A Good Way To Get Rid of Extra Vodka

Monday, March 31, 2008

The redbud elixer still tastes like sticks, only a little more sour than I recall. Moreover, the flowers turned an unappetising brown color and fell from the stems to gather at the bottom of the bottle, not at all the way I remembered it. Perhaps vodka wasn't the proper vehicle. OK, one harebrained project out of the way, but there will be others. For years I've been meaning to make a tonic from wild sumac berries that I read about in Euell Gibbons. Again, precise timing is called for. The berries must be just moist enough to leave a light stain when lain on a paper towel. Apparently this is only possible for a few days each season.


This week saw the return of two recipes that we haven't seen in a while. One is a stir fry of scallops with hominy and spinach. We used to use it a lot but then the little scallops that I like became over fished. I use the Mexican style hominy that is crunchy, the kind they put in posole. The other recipe is for roast chicken that has a layer of herbed cream cheese stuffed beneath its skin. The chicken is beautiful- all golden with crispy skin. Its drippings make a fantastic sauce. The herbs vary from batch to batch, but the stuffing always includes spinach and lemon peel. Two other things returned lately that were components, rather than entire dishes. When I started at Crook's Corner (fifteen years ago this May- I can't possibly believe this), I inherited a cannon of recipes in little plastic boxes on a shelf by the back door. I'm using a couple of my favorites right now. The first is Red Sauce. I've always thought that it is perfectly delicious. It is basically pimientos, canned tomatoes and Tabasco Sauce, cooked together briefly before they are pureed. Presently we're using it on fried bluefish. The second is for roasted tomatoes (again canned) that are seasoned with saffron, orange peel and garlic- more akin to the south of France than to ours. We stir this into fettuccine, cream and spring vegetables.

posted by Bill Smith at 11:33 AM 0 comments

Spring Time and Weird Botanicals

Sunday, March 23, 2008





This is sort of complicated. Once, in Venice, I was served an aperitif that was made from a branch of redbud buds that had been steeped in a bottle of grappa. The bottle itself was pretty, but unhappily the contents, although a little herby, tasted mostly like like sticks. Sticks that had been sitting in moonshine. The signora beamed as we sipped our drinks and explained that it was very important to use the buds, not the open flowers. That it could only be made a few days every year, that you must have everything at the ready because you could never really know when the tree would bloom and that the drink served as a bracing, healthy tonic. (At this same bar I bought a whole bottle of grappa that had stems of rue in it. For years after, even when the next morning there were people passed out everywhere and all the other alcohol in the house was gone that bottle of grappa was always still there.) In any case, in the back of my mind I sort of intended to revisit this drink one day and perhaps improve on it a bit. Of course, I've never been ready when they bloom, this year included. Yesterday, I was asked to join friends Moreton Neal and Jean Anderson in interviewing Lynne Rossetto Kasper on D.G. Martin's Who's Talking radio show on WCHL. As I biked to the studio , I happened to spy a stand of redbuds that had not yet bloomed. They were at the entrance of a new development, probably newly planted and therefore a little behind schedule. I was a little early so I raced to the liquor store in the adjoining mall. Closed for Easter Monday! Damn. I had planned to snap off a few branches and put them in a bottle of cheap vodka to see what happened. We were supposed to have a light frost that night.The redbuds would survive, but might the flowers be scorched by the freeze? Or what if they burst into bloom the next morning? I was determined to finally complete this task. By the time we finished the show, it was getting late. I tore back to town. I would get a little vodka from work in a mason jar to submerge the flowers in. Then tomorrow I could buy enough for my experiment. Yikes, mason jars but no tops. Off to the grocery store. Back to the redbuds. It's dark now. What if the custodian catches me pruning his trees? He didn't. I guess I'll wait a week or so to taste this.





This leads me to reflect on how much foraging I do around town for stuff to serve at work. My honeysuckle gleaning is already legendary. I'll wait and hold forth on that when the time is right. I also can pick blackberries and wonderful little wild yellow plums within sight of the restaurant's back door. I checked the plum trees this week. They are covered with flowers promising a good season. I have a yard full of violets which may turn up on desserts and in salads. I once used to candy these. They are pretty done this way, but they don't last very long and they just taste like sugar. I have jewel berries in my yard as well, although this year they were badly trampled when I re-sided my house. I haven't started trapping squirrels and rabbits yet, but who knows. Israel Martinez told me that his mother used to send he and his little brother out to catch quails with their bare hands, so I have some staff know how. Just kidding folks.





A few random notes. Betsey has brought me tons of pretty kale. She's cleaning out her winter garden. With it I made a delicious, if khaki colored, soup with potatoes and leftover sausage from brunch. It reminds me of the Portuguese caldo verde. Friends farther South tell me that Mrs. Chase did indeed get Dooky Chase's open again for Holy Week. If you find yourselves in New Orleans, please check it out. Ditto Willie Mae's Scotch House which is right around the corner. And finally, I have discovered that lamb kidneys are now available at the Carrboro Farmers' Market. I probably won't put them on the menu, but I might be fixing some up for myself from time to time, most likely on Sundays, so ask if you are a fan.

posted by Bill Smith at 10:44 AM 1 comments

Livers and Lamb

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Photographs of liver are rarely attractive, whether raw or cooked. I know that I've posted all manner of viscera and charcouterie already, but I'll spare you all this one. Besides, everyone already knows what liver looks like. Chicken livers are another one of those foods that have a loyal constituency. People who really like them are delighted to find them on the menu. We have two ways to serve them. This time they are sauteed with onions, tossed with chunks of fresh avocados and finished with our Bourbon brown sauce. The other method is to toss them in flour and Cajun salt and to fry them in bacon grease with onions. Rosalynn Carter is fond of this recipe.




Lamb is a traditional dish for both spring and Easter and I like it to appear briefly, at least, at this time of year. We'll be grilling boneless legs and serving them with yet another variation of brown sauce, this one enriched with roasted garlic. I guess that the next week or so will be a sort of brown sauce fiesta, for it appears also with mushrooms on the hanger steak. The foundation for all three of these sauces is the same- slowly roasted veal bones. The joints and knuckles are best because they contain cartilage for protein. Lots of marrow is also good. You must turn them from time to time. Try to cook them until they are a pretty reddish brown all over, then put them into a stock pot and cover them with cool water. Deglaze your roasting pan with red wine, and add this to the pot. Simmer on low heat for at least three days, with vegetable scraps that you might generate as you cook other things. When the stock is rich and pretty and fragrant, strain and degrease it. Reduce red wine and red wine vinegar with chopped shallots to almost a syrup in a large pot. Add the veal stock and reduce it over high heat by about three quarters. Add more red wine and reduce again. Add heavy cream and reduce yet again. Add Bourbon or brandy and boil for just a minute or two more. Strain out the shallots, cool and degrease again. Needless to say this is absolutely delicious at this point, but you can see why people rarely make it at home any more.



This week saw visits from old friends from the food world. Kim Sunee, food editor of Cottage Living was here for a book signing. John T. Edge (and his son Jesse), director of the Southern Foodways Alliance was here visiting family. We had a birthday party for Kim, and I was able to meet John and Jesse at the Carrboro Farmers' Market on its first full day of the season. I made the almond saffron cake from Kim's book for her signing party. It is delicious and very pretty. I still have a roll of almond paste left, so it may appear for one night only on our dessert menu- probably on a Sunday. Also, I've decided to serve one more corned ham after all, on Easter Saturday. Then we'll have a regular baked "Sunday" ham on Easter morning as well as our usual country ham. If only I could figure out a way to serve ham with brown sauce.

I hope everyone got a chance to see the March 5th of the Carrboro Free Press with its great stuff about Cliff and his market. The photos were fabulous.

posted by Bill Smith at 9:10 PM 0 comments

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