Chicken with Mustard Seed and Coconut Milk (Plus what the heck we’ve been doing for the past six months)

When we last blogged in August, our Airbnb cottage had been open for about two weeks and we had started doing pop-up dinners for guests at The Squire Tarbox Inn on nearby Westport Island. Since then, the Airbnb has been successful beyond our wildest expectations. In the six months since August 4, we have had 81 groups of guests stay a total of 132 nights in our cottage. This has definitely kept us hopping cleaning between guests, making homemade granola and yogurt for their breakfasts, and taking out hot, freshly baked scones to our guests each morning. On the pop-up front, we did at least two dinners a month in the summer and early fall for guests staying at the Tarbox, for between 6 and 24 people, catered a magazine launch and a couple of wedding rehearsal dinners for much larger groups, and got our state bartending certifications and bartended for a couple of weddings. This Winter, we’re cooking for weekly Monday soup nights at the Tarbox, catering to locals who live on the Island and would otherwise have to drive 30 minutes to eat out or even go to a grocery store. This is proving to be a great success, with sell out crowds each week so far for our soups, homemade breads and desserts. Oh, and we both worked part time for the 2020 Census doing map and address updating during the summer and early fall, too. So, I’m sad to admit that blogging and our cookbook project fell by the wayside for a while.

Here we are in the middle of winter and things are somewhat less busy (only 15 nights booked in the cottage this month),  so Kate pulled out Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries to get us back on track with book number 21 in our cook-through project. (We’re deferring Jane and Michael Stern’s Square Meals, which was supposed to have been next, because we couldn’t find a recipe in the the book that we really wanted to cook. We struggled with this for quite a while, but Square Meals just seems to be one of those cookbooks meant more to be read and amused by than cooked out of. At least for us.) If you’re not familiar with Nigel Slater, you should be. Kate discovered him last year and quickly fell in love with his writing, not to mention his recipes. Nigel has a special gift for writing about food in a very personal way, bringing the reader into his kitchen, along on a trip to the market, or on a walk in the countryside around his home, that stirs the imagination and the tastebuds. And he does it all in the confines of writing a recipe. The Kitchen Diaries is literally that, Nigel’s food diary for a year, recording what was in season at the market, the recipes that he was inspired to cook, and his invariably fascinating musings on food.

Although it’s in Nigel’s entry for April 1, Chicken with mustard seeds and coconut milk was just the ticket for dinner on a cold winter night. Particularly since we had an open can of coconut milk in the fridge, chicken in the freezer, and everything else, except out of season hot house tomatoes, in the pantry. The recipe called for a whole chicken cut into parts, but, since it was just the two of us, I defrosted a package of two Maine-ly Poultry leg and thigh quarters in lieu of the whole chicken. Once defrosted, I browned the chicken in canola oil and set it aside while I prepped the ingredients for the sauce. Into the mortar went mustard seeds, cumin, and coriander seeds (the latter two from Burlap and Barrel) to be lightly crushed with the pestle. The crushed spices when into the pan the chicken had been browned in to infuse the fat in the pan with their goodness. Following the spices into the pan went a chopped jalapeño (in place of the red chilis called for in the recipe), a knob of ginger, peeled and grated, three chopped onions, two cloves of chopped garlic, ground turmeric (again from Burlap and Barrel), a pound of chopped tomatoes, and a handful of curry leaves (from the precious stash sent to us by our dear friend Noel). After a brief simmer, in went the coconut milk and the chicken quarters to simmer, partially covered, until the chicken was done.

To accompany the chicken, I steamed some brown basmati rice and roasted quartered carrots and wedges of cabbage sprayed with canola oil and sprinkled with salt, ground cumin, and Kashmiri chili powder (from Gryffon Ridge Spice Merchants). The chicken came out tender and the unctuous sauce was redolent of the spices, coconut, and curry leaves and full of tender onions. Definitely another keeper recipe from Nigel Slater.

Since I only cooked about half of the chicken called for, we had a lot of the curry sauce left over and it made its very happy way into this morning’s breakfast reheated over leftover rice and topped with a runny fried egg. Oh, leftovers!

Up next: More Nigel Slater – The Christmas Chronicles.

Filled Cherry Tomatoes

First off, I apologize for not having blogged in like two months. I’m the worst. We’ve been suddenly very busy, doing pop-up dinners for a local inn and running our Airbnb, which is finally up! (Come stay with us!) Most of our cooking at home is trying out new stuff for guests, so we haven’t had a lot of time to play around with random new stuff for us. But we promise we’ll get back to the Too Many Cookbook Challenge. The next book on the list is…problematic, so we’re probably going to pause there and jump to the vegetarian section of our collection while we can still get vegetables. Winter is coming.

But I digress. If you knew me in the ’90’s, you would know that the answer to the question “What does Kate love?” was “MARTHA!” It’s true. I was a Martha Stewart fangirl. I was obsessed. I watched the show over and over, I bought the books, I subscribed to the magazine, I wanted everything to be Just So. Of course, it rarely was. Martha’s genius is that she makes everything look effortless, and once again, I was sure that I could make something of hers and have it be stunning. And once again, I was wrong.

We were having people over and I wanted to be fancy, and the Martha Stewart’s Hors d’Oeuvres Handbook was next on the list, so this was a perfect opportunity! We had some delicious white bean mash in the fridge, so I decided to make her Filled Cherry Tomatoes. Just hollow out some cherry tomatoes, fill them with something delectable, and you have a lovely, healthy party snack! So simple, right? Oh, Martha. You got me again.

What an absolute pain in the ass. Even with the sharpest knife we own (yes, it was sharp, Rick Brown) I couldn’t slice the tops off neatly. The ones in Martha’s book look like they were surgically sliced with a laser. Mine were a hot mess, but eventually I got all the little fuckers hollowed out. Of course, there were tomato seeds everywhere. I tried to wash them, but it just kept being messy and the clock was ticking. And neatly putting a wee bit of bean purée in the cups was next to impossible. There were minced onions in the beans and they stuck like glue to everything. Then there was the fun of wedging enough blanched haricots verts into the other cups. Too tall and they fall over, too short and they look ridiculous, too few and they fall over AND look ridiculous.

I took like a million photos and they were all terrible. Then when I went to select one for this, they were even worse than I thought. I actually spent about half an hour photoshopping one of the photos, but I’m going to share an untouched pic so you can see how honestly terrible they looked (and what a bad photograph it is.) SEE??? I had to surround the tall ones with the bean mash ones as kind of a shield. Nothing I could do made those tall ones stand up on their own. Martha must have glued hers to the plate.

Ugh. Never again. But they all got eaten, and the green bean ones were especially delicious. So damn crisp and tasty. But NO! NEVER AGAIN! NO MORE MARTHA. Ooooh, Gazpacho in Cucumber Cups. Doesn’t that sound delightful?

Please send gin.

Next up: Square Meals : America’s Favorite Comfort Cookbook by Jane and Michael Stern OR The Flexitarian Table by Berley and Singer

Rhubarb Syrup

Book 19 in our cook-through project is The Hands-On Home by Erica Strauss. As the subtitle, “A Seasonal Guide to Cooking, Preserving & Natural Homekeeping,” suggests, the book is a seasonally organized collection of recipes for foods and preserves and formulas for homemade cleaning products and toiletries. One of Kate’s sisters gave her a copy for Christmas, and we have both been looking through it and bookmarking things we want to make for the past few months. When it coincided alphabetically with the bumper rhubarb crop from our garden, it was obvious that we needed to start with the recipe for rhubarb syrup.

As with fruit syrups generally, it couldn’t have been simpler. The recipe has instructions for canning the finished syrup and processing it in a hot water bath to make it shelf stable, but, since it was a tester batch, which I figured we’d go through pretty quickly, I decided to cut the recipe in half and just refrigerate it.

The first step was cutting about a pound of rhubarb stalks into one inch chunks. Remember, rhubarb leaves are poisonous, so, if you are harvesting your own rhubarb, just bring in the stalks and put the leaves in the compost bin. Kate did some research and assures me that it’s safe to compost rhubarb leaves. Just don’t eat them.

Combine the chopped rhubarb in a medium sized saucepan with two cups of water and one and a half cups of sugar. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the rhubarb is very soft. Strain the the syrup through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth into a one quart measuring cup. When all of the liquid has drained through the sieve, gather up the edges of the cheesecloth and give it a gentle squeeze over the sieve to extract a bit more of the syrup. Stir two tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice into the rhubarb syrup and it’s ready to pour into a jar, or jars, to store in the fridge until your are ready to use it.

But don’t throw away that rhubarb purée that’s left in your cheesecloth! It is delicious on its own to eat like applesauce. Kate and I added ours to our yogurt the next few mornings. It was an outstanding treat for breakfast, and we were sad when it was gone.

What do you do with the rhubarb syrup, you ask? If you know us at all, you’ll know that our plan is to use it in cocktails. Though not a cocktail, our first highly successful use was just to add an ounce or so to a glass of plain sparkling water and ice for a slightly sweet and tart homemade rhubarb soda. It was really refreshing and tasty.

We started our cocktail experimentation with a recipe for a French 75 variant that Erica Strauss included in her book, but I found her recipe unbalanced and felt that the rhubarb flavor was too muted. We came up with our own version we’re quite happy with that I’ve dubbed a Rhubarb Artillery Punch: shake one ounce each of London Dry Gin and rhubarb syrup along with three dashes of rhubarb bitters, if you have some, with ice and strain into a coupe or Nick and Nora glass. Top with three ounces of sparking wine, preferably brut, and enjoy. We have a rhubarb bitters how-to in progress, so watch this space to learn how to make you own.

We declare the rhubarb syrup a success and will be making a larger batch to can so we can have a taste of Spring through the rest of the year. Here’s a video we made to help you make a batch yourself.

Up next: Martha Stewart’s Hors D’Oeuvres Handbook.

Quail Stuffed with Wild Rice, Water Chestnuts, and Apple with Apple Cider Vinegar Emulsion

About a month ago, Kate and I took a fantastic open hearth cooking class at Historic Deerfield in Massachusetts, and, since then, we’ve been working on getting set up to do open hearth cooking at home. You’ll be hearing more about this in the future as our experiments progress. When we got home, I went to the cookbook shelf to pull down The Magic of Fire by William Rubel, a beautiful oversized book about open fire cooking, and noticed that one of the other books in the oversized section was Charlie Trotter’s Meat and Game. This is a roundabout way of saying that we missed Charlie Trotter’s spot in our regular reverse alphabetical cook-through, since it was on a different shelf, so we’re turning back the alphabet to T for this blog post.

I’ve had this book, number 18 in our project, since shortly after it was published in 2001, and have always considered it more of an aspirational coffee table cookbook than one I was likely to cook out of. This is a big book full of vivid pictures of animals, both domestic and wild, and their habitats, as well as mouthwatering pictures of perfectly plated versions of each recipe. While all of the recipes, divided into chapters such as “Light Poultry & Other Fowl,” “Robust Meat & Game,” and “Varietal Meat,” are enticing, I always felt that they were more suited to a restaurant kitchen. My opinion has changed, however, now that we’ve actually cooked out of the book.

We were lucky enough to have some of Steve Sando’s outstanding Rancho Gordo California Wild Rice in the pantry and a package of four frozen quail from D’Artagnan in the freezer, so Kate and I decided to make Quail Stuffed with Wild Rice, Water Chestnuts, and Apple with Apple Cider Vinegar Emulsion. While many of the recipes call for rather exotic ingredients by mid-coast Maine standards, this one was pretty straightforward, except for the quail, which we already had, though we did have to settle for tinned water chestnuts rather than the fresh ones called for.

I cooked the wild rice the evening before, so it was ready when the time came to make the stuffing of wild rice, diced water chestnuts, and diced Gala apple seasoned with salt & pepper. Kate stuffed and trussed the semi-boned quail and seared them in grape seed oil while I chopped parsley and tarragon and added them to melted butter to baste the little birdies with. After an initial anointing with the herby butter, the quail went into the preheated oven.

While the quail roasted, we made the apple cider vinegar emulsion by sweating minced shallots in more butter until translucent, then adding a cup of apple cider and simmering until it was reduced to half a cup. Then, in sequence, we added more chopped Gala apple, apple cider vinegar, a couple sprigs of thyme, and some of our homemade chicken stock and simmered it all to tart appley deliciousness.

After about 20 minutes, and a couple more bastings, the quail came out of the oven golden brown and ready to rest. With several steps left before plating, teamwork was definitely required. In rapid succession: we sautéed another diced apple, this time a Fuji, in butter until it was caramelized; warmed the half of the wild rice, apple, water chestnut stuffing that didn’t go into the birds in the residual butter from the apple; strained the apple cider vinegar emulsion through a fine mesh sieve, whisked in yet more butter, and frothed it with our trusty immersion blender.

Finally, on to plating. We spooned half of the warmed wild rice mixture into two shallow bowls, topped each mound with a quail, arranged the sautéed apple around the perimeter the mounds, and finished off each bowl with a moat of the frothy emulsion. A final grind of freshly ground pepper and we were ready to dig in. The quail was moist and flavorful with a slightly livery gaminess that was perfectly complemented by the sweet sautéed apple, rich tart apple cider vinegar emulsion, chewy wild rice, and differently crunchy apple and water chestnut in the stuffing. This is definitely not a weeknight dinner, unless you’re retired like we are, but it was really worth the effort.

We knew this dinner would want just the right wine, so we had gone the day before to see our wine guru, Joel Hatch, at Now You’re Cooking in Bath. The 2014 Antoine Jobard Bourgogne Aligoté that he recommended was right on the money: slightly mineral with green apple notes that complemented the food perfectly.

Since we had only eaten two of the quail the first night, we took them with us in our ice chest a few days later when we went back to Historic Deerfield for their Patriot’s Day festivities. A split quail was the perfect topper for salads of spicy greens that we enjoyed as an al fresco lunch seated on a bench in front of the Deerfield Inn. And it gained us a lot of attention from passersby, too, who were uniformly disappointed when we told them we had brought our lunch and not gotten it from the restaurant.

This isn’t a book that we’ll cook out of every day, but, as successful as this quail dish was, we will be coming back to it for special occasions. Since we’re on the verge of getting ramps and fiddleheads, it will be hard to resist trying Charlie’s recipe for Squab Breast with Fiddlehead Ferns, Ramps, and Star Anise Vinaigrette. We’ll keep you posted.

Up next: The Hands-On Home (for real this time).

Shoulder of Spring Lamb with Flageolet Beans and Olive Relish

Another day, another book that I’m embarrassed not to have cooked from. Maybe it’s because menu books can be a little intimidating. I always feel that if I don’t do a whole menu, I’m failing. But things being what they are, there wasn’t a complete menu that we could realistically tackle. So we optimistically dove into the “Spring” section of David Tanis’ lovely book A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, even though it was snowing while we were cooking, and decided on lamb and beans.

We’re not likely to have real spring lamb anytime soon, but we had a nice boneless leg, and we’d just gotten the latest bean club shipment from Rancho Gordo which contained flageolets. It was an obvious choice.

After trekking up to Morse’s Sauerkraut for olives, we started putting this dish together. We put the flageolets on to cook, and make the olive relish. It’s super simple – olives, garlic, lemon, and anchovy. So delicious. We decided to do those the night before, so all we had to do the day of was roast the lamb and dress the beans with salt and pepper, thyme and olive oil. To serve, spread the beans onto a platter, and put the sliced lamb and olive relish on top.

Boy, howdy, this was good. The lamb was delicious, especially with the pungent olive relish, but the flageolets were the star. All of the lamb juice soaked into the beans, and the herbs from the lamb and the lemon and everything just made the beans incredibly flavorful. And of course, they’re Rancho Gordo beans, so they’re impeccably fresh and creamy. (We used the rest of the batch of beans to make a lemony flageolet salad which we couldn’t get enough of.) With this deliciousness, we drank a 2017 Chiroubles Chatenay that was out-freaking-standing. The next day we dashed back up to Now You’re Cooking and got a few more bottles from our guy Joel.

And this book (number seventeen in the project) really is lovely. Some day when we’re not trudging through a foot of snow, we’ll do some actual menus out of it. But we did find one other recipe to make – his Parsnips Epiphany-Style. I mean, they’re just parsnips roasted with oil and salt and pepper, but they were heavenly. We served them with a roast turkey last week. So good.

Next up: The Hands-On Home.