’t a sustainable diet.  My breakfast was nourishing from the first bite to the last.

I only ate at Mother’s this one time but I revisit often on mornings when what is needed is a little something more.

Debris: the parts, bits and crumbs of roast beef that fall onto the carving board while you are slicing the meat.…..Find the recipe here

Dashi

Don’t let its simplicity fool you. A well made dashi packs a wallop and is the foundation of Japanese cuisine. If you want the real deal you have to make this stuff from scratch. Possibly the easiest stock of all to make but again you will have to make a trip to the Asian grocery. Never fear though the stock only takes a couple of minutes to throw together.

Makes +- 8 cups

8 cups cold water

one 8 x 4 inch sheet kombu, kelp

one 2 1/2 inch finger of ginger, peeled and cut lengthwise into 4 slices

2 cups katsuobushi, dried bonito flakes

 

1. Gently wipe the kombu with a damp cloth to remove white salty stuff. Don’t worry if you don’t get it all.

2. Place the kombu in a pot along with the ginger and water. Place the pot over medium heat. Once the water starts to steam and develop lots of bubbles that are attached to the side of the pan turn off the heat. You do not want the pot to boil.

3. Set a timer for 12 minutes. At the end of twelve minutes remove the kombu. Turn the heat back on and bring the broth to just short of boiling again. Turn off the heat and add the bonito flakes.

4.Set the timer again for 12 minutes. At the end of twelve minutes strain the stock and use it immediately or store in the fridge. It is best if you use the stock within three days of making it.

Glazed Carrots with Lettuce

I am not sure when my fascination with carrots began but it wasn’t as a kid. I really don’t think I thought much about carrots until I started growing them in my garden. I think the fact that a good carrot in the middle of winter taste so good and feels so completely nourishing while you are eating them it makes them hard to pass up.

This recipe uses classic technique, yet, is really simple. I find this recipe to be old school Flemish/Belgian and borderline Dutch. The first time I made it years ago I had my doubts about the lettuce addition but they quickly dissolved into bliss. As always the best and freshest produce you can lay you hands on is always going to make the best food.

SERVES 4

16 carrots with tops, you can tell how fresh the carrots are by the tops, not more than 3/4 inch diameter, peeled and timmed with 1 inch of top left on

1 teaspoon sugar

scant 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1 bay leaf

1 sprig of fresh thyme

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

a few grinds of white pepper

water

1/2 dozen bibb lettuce leaves, larger ones torn in half

  1. Place everything, except the lettuce, into a 12 inch heavy bottom saute pan. Add about 1 cup of cold water to the pan or just enough to reach an 1/8 inch from the tops of the carrots.
  2. Place the pan over high heat and bring to a boil. The idea here is to have the water all but evaporate at the same time the carrots finish cooking leaving you with a rich and delicious glaze to coat and be poured over the dish. If the water seems to be evaporating before the carrots are close to being done you can add a little more. At the same time if the carrots seem to be getting to done remove them from the pan. Reduce the glaze and then at the end add the carrots back to warm them and to cook the lettuce.
  3. The whole idea here is to have a tender carrot that is not mushy or one that when you cut it is so hard it shoots across the table. It is timing and you can always use a toothpick to test the fattest part of the carrot. It should yield with a some pressure pressure. As the water gets close to being gone add the lettuce. Let the lettuce wilt and get soft. You want it to be vibrant green but tender like cooked spinach. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Plate, drizzle the glaze over the veggies and serve.

Fugly Lentils and Drunken Pig

This is a love story. One with big hands, fat spoons and where ladles are measured in busty bra sizes. It harkens back to the days when hand hewn tables were made of whole trees and crusty loaves of bread were the size of clouds. One where wine was quaffed, not sipped and swirled, and bellicose laughter could be heard around the dinner table not TV. There were no food temples of hallowed and silent reverence just hunger and many mouths to be fed. While not pretty the lowly lentil has done this job for centuries and so has the pig.

When they finally met it was love at first sight. The kind of love where you see no faults. It is big love where your very nature is to do everything in your power to make the other shine because they are the only light you see. There are no dainty little pieces that sit comfortably on soup spoons never to threaten silk shirts with a trip to the dry cleaners. These are knife, fork, spoon and some crusty bread to sop up any tears of joy left on the plate kind of eats. The Armagnac you ask, well, sometimes the lentils just like to feel a little slutty.

SERVES 4 TO 6

For the drunken pig:

3 or 4 meaty fresh pork hocks, unsmoked and about 4 inches long. The closer to the ham end the better. Really, make sure they are meaty it is where the pork for the dish is coming from

10 ounces unsmoked slab bacon, in one piece

1 leek, trimmed cut in half lengthwise

1 onion quartered

1 carrot, peeled and cut into chunks

2 celery stalks, rinsed and cut into chunks

1 head of garlic, halved

2 thyme sprigs

2 bay leaves

2 teaspoons whole black pepper corns

pinch of ground cloves

3 parsley sprigs

2 cups dry white wine

1 cinnamon stick 3 inches long

For the fugly lentils:

Meat from the hocks and the bacon

strained stock from above

2 onions, trimmed peeled and cut into quarters

8 carrots, decent sized, peeled and cut into 1 1/2 inch lengths

14 cloves of garlic, peeled, trust me later you will think this isn’t near enough

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon rosemary, minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 cup tomato sauce

1 teaspoon thyme, minced

1 1/4 cup Lentils du Puy

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1 tablespoon armagnac

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon garlic, very finely minced

1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley minced

1.To make the stock turn the oven to 325 degrees. Place all the stock ingredients into a large enameled cast iron pot with a lid. Make sure it is going to fit comfortably. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil on the stove top and skim any foam that rises.

2. Cover the pot with a lid and place it in the oven. Take a 2 hour and 45 minute break to do what ever you want. I generally play with the kids at this point or run errands or whatever.

3. Make sure the hocks are pull apart tender. If not cook them a little longer. When they are done pull the hocks and bacon and set them on a tray. Strain and drain the stock into a clean bowl, degrease and reserve the broth. Clean out the pot and put it back on the stove over medium high heat.

4. Add a few glugs of olive oil and then toss in the carrots and the onions. Sear them until they begin to take on color.

5. Add the garlic, rosemary, thyme, tomato sauce, 3 cups of stock and the tomato paste.

6. Season the broth with black pepper and add the lentils. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer them for 40 minutes checking to make sure they aren’t boiling or that the lentils haven’t drank all the broth and adding broth if necessary. Lentil like all beans vary in cooking times depending on age, moisture content etc so times may vary. You want these to be tender but not mush so you will need to give them a taste.

7. Meanwhile make the seasoning sauce. Combine the minced garlic, parsley and red wine vinegar and season it with salt and pepper. Stir in the olive oil.

8. At the end of 40 minutes check to make sure the lentils are tender. If not simmer them another fifteen minutes or so. Stir in the armagnac and add the reserved pork that you picked from the bones and add it to the lentils. Cut the bacon into equal portions and add it too. Season the pot with salt and black pepper and taste. Cover and warm the pork through. Serve with the sauce on the side.

The Chess Game

There is never a good time for bad news, but there it is, right in front of me, plain as a shadow on a sunny day.

She breaks the news the minute she is in the car.  I’m trying to get her in her car seat and the buckle hasn’t even clicked when she blurts it out:

“Dad, I think I want to leave home.”

I move back, still leaning over her.  I try to get her freckled little face, her blue eyes, in focus.  I don’t have my glasses on.  The back of the front seat keeps me from moving back far enough, so I have to squint to see just how serious this statement, this bomb, is.

No hint of a smile;  if she isn’t serious, she should win an Oscar.

“Ohhh-kay,” I say.

I walk around the car and wave to Mrs. Davis, Vivian’s kindergarten teacher.  I drop my chin, looking down at the pavement and smile.  She cast the hook and I’m going to run with it.  It’s a good opportunity to connect.  Lynnie is at preschool for a couple more hours, I’ve made Vivian’s favorite, chicken noodle, for lunch, and this plan to leave home will make for good conversation over soup and crackers.

It started out as an ordinary day.  We all woke up at the usual time; no crying, no wrong-side-of-the-bed.  They ate their pancakes, had their juice, and were dressed and ready to go to the bus stop without any of my deep-voiced “matching socks, girls” or you need your gym shoes today”–not even the requisite “if we miss the bus…” threat. I don’t need any of those stern words, meant to teach them that a sense of urgency is sometimes necessary, because for once they got ready before they started playing.  Actually, I guess it started as an extraordinary day.

Now, on the way home from school, Vivian and I ride in silence.  I’m trying to figure out where this “leaving home” thing is coming from, and she, I am sure, is using the silence as a negotiating tool, to bring her opponent to the table first.  It is a short drive home, and I decide not to bring it up again.  It’s up to Vivian.

As I open the screen door to the house, I get a good whiff of the chicken stock on the stove.  I mention that I made chicken-noodle soup for lunch and ask if she would like a bowl.

“Oh, not now, Daddy–I need to pack,”  she says.

“It’s hot and yummy, and you’re going to need your strength,” I reply.  Besides, you have plenty of time.”

She consents to lunch.

I grab a ladle from the utensil drawer and a couple of bowls from the cabinet.  The soup is simmering.  I ladle up bowls of the golden broth loaded with carrots, noodles and chicken, walk to the table, and set them down.  I go to the pantry and smile to myself again as I grab a sleeve of crackers.

Vivian grabs two spoons from the drawer and we both sit down.  I hand her a napkin.

Again, silence, except for the sound of us blowing on our spoons full of hot soup.  Mine is cool enough and I sip the soup.  Vivian does the same.

“Good soup, Dad,” she says.

“Thanks,” I say, and then, with a note of concern: “Are you mad at me or Mommy?”

“Oh, no, Dad”.

“I just wanted to make sure that isn’t why you want to leave,” I say, feigning concern.

“Oh no, I’m not mad, it’s just time,” she says happily.  “I think I want to see the world and, now that I’m bigger, I think it’s time.”

I takes all the muscle control I can muster not to break a smile.  The look on her face is stone-cold sober.  I know she has made up her mind.

“So can you tell me about your plan?” I ask.

And she does.  In fact, Vivian talks all afternoon:  in the preschool pick-up line for Lynnie, through Lynnie’s nap, over dinner, and on into the evening.  She discusses every detail and wants my response.  She is fleshing out her plan, using me as a sounding board.  She is wearing me down like a constant drip of a water torture session.  I know her, and I know what she’s doing.  She’s building confidence to carry out her plan, watching me to see if I think her plan is workable–and if I’ll give it my consent.

She is going full tilt now, a hundred yard dash of manic talk over dirty dishes, and all I can do is throw up hurdles in front of her.  I ask all the pertinent questions:  where are you going to sleep, what are you going to eat, what will you do for money”  And she has answers–well-thought-out answers: in a tent, in restaurants, and her birthday money will suffice.  Only when she asks me, “Do people in our country all speak the same language?’ do I realize how deeply she is thinking about her trip.

Yes, but in other countries they speak different languages,” I say.

“Well,” she pauses, “maybe I won’t go to Paris.  Maybe I’ll just walk around our country.”

“How long do you plan to be gone,” I query, “Because if you aren’t coming back, I need to let the school know.”

“Five years,” she says with no understanding of time.

Until this point, she had me worried.  I thought she might actually leave;  just walk out the door and down the drive, leaving me to wonder what I can say.  After all, I’ve been encouraging her, talking to her like leaving is a reality, and I’m beginning to wonder how I’ll retract my words.

“Oh.  That’s a long time,” I say with a hint of sadness.  “I don’t know if I’ll recognize you when you come back.  What if we move?  Will you be able to find us?”  The notion of phone calls, letters, or emails isn’t part of her reality yet–neither is the notion of we might not be here when she comes home.

It’s time to press my bluff.  “Well–then why don’t you get your backpack and I’ll at least drive you you up to the mail box.  Get you on your way.”
“Oh, that’s okay, Dad,” she replies.  “I think I’ll at least go to school tomorrow and tell all my friends goodbye.  I’ll leave after school.”

“Well then, get up to bed,” I answer.  “You have a long day tomorrow.  I’ll come up in a minute and tuck you in.”

I’ve listened to Vivian all day and that takes time.  I want to get things straightened up.  I turn on some music and turn to finish the dishes.  When they’re done I start wiping counter tops.

“Dad!” I hear from the top of the steps.  “You gonna come tuck me in?”

I forgot.  By the time I climb the stairs, she’s back in bed.

I sit down on the edge of the bed and tell her, “You can’t leave.  You can’t ever leave.  I need you here.  I need you to help me, Lynnie needs you, and so does Mommy.  You can’t go!”

“Wellll….,” she says, drawing out the pronunciation.  Then she giggles and finishes, “I was beginning to think it wasn’t my best idea, ’cause who’s gong to make me pancakes?”

 

get your soup recipe here ; Chicken and Rice Soup with Saffron

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Banana Cream Pie

Banana Cream Pie

With the impending second storm barreling down on the Midwest it was feeling like more than a three hour tour. In keeping the castaways at ease we dove into a family baking project, used the last three bananas and watched old episodes of Gilligan’s Island.  After tasting this pie I know why the castaways never left the island.

SERVES 6 – 8

For the pie::

1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

4 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons corn starch

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 1/2 cups whole milk, do not substitute

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 bananas

For the brittle and whipped cream::

1/4 cup honey

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 cup macadamia nuts, toasted and chopped, a good time to toast them is when you bake the crust

2 3/4 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and 1/4 cup of butter in a mixing bowl and combine with a fork until you have a mealy looking mixture.
  2. Pour the mixture into a 9 inch pie pan. Press out the crumbs until you have and even crust up the sides and bottom of the pie pan. Bake the crust until it is beginning to brown and is set. About 5 to 10 minutes. Remove it from the oven and let it cool.
  3. While the crust is cooling combine the corn starch, sugar, egg yolks, cardamom, vanilla and salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk until well combined.
  4. Place the milk into a sauce pan and bring it to a boil over medium high heat. While whisking the egg mixture add a cup of hot milk and whisk. Add the egg mixture to the milk pan and put it back over the heat.
  5. Let the pudding come to a boil and then whisk until thick. Remove it from the heat and whisk in the butter. Pour the pudding into a bowl and set the bowl into an ice bath to cool the pudding.
  6. Place the honey and the remaining cardamom into a small sauce pan and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Let it boil until it becomes very foamy.(have a cup of very cold water handy and drop a small droplet into the water. It should separate into thin brittle threads) Add the macadamia nuts and stir. Remove the brittle from the heat and pour it onto a greased parchment lined sheet tray. PLace the brittle into the fridge.
  7. Slice the bananas and layer them onto the pie crust. If the pudding has cooled pour it over the bananas. Refrigerate the pie for two hours or more.
  8. Once the pie has set make the whipped cream topping. Either with a stand mixer or a hand mixer whip the cream until it begins to thicken. Add the powdered sugar and the vanilla and whip to stiff peaks.
  9. Chop the brittle.
  10. Pipe the whipped cream onto the pie and then top with the chopped brittle. Serve.