Friday, February 27, 2009

Grains I

Dinner in question, if you will? When in doubt, consult the sill.

The windowsill, that is.

I love grains, lentils and similar dry goods bought pre-bagged or in bulk. They’re cheap, they keep, they’re healthful and their possibilities are seemingly endless throughout the year. Need a side dish? You could eeny-meeny-miney-mo my windowsill for something new every time. Looking for a side salad? Put on your blindfold and reach into the overflow bag-o-beans and grains in the pantry.

In the winter, a warm pilaf of barley and rice, or rice with lentils, or, as below, lentils and barley is warm, hearty, healthy and delicious hot or at room temperature the next day for lunch. During the summer, a salad of fresh-picked vegetables and handfuls of herbs from the garden tossed with couscous or steamed buckwheat with a touch of lemon juice can be assembled in no time with incomparable freshness and flavor.

My standard windowsill set from left to right: long grain rice, polenta, French green lentils, barley, Arborio rice. In the summer, the far left empty jar is filled with fine couscous and the Arborio rice is replaced with wheat berries.

Also included in the grain larder (i.e. a big ZipLoc bag on the lower right shelf of a cabinet): farro, buckwheat groats, brown lentils, red lentils, split peas, all manner of dried beans, plus overflow for the windowsill jars and likely a few that I'm forgetting, or will find as a surprise whilst digging.

The other night, I put the French lentils to good use with an idea I’d had during the week to stretch the leftovers from a large roasted chicken. The meat was more like a garnish, which was my intent.

1 C French lentils du Puy
½ C pearled barley
1 C chicken stock
½ C water, or as needed
2 shallots, halved and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, smashed but in tact
Thyme sprig(s)
2 good-sized potatoes of your choice, peeled and cut into a ½ to ¾ inch dice.

Sweat the shallots low & slow until they are very soft, golden and very sweet in butter, canola oil or a blend of both, with thyme and garlic added midway. Add lentils to pan, stir to coat. Add barley, stir to coat. Add S&P. Deglaze with a good splash of sherry (I used Amontillado). Once sherry evaporates, stir in stock and water. Bring to a bare simmer. Cover & cook for about 20 minutes, checking occasionally for dryness. Add water if needed, and re-cover.

Meanwhile, heat your choice of lubrication in a sauté pan. **Note: I had bacon fat in a small sauté pan left over from the morning and used that. I saved the drippings specifically to use in this dish. I recommend it here.** Toss in potatoes and brown on all sides. Salt generously to taste when they are cooked through.

Retrieve garlic clove and thyme sprig(s) from the lentil-barley mixture. Gently fold the potatoes through the pilaf to combine. Garnish with fresh chopped Italian parsley. S&P to taste. Stir to combine. If desired, slice and fan chicken over the lentils and sprinkle the meat with a good Sherry vinegar. Serve with salad and crusty bread with warm garlic confit. Serve same for lunch the next day [shown left, as taken to work], refreshing the parsley and vinegar, if desired.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


I’m not quite Fergus Henderson, but some of the best-tasting stuff - organs, blood, guts, tails and entrails - truly go to waste in this country. At least I’m not alone in this thinking in my household. My four-year-old daughter and I battle it out for the last piece of liver – any kind: chicken, turkey, calf or duck (she’ll stab your hand with a fork if you even try to reach for that one).

This started with the first Thanksgiving that she was eating solid food. At the tender age of one year and two months, she decimated the turkey liver all on her own. I look forward every year to that turkey liver. Until she’s married and on her own, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to have it again.

My husband prefers to take a pass on organ meat, mainly due to his concerns over cholesterol. So I don’t serve it too often. But when Mike works late, I’ll make a mess of hearts and gizzards for my daughter and me to “share” – you can guess who powers down the most. When we roast a whole chicken, we cook and eat the contents of the inner packet before we even season the bird. Or I’ll get a small but thick slice or two of calf’s liver for us to cook perfectly pink with juices running. Ketchup? Never. She’s a purist and takes it straight.

So when I saw a pair of veal kidneys glistening and fresh, I couldn’t pass them up. And the price? The butcher was giving them away.

Lightly browned then kept warm, the kidneys were served with a pan sauce of butter, shallots, white wine and a whisk of Dijon mustard. How could you go wrong? Apparently, I did.

“I just passed a stone, and you’re serving me this?!?”

That part was true. Mike had had a really rough go of it, but two weeks had passed [term intentional] since the stone did. I suppose it wasn’t quite enough time.

He made a go of it, though, in part because I think the sauce was so good. But I could tell he was straining a bit at the table.

My daughter, however, was on the verge of licking her plate clean.

“May I have some more, please?” she said at least three times, reaching for the serving platter.

“She loves organ meat,” Mike kept saying, as she shoveled it in and I passed another slice to her.

In the end, I gave Mike a pass, too. “Just swirl the potatoes in the sauce,” I said, which he did, with relish. And we had a good laugh about it later.

Rognons de Veau a la Moutarde
Thank you, Anthony Bourdain.

2 whole veal kidneys
S & P
1 T Vegetable Oil
2 T butter
2 shallots, thinly sliced (more if you like sweet, sweated shallots)
¼ C. white wine
½ c. chicken stock
2 T Dijon mustard.

S/P the kidneys and sauté in the oil and 1T butter. Cook 2 mins per side. Set aside and keep warm.

Discard the fat from the pan, add the rest of the butter and cook the shallots until soft. Deglaze with the wine and reduce by half. Add the stock, bring to a boil, and cook for 5 mins. Whisk in the mustard.

Slice the kidneys, arrange on a platter and spoon the sauce over them.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Garlic Confit

(or, Roasted Garlic in Olive Oil)

This is a standard pantry item I make constantly and use infinitely. There’s always a jar of it in my refrigerator. Try it, and make up your own uses! I’m posting it because I’ve referred to it in the past, but also because my fridge has a new addition: bricks of Plugra butter. I’m planning to make a number of compound butters this weekend, an entry about which will be forthcoming. Many of the butters start here:

Three heads of garlic, unpeeled and in tact
½ cup good olive oil

Next time you have the oven on, take the garlic (the full bulbs), turn each on its side, cut just the tips off, and place them in a ceramic, oven-proof bowl. A small cereal or soup bowl is suitable.

Drizzle the olive oil over each head to fully coat the exposed cloves and to make a pool of oil in the bowl. Cover with foil.

Roast for 40 minutes. Remove foil carefully to check. The cloves should be golden and shrunken away from their paper. If not, return to the oven for another 10 minutes.

Let cool. Drain oil into a jar, then squeeze cloves out into the jar. Sprinkle with sea salt and shake to combine. Refrigerate.

Spread whole garlic cloves and oil onto toasted Italian bread.

Combine whole cloves, smashed cloves, the garlic oil and a pat of butter in a shallow dish. Add a sprig of fresh rosemary or other desired herb, plus sea salt and pepper. Warm to melt the butter and stir for a sweet and savory dipping oil.

Combine smashed cloves, the oil and butter in equal parts, together with a few anchovies in a small pan. Sprinkle with fresh ground pepper. Warm very slowly and break up anchovies fully. Serve warm in a shallow bowl with lightly toasted bread and crudité vegetables for dipping. Garnish with non-pariel capers, if desired. This is my variation of a bagna cauda.

Use just the olive oil for salad dressings or sautés. If you like this, roast the garlic with up to a cup of olive oil.

Put the roasted cloves in a shallow bowl, add butter (if desired), salt, pepper, fresh or dried herbs, and combine with a fork until smooth. Spoon mixture under the skin of chicken pieces and bake/roast chicken to desired doneness.

Combine whole roasted cloves, the garlic olive oil and chick peas or white beans in a food processor w/salt, pepper, lemon and vegetable oil (as needed) for a smooth hummus with sweet garlic flavor rather than the bite of fresh garlic.