We had a special guest for easter; Claude Monet. In fact, he was here all that week during my mid-night sleepless hours as I re-read his cooking journals in the book Monet’s Table. To submerge myself in his aesthetic for life – outside of his aesthetic on canvas – is a comforting reminder for me that we artist types just can’t help ourselves. The urge to create beauty and to tickle all ones senses go hand in hand whether it is reflected in gardens, in a painting or in a meal. My buddy Monet. We are of the same tribe.
Although we did not have a gathering for easter, and although my tiny Ultra Casual family of 2 specifically said they did not “want a fuss”, I still allowed myself the pleasure of creating a full celebratory meal just off-the-cuff inspired by Monet and his lust for living a beautiful life. Eaten al fresco on the freshly-cleared-of-snow patio complete with gardening clothes still it on, was a sensual pleasure. Let me share my recipes with you here.
Clean and snap off the tough ends of a bunch of asparagus. Steam them for exactly 4 minutes then immediately plunge them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. When cool, dry them on a towel and put in your serving vessel. Add the following ingredients and toss lightly.
- 1 tsp seasoned rice wine vinegar
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- salt and pepper to taste
Continuing with the asian spiciness that my David really adores while giving a nod to the ham/maple/mustard tradition of easter, I stuffed some pork chops for the grill.Slice open 2″ – 3″ of the fat side of two “thick cut” (1″ thick) pork chops. Wiggle your knife inside to touch down to the bone (if there is one) and sideways to create a circular pocket inside. Whirl the following ingredients in a food processor then stuff inside closing with a toothpick or metal skewer.
- 1 cup of fresh baby spinach leaves
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp dried mustard
- 1/2″ piece of peeled then grated fresh ginger root
- 1 T. jam to add flavor depth (we are given countless jars as gifts but don’t really eat jam on toast so this is a good way to use it up – this time I used a cherry marmalade)
- 3 T grated parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper
Combine the following ingredients to make a marinade then coat the pork chops with it and refrigerate for several hours or over night. Grill.
- 2 T sweet mustard spread (I used Deb’s Champagne Maple Mustard)
- 4 dashes of tamari soy sauce
- 1/4 cup red wine
- 1 T olive oil
- several grinds of black pepper
I made a potato gratin, its method edited countless times in my mind from studying various recipes over the years. This one is the most “frenchy” and the easiest.Generously butter a shallow baking dish and grate 4 oz of cheese. Any cheese will work but I love the texture if at least half of the cheese is a very firm type like Mancheco. This time I used 1/2 smoked gouda (playing up the Easter Smoky Ham flavor) and 1/2 greyere.
Scrub and slice thinly 1 1/2 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes (I use my food processor). Mince the leaves from one stock of fresh rosemary (mine retrieved from my studio winter garden upstairs) and remove the tiny leaves from several stems of thyme (my lemon thyme has just been released from the snow and was green enough to be used!) Have ready 3/8 cup of heavy cream then begin layering like this:Layer the potatoes in a circular pattern, salt and pepper generously, drizzle with 1/3 of the cream, sprinkle 1/3 of the herbs on top, then scatter half of the cheese over all. Repeat for a second layer.Finish with a 3rd layer of potatoes, salt and peppered, drizzled with the remaining cream and sprinkled with the remaining herbs. Bake 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown and potatoes are soft when pierced with a knife.
My final inspiration from Monet was the famous Vert Vert cake that his chef made for him. After my second attempt within a year I realized that beautiful yet odd textured cake with all its formal french-pastry instructions has lost something in translation…probably needs the obvious copper cookware, smaller home-grown eggs, etc. This third time I decided to just wing it with my own understanding of baking chemistry and an attempt to make a desert that was low in sugar and gluten-free. It was good and to my mind better than previous tries, but again, not very American sweet & fluffy. So present this picture only and someday when I can master its texture I will post it again. Imagine the scents of freshly grated lemon, ground pistachios and cherry liqueur…