a less thrilling braise

first frost

Happy November! I’ve decided not to do NaBloPoMo this year, but I do intend to try posting a little more often. I have enough other writing/photography projects going on that I’m not feeling up to the post-a-day commitment, but we’ll see how it goes.

dinner

We’re trying to work more new recipes into our menu planning, after what seems like  several months of making old standby-type stuff. We’re experimenting with pulling out a cookbook at random, then opening it and pointing to something. This is quite dangerous, as it can lead to strange meals of onion sauce or rice pudding, so we’re keeping it flexible. Last week I pulled out Falling Cloudberries, a book that I was wildly excited about when it came out but have never actually cooked from. I chose a promising Cypriot recipe for pork marinated in red wine and braised with coriander seed. It was, I’m sorry to say, kind of meh.

marinating

coriander

pork braise

There was nothing wrong with the pork – a roast of well marbled meat from our last pig (which is nearly gone, except for several pounds of pork belly), which I whacked up and put in a bowl with two cups of red wine the night before. I had some issues with the cooking instructions, which optimistically say to sear all of the pork in a casserole until golden. Well, first, it’s soaked in red wine, and even if you dry it off first it’s not going to sear at all unless you do only a few pieces at a time in a very hot pan. Second, it’s soaked in red wine and is dark purple, and is not going to turn “golden” no matter what you do to it at this point.

I knew what she meant, though, so I fried the pork, added in the marinade, some garlic, bay leaves and five teaspoons of lightly crushed coriander seed, cooked it until the meat started falling apart, and served it with roasted pink fingerling potatoes and some lightly wilted arugula. It was…okay. The pork flavor was overwhelmed by the wine, and the coriander was incredibly strong and acrid, not to mention kind of a weird texture. The potatoes (which turned out fantastically) and greens helped to balance, but I didn’t really like it all that much.

leftovers with an egg

The leftover pork was improved by chopping it up finely with the rest of the potatoes and cooking it up as hash with some sweet onion, then serving with an egg on top. That wasn’t bad at all.

Anyone else made this recipe, or anything else out of that book? I want to give it another chance but not sure what to try.

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Parisienne gnocchi

dinner

What are the holidays for if not to take on elaborate cooking projects that involve plenty of butter? Exactly. This week I decided to try out a gnocchi recipe from Bouchon, Thomas Keller’s tome on bistro cooking. Instead of the more typical potato or ricotta gnocchi, this is a Parisian dumpling made from pâte à choux, the same dough that makes gougères and cream puffs. It was much easier than I expected, although we did have to walk down to the kitchen store for a pastry bag, as we didn’t appear to own one.

squash

Once the gnocchi are cooked and chilled, you could use them lots of different ways, or freeze them for later. This particular recipe combines pan-fried herbed gnocchi with squash, fresh sage and shiitake mushrooms. Keller wants you to use butternut squash, which is certainly easy to work with, but you could use any sweet squash. We had delicatas and what I think are Carnival squash, or perhaps Little Dumpling, that we bought at the farmer’s market in October – I used a delicata. They’re very mild, but I like how they do in this sort of recipe.

wine

We served our gnocchi with a simple pork chop and a very nice aged Italian wine. It was delicious and festive – I’d definitely recommend it for a holiday dinner. And since I’d made a full recipe, there were plenty of leftovers…

breakfast

…which made a very, very fine breakfast with an egg on top. Mmmmm. Buttery.

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octopus hash

baby octopus

I would probably never have thought of making this if it weren’t for the “Tom’s Big Breakfast” at Lola in Seattle. A happy plateful of eggs, potatoes, peppers and octopus, I found it surprisingly delicious. So when we left Gretchen’s the other night with a container of leftover boiled potatoes and steamed baby octopus, I knew that we were going to have octopus hash for breakfast.

octopus hash with an egg

Since the leftovers were all cooked, all I needed to do was roughly chop the potatoes and toss them into a nonstick pan with a little butter and oil, letting them get good and crusty, then stir in the chopped octopus near the end to heat through. With fried eggs on top and a dab of mayonnaise mixed with habañero sauce, the result was extremely good. And very filling.

We gave the octopus heads to the cats. They all thought we were trying to poison them except Mickey, who scarfed everything we gave him. He has excellent taste.

crab and eggs

breakfast

In the annals of putting fried eggs on top of things, this breakfast came very close to perfection. Here’s how to make it.

crab

Take one Dungeness crab, cooked and cleaned.

crabmeat

Pick the meat out and set aside. Put the shell into a saucepan, cover with water, and simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Strain and keep warm.

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creamed spinach

breakfast

This one could be a candidate for Confessions of a Locavore. Local it ain’t, and neither is it particularly healthy. It is, however, highly seasonal, in that I only eat it on or around Thanksgiving. And it’s really, really good. I don’t know where the recipe originated, but it’s a staple of my husband’s family’s Thanksgivings, hosted by his Aunt Mary. No matter what else I have on my plate, I always make sure there’s plenty of room for creamed spinach.

It’s one of those dishes where I might be happier not knowing what was in it. But as Mary writes in the family cookbook, “Don’t worry about the ingredients, just enjoy.” That said, here’s what the ingredients look like before the spinach goes in:

ingredients for creamed spinach

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chips & egg

chips & egg

This is kind of embarrassing, but I can’t deny (and you’ll know this if you’ve been reading for a while) that I will put a fried egg on almost anything. And when you think about it, French fries aren’t that different from hashbrowns, right?

I don’t usually bring leftover French fries home, but these were special fries. We had lunch at Nell Thorn last weekend, after spending a quiet Sunday morning in La Conner checking out some of the Art’s Alive exhibits. Thinking we’d be restrained and share an order (after downing some incredible oyster shooters), we asked for a single Nell burger with fries and a side salad. Unfortunately for our good intentions, the kitchen cut the burger neatly in half, put each on its own plate and filled in the space around it with fries. And these are Nell Thorn fries, done with local potatoes and herbs and served with spicy house-made ketchup. We ate far too many, then just had to take the rest home. And, of course, ate them for breakfast. What would you have done?

roasted vegetables with an egg on top

poached egg with roasted veg

We were dying for vegetables after our odd weekend in the Tri-Cities, so we loaded up a shopping cart with mushrooms, onion, fennel, beets, carrot and a parsnip and took it all home to roast with olive oil and salt. I separated out the shrooms and fennel to roast together, parboiled the beets and put them in a pan with the carrot, and put the onion and parsnip in a third pan (J is not a big fan of the parsnip). When everything was caramelized and soft I tossed it all together on our plates, and topped the piles with a lovely halibut steak that I had roasted as well. It was all very fresh tasting and delicious, and made us feel that it was nice to be home (sleeping in our own bed helped, too).

So dinner was nice, but I felt the high point was lunch the next day. I was feeling inspired after seeing this post and video on poaching eggs, as well as months of reading the wonderful blog posts on Last Night’s Dinner featuring beautiful poached eggs on top of duck hash or other yummy things. I had been known to poach an egg occasionally, but usually wimped out and ended up frying them (I’m good at frying eggs, at least) and eating them for breakfast on top of leftover greens or couscous.

But I did it! It’s not as pretty as it could be, but it was perfectly done and it tasted wonderful with the roasted parsnip and beets and such, with the yolk dribbling down and mixing with the sweet vegetables juices. With a good sprinkle of fleur de sel, it was a cheery and restorative lunch.