12.31.2011

Dominoes


I have been noodling with different ideas for my end-of-the-year post for about a week or so now. I bandied about the idea of a 2011 ‘round-up’ and even started that one – I got two paragraphs in and everything. I guess I abandoned it when I realized 2011 has been a year I have been kind of ambivalent about. I mean, it has been quite a year. A year that feels like a minute. But, without trying to sound maudlin, a year I’m perfectly fine with passing into a new one.

Admittedly, I am tremendously excited about 2012. But I ought not get my panties in a bunch about a year that has not yet begun.

2011 has had a lot of beauty, don’t get me wrong. It has just been very Big. I have seen some friends go away and come back, seen some friendships become incredibly fueled and intense in both good and bad ways, seen some go away never to return again and I feel I have been strengthening my relationship with my mom. I have eaten a mountain of amazing food, drunk vats of delicious wine, added a beautifully intense Chihuahua to my family, danced in closed restaurants with random people until four o’clock in the morning, traveled through Europe with friends and family; at times cried myself to sleep on the couch but at times also wanted to spin around on top of a mountain singing with joy.

But I’ve wanted something that hasn’t been there. Something I have been missing for some time. Something I didn’t even realize I forgot what it felt like. Until I felt it. Again. And, as a result, right this minute, as 2011 is about to slide into 2012, I am so very full and warm and fuzzy and happy. But I did just eat a pile of carnitas/asparagus/bacon/potato hash with two fried eggs on top.



The past couple of days I have thinking a lot about dominoes. It clearly began on Christmas Eve. Fred and I made dinner. We roasted a turkey, stuffed with Meyer lemon, covered in a weave of bacon and served with a sherry-pan gravy, a burrata and beet salad, roasted parsnips and my Brussels sprouts with toasted hazelnuts in a sage-brown butter. We also riffed on a recipe I had seen in Bon Appetît a few months back called ‘domino potatoes’. I had been wanting to prepare it since I first saw it, so I was excited. It’s a beautiful dish.


But then I started thinking about dominoes and moreover, tesselation, in general. In the area of math, the word domino often refers to any rectangle formed from joining two congruent squares edge to edge. To go in a bit further, tessellation is the process of creating a two-dimensional plane using the repetition of a geometric shape with no overlaps and no gaps. Generalizations to higher dimensions are also possible. Think M. C. Escher.

One use of dominoes is standing them on end in long lines so that when the first tile is toppled, it topples the second, which topples the third, etc., resulting in all of the tiles falling. By analogy, the phenomenon of small events causing similar events leading to eventual catastrophe is called the domino effect.

Well, over the past month, I have been toppling and my walls have been falling. There have been moments where I have feared the possibility of eventual (or immediate) catastrophe. I guess is big part of me still harbors that fear. But I have simultaneously felt a form of tessellation has occurred – its as though a plane with no overlaps or gaps has been created. With two congruent squares, edge to edge, a rectangle has been formed and, as a result, higher dimensions are now possible.

And this, my friends, is one of the primary reasons I am so very much looking into that which the possibility of 2012 holds. Right now, it seems infinite.

I wish each and every one of you a beautiful and inspired 2012...




Roasted Domino Potatoes

Serves 8


Ingredients

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, divided

3 1/2 pounds Idaho potatoes (4-6 large)

1 tablespoon chopped, fresh rosemary

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

24 (about) fresh or dried bay leaves

Kosher salt and fleur de sel

Fresh cracked pepper


Preparation

Preheat oven to 425°. Brush a 13x9x2" baking dish or cast-iron griddle with 2 Tbsp. butter. Peel potatoes and trim ends (do not rinse). Trim all 4 sides of potatoes to form a rectangle. Using a mandoline, cut potatoes crosswise into 1/8" slices, keeping slices in stacks as best you can.


Re-form slices from each potato into a stack. Place in prepared dish, fanning apart slightly like a deck of cards. Insert bay leaves and garlic between potato slices at even intervals. Season with rosemary,salt and pepper and drizzle with remaining 4 Tbsp. butter.


Bake potatoes, rotating the dish halfway through cooking, until the edges are crisp and golden and the centers are tender, about 1 hour. Sprinkle with fleur de sel.







12.21.2011

I'm Totally Rushing You In the Fall.


Things are happy. Things are good. Business is good, things feel pretty stable, and, on these crisp nights, I can rock layers (clothing). Thanksgiving has passed and Christmas is coming up really fast. Usually I am a pretty major Christmas geek. I love Christmas music, the tree, the decorating, the parties, the excuse to be over dressed and wear sparkly things, the excuse to be over dressed, wearing sparkly thinks while drinking sparkly things.

This year I don’t feel as much like Mother Christmas as I usually do. I don’t foresee having my annual Christmas party, I’m entirely unclear what I’m giving to whom as gifts (and I usually have that on lockdown months before), and I’m not even getting a tree. I have dug the big boxes of Christmas from the garage, so that’s a start.

A lot of this could be because of the timing of the most recent Dinner at Eight. That would have been last Friday. But even though that’s over and done with, I don’t feel like I can concentrate on things. I am decidedly distracted. I’ve barely even written anything this month. But maybe that’s because I have a crush.

I do.

 
And it (he) has taken quite a bit of my physical and mental space over the past few weeks. He’s coming over for dinner tonight. I haven’t cooked for him yet. I’m nervous. Why am I nervous? I cook for people all the time. I cook for friends, family and even complete strangers. All. The. Time. And yet I’m nervous to cook for Fred tonight. I know I’m going to make my oyster stew. However, I don’t know what will follow. I’m sure it will be fine. I’m sure it will be better than fine. I’m sure it will be delicious and fun.

But I’ve still got the swirlies. Ugh.


Anyway, this past Sunday we spent the better part of the day making cassoulet. I’ve wanted to make cassoulet for forevers. It’ one of my very most favorite dishes. Cassoulet night at Lucques is something I look forward to all year (that’s coming up, by the way). Our cassoulet making was a really fun process that began with procuring our Meat(s) at Lindy & Grundy around one o’clock and ended on Fred’s couch, chowing down at about eleven o’clock. And that was with the fast soak on the cannelini beans. We spent a good deal of the down time doing the Sunday crossword and watching In A Lonely Place (best movie, ever). It all worked out really nicely. It was good times and good food, I must admit. And, as you know, I do so love a Process. And a Sunday. And a cassoulet.


So, back to tonight. I’m thinking either scallops or a stuffed pork tenderloin. Something with beets? I welcome your thoughts on the matter. Regardless, I’ll keep you posted on how tonight’s meal turns out. Promise.


Our Sunday Cassoulet
Serves 6-8

1 lb. dried cannelini beans
10 tbsp. duck fat 
16 cloves garlic, smashed
5 shallots, chopped3 carrots, chopped
1 large ham hock
1 lb. lamb neck, cut into 1"cubes
1⁄2 lb. pancetta, cubed
4 sprigs oregano
4 sprigs thyme
3 bay leaves
1 cup whole peeled canned tomatoes
1 1/2 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 confit duck legs (we used chicken legs)
1 lb. pork sausages
2 cups bread crumbs

Soak beans in a 4-qt. bowl in 7 1⁄2 cups water overnight. Heat 2 tbsp. duck fat in a 6-qt. pot over medium-high heat. Add half the garlic, shallots, and carrots and cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add ham hock along with beans and their water and boil. Reduce heat and simmer beans until tender, about 1 1⁄2 hours.


Transfer ham hock to a plate; let cool. Pull off meat; discard skin, bone, and gristle. Chop meat; add to beans. Set aside.


Heat 2 tbsp. duck fat in a 5-qt. dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add lamb and brown for 8 minutes. Add pancetta; cook for 5 minutes. Add remaining garlic, onions, and carrots; cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Tie together oregano, thyme, and bay leaves with twine; add to pan with tomatoes; cook until liquid thickens, 8–10 minutes. Add wine; reduce by half. Add broth; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, uncovered, until liquid has thickened, about 1 hour. Discard herbs; set dutch oven aside.


Meanwhile, sear duck legs in 2 tbsp. duck fat in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat for 8 minutes; transfer to a plate. Brown sausages in the fat, about 8 minutes. Cut sausages into 1⁄2" slices. Pull duck meat off bones. Discard fat and bones. Stir duck and sausages into pork stew.


Heat oven to 300˚. Mix beans and pork stew in a 4-qt. cast iron dutch oven. Cover with bread crumbs; drizzle with remaining duck fat. Bake, uncovered, for 3 hours. Raise oven temperature to 500˚; cook cassoulet until crust is golden, about 5 minutes.


Printable recipe


One year ago: Linguine with Pancetta Mushroom Cream Sauce
Two years ago: The Flying Pig Truck


12.05.2011

Duck, Duck, Fat: Dinner at Sun Ha Jang.


This past Saturday night was very exciting. First off, I may or may not have been on a date. But more importantly, I was taken to two (2) places in my City of Angels that I had never been nor had any prior knowledge of. That’s pretty rare.

I was sent an email a day or two before Saturday with a link to the prodigious Mr. Gold’s review of our restaurant destination: Sun Ha Jang. So I was aware and prepared for whatever lay ahead. That would be duck. Excitement mounted.

At precisely seven o’clock (right on time!) I was picked up and off we went. To Koreatown. And just as I was noticing the façade for a spa I sent my mom to as a gift for Christmas some years ago that left her with PTSD to this day (another story), we were parked smack in front of the restaurant.

Sun Ha Jang was bright, but not too bright, tidy, small and about halfway filled up. I think this was about seven thirty. We were seemingly the only non-Koreans in the house, which was a comforting sign. We were seated immediately and handed golden menus with those hologramy-winky pictures in them. We hardly perused the menu at all before our server came over to get our order. This was fine as we didn’t really know what we were doing and we were pretty much going to go for what was suggested from the review. The Roasted Duck. I’m guessing they were used to Korean food dilettantes coming in, clutching their reference guides Smart Phones since she just kindly nodded, and knew exactly what to deliver.


So right after we got our bottle of soju, a bottle of cold tea, and the usual assortment of panchan, kimchi and marinated bean sprouts, came the sliced duck. Our server was kind to us and guided us through The Process wordlessly. She gingerly placed the round, thick, marbled and fatty duck slices on the griddle in the center of the table with a generous smattering of whole cloves of garlic. Then she picked up a chunklet of kimchi and used it to plug the griddle's drain. We later realized this was to preserve all that glorious duck fat.


After just a few minutes we started to pick at the duck, flipping it and whatnot as I had read that we should by no means allow them to condense into chewy nubs. This was when our server hustled back over to assist, and also where I will insert my companion’s only sound bite from the evening for this post, “Aside from the yumminess of the duck and duck fat roasted garlic and the good company, what sticks in my mind the most was the maternal weariness with which the waitress took over as she watched my relative clumsiness in flipping the duck over on the griddle.”

Did you see that? I’m good company!


Anyway.

When the duck was ready to come off the griddle our server even showed us how to assemble and eat everything together. She made a whole presentation on Date’s plate. The result was not unlike a duck salad: the chopped, dressed lettuce with a few slivers of marinated onion, and a little julienned pickled radish, garnished with the duck topped with a few strands of sliced Korean leek and a small dollop of chili paste. It was fresh and clean, yet rich and unctuous. Each bite was crisp, cool and bright right alongside with being warm, supple and lush.


After a little more time and a lot more bites, the cloves of garlic were all roasty, with crisp outsides and warm, oozy insides. At this point I just wanted to eat bites of the garlic rubbed over slices of the now, ever so slightly brittled duck meat that remained.

But there was more. I knew it was coming and I was aflutter. Our server then brought us a bowl of rice cooked with beans and dumped it onto the griddle, sprinkling it with herbs and sesame seeds. And there it sizzled away as it cooked in that beautiful, seasoned duck fat until it was perfectly crunchety on the bottom.


And then I was sated.

I very much enjoyed my meal and my experience at Sun Ha Jang. I do so love a process. An interactive meal, so to speak. The company was pretty great too.

And then we were off, into the night. Off to destination number two, and as mentioned above, yet another new experience for me, a bar called 1642. This place serves only wine and beer, is perfectly dark and plays almost-but-not-too-loud-and-very-good jazz. Wine and conversation ensued.

This was a good night.


One year ago: Salt's Cure
Two years ago: Grace