Wednesday, March 16, 2011

For Sudy

I certainly don't want to ignore the fact that our friends in Japan are suffering from a horrible environmental disaster and a looming nuclear emergency.  It's something that's very much on my mind as I know it is on yours.  I hope and pray for the earthquake / tsunami survivors and for those who have lost or are missing a loved one.

I want, however, to focus this post on a very personal tragedy in my own family.  While I don't often share personal facts on this blog, it seems somehow impossible to move forward without sharing, the form of a tribute, what happened in our family a few weeks ago.

On February 19th, my mother-in-law, Sudy Reinauer Zane, passed away suddenly.  She was a beautiful, loving, vivacious women full of spunk, spirit and adventure.  She was game for anything.  Death always comes as a shock, but this was beyond shocking.  It was without notice.  She was healthy and fit with no near-term health issues to worry about.  She had more energy than most people I know.  She looked and acted many years younger than her already young self.  We were not able to say goodbye.

She had so many friends and family who loved her dearly.  She was one of those people you could say anything to and you felt like you knew her right away.  She could put a roomful of people at ease.  She loved children and my son was her special first grand child by blood.

We feel her absence every hour.  I know at some point our feelings will turn from shock and grief to fond memories.  Right now, however, we are still going over the details in our heads and still in disbelief that we have lost her.  She was going to be a great presence in our son's life for sure, and we are equally sad for him that he will not have her with him as he grows up.
It had been an unusually long period of time since we'd seen her (several months). She had scheduled a trip to visit us that would have occurred about a week after she passed away.  The last time we saw her, it was for a long weekend in December.  In hindsight, it seems so sadly too short.

The last evening she was here, we cooked a big meal in.  Something we don't do that often but we somehow decided to.  Sudy's husband, Alan, offered to make his famous potato latkes.  I decided to make a rack of veal and vegetables to go with them.  I remember deciding last minute to run out to Eataly to pick up their wonderful organic, milk-fed, Amish veal.  It was a bit of an extravagance but it seemed like an apt occasion.  Sudy loved the veal so much she decided to make it for a New Year's dinner she would later host for friends.

Food was something we shared an interest in and talked about often.  She commented frequently on this blog and often used the recipes.  She's call from some far-off supermarket to get clarification on ingredients or approach.  I was always flattered that she liked my recipes and trusted my advice.  In turn, she taught me a lot about Southern cooking.  She was always interested when I expressed an interest in an authentic dish.  I would often get inspired to make a dish I learned about when visiting her and would need her to mail me a critical ingredient that could not be sourced up North.  She always obliged, sending me spices or Sorghum or whatever my whimsy required.  She also was an amazing salad-maker and spoiled us with her finely-chopped, chock-full salad creations which usually involved lots of craisins and some finely shaved cheese.  She always indulged our salad requests: she even once brought produce in her handbag on the plane.

Her New Year's dinner was a typical collaboration.  We talked about veal preparation, cooking time, and temperature readings.  I suggested she make a verjus-based sauce that I had photographed for the New York Times and she trusted my recommendation even though she had not had the sauce or even heard of verjus (nor had I prior to my shoot).  In typical fashion she enthusiastically ran around until she found a bottle of verjus in Houston.  She was so excited to make her meal, and I was proud that she took my recommendation.

On New Year's Eve I couldn't help but call to see how it went.  They just finished dinner and apparently everyone raved and she was thrilled.  Honestly, even if it had been a flop she probably would have reassured me that everything had gone as prescribed.

I cannot describe how much I am going to miss everything about her: from all of the little back and forths we had during a week, to the support and encouragement she gave me in my career and as a new mom, to all of the love I know she would have bestowed upon our son.  I hope she knows how much we love her and how much we wish she were still here.

Rack of veal

1 rack of veal or number of ribs desired (un-separated)
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.  Very generously season veal with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.   Cook for approximately 3 hours (start checking a bit before) until the internal temperature reaches 155 and eventually rises to 160 out of the oven.

Verjus sauce

1 cup chicken stock
5 Tbs verjus (I like Roland)
2 Tbs fresh thyme
2 Tbs dijon mustard

Follow this recipe from the New York Times, starting when with the pan drippings from the veal when cooking is complete, adding the verjus, chicken stock, thyme and mustard as directed.  For more information on verjus, please see here.

Tomato couscous

2 cups tomato couscous
2 cups chicken stock plus a little extra
3/4 cup craisins
1/2 cup sliced almonds
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Combine tomato couscous, chicken stock 1/4 tsp salt, craisins and almonds in the bowl of a rice cooker.  Swirl to combine.  Add a splash of olive oil.  Cook on the regular cycle until done.  Fluff with a fork and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes on the keep warm cycle.  Adjust seasonings to taste.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Snow and gelato

We have been literally burried in snow in New York. Well, truthfully, some snow and then a whole lot of slush. I've been wearing boots every day to wade through the water that collects at the street corners. Nothing like what my mom has been experiencing in Boston, however. They have many feet of snow and have had intermitent power and lots of wet, heavy snow to shovel. I am still inspired by winter whites. Despite the inconvenience, the snow is so pretty when it first hits. Waking up to white and quiet is lovely and it makes me want to be in the woods.
Chilly weather doesn't demand cold foods but I enjoy using my gelato maker and perfecting my mixes. I love how forgiving gelato is: you can play with the milk to cream ratio according to your preferences and seem to end up with something wonderful no matter what happens. Gelato sometimes has egg, but I have found it to be unnecessary.
Stracciatella has always been my favorite flavor. It's so pure and you can really appreciate the quality of the ingredients. As such, I stick to fresh farmer's milk, plump vanilla pods and organic raw cane sugar. My only regret is that the capacity of my gelato maker is not very high - but that keeps me making it fresh and also probably helps control the urge to devour a huge batch in one sitting.

Stracciatella gelato
(adjust quantity according to the capacity of your maker)

2 cups good heavy cream
1.5 cups good whole milk
1 vanilla pod, split, seeds scraped
scant 1 1/3 cup organic raw cane sugar
1/3 cup chopped dark chocolate

Combine milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla seeds and pod in a heavy sauce pan and heat gently until sugar dissolves completely.  Allow mixture to cool to room texture.  Remove vanilla pod and refrigerate mixture until well chilled.  Pour into gelato maker and operate according to manufacturer's instructions.  During the last five minutes of the cycle, add chopped chocolate and allow to distribute throughout.  Put in a freezer-safe container and press a layer of freezer or parchment paper on top of mixture before you seal the container lid.  Freeze several hours or overnight.

p.s. what does the chili have to do with all of this?  nothing!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pears, Peter, White

Peter (AKA Mr. Souvlaki for the Soul) is my flickr/blogging/photographer friend. We met in a flickr photography group years ago and have been chatting over email ever since. He's in Australia, I'm in NY, and neither of us ever had occasion to be in the same part of the world until recently. Despite this, we've had a regular, lovely dialogue over email for years, chatting about blogging, photography, seeking advice on client challenges, photography equipment and of course, gossiping and talking about nothing at all. Even though we never met in person, I felt a real friendship with him. When my son was born, he sent a beautiful baby blanket from Donna Hay's store, knowing what a huge fan of her I am. It was very touching to say the least. A few months ago his "day job" took him to New York.  I've never had the experience of having a virtual friend become an in-person one and it could have been incredibly strange to meet face-to-face.  But it wasn't - in fact - it was comforting to see that he's exactly the same person live as on email - and exactly who I expected him to be.

Fortunately he's been in town twice since and we've been able to have short visits each time.  It's been fun getting to know him better.  He does different work than I do, with a different approach and it's been nice learning from each other.  I don't know that many photographers, and it's always wonderful to spend time with someone who shares the same passion.

Just after Christmas, Peter was in town and brought gifts not only for me, but also for my husband and son - so sweet.  Mine was a copy of Donna Hay's latest.  I could not wait to get my hands on it!  There are so many simple, great recipes in there that I didn't know where to start.  The poached pears grabbed me because they are winter-inspired and also because they are not poached in the typical wine, but rather in a vanilla syrup which preserves their color and makes them a beautiful white-on-white which is always such a nice, graphical aesthetic, isn't it.  In fact, maybe it's because the cityscape is a snowy one but I've been loving all things white on white lately.  It's soft and comforting, isn't it?

Thanks, Peter, for the book - I am really going to enjoy it!

Poached Pears ("Vanilla Pears") from Donna Hay's Fast Fresh Simple
(serves 4)

2 cups water
1 cup caster (superfine) sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
4 firm brown pears, peeled, halved and cored
Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream to serve

Place the water, sugar and vanilla bean and seeds in a deep frying pan over medium-high heat and bring to boil.   Add pears and simmer for 3 minutes each side or until just tender.  Serve with some of the poaching syrup and vanilla ice cream/whipped cream.

Friday, January 14, 2011

In love with sprouts

I love Brussels sprouts.  We've been eating Brussels sprouts in abundance this winter.  I have a few recipes that I love: this one using just the leaves is wonderful.  I also love shredding them in the Cuisinart, sautéing them quickly in olive oil and garlic, removing them from the heat, squeezing half a lime on them and shaving Parmesan on the top.  Just thinking about it makes me hungry!
The fastest, simplest way to prepare them is to trim the brown ends off, cut them in half and then saute them in a cat-iron skillet to really get them to develop wonderful color and flavor.  I like to render some thick-cut slab bacon in the pan first to add flavor and kick it up with some crushed red pepper.  Last weekend, I made them for my sister-in-law, who is not a huge fan of greens - I think they passed the test.

My camera is having some problems and is in the shop.  I feel completely naked without it and rented a replacement until my baby is fixed.  I decided to treat myself and rent a better camera than my usual one: this is so much fun!  Can you notice a difference?  I feel like I can, but maybe it's just my imagination!  I'm looking forward to wandering around snowy New York this weekend and clicking away.  It's all mine until Monday morning!

Brussels sprouts with slab bacon

1 lb Brussels sprouts, brown end trimmed, sliced in half
1 thick slice slab bacon, cubed
1 Tbs olive oil (chili-infused if you want extra flavor)
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
Sea salt

Heat oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat.  Sauté bacon until fat renders.  Add sprouts, toss them to ensure they are well coated in the bacon fat and oil, season very generously with salt and sauté (turning them only occasionally so they brown nicely), until fork-tender.  If they brown more than you would like before tender, simply add a few Tbs of water or chicken stock, cover and allow to steam until tender.  Enjoy!

By the way, I couldn't resist picking up persimmons in the store today.  I am really not sure what to do with them, although my first thought was jam?  What would you do?