It shouldn’t be too surprising that after cooking Thanksgiving meals entirely out of Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan that I would turn to it when trying to come up with a New Year’s Eve Dinner menu. I am really enjoying my weekly dose of Dorie Greenspan via French Fridays, but some weeks things just don’t work out to make the designated dish, like this past week when we didn’t have a kitchen for 4 days, or when the recipe of the week is mostly flour-based, or when I’ve already gone ahead and made it weeks before…Anyway, after two weeks away from AMFT, I was ready to roll. There were a few other dinner parameters: pork loin roast was on special, there were a bunch of vegetables to use up in the fridge: leeks, sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes, parsley, some other aromatic vegetables, and a large head of cauliflower. And, to top it off, D has been itching to make a crispy pork belly recipe after our meal at Lantern in September.
Here is the menu:
- Starter: A bottle of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut (which may have resulted in my christening the new floors by dropping an entire gin and tonic on it later in the evening)
- First Course: Crispy Pork Belly with roast garlic “gravy” (ala Gordon Ramsey via The Carnivore and the Vegetarian)
- Second Course: Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Parsley Coulis (Dorie)
- Third Course: Pork Loin with Mangos and Lychee served with Cardamom Lemon Cauli-Rice (Dorie and Dorie influenced)
- Dessert: Chocolate Pie (ala Sarah)
- Plus a New Year’s Day Creme Brulee (ala Dorie)
First let me gush about the pork belly. We love this cut of pork, and for the most part at home have I have only used it to make an Asian Pork Belly Hot Pot. A few months ago we had a fantastic meal at Lantern in Chapel Hill which included an appetizer of crispy pork belly with pickled pumpkin. The pickled pumpkin recipe can be found in Andrea Reusing’s book “Cooking in the Moment.” Based on the texture and flavor, I’m fairly sure the pork belly is braised or slow cooked or cured lightly in some way and then small cubes are deep fried until crisp. Who knows! Maybe Andrea will let us in on the secret, but even if she does, I’m not a fan of deep frying at home; too messy and it uses a ton of oil which for us tends to sit around and go rancid. D came up with an oven roasted “crispy” pork belly recipe via The Carnivore and the Vegetarian, with a variation of the sauce that was more dense and very roasted garlic-y. D claims there would have been more of it, but there was a lot of tasting necessary to get it just right. 😉 Pork belly is rich with its thick layer of fat and the skin, when cooked right, crisps up beautifully. One of the pleasures of eating lower carb is being able to enjoy the fat in a dish without worries.
The second course was a Dorie Greenspan recipe for Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Parsley Coulis. Dorie provides a great history of the use and prevalence of these knobby roots following WWII. I can attest to how easy sunchokes/Jerusalem artichokes can be to grow (though perhaps not so easy to grow well enough to eat) having once planted them in a garden for their tall flowers. They “run” and spread wildly if left to grow unchecked. The tubers I purchased this fall were larger, and more like a misshapen fingerling potato. I’ve seen several recipes that use them unpeeled, but the skins, even when scrubbed, have an intensely earthy scent. Rather than risk the dish tasting like dirt, I peeled the chokes as best I could with a vegetable peeler and small paring knife. Other than that prep, this was another easy to cook pureed vegetable soup. Dorie uses chicken stock, but a vegetable stock will bring out more of the vegetable flavors of the soups other ingredients: leeks, celery, onions, and garlic.
The parsley coulis gave me a bit of trouble. I halved the recipe for the soup since there were only three of us for dinner and D is not a huge soup fan. So in turn, I halved the coulis recipe. That small amount of parsley and olive oil in the blender really would not blend, so I ended up adding a scant tablespoon of water so that the final blending resembled the liquid puree of a coulis. Also, white pepper is recommended for this dish, and in hindsight I should have used it. The black pepper really intensifies when processed in the soup using the immersion blender and was overpowering in the final dish.
Most cookbooks make mention that the Jerusalem artichoke (sunchoke) tastes like a globe (green) artichoke when cooked; while I tasted some of that flavor in the final dish, to me, the soup had more of the flavor of a potato and the soup more like a potato leek soup. For those counting your carbs, sunchokes have only slightly fewer carbs and slightly more fiber than potatoes, so not really low carb at all, but given the moderate portion size of the soup, a reasonable treat. The parsley gave it a bright grassy flavor that contrasted well with the earthiness of the other ingredients, and it provided a nice visual interest for an otherwise beige colored soup.
The main dish was a pork loin roast with mangoes and lychees. Normally two pork dishes in a single meal might be too much, but the lean roast with its sweet tart sauce contrasted well with the rich fatty belly eaten earlier on. Dorie mentions that her friend Alex likes the surprise of guests finding out the pale lumps in the dish are not in fact pork fat, but lychee fruits cooked in the sauce, with that soft texture of fat but with a sweet and refreshing flavor. While fresh lychees are available at our large Asian market when they are in season, canned lychees would have to do for a January meal.
The mangos I found this time of year were under-ripe; yellow orange inside, but still too firm and not juicy. Cooked in the dish they seemed to work fine, and under-ripe or even green mango is used as an ingredient in Indian cooking, however this may have lent a more tart flavor to the dish than intended as I also left out all but a single tablespoon of honey. Most savory dishes so far from AMFT that include honey or other sweeteners are too sweet for my taste buds, so I’ve taken to reducing the sweetener as a matter of course. It was great to have some of the flavors of “summer” in the dish during the cooler months, including the lime juice. Can’t wait to make this when the ingredients are more seasonal.
I served the pork with Cardamom Lemon Cauli-Rice, a riff on Dorie’s Cardomom Rice Pilaf. If you’ve seen my earlier take on a spinach rice dish, you’ll know that I’m a fan of making cauli-rice to cut out the carbs usually found in a rice side dish. Given all the onions, leeks and garlic in the rest of the dishes, I opted for a more simple side that would serve as a foil for the stronger flavors, while still brightening up the distinctly cabbage-y flavor of the cauliflower. The cardamom in this dish should be crushed more thoroughly than if you were cooking it in rice; the cauli-rice cooks a short time and absorbs less flavor from the cooking process than real rice.
Cardamom Lemon Cauli-Rice
1 head of cauliflower; grated while raw using the grater disk of a food processor. You should end up with around 4-6 cups
½ a lemon; juice squeezed and zest zested
Seeds from 5-7 cardamom pods; crushed in mortar and pestle
Dash or two of ground cardamom
Salt and pepper
Water, enough when added to lemon juice to make ¼ cup total liquid
Toss all ingredients together in a microwave proof dish with a lid. Place lid on dish and cook on high for 5-10 minutes (depending on the strength of your microwave) until the cauli-rice is tender, but not mushy. Allow to rest for a few minutes covered to allow flavors of cardamom to infuse the dish, then serve. You can make this on the stovetop with a non-stick pan with a tight fitting lid. If you make it on the stovetop be sure to stir the rice occasionally and check the moisture, adding water if needed since the cauli-rice will cook more quickly on the bottom and lose more moisture than in the microwave.
Finally, I made Dorie’s crème brulee featured several weeks ago on FFwD, but since Sarah brought a delicious dark chocolate pie for New Year’s Eve, we saved the brulee to eat the rest of the week following New Year’s. It might be a new New Year’s tradition to kick off the year with this rich baked custard. I made three plain, and three using three different jams I had in the fridge: strawberry, sugar-free apricot and a friend’s mother’s wild blackberry & raspberry. The apricot worked the best in terms of texture since the extra pectin and vegetable gums used to replace the sugar helped to keep the jam firm once baked and cooled. The taste of the blackberry raspberry, which included whole tiny wild blackberries in the jam, was the best flavor and provided the most interest, and the strawberry, compared to the other options, just seemed a bit common and flat making me long for the fresh berries of spring. As usual, I substituted my blend of erythritol, sucralose and ace-K for the sugar in the custard, and used a low-carb/low-cal milk along with the cream. When it came to making the caramelized sugar, I went ahead and used 1 level measured teaspoon or regular white sugar (adding only 4 carbs to each serving) and my neighbor‘s butane torch (she of the tomatillos and veggie garden). I did not put them on a bed of ice – torching the brulee warms up the custard perfectly. If browning in a broiler, a bed of ice will keep the custard from completely heating through.
And finally, as promised, a few pictures from our recent redecorating/renovation projects: new floors, new (vintage) light fixture in the recently painted bathroom.
The floors are a dark stained cork, with a “distressed” look that shows a lighter “rust” color in the grooves. The floating floor product is snap and lock boards of cork sandwiching a fiberboard core. Its very quiet, and warm feeling on the feet.
We are very happy about the look and feel of it, and though this may not be our forever home, we are pleased to be able to re-do the floors to make it more livable for us in the present, and possibly for future owners or renters. Mom thought it a “bold choice,” and while I agree that the dark espresso color is more unusual than what you see in most homes, overall I think that it looks very “modern” with our vintage contemporary furniture, but if we removed all of that, would be in keeping with he traditional look of the house. 2012? Its on to the kitchen cabinets and walls!