Thursday, January 7, 2016

"CookFight" by NYTimes writers Kim Severson and Julia Moskin and "Second Helpings from the Union Square Cafe" - Pork Braised in Milk and Cream and Mustard Mashed Potatoes

Date I made these recipes:  January 1, 2016 – New Year's Day

CookFight – 2 Cooks, 12 Challenges, 125 Recipes and Epic Battle for Kitchen Dominance by New York Times Food Writers Kim Severson and Julia Moskin; Foreword by Frank Bruni
Published by:  Ecco
ISBN:  978-0-06-198838-7
Purchased at Barnes and Noble Used Books, Roseville, MN
Recipe:  Pork Braised In Milk and Cream – p. 89

Second Helpings from the Union Square Cafe – 140 New Favorites from New York's Acclaimed Restaurant by Danny Meyer and Michael Romano
Published by: HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN:  0-06-0196647-5
Recipe:  Mustard-Mashed Potatoes – p. 251; Mashed Potatoes "base" recipe – p. 321-322

Happy New Year!

It's been a long time since I've planned the main dish around a side dish but my husband was set on this mashed potato recipe and so there it is.  Oh sure, we could have just eaten a big bowl of mashed potatoes on New Years but that seemed a pretty inauspicious way to start the new year.

Originally, I asked him to look through the Second Helpings cookbook to check out some other main dish recipes I tagged, intending to make one of them on Christmas Day.  He liked them, but as he is wont to do, he checked out the entire book and said "I want these mashed potatoes.  I'll settle for the horseradish ones but these are the ones I really want."

Well, who am I to play the Grinch during the holidays?  Wish granted!

The problem though, was that the potatoes didn't really go with the entree I selected for Christmas Day – Martha Stewart's Pork Stew with Fennel and Olives.  In fact, the pasta dish I made for Christmas Eve was a much better fit for the pork stew and so we combined the two and ate those together. 

Still, the mashed potato recipe was hanging out there mocking me.  I kept promising to make them "any day" now and did make them "any day now" after I found something to go with the potatoes.  According to Second Helpings, chicken, rabbit, pork chops, and salmon pair well with these mashed potatoes.

And so enter the Pork Braised in Milk and Cream recipe.  Now I know some of you are probably already turning up your nose at the thought but many moons ago, I saw a recipe for this dish in a magazine and thought it sounded good so I clipped it.  Finding it though, was another story and so luckily, CookFight included it for me.  Archeological dig avoided!

Still, this recipe calls for milk and cream and then lemon and at this point, my nose starting turning up but I trusted the recipe and was not disappointed.  Plus, I trusted the authors, Kim Severson and Julia Moskin, who write for the New York Times and whose columns I've read off and on over the years.

Rounding off our heavy-hitting food writers is restaurant owner, Danny Meyer, whose book – Setting the Table – The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business  (2006) -was a monster hit when it was released.  Danny, who owns several restaurant, led the way in creating a true service environment in restaurants, one where staff (from dishwasher to dining room captain) was as valued, if not more valued, than patrons because if they were happy, customers were happy.  (But "If momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!").  Exemplary service was not a nouvelle idea, but placing value on the staff was and by gosh, this concept caught on and is seen in practice in almost every successful restaurant.

One of Danny's early and most successful restaurant enterprises was Gramercy Tavern in NYC (Union Square Cafe, the topic of this cookbook was his first one).  After reading about Gramercy Tavern in his book, I made a mental note to go there some day and one fine day in August 2004, I did.  I go to NYC regularly and that year, planned a trip to the city the week after I took the Minnesota Bar Exam to decompress.  Yes, probably only me goes to one of the world's largest city to center herself but that's the way I'm wired.

At any rate, when my friend, Susan, who lives in NYC, asked where I wanted to go to "celebrate" finishing that torture test, I said Gramercy Tavern and so we went.  And It. Was. Spectacular.  The service was, as you might imagine, off the charts and the food was sublime.  At least what I remember of it.  Let's just say that between the pre-dinner cocktails, dinner cocktails and post-dinner cocktails and my total exhaustion from that hideous exam, I don't have a full memory of what we ate except that it was good and it likely involved steak on my part.  You gotta live large sometimes, folks.  Gotta live large.

So anyway, the place blew my mind and I would love to go back sometime with my husband, this time in a more locked and upright position.

A little side story about the service:  Susan and I had walked all over town that day and just when we got off the subway and were walking to the restaurant, a blister on my foot broke.  No problem, we thought, we'll just find a Duane Reed (drugstore).  There's pretty much a Duane Reed on every other corner in Manhattan.  Except, of course, this particular corner.

So I limped into the restaurant and asked the hostesses if by chance they had a Band Aid and after giving me one of those "you must be joking" looks, they pulled themselves together, re-read their "playbook," Setting the Table  ("Chapter Two:  When the patron wants a Band Aid...") and got me a Band Aid.  And then checked up on me – twice.  God Bless these angels!  After we dined, I scribbled out our impressions on a survey they provided (good lord, what my handwriting must have looked like) and after that, I got a thank you note.  "No, no—thank YOU!"  Again – impressive!

Coincidentally, these two books – CookFight and Second Helpings – are similar in their approach.  They are both conversational, with photos in each.  The photos in CookFight are of the two writers in their kitchens and their conversation is around their recipe battle.  The photos in Second Helpings are of some of the diners in Union Square Cafe, such as Jacques Pepin, and the narrative in the front of the book centers around how the two authors travel to France and Italy each year (and who knows where in between) to get inspiration for recipes for their restaurant.  Both books have a ton of recipes that are sure to please.

Out of the two, CookFight, is perhaps a tad more interesting because of its format.  Each month, the authors faced off in a cooking  battle, selecting a menu of goodies to make, and writing about their experiences.  Their stories are hilarious, for example, Julia writes of the January "Budget Battle": "Her (Kim's) fifth appetizer was like a knife in my heart." Kim's thoughts about her dish – the milk-braised pork – echoed my own:  "On the surface, this dish might sound horrible, but if you are confident enough and patient enough, the reward is a sauce that is so good it nearly made [Julia] Moskin's husband leave her for me."  Ha!  The contest was suggested by fellow New York Times writer, Frank Bruni, who refereed the face-offs before deciding, wisely, that it was a tie. 

Patience is indeed required when making the pork dish because you must allow a few hours (or overnight) to coat the pork roast with garlic and sage and then you need 3-3.5 hours to slowly simmer the roast in the milk bath.  On the other hand, the potatoes are pretty easy to make so I timed them to finish just about when my pork did.  You'll need to make the "base" mashed potatoes first then add the ingredients to make them mustard potatoes.

All in all, both recipes were a big hit and I would love to cook more of them from these books but if didn't limit myself to one per book, I would never make it through the rest of my collection.  Not that I am making it through my collection, I just like to think I am.

Before I go, I have to say that I was just a tiny bit concerned about not making a bean/pea dish to bring good luck for the New Year as I have the past several years.  (Hoppin' John, a dish made with black-eyed peas, is the traditional American favorite).  Well, I am happy to report that I worried for nothing because when I Googled "foods that will bring luck for the New Year," "pork" came up as a lucky food.  Whew, dodged that bullet!  According to, thanks to "its rich fat content, signifies wealth and prosperity."  Works for me.

Happy cooking everyone but no cook fighting!

Pork Braised in Milk and Cream – makes six servings
One 2 ½-3-pound pork loin roast
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped garlic (for the rub)
5 large garlic cloves, slightly crushed and peeled (Ann's Note:  You will add these after you start cooking the roast)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage (for the rub), plus leaves from 2 or 3 fresh sage sprigs (Ann's Note:  you will add these after you start cooking the roast)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups milk
3 cups heavy cream
2 lemons
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Season the pork well with salt and pepper.  Rub with the chopped garlic and chopped sage and refrigerate; overnight is best, but a few hours will do.

Bring the meat to room temperature and brush off as much of the sage and garlic as you can.  Heat the oil in a heavy pot with a lid, preferably enameled cast-iron.  Sear the meat well on all sides – this will take about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the milk and cream in a saucepan and bring it to a boil, then turn down the heat to keep it warm.

Peel several long strips of zest from the lemons.  Squeeze the juice from one of them (you'll use this when you finish the sauce).

Transfer the pork to a platter and wipe the fat from the pot.  Add the butter to the pot and set the heat to medium.  Add the garlic cloves and allow to get a touch golden.  Add the sage leaves, reserving a few for garnish, and stir, then set the roast back in the pot, along with any juices from the platter.  Bring to a simmer, add the lemon zest, reserving a few for garnish, and season to taste with salt.

Pour the milk and cream into the pot, partly cover, and simmer gently for 3 hours or more, turning the roast once in a while and stirring to prevent excessive sticking; the sauce should look slightly golden and clumpy.  Ann's Note:  I turned the roast every 30 minutes and this worked out quite well.  Turn off the heat and allow the meat to rest fr at least a half an hour, or until you are ready to make the sauce, up to an hour.

When you are ready to serve, remove the roast and slice it ¼-inch thick or so.  Place on a platter.

Pour the sauce through a sieve into a saucepan, using a wooden spoon to help it along.  Gently reheat the sauce (no boiling!), then stir in the lemon juice and pour it over the meat.  Garnish with the reserved sage leaves and ½ lemon slice.

Mustard-Mashed Potatoes – serves 4
For this recipe, you'll make the mashed potato recipe first, then add the ingredients for the Mustard-Mashed Potatoes
2 pounds Idaho potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
2 teaspoons kosher salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup milk
¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
Then add:
2 tablespoons dried mustard
1 tablespoon warm water
1 tablespoon honey
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric

Place the potatoes in a 2-quart saucepan with 1 teaspoon of the salt and cold water to cover.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, until completely tender, about 30 minutes.  Test the potatoes by piercing them with a paring knife—there should be no resistance.  Place in a colander and allow to drain well for several minutes.

Combine the butter, heavy cream, and milk in another saucepan and heat gently until the butter has melted.  Keep warm.

Working over the saucepan used to cook the potatoes, pass the potatoes through a food mill or a potato ricer.  If you have any difficulty, add a little of the hot milk and butter to the potatoes.

Place the potatoes over a low flame and begin adding the warm milk mixture, whipping the potatoes with a wooden spoon or spatula at the same time.  When all the liquid is absorbed, season with the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and the white pepper.

Stir together the mustard, water, honey, salt, pepper and turmeric in a small bowl.  Fold the mustard mixture into the warm mashed potatoes and stir over low heat until piping hot.  

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