All Hail Pomona !

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It seems like only yesterday I was whining about the end of agriculture. This morning I walk in the backdoor of the kitchen to be greeted by a big pan of persimmons- the year's first. They were from Mrs. Andrews and she had also brought still more figs. All the pumpkins I got from Ken Dawson are gone. The curried pumpkin soup we made with them was very popular. Each one was a little different. Ken saves the seed from year to year, so the produce he ends up with is the product of endless self-hybridization. One looked like a classic jack'o'lantern, one like a giant gourd, one had an interior similar to a spaghetti squash, another was remarkably dry. They all needed different times and temperatures to cook.

We'll leave the orchard for a minute and focus on surf and turf. Fall means the return of fried oysters. Right now at the beginning of the season, the are the perfect size as far as I'm concerned. By spring they will have become big and gloppy. When the outside seems done the inside can still be cool and gooey. We bread ours with a mixture of half self-rising flour and half maseca, which is what Mexican cooks use to make tortillas and tamales. I stole this years ago off of the box of some seafood breader I had bought in New Orleans. As usual, we serve our oysters with a mayonnaise made with garlic that has been roasted with cumin seeds.

Fall also brings with it the return of richer, heavier sauces, so our ovens will once again be browning big pans of bones for the stock pot. I try to start cooking these in the morning, so that they can brown slowly for a long time. It is important to turn them from time to time as they cook. I love the smells that this process produces, the roasting, the deglazing of the pans, the stocks simmering. I'll hold forth on this in detail another time. For now I'll just say that I think that aroma is as important in cooking as taste.

I've gotten requests from time to time for the recipes of things that I've talked about. I have decided that rather than publish them in the text of the main blog, I'm going to add a separate link for them. Hopefully this won't take long. I've always been flattered when people ask for recipes, so readers should feel free to ask for anything that I've mentioned here.

posted by Bill Smith at 4:08 PM 0 comments

Leaving Well Enough Alone

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Late every summer I get a message from Mary Boyer from up near Asheville. She's driving to the beach. Do I want any raspberries? (She has a farm). The answer, of course, is always yes. Most raspberries don't like the heat and humidity in this part of the state, so as a rule they don't flourish here. This is my one opportunity to have a ton of them at one time. So what do I do with them? Nothing. I serve them plain with fresh whipped cream. They don't need anything else. Once, I was in Nantua in the foothills of the French Alps. My friend and I found a lakeside restaurant whose specialty was quenelles-a sort of baked fish dumpling served naturally enough with sauce Nantua. The dining room had big windows and was built out over the water. The place was old but well kept up. It was bustling at lunch time. We had a nice local wine and some pate before our quenelles arrived. Sauce Nantua is a cream sauce flavored with crayfish. Fresh from the oven, the dumplings were sizzling, puffy and fragrant. (I have on several occasions tried to recreate these here using catfish instead of the traditional pike. Utterly ghastly each time.) Our dessert was a plate of fresh local raspberries with whipped cream. This was probably the best lunch I've ever had. I've served them this way ever since.

I was asked by the Carrboro Free Press to contribute a recipe for an issue devoted to apples. I remembered rum cake that I really love, but for some reason hadn't used in years. I scared up the recipe and it will appear on the menu for a while. It's an odd cake because it uses bread crumbs instead of flour and you begin the cooking by frying the batter on top of the stove. It is finished in the oven, and lastly, glazed with red currant jelly. The cake is served hot with vanilla ice cream. The rum vapors are as intoxicating as the cake.

A few Fall favorites have arrived as well. Foremost are fried green tomatoes. These have become almost iconic in Southern cooking and there are many many preparations. Chapel Hill Magazine has a townwide sampler in their current issue. We've also brought back our basic meatloaf. It seemed like a good idea to have something really good yet unchalleging for these dicey times. We serve it with milk gravy, mashed potatoes and lima beans.

posted by Bill Smith at 7:38 AM 1 comments

A Collection of Unusual Ice Creams

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cleaning out the refrigerator in a busy restaurant produces unique opportunities for experimentation. This may sound alarming at first hearing, but stay with me. You are probably saying to yourself "I shouldn't be paying good money to eat leftovers." In fact, cagey cooks have always tried to use every speck of whatever they have. Years ago, when homes had large families and perpetually active kitchens this happened automatically there. It still does in restaurants.

This week I had an easy Wednesday so I went to work. There were pineapples that had been served grilled with the pork ribs. There was half and half left from the cream pitchers. We had bought more blueberries than we needed. There were dried cherries and an unopened bag of shredded coconut left over from the last Lane cake. The last of the ribs became tacos for the kitchen. The leftover grilled corn went into the crab soup. Mostly I made desserts.

The blueberries were easy. They are one of the fruits that have enough natural pectin to make almost foolproof sorbet. Toss them in a large bowl with a pinch of salt and enough sugar to lightly coat them. Mash them just a little with the back of a spoon and let them sit unrefrigerated for an hour. Puree and strain them, then add a little water. You want a thick but runny base. You are also diluting the sweetness a little. This churns into a really beautifully colored sorbet.

Half and half that has been sitting out on the tables cannot be reused unless it is cooked. Hence restaurants that serve lots of coffee are also liable to serve lots of gratins, custards and ice creams. I take part of what I have and scald it with a vanilla bean and the dried cherries and put it aside to steep. I do the same thing with rest, replacing the cherries with the coconut. The pineapples are peeled, cored and chunked and also dusted with a little sugar and salt. Raw pineapple would be too icy so I simmer it on very low heat until the fruit is softened and the juice has begun to thicken. I puree this. The two batches of half and half are cooked into custards. The cherry is churned as is into cherry vanilla ice cream. The pineapple puree is added into the coconut custard and become what else? Pinacoconetta

posted by Bill Smith at 4:48 AM 0 comments

Another Big Dinner Party in New Bern

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The annual visit from my brother who lives in California, provided the occasion for several nice family gatherings in New Bern. A cavalcade of cover dishes- all delicious, arrive. I clear the whole first floor by hitting a hot frying pan with Tabasco as I cook shrimp and grits. One night we have absolutely perfect hamburgers from the grill. The secret seems to be something called Nature's Seasons. North Carolina is having a lovely mild late summer. There is enough rain to keep things green and in New Bern there is a nice breeze off of the river. My parents' house is wireless now so I can sit in an upstairs bay with windows thrown open and curtains fluttering and work as I listen to Diane Rehm. It was a nice if very brief escape.

Every year at about this time, the glut of produce suddenly drops away. The okra is woody, the tomatoes are all but gone, the zucchini are baseball bats, and the watermelons start to lose their pizazz. The menu looks anemic for a minute. But corn is still good and there are green tomatoes. They just don't want to ripen reliably anymore and there's too much blight,especially after all the rain from Faye. This is the hardest time of year to cook. It's still hot, but it's time to think about Fall. The evenings cool a little so you take away the cold soups only to be met by a week in the nineties.

But we make do, and as long as you avoid shortcuts for their own sake, you can still cook a fine dinner. There is one more wave of figs, and the green tomatoes will of course be fried. The incorrectly named winter squash are starting to show up and it is nearly time for the second season of artichokes. My pecan tree is absolutely drooping with nuts. Paul has suggested that we go through old menus from my early years at Crook's to look for forgotten recipe. Since I can't remember anything this probably the only way they'll ever be seen again. This sounds like fun. On Tuesday the sixteenth I'll be making barbecue sandwiches at The Center for the Study of the American South to celebrate the screening of Moving Midway later that night at the Varsity Theatre. The film is by North Carolinian Godfrey Cheshire and is about the task of moving his family's ancestral home back out in the country where it belongs. Please join us.

posted by Bill Smith at 4:33 PM 0 comments

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