Elements, Princeton

My fiance, Jim, grew up in Princeton. So when six months into our relationship I packed up all my things and moved from North Jersey to a tiny apartment in Princeton Junction, I figured he’d know where to get a good Sunday brunch. I was wrong. It’s been a sore spot in the otherwise loving affair, but thankfully, with six months to go before our wedding day, the situation has been rectified.

French toast; Egg with Brioche, Bacon Custard, Maple Foam

Elements is the place to go for brunch in Princeton; the place, also, to go for lunch, or dinner, or a fine round of drinks. …You can read the rest of this post on JerseyBites.

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Town House, Chilhowie, VA

We arrived at the Town House at 7 o’clock.  The host gave us a key and a map, and arranged to pick us up at 8.  We followed the map about five miles, through one traffic light flashing on an empty road, before pulling up to The Riverstead—a farmhouse rented out nightly to weary travelers like us. Then, we got ready for dinner.

Riverstead

Chilhowie, Virginia, is just about the last place you’d expect to have the meal I’m about to describe.  The town’s population is a little over 1,000, but unlike my little townlet (Stockton has a population of around 500), there’s not much in the way of neighboring cities, or really even neighboring towns. Needless to say, there’s a lot of farmland out there.

Riverstead

Come 8, a BMW pulled up to the house, driven by one of the restaurant’s sous chefs, who informed us on the way back to the restaurant that we’d be having the whole place to ourselves (this was the Thursday night before the snowpocalypse). We were led to a huge corner table and here, I should apologize…I didn’t bring my camera. After the 8-1/2-hour drive, all I wanted to do was relax with my fiance and a glass of wine—though that excuse would have flown out the window if I’d known how beautiful the food would be. As it is, we’ll have to make due with my pictures of The Riverstead. Which I actually kind of like.

Riverstead

But anyway, the food. Starting with the amuse bouches: one of them a “cookie” type thing that, though really delicious, wasn’t as memorable as the other—a pork belly taco, flavored with kaffir lime leaves and served in a “taco shell” that was actually cheese. Jim and I looked at each other: This is place is serious. The next course was a soup: rolls of pickled and raw vegetables standing upright in a chilled vegetable broth. (You can see a picture of it here.)  Now I know I might not stress it much on this blog, with all my posts about pork and whole fish and pasta, but I hold a special place in my heart for well-made broths. There’s just something so pure and beautiful about them…great ones can make me teary-eyed.  Put simply, this vegetable broth was the best I’d ever had (and it would be surpassed later in the meal). Seriously. I’m not exaggerating. I couldn’t offer enough superlatives. And the soup itself…it wasn’t just delicious, it was fun. You start off trying to figure out how to eat it—with a little broth in your spoon, and one vegetable roll, now two together, maybe three?—until you realize there is no wrong way, you could nibble or slurp, it didn’t matter, every combination was gorgeous. That’s what almost all the courses were like: puzzles with no wrong answers.

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The progression was perfect, too—no mean task for thirteen, fourteen, fifteen courses—but, of course, I can’t remember it all. In addition to a bottle of wine (“a nice cheap white,” is what Jim ordered, and not only did the sommelier, Charlie Berg, deliver, but—to give you a sense of his charisma—he made us feel right at home by charmingly, without the slightest hint of condescension, repeating the phrase itself, “a nice cheap white,” as he uncorked the bottle), we also had pairings for about half the courses in our three-hour meal. So…yeah, it’s a little jumbled. But in rough order, there was a dish of chilled razor clams with dissolving “rocks” that you ate alongside some (I’m assuming) real rocks imparting a fragrance that made us nostalgic for particular kind of beach we’d never been to; a “frozen [brulee] lake” that you cracked open to get at one of the bolder combinations—smoked steelhead roe, avocado, and a coconut ice cream—the richness all cut with something we assumed had been manufactured in the lab/kitchen (it was that bright and flavorful) but turned out to be an honest to goodness fruit called finger lime; a clear, smokey, onion-y ham broth (though I might be misrembering the onion part), with a flourless ravioli made out of egg yolk (and made to look like one.); and, one of our favorites (the last one actually falls into that category, too), an oyster. It was wrapped in apple leather and served beside a scoop of creme fraiche and sweet, garlicky roasted apple sauce. I think I would give my right leg for one of them right now, and it’s 9 in the morning, and I’m drinking my coffee. And I don’t even like oysters.

Riverstead

Later came preserved ramps, from last season, set at the bottom of a bowl of scrambled egg mousse flavored with birch: a wholly unexpected combination that now, of course, seems obvious—and also made this my favorite ever egg-y restaurant dish, just beating out the truffled baked egg at Bouley. (As we told Charlie several times, the meal as whole smashed Bouley, and Daniel, and Le Bernardin, and every other hotshot New York restaurant we’d ever been to. Actually, by the end of the meal, I think we may have said that to Charlie a few times too many. Like five or six too many. I’d like to say that we just wanted Charlie and the chefs to feel that their work was being appreciated–that that’s why we kept flashing our connoisseur creds—but I also know that we tend to want to be taken seriously at the times when we’re least likely to: you know, when drunk. But whatever. I think they enjoyed our enthusiasm all the same.)

Next—I think it was next–was an orange, or rather an orange puree made to look like an orange (man, I love these molecular gastronomists), which we we broke open to find a salad of plump, briny mussels. Maybe it’s because we shared this dish (we had our own full plates for all the others), but this wasn’t a favorite; I mean, there were definitely brilliant bites, but as a whole it felt somewhat out of balance—like we made a mistake somewhere in the puzzle. Still, it worked wonderfully as a palate cleanser, and was very cool. And even if there had been more serious shortcomings, they would have been made up for tenfold by the next dish—maybe our favorite of the night—a chorizo boullion with shrimp sausage, tender little lumps of manchego cheese, and a big black bubble in the center: a cuttlefish bubble that burst in our mouths, making Jim exclaim, “This is ridiculous! It’s like a whole bouillabaisse in a single bite!” It was served with a sherry that brought out the cheese and the spice of the chirizo, and practically made us start applauding after each bite.

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Then came the entrees. The first was squab with foie gras, strewn with tender pistachios and covered in beet juice. Have I told you that I don’t like foie gras, that I’m disappointed every time I see it on a tasting menu? Do I need to tell you now that I licked this foie gras clean off the plate? Or that the squab was even more perfect than our previous favorite squab, at Saul in Brooklyn? I almost feel like I should stop there, assuming you’ve all gotten the point (that you should drop what you’re doing right now and drive to southwest Virginia), but then I wouldn’t be able to tell you about the scallops and pork belly, served with crispy puffed rice and passion fruit and red cabbage dipping sauce—a play on Chinese food that transcended it to the stars. Almost the best part of that dish was the Shao-Xing wine that Charlie told us to take down like a shot before attacking the plate; it was like a warming beef tea, with the strength and depth of flavor of a good whiskey. I’m going to have to write Charlie for the name so we can serve it at dinner parties.

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Our final entree rivals the chorizo bouillon as our favorite dish of the night: lamb shoulder cooked for 36 hours in ash and served alongside wild-rice “polenta,” black garlic marmalade, and a creamy piece of yucca.  Something resembling ash (but obviously tasting better) dusted the lamb, which could be cut with a fork, and tasted…I think I’ve run out adjectives. Bold? Smoky? Charcoal-y? Amazing? I’m not doing it justice, but then again, I haven’t done any of the dishes justice. They’re the work of artists, with hardcore technical training (executive chef John Shield trained under Charlie Trotter and Grant Achatz, and his wife, the pastry chef Karen Urie Shields, trained under Trotter and Gale Gand).

Although I still don’t know how we found room for them, the desserts were as playfully magnificent as the rest of the meal. The first looked like snow with bits of grass sprouting through, the snow being…I’m not exactly sure what, but it was very white and very cold, and it contained creamy milk chocolate ice cream and a frozen green-curry puree—another combination I can’t believe I missed for so many years. The grass was herbs—basil, cilantro, mint, and I’m sure a few others—which turned Jim unusually wistful; he told me, for the first time ever, about a pea garden his grandmother used to tend when he was little. In the four years we’d been together, I think it was the first time he remembered it.

The second desert, and final course of the night, was maybe the most fun of all. Beside a few pools of black sesame sauce, mounds of yogurt and marzipan lay cloaked in concord grape sauce flavored with anise. It was a representation of the purple mountains we drove through on the way to Chilhowie, and after the first few bites, mixing and matching different elements (all of them delicious, as always, though the sesame sauce with the concord grapes stood out), the whole dish turned into the very best kind of mess—and made us feel like happy children.

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After the meal (plus two fabulous olive oil chocolates), we were lucky enough to be taken back to the kitchen to meet the chefs, John and Karen, who were very kind as we yet again drunkenly proclaimed their superiority to all those New York restaurants we’d been to (an opinion we still hold)—not to mention their kindness in cooking so beautifully for us until near midnight, in an empty restaurant, with sheets of icy-rain falling outside.

We were given a breakfast tart, prepared by Karen, to be heated up the next morning, and driven back to the farm house, where we had a long soak in the big-enough-for-two clawfoot tub, and listened to John Lithgow read poetry from a CD we’d brought on the trip. I recommend you follow our lead. Drive to Chilhowie. They’ll give you a key, and a map, and arrange to pick you up for dinner. You could get the four course meal that comes with your stay at Riverstead, but you should ask them to go all-out, or at least have ten courses. Enjoy it all. Go back and soak in the tub. Wake up to fresh juice, breakfast, and the cookies that were waiting for you when you first arrived.

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In case you need more persuading, here’s an adorable article about John and Karen’s recent wedding. It pushed me over the top when I was trying to decide whether it would be worth adding an extra five or so hours onto our trip to Savannah, and it’s another reason that Chilhowie is going to be the last stop on our honeymoon. I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate.

Town House

www.townhouseva.com

132 East Main Street
Chilhowie, VA 24319
(276) 646-8787

The Rosemont Cafe

Hi there! We’re back from our vacation and we’ve finally shoveled all that snow. Before I write about our trip, I want to post this review of The Rosemont Cafe in Rosemont, New Jersey, and announce that I will be writing about the food of Hunterdon and Mercer Counties in NJ for the website Jersey Bites! I’m very excited to work with Deb Smith and all of the others who will be joining this new project.  Over the next few months, exciting things will be happening, so if you live in NJ, bookmark Jersey Bites. (If you don’t live in NJ, you could always bookmark it anyway, nudge, nudge.)

My fiance, Jim, and I owe a tiny part of our upcoming marriage to the Rosemont Cafe. Now I’ll admit that sounds a little cheesy, but we are getting married, and it was just Valentine’s Day, so hear me out. A few years ago, when our relationship was a fledgling thing, with all the excitement and insecurities that come with a new relationship, we spent many nights camped out at our table in the back of the homey, dimly lit cafe, sharing a bottle (or two) of wine (it’s BYO), talking about poetry and life over caesar salads and grilled duck breasts, falling in love.

You can read the rest of this post on Jersey Bites. (go on, click)

Boiled kale.

Winter in New Jersey seems to drag shiveringly on, boring me to tears.  There’s the occasional snowstorm, yes, and I love every minute I spend bundled up beside the windowsill, every glass of scotch. But those snowy nights are fleeting, and then we’re back to the monotonous cold, the rude wind, the car windshield that just won’t defrost. And the cabbage.

kale

Cabbage is certainly reliable, staving off mold, and rot, and drying up all through these months (and months) of cold, when everyone else—the carrots, the apples—have up and left, unable to stick it through.  But, egad, is he boring. Except, of course, with the proper treatment.

wash

Simmered in homemade chicken stock and a knob of butter, cabbage–specifically kale—turns into something silky, tender, willing to fall apart at the touch of your teeth. Boiled kale may not seem sexy, but trust me on this, it incredibly is. When kale comes in from plowing snow all day, and takes off his work boots and Levi jeans, I promise you there are silk boxers underneath. With little red hearts on them.

kale

So let’s talk proper treatment. First of all, you need good stock. Homemade. I’m sorry, but I just can’t budge on that one; homemade stock is not just better than store-bought, it’s a whole different thing altogether. And it’s incredibly easy. Just take a chicken, or a few carcasses from roast chicken dinners, or a few pounds of chicken parts. Put the chicken in a pot and add water to cover the chicken (or carcasses or parts) by an inch of two—it should be around 4 quarts. Bring to a boil, add an onion and a carrot, and a tablespoon of kosher salt. Bring the heat down to low, or whatever heat allows an occasional bubbling of the stock, but nothing like a simmer or a boil. Let it go on like that for about 4 hours, tasting occasionally, until it tastes like chicken and is a beautiful shade of yellow. At this point, I usually let the stock hang out until morning, or at least a few hours, then I strain through a sieve into plastic quart containers and use or freeze. See? Easy. And about a zillion times better than store-bought stock. (The quality of the stock is even more important than the quality of the kale; I’ve made this with kale that’s a week or two past its prime and it tasted delicious. With water? Not so much.)

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Butter, too, is key and, in my opinion, there’s no alternative for it. I mean, I guess you could go for grapeseed oil if you are vegan, or maybe try a high-heat nut oil, but, please, no olive oil. The taste of olive oil changes when it’s heated at a high heat, and in this recipe, that change is totally perceptible. It’s the difference between this kale being fanatic-making good and it’s being just good. Butter, on the other hand, helps the texture, coaxing every bit of luxuriousness out of the kale. And if you like the taste of olive oil with kale, just drizzle some on top after it’s cooked. Problem solved. That’s about it; with chicken stock, and butter, and enough cooking time that the kale becomes meltingly soft and silky and deeply kale flavored, there’s nothing better to beat the cold. I could (almost) have winter all year long.

boiled kale

Boiled Kale

serves 4

    I’ve met resistance when encouraging others to eat boiled kale. I have a hunch that it has something to do with the “raw” foods craze, and the fact that “boiled” anything reminds us of flavorless food with all its nutrients leached out. But that is not the case here. This recipe involves boiling the kale in chicken stock and then letting everything simmer until the liquid evaporates, vitamins intact, leaving the kale tender and coated in a silky slip. Maybe it’s the name, so call it whatever will help: “Melted” Kale, Braised Kale, “Shut up and Eat Your Vegetable Because You Will Like Them” Kale… whatever works.About salting: I salt my kale after it’s cooked down. This may be heresy, and may mean that the kale is not salted properly to its core, but considering every bunch of kale is not the same size, and the chicken stock may be evaporating at different speeds (however negligible) on any given day, it’s safest for me to salt after so I don’t overdo it.

1 pound kale leaves, from 2 very large kale bunches
4 cups homemade chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt

Wash kale thoroughly (using a salad spinner helps.)

To remove the kale’s leaves from stems, holding one piece at a time, run a sharp chef knife against each side of the stem, stripping the leaves off and leaving only the stem in your hand. Otherwise, lay a few pieces on top of each other and use your knife to cut the stems out. Or, strip them off with your hands, holding the stem with one hand and using your other hand to pull the leaf away from you until it comes off the stem.

Coarsely chop kale leaves. Add them to a large dutch oven or pot and pour 4 cups of homemade chicken stock over. (If there are bits of chicken stock gelatin sticking to the inside of the container, scrap that in too.) Add butter. Turn the heat to medium high and bring stock to a boil. If the kale is particularly unwieldy, or your pot isn’t quite big enough, you can put the cover on for a few minutes until it wilts some. Once it is boiling, cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid all but evaporates and the kale is silky and tender, about 45 minutes. If the kale doesn’t taste tender enough, and the liquid is already gone, add a splash more and cook until the kale meets your liking.

Salt to taste. Serve.

Monkfish and purple potatoes.

The Stockton Indoor Farmer’s Market started up only three weeks ago — right across the street from my apartment! — but thanks to Dawn McBeth, the local baker who runs the market (which also sells baked good from her bakery, Ambrosia), filling it with one amazing vendor after the next, it’s already become my favorite in the county. Bobolink Dairy and Bakeyard is there every Sunday; Purely Pastured Farm, with their lamb, beef, and chickens, recently joined up; Highland Market is there with their astonishing beef; and the Red Rooster Spice Company sets up shop every weekend. Throw in Milk House Farm’s sourced vegetables, eggs, and freshly ground grains — and Metropolitan Seafood’s selections — and I haven’t had to leave my tiny town to go grocery shopping in weeks.

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The only tricky thing is, you can’t always follow recipes when you are at the mercy of the market’s offerings. Now I know I was touting the importance of recipe-following lately, and declaring that it’s taken precedence in my cooking, so I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit that this recipe is my own creation, but it’s not my fault! I had thought I was shopping for a recipe of cod in a parmesan-sage broth; then I came upon the most gorgeous, day-boat monkfish I’d ever seen. Things needed to be rethought on the spot.

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Monkfish screams rustic, earthy, substantial. I love to use it in place of meaty proteins – beef, pork – because it stands up so well to strong flavors and textures. Even before I’d finished the buying the fish, I was thinking mushrooms, potatoes…red wine. We got some shitake mushrooms from Highland Gourmet (at a price so ridiculously low I won’t even mention it because I don’t want you to feel bad), then found some turnips, before going home to some green beans and purple potatoes (from Nonesuch Farm).

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Wanting something rustic, but not willing to totally abandon my plan for a fancy-pants dinner (this was not a one-pot of night), I came up with something rustic but refined: the purple potatoes were cut into medallions the width and height of the monkfish; the shitakes were sauteed and browned alongside the green beans and turnips; and the red wine butter sauce really satisfied my fancy urges, half of its butter being truffle-butter (which did wonderfully woodsy, earthy things to the whole affair).

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A few things should be mentioned before you cook this: first, when you saute mushrooms, you should put them in a hot-hot-hot pan with some butter — not overcrowding — then turn down the heat a little and DO NOT TOUCH THEM FOR THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES OF COOKING. Otherwise, they won’t brown properly, and if there’s anything I don’t like, it’s a mushroom that isn’t browned properly. (Which, in hindsight, makes me sound pretty weird.) After you let them go untouched for the first five minutes or so, and they are golden and browning on the first side, you can stir them as much as you want and also add other ingredients to the pan (but, again, not before those crucial five minutes are up!). The turnips should go in next, and you should be careful to make sure they brown as well, not messing with them too much either or they’ll go starchy and mush up. Then you add the green beans and cook, covering for a few minutes, until they’re tender and beginning to brown as well. More butter gets added along the way to help even more with the browning.

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One last note: trying to keep this recipe as simple as possible, we did a little test of cooking the first piece of monkfish in a pan with butter and nothing else, and cooking the second piece with rosemary sprigs and garlic cloves. Unfortunately for simplicity, the second was the clear winner, so I included that version in the recipe. The first piece was nothing to sneer at, though, so don’t worry if you’re pressed for time or out of rosemary and garlic. Otherwise, I’d follow all the steps, because they led to something great. Rustic, but refined enough for a dinner party; fancy-pants comfort food: a delicious little collaboration between my home-cook style and the things I’ve picked up from all that recipe-following lately.

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Monkfish with Purple Potatoes and Truffled Red Wine Sauce

serves 2 (or maybe 3 light eaters)

For the Truffled Red Wine Sauce
1 slice smoked bacon, chopped
1 shallot, finely diced
1/2 celery stalk, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup dry red wine
4 tablespoons white truffle butter
2-4 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the Mushrooms

2 teaspoons canola oil
1 tablespoon or more white truffle butter
1/2 pound shitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps sliced
a few handfuls of good-looking green beans, slim as you can find them, cut into 1 inch pieces

1-2 turnips, peeled and cut into a small dice

For the Potatoes
2-3 oblong purple potatoes, about 1 pound total
a few sprigs of thyme

For the Monkfish
¾ to 1 pound monkfish fillet, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 cloves of garlic
a sprig of thyme

In a medium saucepan, add bacon over medium high heat and render for 5 minutes. Add shallot, celery, and carrot and cook until softened but not browned, 5-10 minutes. Add chicken stock and wine and reduce by a little more than half, about 30 minutes or so.

Meanwhile make the mushrooms: add canola oil and truffle butter to a pan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add mushrooms and leave untouched in the pan for at least 5 minutes, until the mushrooms have begun to properly brown. Turn mushrooms and add green beans and turnips and cook until turnips are browned on all sides, adding more butter or oil if the pan gets too dry.

Slice potatoes into thick medallions (you want them to be similar to the size of the monkfish medallions you’ll slice later) and put them into another pan over medium-high heat, so that they are all touching the bottom of the pan in one layer. Add chicken stock or water, enough to come halfway up the sides of the potatoes, and cover. Cook for about 10 minutes, then remove the cover and cook until all the liquid has evaporated and the potatoes are browned, turning potatoes half-way through. Turn off heat and set aside.

To finish the sauce: whisk butter into the reduced wine, a little at a time, until it is a bit thicker and tastes good—not too tart, but not too oily—then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To cook monkfish: Add canola oil to a pan over medium-high heat. Just before the oil starts to smoke, place the monkfish in the pan, rounded (presentation) side down. Cook for five minutes, until the fish is golden-brown, adding a tablespoon of butter about halfway through and basting the fish once the butter browns. (The butter should seem burnt, but the whole pan should not be smoking.) Flip the fish, add another tablespoon of butter, and cook for another six minutes, basting the entire time (and adding the garlic and thyme about halfway through, so that it flavors the butter and oil without burning). Remove the fish from pan and set on a cutting board to rest.

To finish: Cut monkfish into medallions. Spoon mushroom and turnip mixture onto a platter and place a medallion of monkfish, then a slice of potato, over the mushrooms, and repeat until you use up all the monkfish. Any leftover mushrooms or potatoes can be placed around the edge of the platter. Spoon some sauce over everything (you’ll have sauce leftover — bring it to the table to pass around) and serve.

Cod basquaise.

Over the past few years my cooking has gone from recipe-following, to recipe-adapting, to recipe-making, and now back full circle to recipe-following.  I feel like I’m honing my skills recipe-following again, and I’m certainly having a lot of fun.  Whereas last year I was constantly trying to forge my own way—starting with a basic recipe and then adapting it until it felt my own—this year I’m opening myself up for instruction, willing to believe that maybe someone out there can cook better than me (shock!), and setting aside that pride thing that has been haunting me for years.  A new year’s resolution of sorts.

Basquise

It took me a while to realize that I didn’t have to create recipes in order to be a legitimately good cook.  I think this is a problem that a lot of us food bloggers have.  We’re always searching for the next interesting post, trying to set ourselves apart from the others; we want to stake out some space in this game. (And there’s that sticky situation of always posting—some would say copying—recipes that people would otherwise have to buy the whole cookbook for. This issue gets to me now that I’m posting a lot of recipes from current cookbooks. I do believe that my enthusiasm for the cookbooks will help sales more than the recipe posting will reduce them, and that whatever I do affects sales very little… but that could just be an excuse.)  In reality, however, we probably all have a lot to learn from recipes; I know I do.  I don’t cook professionally in a restaurant.  I never had a mentor, or a childhood in Provence, not one single cooking class.  Recipes stand in for the pasta-making Italian grandmother I never had.

Pan roasted cod

So I follow recipes.  Not always diligently, but always thoughtfully.  I heed cook temps, tips, ingredients, while also taking into account my own tastes, my cookware and equipment, and ethical and sustainability issues.  If I have peperonata in the fridge, I’m not about to go out and buy fresh peppers for the cod basquaise recipe I’m following that night.  And while I didn’t make this recipe with cod the first time—the black grouper at the fish market was fresher—I made sure to try it again the next time the cod looked good and, unsurprisingly, it was better made with cod. I’d still make it with a different fish if I had the other ingredients on hand and there was no cod at the market, but I know cod is best.

Cod basquaise

The recipe is from Eric Ripert, and it’s a classic sauce basquaise (peppers, tomato) with the addition of red wine and serrano ham.  The vegetables are cooked until meltingly tender, then braised in the wine for a bit.  The cod is cooked with thyme and garlic for flavor, then served atop the sauce.  It’s robust and wintry, lush with red wine and salty ham.  Like most of Ripert’s simple recipes, it’s easy to think that you wouldn’t need to follow them really, that you could just go with the idea and wing it in your kitchen.  But if you cook the cod just so, use the correct amount of ingredients, and follow the times and simple instructions for cooking the sauce, you can rest assured that the result will be perfect.  I probably would’ve added the red wine too soon had I been going it alone, and the result wouldn’t be as silky. That’s the kind of thing I find so helpful about following recipes. So far, my new year’s resolution has rendered me some fantastic dinners.

Cod basquaise

Cod Basquaise

adapted from Avec Eric

The Basquaise

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely diced yellow onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
¼ cup small diced Serrano ham
1 cup leftover peperonata rustica (or 1/2 cup each of chopped red and yellow bell pepper)
1 cup tinned San Marzano tomato, drained, seeded, and diced
½ cup red wine
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper

The Codfish

2 tablespoons canola oil
4 (6-ounce) codfish fillets
2 springs thyme
2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Heat olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan. Add onion and sweat until tender over medium-low heat. Add garlic and continue cooking until tender; add the ham and peppers. When the peppers are soft, add the tomatoes and simmer, stirring often, over low heat for 20 minutes. Add the red wine and reduce over medium heat until most of the liquid had evaporated. Stir in the chopped parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. This can be done the day before.

Heat a pan until very hot, add the canola oil. Season the codfish on both sides with salt and pepper. Add the codfish to the pan and sauté until the fish is golden brown on the bottom along with the thyme and garlic, about 6-8 minutes, rubbing the garlic against the fish a few times, lowering the heat if necessary to prevent from burning. Turn the fish over and finish cooking the fish for another 2-3 minutes, until a metal skewer can be easily inserted into the fish and, when left in for 5 seconds, feels just warm when touched to the lip.

Spoon basquaise onto plates, place sautéed cod in the center and serve immediately.

Linguine with sea urchin sauce and caviar.

Two thousand and ten. I may just be getting old, but that doesn’t seem right.  It seems like, in 2010, we should be zooming around in flying cars.  Or teleporting.  Talking to aliens, at least. When I was a kid, to be honest, I thought we’d all be dead by 2010, though I was always a little pessimistic.  But still, here we are: 2010.  Wow.

A mess

We don’t have flying cars yet (and I never really understood why we wanted them–we have airplanes, no?) and, as far as I know, we haven’t reached any aliens; but I have something that’ll knock those things out of the water: linguine with sea urchin sauce and caviar.  Happy New Year.

Treasure

If you’ve never tried sea urchin, you really must.  (Though go out to a nice restaurant to do it; the smell of uncleaned sea urchin could deter anyone from a first bite.)  To me, the flavor tastes more like the ocean than mussels, with their blue brininess, or even oysters, which run a close second.  Sea urchin smells and tastes ancestral, primitive.  It’s extremely sexy.  Well, once you get past the part where you’ll need to put on thick rubber gloves so as not to stab yourself.

Sea urchin

My first taste of sea urchin was at Nobu Next Door, the first time I took Jim out to dinner.  He had been taking me out a lot, to Cafe Boulud, and Babbo, and Gotham Bar and Grill, spending the money from his book advance, and I wanted to reciprocate.  We drove into the city, showed up at Nobu without reservations, and were directed to their sister restaurant, Next Door.  I told the waitress to bring us whatever she liked.  I struggled with my chopsticks and one ended up on the neighboring table (thankfully, the couple was wonderful, and gently urged me to eat with my fingers.)  I nearly had a heart attack when the check came; I’d been working part-time at Barnes & Noble and finishing my senior year of college, and I think the dinner was close to a whole month’s paycheck.  I walked out with a bit of sticker shock, but as it wore off, I realized that I would have paid that and more, if only for the introduction to sea urchin. I was so in love with the stuff and I’m sure I made a fool of myself at the dinner, goofy-faced and swooning, exclaiming that it tasted like the ocean in a cloud.

Twirl

The next time I tried sea urchin, at a place-that-shall-remain-nameless in the Hamptons, it was decidedly less impressive; the piece was too large, the urchin’s flavor more like the dregs of the sea than the waves.  I hadn’t had it since, until this New Year’s Eve.  I’m happy to report that it was just as good—better!—than the first time.  Parmigiano reggiano and butter compliment the sea urchin’s brininess, a flawless combination that pleasantly surprised me; the fishiness of the caviar brings out the urchin’s sweetness.  The sauce coated each strand of pasta in just the right, silky way (you need good, dried pasta for this; fresh would make the overall texture too soft).  It was easy enough to pull off after a few glasses of champagne, too.

American paddlefish caviar

This year had been one of ups and downs.  The ups have been really high.  The downs, way down.  But as I look back at 2009, I’m amazed at where I am with my cooking, my relationship with Jim, my happiness with myself and the place we live, how much I love this blog.  I feel like things are just getting started.  2010 will be a good year, even without teleportation.

Linguini with sea urchin and caviar

Linguine with Sea Urchin Sauce and Caviar

serves 4, adapted from Eric Ripert’s On the Line

I’m still failing at my mission to find Espelette pepper, so I replaced it with fresh black pepper in this recipe.  I also used American paddlefish caviar instead of Iranian osetra caviar because it’s sustainable and costs a lot less than the upwards of $500 you can spend for the Iranian.  I’ve had both in my lifetime and, especially in a recipe like this, you won’t feel cheated with paddlefish.

The Sea Urchin Sauce

½ cup sea urchin roe (the pink stuff inside)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted, good quality butter, softened
1 tablespoon water
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

The Pasta

1 ½ teaspoons thinly sliced chives
1 tablespoon freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
½ lemon, or to taste

The Garnish

1 ounce American paddlefish caviar, or to taste

For the sea urchin sauce, puree the sea urchin roe in a blender, scraping down the side with a rubber spatula so that no big pieces remain unblended.  Pass it  through a fine-mesh sieve, and return to the blender.  Blend the puree with the softened butter.

To finish the sauce, bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan.  Gradually whisk in the sea urchin butter, about 1 tablespoon at a time.  Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.

When reader to serve, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente; drain.

Put the chives in a medium stainless steel bowl, add the warmed sauce and Parmesan cheese, and mix well.  Season with salt and white pepper if necessary.  Gently toss the pasta with the sauce.

To serve, use a meat fork to twirl one-quarter of the pasta and mound it in the center of a small bowl.  Repeat 3 times.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the sauce remaining in the stainless steel bowl around each mound.  Squeeze the lemon juice over the pasta and place 1 ½ teaspoons of the caviar on top of each mound of pasta.  Serve immediately.