Nice touch with the venison, good job Dave. With the exception of the grilled shrimp/grapes/curry (in my mind it’s a warm weather dish, though I’ve served it throughout the year) this menu works.
This menu is absolutely correct for the month of February: a time when you want the food to cosset you with warmth, to stay with you and give you a sense of well being and security – the harsh cold will do you no harm with this food in your veins. The venison turned out well. Cooking it demanded attention and attention was what it got. Glance away for a split second and it’s overcooked and dry. My gaze did not waiver. It was cooked perfectly.
When I’m putting together a menu one of my top priorities is that it should be seasonal and the food stuffs have to be as local as possible. I did it here – with the exception of the shrimp.
As I recall the atmosphere that evening was a tad reserved, a bit stiff, for at this particular point in time Sandy was my boss. In some ways I felt like I was in a ‘Leave it to Beaver’ episode where Ward brings the boss home for dinner. Actually a better example would be Ralph Cramden bringing home the boss in a ‘Honeymooners’ episode. Everything went well, we enjoyed ourselves, but I couldn’t forget that she was the boss.
So make this menu when the winter’s cold and friendships are to be warmed. Hope that it will snow a little, and drink a toast to good fortune. As for me I’ll think twice about bringing home the boss for dinner.
In truth there are some days when even I don’t want to cook. God, the truth does set you free! I’m not even talking leftovers here, which I very much enjoy. These are the days that I don’t want to put anything in a pan, I don’t want to turn the oven or a burner on and I don’t want to have to wash a single dish. These are the days that Bonnie and I order a pizza or sushi from the local shop. Or, Bonnie cooks dinner. It happens, not too often, but it happens. Bonnie is a good, competent cook and she enjoys cooking. She just doesn’t enjoy it to the degree that I do and her job is tough; when she gets home she’s tired. Also she hates even the thought of having a sink full of pots, pans and dishes to cleanup whereas I have no such hesitation. So, I usually cook and it’s an arrangement that has served us well – if you ignore those 9:30 dinners where Bonnie was starving and had to go to sleep in an hour.
And it came to pass that I found myself in a ‘no cooking’ mode. I try to give Bonnie a day or so notice with this kind of thing so that we can decide what we’re going to do about dinner. This time, to my delight, Bonnie decided that she would cook. Not just cook hotdogs, but…… a soufflé! She mused on how she hadn’t made a soufflé in many years, how she enjoyed them and how her soufflés usually came out pretty damn good. The stage was set; Ely’s ham, good Swiss and parmesan cheeses, seasonings, eggs, milk and a trusty copy of ‘The Joy of Cooking’.
I am banned from the kitchen when Bonnie’s cooking. If I’m there I’m likely to say annoying things and ask annoying questions.
– Aren’t you going to use a bigger knife?
– You’re going to use that pan?
– I’d slice that differently.
– Did you butter the soufflé dish?
– Are you going to put a collar around the soufflé dish? If you are, don’t use the brown paper shopping bags, they have plastic in them. Use the parchment paper.
Eventually, quite quickly actually, Bonnie gets this angry- cold look in her eye, glances down at the knife in her hand and in a knife edge voice says to me, “You’d better leave the kitchen – now”. As I am not a complete idiot I do as I should, I leave. Understanding that it’s not my show. That if I wanted to tell her how to cook it well maybe I just should have damn well cooked it myself.
The soufflé? Perfect. Golden brown crusted, creamy-light-melt in your mouth interior with a taste full of the cheeses and seasonings and the wonderfully chewy bits of ham. Yeah, sometimes I love to take a break from the stove and be presented with such a wonderful gift.
Dinner Diary October 26, 1991
This IS a good fall, or winter, menu. It also shows proof that I am responsible for inventing and introducing a culinary masterpiece to the world – the ROOT VEGETABLE GRATIN. I was way ahead of the curve on this and BOTH Al Gore and I invented the Internet. As to the rest of the menu. The soup sounds good – what doesn’t sound good when it has oysters in it? Six pounds of chicken for four people verges on stingy in my opinion. Thank you Brenda for the apple pie. I have no doubt that the pie was very good, but Bonnie is the Supreme Empress when it comes to apple pies. Not just because of her never to be equaled crust, but because she has ‘the touch’ when it comes to apple pies.
Root Vegetable Gratins. Maybe I love them as much as I do because of my eastern European heritage. Maybe it’s just because they are so absolutely satisfying and soul warming. This is true comfort food and it does taste of the earth, not dirt, but of the essence of time itself. All the events that the leaves witnessed, and the flavors of the sun, rain and winds that they soaked in before completing the cycle and becoming the earth are in the flavors of the root vegetables. Picture the autumn colors of this dish, the golds, oranges, creamy whites and the crispy edges and corners of the top layer of veggies. The texture and tastes are RIGHT THERE. Bite through the top layer of crunch into a yielding firmness, the tastes swirl around, sweet, not too sweet, a little tart with the right amount of bitter, the golden glow and liquid wonder of hot butter and heavy cream, some nice herbs to enhance the vegetable flavors. Yeah, I love root vegetable gratins. I’ve made them with various combinations of root vegetables. They all taste a little different, they all taste wonderful. They are a perfect companion for ‘Bell’s Seasoning’.
To appreciate a root vegetable gratin to its fullest curl up in a big chair with a hot serving of this each time you have the chance to look at the autumn leaves as the light fades from the day, whenever the leafless branches of trees lace the edge of the evening sky and whenever those first one or two or three snowflakes drift down in slow motion from a featureless gray sky, harbingers of the winter to come.
Dave’s Root Vegetable Gratin
This is one of those dishes that there are numerous recipes for, this one is mine. My ‘coarse chop’ is a bit smaller than a bite size piece of whatever. This will serve about 6 plus guests as a side dish – depends on the size of your vegetables doesn’t it.
1 strip thick cut bacon
1 large onion: peeled, cut in a coarse chop
2 or 3 parsnips: peel, cut in a coarse chop
1 fair size celery root (celeriac) peeled and cut in a coarse chop
2 or 3 carrots: not peeled, cut in a coarse chop
1 or 2 fair size russet potatoes: not peeled, cut in coarse chop
1 rutabaga: peeled and coarse chopped
– Preheat the oven to 375°F.
– Render the fat from the bacon in a cast iron porcelain coated baking dish large enough to hold all of the ingredients.
– Remove the bacon strip and reserve a tablespoon or two of the rendered bacon fat in the baking dish. Treat yourself and eat the bacon strip.
– Sautee the onions in the bacon fat until they’re just beginning to soften. You want them to be a cooked a little before the gratin goes in the oven.
– Remove the onions from the baking dish and put them in a bowl large enough to mix the ingredients and seasonings without having them slop all over the counter.
– Add the parsnips, celery root, carrots, potatoes and rutabaga to the baking dish with a tablespoon of butter, a little salt and just enough chicken broth to cover the bottom of the baking dish.
– Cover the baking dish (foil, baking dish cover, whatever), place it over medium low heat and braise the vegetables about 10 minutes or so, checking to see that there’s still liquid at the bottom and stirring the vegetables when you do. Add more chicken broth as you need to, but not so that it’s drowning in it. I do this so that the flavors can mingle a bit and the vegetables have a head start on getting done.
– Remove the baking dish from the stove, turning the vegetables and juices into the mixing bowl with the onions.
– Add the salt, black pepper, Bell’s Seasoning and nutmeg to the veggies and toss to mix. You want the taste of the Bell’s and the nutmeg to be evident, but not overwhelming – not IN YOUR FACE. One big happy family of flavors, no show offs here. Add a bit at a time and taste, taste and taste again.
– Return the contents of the mixing bowl to the baking dish.
– Add the heavy cream to the baking dish. I add just enough so that I can begin to see it through the mélange of vegetables.
– Add a couple of pats of butter atop the gratin, maybe 2 tablespoons.
– Place in the oven and bake until a fork stuck into the veggies shows you that the veggies are nicely soft and done, about 45 minutes or so.
– The top of the gratin should be nicely golden crusted. If it’s crusting before the veggies are done loosely cover with foil and remove the foil about 5 minutes before you plan to take it from the oven so that the top can get crispy again.
– If the veggies are done, but not crispy, drizzle a little heavy cream over it, place it under the broiler and watch it like a hawk until it is golden and crispy.
– I’ve had good luck seasoning this with only fresh thyme, salt and black pepper.
Bell’s Seasoning is a very nice seasoning. It goes particularly well with poultry and I always remember my Mom using it to season the Thanksgiving Turkey and stuffing.
Started in Boston in 1867 by William G. Bell it contains rosemary, oregano, sage, ginger, marjoram, thyme and pepper. Not only does it work well with poultry. But also some fish, vegetable dishes like the gratin and pork. Yes, it’s owned by one of those ‘large’ companies these days, but it’s as I’ve always remembered and that’s nice. A bonus is the retro packaging. Again, as I always remembered – except for the fact that they’ve added a little banner that states, “Salt Free”, a concession to our PC nutty world.