Monday, December 26, 2011

December 24, 2011 - Christmas Eve Open House

Florence Simon's Van Cliburn Shrimp Mold

December 24, 2011 - Christmas Eve Open House

For most people Christmas is all about gifts and connecting with the baby Jesus on Christmas Day.  For me Christmas is all about cooking a fabulous table full of food and drinking lots of wine and connecting with old and new friends.

I had my best Christmas ever this year.  Due to big snow on Thursday that closed both I-40 and I-25, my brother Billy my sister-in-law Elaine and their daughter (my niece) Rebecca drove to Albuquerque in a tortuous two day drive from Dallas to Las Cruces and then to Albuquerque, arriving around 12:30 and immediately starting to cook their portion of the food.  Willy was home from Vancouver and, with his friends, put out the approximately 300 luminarias (brown paper bags, partially filled with sand and a lit candle) needed to encircle our house in a double row of lights.

Around our first guests, who had a commitment, arrived and by other folks started dropping in.  The most important of whom were Michele Varner and her husband Ed Johnson.  Michele and Ed have an apartment in the Park Plaza but Michel spends most of her time on their farm in Mississippi, about sixty miles east of New Orleans, where she forages for mushrooms in the forest and raises vegetables for sale to fine New Orleans restaurants, when she is not cooking or taking care of the farm and their animals.  Ed is a works for the government and currently is living in Santiago, Chile. 

By when we placed everyone’s dishes on the table, it was an impressive array of food:  The final menu and who cooked each dish is as follows:

Baked Hubbard Squash garnished with Ricotta salata, toasted hazelnuts and sage pesto  (Suzette, Bob – the squash and Billy – the garnish)

Tapa - artichoke hearts, English peas, ham, pimiento and saffron (Suzette)

Green tomato chutney cream cheese spread (Suzette)

Florence's Van Cliburn Shrimp mold (Bob)

Gravad lax (Bob) with Swedish sweet mustard sauce (Bob) and Sour cream and dill sauce (Bob)

Olive medley with cucumbers (Bob)

Cheese board  - Brie, Dubliner, Saint Andre, goat cheese,
 Explorateur, Manchego, Petit Basque, and Pecorino Romano (Bob)
 All cheeses were purchased at Costco, except Explorateur which was purchased at Whole Foods 

Blanched Green Beans with almonds (Elaine)

Roasted Winter Root Vegetables (Bob and Suzette) Turnips from our garden, beets, carrots, shallots, garlic, and potatoes (Bob and Suzette)

Grilled pork tenderloin served with a cherry/onion port sauce (Billy)

Roasted Winter fruits (cranberries, Granny Smith apples, and Bosc and Concorde pears) with brown sugar
Chicken liver pate (Ed)

Chickpea and pimiento Salad (Michele)

Tortilla Español (large sautéed potato and onion omelet (Rebecca and Elaine)

Fresh citrus fruit garden salad (with mature citrus picked two days ago) (Michele)

Cranberry sauce (Elaine)

Green Tomato Chutney sour cream dip (Suzette)

Beef Samosas (the Kassams)

French Bread (The Greenhouse Bistro and Bakery)

Grilled Smoked Salmon (for some reason my prep of gravid lax failed and we were left with a mushy partially uncured salmon, so Suzette put the uncured salmon on a water soaked cedar plank and grilled/smoked it in our propane gas grill outside.
Desserts on side board

Chocolate Baked Pudding with Coffee Vanilla Crème Anglais (pouring custard) (Bob)

Noel Bouche (chocolate cake layered with chocolate mousse, rolled into a log and coated with chocolate icing served on a tray with meringue mushrooms (Greenhouse Bistro and Bakery)

Chocolate chocolate chip cookies (Elaine)

Sparkle Twists (Elaine’s Mother, Rita Holsweig)

Lemon Coconut bars (Susan Palmer)

Toll House cookies (Cynthia Elliott)

Christmas Pound Cakes (Buddy Fuqua)

Other cookies


Food and drinks in Kitchen

Mulled wine (page 51 of the Joy of Cooking) (Bob) using magnums of Mondavi Woodridge Cabernet Sauvignon for the red wine)

Mulled fresh pressed Apple Juice.  I took the spices and citrus zest from the mulled wine after cooking the negrus and put it in another large pot and added apple juice to it. (Bob)

Lamb Meatballs in a tomato sauce (Michele) (served warm in a crock pot) (Michele)

White Beans and Manila clams (Bob and Suzette)

On table in Living Room

Red Spanish wines

We must have had over 75 persons show up, if we count Willy’s friends 15 to 20 friends.

Green Beans with Mushrooms
Roasted Fruit with Pecans
            My favorite drink of the night was the hot mulled wine with a small scoop of apple juice with the negrus spices and citrus zest and a dash of Madeira

My favorite dish was the lamb meatballs, tender and not greasy and coated with a delicious tomato, onion and herb sauce.

By 11:00 after most of the guests had left, leaving nine of us (Ed and Michele and her sister, , Ricardo and Cynthia, Jim Graff and Diane Souder and us), when Ed mentioned to the group that this was their 20th wedding anniversary and that he and Michele had married on Gilbralter on Christmas Eve, I decided it was time to start drinking champagne.  The first bottle was a lovely bottle of Spanish Cava brought by Cynthia and Ricardo, then I opened a bottle of Gruet Blanc de Noir and finally I went down stairs and fetched a bottle of Gilbert Gruet 1997 Grand Reserve.  After the light Cava and the heavier more pinot noir oriented Gruet, the Gilbert Gruet Grand Reserve was a delight.  Every one agreed that it had lots of small bubbles and a very long almost sherry like finish, with huge character.  A wine more pleasingly sipped than drunk.  Perhaps this means that it is near the end of its youth and perhaps its realistic life as a champagne.

One of the more interesting snippets of conversation that I heard was Michele discussing how she was inoculating logs with oyster mushroom spore and growing huge oyster mushrooms that she had not yet offered to New Orleans restaurants because she was still enjoying eating them.  Also she said she is the second largest purveyor of chanterelle mushrooms this year, having sold 154 pounds of them to restaurants. 

The other memorable moment was when a friend of Willy asked me for the recipe for the mulled wine and I showed him the recipe on page 51 of the Joy of Cooking and he was amazed when he realized it was a simple recipe.

There are hundreds of other stories, but, for me, it was a great evening.

Bon Appètit
Hubbard Squash

Friday, December 23, 2011

December 22, 2011 A Real Chanukah Dinner

December 22, 2011 A Real Chanukah Dinner

Although I was raised Jewish, I don’t recall ever having attended a real Chanukah Dinner, where the celebration of the Festival of Lights is united with a wonderful meal of traditional Jewish foods.

But that has all changed now.  We were invited by Carole Levitt and Mark Roesch to their Chanukah dinner.  When I walked in I saw Rob Koonce, who I recalled had said that he made wine and so I asked Mark if he had any of Mark’s wine that I could try, Mark said yes. So we went to the kitchen area and opened two of Rob’s wines.  Rob likes to make fruit wines with a dry yeast that gives them a dry flavor.  We tried a beige colored fruit mead that Rob said he had used 11 cups of honey in, which we all agreed was not very good.  Then we opened a red grape based wine that did not have much fruit flavor but tasted clean and dry, although it had a slightly hollowed out flavor, like something had sucked all the grape flavor out of it.  Rob said it was not good also, but I disagreed, perhaps because we like to drink grape wines that are fully fermented and dry.  As Suzette and I drank more of it the wine opened up more, which means that the alcohol/wine component began to dominate the hollowed out flavor through oxidation.   After about an hour the wine tasted like many of the grape wines we drink with our meals and its clean flavor went well with the slightly sweet, heavily sauced pot roast.

I would describe the pot roast recipe as: roughly potatoes and onions and lots of baby carrots piled on a brisket covered with BBQ sauce and cooked for a long time with some additions of water to keep the mass of food from drying out and skimming off the fat.  The result was a delicious mass of caramelized, softened vegetables and slices of cooked brisket deeply flavored with the flavor of the vegetables and BBQ sauce.  The only other accompaniment to the pot roast were platters of fresh potato latkes (pancakes) fried in oil by Mark and Carole as we ate the brisket and vegetables.  The latkes were served in the traditional Jewish manner with sour cream and apple sauce.  For dessert one of the other dinner guests, Karen, had made a lovely spice cake with egg nog and pecans in a bunt cake form with stars of David stenciled on the top with white sugar.

The Roesh/Levitt’s house and table were an impressive display of items with Chanukah related iconography.  Strewn on the table were chocolate coins of all types, some the traditional gold foil wrapped coins, others were covered with white foil more like poker chips with images of dredals.  The item that topped things off for me was the blue cotton table cloth covering the table decorated with menorahs woven into the pattern.

I loved it all.  After four hours of talking, eating and drinking with the four couples (Stan and Cynthia, and Jim and Karen, Rob and Kim and Mark and Carole) in the bright, warm  Roesch/Levitt home, Suzette and I happily took our Chanukah gelt (literally – money, but in this case, foil covered chocolate coins) into the snowy, winter night.  I shall remember this happy evening of eating, drinking and saying prayers in front of the three brightly burning candles for a long time.

Bon Appètit  

December 21, 2011 Christmas Party Food

December 21, 2011 Christmas Party Food

Today I made more rice and took it with my Ma Po Dofu to a party at a client’s and ate tasty tamales, green chili stew and vegetarian black bean burritos. 

For dinner I went to Suzette’s Center for Ageless living to watch the fire pit and supervise smore making and marshmallow roasting.  No cooking today.

The Greenhouse Bistro served employees beef stew and bread pudding.  I tried both and was impressed again with Eric’s brown sauces.  The stew was a combination of potatoes carrots, onions and beef swimming in a clear, creamy, light brown gravy.

Let me just say that to tread the path of traditional culturally accepted food is the path of least resistance seems to be traditional when it comes to Christmas.

I do not know when or what triggers one’s palate to become attracted to the unusual and different in cuisine.  Most people seem to be most comfortable eating those foods and ingredients they were raised with and there is great merit in that for holidays such as Christmas.   Since different countries have different ingredients because of geographic factors, I tend to seek to understand other cultures through their food.  When I think I have found a dish that is interesting and especially delicious, I tend to want to share it with others.  If folks trust me and Suzette to provide only those dishes that we thing are particularly delicious on our Christmas Table, then they should have an interesting food experience, also.  This is my theory of planning my Christmas Open House Menu.  Stay with what you know is good and interesting.  Do not good with far out dishes or ingredients and do not cut corners by buying platters of pre-prepared food or badly catered food.  Each person expresses their own innate knowledge of cooking and entertaining and that is special and worthy of note through the food you prepare and serve. 

Bon Appètit

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December 20, 2011 Lunch East Ocean Dinner – Ma Po Dou Fou

December 20, 2011 Lunch East Ocean Dinner – Ma Po Dou Fou

I had lunch at East Ocean. The usual Scallops in Lobster Sauce, which I love.

Dinner came together rather easily.  I had three Ichiban eggplants. So I cut up two Mexican Squashes, the eggplants,  ¾ cup onion, 1 Tbs. each of garlic and ginger (in a cups of hot water, 2 tsp. garlic and red pepper sauce, 2 chopped Anaheim chilis, and about 15 oz of diced tofu,

I sautèed the garlic and ginger in 2 tbs. of heated peanut oil in my wok at moderately high heat (that’s why it’s called stir frying).  Then I added the meat and chili/garlic sauce and cooked for a couple of minutes more until the meat began to take on a grey color.  Then I added the chopped vegetables and after a few more minutes, I added the mushrooms and about two Tbs. of Chinese rice cooking wine and 1 Tbs. of soy sauce and one tsp. of sesame oil.  After all of this had cooked for about twenty minutes I added the wood ear and water and tofu and boiled it for another twenty or thirty minutes, until Suzette came home.  Then I heated some PPI rice in the microwave and made a thickening mixture of about three Tbs. of corn starch, one tsp. of sesame oil and 1 Tbs. of rice cooking wine and 1 Tbs. of soy sauce.   I added this to the boiling wok full of food and cooked it for about another five minutes to make a sauce.  There was a lot of liquid and it took a while longer to thicken.  The recipe usually calls for two cups of liquid but there was so much food in the wok I added 4 cups, so I made more thickening mixture and cooked it a bit longer than usual so it would thicken.  The recipe usually calls for chopped green onion and Szechuan peppercorns to garnish, but I did not care to take the extra time to chop those, because the dish had so many ingredients, that it did not need any more stuff in it in my opinion.

I was delicious over rice with a cup of green/jasmine tea.

After dinner I made my chocolate baked pudding dessert for the party.  One more thing done.  It appears that we are on schedule to complete all the dishes by Saturday.

Bon Appètit      

December 19, Dinner – German Meatballs with Lemon Caper Sauce on Egg Noodles,

December 19, Dinner – German Meatballs with Lemon Caper Sauce on Egg Noodles,
served with sautéed red cabbage

Another odd day of cooking and eating.  It started with about 6 oz. of gravid lax on French Bread with cream cheese and a cup of Earl Grey tea for breakfast.  Then no lunch because the lax was so filling.

Then at Suzette, Willy and I met Jim from Bacchus at Vivace.  We said hello to Gordon and tasted seven German wines (5 whites and two reds) with a plate of fried calamari and an antipasti platter of cheeses, salamis, olives and peppers.  During the course of a lively discussion with Jim about German wines and regions and preferences for wines with which foods, we tasted the seven wines and picked four whites and a red for the Community tasting to be held at the Center in January.  The rejected red was a rather transparently light colored pinot noir that had little flavor and the white was a Riesling that had a musty, tannic after taste, unlike the clean fruity after taste of the other Rieslings.

Then we returned home at around to cook one of the dishes Suzette selected for the Greenhouse Bistro and Bakery’s January through March special German menu, “German Meatballs with Lemon Caper Sauce on Egg Noodles with red cabbage”.

I started by shredding one-half head of red cabbage and throwing it into a sauce pan with about 2 Tbs. of olive oil and about 2 tsp. of ground cumin.  While the cabbage was cooking Suzette put in 2 Tbs. of sugar and ½ cup of apple cider vinegar.   

While the cabbage cooked we started preparing the German Meatballs with Lemon Caper Sauce.  That dish required three steps of preparation, including: mixing ground pork, beef and veal, bread crumbs made from 2 slices of French bread with their edges removed, 1/2 tsp. of lemon zest, ½ cup of chopped onion, salt and pepper, and parsley all processed into a paste in a food processor, then forming the meat paste into meatballs and cooking the meatballs for a minute or two (until the they floated to the surface of the liquid) in a pot of water in which an onion with a clove in it has been boiling for ten minutes and finally making the lemon caper sauce.  The sauce was a little tricky because it required a thin white sauce made with 4 tbs. of butter and four Tbps. of flour and four cups of the onion and clove poaching liquid.  After the white sauce cooked into a thicker consistency Suzette added 1 Tbsp. of capers and 3 Tbsp. of fresh lemon juice, and 2 to 3 Tbsp. of sour cream.  The result was about 1 cup of a smooth, creamy slightly lemony white sauce with capers (See picture)  

While the meatballs were cooking Suzette brought a pot of water to a boil and threw in a large handful of noodles and after they had cooked for a few minutes, I threw in a large handful of sugar snap peas into the boiling noodle water to cook.

Willy helped with dinner and set the table and I put the three white Rieslings we had tasted out on the table (two 2010’s from the Mosel, Essence and St. Urban Hof and a lovely 2006 from the Nahe River Valley, Two Princes)

We then plated up three meatballs on a bed of German flat noodles with sugar snap peas surrounded by the sautéed red cabbage and toped with the lemon caper sauce.  We put the three Rieslings on the table and each took a pour of their choice of wine.  Very quickly we all agreed that the Essence tasted the complemented the Meatball and lemon sauce the best.  This was an unusual form of food and wine pairing that I had never done before, where a set of new wines are given with a new dish and one is required to pick the best match of wine for the dish.  I felt like we had done a good job of pairing one of the wines with a dish that will be a successful dish at the restaurant.  (See Picture)

The meatballs had an interesting texture; very soft and tender with a slightly moist taste, like quenelles made with forcemeat, which, of course, is what they were.

The meat balls did not have much flavor, but the lemon caper sauce had a lot of flavor that made up for the meatballs and the noodles not having much.  Also, the red cabbage had a pleasantly vinegary flavor so it created a nice combination with the noodles and even for interesting when combined with the sauce because its vinegary flavor disappeared when combined with the Lemon Sauce.   I think I learned a secret of German cooking: Lemon juice masks the flavor of vinegar.  Since vinegar is such an important ingredient in many German dishes, this is a very important discovery.  It reminds me of the other Northern European Cuisine I am familiar with, Swedish Cuisine that also relied heavily on lots of sweet (sugar) and sour (vinegar) combinations to season their food because these colder countries lack the abundance of fresh vegetables and herbs found in Southern Europe.  

We were so stuffed and tired of tasting and cooking that we could not eat or drink anything else and went to bed around after dinner and watching a bit of Antiques Roadshow.

Bon Appètit  

Monday, December 19, 2011

December 18, 2011 Christmas party prep and cheap eats.

December 18, 2011 Christmas party prep and cheap eats.

Sunday turned out to be a very active day.

Let me set the stage by giving you my tentative Christmas Eve Menu and then you will see how we put in motion the steps to complete the dishes. 

Christmas Open House menu (proposed December 4, 2011)

Baked Hubbard Squash garnished with Ricotta salata, toasted hazelnuts and sage

Tapa -  artichoke hearts, English peas, ham, pimiento and saffron

Green tomato chutney cream cheese spread

Florence's Shrimp mold

gravad lax

White beans and baby clams

olive medley

Cheese board


Roasted Turnips and beets

pork tenderloin stuffed with a cherry and onion glaze

Roasted Winter fruits (cranberries, apples, and pears) with fresh thyme

I started by putting the 7 ½ lb Hubbard Squash in the oven at 350°F for about 1 ½ hrs. while I watched the Sunday Morning CBS show and Fareed Zakaria on CNN.  Then we removed the soft inner pulp and seeds and cut the flesh off the hard outer skin and put that in a roasting pan and checked our olive situation and decided we had enough green cracked and kalamatas but needed more dried black olives, because ours had dried out during the last year of storage in the basement.  .

Shortly after we jumped into the Land Cruiser with our six cases of wine bottles for recycling and drove first to Lowe’s and bought one-half head of red cabbage for the German meatball dish and a green bell pepper and tomato complete the ingredients necessary to make Mother’s Van Cliburn Shrimp mold.  Then we drove to Whole Foods where we looked at beans again and bought a bag of white cannelini beans and a can of artichoke hearts in water for the pea, ham and pimiento tapa and hazelnuts for the roasted Hubbard squash dish. We then went to the recycling dumpsters behind the Walmart store on Carlisle to dump our boxes of empty wine bottles and finally drove to Costco at around for lunch and more shopping. 

Costco serves my favorite food in Albuquerque for $2.00 or less.  I ordered the Polish dog and a cold drink for $1.50 and Suzette ordered a slice of pizza for $2.00.  I eat my hot dog open faced by sprinkling onions, relish, mustard and catsup on the bun on both sides of the dog and then cutting the hot dog in half to yield two open faced sandwiches, which I eat with a knife and fork.  A filling lunch that is hot, sweet, tart, and sour with fresh tangy chopped onion.

After lunch we shopped for party ingredients.  We bought pork tenderloins, sour cream, cream cheese, brie, Saint Andre, and Dubliner cheeses for the cheese board.  I picked up 9 bottles of Pennywise Pinot Noir 2009 and bottles of the Leese-Fitch Sauvignon Blanc 2010 and some candy for the piñata at Suzette’s staff Christmas party on Wednesday, December 21, 2011 a few other items like sponges and Breton crackers for cheese. 

We decided to ask the Greenhouse Bistro and Bakery to bake six loaves of French bread for the party.

At around we drove home and I took a quick shower and dressed for the play at the Filling Station at   After the play we went to the Pupuseria on
Bridge Street
with Mimi and Max and Richard and Joan to eat Salvadorean food.  The Pupuseria is another one of the ethnic food gems in Albuquerque where you can get great inexpensive food.  Although the menu is extensive with lots of platters with meat dishes such as chicken asado and sautéed fish served on a platter with a baked potato, refried beans, rice, salad and a sauce and plantain tajada, if you ask at $10.00, I always gravitate to the pupusa menu.  Pupusas are thin corn pancakes with a filling stuffed inside of two walls of toasted corn meal.  My favorite is spinach with cheese and second favorite is beans and chorizo.  The pupusas are served with a bowl of tangy pickled cabbage, carrot and green chili.  The pupusas cost $2.50 each.  Also on the menu are vegetable and fruit juices.  The juices are made fresh in the restaurant and served in tall malt glasses with ice and cost $3.00 each.  Suzette and I each ordered a spinach and cheese pupusa and split a glass of orange and carrot juice for a total for dinner of $10.00 including a 25% tip and went home full.

When we arrived at home at around 6:30 p.m. I decided to make the Van Cliburn Shrimp mold and Suzette started packing Christmas Gifts for mailing to Luke and her family. I also realized that I had forgotten to flip the gravid lax, so I flipped it at and we decided to pull it from the marinade at on Monday for a 48 hour curing. 

We got the shrimp mold into the refrigerator just after , just in time to watch the beginning of two episodes of Masterpiece Theater’s presentation of Downton Abbey.  We were a little hungry by so I made us each two sandwiches.  I spread German Deli mustard mixed with a little horseradish on German fullkorns Museli bread and on one slice layered Gelbwurst Veal Bologna and on the other the coarse braunsweiger. We drank a beer with the sandwiches.

So I felt that we had had a full day, with shopping, cooking, watching a live performance and eating two wonderful inexpensive meals at my two favorite cheap eats restaurants.  We are in the midst of prep for the Christmas Eve party and I could not be happier.  I finally have gotten the Christmas spirit from cooking and shopping.  If you are reading this blog and have not been invited to our Christmas Eve Open House, consider yourself invited.  Your admission is to say you saw the invite on the blog.

Bon Appètit.    

December 17, 2011, Dinner – Fava Bean and baby clam Tapa

December 17, 2011, Dinner – Fava Bean and baby clam Tapa

Gravad Lax: At about I combined ½ cup of sugar with 2/3 cups 1 tsp. of fresh ground black pepper (times three because the measurements given are for 1 three pound salmon) and zested into the mixture he peel of two oranges and mixed all of that.  Then I filleted the salmon by removing the throat bones, fins and backbone of the salmon and put those pieces into a stock pot to simmer. This left two large filets.  After removing enough of the tail of the filet so that the salmon would fit into an about 24 inch long salmon poaching pan, we began tearing the green leave portion of the dill and laid a layer of dill in the bottom of the poaching pan, then we covered the skin side of one of the salmon filets with the sugar and salt mixture and laid it skin side down in the poaching pan.  Then we coated the exposed belly side of the filet with more of the mixture and dill and then coated the belly side of the other filet and flipped it onto the first filet in the pan and poured the rest of the mixture onto the exposed outer skin side and some more dill. Then I placed a wooden board on the salmon and put two bricks on the salmon to weigh the whole arrangement down.  (See picture).

Then Suzette went to work and I went to my office to work until when I went for a bike ride (said hello to Barry and Robert as we passed on the bike trail south of
Campbell Road
). Suzette came home a little after and we then went shopping.  We first went to my favorite Northern European market, Alpine Sausage Factory, at the corner of Indian School and Girard, where we bought lamb stew meat and German wide egg noodles (for Suzette’s German meatball dish) and sliced gelbwurst (veal bologna) and coarse pork braunsweiger (poor man’s foie gras) for snacks.

Then we went up the street to Whole Foods at the corner of Indian School and Carlisle where I picked the wheel of Explorateur cheese (a soft French triple cream cheese) I had ordered and a gift card for Luke for Christmas.  We also tasted a nice Chalk Hill red wine with warm brie and a porcini and white truffle spread from Italy on a small slice of melba toast.

Then we went to Trader Joe’s and bought a 1 kilo bar of dark chocolate ($4.49), another box of chocolate covered cherries ($4.99) and a case of Spanish wine for the party (6 white Montanita Viuras, 1 Ducay Carnenia red and five La Granja Tempranillo reds).

We sampled a lovely fondue on strongly pungent sourdough French bread (like the kind you find in the San Francisco area), so we bought a loaf of the Sourdough Bread.

Then we went to Cost Plus World Market and found Terry orange flavored milk chocolate eggs ($4.99) for my family for Chanukah and small timers in vegetable shapes (tomatoes, celery and garlic bulbs) for Christmas gifts for Suzette’s family.

When we arrived at home we decided to try to test the Spanish tapa of beans and baby clams.  So Suzette prepared the clams in her usual way in a large enameled covered pot in which is melted ¼ lb. butter, ½ cup white wine, and garlic.  Willy and I chopped ½ cup onion, ½ cup heart of celery and one carrot and three stalks of rosemary and three stalks of parsley (See picture).  Suzette separated the fava beans into two different batches the broken pieces into one bowl and the whole beans into another bowl.  She then heated in another large enameled cooking pot some of the clam cooking medium pureed with the pieces of favas and some 4 tablespoons of olive oil and then added the chopped ingredients to cook  and then added the whole fava beans to heat (See picture).  While the bean stew was cooking we shucked the opened clams and I toasted four slices of the fresh French bread and opened a bottle of Leese-Fitch California Savignon Blanc 2010 (Costco $7.99) and Willy and Suzette steamed 16 stalks of fresh asparagus. 

It is hard to describe what a good Sauvignon Blanc tastes like, but you know it when you see it and taste it.  It is a combination of a pale yellow color and a complex combination of mineral and fruit that lingers at the back of the tongue as an aftertaste of concentrated fruit.  The Leese-Fitch had that and I can understand why it merited its 90 rating; a buy at $7.99.

The fava bean and baby clam stew was a very satisfying dish.  The clam cooking medium and broken fava beans, herbs and vegetables made a pleasing combination.  Unfortunately, the whole fava beans still were a little doughy.  Perhaps they would have benefited from longer cooking.  We decided to use white cannelini beans for the Christmas Party, because Suzette had used them for this dish when it was served on her Spanish Cuisine menu at the Greenhouse Bistro in August and September with great success.  Suzette also commented that had she had the time, she would have sautéed the whole fava beans in olive oil to dispel some of their doughy flavor.

The five pound bag of clams yielded about 100 clams and we used about 20 clams for dinner so we froze about 80 clams for the party and two 32 oz. containers of clam cooking medium.

I turned the salmon at , so the fish would have 12 hours on each side for a total of 24 and possibly 48 hours of curing in the salt and sugar.  I also added some orange liquor to the salmon pan to give it a bit more orange flavor, since did not have the usual grappa to add.  After putting the salmon back into the fridge, I went to bed. 

Bon Appètit

Sunday, December 18, 2011

December 16, 2011 Lunch – Café Trang; Dinner – Guacamole

December 16, 2011  Lunch – Café Trang;  Dinner – Guacamole

Suzette was going to Costco to buy groceries for her Santa Rosa facility and I asked her to buy a whole salmon and clams, so I suggested meeting Nizar Kassam and his wife for lunch at Cafe Trang, because I needed to shop at Ta Lin for fresh dill for Gravad Lax for the Christmas Eve Open House.  Café Trang is one of my favorite Vietnamese restaurants, because it usually has the best and freshest selection of fresh herbs, because it is owned by Ta Lin and Ta Lin is one of the largest wholesalers of Oriental foods in town.  When I arrived late Fatima already was eating a cold salad of chicken on a bed of cabbage and herbs.  I ordered one of my favorites soups, Pho (beef) with slices of beef meatballs and thin slices of raw tenderloin cooked into the hot beef broth and lots of rice noodles.  Vietnamese hot soups are all served with a side plate of fresh mung beans and herbs (No. 21).  Herbs usually include Oriental basil and cilantro and, in the summer, anything else fresh.  I was surprised to see that the basil was a little wilted, perhaps because of the cold weather.  I asked and was served fish sauce in a small spouted bottle and squirted a liberal dash of hoisen sauce (sweet soy bean sauce) and a few drops of Shiracha (hot red chili sauce) and tore leaves of fresh cilantro and basil into the soup.

After lunch I went to Ta Lin and found lovely fresh dill.

I ate a medium bowl of soup which is rather large, so was not hungry for dinner.  Our son, Willy called and told me he had arrived in Phoenix and was going to arrive at around 10:30p.m., so I made guacamole with five small ripened avocados that I have bought at Pro’s Ranch Market on Thursday (3 for $.99) and mashed them up in bowl with about ¼ cup of finely chopped onion and the juice of two limes and a generous dollop of Cholula hot sauce and about 1/3 cup of chopped fresh cilantro leaves.  I ate a few bites of the creamy but slightly chunky guacamole with some corn tortilla chips I had bought at Pro’s also.

By the time Suzette arrived home at around I was not hungry and was happy to agree to not cook because she had eaten at a staff party at a going away party for Lucy at her Los Lunas facility in the afternoon and was not hungry also.

Suzette had bought a large 8.5 lb fresh salmon and a five lb. bag of manila clams at Costco.  She put the clams in a large bowl filled with water to keep them alive and put the salmon in the fridge.  During the day I had cooked some of the fava beans I bought at Istanbul Market on Thursday in our bean pot, so, after letting the beans cool, we spent a few minutes shucking the dark outer husks from the fava beans.  We ended up with about 2 cups of shucked cooked beans.

After some fruit cake and a visit with Debbie McCoy and picking up Willy at the airport, we went to bed.

Bon Appètit

Friday, December 16, 2011

December 15, 2011 Lunch - Istanbul Market and Deli; Dinner- Chickpea stew

December 15, 2011 Lunch - Istanbul Market and Deli; Dinner- Chickpea stew

I went to Istanbul Market to find fava beans and there were dozens of choices between prepared and plain beans in cans and dried beans.  I finally settled on three 24 oz. bags of large dried favas and then turned my attention to lunch.

The Deli is on one side of the store and seats about 30 people.  The menu is extensive.  I ordered my favorite, Kebbeh platter, and Peter Eller ordered a lamb shish kabob platter, with small cubes of flavored grilled lamb.  The platter contains your choice of meat or other dish on a bed of fluffy tumeric flavored rice, a pickle, a small pile of tabouli or hummus, and a salad with iceberg lettuce, fresh Middle Eastern cucumber slices, tomato slices, and a feta cheese dressing.  Each platter is served with a round slice of warm pita bread and a small cup of yogurt sauce.  The cost of each platter is $6.99; Peter and I both agreed that the food and the value were wonderful.

The Kebbeh platter had three halved kebbehs.  I love the kebbeh at Istanbul because they are stuffed, so to speak.  They are oblong with a deep fried grain outer shell and a soft meat and spice inner core, so they look like little boats floating on a turbulent yellow sea of rice.  I do not know exactly what the ingredients are but I guess bulgur wheat is the grain and lamb in the stuffing with cinnamon, allspice, fenugreek, cumin and a few other herbs and spices.  I taste wonderfully crunchy under a coating of cool spicy yogurt sauce.   I usually drink a pint bottle of mint flavored yogurt drink ($1.39).  The Deli serves baklava and other desserts, coffee and teas, if you want.

Istanbul Market is one of my favorite restaurants and stores in Albuquerque.  I feel so lucky to live in Albuquerque, with it abundance of ethnic markets and restaurants.  Besides Istanbul there are Alpine Sausage Factory, with its Northern European foods and Ta Lin with its extensive selection of oriental foods and produce and fish market.

When I returned home, I put the chickpea stew back on the stove and added most all of the ingredients in the Tapas recipe except for the saffron; 1 tablespoon ground cumin, a dash more salt, about 1/3 tsp. white pepper, and about ½ tsp. Spanish paprika (pimienton) and I substituted the last ½ pound of PPI blackened grilled marinated lamb left in the meat drawer of our fridge, chopped into bite sized pieces, for the Spanish sausage called for by the Spanish recipe.
When Suzette came home she said she did not want to cook because she had just left another Lucy celebration, so I dished up a bowl of the thickened stew, cut slices of Swiss Gruyere and laid them on sliced French bread and toasted the cheese sandwiches in the microwave for a minute to melt the cheese and fetched a bottle of Marques de Riscal Tempranillo from the cellar and poured a glass of it.  The chickpea stew was surprisingly more flavorful and tasty that last night’s effort.  I finally feel like I have crated a recipe for chickpeas that anyone would like, even picky carnivores like Suzette.   The stew now included an interesting balance of cooked winter greens, strongly flavored meat, the still crunchy chickpeas and the soft pureed chickpeas and vegetables with a more accentuated spice and herb (rosemary and thyme) and garlic flavor.

Suzette tried a bite of the stew and said it was better, which was the death knell for the dish making it onto Christmas Eve’s menu.  Suzette’s comment was that that it would be better to cook the beans slowly in our ceramic bean pot.  After talking to my brother, Bill, to confirm the purchase of fava beans, I followed his suggestion and immediately began soaking 1 cup of the favas in a pot of filtered water with 1 tsp. of baking soda to test the favas and baby clams recipe I want to use for Christmas Eve; another recipe in progress. 

Friday will be the beginning of shopping for Christmas Eve (nest Saturday night) Open House, if you do not count today, plus a German meatball dish Suzette wants to test this weekend, so I am getting excited.

Bon Appètit

Thursday, December 15, 2011

December 14, 2011 Dinner – Chick Pea soup with Braised Sausage and Cabbage

December 14, 2011 Dinner – Chick Pea soup with Braised Sausage and Cabbage

I am planning to serve Spanish dishes for Christmas Eve this year.  Let me extend an invitation to each of you who read this blog to join us for Christmas Eve.  Our house is located at
1415 Park Ave. SW, Albuq., N.M.
Michele Varner, who will be joining my brother and sister-in-law, Elaine in the cooking this year, mentioned that chickpeas are the national dish of Spain, so I went a bought some and then began looking for recipes.   I found two different recipes for chick pea stew/soups; one in Mark Bittman’s Quick and Easy Recipes and the other Tapas by José Andrés.  Both recipes call for soaking and then slowly simmering the chick peas with garlic and finish with a tablespoon of salt and pepper and olive oil.  Where they diverge is that Andrés’ Spanish approach finishes the dish with sherry vinegar, paprika cumin, and saffron and adds two slices of crustless bread to thicken and adds spinach at the end to make a stew.  Instead Bittman’s recipe takes a decidedly more French approach by adding rosemary or thyme to the chick peas as they simmer and then removes the herb stems after two hours of simmering and adds a mirapoix (chopped onion, carrot, and celery) to cook for an hour and offers as an option finishing with ½ lb thinly sliced grilled or broiled sausage.

Let me admit that I have never cooked chick peas, so am a neophyte at this.  I decided to use Bittman’s recipe to cook the chick peas because we have fresh rosemary and thyme in the yard and decided to use fresh greens from our garden, since they were hit badly by the recent cold weather and there were many leaves that were green but their stems had been frozen and wee limp and would die and because I think of this dish as a peasant dish made with available ingredients.

I soaked the chick peas for over one day and drained the water and put fresh filtered water in the pot to cover and added the herbs and 6 cloves of sliced garlic.  Unfortunately I did not get the peas to a rolling simmer and they did not soften after four or five hours of cooking.  I should have known because both recipes said to watch them and add water as needed to cover to two inches above the peas.  I rode my bike and picked and cleaned and added spinach and kale at because they were tough and we have found that they need to cook for a longer period of time than tender store bought spinach.    

I turned off the heat when I left to meditate at .  When Suzette arrived home sometime after she tasted the peas and found them to still be hard and raised the temp to a strong simmer and added salt, which I had forgotten to do.  When I returned at the peas had gotten much softer but were still al dente so I kept the heat up. 

Suzette had seen the thawed sausages and when I told her the recipe called for grilled sausages, she suggested we sautèe our about 1 ½ cup of PPI sautéed cabbage, onions and apples in the fridge with the sausages.  I suggested cutting the sausages in half lengthwise to insure even cooking and that wonderful burned weenie effect and she agreed.

So I cut the sausages lengthwise and placed them in a large skillet and added the PPI cabbage, onion and apples with them and cooked them at a moderately high heat which   darkened the sausages and gave them a slightly charred crust.

I then followed both recipes instructions to take about ½ of the chick peas and vegetable and puree them in a blender and return them to the soup.  Then I went to the basement for a couple of beers, which is our beverage of choice with grilled cabbage and sausage.

I then drizzled the last one tablespoon of our Spanish Aragon gold olive oil and we served dinner at around by putting the soup in a pasta bowl and piling ½ of the sausage and cabbage mixture on the side of the chick peas (See picture).

I would not say this was my favorite dish but it was very hearty and made me think of the millions of peasants who had eaten similar dishes over the ages with what was available in their gardens and how satisfying a hearty chick pea and vegetable stew of fresh ingredients in the winter must have seemed to them, just as it did us. 

There is lots of the stew left, so I will jazz the stew up next time by cooking it more to soften the chick peas more and thicken the stew and by adding more salt and some white pepper and maybe even some of Andrés other ingredients; paprika, cumin, sherry vinegar, some saffron and more sausage or our PPI lamb to the soup.  This is a recipe in progress.

Bon Appètit   

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December 13, 2011 Dinner Party for Lucy at Greenhouse Bistro

December 13, 2011 Dinner Party for Lucy at Greenhouse Bistro and Bakery 

Lucy Lucero (formerly Esquivel, recently divorced), one of Suzette’s longest serving employees, who began as an employee in 1998 and who has risen to head the personal service and assistant care divisions was moving to Houston, Texas, so in honor of her years of service Suzette wanted to honor her with a meal and evening of celebration.  So it was decided to ask the Bistro staff to prepare and serve a meal for 15 in the Bistro.  This was a first, so Ann, Executive Chef and Chef Eric Elliott Heandley organized a full six course meal as follows:

First Course: oven roasted tomato bisque with a swizzle of crème fraiche.  A wonderfully hearty tomato bisque that was slightly coarse and chewy with an almost nutty texture.  Perfect for a cold wet night.

Second Course; Steamed fresh Halibut garnished with dill and served with a fresh citrus fruit and creamy mayonnaise sauce.  This was a great match of fish and fruit that satisfied both the fish course and a light fruit salad as appetizer.  The natural juices of the fish were left undisturbed by the steaming so you could taste all the fish’s flavor, just as if it had been pulled from the water and cooked in front of you, triggering visions of sea side restaurants in the Northwest and Canadian coasts.  The fruit salad included slices of orange grapefruit and mandarin oranges, on which was drizzled a creamy dressing made with mayonnaise, red wine vinegar and a touch of sugar.  All the ingredients in the dressing were in balance so that it had a smooth creamy texture and a creamy pleasant flavor that complemented the fruit perfectly.

Third Course: Lime and rum flavored sorbet garnished with a sprig of fresh mint.  I enjoyed the slightly sweet sorbet and it definitely removed any remnant of fishy flavor from my mouth.  Served in a stainless steal mini cup it definitely was cool.       

Fourth Course (entrèe): Beef Wellington with caramelized carrots, a roasted potato medley and grilled asparagus.  The Beef Wellington was lovely.  I received a thin slice about ¼ inch thick, the pastry shell skin was intact and I could see the herb-mushroom duxelle and the firm fully cooked to rare filet mignon.  This was one of the most successful Wellingtons I have ever eaten.  It was well flavored and well cooked.
The carrots were crisp and yet very flavorful.  The asparagus were ultra thin and a bit charred from the heat of the grill but very edible.  The combination of potatoes included Peruvian Purple and red skinned and white skinned potatoes ( I do not know the types of red and white potatoes).  They were roasted with olive oil and lots of fresh rosemary and were crisp on the outside and soft in the inside, so very delicious and a nice complement to the ultra tender and soft Beef Wellington.   I have not had such a tender piece of meat in a long time and had forgotten that this preparation yields a more tender and flavorful meat than standard grilling.  One could taste the intermingling of mushroom and herb flavors with the meat flavors.  It seemed to me that dishes were selected that maximized ingredients’ natural flavors and the selection of preparations were carefully made so as not to lose the ingredient’s flavors in the dish’s preparation, like the steamed Halibut earlier in the evening.

The entrée was served with lovely fresh baked dinner rolls and the compound butter that had been sitting on the table so was creamy and easily slathered onto the rolls’ exquisitely white soft fluffy center when torn open.

Fifth Course: Roasted Beet and Gourmet Greens Salad  Salad sounds simple and is often a throwaway dish but this was one of the high points of the meal for me.  The salad dressing was perfect; not too vinegary and not too oily. I asked Chef Eric about the dressing and he said that the secret was his making of a fresh raspberry vinaigrette and elimination of all the raspberry seeds and perfect on the combination of fresh organic greens and although not from the local gardens on the Campus of the Center, very lovely.  Alas, heaven even in the simplest of things.

Between the fifth and sixth course Lucy made a speech about how she had taken on responsibility and grown and matured as a person from the challenges she had to face in her life and work.  I was really moved by her lovely speech and demeanor and the gathering of her family around her, including her mother, daughter and son, her grandson Christian, who is only three, but a real conversationalist.  Suzette gave out gifts to the senior staff (Betty, Nancy, Estelle and Ann) which this year were necklaces made with brass wire twisted into a rendering of each person’s name and then strung on a thick colored thread with beads and a clasp.  I recall that Suzette had the necklaces made by one of the street vendor/jewelers in Sayulita while were eating at Pablo’s beach restaurant, watching the sunset.  Everyone put their necklace on.  It gave me a wonderful feeling to see everyone smiling as they wore their bright golden colored necklaces and I think, may have kindled my Christmas spirit.    

Sixth course: Pumpkin Crème Brulèe  Another well conceived and well executed dish.  Nothing fussy here.  The use of a French brown ceramic onion soup crock instead of a white porcelain tart dish made me immediately realize that I was in a county bistro and I found that charming and reassuring.  I think it set the right tone for the meal and the conviviality of the gathering.  A generous portion; the crock was half filled with a creamy custard with a decidedly pumpkin flavor and texture.  I could feel the slightly fibrous texture of the pumpkin even more clearly than a standard bakery made pumpkin pie that uses that canned pumpkin mush.  What can I say except really delicious and a final feel of country fresh ingredients prepared elegantly, like at the best French restaurants in the countryside.  Local ingredients prepared with sophistication but without the fussy elements of presentation found in the most elegant restaurants.  Country cooking at its best. 

Let me discuss the arrangement of the room, because I really liked that also.  The tables were arranged in a row in the middle of the restaurant under a series of light fixtures that run the length of the restaurant.  They are sandwiched glass, white inside and blue outside so they cast a lot of light and yet are a soft blue when seen from a distance.  This produced a brightly lit table and a cool monumentality to the gathering when seen from a distance, as I did because I was seated near one end of the table.  It reminded me of my garden party on my 65th birthday last summer where we arranged a series of four of five tables in a row in my garden and served about 24 people.  In the Bistro there were five or six tables and 15 people were served at one time. 
The kitchen staff’s effort was magnificent, cooking, plating and serving the dinner along with Kat and Ann.  Everyone was left to talk and enjoy the meal with only occasional questions about refills and requests for service.

I donated two bottles of the Chalone Pinot Noir I bought at Whole Foods, yesterday.  Suzette opened a bottle of Apremont and served it with the tomato bisque and fish and fruit course.  We decided that we liked the Pennywise Pinot better because it had a cleaner more French style pinot flavor.  The Chalone had a heavier, less well defined pinot flavor, so common in California wines.  And the Pennywise is $2.00 cheaper than the Chalone. 

After dinner coffee and plates of chocolates were served, just like in a French restaurant.

The only thing different than a French meal was that a large platter with a pile of brie, white cheddar and gorgonzola cheese slices was served after dessert with the chocolates, rather than as a separate course before the dessert as in France.  I did not mind this variation, because we in America are not culturally acclimated to a separate cheese course with its own wine and about an extra hour of time added to the meal.  

After such a lovely meal, a touch of the strongly flavored gorgonzola was all I could eat, so I was happy to dispense with the cheese course also, which I think is really boring for an American, although it serves the purpose of putting some enzymes into the system to help digest the dinner of meat and allow some time to start that process before starting the dessert course.  Although there were fresh chocolate dipped strawberries, most of the chocolates were not made at the Bistro, such as the French dark chocolate truffles and chocolate covered blueberries.  I tried and enjoyed one of the white chocolate covered strawberries with a cup of fresh decaffeinated coffee, just like in France.

A lovely three hour meal.  Then home to bed.                 

Bon Appètit