January 4th, 2009 · 43 Comments

merle, my loved and adored burmese kitty: february 1, 1994 – december 25, 2008

happy new year. it’s been so seemingly long now since i’ve written that i barely know where to begin except to say that i’ve thought of you. often. like every time i cooked or ate i’d think – i’m a food blogger and i should be telling somebody something about this. and then i’d go watch a movie.

but first of all, thanks for supporting ‘menu for hope V‘ and for bidding on the mullet roe from ‘rk’s black hammock smokehouse’. the total worldwide effort raised over $60k which will make a real difference in the lives of so many african children. or it could buy me the bmw i’ve had my eye on. you decide. anyway, i hope that a ceF reader wins the mullet roe because then you’ll finally understand just what i’ve been going on and on about regarding this esoteric florida delicacy.

and please note that i truly believe that you are all more than worthy of this amazing foodstuff and i can assure you that if i were empress there’d be mullet roe sacs for each and every one of you. because that it the kind of empress i would be. and if being empress were an electable position, smoked mullet roe and bottarga would be my platform, and my campaign slogan would be "smoke fish eggs, not your enemy" or "more sacs, less tax". granted, the concept needs tons of work. but i would totally be there for you in this way.

and thanksgiving in december was finally celebrated on ny’s eve. and after i read through every suggestion that you left in the comments, we took it all to heart and as many of you suggested, opted for sheer simplicity. we kept the food close to the ground with few ingredients. i roasted 2 chickens using the infallible zuni café method of salting smaller sized birds and covering loosely in the fridge for 2 or 3 days, then hitting them with a very high heat for about 50 minutes. the result – crisp skin and moist meat every time. i baked a simple cornbread using olive oil and made the stuffing using that and chicken sausage, red onions, garlic, celery, sage and veal stock. i also caramelized some brussels sprouts in a heavy skillet and hit them with a balsamic glaze and then roasted some sweet potatoes in nothing more than olive oil and salt. the cranberry sauce had fresh orange zest along with the juice, just a bit of brown sugar and a cinnamon stick.

at dinner, santos toasted to his beautiful wife rudrani, recognizing the auspicious evening and upcoming year with an excellent bottle of tattinger’s and we ate our dinner with a bottle of cotes du rhone. we felt grateful to not only be alive – but together, looking forward to the best year of our lives, if only because it is the one we will be living.

and being the exciting people that we are, cary and i were in bed at 11:30pm and flicked on the tv to watch all the festivities in nyc and do the whole pretend countdown (we’re on central time) and DID ANYONE ELSE SEE DICK CLARK AND GET FREAKED THE HELL OUT? it was, shall we say, NOT GOOD. it wasn’t the slurring due to the stroke it was "the face". he looked like he had died 2 days before and was embalmed, then put in full make-up and propped up in a chair. NOT GOOD. we both got the willies and quickly changed the channel. so much for going out with grace… i think much of america collectively gasped when they saw him. it kind of broke my heart.

and there was actually some food worth mentioning that happened to get cooked and then photographed in my kitchen during the tail end of ’08. so i thought i’d purge what was left in my files and hit you with it all at once in the name of starting fresh and not being wasteful.

this first dish, which i’ve now made perhaps 4x and have neglected to mention it to you, dear readers, is a smashing thing to eat. it’s a total wow and you need to make this one soon. grilled haloumi with caramelized fennel. oh. my.

just grill the fennel in some olive oil until it caramelizes, toss it with chopped italian parsley and spritz with lemon. then top it with the grilled halloumi. it is so much better than you might imagine it to be. so even if you are sitting there thinking, "no – i get it. that would be excellent", then you go and make it and it’s like crazy good and everyone thinks you are a brilliant cook and talks about you for days on end. i saw this dish on an australian blog called souvlaki for the soul. besides his beautiful food, the guy is a serious photographer. anyway, you heard it here second. now go make this.

jennifer? i told you i was going to make this and i did. and then i bought the book because ‘sunday suppers at lucques‘ by suzanne goin is most definitely a must own. and romesco is a must have in your repertoire. it works with nearly everything and although i’ve no recollection what fish this was, it was an excellent accompaniment to the romesco along with steamed broccoli.

romesco sauce
from ‘sunday suppers at lucques’ by suzanne goin

5 ancho chiles
2 T raw almonds
2T blanched hazelnuts
1 ¼ c extra virgin olive oil
1 slice country bread, about 1 inch thick
1/3 cup canned san marzano tomatoes
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 T chopped flat leaf parsley
½ lemon for juicing
kosher salt

preheat the oven to 375. soak the chiles in hot water for about 15 minutes, then seed and stem them. spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast them for 8-10 minutes. remove from the oven and set aside. fry the bread in a bit of the olive oil, then let it cool and cut into cubes. return the pan to the stove, heat the chiles for about 2 minutes, then add the tomatoes. cook them until they break down and the juices are reduced, then turn off the heat and set aside.

pulse the nuts, bread and garlic in a food processor, then add the chile and tomato mixture and pulse again to combine. pour in more olive oil while the machine is running until you have the texture you want. taste for seasoning, then stir in the lemon juice and parsley.


ok. i know. not beautiful. but i am so incredibly proud of what’s going on in that bowl you just couldn’t know. you see, peter and heather are constantly cooking all these amazing asian dishes filled with mysterious ingredients to the point where i personally find it to be borderline between annoying and inferiority complex causing. my problem? i’d say so. but a few weeks ago i whipped up this little number using only what i had on hand. undoubtedly a red bell pepper would have come in handy along with some bamboo shoots or something else with color but it tasted pretty damn good and it contained the following, in no particular order:

white miso
raw chicken breast
a chopped shallot
frozen peas
sriracha sauce
fresh rice noodles – sold refrigerated in the vacuum sealed bag
sesame oil
my poultry stock

never to be duplicated, but again, it was a proud moment – especially since there is no chinese food in nashville worthy of buying unless you count ‘pf changs’. sad but true.

presenting, farinata – a thin chickpea pancake/pizza like thing that’s pretty popular in liguria. i saw farinata mentioned somewhere and then i found this recipe on the food & wine website – and well it’s very much my kind of food. yes yes, i scorched the top a bit with my broiler but really it was no big deal – just a very surface ring of black. you basically mix garbanzo flour and water and let it sit for a couple of hours. then you preheat the oven to 500f, skim any foam off the batter and add salt, rosemary (i think i used sage) and olive oil. then heat a cast iron skillet in the oven for 10 minutes, add some olive oil to the pan, add the batter and bake. again, i made the mistake of deciding to brown the top a bit more and i took my eye off the oven…

but there were no complaints and it went fast…

this was from the ‘king arthur flour whole grain baking‘ book. i’m pretty sure this recipe called for peaches but i loaded it up with 3 pears being that i had just bought a huge box of them to support a friends daughter school choir. great idea… so much better than gift wrapping or magazines. anyway, i lowered the amount of sugar the recipe called for and well, cary ate the entire loaf in one day.

vegetables on brown basmati rice. exciting, i know. please try and contain yourselves. but for the record we’ve got brussels sprouts, carrots, onions, garlic, broccoli and some lovely briney olives lightly sauteed in olive oil and finished with a balsamic glaze. and i must tell you, it was quite delicious. and since i took a picture of it, i felt the need to share. because not only am i needy that way, but also because the rice had the perfect bite and the vegetables were cooked to that crisp but not overdone finish. i got lucky on this one. it was a moment in time where all the planets aligned just so, and the vegetable gods smiled down upon me. and i was grateful and appreciative and all those things that the vegetable gods expect one to be.

scarlett runners from rancho gordo dusted with espelette. there’s some pan fried tilapia back there with a spicy green olive tapenade on top. but the beans and the espelette were seriously good. and even more seriously basque.

but regarding the espelette… like if ever you were to get some? think eggs. scrambled, deviled, fried or perhaps just one orange egg yolk sitting atop a small mound of sheeps milk ricotta mixed with a bit of orange zest, sprinkled with this extraordinary pepper and then tucked carefully between 2 sheets of thin pasta…. yes. think that.

so dear readers, for the record – my personal ‘o9 resolution is to lean down both physically and financially. and i’m heading in that direction, yes i am. and there’ll be more on that later.

and although i may be 4 days late, allow me to raise my virtual glass to you. here’s to a kinder, gentler new year…

Tags: asian · baking · beans · chicken · fish · vegetables

43 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Meg // Jan 4, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    Happy new year, Claudia. I’m glad the Thanksgiving went well. When some of the Seattle Public School drama wraps up in a couple of weeks, I think I’ll be making the grilled halloumi w/fennel.

  • 2 Heather // Jan 4, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    (clears throat) I know one person who is more deserving of mullet roe than anyone. (/clears throat)

    Also, thanks for the shout-out, again. You’re my most supportive blogirlfriend. Peter will probably have his ubiquitous psychic link and go get those rice petal-noodles like I’ve been planning to ever since I tried my first mastaglioli (with braised short ribs, at Castagna). I called it though – kuay chap with braised oxtail and a chiff of gai lan. You saw it here first, folks.

  • 3 Jennifer Hess // Jan 4, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    Happy New Year, my friend. I’ve had you in my thoughts and I do hope that you’re doing okay, considering all that has happened. I really hope we get to share a meal again in 2009. xxoo

  • 4 Jennifer Hess // Jan 4, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    (and also, yay romesco!)

  • 5 claudia // Jan 4, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    meg – it is so fast. 10 minutes all up. at the most.

    heather – next time you comment on my blog, please write in english. thank you. the management. ps – i am indebted to you forever for the gojuchang connection. like what does that not taste great on?

    jennifer – you’re still my #1 choice for a personal chef once i win the lottery. perhaps we will coordinate a spring nyc trip…. i’m thinking early may…

  • 6 cookiecrumb // Jan 4, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Everything looks marvelous. Lot of things here I’m going to want to try.
    And Heather? I elbowed Claudia first for some free mullet roe (because I was too cheap to bid on her auction). I’m just gonna have to find out who that guy in Florida is.
    Happy New Year, all.

  • 7 Julie // Jan 4, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    OK, grilled haloumi with fennel going on my list. Happy new year to you.

  • 8 The Italian Dish // Jan 4, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    You’re back! What a compilation of dishes! Still need to get the King Arthur Whole Grain Baking. Totally agree on the Dick Clark thing. Happy New Year.

  • 9 Melissa // Jan 4, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    Glad to see you here at your home base.

    “more sacs, less tax” *SNORT*

    I bought Sunday Suppers too. I would say that there are recipes in there that are “beyond me” so maybe I shouldn’t have bought it yet, but I don’t really believe in thinking that way. If I put my mind to it, I could cook anything. :D But actually, I bought it for two recipes specifically, ones I know I have an almost 100% chance of success with right now. I’ll do them in the next couple of months.

    I love your whole Thanksgiving spread for your dear friend. I’m sure it was a wonderful evening.

    And my heart is bursting for Merle. *Nuzzles face*

  • 10 Diana // Jan 4, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    My first thought: OMFG a three-legged chicken! Totally did a double-take on that one. I got Zuni for Christmas, woohoo!

    Thanks for the catch-up post and the wonderful pictures. Reminds me that I need to get to my little ol’ blog and share some stuff.

    After the excesses of the end of ’08, I see legumes in my future. I hope they look as good as those scarlet runners!

  • 11 lifeinrecipes // Jan 4, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    Damn, girl, you’ve been cooking up a storm!

    Everything looks amazing – gonna have to pick up those chewy oval rice noodles and do something tasty with them ‘cos they remind me of you and MM and me in Cleveburg.

    Liking the mullet roe/bottarga platform….oh yeah…

  • 12 Foodie at Fifteen // Jan 4, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    good to have you back!

    romesco looks fabulous

  • 13 Wendy French // Jan 4, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    I am so sorry to hear about your cat, Claudia. My heart really goes out to you as my cats are my little children and I can’t ever imagine anything happening to them, though I know that inevitably something will happen…just as it should and has to & this non-immortality crap is just bullshit, right?

    Your food looks great, as always. So, bottarga…is it fish uterus? the bacon of fish comment sells me on it, but I think I’m still a little intimidated by it.

  • 14 _ts of [eatingclub] vancouver // Jan 4, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    I’d vote for you! ;) (I bid on the roe, but roe for me and everybody else is even better!) Happy New Year!

    (I don’t know why the gratuitous use of exclamation points!)

  • 15 We Are Never Full // Jan 4, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    Just wanted to wish you a happy 2009 and thanks for providing such great entertainment and drool-worthy meals. you get it and i love it.

    but i was really sad about reading about the passing of your cat. i’m a huge cat lover and we are prob. going to be putting our 18 year old down next weekend. i also am PMSing so i’m about to cry reading all of this!

  • 16 Sara // Jan 4, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    Everything looks amazing. I’m sorry about your cat, I lost my 17 year old dog last January and I’m still really sad about it.

    I made rancho gordo scarlet runner beans last week – used a rick bayless recipe where they’re cooked with mole. They were quite delicious.

  • 17 Brittany // Jan 4, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Happy ’09 Claudia-
    Nice to see you and your food are back- I missed you!

    I am so sorry about Merle. You’ll probably hear this a lot, but I know how you feel. I lost my little Ziggy to lymphoma a few years ago…
    Those little kitties take your guts with you when they go….You’re in my thoughts…

    Peter and Heather may make us all feel painfully uncultered and inferior with their Asian tendancies, but you should know that you inspire the same shame in me when it comes to your Italian cooking…
    And now you’ve gone and made this Chinese creation.

    Sigh. I’m gonna go make a cup o’ noodles and call it a day.

  • 18 maggie // Jan 4, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Happy new year. All these dishes look lovely. Cheers to a new start.

  • 19 Vincent // Jan 4, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    I’m so glad to see a post – sorry about merle.

    Farinata – I would kiss you on the mouth for that post – ceci…oh my ceci

    haloumi is beautiful – the pic is great!

    I am sick of beans though….sick to death of them. much love…

  • 20 democommie // Jan 4, 2009 at 10:55 pm


    Thank you, for all of it.

    Wendy French:

    Their furry little bodies may not be immortal, but the cats themselves, they go on forever. The egyptians were well aware of their staying power.

  • 21 Rhonda // Jan 4, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    Happy New Year, Claudia!

    The food looks amazing and I was very happy to see your beautiful friend, Rudrani, on television. She sounds like an amazing person.

  • 22 claudia // Jan 4, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    cookie – if heather wins, you could go visit her and i just know she’d share… you’re not that far! and i think you guys should meet, if only so i could enjoy it vicariously….

    julie – you will love it. you will. i promise. and happy happy ’09 to you. my next trip to baltimore and we will meet… for sure…

    italian dish – it’s just so nice to see everyone… the dick clark thing? not good. whole grains in your baked goods? priceless…

    melissa – i would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for snorting at my joke. as for cooking from that book? you so can do it… as for my baby merle – so sad. too sad. shitfuckdamn….

    diana – i went back and looked at the photo and cracked up…. funny stuff.

    life in recipes – EXACTLY. that’s where we had them. i really like them. these are bit thicker but still – very good. i like the texture. have you seen mm? how is she? love that girl…

    15 – which reminds me. i am behind on all tou’ve been up to. ok ok, i’m going to look…. my bad.

    wendy – all i can tell you is that he was pretty good right up until the end. poor baby. wish i’d had him longer. and nooooo, not the uterus, the roe sacs. wait. is that the uterus? do fish have uteruses? rk??? help me. now i’m all confused….

    ts! eating club of vancouver! i hope you win too! you and heather! and marc! and chris! oh and happy new year!!!!!!!!!

    we are never full – oh honey…. no words. just so very sorry. love you. mean it. really…..

    sara – i lost my dog 3 years ago and another cat 5 years ago. never easy. but that bayliss mole on RG beans sounds damn fine…

    brittany – yeah, and i can’t bake worth a crap. so there. i have 2 other cats at home. jude is 10 and chet is 5. they miss their brother….

    maggie – it’s all about the new start…

    vincent – no beans for you. but lots of ceci……..

    demmo – so so so nice. as i’ve come to expect from you. now come visit us.

    rhonda – thanks forso much the kind words. i wish we’d have thought to take a picture of ourselves on ny’s eve but we forgot! rudrani is a special person. i adore both her and santos. ….

  • 23 The Culinary Sherpas // Jan 5, 2009 at 7:08 am

    What a very beautiful kitty. Cheers to you girl.

    The grilled haloumi with caramelized fennel looks awesome. BTW, had to freakin’ google haloumi…yeah. ‘Lives in a box’ <— right here, baby.

    Had bottarge (sp?) at Steamy Kitchen’s house. Robert sent her some. Greg and Jaden LOVED it.

  • 24 Mary Coleman // Jan 5, 2009 at 7:32 am

    So sorry to hear about Merle, honey. Love to you.
    Mary and Groom

  • 25 Donald // Jan 5, 2009 at 8:12 am

    Happy new year Claudia!

    Sorry to here about Merle.

    Great dishes!!!

  • 26 RosieHawthorne // Jan 5, 2009 at 8:12 am

    So glad to see you back here and so sorry to hear about Merle.

  • 27 lisaiscooking // Jan 5, 2009 at 10:18 am

    So sorry about your cat. He must have had 14 great years.

    I have a shiny, new jar of espelette that I can’t wait to break open, and the scarlet runners look great.

    Happy 09 to you.

  • 28 RK // Jan 5, 2009 at 10:54 am


    Not a biologist here, but cant see why egg-layers would need a uterus, straight from the ovaries to the vent. Call it what you want, but dont call me late for dinner…..

  • 29 claudia // Jan 5, 2009 at 10:59 am

    hey guys, thanks for all the merle condolences. he really was a wonderful guy who lived a charmed life. i was lucky to have him for 14 1/2 years.

    chet and jude, his 2 kitty brothers definitely feel the loss as well. it’s interesting to see… they had their own little subculture happening here.

    onwards and upwards
    and again thanks for caring
    and mr. rk… that was quite the sex-ed insight. see how we need you?

  • 30 Ethel // Jan 5, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    Happy New Year Claudia . Enjoyed seeing all the photo’s and reading this post. I sure have a lot to learn about food…talking about intimidation !!!!!
    As for Merle, how lucky for you to have loved him for 141/2 yrs. It’s a great loss.
    The roasted chicken sounds like something I can manage. Easy and delicious.

  • 31 Marie // Jan 5, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Claudia, So sorry about your sweet Merle.
    Your food here all looks great, but I want that farinata! It caught my eye immediately! I’ll be sure to tune in on your leaning down resolutions, I’m right there with ya!

  • 32 Lauren // Jan 5, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    merle was the greatest big cat in a tiny body ever. here’s to 2009. welcome back.

  • 33 Abby @ mangerlaville // Jan 5, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    I just made the zuni chickens. Incredible, I will never go back to simply roasting a chicken.

  • 34 Lesley // Jan 6, 2009 at 7:48 am

    I almost always have a chunk of haloumi in the fridge for those times I feel I really deserve a delicious and savory hunk of cheese. It ties only with a fab triple creme brie as my favorite cheese.

    And a really good olive can liven up just about anything, can’t it?

    RIP Merle.

  • 35 Mari // Jan 7, 2009 at 10:34 am

    Happy New Year Claudia!
    I’m with you on getting lean in both cases, so I’m looking forward to hearing all about your methods.

  • 36 Rachel (S[d]OC) // Jan 7, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    So sorry about your kitty. I had a Burmese years ago. He was awesome – one of the sweetest cats I’ve ever had.

    You have a wonderful spread there. I think one of my ’09 cooking resolutions will be farinata. I also love your halloumi and fennel combo.

  • 37 lo // Jan 7, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Happy New Year!
    Feast looks fab… and I’m going to tell you that you did mighty fine with that Asian grub. srsly.

    Sorry to hear about kitty. Sweet WI kitty friends Elmo, Zoe, Izzie, and Yoyo send their condolances.

  • 38 theGardenYears // Jan 7, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    First, the Dick Clark thing. I’m not sure what’s more disturbing Dick Clark’s current state or Ryan Seacrest acting as if it’s perfectly normal.

    Claudia you are without question a well seasoned foodie. Much props on the salting method on the chickens. Works well with duck to give you the almost the peking duck effect.

  • 39 Lynn // Jan 8, 2009 at 8:20 am

    Merle, what a charming soul he was. I loved that he would hang out in the kitchen without fear of a tail stepping. Such a lovely boy!

    Happy New Year to you and yours~

  • 40 ponyboat // Jan 8, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Oh no, I didn’t know about Merle. So sorry, he was such a sweet kitty. Even for this cat-averse person, he was easy to love.

  • 41 Traci @ Soup of The Day // Jan 10, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Happy New Year Claudia!

    So sorry about Merle :( I know a few people who have lost their pets in the last month or so, and I know how difficult it is.

    But cheers to a Happy 2009!

  • 42 Marc @ NoRecipes // Jan 16, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Good to see you posting again:-) You’d certainly have my vote for empress on that platform! All your meals look fantastic. All the best in 2009!

  • 43 wendy // Jan 16, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    I am missing Merle……..

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