Sunday, March 21, 2010

It's the Little Things...

It was one of those weekends where even the simplest of pleasures evinced a feeling of contentment. I’m persuaded it had everything to do with the first warm spring weekend, although I'm sure the "urban shaman" featured on NPR's Weekend Edition (cultural elitist alert) would no doubt attribute my sunny disposition to a "balancing" effect brought on by the vernal equinox. Whatever. I'll leave that debate up to the experts, or the fools, possibly. All I know is, without examining it too closely, it was great to be alive in the Hamptons.
By nine-thirty Friday morning it was just warming up enough to dare opening up the house for the first time since last October. Every window that could be pried open admitted a brisk cross breeze through the first and second floors. Draperies billowed, magazine pages fluttered, anything not nailed down performed a Spring pirouette. It was lovely. Now who could harbor a niggardly spirit under such conditions, holistic rationalizations be damned!
When my absent Southampton host negotiated my winter caretaking services, I pledged to rekindle my dormant musical talents by learning a new piano piece on his beautiful Yamaha Conservatory grand. I played trombone in my high school marching and concert bands, but that was decades ago, and I haven't looked at sheet music since. Also, I play piano by ear and never bothered to learn the treble clef. Reading the Grand Staff then, borders on the ridiculous. Previously, my habit has been to learn, first, the left hand (easier) and then the right, eventually putting the two hands together. Piano teachers across the continents shudder at the thought of my unorthodox method, but it works for me. So, I've been muddling through the second movement of  Beethoven's piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57, "Appassionata". It's a sublime section in D-flat Major, with an easy chord progression, but all those 32nd notes late in the piece intimidate me into forgetting that fact. As of this past weekend though, I can pick my way competently through the first 36 bars. Maybe by Winter 2012 I'll own bragging rights to the entire work. However, my sense of accomplishment to date remains undiminished.
All the balmy weather unfailingly lead to olfactory-tinged ruminations on quartered whole chickens and un-husked ears of sweet corn roasting over red hot briquettes on the Weber.
I don't think corn has even been planted yet, and the grill is still buried in the garage somewhere, but those two hurdles did not necessarily preclude crisp-skinned chicken and corn on the menu. Least ways, not in these here parts.
And that led to a pleasantly surprising weekend discovery. The lord of my transient manor has saved every gadget his sainted mother ever stored in her 1960's kitchen. This woman must have been a formidable cook, or had an expertly equipped staff (she was an admiral's wife, after all), as there was nothing overlooked in her impressive galley inventory. Buried in an enormous chest-of-drawers in the basement was a classic rotary cheese grater. The kind now - sadly - you can only find as a cheap plastic knock-off. I was tickled to death. I couldn't wait to put this gem through its paces with fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano. It worked like a charm. I wondered aloud, to nobody in particular, why this wasn't the standard for cheese graters in America instead of those horrible, knuckle-shredding box thingies. Stupid. Capitalism, obviously, run amok. Now that he's checked off health care reform, maybe our Socialist President can put a stop to this culinary travesty of justice.
Vinegar Glazed Chicken and Beets - from Martha Stewart's "Living"
  • ½-cup Balsamic vinegar
  • ½-cup Sherry, or good quality red-wine vinegar
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 5 lbs bone-in chicken pieces
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ¾-cup chicken stock, plus extra
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Begin by marinating the vinegar, garlic and rosemary for up to 2 hours.
Preheat a large (14 inch) skillet over high heat and add two tablespoons of olive oil, or just enough to coat the bottom of your pan.
Rinse and pat dry chicken pieces with paper towels and season well with salt and pepper.
Place chicken, skin side down in the skillet. Do not over crowd the pan, cook in batches if necessary. You should hear an immediate sizzle as each piece hits the pan. Allow the chicken parts to cook, undisturbed, for a few minutes so that they develop a nice sear. Brown on all sides, about 10 minutes per batch. Remove browned pieces to a warm platter.
Add the chicken stock and deglaze the pan. Return the browned chicken pieces to the pan, lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the liquid reduces by one half.
Return the heat to high and add the vinegar marinade. Swirl around to incorporate with the chicken and broth. Reduce for about 10 minutes more.
Server immediately over polenta or egg noodles.
I knew anything this rich and tangy had to have a powerfully confident absorbing force, hence the polenta. I made mine with grated parmesan cheese and fresh sage leaves. It was perfect. On the side, my favorite vegetable.
Roasted Beets with Sage and Orange Glaze - from the NY Times
  • 4 medium-sized beets
  • 1½ Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ¼-cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp orange zest
  • 4 fresh sage leaves, chopped
  • Salt & pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375° F. Place beets on a pan and roast for about an hour, or until they are fork-tender. Let cool slightly, and then slip off their skins. Cut into strips about ½-inch thick and put in a mixing bowl.
Melt the butter and sugar in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Add the orange juice and reduce to a light glaze (should just coat a spoon). Add the zest and sage. Cook for another minute or two to heat through.
Pour the glaze over the beets, season with salt & pepper and toss to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature.
I sat at the dining table audibly vocalizing approval of my own handy work. It was an OMG moment. I should have shown more restraint, but just couldn't help myself. 
Others might be relied upon to display sufficient humility in praising their own cooking, I essentially don't give a damn. I could be wrong; my taste buds could be totally out of whack, but I'm fairly confident that I'm a pretty good cook. Lately though, the dishes coming out of my Southampton kitchen have blown even me away. My only regret being you're not here to share in them and the pats on my back, as my arm is developing a cramp. But who knows, if you play your cards right...
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food


Charlene said...

Not this week end but last was the lovely first of spring time. There were daffodils and red bud trees budding. Mid week last I saw stalks of wild onion in the field next to my house. I pray for some weeks of this without the sound of the lawn mower.

Jacky Cheng said...

oh man, the chicken is mouthwatering! haha and i love the picture of dirty dishes at the end.