Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Griswold Cast Iron Skillet and Osso Buco with Lemons and Olives

When I was in high school, my parents bought a beautiful lodge in West Wardsboro, Vermont – the Green Mountain House – these days it would have been called a rustic bed and breakfast, then it was more like a skiing dormitory.  My dad purchased it with two friends sometime around 1970 but eventually bought them out when their visions inevitably clashed.  There was one thing I loved about the Green Mountain House (besides the barn and adjacent stream, Grout Pond and Fat City) – the 12 inch cast Iron skillet that came with the purchase of the house and which I stole – that plus my lovely Stickley hutch and armloads of old books which, ditto.
As it turned out, stealing from GMH was a good move.  Ending an era, it burned down in May 1979.  But most of the relics we lifted under our parents’ less than watchful gaze, live on.  Sadly, not my 12” skillet which one of my sisters stole  when I moved home in the winter months before my first marriage.
But by then I was convinced shiny Revere ware was the future - not from my mom but from my eccentric ex-mother in law - and I did not protest too much.  It did not take long before Revere ware disappointed and my fascination with the electric wok waned – actually less time than the very abbreviated first marriage.  Right after my divorce and long before I could afford it, I splurged for a Calphalon set after carefully researching the most economical package available – Bloomingdale’s, would you believe it?  I loved my Calphalons. They were not pretty after multiple uses but the 7 quart sauté pan was my go to dream pan for years and I still use the 8 quart stock pot almost daily 20 years later.
Yet cast iron beckoned.  When I learned about the magic of eBay, the first search I undertook was to look for a reasonable facsimile of my lost love – and I found her.  A Griswold 12” cast iron skillet with the extra bonus of a self-basting lid.  It needed work but the internet is a great teacher and, with use, I had a shiny black skillet (and lid) that was as non-stick as Teflon without the sensitive and potentially deadly chemical coating.  It took practice to keep it shiny but not much. A swish of water, dry it and – the secret – spray the tiniest bit of canola oil (Pam or equivalent) and rub it into the skillet with a paper towel.  In the event you do something outrageous causing a sticky burnt-on mess or the skillet is excessively greasy, a shake or two of baking soda will cut right through – rub in a little extra oil afterwards. Or if you were really murderous and left your baby in a sink of water overnight causing copious rust – again, there was still a remedy (pay attention only to the self-cleaning oven method0.
Now, everyone will tell you not to use your cast iron pan for acidic dishes containing tomatoes or lemons.  But if your pan is properly seasoned, a sauce even liberally laced with tomatoes or lemon is not an issue.  Furthermore, most braises start with an awesome sear and there is nothing like cast iron for creating the perfect brown crust.  And the shallow wide skillet is just the right size for the optimal slow braise.
So against all conventional wisdom – here is my favorite unconventional cast iron skillet recipe, Osso Buco with Lemons and Olives . . . (proudly an Editor's Pick at
I will never, ever, pretend to you that Osso Buco is practical for a run of the mill dinner.  Veal shank is very expensive.  But it is a vitually fool-proof great meal and if you shell out the $30 or so for four shanks a couple of times a year (two for dinner, two for awesome weeknight leftovers that totally rock), well – it’s explainable at least.
Now go get yourself a real skillet.

Osso Buco with Lemons and Olives
Serves 44 veal shanks, about 2 inches thick
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green part, rinsed and sliced into half moons
4 good-sized cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine
2 lemons, zested and then juiced, preferably Meyer lemons
16-20 large green Sicilian olives, pitted unless you trust your eaters and warn them about pits. If you can't find the large green ones (I think they are called Cerignolas), try with Kalamatas which are easy to find
1 teaspoon rosemary, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
3 cups veal or chicken stock (if I don't have homemade on hand, I use a veal base from R. L. Schreiber which I think is good for cooking and keeps forever)
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  Place flour on a plate and season with salt and pepper. Dust veal shanks with the seasoned flour.
3.  Add olive oil to a flameproof baking dish with a lid and heat over high heat until almost smoking.
4.  Add the shanks and brown well on all sides. Do not be a scaredy cat - brown well.
5.  Reduce the heat and add the leeks and garlic. Saute for about 2 minutes. Add the white wine and boil about four minutes. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, olives and enough stock so that the veal shanks are almost covered.
6.  Cover pot with lid and bake for 30 minutes. Add rosemary, return to oven covered and bake for an additional hour until veal is tender.
Serve with lemon and leek risotto, maybe with some artichoke hearts - frozen are ok. 
Leftover tip:  Warm leftover osso buco and risotto in a covered casserole at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Seafood-a-Palooza - Happy President's Day!

After yesterday’s awesome pork-fest, today I was feeling virtuous (read decadent) and took another ride to Cor-J Seafood in Hampton Bays. Bless Mondays off.  Like every other time I have set foot in this beyond compare seafood market, I over indulged. Yet the thing about pristine seafood is – you have to eat it now. And this is how my President’s Day Seafood Marathon was conceived.

So let the games begin. This has been a year for local bay scallops that I will never forget and I pray will continue forever. It is February and still they are available – for a price to be sure – but available. To my mind it is tragic to cook these beauties. Remove the muscle from one-half pound of local bay scallops (yes, it’s worth it). Slice each scallop in thirds and divide into two piles on two plates. If you pop every fifth scallop into the slicer’s mouth, this is not a chore. Being a nut, I have lovely Meyer lemons growing on my porch. Pick one. Halve the lemon and squeeze an equal amount over each pile of scallops. Drizzle olive oil over scallops. Now here is the time to brag. My sister, Dolores, and her family gave us the ultimate Christmas gift this year – olive oil from our own olive tree in Tuscany for a year – and this is the occasion to break it out. Thank you, Dolores! A couple of grinds of salt and pepper over the scallops (I use my incomparable saffron fennel salt and lavender fennel pepper but ordinary is more than fine). Here is the odd ingredient – halve a head of Romaine lettuce (or a mix of Romaine and Treviso) and slice horizontally. Pile the sliced Romaine and Treviso next to the scallops. The crispness of the lettuce makes this. If you have chervil growing on your window sill, pick a few leaves and scatter on the scallops. Eat, dragging the scallops, lemon juice and olive oil into the lettuce. Mmmmmmm. Seriously.

Okay, watched the original The Producers devouring scallops and ginger martinis – there is nothing like it (the Producers, that is, although the ginger martinis were pretty awesome –"No way out. No way out.") Time to prepare future courses. 

How could I have resisted the Maine shrimp? I know, they are tiny. A pain to shell. But the sweet meat, raw, lightly cooked, always wonderful. So today a little ceviche. Shell the shrimp. Don’t be a crybaby, every tenth shrimp you can pop in your mouth with a little salt and lemon squirt or lime zest and olive oil. Now the "ceviche" mix here is going to be used for two courses here: did I mention the oysters? Take the zest off one grapefruit – you are not going to need it all but stick some in vodka for a future beverage course.

Section the meat and juice of an awesome grapefruit into a bowl. Don’t worry about the amount unless it is a desiccated old grapefruit in which case don’t use it. Squeeze all the juice out into the bowl. Sliver the leaves from two sprigs of mint, about 20 leaves (you know you can grow mint inside during the winter? Just take the roots from some new growth in late fall and bring inside in a pot. Use often to keep leaves from mildew). Add 1 teaspoon pink peppercorns; a few grinds of salt (or need I say again the saffron fennel salt); ½ diced fennel bulb; 1 diced small shallot; ¼ good sized jalapeno, minced; ¼ orange pepper, minced; ¼ red pepper, minced; 3 tablespoons lovely green olive oil (thank you again, D). Halve the mixture and put half aside for the oysters. Mix remaining mixture with ½ pound of shelled shrimp, plus add a handful of minced cilantro. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, spoon the remaining mixture judiciously over two dozen shucked oysters, top with wasabi fish roe (again from Cor-J), squirt with additional Meyer Lemon juice. Slurp! Wow, the Vinho Verde is excellent with this. Just so you know, I am an oyster purist but sometimes you just have to play with it.

Okay, I am seriously going into decadentville here: Jonah crab claws with honey mustard scallion sauce. Cook crab claws for 15 minutes in salted water. Jonah crabs are similar to Florida Stone crabs but way cheaper if they are available. Luck was with me today! Cool the claws in the little bit of snow left. Immediately. When cool, crack with a hammer – no way around this step. Mix mayonnaise, Dijon mustard and honey in proportions that please you and sprinkle scallions throughout. Pick out meat and eat!

Watch another movie – I chose Summertime with Katherine Hepburn. No doubt about it - I would have stayed in Venice and ruined everything. Nevahtheless. Now it is time to pull those Maine Shrimp out of the fridge and serve as is, over slivered endive. If you have any leftover wasabi fish roe, now is the time to finish it  - and put a spoonful of the honey mustard mayo sauce on the side and drag it on into the juices.

By now one should be slumped on the couch. However, once Summertime is over, it’s Razor Clam Time. Never had them before. I have always seen the shells on the beach but never intact. So imagine my surprise when they were on sale at Cor-J the same week that Florence Fabricant at the New York Times wrote about them. I picked the Sweet and Spicy Razor Clam recipe from Mary’s Fish Camp. In truth, I was not crazy about the texture of the razor clam meat - may take some getting used to - but I could envision the sauce thinned with a little coconut milk and seafood stock having a future over a pound of mussels.

What a wonderful night – total bill at Cor-J for tonight’s extravaganza - $70. In the interests of full disclosure I also bought a piece of halibut to poach in carrot juice but that must await a weeknight. And there are still leftover bay scallops and shrimp for manana - thinking a prelude to Osso Buco with Lemons and Olives. Add the cost of my ginger martini and a bottle of Vinho Verde and its still not even $100 for a dinner I could never duplicate – even at my favorite restaurants. At least for that amount of money. Happy President’s Day!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Charcutepalooza and Whey Fed Pork

Have I mentioned I have a crazy job? I do – but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Yet when I finally caught my breath this morning after a week of deadlines and travel and began to catch up on reading at one of my favorite sites, Food 52, I learned about Charcutepalooza, an incredible project conceived by bloggers Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen and The Yummy Mummy, based upon meat preserving techniques contained in Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing Michael Ruhlman, Brian Polcyn and Thomas Keller. And I learned I’m two months late! Having missed the Duck Prosciutto and Pancetta/Bacon challenges, I’m running out today to pick up a brisket. St. Patty’s Day, here I come. I’ll keep you posted on my effort. 

I had a winter-long love affair with this book four years ago which led to my devouring everything Michael Ruhlman has ever written. I would so have loved to have the resource of Charcutepalooza to vent about my many failures and to gloat about the success that to this day have ruined me for store bought pancetta and guanciale. Congratulations for thinking of such a perfect project – I’m so looking forward to seeing how everyone fares. 

But what to do tonight? Last week, Nina White at Bobolink Dairy was kind enough to ship one of their whey fed pork shoulder roasts and a fresh ham. Although to me Bobolink’s veal shoulder roasts are amazing – they are almost impossible to get this time of year (but spring is coming). Fortunately, their whey fed pork is beyond wonderful as well. Fresh ham into the freezer – pork shoulder, you are tonight’s centerpiece. 

Pork shoulder (also known as pork butt, go figure) can be cooked in so many delicious ways. With the wind whipping today, I’m going comfort food all the whey (get it?) – Maiale al Latte, pork braised in milk. Now, I know this sounds out there if you have never tried it before but it is more than delicious. Although Bobolink’s pork shoulder often comes with the skin on – this particular one did not so it’s perfect for this dish. Had the skin been there, I would have been forced to cook something else. No way could I cook a pork recipe that started with the instruction to remove the skin! 

And by the way – Food 52 – thanks for the Editor’s Pick on what is one of my favorite osso buco recipes Osso Buco with Lemons and Olives! Your site is an amazing resource.

Maiale al Latte
Serves 2 with tons of leftovers

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt and pepper for seasoning meat
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 (4 1/2- to 5-pound) boneless pork shoulder roast (without skin), tied or not
3 juniper berries, crushed (if you don’t have them, don’t obsess – skip it and pick up a jar next time you are in the market)
2 carrots, peeled and cut into chucks
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
2 stalks of celery, peeled and cut into chunks
1 leek, white and light green part only, cleaned and cut into chunks
Peel of one lemon, preferably a Meyer lemon (but, again, don’t obsess) removed with a vegetable peeler,
   taking care not to include the white pith
2 large rosemary sprigs (dried from last summer is fine)
2 large sage sprigs (same)
1 sprig fresh or 4 dried California bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup dry white wine you would be happy to drink
3 cups whole milk (or if you are not the kind of family with milk in the fridge, 2 cups half & half and 1 cup water)
1.  Preheat oven to 325°F with rack in middle.
2.  Heat oil in a 6-quart ovenproof heavy pot over medium heat until it shimmers – I use a Le Creuset dutch oven and it’s perfect.
3.  Season pork roast with salt, pepper and fennel seeds.
4.  Brown roast on all sides with juniper berries, 8 to 10 minutes total. Remove roast – there should be a little fat/oil left in the pot. If not add a little more olive oil and heat to shimmering.
5.  Add garlic, herb sprigs, carrots, parsnips, celery and leeks and sauté until lightly browned – about 5 minutes. Return roast and accumulated juices to the pot.
6.  Pour wine over roast and simmer until reduced by half. Pour milk over roast.
7.  Cover pot and braise in oven, turning roast occasionally, until tender (milk may form curds), about 2 1/2 hours.
8.  Remove the roast and place on a platter. Tent with foil.
9.  Strain the cooking sauce through a sieve pressing down on any curds that formed. Discard solids. Return juices to the pot (skim off any fat or use one of those fat separating measuring cups). Boil sauce until reduced to about 2 cups.
10. Slice the roast and serve with the sauce.
Serve with soft polenta. Broccoli rabe sautéed in olive oil with garlic and chile de arbol contrasts nicely with the rich sauce.

Leftover weeknight tip: If you have leftover sauce and meat, sauté a leek, some carrots, parsnips, whatever, in a little olive oil with garlic. Add leftover sauce, 2 quarts of chicken stock (homemade is best – or Easter Broth from Marco Canora’s awesome book Salt to Taste known in my house as Freezer Emptying Stock), juice from a Meyer lemon and simmer for thirty minutes. Cube leftover meat and add. If substantial is what you are looking for, add a handful of cooked egg noodles and heat through, but it's not necessary.  Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with a baguette for sopping up good soup.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine Tango Mango

Happy Valentine’s Day! Okay, it’s not Valentine’s Day but who has the time to celebrate a holiday that should be leisurely and fun on a weeknight? Who needs the pressure? So today is my Valentine’s Day.

To me Valentine’s Day is the worst day to go out to eat – right up there with Mother’s Day. I’d much rather stay at home and relax while cooking up something special. Over 20 years ago, we had a lovely trip to Key West and ate a great dish at a restaurant then named Café des Artistes, I think the current name is Pisces but I’ve never been there. Lobster Tango Mango. Sounds too cutesy to be good, but it was. So good that on an island crammed with great restaurants, we went back and had it again the next night.

Years passed and one cold Valentine’s Day not at all reminiscent of Key West, I decided to try to re-create the meal. Taste memories change and I am sure that what I ended up with bears no resemblance to the original but it still tastes pretty good. In the first instance, there will be no splitting of lobsters and removal of the precious meat in my house. Nevertheless, the bastardized version is so good that it has become our Valentine’s Day go- to meal ever since.

On another island – Long Island – fresh beautiful lobsters are always available. I love every part of the lobster – the claws, legs, body, roe, tomalley and, of course, the tail. Never having had a whole lobster growing up, the first time Bob saw me devouring a lobster he literally flinched.  But it didn’t take long before he was matching my lobster eating prowess. It’s very regimented and counter-intuitive. First the claws, then the body and little legs – yes, there is plenty of sweet meat there for one who makes the effort to look. Since I intentionally buy as large a lobster as I can without mortgaging the house, by the time I finish the body, the tail is overkill and makes an awesome salad/pasta/whatever leftover. Served with baked potatoes and some steamed sugar snap peas (I know, totally out of season but it's an occasion), no Valentine's Day restaurant meal can equal the special feel for relatively little effort.

As long as I’m heading over to Cor-J Seafood in Hampton Bays (the best seafood around) for my lobsters, it just makes plain sense to pick up a couple of dozen oysters as an appetizer with a Meyer Lemon mignonette. After all, it is Valentine’s Day!

Thank you to my niece, Lisa, who is getting married in Key West this spring – hopefully I will get the opportunity to taste the original – and hopefully fine-tune the re-creation. In the meantime, have a leisurely Valentine’s Day . . .

Lobster Tango Mango

Serves 2
2 2 to 2 1/2 lb. Lobsters
2 sticks butter, cut in 1/4" pats
3 tbsps minced tarragon (and/or basil)
1 pinch saffron
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup seafood stock, clam juice or lobster water
1 large ripe mango
1 shallot, minced
1/4 red pepper, minced
1/4 cup cognac (optional)

1. Bring about 3" of salted water to a boil. Say thank you to the lobsters and place them headfirst into the boiling water. Immediately cover and steam the lobsters for about 12 minutes. Remove the lobsters from the water, saving a little if you are using it instead of the seafood stock.

2. If you are ambitious, split lobsters and douse with cognac. Very carefully, flambé. When the flames subside, set the lobsters aside on a rimmed baking sheet. Preheat the broiler. If you lack the ambition for this step - no matter. Simply serve the sauce as a dipping sauce and it will still be decadent - after all, two sticks of butter?

3. Steep saffron in a couple of tablespoons of hot seafood broth - a little of the lobster water is ok to use.

4. Dice mango, reserving any juice, and place in skillet with minced shallot, red pepper, white wine vinegar and white wine and sauté over high heat until liquid is nearly evaporated. Reduce heat to low.

5. Add butter, two to three pats at a time and whisk over very low heat adding more butter as the pats emulsify into a creamy sauce. Add steeped saffron, reserved mango juice (if no juice then just squish a little orange juice in) and broth as whisking.

6. Keep sauce over low heat. Add tarragon and/or basil and drizzle some of the sauce over the split lobsters. Place the lobsters under the broiler for about 2 to 4 minutes until sauce is bubbling but don't overdo it or the lobster will be dry. Serve with lemon slices and additional sauce for dipping.

Leftover tip - there will be sauce left. If you were disciplined enough to save some lobster, make some lobster salad by adding the mango butter sauce to taste to mayonnaise and add a little curry, some diced red pepper, celery, diced fennel and chopped lobster - or even chicken or shrimp for those of you with less restraint.  Butter sauce can be frozen and used to liven up a panroast.

Update on the Leftover tip - add leftover mango butter to some hot and sweet pepper jam from last summer (more on that next summer when the peppers are in).  Preheat over to 375 degrees.  Sear 1" thick pork chops seasoned with salt, pepper and fennel powder in a cast iron skillet on one side for about 4 minutes without moving around.  Flip the chops, top with the mango butter/pepper jam mixture and roast in oven for 6 minutes.  Really good.

Another tip:  Slip the leftover mango butter under the breast skin of a whole chicken and roast in your favorite manner......someday I'll tell you mine.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Starting in Winter

It's winter.  Has anyone ever started a blog in the summer?  I think not.  Not when there are beaches to visit or gardens to weed, seeds to plant for the next wave of garden gems.  But it's winter and it's cold and I have a ton of work to do.  So what better way to avoid work than by starting a blog I'll never have the time to keep up? 

I've been obsessed with making granola lately.  I think the attraction is the wonderful smell while cooking.  I love to eat it but I could buy a box and do that and I never have.  It's definitely the smell.  That plus the self-satisfied smugness I get opening the mason jar eating the left-over stash the rest of the crazy work week.  So for the past four weeks Saturday morning means granola.

There are a million granola recipes and I imagine that even the authors of the recipes never make it the same way twice.  Tweaking is way too tempting. It's the reason I'm a lousy baker - I cannot follow directions.  But granola - like most recipes - is forgiving.  Tweaking is the point.

My two favorite basic recipes are from Molly know, the amazing blogger/author Orangette, and Melissa Clark and her adaptation of Early Bird Granola (excellent book "In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite").  One is honey-based with a neutral oil (in the original recipe) and the other brilliantly combines maple syrup and olive oil.  But again, the point is to tweak - which for me is usually based on what do I have . . .

Recipe can easily be doubled but you must use two baking sheets and switch them back and forth during baking.

Master Granola Recipe
Serves two people all week
3   cups Old-fashioned rolled oats
1-1/2 cups   Nuts (pistachios,  pumpkin seeds, pecans, almonds or sunflower seeds   with a little sesame thrown in - your choice, mix it up or pick one or two)
1 cup Unsweetened shredded coconut (Bob's Red Mill are good - available in the health food section of most well stocked grocery stores or - hope you are a Prime Member)
3/4 cup Maple syrup or honey
1/2 cup Extra virgin olive oil or 3 Tbsp. Coconut oil (now you probably don't have this but you can pick up a jar on Amazon and it's worth it to have around, Eugenia Bone has a great recipe for mushrooms sautéed in coconut oil on her terrific blog, Well-Preserved)
1/3 cup Packed light brown sugar or palm sugar
3/4 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. Ground cinnamon (clearly you can play with the spices to suit your tastes)
1/2 tsp. Ground ginger
1/2 tsp. Ground cardamom
1 cup Chopped dried apricots (I use a scissors to cut them in half and then in thirds or chopped figs or dates or prunes or golden raisins or any combination of dried fruit)

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. If you are using the honey and coconut oil, melt them together in the microwave for 45 seconds to make it easier to incorporate into the remaining ingredients. Mix everything but the dried fruit together in a large bowl.
3.  Spread in one layer on a rimmed baking sheet (covering the sheet with foil makes clean up simple).
4.  Bake for 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. You want the granola golden brown and well toasted but not burnt. It can take longer than 40 minutes but just keep an eye on it.
5.  Let cool on the baking sheet (lacking a baking rack, I put it over the grates of my stove-top burners so the air circulates underneath).
6.  When cool, stir in dried fruit. Serve with milk or yogurt or ricotta and berries or bananas or just munch plain and store the remainder in a large mason jar with lid. Feel smug.