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fried duck breast; sweet potato frites; cabbage; cheeses

Practice.

I’m getting the hang of this cooking thing, even with the added complication of guests.

I had cooked everything that appears on this plate many times before, although with a little variation each time, but it still seems to me like an accomplishment that I hadn’t done anything ahead of time, that I started prep 20 minutes before our guest arrived, that I was totally relaxed throughout both the cooking and serving process, and that I had been able to engage in a 3-way conversation throughout. I think I have to credit An, our guest this time, with much of the smoothness of the process.

We started casually, with some breadsticks, roasted chick peas, and Fiori di Puglia Taralli al Peperoncino, all from Buon Italia.

We sat down to the first course less than an hour after our guest had arrived.

  • two 15-ounce duck breasts from Hudson River Duck Farm, the fatty sides scored in tight cross hatching with a very sharp knife, the entire breast rubbed, top and bottom, with a mixture of sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and a little turbinado sugar, then left standing, first inside the refrigerator and later for 45 minutes on the counter, pan-fried, fatty side down first inside a large round enameled cast iron pan over medium heat, turning once, draining the fat after the first few minutes and straining it to be used in cooking at another time, for a total of probably more than 10 minutes (I lost track when the 2 breasts didn’t seem to be cooking as fast as one does by itself, so I ended up using my new instant-read meat thermometer, removing the duck when the internal temperature read just over 155º, carryover cooking continuing to raise the temperature to 160° as it rested, bringing it to just under rare to medium rare when it was served), each of the breasts cut crosswise into 2 portions, one of the halves set aside, enclosed in plastic wrap and placed in the refrigerator for another day, the 2 other portions left sitting on warm plates for several minutes before being finished with a drizzle of some juice of an organic lemon from Whole Foods Market, and a little Portuguese house olive oil, also from Whole Foods Market, garnished with micro red mustard from Two Guys from Woodbridge

  • twenty ounces of Japanese sweet potatoes from Race Farm, unpeeled, but scrubbed pretty thoroughly, cut as french fries, tossed inside a bowl with a little olive oil, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, 5 medium unpeeled Keith’s Farm rocambole garlic cloves and a couple pinches of crushed dark dried habanada pepper, roasted just above 400º in a large, well-seasoned Pampered Chef unglazed ceramic oven pan for about 35 minutes, or until crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and chewy on the edges, garnished with chopped parsley from Philipps Farms

  • two beautiful small heads of purple-tinged Savoy cabbage from Norwich Meadows Farm, washed, quartered, cored, sliced into one-half-inch ribbons, sautéed in a scant tablespoon of olive oil inside a large heavy, enameled cast iron pot until wilted but still a little crunchy, stirring occasionally, seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, 8 or so slightly smashed juniper berries mixed in, a few drops of balsamic vinegar added and stirred over the heat for only a moment, the cabbage arranged on the plates and finished with a drizzle of olive oil

  • the wine with the duck was a Spanish (Rioja/Rioja Alavesa) red, C.V.N.E. Rioja Crianza Vina Real 2013, from Garnet Wines

There was a cheese course.

 

  • the music throughout the meal was this playlist Barry had assembled on Spotify

culotte, ramp butter; fennel seed-roasted carrots; sprouts

Size didn’t really matter.

Until the package had defrosted, there was no way to tell how many pieces of steak it contained, or, of course, how much each weighed. Those numbers aren’t all important however, at least until it’s time to put the dinner on the 2 plates, when questions of aesthetics and fair apportioning arise.

As it turned out, the package held 3 pieces of sirloin cap (aka coulotte/culotte/picanha), each a different size. We would be 2 at the table that evening, so my solution to ensure portion fairness was to cut them all into halves, and then juggle them to see that each trio weighed the same.

The steak was delicious, and we each had our (modest) fair share, so aesthetics be damned, although the presentation doesn’t look half bad in the picture above.

  • three pieces of sirloin cap steak from Sun Fed Beef in the Union Square Greenmarket, weighing approximately 13 ounces together, each divided into 2 pieces because they were all very different in weight, brought to room temperature, seasoned on all sides with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, seared for less than a minute on the top, thick, fat-covered sides inside a dry oval enameled heavy cast iron pan, the 2 long sides cooked for 2 or 3 minutes each, then removed from the pan the moment they had become perfectly medium-rare and arranged on 2 warm plates, topped with a pat of ramp butter (a leftover, frozen, from some made for a much earlier meal), the steaks allowed to rest for about 3 minutes before being served

  • a generous mix of mostly red Kyoto carrots (pictured above) and some more familiar loose orange carrots of the same size, both from Norwich Meadows Farm, scrubbed, dried, sliced once lengthwise, rolled inside a large unglazed ceramic Pampered Chef oven pan with a little olive oil, salt, black pepper, more than half of a teaspoon of crushed Italian fennel seed, and a bit of crushed dried habanada pepper, roasted at 400º for about 30 minutes, or until tender, arranged on the plates and garnished with micro chervil from Two Guys from Woodbridge
  • a few small Brussels sprouts from Migliorelli Farm, the last of a supply purchased late in December (Brussels sprouts are one more member of the terrific huge mustard family (Brassicaceae) that’s such a great boon for cooks in the winter), washed, trimmed pretty intensely by hand, and dried, tossed inside a bowl with a little olive oil, salt, and black pepper, plus a bit of dried  peperoncino Calabresi secchi, then roasted inside a small unglazed seasoned Pampered Chef pan, a medium size this time, until the sprouts were slightly brown and crisp on the outside

There was a cheese course.

  • two cheeses, an Ardith Mae Farmstead, Columbia County, NY, camembert-style using 2 milks (goat from their own farm and cow from that of a neighbor, Liz Baldwin’s Shunpike Dairy) and an Eastern Connecticut cows milk, Cato Corner Farm Dairyere Reserve (aged one year)
  • a garnish of micro red mustard from Two Guys from Woodbridge
  • slices of a nutty whole wheat She Wolf Bakery miche from the bakers’ strand in the Union Square Greenmarket
  • dried Calabrian (Amantea) figs from Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market

 

lemon/parsley-fried butterfish; tiny turnips, mustard greens

Sometimes I decide to cook something partly, maybe mostly, just because I want to see if I can, and to see what it’s like to cook something or to taste something I may not otherwise have a chance to experience.

Butterfish was like that the first time it appeared on our table; the second time it was a good friend.

Last night, just after the meal, I tweeted: “I get it: cooking – and eating – whole fish isn’t for the timid, but egads it’s so good (butterfish tonight)” This is James Wagner, and I approve this message.

  • four 5-ounce whole cleaned butterfish from Pura Vida Seafood, rinsed, drained, dried, 2 deep diagonal cuts made to each side before they were brushed with a mixture of olive oil, some zest and juice from an organic Whole Foods Market lemon, chopped parsley from Salinas, California, via Eataly Flatiron, and some crushed dried red shishito pepper (with no heat) from Lani’s Farm, seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper on both sides, dusted lightly with a local Greenmarket-purchased whole wheat flour from The Blew family of Oak Grove Plantation in Pittstown, N.J., placed in 3 or 4 tablespoons of a mix of olive oil and butter inside a large seasoned oval 16″ steel pan that had been allowed to get very hot, over 2 burners, before the heat was turned down to low, and the fish sautéed  for about 3.5 minutes each side (it should turn a crispy golden brown), or until cooked through, arranged on the plates and sprinkled with more, fresh, chopped parsley

  • a few handfuls of tiny white Hakurei turnips from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, tossed in a bowl with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, the leaves off of 2 rosemary stems from Whole Foods Market Chelsea and 2 large crushed bay leaves from Westside Market, roasted on a seasoned medium-size Pampered Chef oven pan for 20 or 25 minutes at 400º, garnished on the plates with micro red mustard from Two Guys from Woodbridge

  • mustard greens (in mid-January!) from Norwich Meadows Farm, wilted in a little olive oil in which several small halved cloves of Keith’s Farm rocambole garlic had been allowed to sweat a bit, seasoned with salt and pepper and finished on the plates with a drizzle of olive oil

There was a cheese course, mostly because we had 2 cheeses exactly at their prime.

Because the 2 courses were so very different, there really should have been a sorbet before the cheese as a palate cleanser, but we had none, so we just sucked it up, so to speak.

  • two cheeses, an Ardith Mae camembert-style using 2 milks (goat from their own farm and cow from that of a neighbor) and a ‘Buvarti’ semi-hard water buffalo cheese from Riverine Ranch
  • slices of a 12 grain bread from Bread Alone in the Union Square Greenmarket

 

saddle of hare, game sauce, quince; roast squash; sprouts

The richest, gamiest game imaginable.

Wild hare, two days in a row! Well it was already there, and for several reasons it seemed neither advisable nor possible to push back cooking our second ration of this noble meat to another day.

We found 2 more pieces of shot, for a total of 4 between us.

  • a 12 ounce/325g saddle from the Scottish Mountain hare purchased from Ottomanelli’s in the West Village, on Bleecker Street just east of 7th Avenue, that we had enjoyed the night before (the back had been cut into 4 sections and already marinated, along with the other pieces cooked on Sunday, after which it was tightly wrapped and placed overnight in the refrigerator), brought to room temperature and placed, backbone side upwards, inside an enameled cast iron roasting pan just the right size for the 4 pieces, barded with 2 long rashers of streaky bacon from Millport Dairy Farm that had been parboiled for 2 minutes then rinsed in cold water, to remove some of the strong smokey flavor of the pork, each strip then cut into 4 sections in order to be more easily arranged lengthwise on top of the hare, fastened with toothpicks, the meat placed inside a pre-heated 425°F oven to sizzle for only 7 or 8 minutes, the temperature then turned down to 325°F, and the saddle cooked for only another 10  minutes or so, the meat removed and kept warm inside a small oven pan while the pan on which it had cooked was deglazed with a tablespoon of Courvoisier V.S. cognac, followed by about 8 ounces of a very rich stock (a mix of mostly a good low-sodium chicken stock with a wonderful full-flavored wine and vegetable ham stock created with this meal, and occasionally reheated to refresh it), boiled to reduce it by half, the heat turned down, the liquid allowed to cool slightly and then only about 2 ounces of heavy cream from our local Ronnybrook Farm Dairy added and stirred continuously over a flame until the sauce had thickened, the hare then arranged on warm plates on the top of the bacon slices and the sauce ladled over both, the plates finished with chopped lovage from Two Guys from Woodbridge [cook’s note: I think I would have been off adding the stock to the pan (but not over the meat itself) at the time the oven temperature was turned down, but in perhaps a smaller amount: this might have allowed the hare to cook more evenly, and also to be less well done and more moist, but I suspect all of this would have been more simple to accomplish had the animal just been larger..]
  • a quince conserve from Wilkin & Sons (the quince and fig chutney I had made having been exhausted at dinner the day before)
  • one 5-inch black futsu squash from Norwich Meadows Farm, scrubbed, halved vertically, the seeds and pith removed, cut into wedges just over one half-inch thick at the outside end and mixed by hand inside a large bowl with a relatively small amount of olive oil, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and pieces of golden crushed dried habanada pepper, arranged on a large, unglazed, well-seasoned ceramic pan and roasted in the 425º oven on one side for 15 minutes, turned onto the other side and allowed to roast for 10 more minutes, removed from the oven and transferred to a large heavy copper pot in which 3 crushed cloves of Krasnodar red garlic from Quarton Farm and half a dozen large sage leaves from Whole Foods Market Chelsea had been gently heated  in a bit of olive oil, then gently mixed in with a wooden spatula
  • more small Migliorelli Farm Brussels sprouts, from the large number I had purchased more than a week earlier, washed, trimmed and dried, tossed inside a bowl with a little olive oil, salt, and black pepper, roasted inside a medium-size Pampered Chef pan until the sprouts were partly brown and crisp on the outside
  • the wine was a brilliant French (Bandol/Provence) red, Domaine Castell Reynoard Bandol 2013, from Copake Wine Works (and a great pairing)
  • the music was a wonderful 1964 recording of Mozart’s ‘Die Zauberflöte’, Karl Böhm directing the Berlin Philharmonic and the RIAS Chamber Choir, with Evelyn Lear, Roberta Peters,  Lisa Otto, Fritz Wunderlich, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Franz Crass, Hans Hotter, Hildegard Hillebrecht, Cvetka Ahlin, Sieglinde Wagner, and Friedrich Lenz, among others

kassler leftovers; parsnip habanada frites, brussels sprouts

The meat was a leftover, from a roast, but everyone should have such leftovers! The green vegetable would have been at its best had I moved it from the crisper to the oven a number of days sooner, so, not as spectacular as it should have been, but I did manage to roast the root vegetable at just the right moment, and the chutney was better than it was the first time around.

  • two ribs from a large smoked pork rib roast we had enjoyed with friends on New Years Day, heated for a ew minutes in a little butter inside a large antique copper pot with some sliced Japanese scallion from Norwich Meadows Farm, covered, arranged on the plates, the little bit of the juices produced, plus some more scallion sprinkled on top
  • more of the really good chutney prepared for the first appearance of the Kassler (quince, fig, shallot, garlic, cherries, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, cardamon, peppercorns, candied ginger, and cinnamon stick)
  • medium sized parsnips from Norwich Meadows Farm, sliced as French fries, tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a bit of crushed dried habanada pepper, roasted for about 25 minutes at 400º inside 2 Pampered Chef unglazed seasoned oven pans, one large and one small, to avoid crowding them, arranged on the plates and sprinkled with chopped lovage from Two Guys from Woodbridge
  • a number of quite small Brussels sprouts from Migliorelli Farm I had purchased a full week earlier, when I was afraid I wouldn’t find a green vegetable to serve over the holiday, washed, trimmed and dried, tossed inside a bowl with a little olive oil, salt, and black pepper, plus a bit of dried peperoncino Calabresi secchi, then roasted inside another  unglazed seasoned Pampered Chef pan, a medium size this time, until the sprouts were partly brown and crisp on the outside
  • the wine was a French (Touraine/Loire) white, Vignoble Dinocheau, Pineau d’Aunis 2017, from Flatiron Wines, it was excellent, and an excelllent pairing; more about this interesting AOP here]
  • the music was Rossini’s wonderful opera buffa, ‘Il Barbiere Di Siviglia’: Great fun, it was a 1989 recording with Giuseppe Patanè conducting the Orchestra e coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, with Leo Nucci, Cecilia Bartoli, William Matteuzzi, Paata Burchuladze, Enrico Fissore, and others