OK all you Anglophiles, are you ready for the royal wedding?! I've got my Pimm's and cucumber slices in the icebox all ready to make frosty Pimm's Cups, and my tiara is all polished. Seriously... doesn't every gal have one? We're getting in the Brit groove with fish and chips tonight—baked, not fried. The only question is, do I stay up all night or wake up at 4 am to watch the all the drama on the other side of the pond. I also have my teapot ready to go with Twining's Prince of Wales tea—a nod to Charles. Wishing Wills and Kate a lifetime of connubial bliss—Pip pip, cheerio!
We finally had the right conditions to do our annual spring bonfire—meaning not too windy. We had a rough winter so there were lots more tree branches to gather and burn than usual, including a cedar tree snapped in half from the weight of the snow, plus the usual spring pruning, which always generates some good kindling. I saved some—sorted by size and neatly stacked—to burn throughout the summer when we use our outside firepit. Shown are privet branches, Plane tree branches, stray branches, and small cedar tree logs.
My little paint box has been sadly neglected this month—too busy with real work deadlines. Funnily enough, the spring garden is happening with or without my pampering, primping and pruning. Spring happens.
succulent butter poached lobster in a champagne vanilla sauce,
with crispy fried angel hair pasta and faux orange caviar
(colored tapioca pearls)
It was Dan's 50th birthday yesterday so it was a great opportunity for decadent merriment and jollification! Lots of courses but very small portions, and seriously huge flavors. The lobster dish was an inspiration from the film Dinner Rush, and we paired wines for each course. Here's the menu... enjoy!
A California sparkling blanc de blanc—Sophia from Coppola
(Must start any party with bubbles!)
Crostini with truffled foie gras pâte and champagne gelée
mezzaluna salad—slivered half-moons of fennel, red onion,
Happy, cheery daffodils brighten a string of rainy spring days. They are dancing merrily around birch log soldiers which are enveloped in a swirly ring of Virginia creeper vines. April showers bring May flowers, right?
Italy was calling us. For our first grilling of the season Dan made us an amazing bistecca alla Fiorentina. First he got the hardwood charcoals screaming hot, seared the thick Porterhouse steak directly on the coals for about 3 minutes on each side to lock in those juices, then he cooked it a bit longer on the grate. The seasoning for this Florentine classic is nothing more than good olive oil (Italian, of course) basted with a rosemary sprig, salt and pepper all added during grilling, and a big post-grilling squeeze of lemon juice to bring out those lovely high notes. With the beef we also had roasted potatoes with sage, rosemary, parsley, and olive oil. (David Rocco recipe). With this spectacular Italian beef dinner we drank a really fabulous 2005 Brunello di Montalcino from Fattoria dei Barbi. The entire experience was insanely delicious.
Another raw and rainy April day. Bad day for gardening,
but a good day to make a chicken stock.
2 chicken carcass bones
2 split chicken breasts, w/ skin and bones
1 head garlic, unpeeled and cut in 1/2 crosswise
2 large yellow onions, peeled and quartered 3-5 whole cloves pressed into it
a leek if you have it (ok to skip)
4-6 carrots, unpeeled
4-6 stalks celery with leaves
a tomato or two if you have them (okay to skip)
1 whole lemon, cut in half
big sprig of fresh parsley
8 springs of fresh sage
8 sprigs of fresh rosemary
8 sprigs fresh thyme (lemon thyme, if you have it)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
Place all ingredients into the biggest stock pot you own, fill with water to cover bones and veggies, bring to a boil, lower flame, cover with lid, and let stock simmer for 4 hours. Strain the entire contents of the pot through a colander and discard the solids, but reserve the meat from the chicken breasts to use in your soup or for a chicken salad. At this point I also strain the stock 2 to 3 times through a cheesecloth for an extra smooth stock. Chill the stock for several hours or overnight. The next day, remove the surface fat (some can stay for flavor). Use stock immediately or pack in containers and freeze for future use. (click here to see how I do that) It's that easy!
Now showing at the True North Gallery in Hamilton... paintings and pastel drawings by artist Kimberly Collins Jermaincalled Iceland Color—Where Fire and Ice Collide. The artist was inspired by the geothermal activity in Iceland after two volcanos erupted—Fimmvörðuháls and Fimmvörðuháls (the one that all the reporters couldn't pronounce!)—creating a opaque ash in the air over Europe and beyond that caused havoc for weeks. Her images look surreal, I'm excited to see them.
The blue egg shells we ate for breakfast last weekend were too pretty to toss into the compost heap, so I put them into a spring container, flanking my loyal cherub. The shells are floating on the blue rug juniper along with white pansies, while white the hyacinths stand at attention. A white birch log is left over from my winter tableau.
We made Julia Child's classic buttery, lemony sole meuniére last night. Just as Julia never forgot the first time she ate this meal in France (it was a food epiphany for her!) I too will never forget my first taste of this dish that Dan made for us. It melted in my mouth like buttaaah. Okay, maybe because there is a lot of butter in the sauce. And it has lots of zesty lemon too. Butter and lemon, my favorite combo! You can always cut back on the butter, which I do and it's just as good. We always use fines herbs with this—a mix of chopped tarragon, chives, parsley, and chervil, because that's the way Julia first had it. Fresh chervil is difficult to find, but you should be able to find the other herbs at any market.
Cooking a la munièreis a French term that translates to"of the miller's wife," because of the flour used in the process. The French call a brown butter sauce a beurre noisette, or hazelnut butter. However you call it, it's trés sublime. Cheers Julia!
+ + +
3/4 to 1 pound of sole or flounder fillets
1/4 cup or so of flour for coating the fish
2 tablespoons (total) chopped fresh chives, tarragon, parsley, and chervil
3 tablespoons to half a stick butter
2 tablespoons grape seed oil or clarified butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt + pepper to taste
Salt and pepper your sole (or flounder) fillets, and coat in flour. Heat grapeseed oil in a pan and quickly sauté the fillets, 2-3 minutes at a time depending on their size. Cook two minutes each side Remove fish and place on plates. Take a pepper towel and clean out pan, reduce heat to med low. Add butter in pan, heat until it bubbles and foams. The sizzling will stop, but keep heating for about 30 seconds more, swirling your pan. The milk solids have dropped to the bottom of the pan and this is what you are browning now to make your brown butter. It should be lightly brown with a nutty aroma. Pour in the lemon juice—it will sizzle like mad!! Taste and add salt if it needs it. Pour sauce over your sole fillets, and add your chopped herbs on top.
Masses of alliums are bursting through the earth in the flower bed, pushing up through the mulch of grass and leaves that I put down each fall. This is an easy way to put nutrients back into the soil. The alliums will come into bloom in late May just as the irises are all in bloom, making for a gorgeous show.
Another spring tradition we have is to mark on the calendar when we hear the first spring peepers singing away. Peepers are baby frogs—also known as pollywogs, tadpoles, and porwigles—and are the aquatic stage in the amphibian's life cycle. This morning our neighbor Mark (a physics professor) wrote to tell us that he heard the first lone peeper last night in the vernal pond near us... surely many more will follow soon. Mark has even tape recorded this incredible, annual peeper music. So I made this peeper graphic this morning as an homage to the queen of preppy prints, Lilly Pulitzer, and to the humble peeper.
From Wikipedia: The name "tadpole" is from Middle English taddepol, made up of the elements tadde, "toad", and pol, "head" (modern English "poll"). Similarly, "polliwog" is from Middle English polwygle, made up of the same pol, "head" and wiglen, "to wiggle".
We have a tradition in early April to pop open a bottle of champagne when we turn on the fountain in the sunken garden for the first time. Yesterday was the day. The sun was shining brightly and although it was windy and chilly it was toasty warm down in the sunken garden. So there we were, basking in sunshine, drinking bubbles, and listening to the mesmerizing trickle of the fountain. The crocuses in the Japanese maple grove were all reaching for the sun as a symphony of honey bees visited each of them for nectar. We also nibbled on some crackers and cheese. We found a new favorite brand from Canada (by way of Henry's Market) called Leslie Stowe Crisps. The "flavour" we had were rosemary-raisin-pecan, and the were super delicious with an aged cheddar from Vermont. We tried it with a 3 year old Gouda but it was much bettaah with cheddah. The crisps are thin, not perfectly flat, and very crispy.
This is definitely not your average bacon and eggs breakfast. We try and do fruit and grain filled breakfasts throughout the week but do enjoy our eggs on Sunday along with the New York Times crossword puzzle, which Dan is now doing on his cool new iPad 2. This morning we had fabulous organic, blueish green colored eggs that we bought from Whole Foods yesterday—Pete & Gerry's Platine Bleue eggs.
I made these eggs the way my mom used to when we were little—she would soft boil an egg, chop it up, and add a little dab of butter, salt and pepper, then she'd always serve it in a custard cup with a tea spoon. Since I wanted to preserve the beautiful blue egg shell for presentation, I cut open the shell first and poached the egg instead of boiling it, but the end result was the same. We also had a sweet Black Forest bacon, a round of toasted pumpernickel bread, zingy kumquats, and carrot-orange juice. Earlier in the week I bought sunny yellow ranunculus flowers from Trader Joe's—the best prices around on cut flowers—and they fit in nicely with the breakfast tableau. Chives are growing in the garden so those were snipped fresh this morning. This gave me a chance to use the nifty egg cutter from Williams Sonoma that Santa left in my stocking this Christmas. Now that I am sufficiently fueled, time to go outside to the garden and do some much needed spring cleaning.
Finally... I will be able to see a the magic, the wonder, the sheer genius of Dale Chihuly in person. An exhibit of the glass master's work will be showing in Boston Museum of Fine Arts starting this month. I have been following this man's work for years and if I won the lottery, I'd surely buy one of his glass creations for my home or garden.
Dan created a fabulous dinner for us tonight inspired by Boston chef Barbara Lynch. It was shellfish in a butter broth with a honey emulsion. The pale yellow honey emulsion slowly dripped over the seafood like a delicate, sweet molten lava. Dan bought little neck clams, king crab legs and lobster, and cooked those treasures from the sea in an aromatic mirapoix bath, which didn't go to waste after the business was done. Dan enjoyed a cup of the broth afterwards. Then he shucked everything, made the butter sauce, and combined the two. Shellfish and butter are good friends of course, and this particular marriage was heavenly. Then came the honey emulsion... the pros must have better emulsion blenders than we do because our honey emulsion was less of a frothy foam, and more of a sauce, but it was still delicious. Bear in mind that this recipe at Lynch's restaurant, Menton, serves 10-12 appetizer portions. Dan cut the recipe down to less than half and it it made 2 modest portions for each of us, so even though it was dripping in butter the small portion size seemed like a very light dish. I added the bling—the orange flower blossoms (marigolds perhaps?), bought earlier today from our monthly pilgrimage to a Whole Foods Market. Lynch garnishes her meal with black caviar and chive blossoms. I wish I had time to make faux orange caviar with tapioca pearls because it would have made a perfect garnish... next time! We also had a salad of frisee, mache, bacon lardons, goat cheese, and viola blossoms—Johnny Jump-Ups. I made the dressing using meyer lemon juice, grapeseed oil, along with the usual diced shallots, a little dijon mustard, salt and pepper.