lightly dressed chèvre; seared duck breast, brussels sprout

It was a beautiful Sunday dinner, pretty minimal for all of its luxuriousness.

The first course began with a delicious fresh spreadable local chèvre.

  • chèvre from Lynnhaven Farm mixed with a little chopped  lovage from Two Guys from Woodbridge, drizzled with a bit of Greek olive oil, a terrific seasoning salt (the gift of a friend who had been given the recipe, whose ingredients included sea salt, 5 different seasoning peppers, plus dehydrated vanilla, lemon and lime, by a chef in Baden-Baden), and freshly ground black pepper, spread on toasts of slices from a Bread Alone San Francisco sourdough
  • a spray on the side of what I was told by the guys at the Norwich Meadows Farm Union Square Greenmarket stand was “London kale” (I think I need some enlightenment here, since they were delicious, but I can’t find anything with that name on line) dressed, dressed with the Greek olive oil, plus some local P.E. & D.D. Seafood Long Island sea salt, pepper, and drops of Rioja vinegar
  • a small cup of delicious Mama Lil’s Oregon peppers, on the side, the gift of a  friend
The main course was both familiar and new. The recipe was very familiar, but the the breed of duck and its farm source were new, at least in my cooking history.
  • two small (8-ounce Peking duck breasts from Quattro’s Game and Poultry Farm, the fatty, skin sides scored in tight cross hatching with a very sharp knife, the breasts both rubbed, top and bottom with a mixture of sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a little turbinado sugar, left standing on the counter for about 45 minutes to an hour, then pan-fried, fatty side down first, turning once, inside a small oval enameled cast iron pan over medium heat for a total of about 8 minutes, since they were small, or perhaps until an instant read thermometer (which I never use with duck breasts) shows 135º, draining the oil after the first few minutes (the fat, strained, can be used in cooking at another time, if desired), removed when medium rare, left to sit for several minutes, covered loosely with tin foil, before they were drizzled with a little juice from an organic California lemon and some house Portuguese olive oil, both from our Chelsea Whole Foods Market, garnished with micro ‘Hong Vit‘ Asian radish greens from Windfall Farms
  • Brussels sprouts from Migliorelli Farm, washed, trimmed, dried, tossed with olive oil, sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, this time also with several whole unpeeled Rocambole garlic cloves from Keith’s Farm, roasted in a 425º oven in a large unglazed Pampered Chef oven pan until they were browned and crisp on the outside, or for a total of aabout 15 minutes
  • the wine was a French (Bordeaux/Saint Emilion) red, from a maker described on the web site of our favorite so-much-more-than-just-a-distributor as “a Saint Emilion Garagiste”, Jonathan Maltus Garagiste Bordeaux Supérieur 2017, from Naked Wines
  • he music throughout the meal continued as the 2019 WKCR-FM  Bachfestival, streaming

coppa; creste di gallo, garlic, seasoning pepper, red kale

It was the day after a feast. It may have still been some people’s holiday, but we went easy on December 26.

There was a beautiful first course of an excellent salume.

  • slices of copa DOC Piacentini from Flatiron Eataly drizzled with Greek olive oil, ‘Demi’, produced in Laconia, Velles, in the Peloponnese, and bought from John, a member of the family that produced it, at the 23rd Street Greenmarket last summer
  • slices from one of She Wolf Bakery’s wonderful baguettes

The main course was a fairly simple pasta dish, but it too scored in both color and taste departments.

  • two rocambole garlic cloves from Keith’s Farm heated in a little olive oil inside a large antique heavy copper pot until beginning to soften, followed by one thinly sliced small, rather hot yellow Marzano seasoning pepper from Windfall Farms, and after it, a bit of Redbor kale from Oak Grove Plantation stirred in, sautéed until it was partly wilted, 12 ounces of Eataly’s fresh creste di gallo pasta (durum flour, eggs) that had been allowed to boil only until the moment when it was not fully cooked, tossed in, along with some of the pasta water, the mix stirred over high heat until the liquid had emulsified, then arranged inside 2 shallow bowls and scattered with some scissored Brooklyn chives from West Side Market (Square Roots, “hand-harvested in Brooklyn”), a little more olive oil drizzled around the edges

 

venison loin, quince relish, celeriac frite, red napa cabbage

It was a very special dinner. It was Christmas, but it wasn’t a Christmas dinner.

Also, this was not a reindeer.

The special part was that it was the feast of winter, which goes by many names all over the world, but which is always observed at around the time of the winter solstice.

The featured guest was deer, red deer, and it came, not from anywhere near a real or fantasy north pole, but from New Zealand, arguably today the source of the highest-quality farmed venison This is at least partly attributable to a wholly temperate climate that allows deer to be raised on excellent pastures all year round (I’ve always thought of New Zealand as Scotland without the interesting complications, but definitely a welcoming environment for game, so long as you weren’t of the persuasion of the hunted).

Deer are not native to New Zealand; for that we have to thank nineteenth-century New Zealand settlers.  In the 1850’s and 1860’s they imported eight different species, but mostly Red deer, releasing them into the wild for sport hunting. The animals thrived in the mild climate and the predator-free environment, and their numbers were soon causing severe damage to the native forests, so in the 1930s professional hunters were called in to reduce the population.

Decades later, or some fifty years ago, entrepreneurs began sharing the culled animals with Europe, where there had always been a big market for venison, and soon after that, with demand outpacing the supply, the first farms were established, many of them with huge open pastures, fenced – ironically, because of the history – from hunters.

The meat began to be marketed in the U.S. in 1975, and I think I’ve been cooking it almost since that time.

The excellent recipe I followed on December 25th comes from a feast held at the painter Marc Séguin’s farm in Hemmingford, Quebec, and described in the New York Times in 2008., but I did not include the carrots or the onions, since I had other plans for a vegetables accompaniment.

It may have been the best venison I have ever had.

Don’t be afraid of the generous maple syrup element, as once it’s combined with the other ingredients, and fully cooked, the sauce had gone way beyond its origins and become just a rich complex game sauce.

  • a 35-ounce loin roast of New Zealand red deer (cervus elaphus) purchased from Frank, the brother who specializes in game at O. Ottomanelli’s & Sons on Bleecker Street in the Village, seasoned generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, rubbed with a little olive oil and allowed to rest at room temperature while the oven was lit, its thermostat set for 400º, and a braising liquid prepared by combining in a medium saucepan 3/4 cup of David Marvin Vermont Family Heirloom Organic Maple Syrup, ‘Medium Amber Grade A’ (I donlt know where I purchased it or how long I’ve had it, but just opened it that day, and it’s wonderful), one cup of good chicken stock (I used low-sodium Better Than Bouillon chicken base, 5 sprigs of thyme (Uncle Vinny’s) from the West Side Market on 23rd Street, one bay leaf (also Uncle Vinny’s), 5 peppercorns, 1 large peeled clove of Keith’s Farm rocambole garlic, gently boiling the mix until it had reduced by half, a medium enameled cast iron roasting pan set over medium-high heat with one tablespoon of butter and, when hot, the small roast browned on all sides and transferred to a plate while the maple-stock reduction was transferred into that pan, the brown bits on the bottom of the pan scraped with a wooden spoon and the venison returned to the pan, meat-side up, its contents seasoned with salt, placed inside the oven and cooked for 10 minutes, basting with the liquid twice, the meat flipped and the roasting continued, continuing to baste, for maybe 10 to 20 minutes more, or until the roast was rare to medium rare, (otherwise, when an instant thermometer inserted in the center registered 130 degrees), and when done, transferred to a cutting board and allowed to rest for 10 minutes, while the sauce was strained into a saucepan and simmered until reduced to the desired thickness, the seasoning corrected with salt and pepper, and the venison separated into four sections by cutting through the chine and served with the sauce (there were leftovers)

quince chutney [not yet on the plate when it was photographed], mostly using this recipe, but substituting a mix of raisins for dried cherries, and candied slices of ginger for fresh ginger

  • one 16-ounce celery root (or celeriac) from from Migliorelli Farm, scrubbed, peeled, and cut into the size and shape of potato frites, each about 1/4″ in cross section, tossed inside a bowl with olive oil, a half teaspoon of Safinter Pimenton de la Vera smoked picante paprika, sea salt, and a little freshly-ground black pepper, spread onto a large seasoned Pampered Chef unglazed ceramic pan, and roasted at 425º until brown and cooked through, or for about 30 to 35 minutes, removed to the plates, and sprinkled with chopped fresh thyme, again, from West Side Market
  • one small Napa cabbage (probably Red Dragon), from Norwich Meadows Farm, washed, quartered, cored, sliced into one to one-half-inch ribbons, sautéed in a scant tablespoon of olive oil inside a medium heavy, tin-lined copper pot, stirring occasionally, until wilted but still crunchy, a little more than a teaspoon of toasted cumin seed mixed in, finished with half a teaspoon of Columela Rioja 30 Year Reserva sherry vinegar, the mix stirred and seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, cooked another couple of minutes
  • the wine was a superb French (Northern Rhone) red, Benoit Roseau, Saint-Joseph Patagone, 2017  , from Flatiron Wines
  • the music was the 2019 WKCR-FM  Bachfestival, streaming

serrano ham, greens; mafaldine with garlic, tomato, thyme

It was the eve of Christmas, which we observe mainly with good cheer, a little irony, and a good meal, one that’s always on the light side, anticipating an even greater treat the next day, an approach, for what it’s worth, that mimic’s the Christian devotional tradition.

Mafaldine happens to be one of the most fresh beautiful pastas in Eataly’s shop (it’s also a great name, and reflects a fascinating story), so of course, almost as often as I spot it, I try to come up with something special to enjoy it with.

But first there was an antipasto.

  • lettuce, beautiful butter flat leaf red salanova lettuce, from Lucky Dog Organic Farm, dressed with the same olive oil, local sea salt from P.E. & D.D. Seafood, freshly ground black pepper, and Columela Rioja 30 Year Reserva sherry vinegar
  • slices of an in-house potato baguette from Eataly
  • the wine was a Spanish (Jerez), sherry, Gonzalez-Byass “Tio Pepe” Fino Sherry, from Astor Wines

The pasta course was just as basic, as it merely combined a great fresh form with a great fresh summer survivor, some tomatoes that had managed to hold off until winter.

  • one pound (4 ‘nests’) of fresh Mafaldine pasta (semolina flour, water) from Eataly Flatiron cooked for a couple minutes before combined with a simple sauce made by heating in a deep, enameled cast-iron pot 2 roughly-chopped cloves of rocambole garlic from Keith’s Farm and a bit of finely chopped green celery from Norwich Meadows Farm until both were pungent and softened, stirring, along with some reserved pasta cooking water, until the liquid had emulsified, tossing in a small basket of a mix of slightly punctured late December heirloom cherry tomatoes from Eckerton Hill Farm, seasoned with our local P.E. & D.D. Seafood Company’s sea salt, some freshly ground black pepper, with a generous amount of fresh chopped thyme (Uncle Vinny’s) from the 23rd Street West Side Market, mixed in, the pasta removed to shallow bowls, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with more of the herb
  • the wine with the pasta was an Italian (Umbria) white, Barberani, Grechetto, 2017, from Flatiron Wines

 

butter roasted salmon, seasoning salt, chive; potato; redbor

The Pacific Northwest (Alaska waters?) salmon at our local Whole Foods Market looked particularly good on that Monday, and the price was really good. Besides, earlier in the day I had learned from the GrowNY site that there would be no fish at the Union Square Greenmarket that day, all of which goes toward explaining how this meal came together as it did.

  • one gorgeous 17-ounce section from a fillet of wild caught Pacific sockeye salmon (previously frozen), from Chelsea Whole Foods Market, halved, placed unseasoned, skin sides up, inside a heavy medium size enameled cast iron pan in which a little more than 2 tablespoons of a rich local Organic Valley ‘Cultured Pasture Butter’ had been allowed to melt over a low to medium flame until the foam had begun to recede, the pan placed inside a 425º oven until the salmon had barely cooked, meaning only about 8 minutes altogether (flipped over after 5), removed, arranged on the plates, seasoned, only now, with a finishing salt, the gift of a friend who had been given the recipe (the ingredients included sea salt, 5 different seasoning peppers, plus dehydrated vanilla, lemon and lime) by a chef in Baden-Baden, and some freshly-ground black pepper, scattered with scissored chives from Phillips Farms, allowed to rest for a couple minutes before serving, covered loosely with tin foil, arranged on the plates

  • nine small Masquerade potatoes from Norwich Meadows Farm, scrubbed, boiled unpeeled in generously-salted water until barely cooked through, drained, halved, dried in the still-warm large vintage Corning Pyrex Flameware blue-glass pot in which they had cooked, tossed with a little olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and tossed with chopped thyme leaves from West Side Market (Uncle Vinny’s)