Plating, schmating. This was money. Local, organic lamb leg steak with endive mash, kale, and little cakes made from the leftover yam-sweet potato mixture with black olives, lemon zest, and Moroccan spices added. All drizzled with a reduction I made from the lamb chop bones in the fridge, mirepoix, bay leaf, and red wine. I got started early on this, which is why the reduction had time to happen, since I was blanching and freezing about 10 pounds of mirepoix so our winter can have some of that divine flavor at the base of its soups and sauces. I finally had time today to make a meal that had all the components properly prepared; with the bulk of the office drudgery done, I took a much-needed break to garden and preserve on the nicest day we’ll have for the rest of the year. To celebrate finished work, impending show, and fitting meal, I opened a 2002 Gemstone which- despite its youth- still hits those Cali cab marks like an old pro.
I’ve been working like mad to get ready for a show, so dinners have been necessarily limited in scope. This time, a good hunk of salmon in the oven for a few minutes with ras-el-hanout, salt, pepper, herbs, and paprika got just firm while I steamed Japanese yams and sweet potatoes to whip together and I busted out some mash since summer is ending and the simple pleasure of fresh bitter greens is about to become a luxury. As tasty as it was, it cried out for a red wine-based sauce, but time alas did not allow for such embellishments. Our very last Domaine Cheze Saint-Joseph “Cuvée Ro-Rée” more than made up for it, though; I love this wine, and will miss it until I find it again. For 20 bucks, it was the best buy of last year. I should have bought two cases.
Milo got another cold- mild, but still requiring this sort of medicine: a broth made from mirepoix and chicken thighs in which cannelini cooked for two hours, and into which I dumped broccoli, parsley, and peas at the last minute. Just before that, some frozen porcini agnolotti from the store had a simmer. A 2006 “Petit Bourgeois” Chavignol (by Henri Bourgeois) sauvignon blanc was good, but a tad crisp and austere for such hearty peasant food. Milo, unburdened by such snobbishness, devoured the soup.
Christine got some fresh cream from Juliette’s cow, so I pulled out the stand mixer and within a few minutes it was glorious butter. Washed, salted, and rolled in wax paper, it waited patiently for me to make another loaf of bread the next day. Homemade bread and butter with homemade grape jelly for breakfast- the apotheosis of simple, local, and delicious. My brother and I ate it together and remembered our Mother, who made such good bread and with whom we picked grapes every fall to make jelly.
This isn’t the best picture I’ve ever taken, but it tasted pretty great; Christine was out shopping for Milo’s birthday party and I figured she’d come home tired, stressed, and hungry. One of the keys to my marriage is anticipating such contingencies and dispatching them with appropriate culinary remedies. Thus lamb chops (shoulder, which I prefer to loin for both price and character) along with mash, a ragout of zucchini, leek, artichoke, carrot, celery, fennel, and herbs- every one home grown- and little croquettes of leftover black rice, Japanese yam, and lemon zest. All three of us ate like wolves. Two of us had a Château Roquefort Corail rosé to begin, and finished with our last 2002 Novy syrah; it’s well-made and deep, but not really the kind of wine we like any more (though we still love Siduri pinot.) With more age, it might mellow, but right now it has an intense, almost Australian richness that tends to pummel the food- even food as powerful as this.
My Brother came by for the night, and it was still cool and rainy, so I made suitable food for the occasion- casual, but refined, and above all yummy. Local organic beef stew meat plus soaked kidney beans, mirepoix, smoked chicken broth, spices, and tomato paste became a first-rate chili after a couple of hours. Potatoes and zucchini with a sauce of milk, yogurt, leftover cream of garden soup, plus grated goat cheddar, pecorino, and parmesan baked into a pretty good gratin (given that I skipped the bechamel to get it done in time.) With a big salad, it covered all requisite bases and offered a fresh take on some staple comfort foods that normally have more heft- though not necessarily for the better.
Faced with a cool day, perfect things in the garden, and some milk left in the jar we got from Juliette, a creamed soup seemed to be the right choice. Tofu provided a nice flavor and textural complement, as well as protein. So the heavenly mirepoix from the garden began a really nice soup that then included potatoes, leeks, and broccoli, then got stick-blended with milk into a thick unstrained purée; I wanted this rustic and country style. Cubed tofu, browned then tossed in tahini-miso sauce with copious scallions was the main dish (although the thick soup was an easy equal.) We drank a 2006 Bridlewood viognier that was an excellent match for both dishes.
I remembered to soak some mung beans when I came back from our walk, so they cooked pretty fast when it was time to make dinner. Into a pan of our divine mirepoix they went, with water and pepper, and simmered while I took the chicken mushrooms from calzone night and added them plus some maitake (confusingly referred to as hen-of-the-woods) to smoked chicken broth I made with all the carcasses from the party. Bean thread noodles completed the soup, and I tossed the beans with salt, oil, and cider vinegar. To finish, another perfect salad. Pretty clean, varied, and a good finish to the day; we had a major English brunch this morning with bacon, eggs, hash browns, and tomatoes.
Over the weekend we went to the farm stand at the flea market in town and got a big bag of plum tomatoes to can (ours are almost ripe, but won’t be anywhere near enough.) Cooked down, they yielded 5 1/2 quarts. Today, Christine and Milo picked all of our ripe many-colored cherry tomatoes- they magically just filled our 6 quart stockpot- and I cooked and strained them into 4 quart jars. Not enough to get us through the winter, but a start. If I can find a wholesale source for organic plum tomatoes I will do it again and fill the big pot as high as it will go. The pantry is starting to look respectable.
The happy coexistence of leftover ratatouille and homemade pizza dough in the fridge led me inexorably (and lazily, but that’s what leftovers are for) to a calzone. To accompany, fabulous salad from the newly exploding bed of fall lettuces, a side of chicken-of-the-woods sautéed quickly with guanciale, garlic, and parsley, and a sauce made from the few plum tomatoes that remained from canning. Good food for a rainy evening- hearty, but it is still summer after all.