Closed Captioned For The Thinking Impaired

Saturday, April 5, 2014

It's Easter! Let Us Eat, Drink, And Be Merry: A Rack of Lamb, Some Smashed Potatoes, and a Hunk of Green Beans with Porcinis

Marc Chagall, Easter (1968)
Easter is coming and I am really conflicted.

Not because I'm an atheistic ex-Catholic who left the church of Rome years ago (and all other belief systems that involve omniscient, omnipotent invisible Cranks who get their rocks off by seeing how much havoc Their little jokes wreak).

My own fallout with Great Almighty Powers That Be began as a result of the Archdiocese of N.Y. rejecting my petition to be an altar girl at St. Lucy's.

That I would have been the first altar girl in the history of the New York Archdiocese seemed irrelevant to me at the time.

The important thing was that I was brutally rebuffed by several levels of the Church hierarchy (as a 10 year old girl with great aspirations growing up in East Harlem, "No!" was a word I took to mean, "Try harder" not "Stop, you annoying pipsqueak!"). Needless to say, it took many rounds to knock me out; when they finally did, I vowed never to step into that ring again.

Exit devout Saint-worshipping Catholic school girl. Enter, cynical iconoclastic Atheist who took every opportunity to ask, during our never-ending catechism classes, why Jesus didn't have a girlfriend.

I was a Mary Magdelene freak. You know, the proverbial whore with a heart of gold who quit doing tricks to wash Christ's feet. I chose her name for my confirmation.

Lori Ann Mary Magdelene Gomez.

There's a future Pulitzer Prize-winning name, if ever I saw one.
I figured MM and the Lamb of God were probably getting jiggy with it. He was a man after all, even if He was a god incarnate. Some time between turning the water to wine and curing lepers, I assumed the poor man needed to release some tension and let his hair down. It's not easy being the son of God. The father-son talks alone would be enough to raise your cortisol levels!

But I digress... yes, my conflict is not caused by the age old question of the existence of God or the legitimacy of Jesus the Nazarene as His only son; I don't care about any of that. If there is a Father, a Son, and A Holy Spirit? Grand! It's a great job. I wish Them well.

Nope, my real dilemma is what to serve for the Easter spread.

While some might think it odd or hypocritical that I still celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, I say that I am enlightened and open-minded besides I'll never let a little thing like religious dogma get in the way of a good foodfest.

Yes, I just flat out love to cook and Easter gives me as good a reason as any to celebrate the rites of Spring. I could say, I suppose, that I'm celebrating the rebirth of the Goddess or some such other fib; and, though that may garner me many fans here in Baghdad by the Bay where the only openly accepted Catholics are Our Lady of Perpetual Indulgence, paganism doesn't excite me either even with its promise of drunken orgies (or is that only in the movies?). 

I'm not Marxist but I think all organized religions are nothing more than opiate for the masses and I prefer my opiates to be of the fermented phenolic variety enjoyed in the sanctity of my home ( or the other places of worship, the Three Star Michelin variety, a truly holy trinity to us, the worshippers of the Divine Dish).

Even Marc Chagall commemorated Easter. So why shouldn't I? And he was a son of Abraham! (Art critic Robert Hughes referred to Chagall as "the quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century". )

Besides, I love all the rituals of the Church. Truly I do.

They coincide with the best food of the season's harvests many times. 
Not by accident either. Good old Emperor Constantine was a wily old son of a bachelor, and knew that people would be willingly conquered so long as you didn't take away their good times and let them get their groove on once every equinox and solstice, or so. As he sought to consolidate his power and convert his entire empire to Christianity, he savvily absorbed the culture of the pagans around him, morphing their ritual celebrations into the Catholic holiday calendar. Hence the Nicene Creed of the Ecumenical Council called by the good Emperor to make Catholicism a bit more "user-friendly" for the besieged masses. 

Constantine, though, was a fair guy and likely owed some Jewish mafioso types beaucoup bucks - that gold-plated solidi that was the coin of the realm was tough to come by back in the day - so he decreed that Easter should never be celebrated before Passover. In exchange for that nod to Judaism, he banned Jews from having Christian slaves. It was hell being a Christian back then, until the big C made it chic and all the cool kids like him were converting, too. After Constantine became the sole ruler of the Western Roman Empire, he issued the Edict of Milan in 313 which guaranteed religious tolerance for Christians.

His mother Empress Helena, who was a Christian and later canonized by the Holy Roman Church, may have influenced him in this decision. After three hundred years of persecution, Christians could finally practice their faith without fear.

Of course, personally speaking, the whole nailing a carpenter to the cross thing, having him die and then marinate in a tomb for three days, seems a bit morbid, but, I must admit, it cleverly employs a sense of collective indebtedness. I mean, if the son of God is wiling to take one for the team, and sacrifice himself, the church elders figure that at some level you will, too. Catholicism definitely lays a heavy guilt trip on you. What's a little fish on Fridays during Lent after all the savior went through? Right. Enough said.

I vastly prefer dwelling on Easter bunnies and chocolate eggs myself, come April, but I never let philosophy or religion get in the way of a good meal. Hedonism is my religion, and I will shamelessly adopt any holiday as my own, if delectable comestibles are involved.

Which brings me to Easter dinner...

Lamb is the tradition at Casa Gomez. Lamb is a symbol of rebirth in various religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It was commonly used in ancient cultures as a sacrifice to the gods, and is prominently featured in Biblical texts.

For those of you interested in technicalities, a lamb is a sheep less than a year old, and is typically brought to market between the ages of six and eight months. “Spring lamb” is a traditional moniker indicating lamb born in the early Spring months, but, these days, it is available year-round. Younger lamb has a milder flavor and more tender texture, so it may be more palatable to those not accustomed to or fond of game meats.

The famed pré-salé lamb (literally “pre-salted”) of the salt marshes of Normandy, France is prized for its taste. There the lambs graze on the seaside marshes, which imparts a particularly subtle salty flavor to the meat that is celebrated by some gourmands. There is also a Welsh Salt Marsh variety available.
New Zealand and Australian varieties of lamb are prized for their flavor, but some prefer the taste of American lamb, which is slightly milder and less gamey.
Though lamb has never been incredibly popular on American tables, its consumption has been prevalent throughout the history of civilization. Given sheep’s distinction as the most common livestock in the world, both lamb and mutton (mature sheep) are a staple of European, Middle Eastern, Asian, and some North African diets.
Here I used porcini mushrooms with the green beans. If truffles are the king of funghi, porcini is the crowned prince, and a royal Spring treat. Although, they may also been found in the Fall. Enormous and meaty, you may need to mortgage your home to buy a pound of them, but they are worth the expense. Use the stalks, too. You don't want to waste one little bit of these fungi. As a side dish, I used only two medium-sized ones. Scrape any dirt you may find off the stalks and wipe the mushrooms clean with a damp cloth -- only wash them if you absolutely must, and then never in hot water. You may substitute any wild mushroom you like, or omit them altogether. I've opted to keep the directions for the dishes very casual. It's really a much simpler meal to make than one might think. This recipe will serve 4 delicately nurtured Easter revelers or 2 hearty Crusaders. 

Pesto-crusted Rack of Lamb with Truffled Smashed Potatoes, Green Bean And Wild Mushroom Saute

Rosemary Pesto for one large rack of lamb:

This pesto has 4 rosemary stems from which I stripped the leaves & chopped before adding to the food processor,  a couple of TBS toasted sesame seeds, a handful of parsley, a touch of honey, a smidge of fresh Meyer lemon juice & a generous grating of pecorino romano.  I add the olive oil in last while the food processor is whirring away. I add in a steady stream until I like the consistency of  the pesto which I pictured here. 

You can be more traditional, obviously, & just do pinenuts, basil & parmigiano reggiano, & the streaming olive oil, but I decided to an homage to the Byzantine Empire with my pesto.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Season the lamb with salt & pepper. Cover the lamb rack in the pesto, add a few panko crumbs (or unseasoned bread crumbs) atop the pesto. Pat firmly to allow the crumbs to adhere to the meat. Place in top rack of oven. Roast for 20 minutes or until interior of lamb reaches 130 degrees in a meat thermometer. Allow the rack to rest for 15 minutes in a warm place in the kitchen. As it does, the internal temperature will continue to rise, the meat juices will settle and you will have a perfectly cooked medium-rare rack of lamb (145 degrees internal temperature).  
Once the lamb is done & resting, it's time to make the veggies.

For the green bean saute:

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound green beans (stem ends removed), halved crosswise
2 tablespoons butter plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Wild mushrooms, stems trimmed, halved
2 shallots, sliced thinly
1/3 cup of good quality, low sodium chicken (or lamb) stock

Fill a large skillet with 1/2 inch water; bring to a boil, and salt generously. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Add green beans to skillet; cover, and steam until crisp-tender, 5 to 10 minutes (time will depend on size and freshness of green beans). Transfer to ice water to cool; drain and pat dry (if making ahead, cover and refrigerate up to 1 day). Wipe skillet dry. Heat to medium. Add butter & oil. Add shallots, saute' until translucent. Add mushrooms. Stir and note the changes in texture. Wild mushrooms will absorb, rather than release liquid, add as much stock as necessary. When the mushrooms are soft, add the chilled green beans to the mushroom mixture, and heat through. Serve.

Ingredients for the smashed truffled potatoes:

I like to boil the potatoes with the skin on & just cut them in half; unless they are very small new potatoes then I keep them whole. 

 I put butter & half & half in a sauce pan to heat them well until the butter is melted. I add the potatoes which I have strained by kept warm by keeping them covered with foil in a colander on the cooktop over a pot of hot water. I let them soak for a minute in the heat of the butter & cream mixture which I also added truffled salt to, btw...

I smash them with an old fashioned wire potato masher. I want a coarser, chunkier texture. You can obviously use a food mill or potato ricer if you do not like the skin & want a more refined texture. I finish off the potatoes with more butter, truffle oil, fresh ground pepper & truffle salt that I stir in with a wooden spatula.

I will end this with a little Ode to Spring that I wrote whilst still coloring Easter eggs eons ago...


Winged love 

Flitting prettily from flower to flower

in the soft fragrant air

Stop for a moment...

let us compare.

We are not so different

You and I

Both freed from Winter's guise...

Though I am but a human thing

And You

Are Nature's Spring surprise.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

He Wants To Lasso The Moon For Us

He gets excited to the point of anxiety. Much of the angst is wrapped up in a child-like enthusiasm, a wish to make everything fairy-tale perfect. He is my Sir Galahad. He wants me to be happy. Happy with him, happy with us, happy with life in general.

Some of it is tied into social mores. He comes from a family whose Black Forest roots dig deep in soil that is perfectly primed-- the ph is balanced, it is watered regularly, the sun shines and the rain falls at all the appropriate times with a clock-like precision. By cocktail hour everyday, all the white picket fences are mended and painted where he grew up in New Jersey.

Holiday cards are sent by December 5th. Mayonnaise is never added to Nana Ost's German potato salad on Independence Day, though it's permissible at other times. Apple pies are cooked in Pyrex dishes. Being late was the height of rudeness. Guests showed up at least an hour before the appointed time to family gatherings to both show their excitement and to assist the host or hostess.

I remember the Easter when my poor mother-in-law was apoplectic because we were about to arrive for dinner at her sister's home at noon:

"But, Ruth, Evelyn told us to show up at about 12. It's five minutes to."

"That's right. We're late."

was all she said. Letting an exasperated breath burst into the atmosphere. I looked at my husband quizzically, he said nothing. Sure enough when we arrived bearing Ruth's signature New York cheesecake, the entire clan had been there since 11. We were, in fact, late.

His family's rules are implicit, created organically, everyone accedes to them. Success is measured by the adherence to a tradition that follows well-established norms. Boundary lines are rarely crossed without a passport.

I come from a family in the concrete jungles of East Harlem; showing up on time was considered rude because you knew no one was going to be ready. We considered the day a triumph if the ambulance or police didn't show up to cart one of us away. Ours was a family held together by Crazy Glue, Bacardi and tears.

We had rituals, of course, and shared a communal love for my abuelita's sacred dishes: her pernil asado with the exquisite crackling skin that we all fought for, her perfect long-grained rice which she turned into luxurious variations of a theme with savory additions of gandules, olives, capers, Vienna sausage, chicken or shrimp and achiote. My abuelita kept her annato seeds oven-warm, steeped in the finest Spanish olive oil we could afford - her pilon always ready to saturate taste buds with the fine pastes she created from the crushing of seeds and aromatics.  Her pasteles (which sadly  I never ate because I was a ridiculously spoiled picky child) were legendary, but I tried to help her make them many a holiday- grinding as much skin as green banana in the process. I can still feel that grater against my knuckles on certain nights, when the stars are right.  Only she knew her recipes. Unlike, my husband's grandmother, she never shared hers. She didn't have any. There were no index cards scribed with careful instructions. She didn't cook, she enchanted food into being. She was an alchemist.

This difference in family culture sometimes creates friction between my husband and me. I just can't start packing 3 weeks before vacation. Not even when I know I will see my first moose, or lie beneath the canopy of stars that my husband promises will delight me, but can never be as bright as my eyes when I finally gaze up at the sky on my first Montana night.

"You know it's only three and half weeks away." , he sings out to me for the 7th time this week as I'm wrestling with a leg of lamb that I'm convinced refuses to acknowledge it's been slaughtered. I take a deep breath, swallow three Hail Marys and four Holy Bes and say with feigned patience, "Sweetie, relax. You know I don't care what I wear so long as you're there. I'll be packed before it's time to board the plane. PROMISE!"

Pleased with my response, he misses the irony in his own words as he discusses how imperative it is for me to get the new Golf Pride Black Widow club grips before the trip.

Nana Ost's Warm German Potato Salad

Kartoffelsalat (which translates simply to potato salad) has its origins in Southern Germany where my husband's maternal grandparents sailed to the United States from during the '30s to escape the Third Reich. They landed in Brooklyn. They left all their worldly goods behind, all their possessions seized by the government, except for the thing that no tyrannical madman can take away from anyone - your love and memories of a treasured homeland's culture...

No mayonnaise is used here. Nana Ost thought mayonnaise was an atrocity when mixed with potato. The first time I tasted it at one of the "Cousin's Picnics" my husband's family have every August was when she waived me over to the oven with a hushed, "No... no... eat THIS. Not THAT!" as she saw me about to help myself to a dish of traditional cold American potato salad that had been laid out on the dining table. "This is the good stuff.", and she ladled it on to my plate with great care. Then she quietly explained how to use bacon, hot bacon fat, sauteed onions, and vinegar with bits of mustard seed and a sprinkle of fresh minced dill. "They all like to eat the other kind now. Terrible!"

This is an elegant dish to serve with any meal.


4 whole medium round red or white potatoes ( about1 1/3 lb)
3 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium onion, thinly sliced (1/2 cup)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
(I am loving Himalayan rose salt, these days, though I am not a salt fan)
1/4 teaspoon mustard seed (or one teaspoon of Dijon-style mustard)
Freshly cracked pepper to taste
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken stock
1/4 cup white or cider vinegar (I love using Chinese rice vinegar for this)

fresh minced dill or parsley (optional)
  •  Place the whole  potatoes in 3-quart saucepan; add just enough water just to cover potatoes. Cover; heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low. Cook covered 30 to 35 minutes or until potatoes are tender; drain. Let stand until cool enough to handle. Cut potatoes into 1/4-inch slices. Leave the skins on. 
  •  In 10-inch skillet, cook bacon over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until crisp. Remove bacon from skillet with slotted spoon; drain on paper towels.
  • Cook onion in bacon fat in skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender. Stir in salt, mustard seed and pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is bubbly; remove from heat.
  •  Stir stock and vinegar into onion mixture. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute til reduced by a 1/3; remove from heat.
  •  Stir in potatoes and bacon and dill (or parsley). Heat over medium heat, stirring gently to coat potato slices, until hot and bubbly. Serve warm.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

In Memory Of Ruth

It was a bittersweet end to 2007.

Vincent Van Gogh's "Irises", one of Ruth's favorite paintings

Bitter because my husband's mother quietly passed away that New Year's Eve after a long struggle with pulmonary fibrosis that left her breathless but never helpless.

Sweet because she was a strong proud woman who had always lived life on her own terms and when an emergency hospital visit made it quite clear she was going to have to completely surrender her hard-fought autonomy in order to continue on, it seems like she may have finally decided she'd rather check out of this world than check into a nursing home. Her moxie knew no bounds and she would have been miserable in that environment.

84 years of living life her way was too strongly ingrained to let her choose any option that would not allow her complete control over every aspect of her life ; or so it seems to me. She had managed to live as she wanted to until almost the very end in the comfort of her own home surrounded by her favorite things (she was a bibliophile with bookcases that lined every wall of her small 4 room apartment), eating all her favorite foods - most of which had been prohibited by her doctors but her poor nurses who were hired to tend to her need round the clock wouldn't  dare disobey her commands - better to risk being fired for incompetence by the visiting M.D. than incur Ruth's ire when her sweet tooth needed satisfying.

Unfortunately, my husband and I were on the other side of the country at the time of her passing. We were in Mayacama, a lovely resort at the foothills of the Sonoma Mountains with friends - 1-1/4 hours away from our San Francisco home. She was in New Jersey, the place she lived a lifetime. Her roots would never be fed by another soil. New Jersey was home.

Our last conversation with her was the day after Christmas, when among other things, she asked how our traditional Christmas dinner of which she was inordinately fond (roast pork, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut) turned out. Ruth lamented that her own Christmas dinner had been ill-conceived by hospital nutritionists and poorly executed by hospital cooks. It was definitely not up to her standards. She was a woman who relished every meal and maybe the prospect of a New Year's Eve of healthy but flavorless meals was more than she could bear. I wouldn't be surprised. If you were old, sick and in tremendous pain with only a bowl of Jello to look forward to after a long day of suffering, you might say "no mas" and give up, too.

Though she never called herself German, or even German-American and, when asked what her ethnicity was, simply said, "American" with a hint of vehemence in her voice as she shot the enquirer daggers from her steel gray eyes, she had a certain amount of pride in her German heritage. She grew up in a Depression-era America, one that did not welcome with open arms the wave of German immigrants fleeing Hitler. Being a "Kraut" back then got you spit on by the children in the working class neighborhood she grew up in, and was not something she and her family ever openly embraced. They did their best to assimilate their manners and tastes to suit what they considered the more homogenous Yankee way of life, except on holidays,  when they celebrated their heritage the way all American immigrant families did... at the table set with their homeland's culinary delicacies. Sauerbraten, rouladen, Weihnachtsgans (the traditional Christmas roast goose), spätzle, stollen, and of course, sauerkraut all adorned the table during their festive season.

Ruth truly enjoyed fine cooking and dining. She was an expert cook, and natural gourmand. She considered the culinary arts as important a thing to be cultured as the fine art and literature that she oversaw when she acted as the Director of Cultural Affairs for Bergen County, a job she held until the last month of her life. We never did get to call her to wish her a happy new year. She died too early on New Year's Eve morning. I remember waking up at an ungodly 4 a.m. to what I assumed was a vision of my husband opening the resort suite's bedroom door. Except it wasn't him, at all... He was lying next to me in bed. It seems that his mother (for whom my husband bore an uncanny resemblance) came to say goodbye to us... I only wish I had cooked her last meal for her.

I've created these recipes in Ruth's honor because she was so fond of food writing, was the person who gave me my first subscription of Food and Wine, my first copy of the London Philharmonic's Bach Brandenburgh Concertos, my first coffee grinder to grind the Kona coffee beans she insisted I must try, my first steamed asparagus bundle wrapped with a chive ribbon - which I thought was the most elegant parcel I had ever unwrapped - and the first person to teach me the advantage of mustard and horseradish on a beautiful strip of beef. This is an intimate dinner for two that could easily feed four just add 2 more potatoes in the oven. Voila!

Here is what I would have served her a classic All-American meal with an elegant twist just like the woman who inspired it! Here's to you, Ruth.... with love:

Chilled Prawn Cocktail with Sriracha Sauce and Meyer Lemon Oil

Note: This starter couldn't be simpler. It's a small twist on the classic that I came up with because I found I had no ketchup. I did have Sriracha sauce (even Safeway sells it now) & a great olive oil from San Rafael infused with Meyer lemons called O Olive oil that uses California Mission olives & so a new recipe was born. We had just driven back from Mayacama & I was exhausted, so I took a shortcut and purchased amazingly pristine steamed & chilled prawns from Whole Foods from their seafood section, not the prepackaged ones in the refrigerated cooked food section, but prawns that had been freshly steamed & offered alongside the raw shrimp. These were enormous about 12 to the lb. I usually poach my shrimp with their shells on in a court bouillon but hey I was tired and one less pot to clean made these pretty cooked shrimp that much more appealing.


  • 12 large prawns (about 1 lb.) that have been cooked, peeled and chilled
  • 1 Tablespoon of sriracha sauce (Vietnamese hot sauce) plus more for plating
  • 1 Tablespoon Meyer lemon infused olive oil (or a fruity olive oil & the juice of half a Meyer lemon) plus more for plating
  • 1 Tablespoon of cream-style horseradish
  • 1/2 cup of low-fat mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons of creme fraiche (or sour cream)
  • 1 teaspoon of dijon mustard
  • a pinch of freshly cracked black or white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon of thai fish sauce
  • 1 Meyer lemon, cut into quarters ( reserve 2 quarters for garnish)
  • a few sprigs of chervil (optional for garnish)
  • 4 marinated spicy cherry peppers stuffed with feta (optional for garnish)


Carefully pat shrimp with a wet paper towel to remove any debris, then pat dry with a dry towel and reserve.

In a small mixing bowl, combine mustard, sriracha horseradish and pepper. Add mayonnaise, whisking well to combine. Add creme fraiche, combining it thoroughly with the mayonnaise. Add soy sauce & fish sauce, whisk well. Whisk in the olive oil. Taste for seasoning. Is it too fatty or bland. Add more sriracha, pepper or mustard. Check consistency. Is it too thick? Add a squirt of fresh lemon juice. Is it too thin or too spicy? Add more mayo and olive oil. You're in control.

Divide the shrimp between two (or four) plates. Fan them out allowing them to slightly overlap. Add a dollop of the cocktail sauce. Place the pepper over the shrimp. Drizzle a little olive oil from the bottle over the shrimp. Then place little drops of the oil around the dollop of cocktail sauce. Using the sriracha squeeze bottle, place small drops of sriracha on top of the drops of oil. Garnish with a sprig of chervil & a wedge of lemon. Done.

Serves two hungry people or four average revelers.

Standing Beef Rib Roast with Horseradish Crust, Sauteed Haricot Verts with Shitake, Pancetta, Shallots

Note: This is an entree that always pleases carnivores. It's impressive to see and smells divine as it cooks but couldn't be easier to make.

Make sure you get your oven hot (500 degrees to start) ahead of time so the crust will crisp up. I use panko but you can use any dry unseasoned coarse breadcrumbs or make your own. I like mixing the panko with a little freshly ground sea salt, fresh ground black pepper, dried herbes d'provence and thyme. You can use your own favorite spice mixture. After I pat the panko on the roast to create the crust I spray the crumbs with high heat baking spray to ensure that the crusts gets crisp & not soggy.

I also make a simple garlic aioli from garlic cloves & extra virgin olive oil that I mix with the cream-styled horseradish & Dijon; then I rub the paste all over the roast & let it stand at room temperature for 1-1/2 hours or so depending on the size of the roast but you can skip the garlic if you don't like it on your beef.

As for the spuds, pierce the center of two large russets with a knife once not all the way through, pop the potatoes in the oven directly on the rack 1 hour and 10 minutes before serving. Fill with creme fraiche, truffle butter & season it to taste with salt & pepper

A 2-1/2 lb. roast (about 1 rib) will easily serve four people but you'll have to fight for that rib bone & will have an awkward time dividing it evenly which is why I'll say this recipe serves 2. Of course, I think the bone should go to the chef as a reward for all the hard work but I'm a little biased on this point. A 5lb. roast (2 ribs) may be a better choice for four people & you can always make delicious prime rib sandwiches or tacos with the leftovers for lunch the next day.


  • 2-1/2 lb. beef rib roast (about 1 rib)
  • 1/2 cup panko crumbs (available in the Japanese section of your supermarket)
  • 1 Tablespoon of herbes d'provence
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • 3 Tablespoons of cream-style horseradish
  • 2 Tablespoons of Dijon-style mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • freshly ground salt & pepper, to taste
  • a splash of wine
  • a splash of beef stock or veal demi-glace
  • 1 tablespoon of unsalted European style butter (it has a higher fat content)


Preheat the oven to 500 degrees and place oven rack in lower third of oven. Make sure you have an oven thermometer in place to better gauge the actual oven temperature.

Remove roast from refrigerator (an hour before cooking). Set it in its roasting pan on a trivet, bone side down.

Prepare seasoning for the roast:
Make garlic aioli & horseradish paste by placing crushed garlic in a mortar & adding a pinch of salt while pulverizing garlic with a pestle. Continue adding tiny grinds of salt and small amounts of olive oil until an emulsion of garlic forms and all the oil is used. Add the horseradish and the mustard to garlic paste until well combined then season with fresh cracked pepper. Taste to adjust any imbalances in the mixture. Set aside.

Combine panko, paprika, salt, pepper, & all the herbs in a small bowl. Mixing well to season the crumbs. Set aside.

Thickly smear the just prepared garlicky horseradish mixture all over the roast. Gently place the now seasoned panko on the top of the roast (where the fat is) using a fork to sprinkle it on and your fingers to pat the crumbs into place making sure to use the horseradish paste to help the panko adhere to the meat.

Spray the roast with baking spray (or high heat vegetable spray) from at least 6 inches away.

Let the seasoned roast stand at room temperature for at least an additional 30 minutes before placing it in the hot oven. If you have a small apartment & an inadequate fan in your range hood, like I do now, open all the windows & doors and turn the hood fan on high before placing roast in the oven. Cooking this cut of meat will set off the smoke alarm if you don't ventilate the area well.

Once in the oven let the roast cook for a minimum of 15 minutes at 500 degrees until the bread crumbs become toasty then lower heat to 375 and cook for an additional 30 minutes or until its internal temperature reaches 130 degrees for medium rare (check with a meat thermometer after 30 minutes by inserting it into the center of the thickest part of the roast away from the bone). When roast is 130 degrees remove from oven and allow it to rest in a warm spot (remember, it's internal temperature will continue to rise as it rests) before carving while you make the green beans and the jus.

Place the roasting pan over two burners on high heat and add a splash of whatever wine you happen to be sipping at the time along with a splash of beef stock or veal demiglace to deglaze the pan. Be sure to scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan & reduce the liquids until the jus achieves a viscous syrupy consistency then remove from heat and add the butter, swirling it into the sauce until fully incorporated & the sauce is thick and glossy. Taste for seasoning & adjust accordingly.

Sauteed Haricot Verts with Shitake, Pancetta, Shallots and Veal Demiglace

Note: The title of the recipe says it all. The shitake & the veal demi made it into the French green beans because I was too lazy to prepare the shitake sauce for the prime rib that I intended to make and opted for the jus instead. Waste not, want not so a new variation of haricot verts was born. Haricot verts are young green beans that are very tender & require no more than a 2 minute blanch before the saute. Be sure to prepare an ice bath of 90 percent ice & 10 percent water in a large stainless steel mixing bowl to stop the cooking process and keep a vibrant green color. This is nothing new but please take the trouble to do it. Once the green beans are cool, remove them from the ice bath so they don't get waterlogged and pat them dry with a clean dry towel or paper towels. The last thing you want is a face full of splattered hot oil because your green beans are wet & soggy.


  • 3/4 lb. of haricot verts, stem end trimmed
  • 1 ounce of pancetta, cut into small dice or lardons (your choice)
  • 1/3 lb. of small shitake mushrooms, stems removed & sliced
  • 1 large shallot, sliced thinly
  • 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil plus more as needed
  • 2 Tablespoons of veal demiglace
  • freshly ground sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon white truffle butter (optional)


Set a medium-sized saucepan with salted water over high heat to boil. When the water reaches a roiling boil, add green beans & cook no longer than 2 minutes.

Drain green beans and immediately plunge into ice bath. cooling and drying according to note.

Place a 12 inch cast iron enamel coated saute pan (you know how I feel about Le Creuset, by now) over medium high heat, add pancetta and fry until fat is rended and pancetta is crisp.

Reduce the pan to medium and add olive oil, when heated (about 45 seconds) add the shitakes, stir for 1 minute, check for dryness adding more olive oil as needed then add shallots saute until shallots are translucent and shitakes have softened. Add cooled green beans & saute until veggies are well combined and beans are warmed then add veal demiglace allowing it to melt in while stirring until incorporated & it coats the vegetables. Remove from heat, stir in optional truffle butter and serve immediately.

Serves 4

Truffle Tremor Cheese

Well.... I must admit... I did not make this cheese. It's a cheese from Mary Keehn, the woman who brought you Cypress Grove's remarkable Humboldt Fog, and needs nothing more than a crusty warm baguette brushed with a little cold pressed olive oil, a few caramelized apple slices, raw honeycomb or ripe and peeled persimmon slices to end a holiday meal. Make sure to remove it from the refrigerator an hour before serving so it oozes onto whatever you choose to serve it with and eat it rind and all. You don't want to deprive yourself of any little bit of it.

Monday, December 9, 2013

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas...

Christmas time is here.... no sleigh bells anywhere but the cable cars are clanging merrily, the evergreens are bejeweled with their holiday trimmings and visions of sugar plums are dancing in our heads (well, with apologies to my vegetarian friends, visions of beef rib roasts are dancing in mine).

Ah, Christmas. 
The culmination of a year's worth of hope and dreams celebrated by children of all ages. 

Peace on earth, goodwill to all mankind, with eggnog for all!

It seems that the retail holiday season starts earlier & earlier every year. Some stores start dragging out the break-dancing Santa right after Halloween. I, however, never really start to feel the holiday spirit until about the 15th of December when there is a genuine chill in the air and I start thinking about what I'd like to make for the all important Christmas Eve and Christmas Day meals.

After all, it's Christmas! 
I feel absolutely Dickensian this time of the year, all transgressions are forgiven: God bless us, everyone! 
Hope reigns supreme! 

Even those of us who tend toward the agnostic/atheistic mode of non-worship during the rest of the year feel the spiritual transcendence of a beautifully performed Christmas carol and the strong pull of the holiday cheer. We're decking the halls & wrapping everything we can in garlands & boughs of holly while we sing "Joy to the World".

Who doesn't look forward to seeing the Grinch's heart, which was two sizes too small, grow three sizes that fateful day, or Scrooge's maniacal, but miraculous transformation in his ghost-ridden bedchamber or George's joyous face when he discovers Zuzu's petals in his pocket? 

Who doesn't tear up watching each story's protagonist go through trials that ultimately become his salvation through the redemptive powers of one magical Christmas Eve? Powerful themes of love, redemption and fresh beginnings resound through the holiday season's traditions.

Then, of course, there's the feasting.

There are always the sacred traditional holiday staples served in the Van Wagoner household year after year: the very Germanic pork roast, mashed potatoes & sauerkraut on Christmas eve, the proper prime rib roast or roast turkey on Christmas Day.
It is with the hors d'oeuvres and sides where I play with variations of the yuletide theme depending on who our guests are, their dietary restrictions, and how adventurous they like to be. Something for everyone, that's my motto.

When I was growing up in my Puerto Rican grandmother's household, pernil with arroz con gandules were served alongside turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes; pasteles, a meat pie steamed in banana leaves traditionally made for festive occasions because of its elaborate & labor intensive preparation, were served with sweet potato casserole; and turrones (an almond paste rock candy studded with nuts) and guava paste were seamlessly offered with pumpkin and coconut custard pies.

 Everyone ate everything with great gusto and relish; making no culinary cultural distinction between the comida "criolla" or "americano". It all fell under the liberal, with the consumption for all mentality, sheltered beneath the Christmas feast's wide culinary umbrella.

So for me, in spite of my nod to tradition by keeping the holy trinity of roast beast, mashed potatoes & some form of sauce or gravy, anything goes. Some years I supplement the main course with Italian & Greek flavors, other years Asian accents. 

Every once and a while I try to revisit my childhood and give Puerto Rican dishes a whirl; although, it's really almost impossible to find the proper ingredients for those out here in San Francisco. Mexican influences, however, are a cinch. I always try to make sure at least one dish is vegetarian friendly; of course, if I really want to stretch my culinary horizons I'd try to make something delicious that was vegan but that calls for more culinary talent and initiative than I currently possess.

Everything tastes better with butter.

This year I may try to make my all-time favorite festive foods, a sort of all-star roster of Christmas' past; cultural clashes be damned! I am slightly handicapped by the fact that we have sold our amazing home with the 900 sq foot, fully loaded, state of the art kitchen. 

I am now in possession of a kitchen the size of a shoe closet with a 15 year old, 28" wide electric range.

These are small obstacles that can be easily overcome with a little grit, a little determination and a lot of planning. Which brings us to this posting: basically intended as a first pass at getting the little grey cells working and the creative juices flowing. I plan to have the entire menu mapped out by tomorrow and ready to post; taking into careful consideration the limitations of my galley kitchen. So until tomorrow... to be continued.....

Oh wait... Today is yesterday's tomorrow, yes?
Tomorrow has already come.
Hosannas to the highest!!!
And, with this aurora, a new strategy to help  those of us with restaurant kitchen envy to triumph over our small kitchen woes!

Yes, the sun has risen and a new day has begun.

With it also starts the dawn of a new era in my culinary life.
I now see the glaring gap of information available to those who by necessity must entertain in a slightly less than commodious environment. 

When dear Martha, Nigella or Giada air their special holiday television segments on home entertaining, they cook in beautifully appointed commercial kitchens that could easily accommodate a catering staff of 12 and serve their meals in dining halls worthy of Henry the VIII. They never attempt their culinary triumphs in a 6x8 kitchen, outfitted with dated equipment and cheap melamine counters that melt at the sight of a hot casserole dish as I will try to do in this seminal moment. 

Cooks of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your aprons!!!

Entertaining in limited space with less than stellar equipment requires focus, patience and excellent timing. One must learn to prioritize. If you are like I am and enjoy serving the main course warm straight from the oven after a period of rest for the juices to be evenly redistributed, then you must cook the entree "a la minute" right before service to avoid having it dry out by being kept warm or reheated.
A large roast in a small oven will take time to cook and also take up most of your precious cooking space which means some sides need to be prepared ahead, either the day before or earlier in the day and reheated by microwave just before serving. Mashed potatoes and most cheesy or creamy casseroles survive this treatment well. Something to consider when planning your holiday menu. A quick vegetable saute on the other hand will not handle reheating well & is best done at the last minute while your roast beast rests.

Another consideration is what to serve before and after dinner. 
Again, a small apartment cannot handle an overload of hors d'oeuvres or desserts. 

Choose things that are easy to prepare with a few high quality ingredients purchased either pre-cooked or pre-assembled from a high quality food purveyor and make them easy for your guests to eat with their fingers from platters that are distributed throughout different tables in the "public" areas of your apartment (no bedrooms or bathrooms please) like grilled asparagus wrapped in smoked salmon; wedges of specialty cheeses on sliced baguettes, apple wedges or gourmet crackers; slices of seared ahi tuna, salsa & guacamole on large tortilla chips or baked wonton wrappers, platters of precooked shrimp with a quickly made dip of Vietnamese sriracha hot sauce and mayonnaise, or a mix of nuts, dried fruit and wasabi peas in a pretty bowl. For dessert consider a variety of cupcakes from a local baker like Kara's or a variety of brownies, chocolate truffles, individual pies or frozen confections like chocolate eclairs, very retro & fun.

The point is to make it easier on yourself and fun for your guests. Nobody likes to see a harried hostess. It makes your guests feel uncomfortable & a little guilty. Take good thoughtful shortcuts. Save your energy for the main event: spending time with your guests. A relaxed demeanor is a hostess' best accessory.

Something else to ponder when mulling over the Holiday menu is to whom you are catering. 
The holidays usually include family time and families have children. 

Kids are notoriously hidebound and reactionary when it comes to mealtime. They are heartless little food fascists who would spit in the poor food offenders face as soon as kiss it if they can't find something they deem edible.

Many adults will balk at sensory overload as well so try to keep some dishes user-friendly for the majority of your guests. Now is not the time to show off your newly acquired knife skills by making a carpaccio of monkey liver or to display your mastery of the globe's full culinary repertoire by panko-crusting dung beetles.

Try to keep within a safe distance of your guest's culinary boundaries; but, do feel free to try interesting variations of classics by experimenting with different techniques or adding interesting herbs, spices or oils. For instance, adding a dash of cumin or rosemary to garlicky pork roast borrows from other cultures and enhances the sweetness of the meat without being too alien or overwhelming to the uninitiated; just don't add both rosemary & cumin at the same time, they are two disparate & competitive flavors; however, they do enjoy sharing the limelight with oregano and lemon which compliment both the cumin & the rosemary lending a latino flair to the former & an Italian accent to the latter.

I am sticking to a Mediterranean-ish menu this year because those are the flavor profiles of my favorite all-star Christmas dishes. The San Francisco winter climate as well as its winter produce lend themselves to that style of eating so I won't be foraging too deeply to find the ingredients for my festive season faves. If I find that someone is a non-vegan vegetarian, I can always throw a baked cheesy pasta, potato or eggplant dish together very quickly and add it to the menu for them without disrupting the theme.

In our home, Christmas Eve is a more casual affair, because we spend it watching our favorite childhood Christmas specials as I trim the tree: a special soup or tart, a lovely salad, sometimes just cheese plates and charcuterie with Acme baguettes and levain walnut bread.

Christmas Day is when I wear my chef's toque, and pull out all the stops.

This is last year's menu from Chez Gomez:

* Recipes included for these entrees in red.
Everything in green is vegetarian-friendly. Everything in red is for meat eaters.
You can make the chestnut soup vegetarian-friendly by using vegetable broth.

I will post recipes for the dishes in red. I have not included recipes for everything on my menu. Items like the salads, mashed potatoes and the biscotti are pretty straight forward and don't need elaborate recipes. Although, I will link you here to my biscotti recipe, if you really need it. And here for the Crab Salad. And here for my lovely (and easy) variation of an Autumn Salad that would be perfect as a Christmas Eve main course with its smoked duck breast, dried figs, crunchy pomegranate seeds, and tangy feta.
What can I say about mashed potatoes? Don't cut them too small, leave the skins on, boil them with salt until soft but not mushy, remove excess water by tossing them over heat in a dry, hot pan and heat up the cream & butter before adding them to the potatoes. Put them through a ricer or food mill if you like a smoother, lighter texture or mash them with an old fashioned masher if you like them with a heartier, more rustic style. Just add lots of white truffle butter or truffle oil to it at the end to give them a luxe flavor. If you can score fresh white truffles and shave them on top, all the better but good luck; they are as rare and as expensive as an F50 Ferrari.

A good Alsatian Riesling from a maker like Zind-Humbrecht will complement both meals.

Let the instruction begin...

(I so LOVE food porn, don't you?)

Roasted Crown Rib of Pork with Garlic Mustard Crust and Wild Mushroom Jus
Note: Crown rib of pork sound impressive but it's just a bunch of uncut bone-in pork chops from the ribs of Porky and about as complicated to bake which means not very. It does require a large roasting pan, & it requires you or your butcher to tie the rib racks together to form the "Crown"and french the bones for better presentation & easier carving. MY hubby hates to have the ribs "frenched", not only because he's not crazy about the French; but also, because he likes to eat the stuff between the ribs.

It takes up a whole small 28" oven, so you may not be able to bake anything else for dinner that night which is probably why the Germans serve it with mashed potatoes & sauerkraut. A whole crown can serve 12 people. You can just get a rack of 6 ribs (half the "crown") & cook it like any roasted rib meat & still call it a Crown roast because it is the same cut. It's just more like a tiara than a crown.

Ingredients for the roast:
  • 1 pork rib roast (6 ribs)
  • 1/3 cup of dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup of olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of herbes de provence
  • the juice of one lemon (Meyer's lemons are the tastiest)
  • 1 cup of panko or other unseasoned bread crumbs mixed with a tablespoon of sweet paprika
  • 1 tablespoon of horseradish, cream-style
  • Baking spray
  • Wild mushroom jus (recipe below)

Directions for the roast:

Place oven rack in lower third of oven.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Season pork in its roasting pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/2 the sea salt & fresh ground black pepper and all of the herbes de provence.

In a large mortar or small food processor, grind garlic with the remaining sea salt until a paste forms. Add the lemon juice, mustard & horseradish combining it well. Add the remaining olive oil a little at a time until an emulsion resembling aioli (garlic mayonnaise) forms.

Smear the garlic mixture all over the pork & carefully pat the panko crumbs to form a crust on the top portion of the rack. Spray the crust to evenly coat with a few spritzes of baking spray or canola spray. Let stand at room temperature in a cool spot for an hour to allow the seasonings to absorb and also for quicker cooking time. Place roast in lower third of oven and roast at 450 degrees for 15 minutes then lower heat to 325 for 35-40 minutes or until a meat thermometer registers 145 degrees when placed in the center of the roast.

After roasting, allow the meat to rest on the cutting board in a warm spot for 15 minutes before carving.

Meantime, make the Wild Mushroom jus.

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 1/2 lb. of sliced wild mushrooms (chanterelles, maitake, porcini, cremini, oyster etc)
  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 1/4 cup of veal demi-glace
  • 1/4 cup low sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup of dry white wine (a dry Alsatian riesling or gewurtraminer would work well)
  • pan dripping from the pork roast
  • sea salt & pepper to taste

Heat the bottom of the roasting pan over medium high heat, add the olive oil, a pinch of salt & pepper, and the shallots. Saute until soft, then add the mushrooms & one tablespoon of unsalted butter, cook until the mushrooms wilt then deglaze the pan with the white wine, loosening & scraping up every bit of residue in the bottom of the roasting pan. When the wine is reduced by half, add the stock & the demiglace, stirring well, until the jus is thickened and glossy, then remove it from the heat, stir in the remaining butter & check for seasonings. Season to taste & serve or keep warm until service.

Parmesan Budino with Peas & Micro-green Salad

Note: This recipe is from the great Northern Italian restaurant, Acquerello, in San Francisco. It is a savory custard baked in individual ramekins that is ridiculously simple to make, can be made a day in advance, refrigerated then reheated by microwave just before serving. The peas can be pre-cooked as well & tossed with buttery stock at the last moment while the budinos are being reheated. It's an amazing first course that would also serve well as a brunch entree with a larger salad adding arugula or watercress. Grana Padano is less expensive than its Parmigiano-Reggiano cousin and provides the same rich, nutty flavor. Serves 6.


For the Budino:

    * 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
    * 2 Tablespoons all purpose flour
    * 3/4 cup heavy cream
    * 3/4 cup half & half
    * 1/4 cup milk
    * 1 whole egg
    * 2 egg yolks
    * 3/4 cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
    * dash of freshly grated nutmeg
    * 1/4 teaspoon salt
    * 1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

For the garnish:

    *1 cup of shelled peas
    * 1/2-3/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
    * 2 to 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
    * Good sea salt & white pepper to taste
    * 1 to 2 Tablespoons finely chopped parsley, leaves only
    * 2-3 ounces of microgreens
    * dash extra virgin olive oil
    * dash lemon juice (Meyer's lemon would be my recommendation)
    * grated Grana Padano cheese to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray six 4-ounce ramekins with vegetable spray coating. Melt the butter in a small heavy sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture takes on a "nutty" aroma. This should take a couple of minutes. Remove from heat. Slowly whisk in the half & half, milk and heavy cream, mixing well after each addition. Add the eggs and egg yolks, one at a time, whisking well. Stir in the cheese, nutmeg, salt & pepper; mix until fully incorporated.

Ladle the budino mixture evenly into the prepared ramekins. Place the ramekins in a large baking pan; pour in enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Transfer to oven.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until set, or until the tops are lightly browned and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

For the garnish:
While the custards are baking, blanch the peas in boiling water for 30 seconds; drain and plunge immediately into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain.

Pour the stock into a saute pan; reduce slightly over high heat. Add the butter & peas; toss to coat in the liquid. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Take half of the peas and puree them in a food processor until smooth. (You may skip this step).  Garnish with parsley. Set aside in a warm spot.

Gently dress the micro-greens with lemon juice & olive oil; season to taste. Set aside.

When the budinos are done, remove from oven. Loosen the sides with a paring knife, then turn them unto a warm plate. Arrange the peas (and the puree) around the budinos. Top with micro greens & grated cheese. Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

Choucroute with Sauteed Shallots, Pancetta, & Veal Demiglace

Note: Choucroute garnie is a traditional Alsatian dish. The sauerkraut is typically served with pork sausage and other cured meats. Charcuterie is a hearty and handy staple, especially in the winter time. With potatoes and boiled meats, simply served. it is a satisfying dish.
The sauerkraut itself is usually heated with a glass of Riesling or other dry white wine, stock, and goose or pork fat. In some recipes, it may also be cooked with chopped onion and sliced apples.

Food writer 
Jeffrey Steingarten attempted to catalogue the composition of an authentic recipe in his very entertaining and informative,
The Man Who Ate Everything. He claimed that every traditional recipe includes black peppercorns, cloves, garlic, juniper berries, onions, and potatoes; most include bay leaves and wine.

I, myself, am luxing it up with sliced shallots, pancetta and veal demi-glace, reducing the meat, eliminating the potatoes and essentially relegating it to a side dish, but served with the roast pork, and the truffled mashed potatoes will still keep it married to its original use as a delicious foil. You can use guanciale, fatback, or thickly cut bacon, if you can't find pancetta, but the clove and the garlic in the pancetta add a liveliness to the dish, that mere bacon alone will not.


*3 large shallots, thinly sliced

*2 oz of duck fat  (you may substitute olive oil)

*2 pounds sauerkraut (preferably fresh), rinsed

*1/2 bottle dry Riesling

*1/2 ounces juniper berries

*1 bouquet garni (including rosemary, bay leaves, thyme tied in cheesecloth)

*6 oz of pancetta, large dice

*4 tablespoons of veal demi-glace (you may substitute 1/3 cup chicken stock)


1. Cook pancetta over medium heat until crisp. Remove and reserve crisp bits. Add duck fat to pan.

2.Sauté the sliced  shallots in the duck fat slowly; do not brown them.

3. Add the rinsed sauerkraut, wine, juniper berries, bouquet garni. Cook for about 30 minutes on low heat with cover.

4. Drain the cooking liquid from the cabbage. Remove the bouquet garni

5. Place the sauerkraut in a large serving bowl or plate, add the pancetta.

Serves 4-6.

Chestnut, Celery Root and Apple Soup

The soup is essentially chestnuts, celery root and apple.  It's a great combination and it can be served simply or garnished with luxurious delicacies.  Daniel Boulud suggests adding shredded duck confit, thin strips of prosciutto, sliced truffles or cubes of foie gras, but some chopped roasted hazelnuts would add lovely texture and complement the inherent sweetness of the soup without breaking the piggy pank.

Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 medium leek, white part only, thinly sliced, washed and dried
2 McIntosh apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
10 ounces celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
3/4 pound peeled fresh chestnuts (from about 1 1/4 pounds chestnuts in the shell) or dry-packed bottled or vacuum-sealed peeled chestnuts
2 quarts chicken stock or store-bought chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
Heat the oil in a stockpot or large casserole over medium heat.  Add the onion, leek, apples, celery root, bay leaf, thyme, nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the onions and leeks are soft but not colored.  Add the chestnuts and chicken stock and bring to the boil.  Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, skimming the surface regularly, for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the chestnuts can be mashed easily with a fork.  Add the heavy cream and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes more, then remove from the heat and discard the bay leaf and thyme.
Puree the soup until smooth using a blender or a food processor, and working in batches if necessary, then pass it through a fine-mesh strainer.  You should have about 2 quarts soup.  If you have more, or if you think the soup is too thin -- it should have the consistency of a veloute or light cream soup - simmer it over medium heat until slightly thickened.  Taste and, if necessary, adjust the seasoning.  (The soup can be cooled completely and stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or frozen for up to one month.  Bring the soup to a boil before serving.)


So, gentle reader, are you feeling all Grinchy with all the holiday hubbub or aglow with a yeasty benevolence for all of mankind like Tiny Tim who wants God to bless us... everyone?
Here's hoping that no matter how you spend the holly daze, you find yourself warm, comfortable and surrounded by the people and things you love... That is, after all, the best recipe for life, yes?