When Alex woke me up this morning, I was certain, and not for the first time, that he was indeed smoking crack, as it couldn’t have been even 4:30 in the morning, nonetheless 8. Someone really ought to tell him he can go back to bed for a couple hours, I mused to myself, but determining this to be a too-depleting energy expense, I simple rolled over and pretended he wasn’t there. After all, if he simply fails to wake me up this morning – if it is simply not possible – he’ll eventually have to give up and I will be able to sleep uninterrupted, forever. I am nothing if not the height of rationality in the morning.
Anyway, it didn’t work, I am sleepy and now here we are, aren’t we? Let’s step back to a more pleasant time, say, yesterday evening when this fatigue was incurred. It was a good cause, and I have no regrets, most importantly, none of the kitchen bounty variety. All of my obsessive prepping for the dinner for
ten eight six, a sly excuse for what was really a chair-warming party, paid off. Even better, I cooked nothing I wouldn’t make again, thus breaking the cardinal party-planning rule of never auditioning new recipes on dinner guests did not bite me in the tush afterall. Having such fine and well-tested resources as Leite’s Culinaria and Cook’s Illustrated, of course, helped too.
Recipe the first was for shrimp cocktail. Seeing as my husband loves cocktail sauce almost as much as he likes pickles – “I would eat anything dipped in it,” he says with not a hint of joking – when I saw that the America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook had a sinfully easy recipe for it, I couldn’t resist. Appetizers should always be as simple as opening a few bottles and mixing with a spoon. As for the accompanying herb-poached shrimp, I can’t say with any certainty that the flavors of the stock get imparted in the shrimp. I’d probably just splash the wine, lemon and maybe a garlic clove in the water next time, saving a step or two. And also? We got such a giggle out of the specification of four peppercorns, and even more out of the scandalous act of tossing in seven, and not five, coriander seeds. We’re all rebel yell, aren’t we?
The second dish was a mixed-vegetable panzanella salad from Ina Garten. In my defense, I wasn’t even looking for a recipe from her, for once, but when comparing panzanella recipes online, hers called to me. (My favorites, however, will always be my roasted tomato white bean salad and Sam’s artichoke ga-ga-good ones.) It was a cinch to make, brightly-colored, flavored and textured. To prepare it ahead of time, I had all the veggies in one bowl, the croutons in another and the vinaigrette in a third, so they’d be ready when we were.
Third, but not last, was the aforementioned gratin. Now, if your friends are anything like mine, you probably know that (almost) everyone arrives late, and you don’t eat for hours, which means things can easily get overbaked. This gratin, however, just said “thank you” – its extra hour or two at a lowered temperature only made it less sloshy and overly intense and more gorgeously crusted and rich. For my first gratin ever, I was exceedingly pleased, and am certain I need to look no further for more recipes. My only pause was that the flavor of the artichokes, as I had worried, didn’t stand up against the cheese, cream and potatoes. Artichokes are delicate flowers; they don’t like all this brouhaha upstaging them. Considering the high cost and great labor involved in dismantling six large artichokes, I’ll probably skip them next time, or opt just to eat them al directly, something it took great restraint not to, anyhow. I might, however, instead mince in some sharply-flavored cepe or porcini mushrooms. They’re not afraid of no stinky cheese.
[Also pictured: Ang’s fantastic, fantastic chicken cacciatore. No recipe, though, as she doesn’t follow them. Imagine that! (I can’t.)]
I’m all cashed out, so tune in tomorrow for dessert, yet another for the 28-day habit files.
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook
1 pound very large (16 to 20 per pound) shrimp, peeled, de-veined, and rinsed, shells reserved
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup dry white wine
5 coriander seeds
1/2 bay leaf
5 sprigs fresh parsley
1 sprig fresh tarragon
1teaspoon juice from 1 small lemon
1. Bring reserved shells, 3 cups water and salt to boil in medium saucepan over medium-high head; reduced heat to low; cover, and simmer until fragrant, about 20 minutes. Strain stock through sieve, pressing on shells to extract all liquid.
2. Bring stock and remaining ingredients except shrimp to boil in 3- or 4-quart saucepan over high heat; boil 2 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in shrimp; cover and let stand until firm and pink, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain shrimp, reserving stock for another use. Plunge shrimp into ice water to stop coking, then draining again. Serve shrimp chilled with cocktail sauce.
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook
1 cup ketchup
2 1/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish (I believed we used slightly more)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ancho or other mild chili powder
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon juice from 1 small lemon
Stir all ingredients together in a small bowl; adjust seasonings as necessary.
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons capers, drained
For the vinaigrette
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed.
2. For the vinaigrette, whisk together the ingredients.
3. In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
4. Serve immediately, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.
Artichoke-and-Yukon Gold Potato Gratin
Adapted from The Hotel Loretto, Santa Fe, CA via Leite’s Culinaria
I doubled this recipe and fit it in a 9×13 baking dish.
4 small artichokes
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped (about 1 medium clove)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
4 ounces Asiago cheese, grated (I used cave-aged Gruyere, because it’s my favorite)
1. Juice the lemon and add the juice to a pot of salted water. Bring to a boil Reserve the used halves of the lemon. Trim the bottom of the artichokes and peel off the outer leaves. Cut off the top 2/3 of the artichoke, and the stem at the artichoke’s base. With a paring knife, hollow out the center of the artichoke, scraping away all traces of the leaves and the fuzzy choke, then trim the tough peel off the base of the artichoke. Only the heart should remain. Rub the hearts with the reserved lemon halves
2. Slice the artichoke hearts 1/8 inch thick, and blanch in the lemon water until tender, about 5 minutes. After they are cooked, shock the slices in an ice bath and drain. Combine the cream garlic, salt, and pepper in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer and let reduce slightly. Peel the potatoes and slice 1/8 inch thick. To prevent discoloration, hold them in cold water until you are ready to use.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Brush a 5-by-8-inch loaf pan with olive oil. Drain the potatoes and layer 1/4 of them in the loaf pan. First setting aside about 3 tablespoons of the cheese, sprinkle 1/3 of the remainder over the potatoes. Put 1/3 of the artichokes on top of the cheese. Repeat layering the potatoes, cheese, and artichoke chokes, in that order, two more times. Cover with a final layer of potatoes and pour the cream mixture over everything. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the potatoes am tender. Remove the foil, sprinkle the gratin with the 3 tablespoons cheese that you set aside earlier, and return the gratin to the oven for another 5 minutes or until the cheese has browned.
4. After you take the gratin out of the oven, let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting. Run a knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the gratin, cut it into four servings, and remove the slices with a spatula.