Apple, Pork, and Fennel Stew

I know it’s technically summer but the seasons are changing.  I mean sure our days are hot and sunny but there’s a crispness to the night air and a cool breeze that wasn’t a week ago.  This means only one thing.  Fall is falling.

Which is why I wanted something comforting for supper.  Like this stew.  It’s rich and fruity but with a deep aromatic savoriness that comes from the addition of vermouth, star anise, and mustard.  I promise the ingredients emulsify beautifully.

The only criticism I have of this recipe is that no matter how much I make, there are never any leftovers.  Really, it’s that good.

Ingredients:

1.2 lbs of pork shoulder steaks

2 onions, sliced

2 fennel bulbs thickly sliced (Save the fronds to chop and put atop the stew before eating)

2 large green cooking apples, peeled, cored, and sliced

3 smashed garlic cloves

2 stars of anise

1 cup of Noilly Prat

1 cup of chicken stock

2 heaping tablespoons of Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons of salt

1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper

olive oil

Method:

First, season the meat.  Brown it in a large ovenproof casserole and set aside.

browned pork

Add a drop more oil to the pork grease. Then the star anise, the vegetables, and the apple slices.  Cook until soft.

star anise

vegetables, apples, star anise

Dice the pork and add it to the pot.  Stir for a minute just to make sure the meat is browned, not fully cooked but browned, then add all remaining ingredients.  Bring to a simmer.

simmering pork, vegetables and fruit

Cover the casserole and put it in the oven at 330F/150C/Gas2 for 3 hours.  After the first hour and a half, remove the casserole to give it a good stir.  Be sure to scrape the brown savory grease that coats the sides of your dish.

after 1.5 hrs

Continue cooking for another hour.  Then remove the lid for the final 30 minutes to thicken and reduce.  When you are ready to serve, be sure to remove the star anise and sprinkle with chopped fennel fronds.  Delicious on its own with a thick slice of your favorite bread, boiled potatoes, or rice.

finished product

Le Temps des Cerises (A Cherries Jubilee Recipe)

Within the confines of France and Spain, there is a magical region where the two countries bleed into one.  It’s like a venn diagram of deliciousness.  Most people call this place Catalonia.  I call it Sprance.

If you’re on the Spanish side, local graffiti will tell you “Catalonia is not Spain.”  And if you’re on the French side, don’t expect the residents to want to parlez vous.  They won’t.  They have got their own language and pronounce Xs as CHs probably just because it sounds cooler.

Sprance is a spicy pocket of the world where pork and small salty fish dominate on the dinner table and Cathar blood is still visible on ancient citadel walls.  It’s a place where even babies drink Banyuls and residents are blessed with a minimum of 300 sunny days a year.

The light in the Pyrénées-Orientales is so beautiful, that artists have always flocked there to paint the dusty hillside and the sparkling sea.  Picasso, Soutine, and Chagall all called the tiny medieval market town of Céret their home.  Matisse and Modigliani visited.  Sure the light is beautiful, but I think the real reason they settled there was because of the food.

Céret is a major fruit producer and it’s famous for its cherries.  Traditionally, every season’s first pick are sent to Le Président.  May marks the end of this stone fruit’s harvest and in my opinion this is when Céret is at its most picturesque.  That’s why my family will be staying there in two weeks time.

And so I’m culling my cherry recipes now.  My favorite being Cherries Jubilee which Auguste Escoffier used to prepare for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations.  It’s also a bit of a summer classic in the American South and it reminds me of the Carolina pulled pork barbecues my parents used to host for the 4th of July.  All of which were topped off with Grandma’s chocolate cupcakes and Cherries Jubilee.

So if you need me in the next few weeks, you know where you can find me.  In Céret, listening to Charles Trenet under the shade of a 250 year old Corsican pine, enjoying my Cherries Jubilee while Kitty runs around the orchard and my husband sips Bandol rosé in the pool.

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 pound fresh pitted cherries

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup Kirschwasser

vanilla bean ice cream

a long reach match or kitchen torch

Method:

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet.  Add the sugar, cherries, orange zest, and cinnamon.  Constantly stir.  Cook until the cherries are tender and the sugar dissolves.  About 5 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat.  Add the kirsch and carefully ignite.  Cook until the flame is extinguished.  Then spoon the mixture and serve warm over ice cream.

**A Cherries Jubilee related story:  It was at the premiere party of “The Divine Secrets of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood” that I was all dolled up and eating this dessert listening to a live performance of Taj Mahal when Cuba Gooding Jr. approached me, shook my hand, congratulated me on my good work in the film and told me my parents must be so proud.  I wasn’t in that movie, but as my mouth was full of cherries and vanilla ice cream, I didn’t have the chance to correct him.  I just let him think I was one of the younger Ya-Yas.  Who could it hurt?

Foul Weather Curry

England is famously damp.  It’s also cold, gray, and foggy.  Some people try to romanticize this fact.  Like George and Ira Gershwin who wrote a charming tune about it for Fred Astaire to sing.  Well bully for them and all their art deco, sunny, California splendor.  I have always loved “A Foggy Day.”  Still, its sweet melody does not change the nature of England’s foul weather–not even the Ella and Louis version which is my  favorite.

Only those built to last, as my father-in-law says, can sustain the tempests here.  Everyone else who is smallish, like me, gets whisked away by gusts of wind which leaves one feeling rather like Piglet in Winnie the Pooh.  Which is to say not very dignified at all.

I’m glad that I look good in tweed coats.  It’d be a pity if I didn’t as they seem to be part of my daily English uniform.  Ditto herringbone scarves.  Ditto cashmere knee socks.  Ditto my mother’s vintage Superga Wellies.  Still, I yearn for a little warmth come spring.  Especially when the rest of the world entire seems to be bursting with blossoms and basking in the sun.

This is when I pull out my curry recipe for a little heat.  What the English sun fails to provide outdoors, my culinary skills can make up for inside.  Ginger, chilies, and Indian spices can do wonders for increasing body temperature (and metabolic rate I might add).  Until the sun comes out for both me and the Casa Blanca lilies I recently planted , I’ll be making lots of this.  If you live in the U.K., maybe you will too.  Keeping warm never tasted so good and colonial.

Ingredients:

380 grams/0.837 pounds mini chicken breast fillets

2 tablespoons garam masala

1 tablespoon tumeric

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon hot smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

2 teaspoons salt

2 small onions, sliced into thin rounds

2 sweet red peppers, sliced into thin rounds

4 roughly chopped cloves of garlic

1/4 cup freshly grated ginger

1 minced chili pepper

1 Knorr chicken bouillon cube

1 can coconut milk

vegetable oil

Method:  

Mix all the dry spices together in a large bowl.  Next, add the chicken pieces.  Roll them around in the spice mixture until uniformly coated.  Really rub the flavor into each piece.  Cover the bowl of dry rubbed chicken pieces and refrigerate for as long as you can.  Ideally, overnight.  If you’re pressed for time, three hours will do.

Heat a large skillet with about 2 tablespoons of oil in it.  Caramelize the onions and peppers over medium/low heat.  In the last 30 seconds before you take them off the heat, add the garlic and ginger.  Stir to prevent sticking.  Transfer the contents of your skillet to a large sauce pot.

Now, brown your chicken pieces in the skillet.  When they’re done, transfer them to the sauce pot with everything else.  Crumble the bouillon cube into the mix.  Mix everything with a wooden spoon and break your chicken pieces into smaller bits.  They should look roughly shredded.  Finally, add the chili pepper and coconut milk.  Set everything to simmer for about 30 minutes.  Stir often.

Serve with basmati rice.

I don’t intend to make pairing suggestions but I have to say that last night, my husband and I had this with a 2002 Karthäuserhof Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg Riesling Spätlese and it was a perfect combination.  The wine smelled sweet like honey, but the sugar was not overpowering.  It was really well balanced and complimented the spiciness of the curry.  Also it had the freshness of peaches and crispness of apples.  I highly recommend it.

   

Miss Hampton’s Peanut Buttah Pie

Miss Hampton was the grandmother of a friend of mine.  I never met her but from what I understand, she was a Southern belle so beautiful and fiery Margaret Mitchell couldn’t have conceived of her if she tried.  Legend has it that each night on the family farm, she would stand on the porch in her peignoir with curlers in her hair and a menthol dangling from her lips and a shotgun in hand.  There she’d fire a few shells as a warning to all potential intruders.  She also never cooked.  Which is why she’d make this pie.  “It requires no cookin’.  Just an icebox and a vodka and Coke plus a pack of Kools to pass the time.”

Ingredients:

You can use graham cracker or chocolate pie crusts ready made.

8oz. cream cheese

2 c. milk

¼ c. powdered sugar

1 c. crunchy peanut butter

2 cartons Cool Whip

Method:

Let cream cheese soften.  Put all ingredients in a large bowl and blend.  Pour filling into pie crusts.  Chill (helpful heresy–put in freezer for a quick solidification)

*Makes 2 pies

Whatever Abner Doubleday (A Cracker Jack recipe)

Baseball diamonds are not romantic.  The attire is too casual.  Which is strange because it is known as The Gentleman’s Sport.  Let me tell you.  I have attended games.  I have sat in the bleachers.  There is nary a gentleman nor a pocket square among them.

I prefer sports like boxing that are openly barbarous yet full of glamour–none of this pretending to be a gentleman shit.  Knocking out another guy’s teeth is sexy.  So sexy, women have always donned stilettos and stoles for the occasion.  In my grandmother’s day, you knew you were in for a treat if your honey said “Hey baby, here’s $50 for the beauty parlor ‘cause tonight Marciano’s gonna beat the crap outta La Starza!”

Nothing about America’s Pastime makes me amorous.  Dirty-water hot dogs cannot compare to a fillet from Sardi’s.  Stadium lighting is so unflattering that even a glowing young woman can look like a hag.  If I’m going to a game, I have to make sure my concealer provides me with more coverage than Syria on CNN.  I recommend Clé de Peau.  Did I mention the sound of metal bats makes my teeth ache?  All baseball has to offer are pre-nuptial agreements to pretty girls, V.D., boredom, sunburn, the inhalation of dust, and frowzy fans who’ll spill beer on your shoes—none of which makes me want to hold anyone’s hand.  So yeah, I was surprised when the seed to one of my romances was planted on a field. 

Many moons ago, I shot an independent film down South, a film I am sure went straight to BETA.  My co-star, the lead of our Mickey Mouse production, became a friend of mine.  Our off-camera occupation was playing Scrabble and draining bottles of Bulleit over cloudy motel ice.  One particularly sweaty sunset, we perched on the terrace smacking mosquitoes from our skin and plotting how to outdo the other by using only two-letter words.  He took a drag from his American Spirit, the kind that comes in the light blue box.  I remember the color because it is my favorite shade of blue.  Tiffany box blue.  Smoke curled from his lips and nose.  He paused the way you do before laying the smack down with a fifty-point bingo.  The Scrabble equivalent of death by guillotine.  But instead of placing all his tiles on the board, he grabbed a piece of his early 80’s Johnny Depp inspired hair and rolled it in his tobacco stained fingers like a naughty schoolgirl (P.S.  This coiffure was his pride and joy, an asset that almost awarded him the role of young Elvis in the made for TV movie).  After a minute, he asked.

“You notice John can’t stop looking at you?”

“Excuse me, who?”

“The First A.D.  It’s true.  He stares at you long after the director calls cut.”

Since this was a baseball movie, our backdrop was a dusty field most days.  The morning wardrobe dressed me in embarrassingly tiny white shorts was no exception.  I complained that I felt naked and whorish.  Costume design argued on behalf of young and coltish.  So I convinced myself I wasn’t slutty, just a baby Mustang who didn’t know any better, and decided to make peace with the hearts embroidered on my back pockets.  When it came time to shoot, camera followed me down a dirt path and watched me study my co-star pitch baseballs to his curmudgeonly grandfather, Pop.  I wrapped my fingers through the diamonds of the chain link fence high above my head and swung my hips from the hold.  As the director called cut, I looked over my shoulder to see who was staring.  Pony.  Short for Ponyboy Curtis because that’s who he was.

Except he wasn’t Pony yet.  Not to me.  Blatantly black Irish, he had the same cherry cola waves I smoothed into submission with Kérastase everyday.  I could tell he was a runner the way his sinews looked like rubber bands twisted over sticks.  He was tiny but strong and I liked the colorful tattoos on his arms.  I felt like a doe-eyed Sandy in Grease.  Pre-hooker-makeover.  I had never piqued an interest in a man who used his skin as a canvas before.  He even had a nose ring.  I threatened to get a nose ring.  Once.  In the tenth grade.  But it never happened.  This was a man who followed through.  And he was from Brooklyn, which was the opposite of L.A.  A fact that made him exotica to me.

Of course it didn’t work out.  I was 24 and he was a vegan with tattoos and a nose ring but more on that later and kind of who cares?  The point is when I got home from work, Cora, the wife of the proprietor where we were staying, had like an angel, put some homemade Cracker Jacks in my room–being as it was a baseball movie and all.  Here is her recipe.

Ingredients: 

1/2 cup unpopped popcorn kernels

1/2 stick of butter which is about 56.7 grams

1 cup Spanish peanuts

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1 1/2 tablespoons molasses

a drop of vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

Method:

First, make your popcorn stovetop in a little olive oil and a bit of butter.  Next, preheat your oven to 300F/148.8C.  Put the popcorn with the peanuts in a paper grocery bag and set aside.  Then add all remaining ingredients EXCEPT the vanilla to a sauce pot.  Stir the mixture over medium heat until it begins to boil.  After 15- 20 minutes, the color should be deep caramel.  If it’s not, let the mixture keep on bubbling and you keep stirring.  I never use a candy thermometer.  I just eyeball it, but if you’d like to use one then feel free.    What you want to reach is the hardball stage which is roughly 260-275F.  When you think the caramel sauce is ready, turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla.  Don’t be shocked if it sputters.  Now, carefully pour the mixture over the popcorn and peanuts in the paper bag.  Stir with a wooden spoon to distribute the caramel goodness.  Lastly, transfer the popcorn and peanuts to a cookie sheet and bake for no more than 15 minutes.  Mix well every 5 minutes to make sure the popcorn and peanuts are evenly coated.  I would say cool and store, but if you’re like this Chubby Princess there won’t be a single kernel left.