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Archive for December, 2010

Allechante

This is the name of a little cafe in Norwich, Vermont. They make really good food.  They actually know how to bake. This doesn’t sound like a compliment or even a recommendation, but it is.  The perfection of their pastries always inspires deep respect, gratitude, and even awe in me, because there are so few towns that have real bakeries that don’t take short cuts with vegetable oil, that eschew muffins, that use time-tested recipes and forms—such as the Swiss honey-walnut-stuffed engadiner—and that don’t inflate their pastries to size of a toddler’s head.  I always look forward to their almond croissants, which sell out quickly because of their perfect flakiness, not-too-sweetness, delicacy, and pure yumminess.  I was lucky yesterday that there was one left when we got there as late as 9:40.  It was 16 degrees outside. I sat in the sunny corner and enjoyed my moment of marzipan and toasted butter bliss, and watched the Christmas cookies sparkle and turn on their branches.

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Boston butt alla Bolognese

The other night, we had the richest meal I’ve had since, I think, that osso bucco last year.  The main dish, pork braised in milk, was followed by Sharyn’s rendition of sticky toffee pudding with custard, a signature dessert of the Lake District, where our friend Leanda, who just happened to be one of the guests at dinner, is from.  (She demonstrated her approval by having a bit of seconds.)

Sharyn has become something of a co-conspirator on this blog; if she weren’t so materially real she would seem to be an imaginary friend.  But every time we cook a meal together, which is frequently lately, I’m inspired to write it up, to share it, to record it.  We both love to cook, to talk about cooking and food, to plan meals, and to eat them together.  Our husbands and children join us quite willingly.  Jack and Mimi crack each other up, and Jim and Peter enjoy the chance to catch up.

Pork braised in milk was one of the memorable meals from the American Academy in Rome.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to duplicate it, but with the help of Marcella Hazan’s recipe, I thought I might come close.  I started in the early afternoon by browning a Boston butt.  I have no idea why it’s called a butt, since it’s a shoulder, and what it has to do with Boston. I was hoping that Sharon Tyler Herbst’s indispensable Food Lover’s Companion would clarify this question for me, but I was disappointed.  Her pork-cut chart refers to the cut as a shoulder, and as a “picnic shoulder,” which speaks to the description Wikipedia begins with:

Boston butt is a cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the shoulder from the front leg and may contain the blade bone.[1] This pork cut, from the shoulder, combined with the way it is prepared and served, makes it a distinctly American dish. Smoked or barbecued Boston butt is a southern tradition. As a mainstay of Deep South cuisine, particularity in Alabama and Georgia, it is often smoked and sold as a fundraiser on road side stands by charities and local organizations.

Why does this strike me as funny?  Maybe because they don’t explain that it’s “pulled pork” they’re talking about.

Wikipedia then led me to two Boston-based food authorities, Sheryl Julian, of the Boston Globe and Chris Schlesinger, chef and author of How to Cook Meat. Julian offers this explanation, along with a tasty sounding recipe for pulled pork:

the cut was named early in American history. In Colonial times, the shoulders were packed into “butts” – the word for barrels – for shipping or storage.

Anyway, the four kids, between the ages of 3 & 5, who came to eat the Boston butt got a huge kick out of the name.  And the grown-ups were pretty happy with the braise as well. We ate every bit, and even sopped up the nut-brown sauce (made with whole milk from a local small dairy) until the platter was clean.

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holy holidays!

Once again, we’ll be traveling during Christmas, so we got a small, manageable, multi-purpose, potted tree: a rosemary bush.

Saturday was an interesting amalgam of holidays, of kitsch and authenticity, peppermint sticks and latkes.  In the morning, we joined some friends at the local John Deere dealer for a picture with Santa and to climb around on tractors.

Oh yeah!

This event reached a height of absurdity when the hay wagon took us on a circuit through the parking lot of the Lakeview Baptist jumbo-church.

We ended the day at little Mimi’s house eating latkes and lighting the menorah. To celebrate oil, I once again made the orange scented olive oil cake I wrote about recently.  This time, though, I had confectioner’s sugar so was able to make the glaze and to dot the top with coarse fleur de sel.  The oranges I used were a variety of blood orange from Florida, just in, which gave the cake a peachy hue.  It was deeply moist and tangy.

All and all, it was a satisfying weekend for the little ones. On Sunday, I bought my first wreath, strung up lights, and lit all the candles in the house. We’re having a spell of 30-degree weather, so it feels pretty cozy.

Today after school, it was time to turn that frozen disk of sweet pastry dough into cookies.

(Those crispy critters out front are my favorites.)

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