Saturday, November 29, 2014

Guest Essay: In Defense of the Chicken

My friend Hank Shaw is a journalist, hunter, forager and author. Recently he published an essay on what we think of as the most boring meat imaginable, the chicken. He excoriates those who brought this once noble bird to its current lowly state, and makes the case for why we should gladly pay $5 a pound for it. He gave me permission to post an excerpt, and I encourage you to click through to read the entire essay.

I bought a chicken the other day. To virtually every other American, this is an event akin to taking out the trash, or driving to work — a commonplace barely worth noting. But there’s something you should know: I have not bought meat for the home more than a handful of times over the past decade. So buying any meat is very much an event for me. You might ask why on earth, of all the things that I could have chosen to break my self-imposed fast on domesticated meats, would I buy a chicken?

Because of all the flavors I miss from the store-bought world — ribeyes, skirt steak, a huge pork chop, shrimp — chicken is the one I long for most often. Chicken. You read that right. Chicken deserves respect. It deserves to be reclaimed by the culinary world for what it has been for most of human history: A bird worthy of a king’s table, a gift for cooks to work magic on. A platter of home.

How Americans came to believe that $1 a pound chicken is as inalienable a right as free speech or the right to bear arms is a depressing story of industrial might over right. Suffice to say that when Frank Perdue said it took a tough man to make a tender chicken, he was right. He and his colleague John Tyson needed to be OK with debasing a once prized bird, to polluting environments and destroying whole communities. The industrial chicken is a wretched shadow of its former self. To paraphrase J.R.R. Tolkien: “they were chickens once… tortured, and mutilated… a ruined and terrible form of life…now perfected.”

The modern chicken has a breast so big it can barely walk or fly. It’s lethargic, to the point where even if a farmer gives it pasture to roam it won’t. It grows with frightening speed: In 1960 it took about 5 months to raise a meat chicken for market. Now it can be done in 6 weeks. In 1925, a chicken needed to eat 4.7 pounds of feed to gain 1 pound. Now it only needs to eat 1.9 pounds of feed to gain the same pound. Only tilapia, the Soylent Green of fish, has a better feed ratio.

This is the chicken you eat. And we Americans eat a lot of it. Chicken topped beef as America’s favorite meat in 1992. In 2006 we ate an average of 87.7 pounds of these birds, the highest poundage on record. And as you well know, we are not eating all this chicken as a whole bird.

Various shreds of it are glued together to make your McNugget. It’s injected with a saline solution to “plump” it and make the watery, flabby, tasteless meat even more tender; apparently teeth are no longer needed to enjoy your skinless, boneless chicken lump. it’s sliced and diced in so many ways that the concept of roasting a whole chicken — once a bedrock skill every cook possessed — is now so daunting it’s a challenge on Top Chef. (Incidentally, chicken used to be almost always sold whole, with the head and feet on, right up into the 1950s. Why? Consumers judged chickens like fish: Are the eyes clear? Feet fresh looking? People knew what a good chicken looked like. Now if you did that you’d create an incident, unless you are at an Asian market. )

No wonder the average consumer recoils in horror at the notion of $5 a pound chicken. Chicken has become our baseline, our lowest common denominator of meat. It’s our daily bread, a right like free bread in ancient Rome or free gas in modern Saudi Arabia.

Read the rest of this essay.

Top photo by Holly A. Heyser.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Farm Bulletin: This Farmer Knows Beans

Contributor Anthony Boutard shares a primer on the beans he and Carol grow at Ayers Creek Farm.

Following on the heels of many inquiries, here is the latest version of our bean propaganda as handed out at the recent Variety Showcase put on by the farming impresario Lane Selman and the Culinary Breeding Network.


All of the beans and grains sold at the Hillsdale Farmers’ Market are grown by us on the farm. We do not repackage other farms’ production or buy bulk beans for resale and we are certified organic. A theme running through Ayers Creek’s grains, legumes and vegetables is adaptation to our latitude, the 45th parallel. We look to maritime-influenced regions such as the Bordeaux and Dordogne in France, Galicia in Spain, the Po River Valley of Italy, parts of the Danube Valley and Hokkaido, Japan. We are not bound by such an analysis, but it is a useful vetting mechanism.

Our primary selection criterion is a bean that can be savored on its own, just a bit of salt and olive oil. Over the last 12 years, we have grown a wide diversity of dry beans; the beans below we deem worth growing. Cute stories and pretty color patterns don't carry much water with restaurants or habitual bean eaters; the flavor and texture are everything once it gets to the plate.

Soaking? Recommended, but not mandatory.

We prefer soaking the beans overnight before cooking. The bean is a dormant, living plant. When you soak it, the plant opens up its toolkit of enzymes and starts to break apart the large protein and carbohydrate molecules that store its nutrients and energy. In our experience, soaking lends the bean a discernible sweetness and a smoother texture than just hammering things apart with heat. We treat soaking as an elegant step in the process rather than an inconvenience. However, with a good bean, it is best to cook it however you want. If the ritual of soaking irritates or crimps your style, relax and follow some other method and hammer away. Regardless, you are not affecting the nutritional value if you soak the beans and toss out the soaking water.

The next day we drain them, add fresh water, bring to a boil and then simmer until tender. Time varies by variety and age of the bean. You can also add herbs, carrots, onions and celery to season the beans. If the dish calls for meat, we generally cook the beans in water first so they retain their own flavor. Avoid cooking beans in an acid liquid such as tomato sauce because they will not cook properly, remaining tough and grainy. It is fine to add salt whenever you want. We follow the late Judy Rodgers suggestion to salt the cooking water to taste. Refrigerate the beans in their cooking liquid.

Anthony and the Roto-Fingers Pea-Bean Sheller.

The church on the way to town has one of those boards updated with infuriatingly banal dictates. This week, it tells us "freedom isn't doing what you want, it is doing what is right." In our world of beanality, freedom is cooking beans exactly how you want; that is the right way. Unless you want to get really, really sick because of some ordeal poison fetish, though, never, ever eat them raw.

Pole Beans

Borlotto Gaston. Result of a decade of work on the great Borlotto Lamon (top photo). It is a superb in every respect. We have been selecting for earliness, short harvest period and four-bean pods. The last trait is very import determinant of flavor and texture; more is packed into fewer seeds. Chestnuts spring to mind as a description of the flavor. A key ingredient for La Jota and Pasta e Fagiole.

Black Basque. A black bean derived from the Spanish ‘Alubia de Tolosa’. The flavor is rich, sweet with a slight hint of chocolate, and with a silky texture. The flavor and texture is unlike any other black bean. Unfortunately, the supply is very limited this year.

Bianchetto. A medium, round white bean with excellent flavor and smooth, dense texture, buttery as opposed to creamy. A very fine bean, though aesthetically not the prettiest.

Tarbesque. Our selection of the French bean called ‘Tarbais’. Good flavor and texture, it is one of the beans traditionally used in the cassoulet. It holds up to long cooking; a trait which is essential to certain dishes. As with the black Basque, the supply is very limited this year.

Bush Beans

Dutch Bullet. We started growing this variety (left) at the suggestion of Kaas Sahin, the late Dutch plant breeder (Bull's Blood Beet was one of his varieties). The lowlanders like it because, as he noted, there is no flatus after eating it, as if that is a virtue for the more childish of us. Actually, none of beans we grow are particularly prone to creating such gastric maelstroms. We describe it is as the best of a red kidney bean without any of that bean's many flaws, or flatus. Dutch Bullet is thin-skinned with a fine texture and a well-balanced bean flavor with a pleasant sweet edge. It is dark yellow with a red eye. A versatile bean which is very popular with our restaurant accounts.

Zolfino. A light yellow bean identified with the Pratamango River Valley of Tuscany. Vastly superior to the cannellino, or white kidney bean. The bean is thin-skinned, very creamy in texture and is best served as a simple white bean soup.  No meat, just the beans, an herb (sage, thyme, or rosemary) and olive oil.

Purgatorio. A small, white bean from Gradoli, a town in the Lake Bolsena area of Italy. The name apparently refers to the fact that it is excellent with seafood, an uncommon trait in beans, and hence well-suited to the observance of the Lenten fast. Someone also mentioned detecting a hint of sulfur in the first stage of cooking, a plausible Dantesque explanation. These beans were recommended to us by Cesar Benelli of the restaurant Al Covo in Venice. Not only does the delicate flavor work nicely with seafood, the skin is thicker and more distinct than that of our other beans, which lends a nice texture when mixed with soft fish. Closer to home, Cathy Whims of Nostrana makes a lovely seafood soup with fish, a hint of cumin, sautéed onions and the beans in their cooking broth.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Cranberry Relish with Bourbon, Dixon-style

Contributor Jim Dixon is usually a free-style kinda guy, mixing whatever he's got in his garden or can find at the farmers' market with products he carries in his Real Good Food line of products. But when it comes to Thanksgiving, he's all about the classics—with a twist.

I like to eat the same thing I've had almost every Thanksgiving of my life, and if you want cook the Dixon meal, go here. I salt my turkey, which I think works better then brine. I've got a smallish 11 lb bird, so I’m leaning toward the same ass-backward spatchcocking that I do with chicken. My other tips: Make a lot of gravy, more stuffing than you might think you'll need (technically dressing, since you should cook it outside the bird) and a creamy vegetable side dish (these creamed leeks with fennel pollen, for example).

Cranberry, Orange and Meyer Lemon Relish

When I was a kid my Thanksgiving Day job was running fresh cranberries and oranges through a hand-cranked meat grinder to make the cranberry-orange relish recipe that was on the back of the Ocean Spray bag. Later I graduated to the food processor, and a few years ago I started using maple syrup as the sweetener. While my mother also makes at least three more different cranberry sauces every year, I still like the simple relish the best. There's always a lot left over, and after eating it on turkey sandwiches for a few days, I'll mix it with yogurt or just eat it plain.

Adding a Meyer lemon and using the Louisiana cane syrup from Three Brothers Farm seemed like a fairly safe modification of the original, and since you want to make the relish a few days before Thanksgiving, I made a batch this weekend and liked it. A little more tart than usual, but tasty. Did I mention the bourbon?

Put a bag (12 oz. or a couple of cups) of cranberries in the food processor. Since they grow here, try to find some from Oregon or Washington, and there are a few organic growers out there, too. Cut an orange and a Meyer lemon into pieces, pick out any seeds, and toss them in, too (don't peel). Add about a half cup of Three Brothers cane syrup (substitute maple syrup; sugar works, too, start with 3/4 cup). Pour in a good shot (an ounce or two) of bourbon. Process for a couple of minutes until you can't see big chunks of citrus peel, then taste and adjust sugar. Store in the refrigerator until it's gone.

You can find Jim at his Real Good Food warehouse store just about every Monday from 4 to 7 pm. It's at 833 SE Main and occupies the corner of SE 9th and Main, number 122. Look for the “extra virgin” sign on the sidewalk out front, and park on the street since the lot is for tenants.

Top photo: Coastal Washington cranberry bog by Keith Weller from Wikipedia.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Homemade Granola: You'll Love It, Guaranteed

It's Thanksgiving week, and all the foodie media outlets are trying to sell you their take on the holiday meal. "37 side dishes your family will love!" "Vegans coming for Thanksgiving? You don't have to kick 'em outside to enjoy your meal in peace." "Pumpkin pie like you've never seen it before!"

And on and on and on.

But what about all the other meals you have to make over the very long weekend for all those visiting relatives and friends? No one talks about that, do they?

Well, I'm jumping in with the easiest of easy things to make to get all those people off to a hearty start on their day, and they'll even be able to serve themselves so you don't have to get up and commence rattling pans and cracking eggs. Plus even after all those people are gone and the house is quiet again you can make it for yourself and your family and freeze it for enjoying whenever you like.

This recipe was created by my mom for the now-legendary Shakers Café, my brother's restaurant in the nascent Pearl District that boasted long lines and bellies full of classic American food. You can make it as is, or add your own mix of nuts and dried fruits or serve it plain with a smorgasbord of condiments to customize the mix. It's great with milk or yogurt or all by itself, but the best part is that the work will be done ahead and you can sit back and accept the flood of compliments.

Janet Bauer's Shakers Café Granola

1/2 c. butter or margarine
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. vanilla
3 oz. orange juice
2/3 c. honey
8 c. rolled oats
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 1/4 c. sunflower seeds
1/2 c. wheat germ (optional)
1 1/4 c. coconut
1 c. walnuts
2/3 c. slivered almonds
2 c. raisins, currants or other dried fruit

Preheat oven to 325°.

Melt butter in small saucepan. When melted, remove from heat and stir in cinnamon, vanilla, orange juice and honey.

In large mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients except raisins. Add honey mixture and stir till moistened. Spread on cookie sheet and bake for 30 min. Remove from oven, reducing heat to 300°, and turn with spatula. Return to oven and bake for 25 min., checking every few minutes to make sure granola does not burn. Cool thoroughly and store in quart zip-lock bags. [I keep them in the freezer until needed. - KAB]

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Farm Bulletin: Regarding Black Radish & Storage of Farm Crops

All farmers must use their powers of divination when predicting not only which crops will do well in the coming growing season, but also what market customers will be looking for in the future. Contributor Anthony Boutard has a pretty sterling track record on both counts, as the line that forms at the Ayers Creek Farm stand—even before the bell rings—at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market attests.

Regarding black radish

Around here, we have a hunch that black radish is the kale of the future, one of those dismissed vegetables that will suddenly become a must-have because it is packed with outstanding nutritional qualities. In particular, it is renowned as a liver stimulant, which is why it is favored in northern European countries where the winter diet is rich in pork fat and the denizens imbibe beer generously to warm the gloom of the shortened day.

Crap, that sounds just like Portland.

Shredded black radish salad with vinaigrette.

To prepare it, we shred the root—peel on—with a mandolin and then salt it heavily for a half hour or so. This tempers its wilder, harsh nature and tenderizes the flesh. Rinse the salt off, then dress it as a salad with either lemon juice and olive oil or with a dab of sour cream. Treat it as you would a pickle, a nice morsel on the plate. Today, Sylvia and I had a mixed root salad with black radish, knob celery and carrots to accompany our purgatorio bean soup.

Adds a peppery crunch to pizza, too.

My father grew black radish and had a special German tool that sliced the root paper thin. He would salt the slices as an accompaniment with beer, and as kids we loved their sharp flavor even before attaining drinking age. I have not travelled in Germany during black radish season, but he told us that the taverns always served these radishes to keep beer steins empty, and to keep the livers working well. A healthy symmetry.

Some people cook them, but that is, for the moment, beyond my ken. Maybe we can get Linda to figure that out.

A Note on Storage

We keep onions, spuds, roots and greens in a cool, shaded, moist location. A breezeway or overhang that catches a bit of rain on a gust is good. A garage is okay if the roots are kept moist. Throw a wet dish cloth or two on top of the roots. Do not let the roots freeze, though—bring them in for the night if gets very cold. Onions, on the other hand, are amazingly resilient. They can freeze hard as a stone and are just fine, thank you.

Our cornmeal is stone-ground from the whole grain, so it is high in perishable oils and provides an irresistible bouquet for pantry pests. The meal is best stored in a mason jar in the refrigerator or freezer.* Glass protects it against odors from other foods. Frikeh lasts longer stored in this manner.

Mature beans and grains do well in a cool, dark place, not damp, but not very dry either. The cellar or garage is not a bad location, provided it is protected from rodents. It is not necessary nor do we recommend refrigerating or freezing them. Cayennes can be stored in the same manner. We deseed and remove the membrane from some and keep them in a mason jar in the kitchen, grinding them as needed.

Whole squash and sweet potatoes are organs of tropical plants, and die if kept in a cold place. They will last upwards of a year on the counter in the kitchen. Keep them at 60°F (15°C) or above. Both organs reach their peak quality in December and January. Do not bother trying this with Brand X sweet potatoes as they may have been put in cold storage and thus are physiologically dead already. Ours are treated with kid gloves because we propagate the new crop from them. We don't even put those we plan to sell into the van until we are ready to leave for Hillsdale, lest they get chilled overnight.

Sliced squash will hold a few days in the fridge. Otherwise, cook it and freeze the puree until needed.

Preserves unopened last well nigh forever in a cool dark location. Once opened, into the refrigerator they go.

*  I simply throw the zip-lock bags in the freezer, or package several together in a large gallon bag. - KB

Monday, November 17, 2014

Got Cranberries? Get Organic!

A couple of years ago, Ginger Rapport, market manager of the Beaverton Farmers Market, decided it would be fun to demonstrats how customers could make a whole holiday meal from products sold by the market's vendors. To go alongside the sweet potatoes, vegetable sides and turkey, she featured a cranberry jelly made from the whole, fresh organic berries grown by Scott Ridle and his family at Eagle Organic Cranberries in Bandon.

That sauce was so popular that Erin, Scott's niece and the one who runs the farmers market portion of the business, has handed out the recipe to eager customers ever since. Some have admitted to her that they will make the sauce, then pour it into cans ahead of the arrival of their relatives who might otherwise look askance at anything that doesn't have the rings from the can imprinted on it.

The Ridles (pron. RYE-duhl) have owned the property since the 1930s, when Scott's great-grandfather, a doctor, was given the land by a grateful patient as payment for his services. And there it sat for sixty years, passing down through the Ridle family until Scott, who'd been considering becoming a doctor, thought better of that plan and decided to move out to the property. Clearing land and building a barn and a house from lumber he milled from the trees on the site gave him time to consider what to do with it.

With cranberries a big agricultural crop in the area and with access to fresh water for irrigating bogs from a natural spring on the property, Scott decided to try his hand at growing cranberries. Since there were very few local organic cranberries available in the 90s, he decided to go for organic certification, a process that was made easier by the fact that the land had never been farmed before and the soil hadn't been compromised by chemical inputs.

That organic certification, of course, meant he couldn't use the sprays commonly applied in conventional operations to kill weeds and pests, so the family weeds the five acres of bogs by hand and uses water from the spring to occasionally flood the bogs for irrigation and pest control. They dry-harvest their berries, which Erin said gives the berries a firmer body, rather than flooding the bogs and skimming the berries as they float to the surface. They also never package their cranberries in plastic, preferring instead to sell them in paper bags that wick moisture away from the berries, helping to maintain their signature firm texture.

Because the farm is so small and organic is in such high demand, there is almost never a remainder crop left after the holidays. So if you want some of the Ridle's cranberries, your best bet is to get them in the days leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. Erin said that in a typical year, all of the berries are sold then, with rarely enough to go through Christmas. And here's that jelly recipe, whether you plan to put it in cans and fool your guests—or not.

Details: Eagle Organic Cranberries available at the Beaverton Farmers Market, the Hillsdale Farmers' Market and the Portland Farmers Market at PSU and at these stores.

Spiced Cranberry Jelly
Courtesy of The Joy of Cooking

Combine in large saucepan:

4 c. or 1 lb. cranberries
2 c. boiling water
2 oranges, zested
¾ t. cinnamon
¼ t. clove
¼ t. salt

Bring to a boil, cover with lid. Boil 3 or 4 minutes or until skins burst. Put them through a food mill.

Stir into puree:

2 c. sugar

Return pan to heat. Boil about 5 minutes, until thick, skim, pour into bowl or a mold sprayed with pan spray.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Amazing Pizza in PDX? Lovely's Lovely!

Much to my chagrin, I hadn't met Sarah Minnick until just a few weeks ago. She was ably manning the woodfired oven at Ayers Creek Farm (below left), having made its acquaintance a few scant hours ahead of having to crank out dozens of pies for people attending the farm's annual Ramble.

Sarah working her oven magic.

She'd built the fire and was trying to suss out its individual peculiarities—hot spots, cold spots, timing—by making a few test pizzas. Nicely blistered and oozing with the incredible flavor of the farm's tomatoes and greens accentuated by Fraga Farm's goat cheeses, these were some of the best pizzas I'd had anywhere. By the end of the day, with the oven and chef having settled into a mutually copacetic groove, I'd made a vow to get myself and Dave over to her pizza joint on Mississippi, which she owns with her sister, and have her pizza in situ.

Cornmeal cookies with Chester blackberry ice cream for the farm tour.

Just like Sarah herself, the interior of Lovely's Fifty Fifty is warm and inviting, the wood oven roaring in the back and the lighting at just the right level, enough to see what's on your plate and yet feel cozy, even at the long shared table. There's a seating area as you walk in if you're picking up a to-go order or getting some of her stunningly delicious ice cream to take with you. (I had a sample of her Chester blackberry ice cream sandwiched between cornmeal cookies made by Linda Colwell and thought I'd landed in a crunchy-creamy purple dream. In other words, even if you've stuffed yourself on pizza and the creative woodfired sides on the menu, order some ice cream anyway. Seriously.)

Black radish, peppers and soft cheese pizza on the farm tour.

We ordered their classic housemade fennel sausage pizza with braising greens and rosemary (top photo) and it came out just as I'd remembered it from the farm…the dough blistered with a pillowy rim, the base not crackery-thin but not too thick, the amount of filling in the just-right category, with plenty of there there and ever-so-fresh. Our side of wood-roasted cauliflower with golden sultana raisins and frenched almonds was toothsome (i.e. not cooked to mush) and slightly smoky, with a sweet-tart tang from the raisins and a crunch from the almonds. I'm going to be working on a version of this at home, for sure.

When it comes to using locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, there are only a couple of other places in town that can compare with the 'za coming out of Sarah's oven. We're lucky that her place is just a few blocks from our front door—it's taken me long enough to get there, but you can be sure we'll be stopping in regularly from now on.

Details: Lovely's Fifty Fifty, 4039 NE Mississippi Ave. 503-281-4060.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

It's Not New England, But We've Got Color, Too!

I love my afternoon walks around the neighborhood with the dogs, and this time of year is particularly spectacular. Get out if you can and see what's going on in your neighborhood!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Rerun: A Good Woman Makes a Good Soup

I made this soup the other night, and if you looked up "comfort" in the dictionary, it wouldn't show your mom or your teddy bear or your pillow or your fuzzy slippers. It would be a picture of this soup along with the recipe. (BTW, I puréed it this time…what can I say but OMG.) Warm, terrifically flavorful and fill-your-belly delicious, it's easy and perfect for the season. And, though I don't do this often, I'm rerunning the original post I wrote two years ago. Enjoy.

Just before the holidays I was out at Ayers Creek Farm helping Carol and Anthony get ready for the big holiday market at Hillsdale. Well, I say "helping" but it's more like "trying to not seriously f*** things up" while packing boxes of preserves, weighing and measuring beans, polenta and wheat into little bags with a big scoop.

One of the great things about these days at the farm, aside from getting to wear my boots if outside work is required, is sitting down at the table for a big lunch of soup or stew, a hefty loaf of bread and a nice chunk of cheese. On this day, a bit before lunchtime, Carol asked me to pull a big pot out of the fridge that contained braised leeks and potatoes in a white-ish liquid.

While that warmed on the stove, Carol and I went just outside to the kitchen garden to gather a few leaves of sorrel that hadn't yet gone dormant. (Note to self: plant this next year!) It was chopped and thrown into the pot, a cup or so of sour cream was stirred in with some salt and we had a classic "Potage Bonne Femme," a potato leek soup rather like vichysoisse only with more leeks than potatoes.

Carol prefers to use water to cook her vegetables rather than chicken stock, feeling that the flavor of the leeks is more pronounced. In my attempts to recreate this at home, I used half chicken stock and half water and it didn't seem to overwhelm the leeks, and also added a little richness. I've made it with both real sour cream and (purists don't choke) Tofutti sour cream—Dave's lactose intolerant, remember—and both were amazing, even according to my very choosy son who's not crazy about substituting tofu products for the real thing.

It's a comforting, rich and company-worthy meal that is super simple to make in an hour or so. Add a crusty loaf of bread and some cheese with an ice-cold glass of French chardonnay alongside and you're going to get raves from your crew.

Potage Bonne Femme (Potato Leek Soup)

3 Tbsp. butter
4 leeks, halved and cut into 1/2" slices, about 4 c.
3 Tbsp. flour
2 c. water
2 c. chicken stock
4 med. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2" or so cubes
2 tsp. salt
1 c. sour cream
1 c. coarsely chopped sorrel (optional)
3 Tbsp. chives, minced (optional)

Melt butter in soup pot or large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add chopped leeks and cook slowly for 5 min. Remove from heat, add flour and stir. Put back on heat and cook, stirring constantly and without browning for a minute. Add water and stock, stirring well. Add potatoes and salt. Bring to boil and lower heat to simmer for 50 minutes. Add sour cream and chives and stir to heat. Adjust salt to taste. Serve, garnished with chopped chives.

Option: Purée with immersion blender before adding the sour cream or cool and purée in a food processor (or blender) in batches. For a vegetarian or vegan version, substitute margarine for the butter and use water or a vegetable stock and Tofutti sour cream. Really, it'll be fantastic.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Our Princess, Our Rosey

Rosey, our first Cardigan Corgi—the clincher, in her case, the one who spoiled us on any other breed, odd since we're not the purebred types, being mutts ourselves—aka Rosey Toes (or just Toes), Miss Rose, Our Princess, Rosey Roo…the list goes on.

After our first dog, a lovely Husky mix named Nikki, passed on at an advanced age, I was ready to downsize. I'd met many Corgis of the Pembroke persuasion, the smaller, docked-tail dogs that are the familiars of the Queen of England and, while I liked their size, I (no offense) was put off by what I perceived as their yappier, snappier personality. I met my first Cardigan, a dashing fellow named Tai, with a jaunty flag tail and generous nature and thought, "This is the dog for me."

Rosey was born, amazingly enough, in Australia, with the fancy and somewhat ridiculous registered name of Pawcific Post-it from Penrose, from a long line of champions and a delightful little section on her mother's side of non-champions like Lees Black Heckle of Gorthleck. She came to this country as a mere pup, shipped over in a crate that was flooded in transit, the poor thing sopping wet up to her nose in standing water. (To her receiving breeder's credit, she never flew again, one near-drowning being enough for any dog to endure.)

It's odd, as a family of mutts, to be thrown into the world of a dog who has had a "career," especially one as storied as our Rosey's. She apparently raced through her show career, achieving champion status in record time. Her breeder remembered she always got quite excited in the ring, and at one show in particular she jumped three feet straight up in the air, leaving quite an impression on the judge. (She was known to do the same thing at dinner parties, popping up behind our astonished guests.)

She went on to bear four litters of pups, many of whom then became champions in their turn and bore champions of their own. Her longterm lover, and, in dog terms, her husband of long standing, was the superstar Carbon Blue, the first Cardigan Corgi ever to win Westminster. Seeing them together and so besotted was a thing I'll never forget, a lifelong love affair that continued until he passed on four years ago.

Despite the monikers enumerated above, I always thought of her as a bustling house manager in a Downton Abbey-type manor, all petticoats and black skirts as she kept the youngsters in order and the house running smoothly. In her later years she settled into dowager mode, still able to keep up with the younger set on long hikes in the woods, pointing out squirrel nests and bird species, but not above a romp on the beach (her favorite) or digging a den in the dirt at a campsite.

Today was a sad day at our house as we said goodbye to this most graceful and fun-loving of her breed at the ripe old age of fifteen-and-a-half. Ten years with her was not enough, and we will miss her mightily.

Praising the Braise: Short Ribs Excel

You don't need a spreadsheet to tell you that short ribs are the pinnacle of what braised meat should be. All you have to do is walk into a kitchen, your very own or, lucky you, that of someone who's invited you to dinner, the air thick with the rich aroma of a long-simmered sauce, slightly caramelized on the edges of the pot where the liquid has reduced down to its exquisite essence.

I'd clutched my memories of the beauty of this past summer's astonishing weather close to my heart, trying to prolong the warmth and sun, but eventually they simply faded in my arms and I had to admit it was, indeed, late fall at last. But remorse at this loss quickly turned to thoughts of the quarts and quarts of roasted tomatoes in my freezer, each one a condensation of that sensational weather waiting to be revived.

So please bear with me as I make my way through my stash, embracing the joys of braising season, knowing that summer will eventually come around again.

Braised Short Ribs

1 c. flour
3 Tbsp. olive oil
8 short ribs, about 2 1/2-3 lbs.
2 med. onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp. oregano
12 oil-cured olives, pitted and halved
3 bay leaves
1 Tbsp. paprika or Spanish smoked paprika
Large pinch saffron
1 tsp. salt
1 qt. roasted tomatoes
1 c. red wine

Preheat oven to 350°.

Remove short ribs from refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Salt short ribs on all sides. Put flour in gallon zip-lock bag (or small paper bag). Place salted short ribs, two at a time, into bag and shake to cover with flour, removing them to a platter as you do so.

Heat oil in large Dutch oven. Add short ribs and brown on all sides. Remove to platter. Add onions to oil in pan, scraping up any browned bits in the bottom of the pan. Sauté till translucent. Add garlic and sauté briefly. Place pinch of saffron and salt in mortar and pestle and grind into powder. Add saffron-salt mixture, oregano and paprika and stir. Add olives, bay leaves, tomatoes and wine and bring to a simmer. Add short ribs back to pan. Cover and place in oven and braise for 2-3 hrs.