Recently in Meal Category

 

Many have heard of Italy's so-called Feast of the Seven Fishes, a traditional Christmas Eve dinner centered on seafood. Somewhat less well-known is my own holiday tradition: every year I serve game for a small family dinner. The past couple years featured venison and pheasants, and this year I brought it back to my roots with some good old-fashioned small fowl.

See, my tradition all started with my parents' habit of serving game hens for our little holiday dinners. Since there were only three of us, game hens were much more manageable than the big turkey or ham that we'd have the day before or after at the larger family celebration. I was always excited about game hens, because they were such a novelty. That, and I got two drumsticks. I also loved how that little dinner was just ours alone, even as much as I loved the jollity of the extended family gathering over presents and seven and sevens.

When it came time for Greg and I to start celebrating our own holiday dinners together, I wanted to do something special for just the two of us. I immediately thought of game hens. The meal was a hit, and the next year I wanted to diversify. Even though game hens are not technically game birds, their position on Savenor's shelves, right next to the pheasants, got me thinking about game meats. So venison it was! And now this holiday dinner is my yearly excuse to rummage around in the butcher shop for something wild and exotic.

The four birds of this year's meal were quail, partridge, duck foie gras and a game hen. Yes, those last two are not game— supporting players, I suppose. The quail, partridge and game hen were roasted on a bed of vegetables, stuffed with herbs and generously rubbed with butter and then roasted, while the foie gras was simply sautéed and drizzled with truffle oil. The quail was mild, tender and sweet, but the partridge was richly gamey, and added a delicious dimension to a pan gravy I made later. Alongside we had a salad and chestnut stuffing, and for dessert, the frozen yule log.

 

This week's recipe was an appropriately autumnal Afghani dish, kaddo bowrani, composed of tender sugared pumpkin and a rich meat sauce. Using local ingredients, I worked from two recipes, one on Chowhound and one from The SF Chronicle, both based, I believe, on the kaddo bowrani at Helmand.

I browned the sliced pumpkin, and then covered it with honey and baked it for about an hour. I am sure an even longer cooking time would have continued to improve the texture, but even an hour rendered it smooth and meltingly gell-like, and turned it a dark translucent orange. The meat sauce, while delicious, didn't match up with my (admittedly quite distant and hazy) memory of eating the dish at Helmand. It was still an absolutely perfect October meal, so sweet, spiced, and warming, and I can see making this pumpkin as a dessert treat after any meal.

 

Menu


Serve with warm sun and a coastal breeze. New England Vintage Baseball Association All-Star game optional, but highly recommended.

1. Pieces of chicken breast were dipped in beaten egg, flour, kefir, and then panko bread crumbs seasoned with oregano and cayenne. Fried in home-rendered lard, drain, and serve cool.

2. With garbanzos, kidney beans and green beans rather than pintos.

3. Fresh-squeezed Meyer lemon juice, sweetened with honey and seasoned with lavender.

 

While a hot meal to start and end the day is a precious pick-me-up, my favorite backpacking foods are the simplest: fruits, nuts, and preserved meats and dairy.


Even better are those simple treats you don't have to pack in. In the Catskills in summer, this means plenty of wild blueberries and raspberries, which spring up in every sunny glade.


Smaller and more tart than their cultivated cousins, nothing is more refreshing than a handful of these little sun-warmed berries. Each one pops open on the tongue with a slightly different character, some small, young and bright, others sweet and mild.

 

Last weekend we were in the Catskills, backpacking along the Black Dome Range and Escarpment Trails. We covered about 20 miles and traversed about 11,000 vertical feet over the course of ascending and descending six 3,000+ foot peaks. That kind of hiking can make a soul mighty hungry. (And thirsty, but I'll leave the cumbersome mechanics of wilderness water collection and purification for another time.)

I wanted to create a dish for our trip that would be light to carry, use little fuel to prepare, and provide adequate nutrition. Of course, I wanted it to taste good as well, but I guess three out of four ain't bad.


My first thought was a lentil and couscous stew. Both central components have an excellent weight to nutrition ratios, and are also satisfyingly hearty. I make them frequently at home. The roadblock is that although lentils are the quickest-cooking legumes I know, they still take much too long to attempt over a tiny backpacking stove. There are two methods to make them cook faster, however, and I used them both: grinding and presoaking. In the final, and successful, version, I used a coffee grinder to crush the lentils to a sand-like consistency, and then soaked them in a plastic bag for about an hour before cooking. After soaking, I boiled the mixture until thick, and then added a handful of mixed dehydrated vegetables and some cooked couscous. The resulting stew had a perfect texture, smooth and substantial, just like camp comfort food should be. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the flavor: in addition to burning the bottom of the pot when I made it on the backpacking stove, I had trouble with the seasoning. As someone who seasons food as she goes along, it is hard to adapt to creating a mix, putting the spices into the ground lentils before cooking rather than tasting and adjusting them. It made me really nervous, and I ended up just using salt and trusting that the dehydrated vegetables would add enough flavor - they didn't.


The dish still holds promise, however, and I will definitely be correcting it and packing it on future trips. Next time, I'll try adding some Indian spices, and using individual dehydrated vegetables rather than a mix. I think I will also switch to a red lentil, just to make it look a little more appetizing - without the definition of lentil shapes, the yellow-green gloop wasn't much to look at. Given the flaws, I'm not going to write a recipe, but if you are interested in experimenting, a cup of ground lentils can be soaked and cooked in two cups of water and makes a good serving for three people.


 

More homemade pasta! I picked up some littleneck clams and wanted to serve them steamed in white wine over pasta, so I decided to give homemade pasta another try. This time I managed to get the pasta thinner, which gave it a more delicate texture. It worked perfectly with the tender steamed clams.

I cooked the clams in white wine with garlic and saffron, and since I remembered just moments before that I had a few strips of leftover bacon, I tossed that in too. The result was clam meat with a fresh kick of wine and saffron, and a rich, salty sauce that provided a very complimentary contrast.


Steamed Clams with Saffron and Bacon

  • 14-16 cleaned littleneck clams
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 pinch saffron (2-3 threads)
  • 2-4 slices thick-cut bacon
  • flour
  • 1 Tbs heavy cream (optional)

Slice the bacon into bite-sized pieces and cook them until they begin to get crisp around the edges, then set aside. Mince the garlic and sauté it in the olive oil until golden. Add the white wine, water, saffron and clams. Cover, and let the clams cook for 3-5 minutes, then add the bacon. Recover and let cook until all the clams are open.

Transfer the clams and bacon to another bowl and thicken the pan sauce with flour and cream. Then toss the cooked pasta in the sauce, serve and top with the clam and bacon. Top with freshly-ground pepper. Parsley or Parmesan might make a nice garnish as well.

 


This is a light, crisp slaw that makes a great easy side for a humid summer night. Cabbage, hakurei turnips, peach and green onions with a splash of white wine vinegar and salt: together they are sweet, salty, tart, mild, bitter, tangy, and ultimately refreshing.

 


I have always loved pasta carbona, starting back when my mom made it with bacon and a cooked egg and cheese sauce (remember, foodies, that this was during the Salmonella scare, a movement that had a much larger effect on my childhood than I ever realized at the time - I still clean up more meticulously after cooking with raw chicken than anything else.)

Later, I learned to make it in a slightly more traditional manner, with pancetta, raw egg, and fresh pasta, and fell more in love with it than ever. From the moment I conceived of making my own guanciale, I was daydreaming about the carbonara I would make.

The build-up to this ultimate carbonara was intense. As the moment loomed nearer, my inner perfectionist kicked in. I couldn't make this carbonara with just any pasta, so I plotted my first attempt at homemade pasta. I usually feel free to play fast and loose with recipes, but this one (again from Hazan), I intended to follow to the letter. I even made a special shopping trip.

For such excitement, the cooking was almost anti-climactic: carbonara is the simplest dish you could hope to make. The eating, on the other hand, was triumphant. I already bragged about the pasta, but the sauce, the sauce! Those rich pork flavors of the guanciale melted into the fresh egg and silkily coated each strand of pasta. Somehow it was refreshing and yet reassuring, light and yet earthy - a resounding rediscovery of an old favorite.

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