Smoked Salmon and Corn Chowder – The Leftover Chronicles Continue

Lately, I’ve been enjoying using up leftovers. Granted, good leftovers require some good dinners as starting points, but that is OK, too. It’s just that after a week of Hannah and her girls and Sarah’s sister Anne, we have a lot of leftovers in the fridge I want to use up.

The rules are simple: use whatever is in the fridge without buying anything beyond some incidentals. Today, on my way home from the office and thinking about what we had, I started combining. Three ears of corn leftover from last night—still sweet and tasty. Some leftover Nova lox from my foraging session with Lisa Ekus, Virginia Willis, and Bob Dees. A couple of potatoes Sarah bought as Idaho that cook up mealy no matter what we do to them. And some common crackers Sarah and Anne bought at the Vermont Country store. You can see where I’m going with this: corn chowder.

Smoked Salmon and Corn Chowder

1 onion
2 TBS butter
2 potatoes
3 ears corn
1 cup milk, half and half, etc.
1 bay leaf
Sprig of thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ tsp paprika
A small piece of red or green bell pepper
A small piece of hot pepper
Chives and dill for garnish
Several pieces of Nova lox

I cut up an onion and sautéed it in 2 TBS butter while I diced the potatoes small. I added the potatoes to the butter and tossed them around for a bit, then covered them in water and brought them to a simmer. I sliced the corn off the cob—pretty easy anyway, but I cut the cobs in half, which makes it easier. I added the cobs to the simmering potatoes.

After 15 minutes, the potatoes were done. I took out the corn cobs then mashed the potatoes against the side of the pot, though you might want to leave them whole if your potatoes have a better texture than mine. I added the corn, the milk, some salt and a touch of paprika. We have a bay leaf tree in a pot that sits outside during the summer and comes in during the winter. I can’t believe how different fresh bay leaves are, with curry-like flavor notes. I highly recommend it. It’s like fresh basil compared with dried. We also have a lot of thyme in the herb garden, so I added a sprig. In earlier days, the milk would have been half and half or a mix of light cream and whole milk. These days, it’s 2% milk. I keep overruling Attila the Dietician’s request for 1% (she knows she’ll never get skim). Do what you like. I won’t mind.

We had a quarter of a green bell pepper which I peeled, then diced. I peeled it because I was going to add it at the very end and I wanted it to cook quickly without getting all olive drab and overcooked. I diced it really small. Ditto for the hot pepper—we have some long green peppers whose name I don’t know, but which are hot enough.

I simmered the corn and milk for 15 minutes, then added the green peppers and called Sarah for dinner. I sliced the Nova in small strips and garnished my bowl of chowder with it (Sarah is not a lox fancier). I snipped some chives in both bowls and snipped some dill onto mine and served them with the common crackers.

Not bad. Not bad at all. If I used better potatoes and some half and half, it could even be a real meal and not leftovers. And, even without the Nova, I’d go with the snipped dill.

Cooking with Charlotte-Macaroni and Cheese

Given the number of children and grandchildren in my life, you’d think at least one would be interested in cooking. But no. Each one has a passing interest that quickly fades. Perhaps it’s my teaching style. Hopefully not. Anyway, when Rachel’s daughter Charlotte came to stay with us for this past week part of the plan was Culinary Boot Camp. Rachel is not very interested in cooking and she has had too many knife accidents for me to skip knife skills.

So, in thinking about what to teach her, knife skills ranked really at the top. Charlotte is a soccer player (counseloring at the UMass soccer camp as well this past week). She likes meat, but has a training diet that apparently includes Cheese-Its but no bread. Anyway, when I asked her what she liked to eat, Mac n Cheese was top of the list.

On the first night, we made a cucumber salad—sliced local pickling cucumbers cut thin, sprinkled with salt and sugar and left to wilt for an hour or two. Charlotte loved them and I am proud to say picked up the “tuck your fingertips while slicing” bit of chef’s knifery really quickly, perhaps because she is used to being coached, perhaps not. Anyway, the basic recipe—five pickling or one regular cucumber, one scant tsp salt and sugar each, should be doubled since she popped a few in her mouth each time she went by the colander. In addition, I taught her cucumbers “Aunt Hannah-style” (scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon, as Hannah prefers) and to put the colander on a plate to catch the liquid that gets thrown off. I usually add some rice wine vinegar, cilantro, and, if I have them, some chopped peanuts to the salad, but these were fine as is. We also rinsed the cucumbers if they tasted a little too salty.

Anyway, on to the Mac n Cheese. Sarah and I each have our own style. No surprise there. But the surprise is that we both agree on the winner. Holy Smokes, the late lamented BBQ in a church, used to serve a spicy version of this. You can still get the cheese sauce in their deli in Turner’s Falls, Holy Smokes BBQ Delicatessen. The key was that the sauce is really goopy. I dislike the bound bricks o’ macaroni you too often get as mac n cheese. It takes real skill to bake a standard mac n cheese for an hour and keep it moist.

So, when we tasted Holy Smokes’ mac n cheese, we were all over it. First, they added some sambal oelek for heat, which was/is fantastic. Second, the dish was really goopy with sauce. I think they made theirs as a four cheese sauce since it was a little more complex than just cheddar cheese. Sarah spent some time quizzing Lou Ekus about it and came away with the technique of cooking the macaroni and making the sauce separately, but combining them in a small baking dish, adding the sambal if the customer wanted it spicy, and baking it only long enough to get a crust. Voila. That’s how we’ve been making it ever since.

Charlotte, like most of the kids I know, isn’t really a fan of spice, so this version was going to be plain. But, I figured it would teach her a white sauce that could be turned into mac n cheese, or, with pepperjack cheese and the addition canned chilis, turned into a chile con queso, another favorite of hers.

She grated the cheese, made the sauce, helped to determine when the macaroni (actually campanelle because we both liked the shape, which holds a lot of sauce) was al dente and not underdone. The result was excellent. Everyone ate it up and we discussed how to make it again.

And she learned a key rule of cooking: the cook cleans up to the moment when she serves. After that, appreciative diners should clear the table and wash the dishes.

Charlotte’s Mac n Cheese

Charlotte’s Macaroni and Cheese

Charlotte’s Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb pasta – elbow macaroni, campanelle, cellentani, or other interesting shape that will hold sauce
1 lb extra sharp cheddar cheese
3 TBS flour (that’s tablespoon. Teaspoons are abbreviated tsp, but you knew that, right?)
3 TBS butter3 cups milk
Salt and pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
(See options below for additional spicing)

Bring pasta water to a boil in a large pot. Add a TBS salt to the water. Grate the cheese. Preheat the oven on Broil and set the rack 3 inches below the burner. Find a baking dish large enough to hold the mac n cheese and spray it with a little Pam.

Make the sauce: melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. When it is melted and bubbling, add the flour and stir with a heatproof spatula until it is mixed in and lump-free. Smell it as it cooks and when the smell goes from raw flour to a bread-y smell, it is ready. It should be a little golden, but not brown. Add about a half-cup of the milk and stir it in quickly to mix it. Add some more milk, stirring to keep lumps from forming. If they do, mash them against the side of the pot. Add the rest of the milk and stir it in. Let the sauce just start to bubble, then turn it down and let it cook for 10 minutes or so. Stire it often and scrape the bottom of the pot with the spatula to keep it from sticking. Add the nutmeg and salt to taste. Start with a 1/4 tsp of salt and add it in bits until it tastes right.

Drain the pasta in a colander, but don’t rinse it off. Put about a quarter of it back in the big pot.

Pick up the cheese in pinches and add it to the sauce, stirring to mix in each pinch before you add more. When it is all melted and smooth, add it to the pasta in the big pot, using the spatula to scrape the sauce out of the pot.

Add some of the cooked pasta and mix it in. Keep adding pasta and mixing until the dish is as goopy as you like. You may not use all the pasta. On the other hand, if you’ve been nibbling on the cooked pasta as you go, you may wish you had a little more. No matter. Pour it carefully into the baking dish.

Smooth the top and put the baking dish under the broiler for 15 minutes until the top is nice and crusty. Take it out of the oven, let it sit for five or ten minutes, scoop and serve.

OPTIONS:

For a spicier cheese sauce, you can add 1/4 to 1 tsp powdered mustard and/or a few shakes of hot sauce while you are making the white sauce. If you like spicy food, add a tsp or more of sambal olek, Sriracha, or even hot pepper.

White pepper looks better than black pepper since it disappears into the sauce.

You can top the mac n cheese with Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs or wheat germ (Sarah’s trick for making it healthier) before you put it under the broiler to give it a little crust.

You can add different cheeses to the sauce: Parmesan, asiago, pepperjack, etc. for a different flavor. Taste the cheese first to see whether you like it or not.

Carolina Beach, NC

Mostly, we’ve been going to the Cape (Cod), but my brother offered us his condo in North Carolina and we both thought a change would be good. Not to mention water that is actually warm enough to get in. Anyway, the trip included a BBQ stop off 95 in North Carolina and then on to the home of sweet tea and fried food, Tiki bars and “Island” cuisine.

I’ll leave out the duds for the moment. We did find two places that I’d call worth visiting. Bowman’s at the Beach we found on our own. It looks old-school, a brick building nestled on the strip, and inside, it feels like it’s been there for a while. The staff is incredibly friendly and, yes, most of the food is fried, but unlike a lot of the places at the beach, the food feels like it was made in the back rather than defrosted. I had some fried oysters, with mac n cheese and fried okra. Sarah had the BBQ pork. The basket of hushpuppies accompanied the meal were the best I have had on this trip. The oysters were fried but greaseless and the BBQ pork tasted meaty. The sweet tea was also the best we’ve had this trip. Sarah, who normally eschews anything with sugar, has been scarfing down the sweet tea like a pilgrim at the holy waterfountain. Sarah pronounced the fried okra great, so I’ll go with her. She makes it rolled in cornmeal, which is the way I’ve gotten used to it. Around here, they cover the pieces in batter. Still, the frying was pretty greasefree–not much grease left on the plate when we were done and I never got the “whoa, too much grease” feeling hours later.

In looking over the menu, I regretted not getting the deviled crabs, so I ordered one as a side. Bready, shot through with shredded crab meat, celery and red bell peppers, it was good but not very “deviled.”  I’m kind of a snob about crab anyway, and outside of Maryland, I avoid crab cakes because I can get breadcrumbs whenever I want. These were fine, though. As I write this, we’re planning on a return visit before we leave.

The other place we liked was Gulfstream Restaurant, another old-time place. We got that recommendation off of chowhound.com and it was good. I’m a little overloaded on fried food, so I opted for the broiled flounder covered with deviled crab stuffing. Not exactly diet food, but the broiled fish at the previous night’s Deck House had left me ready for something with a little flair. The fish was fresh and the crab stuffing had crisped up nicely without extending the cooking time into the overdone phase. Good cole slaw and the baked potato I opted for over the french fries was wrapped in foil but OK. Hushpuppies and sweet tea not as good as Bowmans, but there was a Shrimp Creole on the menu that I want to try. There is someone cooking out back, not just some college kid with a fryolator and a freezer.

OK, in both cases “old-time” means since the 1970’s, but I’ll take it. There are few high end restaurants in the area and, to be honest, the Cape Clam shacks like P.J.’s tend to have more variety, but we’re doing OK. Even the Deck House, which was undistingushed, had a good Manhattan Clam Chowder. You take it where you find it.

Thursday nights there are fireworks on the boardwalk. The boardwalk is small and slightly seedy, like all boardwalks I’ve been to since I was a boy. But there is live music. A good Southern rock n roll band was playing before and during the fireworks which were going off behind their stage. The fireworks were low and some of the shells seemed packed with a little more explosives, leading to a big POW as it blew apart the chrysamthum shells. But listening to good rock n roll while they were going off was a real treat. Aside from some choreographed fireworks in New Orleans that were “big city” fireworks, this is the first time I’ve heard that at local fireworks. Highly recommended.

Mezze Restaurant, Williamstown MA

This past weekend, Sarah and I spent an afternoon at the Clark with my cousin and her husband. Somewhat frustrating to me since a number of my favorites were on tour, but a good afternoon nonetheless. After the museum, the four of us went off to dinner at MEZZE (777 Cold Spring Road (Route 7), Williamstown, 413 458-0123, http://www.mezzerestaurant.com). An indication of what was to come was how they handled our reservation. We had a 6:00 PM reservation, but finding ourselves at loose ends earlier, I called to see whether we could shift it to 5:15. The voice on the phone was pleasant and accommodating. “We’d be happy to seat you then.”

Beth-Ann and Mitch are New Yorkers, and equally importantly, are knowledgeable and experienced restaurant-goers so I’d asked around for an appropriate choice for dinner. Mezze kept coming up, though invariably followed by, “I haven’t eaten there since they moved.” Not having tasted the food at the old place, I can’t compare. However, the new place is polished and professional and the menu was seasonal and interesting. Mitch found the provenance of each ingredient a touch effete. These days restaurants like to celebrate their sources, as much to promote the local farms as to showcase their own use of local ingredients. Mezze is justifiably proud of their sources. With the additional touch of Arctic Char, a salmon and trout relative rated as a Seafood Best Choice by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch,  instead of one of the overfished species more common to restaurant menus, they go the distance in their sourcing of ingredients.

We started with a local cheese plate and a pork liver pate plate. I didn’t catch the provenance of the three cheeses, all relatively local, but each, an Italian-Fontina style soft cheese, a Gouda style semi-soft cheese, and a Roquefort style blue, was served at its peak and at the correct temperature. The plate was accompanied by a line of balsamic-blueberry reduction, a smear of rhubarb compote, a small pile of marcona almonds, a bunch of small red grapes and slices of pistachio-laced toast. The pate was neither a rough country style nor a whipped mousse, but a firm and creamy slice of very well prepared liver pate, topped with gently pickled onions, accompanied by bright yellow pickled kohlrabi logs and pink pickled baby turnips.

I also had a Caesar salad with house-cured sardines standing in for the anchovies and mustard greens for the romaine. Before it was served, the conversation turned to food, as it often does. “How can you ruin a salad?” asked Mitch. “If you start with good ingredients, it’s hard to mess it up.” “Overdressing it,” said Beth-Ann. “Gritty greens,” I added. Mezze’s salad was an example of how not to mess up a salad: lightly but sufficiently dressed and perfectly clean greens with shavings of a good parmesan, croutons, and expertly cured sardines rounding out the dish.

Sarah and Mitch opted for the diver scallops, six seared scallops on a pea shoots puree, topped with watercress, both leaving nothing on their plates. Beth-Ann opted for the Char, which came on a bed of fiddleheads, asparagus, and baby turnips, topped with a sprinkling of fresh tarragon. It was a large serving and I had to help her out. It came out after the rest of us had been served. The server apologized, explaining that the chef said the piece was a little thicker than he’d thought. Restaurant white lie or the truth? No matter either way. Topped with a nice spice rub, it came to the table cooked a point so the wait was worth it.

I went for the mutton special, slices of medium rare roast mutton, accompanied by a hash of lamb sausage and potatoes, topped with a 60 minute egg. This last, sous vide’d at 140, was very like a soft-boiled egg though the whites texture was airy-er and more like a meringue. The yolk was bright yellow like many organic eggs. It formed a nice sauce over the hash, accompanying the morel-topped reduction for the mutton. Mutton has a bad reputation as “tallowy” and strong, but this piece had a good slightly gamey, lamb flavor.

Each dish was well-cooked, well-seasoned, and thoughtfully presented. For dessert, we split a mango and lime trifle. Sarah’s and my coffee were each brought in 16 ounce French presses, a nice touch since we were assured of fresh coffee and a refill at our pace rather than our server’s. We’d started dinner as one of the two tables in the room, but by dessert, the place was nearly full. We were all driving back after dinner and none of us drinks very much to start with, so we did not investigate the wine list as thoroughly as we might, but from what I did see, I’d expect some well-chosen wines and local microbrews.

The décor is understated and tables well-spaced. Though the place was humming, the noise level never interfered with our conversation. Our server was friendly and attentive, but she did not introduce herself by name, another touch I appreciated. We remained cordial and friendly but not faux friends. Our corner table overlooked the grounds on two sides.

Sometimes it’s the company that makes a meal. In this case, company merely added to what was already good. Definitely a good choice.

Lady Slippers and Morels – 2011

The lady slippers come out in May, at least at the nearby reservoir where I can always find them. I wasn’t sure what all the rain had done to them, but I took a walk this past Sunday. There were flowers in most of the places where I’ve found them before and, in a surprise, I found a white one. There were a lot of plants that had no center flower stalk. I don’t whether that means the flowers are coming or have passed, but usually after the bloom, the stalk and the withered flower hang around for a while. Anyway, here’s the white one. Not the best photograph, I know, but between the wind which kept everything moving and my limited skills, this is the best I could do. Next year, I’m going back for a better shot.

Last Thursday, my friend Perry, a mushroom hunter who sells to area restaurants, including Ristorante DiPaolo.  dropped off a bag of morels at my office. They were beautiful and I got the chance to cook them this Saturday night. I had some stewing veal in the freezer (who doesn’t, right?)(grass-fed, sustainably raised, torture-free veal. I end up buying a lot of it from my friends at Chase Hill Farm) so I made a fricasse of veal, sauteed the morels in butter and topped the portions with it. Served over flat noodles with asparagus on the side, I felt like I was eating the season.

It was the first time I’d cooked morels and I wondered whether to slice the big ones in half. Then, after I sliced off the end of the stem and saw how hollow they were, I was glad I’d left them whole. A little gritty since I was wary about them picking up too much water from the washing, but next time I’ll know better.

Ibiza Tapas – The New Northampton Tapas Bar

It’s been a while since I ate something in a restaurant that didn’t taste like something I could make in my kitchen. Then, inside of a couple of weeks, first the chicken pot pie at Rose 32, then the meal at Ibiza. Bring it on.

We met some friends at IBIZA TAPAS, which is the way to eat here. With four of us, we kept ordering tapas in groups of two or three as we talked. The kitchen is pretty fast, so the food kept coming at a very reasonable pace. And, for the most part, the food was polished and well flavored.

We started with the croquetas bacalao (salt cod fritters) and the Codero Asado, a braised short rib. The salt cod featured eight bite-sized balls with a dot of good mayonnaise. Crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside, not a trace of salt. The short rib came as four pieces, a pile of braised meat on top of a slice of toast, garnished with some fried garbanzos with a slight crust and a creamy interior.

The next course were two cold dishes, a martini-glass filled with ceviche of (cooked) shrimp and bay scallops in a saffron-coconut sauce and Atun Marinado, a poke-like mix of chopped raw tuna, tomatos, scallions, chopped black olives, lemon and, I think, a little sesame oil. Our server cautioned us that the dish was deceptive—people thought that it was simply a pile of tomatoes. He was correct in both ways—on first glance, it seemed mostly tomato because of the color of the tuna. But each mouthful was full of tuna. If the place runs into financial difficulties, here’s a place they can cheat, but it’s not happening today. Our friend Tomma and I were reduced to drinking the coconut sauce for the ceviche, which might not have been traditional, but was too good to let go.

Our final group was Patatas Bravas (fried potatoes topped with a spicy tomato sauce),  Lomo de Cerdo Embuchado (sliced roast pork loin, topped with melted tetilla cheese and a vinegary black olive and tomato salsa) and Albondigas de la Abuela (veal and pork meatballs). Not to insult anyone’s grandmother, but the Albondigas were the only disappointment of the night. Four meatballs, cooked potatoes and red pepper strips in a tasty broth, the meatballs were a little rubbery. Since I’ve made several recipes of these, I was eager to taste Ibiza’s. The rest was up to the standards of the previous dishes.

Dessert was another tapa, Queso Nevat con Higos y Nueces ( a fig laced goat cheese on slices of toast) and Croquetas de Chocolate—four balls of deep dark chocolate covered in hazelnuts and briefly fried. Served in a teaspoon on a little square of lemon curd, I saved mine for the last bite.

The menu divides the cold and hot tapas into Traditional and Modern sections, which gives the kitchen some room to play. There are larger dishes and, on the night we were there, several paellas, but it’s going to be a while before I run out of the tapas to taste. The kitchen likes servings of four, which makes it easy to share.

The wine list is heavy on the Spanish grapes, like Temreanillo, whether the country of origin is Spain or someplace else. I had a sweet Sherry, like a nut-flavored ice wine as well. The meal, for four, with wine, was $101 and we all left satisfied. Definitely worth checking out, preferably with some company.