Merci-donnant 2011: Édition Spéciale “Nouvelle Frangleterre“ n. 3 Monday, Jan 2 2012 

Thanksgiving 2011: Special “New Frangland” Edition.

Part III.  Turkey Delivery

Dinner seen through rosy early 20th century glasses.

Happy New Year, dearest faithful and hopelessly sexually repressed readers. Forgive the brevity, but commuting has sapped free time. Consider relieving your New Year’s Eve shame with this delightful –albeit tardy- ultimate TG2011 installment as you hopelessly milk the clock –managers or worker bees alike.

Hell, its been almost 6 weeks and at this point flexing any turkeyday muscles is just a formality.  Still, if a pair of contraceptive diaphragms remain in your desk drawer and weren’t taken to your holiday party, put them in over your glasses because you are about to get fucked in the eyes.

A delectable variety of seasonally appropriate garden accoutrements preceded the roast of honor.

Baby cabbages, or whatever. From Belgium with flavor.

Brussels sprouts, savory and tart.  Blanched in water seasoned to theWestern Atlantic’s liking then agitated with red onions cooked in plenty of lard and made vibrant with lemon juice.

Holla-flower. #gratiné

Heirloom cauliflower à la Polonaise.  Yellow, purple, and romanesco.  A béchamel supplemented with the stalks.  Eggs barely boiled, split and nestled within the brassica valleys.  A generous dusting of lemon zest, garlic and bread crumbs toasted in poultry fat –butter not readily available from a turkey no matter how hard you milk it.  Given the tanning salon treatment  in an oven until deliciously crunchy.  Verdant, tender, firm, rich, crisp, saucy, hearty.

Roast cleavage.

And then there was the heritage Virginia bird.  Brined in a solution of salt and maple syrup.  Left to dry overnight then roasted over a bedding of vegetable aromatics and sliced lemon to the goldest of golden.

Thigh-roller.

As for the leggy appendages, ballotines, naturally.  Puréed, seasoned garnish with thigh meat, fatback, cranberries, fatback and expertly rolled up, as one would an XXXL reefer and roasted with fresh cranberries and chestnuts.  Superb.

Tastes charming as well.

No bird can go to the ball without a proper dressing, or in this case, saupiquet –a gravy made from reduced turkey stock and thickened with the seared liver.  Then some confit gizzard chopped up in there.

I am the gizzard king.

Pan Coudoun.Languedocfavorite. Candied quince baked in whole wheat bread.  Chewy crumb, aromatic crust, sweet filling.

Nature’s candy in a gluten wrapper.

Frangipane pagentry.

 Pumpkin and ricotta frangipane tart.  Courtesy a friend in the industry.  To top it; honey-cream cheese iced cream.  Wonderfully flaky crust.  Fragrant frangipane, sweet pumpkin and just a little bit of sour from the ricotta.  A fitting closure washed down with Pachernc.

Gilded arches.

An exceptional evening whose fare was only made as enjoyable as the company.

Thank you guests.

Soirée Germinal Monday, Apr 18 2011 

Germinal evening

Crowning achievement

As our homely rock tilts predictably closer to the alleged center of the universe our alarm clocks cast wider shadows and we shuffle out the door every morning just a bit closer to the sun. It is a season of renewal and rebirth where buds burgeon, stalks spout, trees regain their plumage and bird calls remind revelers that their amphetamine binge is losing flight. Such earthly order did not go unnoticed by the revered French whose Revolutionary calendar  honored the season with a Germinal appellation and daily plant-name attributions.

Meanwhile, some growth was going on upstairs.  Consequently, a topical spring and regeneration menu was conceived with as many hallmarks of the season that could be acquired.  Said menu was then delicately drawn by a charming local artist whose soothing sensitivity to old timey Art Nouveau illustrations, adroit brushstrokes and particularly infectious laugh are well received by the household.

With the earth slightly out of winter kilter, the oceans have a tendency to slosh around a bit and that inexplicably drives all the salmon up rivers and streams where they reunite with others and make the sex, (like the folks upstairs did) as Animal Planet would have us believe.  Or they crash into you and your bicycle.

A very good looking menu.

Gravlax-oology
Zen sliced panela cured sockeye salmon, some spears of manicured asparagus and eggs “Evelyn”.

Aïgo sao d’iou
A clearly spring garlic soup with bits of chicken and a nicely poached egg.

Crown rack of lamb “Mazarine”
Nestled among artichokes stuffed with spring flavors, fragrant brown rice and a few handsomely fluted mushrooms

Cheese
Mt.Tam, Red Hawk, Ossau-Iraty

Frangipane tart
With a smattering of pistachios and turbinado sugar.

Asparagus high water mark.

Herring, though delicious, migrate in the same fascinating numbers, but are more difficult to find in their whole raw state and the cacophony of tangled bones is enough of a deterrent. Salmon floated to the top of the list, preferably in a salt-cured “gravlax” preparation as past file-cabinet device smoking fumigated the apartment more than it flavored the fish. A quick study on eggs, “Egg Evelyn”, namesake of the mother to be would provide delectable & aesthetic harmony. Rounding out the rhythm section of this 3 piece Motherly orchestra would be asparagus, which, when deftly peeled, naturally, conjures spring as well as male virility.

Send in the clones.

Sockeye salmon is the desired variety based on color, size, fat content and flavor, though they are not available until mid summer, suggesting that the portion purchased was invariable frozen from the previous year. No big deal. The salmon was cured with a mixture of 4% sodium chloride, 2% panela, 1% ground foeniculum/coriandrum sativum by the weight of the thing, the zest of 1 rutaceae, then left to cure for exactly 46hrs 38minutes 23.6 seconds after which it was rinsed with dihydrogen monoxide and left to develop a pellicile in the ice box. Whence a sufficient pellicile was achieved, the gravlax was sliced parallel and away from the bloodline with graceful Mahāyāna concentration to ensure even rectangular pieces and profound inner peace.

A spoonful of unrefined sugar helps the cure go down.

Asparagus no slenderer than an elegant woman’s manicured finger was selected and given similar treatment courtesy a paring knife, peeler, laser, lathe, paraffin wax then a quick dip in both seasoned boiling water & iced water and finally left to drip dry in a colander to the mellow salon sounds of piano hotshot Sigismond Thalberg.

Asparagus: concerto in Major F’in peeling.

Finally, mixed-martial arts themed “free/open range/cage” chicken eggs were boiled as per the Escoffier edict (start in appropriately sized pot with enough cold, salted water to cover eggs and count 8 magic minutes* after boiling. Plunge in ice water and then remove shell with DIY eggstractor which functions as a rudimentary DIY penis pump/glory hole for hurried perverts).  Eggs were eggscavated then stuffed with a filling made from the yolks, sour cream, mustard, gravlax scraps, olive oil, Swedish vinegar, pickled peppers, capers, salt then topped with wild salmon roe to suggest the egg within the fine lady upstairs.

Eggceptional.

Some pea shoots, wild watercress, carrots, beets and radishes were gussied up with sherry-shallot-basement apartment-aged vinegar vinaigrette with a splash on the asparagus bundles, fleur de sel here & there and paraded out to the table.

As seen in Charlie Trotter “Jealous”.

Continuing with the egg theme, the egg’s matron was used in its entirety to make a humble provençal soup and highlight the properties of its parts. Stock was made from the bird and spring garlic. Feet (this bird had lots of them) were roasted for additional body and flavor, egg whites comprised the clarifying raft, leg meat was poached, as were eggs, culminating in a clarified broth with some chicken meat and an egg.

Odalisque Poulaga.

Aïgo sau d’iou. A clearly spring garlic soup with some bits of chicken and a poached egg.  A little of something for everyone from everything.

Jurassic feat.

Soup was clear, bright, flavorful, offered a lightly pungent aroma of spring garlic and an enjoyable course of distraction while the main event was quietly composed nearby.

How do you do, Aïgo sau diou?

The apogee –and personal Hillary Step- of the evening was what invariably looks better in the mind rather than on the platter: crown rack of lamb with elements of the traditional Mazarine garnish (artichoke bottoms stuffed with jardinière, rice, mushrooms). In this representation, artichoke bottoms were dutifully filled with fava beans, brown rice, spring onions, red onions, lemon zest and butter while small white onions, baby white turnips and handsomely fluted mushrooms casually filled the center of the roast.

Two massive racks of a mutton sized lamb were hacked away from the spine with a flannelled woodsman’s dexterity, patiently frenched, chine bones removed, scored then impatiently glued together with transglutaminase, courtesy a dear colleague  who does remarkable things with food and sacked Michael Vick twice while in college **. While the meat glue works well for Arby’s “Roast “Beef” (actually shin and other less desirable “cuts” resourcefully glued together)” and downunder blowhard Adam Melonis’s stupid octopus lollipop, it didn’t really hold the ends of the racks together and the racks had to be seared individually anyway.

Boned, the French way.

After searing, the racks were sewn together with kitchen twine using a single loop at the top and bottom of the loin then wrapped a few times to maintain the crown’s shape. Voluptuous booties were cheerfully constructed by the aforementioned artist upon consulting a few prototypes and self fastened with nimble folds. Once roasted, rested and warmed, the bones were shod with booties, artichokes stuffed and arranged, the center of the crown filled with people fodder and the composition given its red carpet moment before gracefully holding court at the table. Though not extraordinary, the flavor of the lamb was good. It would have benefited from a proper red wine and vinegar marinade. However, it was tender and well cooked, though just a whisper and wink short of the desired «à point» medium, and did not carry the excessive saddle-bags of unpleasant lamb fat odor not uncommon in husky Colorado raised specimens.

The majesty’s boneyard.

Surrounding vegetable garnishes were quite respectable. Artichokes bottoms « cuits dans un blanc » (cooked in a flour and water mixture with lemon juice and a splash of olive oil) were tender, uniformly colored and succulent with just the right amount of acidity while the filling indicated many compass points of flavor–richness from the butter and olive oil, favas providing starchiness, nutty brown rice, sweet and acidic red onions glazed in olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice, sharp green crunch with the scallion tops and finishing fleur de sel from l’Île du Noirmoutier. Garnish within the meaty walls were an earthier contrast to the verdant moat. Small onions and sweet white turnips slowly bathed in butter, olive oil and a splash of vinegar along with mushrooms cooking in a similar fashion as the artichokes so as to preserve the color and acquiring notes of richness and acidity from the olive oil and lemon juice.

Fancy-full feast.

An accompanying olive sauce was made with lamb trimmings, some sort of chicken stock from the freezer, rosemary and cured black olives. More of an afterthought since Hollandaise was initially envisioned but scarcity of time, hands and eggs scuttled such an operation. Not much of the lamb was left outside of bones stripped clean of flesh. Well within the parameters of success for a pioneering engineering feat though future versions will include a 24 hour marinade and slower/longer cookery to attain a more desirable medium doneness throughout.

A penultimate selection of cheeses: Ossau-Iraty (French raw sheep’s milk and personal favorite), Mt Tam (triple cream California sheep, cow and goat) and Red Hawk (stinky triple cream washed rind cow milk) and some of the Mrs’s walnut bread allowed all to decompress and coat their palates with rich dairy before a closing of desert and digestif.

Having had success with frangipane, a rhubarb version was planned though searches were fruitless and came up empty. Pistachios however were abundant and incorporated into an updated frangipane batter in which the almonds were toasted, coaxing more sweetness and roasted almond flavor.

Shell shock. (not some, but all the pistachios they had)

The mixture was cooked in a double boiler rather than directly in a pot and yielded a delicious, even texture. Pâte sucrée was blind baked, the filling poured in and baked at 325ºF so that it would swell nicely as it had in previous versions. Sadly, it did not. Not sure why. The moisture within should have expanded it (Charles Law) but nothing happened. The uninflated but not totally deflated tart was sprinkled with turbinado sugar for a little sweet crunch. Topped with a soothing quenelle  of whipped cream.

Frangiflat...

All was washed down with a spiced sleep inducing elixir: cordial glasses of my very own bottle of fantastic Root liqueur. A perfect finale to the opening primavera cocktail offered by the patriarch upstairs; a refreshingly fragrant vodka and citrus soda aperitif scented with coriander.

Root, root root for the home team.

The evening was a tremendous success in that the guests enjoyed each others’ pleasant company and there was enough appetizing food and drink to go around.

*(same as normal minutes)
** in practice

Tacksägelsedagen Thursday, Nov 25 2010 

Tacksägelsedagen 2010

Fancy pilgrim galleons no match for proper pillaging.

Through frigid swells, Icelandic maelstroms and Faroese oe (nod to brevity Scrabble™ hotshots), on Bjarni Herjólfsson’s lapstrake constructed knar, a weathered crew of sea savvy slaves navigated by OG/P (original gangsta/pimpgrim) Leif Ericson  is alleged to have discovered North America.  Just a whiff of the dragon ship and/or its salty mariners would have curdled the prude migratory fantasies of the Mayflower’s prim & proper pansies. Decidedly and accordingly, a Nordic flavored feast would prevail over contemporary New Englandish mish-mashes of green beans, marshmallows and awfully starchy or achingly sweet varieties of potatoes in mashed form.  Antique French glasswares and Scandinavian flatwares befitting Babette’s table would be in order.

Glass class. Skøl.

The numbers: 1 millennia since the Norse discovery of North America, 1 month’s menu foresight,  1  fortnight’s worth of labor and a few days of anxiety over whether a proper bird would be attained and pledged guests in attendance.  A 25lb Pennsylvania raised heritage turkey was obtained and the guest list swelled from an anemic 7 to a gouty, tightly packed 11, consistent with the intrinsically Danish standard of life (Rick Harrison, grand wizard of historical bric-a-brac from Pawn Stars was high on the guest list but unavailable).

The fundamental cultural hallmark of Danish year’s end awesomeness vibe is “hygge” (h-ewe-guh), something candlelit and warm nestled somewhere comfortably within the realm of “cozy” and “tranquil”.   The mesmerizing absence of anything even slightly irritating, annoying, grating, overwhelming, i.e., greedy social conservatives, self-entitled diners, mouth breathers and urban residents unwilling to make even modest concessions for the sake of harmonious city living and/or humanity.

 

The evening began with a variation of glögg made with one of the guest’s seasonal, exceedingly artisanal pear wine crafted with cursory sanitation practice and flirting with  the zombie equivalent of wine: vinegar.  A healthy dose of vodka, toasted almonds, currants,  cranberries and some heat made it a potable social lubricant.  After polishing off the glögg any and all buzzed guests were seated to the carefully set table where traditional holiday starters were pleasantly passed around.

Before the devil knows your spread.

Gravad laks: 1 and 2 day salt/sugar cured sockeye salmon, mustard seed and caraway/juniper respectively, the former having benefited from an extra day of drying and produced a better pellicule than the later which was more moist.

Matjes: herring pickled in my red wine vinegar which was made possible with wine dumped from Halloween wine box bladders and some of Logan’s mother.  Fresh herring not being readily available, the salted variety was procured, degorged in cold water and then covered in the vinegar with shallot rings, bay leaf and peppercorns.  After a week in the pickle, the mackerel was drained and covered with a mixture of grapeseed and olive oil whose richness balanced the acidity.

Leverspostej: Danish liver and anchovy pâté made with pig liver and anchovies.  The forcemeat was puréed twice then introduced to the business end of a food processor with the addition of a béchamel panade.  The mixture was wrapped in bacon, baked in a waterbath and aside from being seasoned too timidly (not enough spice or anchovy), the final product was moist, properly cooked and offered an enjoyable texture.

Leverpostej was accompanied by cauliflower pickles: romanesco, cheddar and purple cauliflower with carrot, lemon zest, red onion, aromatics, 3% salt and a mixture of water, white wine vinegar and 24% ättiksprit (Swedish vinegar).  Delicious.  The romanesco fractals being delicate and visually stunning (pioneered in space by joint NASA/EU aerospace/agriculture scientists), the cheddar nicely crunchy while the purple’s staining properties encouraged guests not to be sloppy.  Olive oil glazed radishes finished with vinegar rounded out the accoutrements.

Nordic study on getting your pickle tickle.

3 loaves of rugbrød, traditional Danish rye bread were made though the results erred to the side of unconventional what with a much chewier crumb and hearth bread loaf shape.  Rye flour/buttermilk starter provided a portion of the leavening agent and was supplemented with yeast, twice the recommended amount since the beer (King Cobra malt liquor –softball leftover) was hastily added from the fridge at a frosty, possibly yeast killing temperature.  In addition to rye and higher gluten bread flour, a variety of grains and such were incorporated into the dough:  rye seeds, millet, oats, caraway, flax seed, ball bearings, woodchips and shrimp shells.  Aside from excessive coloration on the bottom of the bread from the oven stone –reminiscent of asphalt and embarrassingly cut away- the bread had respectable crust, crumb and chew.

Aquavit, in the rocks.

Shots of Krogstad aquavit,  captivatingly encased in ice and neighborhood shrubbery trimmings were offered between courses and kept the guests limber.

Torsksuppe: Cod’s head soup revisited.  Fish fumet from the collars with aromatics, thickened with a roux then finished by poaching the cheeks and tongues in the soup and rounding out the affair with lemon zest, celery, celeriac and potato.  Croutons with cod roe in a tube would have been rendered the soup unstoppable.

Gøbble, gøbble.

Meet the meat of the matter.  25lb Confucius style Pennsylvania raised heritage turkey with a closer, natural breast to leg meat ratio.  Turkey leg tendons are an affront to any civilized “hygge” palate and are routinely, painstakingly, though expertly removed so that the dark meat can be manipulated in a fashion deemed worthy and reflective of the culinary theme.  Past leg up endeavors have seen the limb presented as succulent kofta (Turkish meatballs) with giblets and raisins or brilliant ballotines flaunting a fluted mushroom entourage.  Keeping in stride with Nordic elements, tendon-free meat-feet Frickadeller (Danish meatballs) were proposed.  Turkey meat, egg, parsley, clove, black pepper juniper, 20% pork, 10% fatback and 5% bread crumb and 1.3% salt by the weight of both meats were ground, shaped and roasted in a 450ºF oven.  Stock was made from the bones, neck, calf’s foot and aromatics in which the frickadeller were cooked until tender.  The cooking liquid was thickened with a roux then garnished with boiled golden beets, dried cranberries and eventually blanched Brussels sprouts.

Roasted with apples & prunes. Sleep inducing, but keeps you regular.

The breast of the beast was injected with and left to soak 2 days in a wintry spiced brine.  Once rinsed and patted dry, it rested on a comfortable bed of vegetables, some aromatics and roasted in a balmy oven for a couple hours, turning around every so often and getting a juicy basting.  Sleek, turned braeburn apple wedges and pitted prunes (typical Nordic roast accompaniments and beneficial for digestion)  flattered the roast like adulating geriatric fans. Though not much of a revelatory bird, it was sufficiently moist, well seasoned, photogenic and found harmony with the sweet-tart cranberry sauce detailed by clove, orange zest, honey, turbinado sugar, rosemary, cinnamon and salt.

Jansson’s temptation: delectable, traditional Swedish holiday potato gratin with a central layer of savory caramelized onions and salty sprat  infused cream (anchovies are suitable replacements); a  personal Thanksgiving/Christmas staple.

A traditional Swedish holiday thing aside from intensely repressed glögg inebriation: Scalloped potatoes baked in cream with a middle layer of caramelized onions and pickled sprats -bit smaller than a herring. Anchovies erroneously found their way into the American version since sprats are called ansjovis by Swedes, whereas anchovies fall under the sardeller appellation.

The three folkloric Norse origins of Jansson’s Temptation’s legend are inconclusive and subject to very little debate by neither mythological conspiracy enthusiasts nor epicurean historians.

*Some suspect the namesake of the dish to be Per Adolf “Pelle” Janzon, a gluttonous 19th century opera singer whose troubadour regimen allegedly consisted of beer, schnapps and the dish which won him marginal posthumous celebrity on the 40th anniversary of his expiration date.

*Gunnar Stigmark, author of the Gastronomisk Kalender hopelessly attributes the dish to the eponymous 1928 Swedish silent-movie box-office flop starring Edvin Adolphson.

*Hippie publishers of the 1967 American Heritage Cookbook believed that Erik Jansson, the really pious Swedish religious reformer who founded Bishop Hill, Ill in 1846 (2000 census pop. 125) was spied eating a decadent dish of anchovies and potatoes bound with rich, creamery butter and farm fresh milk. Janssonist zealots considered Jansson to be the second coming of Christ and cursed the dish as Jansson’s Temptation. He was murdered in 1850.

*Rumored inspiration for the Swedish Chef is also lukewarmly contested.

Conceptual stuffing was represented with pearl barley, handsomely manicured winter root vegetables (rutabaga, celery root, parsnips, carrots, turnips and red pearl onions) lathered in butter, dusted with bread crumbs then baked until chestnut brown and crispy.  The dish stretched the definition of stuffing, yet root vegetables glazed until tender in olive oil then finished in Swedish vinegar (to highlight the colors and interrupt the cooking process) dutifully showcased year’s end austere, often overlooked produce.

Alongside celebratory shots of akvavit, havarti and Saga Danish blue were passed around with one of the guest’s lovely challah bread while the æbleskiver cooked and a guest hid a prize winning almond in one of the bowls of his novel aerated rice pudding: classical rice pudding, puréed and ejected from an iSi dispenser.

deflætedskiver. Out of føcus too.

Æbleskiver batter (flour, butter, vanilla, egg yolks, sugar, milk, whipped egg whites, baking powder) was poured into a buttered monk’s pan, flipped and recommended that they be dipped in quince jelly or chestnut honey.  The batter required more leavening agents since they did not rise into the characteristic spheres.  Otherwise, they tasted good and went well with their sweet accompaniments and having never had æbleskiver before, there was no benchmark for objective grading.

Overall, the dinner guests made the evening a success, save for some unfortunate lapses in lexicon with an 11 year old at the table which would have promptly filled a swear jar.  All were well behaved, affable, indiscriminately hungry, courteous,  didn’t break anything and relieved the refrigerator from leftovers and subsequent 4am snacking potential.

Un Poulet, Frappé d’une Belle Fille Wednesday, May 12 2010 

Smitten man’s chicken

A classy chick doesn’t show any leg.

Taking a cue from nature, this bird tried to seduce another, with a larger, roasted bird.  Ginger brined, Confucius-style (head & feet still attached, hasn’t been ef’ed with, just as Confucius would)  roasted chicken, actually.  Ginger as a nod to Eastern cultural sensibilities, wheat berries for a wholesome, noble and humble demeanor; manicured asparagus to evoke spring and mimic those properly groomed fingernails; fluted mushrooms for masculine showmanship and flexing of deft hands; soffritto made with lemon zest, chili  and my8 month cured lardo di Mt. Pleasant. Frilly paper booties covered up any unsightly, severed feet; hopefully better crafted than all the other paper booties the young lady has had made for her by potential 2nd date dinner companions.

Brined, bound & buttered. Duck fat too.

A 4lb bird from Culver Duck farms.  Head was tossed while neck & feet were reserved to make a rich, though simple jus.  The thing was then left to do its thing for 4 days in a 3% brine primarily flavored with fresh ginger, cinnamon, clove, chili and rosemary.   1 day prior to roasting the wishbone was removed (as with any properly prepared bird) the creature trussed and left to dry 1 day in the fridge so as to achieve crisp skin when roasting

Chocolate truffles? Who is this suitor?  Only natural when the  brain-scramblingly stunning  lady in question has the style and etiquette to show up on bicycle with nary a sign of make-up, pickled rhubarb and a bottle of Hendrick’s.   Hazelnut & rum ganache.  Some with fleur de sel de l’Île de Noirmoutier, some without, others with some swirly stuff going on that can not be accounted for, but it looks sharp.  Sure does.

Much, much better than brown eggs.

Chicken gets the chick? Not likely.  Despite what could be recorded as one of the pretty damned good dates in Western civilization, the chicken was undercooked.  Whatever.  There is always Scrabble, but it sucks to play by yourself.

Julbord. Monday, Jan 4 2010 

Swedish Christmas table

Amish dough table, actually.

Inclement weather remnants, frantic holiday motorists, faulty zippers and not being able to remember a telephone number other than my own conspired to form a Mid-Atlantic maelstrom of some real F’ed-mas cheer.  Finding that my childhood 80 sq ft room’s dresser drawers were being used as a trash receptacle  for an unemployed 43 yr old hermit’s empty Kodiak dip cans, candy wrappers, loose change and food containers did little to liven the mood.  Even less after he threatened to place his fist in my old man’s face.  Some Nordic booze in ice provided a well deserved, albeit temporary analgesic distraction.

Linie Akvavit, chilling.  Up yours Martha Stewart.

Then saw an excellent movie about an emotionally vacant man, his accordingly suited job and his seminar schtick.  Such continuity in a story is what every menu should strive for. It left a remarkable  impression.  Anvil did the same in validating purpose and determination, albeit financially and professionally unsuccessful as is the case for most purist epicureans and craftsmen who do what they do for the self-rewarding passion.

7 Jews, 2 Swedish shiksa and the reclusive aforementioned temperamental groundhog descended upon a nicely set table on the Eve of Christmas day to feast on Sweden’s limited end of year bounty.  Swedish matron provided all the Swedish herring.  I provided the brined herring for the matjes which could have benefited from another fortnight’s worth of soaking to easy the stunningly salty brine.  Aunts Mimi, Bunny and Nan made the cookies.  91 year old Uncle Max brought the depraved teenage libido.

Hobo Jultomten.

Menu

Tre Sorters sill  – Three kinds of herring
Matjes sill  – Soused herring
Rökt lax – Smoked salmon
Sill salad –  Herring salad
Grav lax – Cured salmon
Jansons frestelse –  Janson’s temptation
Prins korv –   Prince sausage
Julskinka –  Christmas ham
Köttbullar –  Swedish meatballs
Rödkål –  Red cabbage
Rödbetor –  Pickled beets
Gurksallad –  Cumucber salad
Lingon  – Lingonberries
Ris a là Malta –  Rice porridge
Små kakor –   Small cookies

The 3 varieties of pickled herring were served in sauced of red wine vinegar, dill cream and mustard.  Matjes was another type of milder, smaller, immature herring and salt-brined rather than pickled.  The herring salad was assembled from mature herring in a very strong brine which were soaked in milk overnight in  a hasty attempt to degorge the salt.  It didn’t work too well as the dish was still considerably salty.  The grav lax was made at home, the smoked salmon was not.

Fish fit for Viking. Some by Abba (not the band).

Jansson’s Temptation is where it gets interesting, a less familiar dish but very representative of Nordic fare:  pickled sprats, potatoes, cream and onions.  The potatoes are cut into batons, smaller than the French Pont Neuf cut and randomly strew about a buttered baking dish with a layer of sprats and thinly sliced onion rings in the middle, covered with cream and finished with a top layer of onions cut in the same fashion.  It is essentially a gratin Dauphinois, augmented with the onions and sprats.  The sprats permeate the cream and give the otherwise rich and 2 dimensional dish notes of acidity and pleasant salty fishiness.  The Frenchified Thanksgiving version consisted of thinly sliced potatoes with a middle layer of caramelized onions deglazed with water and a lemon juice, thyme, dried chili and anchovies, then covered with nutmeg infused cream.

Anchovies erroneously found their way into international versions since sprats are called ansjovis by Swedes, whereas anchovies fall under the sardeller appellation.

The three folkloric Norse origins of Jansson’s Temptation’s legend are inconclusive and subject to very little debate by neither mythological conspiracy enthusiasts nor epicurean historians.

Some suspect the namesake of the dish to be Per Adolf “Pelle” Janzon, a gluttonous 19th century opera singer whose troubadour regimen allegedly consisted of beer, schnapps and the dish which won him marginal posthumous celebrity on the 40th anniversary of his expiration date.

Gunnar Stigmark, author of the Gastronomisk Kalender hopelessly attributes the dish to the eponymous 1928 Swedish silent-movie box-office flop starring Edvin Adolphson.

Hippie publishers of the 1967 American Heritage Cookbook believed that Erik Jansson, the really pious Swedish religious reformer who founded Bishop Hill, Ill in 1846 (2000 census pop. 125) was spied eating a decadent dish of anchovies and potatoes bound with rich, creamery butter and farm fresh milk. Janssonist zealots considered Jansson to be the second coming of Christ and cursed the dish as Jansson’s Temptation. He was murdered in 1850.

Blonde and blue dyed Nobel prize piece.

Yours truly brought the cooked ham from DC to Long Island where it was decorated.  The shank end of the picnic ham (minus the butt) was injected and brined for 5 days in a 5%/2.5% salt/turbinado sugar solution with #1, cinnamon, clove, allspice, rosemary, gumdrops, orange zest, garlic and chili after which it was left to dry and develop a pellicule.

The ham was then smoked in the faulty file-cabinet smoker which due to its placement in an alcove outside the back door manages to efficiently smoke the apartment when the door opens.  Hickory chips were burned on the electric hot plate at the bottom of the file-cabinet and the ham placed on a rack in what would be the second drawer whose base had been removed.  Once sufficient smokage was attained, the ham was cooked in seasoned “smiling” water for an internal temperature of 150F.  The resulting liquid was traditionally clarified  with egg whites,  gelled with additional gelatin and colored upon arrival at the holiday destination.

Few, if any foods are blue in nature and food coloring sleight of hand was required.  Turmeric provided the yellow…and was boosted with some yellow from the food-coloring 4-pack for good measure.  A cross mold was cut into cardboard, lined with plastic wrap and filled with the yellow aspic.  The blue aspic was poured into a dish and cut to fit the flag design.  A clear coat of aspic was poured where the skin was removed and the flag elements were “glued” to the ham.  More clear aspic was applied to seal the pieces.  Romanesco, yellow and purple cauliflower were pickled (the purple separately) in 24% ättiksprit (Swedish vinegar) with carrots, carawy, lemon zest and chili.

An assortment of home made cookies and strong coffee trumpeted the finale.  The host chef got the almond in the porridge and modestly won the prize, which she instinctively shared with everyone.

Små kakor taste better than it reads.

Christ is Björn: Though Christmas is fundamentally a Christian holiday and I bear a Semitic surname, it has always been a secular feast day to enjoy with the Protestant French and something Swedish maternal sides of the family.  Oysters, shrimp, pork and many other not kosher items have graced the 10 Swedish versions which have all been attended by a Jewy majority with a supermarket style choice of faith.  The herring were all bought canned from Sweden with the exception of the heavily brined herring which I brought up as well and not much can be said for their taste other than the consistency with last years.  Grav lax was a little wet and could have been cured differently, but it was not my event.  The Nordic breads were immensely satisfying, particularly the dense home made multigrain loaf rägbröd.  The harder circular rye flatbread knäckebröd is a sturdy instrument for herding food items onto a fork and an important nod to the Viking heritage.

The ham was very well prepared and pleased all palates.  The aspic was a kitschy delight for the Swedes and Heb’s alike.  The generous holiday buffet was a delicious representation of  fundamental Nordic ingredients, traditional preparations and humble compositions.    Tack så mycket, or tak for mad as the beloved Danish ladies would garble.

Holiday bush with Nordic trim.


Thanksgiving 2009, the recapitulation. Saturday, Nov 28 2009 

TG09: Old World France meets New World America.

A moderate case of PTD (post-turkey depression) affected the host after having cogitated then gestated the menu and its formulations for the better part of 3 weeks, but the dinner was not  offered without gustatory success. No breakage, pretty girls and a weekend of early morning grazing on tryptophan & cheese scraps with fingers by the twilight of the Frigidaire brought savory solace, albeit cold and perishable.

Exemplary guests provided long sought company, anecdotes and booze.

Preamble: My Mt. Pleasant dry cured sausage, turkey pâté en croûte with currants,  Chris Bradley’s blood pudding and a salt cod brandade in the style of Nîmes. Pickled purple cauliflower accoutrement and mulled cider to warsh it all down, adulterated with some trickle of George Dickel’s whisky for some social lubricant. The pâté en croûte was not as successful at the pâté pantin poultry edition in terms of pastry crust which was far too wet.  Escoffier’s measurements called for far too much water (2dl water for 25ogr flour), though such proportions were respected on account of the esteemed author’s reputation.  The same pâte á foncer proportions were used in the coq en pâte prototype  with diastrously wet results but technique and choice of fats may have been the culprit.  Whatever the case, notes were taken the recipe has been adjusted for future endeavors.  The  cooked pastry tasted good but was not as flaky as it could/should have been but was removed from the over for fear of overcooking the forcemeat.  The forcemeat  however–turkey, pork, chicken livers, cooked gizzards and hearts marinated in gin and augmented with currants was satisfying. Aspic was of the proper consistency, though perhaps a bit too sweet as a result of the crappy sweet wine used.  Patience and the fundamental practice  of  waiting for the pâté to cool before applying the aspic was not respected causing the aspic to run through a seam that did not have time to seal upon cooling.

Turkey trimmings in a savory pastry sarcophagus.

Variations of tubesteak.

Pickled Purple Caulimonster.

1st plated course: An almost ethereal turkey consommé with a few cauliflower-mornay agnolotti and florets of different cauliflower varieties (white, yellow and romanesco) clearly visible at the bottom.  The stock was made from chicken legs, 1/2 a turkey neck and turkey drumstick bones, the meat of the chicken legs being used for the clarifying raft, and that of the turkey for the pâté.  The other half of the turkey neck was caramelized with mirepoix and tomato purée, covered with the cold stock and clarified with a raft of ground chicken leg meat, vegetables, egg whites, salt and vinegar.   The cauliflower florets and agnolotti were blanched in advance then heated in extra stock upon serving.

Shots of Armagnac all around.

The bird: Heartier traditional sustenance manifested itself in 2 preparations of an Amish heritage turkey, a descendant of the original birds the Hittite pilgrim brought over with Columbus on the Mayflower .

Start cold turkey.

The breasts were brined on the bone and then roasted on a bed of vegetable and pear trimmings with slices of Bosc pears shingled under the skin, essentially basted with pearoultry juices.  The rest of a bothersome extra bottle of orgeat syrup replaced the sugar component of the brine (pears and almond blossom seemed compatible) and was injected into the breasts.  The shingled pears were apparent under the skin but pictures were blurry.  The ambitious vision was to reproduce a crude feather of sorts under each breast.

The legs for their part were transformed into ballotines.

Double barreled poultry.

The legs were skinned in a manner to provide the largest canvass and the meat broken down into major muscle components and any tendons removed. A forcemeat was fabricated from scraps and the remaining meat from the pâté marinade. Pistachios, dried cranberries, diced fatback and the larger turkey leg muscles were rolled into cylinders, wrapped in the skin, tied with string and poached in turkey stock with a calf’s foot until an internal temperature of 150F was attained. The poaching liquid cooked into a rich braising liquid with a tender garnish of standard mirepoix, leftover cranberries, sliced gizzards and fluted mushrooms for showmanship shits & grins. The flavor was nothing short of remarkable. Well seasoned, moist, delicious and classically refined. Nitrite was added to the forcemeat so as to ensure an appealing rosy hue rather than the drab autumnal brown.

Winner: Turkey legs in a supporting roll.

Another round of Armagnac.

Nods to the fall harvest: A gratin dauphinois. Scalloped russet potatoes with a middle layer of caramelized onion deglazed with white wine vinegar and anchovies (inspired by the Swedish Jansson’s Temptation) bound by mace and nutmeg infused cream which helped to permeate the saltiness of the filling throughout the dish.  Fresh cranberry sauce with orange zest, cloves and some more currants.  Brussels sprouts off the stalk with rutabaga, turnips, rainbow carrots, parsnips and pearl onions glazed in veal suet, finished with toasted almonds.

My rye bread was turned into stuffing with pomegranate seeds, celery root, celery stalks and their leaves. Could have benefited from further toasting of the bread.  Vehicles for sopping up the juices were sweet potato biscuits (courtesy of Mr. Bradley) and my pan coudoun: bread rolls with a segment of cooked quince inside.  The leavened biscuits were made from roasted sweet potato, lard, butter, buttermilk, flour and 2 sieved hard boiled egg yolks to absorb any excess moisture from the sweet potato.

Lou Pan Coudoun (the quince bread in Provençal dialect) was hearth bread dough with a wedge of cooked quince (oven cooked in a light syrup until tender and red) inside, then baked.  Traditional recipes called for a whole raw quince, peeled, halved, cored put back together with honey and butter inside and baked in a dense bread for 40 minutes or so which is supposed to cook the quince.  The safer M.O. was to use cooked quince and work backwards to less cooked quince.   The cooked quince were extremely soft, like firm apple sauce and not at all unpleasant.  Delectable, actually, though a little fleur de sel on the bread before baking would have balanced the sweet/salty.

Your quince charming.

Yep, more Armagnac.

Cheese: courtesy of Mr. Bradley’s affinage program.  Clockwise from center: Livarot, France;Nettle Meadow Kunik, NY; Gorwydd Caerphilly, Wales; Twig Farm Square Cheese, VT; Tarantaise, VT; Mondegueiro, Portugal; Rogue River Blue, OR.

Cheese course, of course.

Dessert: A honeycrsip apple tart with a nappage of my qunce jelly perfumed with rosemary and cinnamon.   Standard pâte sablée with 1/2 lard 1/2 butter for the fat proportion and a whisper of orange zest and ground cinnamon.

In lieu of a flower.

Ef’n Jelly. Disclosure: after countless attempts in making pectin-free apple/quince jelly, pectin was called in from the cupboard in desperation. The cursory theory appeared simple.  Cook quince scraps (cores & peelings) in water with rosemary and cinnamon,  add 55% sugar by weight, chill and glaze apple tart. Quince are heavy in natural pectin and based on numerous recipes, none such additive would be needed.  In practice the results were anything but jolly jelly.  Reduction made a remarkably tight and sticky syrup better destined for pest control than desert.  Cooking new scraps in the previously attained liquid boosted the quince flavor but did not make jelly.  Powdered pectin was considered and obtained, but in what quantity?  The properties of quince and pectin were researched and Eureka!, the gosh darn good jelly scholars at University of Minnesota, oh yah, had the explanation

A certain amount of acidity (below pH 3.5) is necessary for jelly to form. If the fruit juice is not sufficiently acidic, a gel will not form. If too much acid is present, the jelly will lose liquid or weep. Acidity can apparently be tested.  To form a gel, fruit juice should be as tart as a mixture of 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of water. If the fruit juice is not this tart, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for each cup of fruit juice.

What’s more, the kind folks up there provided a simple test for determining whether the jelly juice base has sufficient pectin to gel, which begs the question: “why jelly and not gelly?”  A tsp of the juice is mixed with rubbing alcohol and if the junk gets hard, you’re on.  If it stays limp and juicy, there is a powder for that.  Don’t drink the rubbing alcohol-quince juice mixture, unless you are a hopeless alcoholic.

The proper Ph matrix for apple/quince jelly has not yet been figured out despite 11 prototypes and a mathematically derived 11% lemon juice formula.  Quince scraps and apples were cooked in water with varying proportions of acidulated water ranging from 6.7%-11% lemon juice based on the U of M’s recommendations of 1tsp of lemon juice for 3tbsp of water for proper gelling Ph.  However, weight is a more disciplined unit of measure than volume, even if the weight and volume of both lemon juice and water are the same.  55% sugar was added to the strained liquid, cooked for 20-30 minutes each time and nothing happened. Many recipes, both French and American called for a range of a whole lemon’s worth of juice, half and none at all, despite the science that mandates a fruit juice can not gel without the 3.5Ph.  So 1% powdered pectin was grudgingly added and the damned stuff set.

Eat it, William Tell.

Coffee, cigarettes, more Armagnac and a joint or two rounded out a superlative meal helping to easy digestion and induce well deserved sleep.  Enthusiastic thanks to all the guests for allowing the host the pleasure of hosting.

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