Still Life with Jars
I had a major cleanout of my refrigerator and pantry storage area recently. I am still recovering. And in a related fit of discovery, I came across a file folder marked “Funnies.” This bit of evidence of my packrat past consisted of clippings—mostly from The New Yorker—and all having to do with food in one way or other. One of my favorites was a full-page four-panel gem by super-talented Roz Chast labeled “Welcome to the Museum of One’s Kitchen.” Each of the four panels had titles: “The Impulse Buy Collection” included a dusty-looking box of Instant Mocha Torte fixings—“Even you can do it!” proclaimed the box. Another panel was called “The Shelf of Antiquity” and held a box of powdered milk, another box labeled “Mother Russia Kasha,” and a tin of herring in tomato sauce. These were draped with cobwebs. The panel that really hit home showed an open refrigerator door and was simply titled “The Refrigerator Door Gallery.” It presented us with an all-too-familiar scenario: a jumble of beverage bottles, mustards, and a wide range of other condiments, many used for one recipe (usually Asian in nature) and never to be used again. Never say never. Maybe it’s time for a bit of culinary editing? I did this, but I wonder just how long it will take to redecorate every inch of door storage with tubes and bottles of exotica. Do I have to have “ballpark” mustard, Dijon smooth and coarse grain, and the one with green peppercorns? The answer is “Yes.”
Ah, Green Peppercorns
It’s memory time and the green peppercorn reference takes me back decades ago when I went up to Toronto for a film shoot (it was less expensive to make commercials there in those days). We stayed at an elegant—we now call them boutique—hotel; this one had a trio of restaurants called Three Small Rooms. I can’t remember which of the rooms we dined in, but I have never forgotten a dish I ordered that came with a sensational new (to me) ingredient in the sauce. It was probably the kale of its day—green peppercorns. They popped up in a sauce that was liberally smeared on the steak or chop (I can’t remember which.) On my next marketing trip, I picked up a jar of these gems, and there has been one in my refrigerator door display ever since. I go to them, rinse them of the brine, and in they go. If I lose too much brine I just add a jot of white vinegar and recap them. They can really perk up a dish, especially a salad, be it egg, tuna, or chicken. Think of them, too, when making a cream sauce for poultry, chops, and steaks. Funny, I rarely see them used these days, but I adore them. Here’s a recipe I cribbed and adapted from a years-ago copy of Cooking Light. You could enrich the sauce by adding a half cup of heavy cream and reduce along with the shallots. Have fun with this.
Chicken Thighs with Green Peppercorn Sauce
- 1⁄4 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. paprika (preferably the imported one in the red can)
- About 1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
- 4-5 skinless boneless chicken thighs (more flavor than breasts)
- 1⁄2 tsp. salt
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1⁄4 c. finely chopped shallots
- 2/3 c. dry white wine (or use dry vermouth)
- 1⁄2 c. fat-free low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 Tbsp. (or more to taste) green peppercorns, crushed (place in plastic bag and crush with a heavy skillet)
- 1 Tbsp. butter
Combine our and paprika in a shallow dish. Sprinkle the chicken with the salt and pepper. Add chicken pieces to the our mixture until coated; shake off excess. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add chicken to pan and cook about 5 minutes per side, or until lightly browned. Remove chicken from the pan and cover with foil or a pan lid to keep warm. Increase the heat to medium-high and add shallots to the pan. Sauté 1 minute then stir in the broth and peppercorns; bring to a boil. Cook until reduced to 1⁄4 cup—about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the butter. Return the thighs to the pan to reheat and finish cooking through. Cut into a thigh with a sharp knife to test doneness. Do not overcook. is serves four.
As to what to serve with this treat I also reach back to my early days of cooking. I am helped because I retrieved a favorite pan that somehow got to the back of the cabinet several years ago. It is a big stainless two-part with an insert having small holes on the base, forming a steamer. You could also use one of those inserts that are widely available for varying sizes of pans. As for what to put in the pan, perhaps you have green beans in your garden—hurrah for you. The farmers market is another possibility.
Steamed “Frenched” Green Beans
I have no exact quantity to give you. Just eyeball enough beans to serve the amount of people at your table. Add a few more because I’ve found these hard to resist, and so will your guests. I first learned of this method at the late Bert Greene’s house out in Amagansett on Long Island. This technique takes a bit of time, so find a comfortable seat at a table and listen to the radio (not during the news hour) and daydream away. I listened to Bert, a great storyteller whom I dearly miss. (If you see one of his many cookbooks at a sale, grab it. You will be happy.) If you happen to have an old-fashioned potato peeler that had a funny square part at one end, that was designed to slice the bean. Just insert one end of the bean in the square and give it a push to start the process, then continue to pull the bean through and voila! French style! It really doesn’t matter that all the bean is sliced, what matters is the taste. Experiment. Rinse the beans and lop off the stem end. Using a sharp knife and starting below the stem end (you want to keep the bean together) slice the bulk of the bean lengthwise into thin strips. Add water to the pan, place the beans in the top of the pan, cover the pan halfway, and let them steam until they are just tender. Two to three minutes should do it. Place them in a serving dish and toss them with butter if you’re feeling like a sinner, drizzle them with extra-virgin olive oil if you’re saintly, or use a little of both if you’re a free spirit. I sometimes sprinkle them with red pepper flakes to heat things up a bit. Very finely chopped fresh thyme or rosemary wouldn’t be amiss, nor would fresh dill or fresh tarragon. And now for dessert.
Super Easy Pumpkin Mousse
Here’s a recipe from a column I wrote for a local newspaper back in 2008. It’s well worth a repeat visit because it is easy and so good. We’re all thinking of autumn these days, and perhaps of the coming holidays. What’s the expression? “Try it, you’ll like it.”
- 1 individual packet of unflavored gelatin
- 2 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
- 1 c. non-ultra-pasteurized heavy whipping cream
- 1⁄2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (I repeat, pure)
- 4 large egg yolks
- 5 Tbsps. sugar
- 1 1⁄2 c. canned pumpkin puree (not the pie filling)
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg (pre-ground if you must)
- 2 tsps. orange zest
- 6 Tbsp. (more or less) tiny diced candied ginger (optional)
Over simmering water or in a microwave (seconds will do it), dissolve gelatin in the orange juice. Set aside. In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, mix 1⁄4 cup of the cream and the vanilla. Heat until small bubbles appear on the edge of the mixture. In a bowl placed over a dampened tea towel (for stability), and using a portable mixer (or use a stand mixture or elbow grease) whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually add the hot cream to the egg mixture beating all the while. The idea is to cook the eggs but not scramble them. Use a rubber scraper to mix in the pumpkin, spices, gelatin mixture, and the orange rind. Whip the remaining cream and fold this into the pumpkin mixture. Fill 6 individual ramekins or a 1 1⁄2-quart mold and chill thoroughly. Garnish each serving with little bits of candied ginger if desired. Delicious.