Gnawing on the Bone

2011.Nov.15 Tuesday · 1 comment

in Casa SaltShaker, Food & Recipes

“Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.”

– Henry David Thoreau, author

One of the things that I regularly deal with at Casa SaltShaker are special requests due to allergies or dietary considerations. Most of the time it’s pretty simple – the most common request is for a vegetarian option (which almost always seems to eventually on questioning include that “fish is fine” – that’s not vegetarian, no matter how one justifies it – just tell me that part upfront). Sometimes the requests are more elaborate, with laundry lists of allergies or preferences – I don’t actually care about the latter, though if it happens that there’s an easy fix to something that fits someone’s preference, I’ll generally do it. Somehow I think that people have this idea that because it’s all a very intimate experience, that they can treat this like going to their friends’ houses where they share the various details of whichever diet fad they’re on this season, month, or week (I’ve actually had people send me copies of diet plans from things like the South Beach and Atkins diets, complete with recipes, demanding that I make those things for them) – and they already know that a regular restaurant here is likely to be as unhelpful in meeting their requests as the restaurants are back home, wherever that may be. They tend to forget that I’m the sole cook for the dinner, I don’t have any assistants to turn to and ask to whip up a separate menu. And, of course, there are the last minute ones – just a week ago I had to cancel a party of three just hours before dinner after they’d had a reservation for over a week, because it “just occurred to them” to mention that they needed a gluten-free menu (despite my having asked as I usually do, and them telling me they had no dietary restrictions). Sometimes I think it’s a sort of challenge from them – by waiting until last minute they think that I’ll be forced to accommodate them rather than saying no because I’ll end up with empty seats. I don’t play that game – if it’s last minute and it would require a major overhaul of any or all the dishes, I’ll go with empty seats every time – and I’ll keep their deposit. Just sayin’.

So all of that lead to this last weekend where I had a trio of gluten free requests, two lactose free requests, two diabetic requests, and half a dozen individual ingredient allergies that luckily didn’t matter given the menu. I decided to see if I could kind of push all of the first seven to the same night and just handle it all at once with one modified menu that fit all the requests as best as possible, and then have the other two nights of the weekend left as I planned them. It worked – they were all quite amenable, and it meant I could actually put as much attention and care into the altered dishes as I wanted to.


So the first night I made chipas for the bread, the classic manioc flour bread of northern Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil (well, Brazil’s is slightly different, but close enough). The grated pecorino wasn’t an issue on the dairy free as aged hard cheese is essentially lactose free (actually, most cheese is – some 98% of the lactose is drained away in the whey of the cheesemaking process, and the other 2% is consumed in the fermentation process – the only cheeses that really have lactose in them are the very fresh cheeses that are consumed within a day of making them, usually things like cottage cheese, cream cheese, ricotta and fresh mozzarella). On the other two nights I made a straightforward dinner roll but flavored it with the same cheese.

Warm roasted mushroom and leek salad
Portobello / Leek / Beet / Mustard
Nieto Senetiner Extra Brut

A warm roasted portobello “salad” – the mushroom caps stuffed with the stems, pinenuts, garlic, peperoncino, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper – and then roasted in the oven. A whole leek, cleaned and then poached in bacon and onion broth and then tossed with a simple dijon mustard and lemon vinaigrette. And, some diced roasted beets tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper. Depending on the night and the size of the portobellos, each person got anywhere from 1-3 of them.

Minestrone d’Asti with quinua
White Bean / Cabbage / Amaranth-Quinua / Oregano
Pulenta Estate “La Flor” Sauvignon Blanc 2010

A pretty classic Minestrone d’Asti, packed with white beans, cabbage, carrots, celery, potatoes, garlic, oregano and a little bacon. Instead of the usual pasta, the first night I added amaranth, which was tasty, but gets a slightly gelatinous texture when it sits in soup. The other nights I was going to go to the more classic pasta, but I’d liked the overall taste with the grain, so I used quinua, which worked much better and has a similar flavor to the amaranth.

Sole with Cockles and Favas, Orange Sabayon
Sole / Cockle / Fava / Orange
Kaikén Rosé de Malbec 2011

This dish got the most raves from guests and us. A simple fillet of sole poached in olive oil. Topped with a saute of cockles and fava beans with grated orange peel, shichimi spice blend and salt. The first night I sauteed them in vegetable oil with a knob of margarine, the other two nights with a knob of butter. The sauce, a simple whisked sabayon of egg yolks, fresh squeezed orange juice and soy, and then just a drizzle of soy lecithin in it at the end and a quick shot with the hand blender to foam it up nicely. You’ll be seeing this one again.

Spicy Sweet Spareribs, Humita
Pork / Five Spice / Corn / Asparagus
LaMadrid Bonarda Reserva 2009

Spicy-sweet pork spareribs – a marinade and then glaze of salt, sugar, five spice, soy, mirin, chilies, miso, oil and garlic – done in the oven, turning and basting regularly. Served with a spicy humita (corn, squash, chilies, green onion and basil) – normally cooked with milk, the first night I used soy milk, which I’ve done before, it tastes completely the same. And, some sauteed aspargus in olive oil. Picking up the ribs and gnawing away at them worked for about 90% of our guests, though a few stuck to knife and fork.

Crepe with Dulce de Leche, Pecans and Blueberries
Egg / Milk Caramel / Pecan / Blueberry
Putruele “Tardío de Abríl” Chardonnay 2010

And, finished off with crepes filled with dulce de leche, toasted pecans, and dried blueberries rehydrated in rum. Fresh blueberries simmered in a mix of orange and apple juices spooned over the top. The first night, rice flour crepes, the other nights, wheat, though the truth is, side by side I can’t tell the difference. Our diabetics opted for an offered fruit and cheese plate, and while I made the same offer to the couple of dairy-free folk, they chose to dive right in to this dessert and deal with whatever consequences later.


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