Some days, I think ahead to what we should have for dinner. Sometimes I make a list and go shopping, or ask Christine to pick something up on her way to or from something. Sometimes we actually have food on hand that demands to be made into delicious dinners, and no thought is required.
Some days none of the above is true.
On just such a day, I came in from the studio, grouchy because I did not want to stop working, and realized that I had nothing in mind, and not so much on hand. This did not help my mood much, but after some rummaging, a bag of onions and a stick of butter gave me the basis for what turned out to be a pretty great spring meal.
I Frenched four onions and tossed them in the iron pan to caramelize while I made the crust and put it in the fridge to rest. Time was a little short, so they did not quite get to the deep, dark, slithering sweet stage, but I threw in some chopped ramp and a little garlic as well to add some extra seasonal allium depth. As meager as it is right now, it’s still nice to go outside and pick things to eat. Once the onions were ready, I grated some cheddar on the crust, added the onion mixture, and sprinkled pine nuts and wild garlic chives over the top.
With a mesclun salad- not yet our own, but soon- and some leftover pinto beans from the other night dressed up with minced onion, balsamic vinegar, and lemon juice into a salad of sorts, this ended up being just what we needed to welcome the sun back after the storm.
The beans were left froma super-clean dinner we had a couple of nights ago: local organic pintos (as good as RG, but from NY) pressure-cooked and prettied up with spices, tomato paste, and vinegar, plus shredded steamed kale in tahini-miso sauce, cucumber salad, and brown rice. For a first course, I roasted a kabocha and then puréed it with some chicken broth we had in the fridge from the last carcass. Silky, smooth, sweet, and simple. There’s a little left, so I’ll use it to thicken a curry or sauce in the coming days.
This is just another version of most of the dinners we eat in these parts lately. I just don’t have the time to indulge in any geekery, even though I’m getting ideas for some possibly cool dishes. Most of them are going to have to wait until October given the way the scheduling of the shows has worked out. The upside to this is that the garden is happening; I put some seedlings in the ground yesterday, and two other beds are sprouting, which means that we’re mere weeks from our first salad and asparagus. If this insane thunderstorm- now with hail!- doesn’t completely pummel and drown all the babies out there, that is.
This is a local lamb leg steak, given a sear and then rest, on mashed sweet potato and Japanese yam with chopped ramps and a little Kalamata olive brine mixed in. The sauce is roughly equal parts pesto and brown mustard mixed into the meat juices deglazed with a splash of wine. I steamed broccoli and tossed it with oil, salt, and lemon for one of our favorite sides. One of my ideas involves three different sauce-type things to go with three different lamb preparations, and this mustard-pesto thing is a half-assed simplification of a possible facet of that idea. Sometimes I get annoyed that I don’t have time to cook the way I want to, but the studio is roaring right now and that’s creative gratification enough.
To drink, a bottle of the Cereghino-Smith Syrah that Fred and Paula brought me as a thank you gift after the article came out. In retrospect, I should have waited, since it would surely have been better after another year or three, but it was an excellent match for the lamb. Also, as an added bonus, I was happily proved wrong about Pleiades: there is an XVII, and it’s out. I’m placing my order forthwith, and am trying not to get my hopes up; the XVI was the best yet.
The other day I got a call from our free fish source, so later on I went to pick up a bag full of super-fresh hake and cusk. Upon return home, a perusal of the cabinets and fridge yielded a pretty perfect array of complementary flavors: a red bell pepper that Milo wanted, a little bit of heavy cream, some tomato purée, and a last pinch of saffron. With the addition of a bag of frozen mirepoix, shredded kale, some leftover steamed cauliflower and a few herbs, we had ourselves a rich and fragrant sort of Mediterranean fish stew. There was also some 10-grain risotto left from a photoshoot on Sunday, so I heated that up and we served the stew on top of it for a little grainy goodness.
These fish are on the bland side, lending themselves well to things like fish & chips or chowdery things like the above. I only used half of what we were given in the stew, so the following night (with Micro joining us) I looked to pull the flavors in a different direction. I cut the fish into chunks and threw them in the processor with garlic, ginger, a kaffir lime leaf, sesame oil, kabosu juice, shichimi, and salt, and let it all spin until thoroughly ground up. I formed the mixture into balls and poached them gentle-like while I made dashi and simmered more of the dreamy, fat-ass udon. Once the balls were done, I dropped a bunch of watercress in the same water to blanch and then served it all together with some cilantro, adding soy sauce to taste.
I’m going to play with these some more, partly because I’m craving gefilte fish (since it’s spring) and partly because though the flavor was right on, the texture could use some tweaking; they weren’t rubbery, but they were a bit denser than I wanted. I roasted the last parsnips from the garden for a little roasty-sweet side, and later we finished the maple-vanilla ice cream that Milo and I made last week after I accidentaly bought a pint of cream instead of milk. I fully intended to photograph it in all its perfectly curled, speckly tan glory, but I forgot. No traffic for me.
On Friday evening I left Milo with my Brother and walked four whole blocks to Kris and Ken’s place, where Mary was having the Thoreau Wine Society’s first annual dinner for her favorite customers. Kris cooked us a masterful meal, with each dish even more refined than usual- which is saying a great deal. The flavors were laser-sharp and the portions perfect. There were ten of us, which meant that we were able to make our way through as many bottles (we all brought one) without sinking into utter dumb, and everyone was interesting and knowledgeable. It was as good as I had hoped.
Here’s the menu:
1. Seared scallops with potato-chestnut purée
2. Corvino (croaker) with coconut jasmine rice, fava beans, and carrot reduction
3. Slow-braised pork belly with ginger/tamarind/cardamom-infused bacon consommé
4. Duck breast with wilted dandelion greens and poached rhubarb
5. Selles-sur-Cher and Piave
The pork belly
In order, we drank these wines, covering roughly two per course:
2006 Domaine de L’Ecu Muscadet “Expression de Gneiss”
2005 Domaine Ostertag Riesling Fronholz
2003 Vincent Girardin Puligny-Montrachet 1er cru “Le Cailleret”
2002 Vincent Girardin Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru “Les Vides Bourses”
2003 Domaine Cheze Saint-Joseph “Cuvée Ro-Rée”
2001 Brovia Barolo Garblèt Sue’
2004 Dutch Henry Chafen Vineyards Syrah
2006 Mt. Difficulty Pinot Noir
2003 Charles Audoin Marsannay “Les Favières”
1970 Volnay (Corked; undrinkable)
1982 Château Canon
1970 Almeida Vintage Port
Mary with the ill-fated Volnay
The first two whites were good entries, but I wasn’t paying a lot of attention; there were introductions, opening the bottle I brought, and unwrapping the plates I brought our hosts as a gift. Scotty’s Riesling had a nice moment with the scallops. The two white Burgundies were very good, and so different- the Chassagne had an astonishingly dense marzipan aroma and distinct nuttiness after the more restrained and minerally Puligny. I love tasting similar wines together; the depth of understanding is so much more profound.
To welcome the pork, the Cheze I brought worked well, and fooled the experts into guessing that it was an old Chave Hermitage or similar. That right there is why I love this wine; for $20 it tastes like 10 times as much. The pork belly was meltingly tender, with crispy skin, and the broth was insanely subtle, rich, and seamlessly layered. Beautiful. The Barolo needed some time, so we left it in glasses to open up while we moved on.
Both New World wines were a little out of place, but characteristic in their way. The syrah was big, jammy, and hot, and the NZ pinot had a nice nose, but never opened up in the mouth. The Marsannay, on the other hand, was a surprisingly rich, round mouthful of sex that made for an insane pairing with the duck and rhubarb. Damn. Unfortunately, the Volnay was completely ruined. Also Damn, but in a different way. The 82 Canon, however, had gone to that gorgeous, cedary place where old Bordeaux can go, and in the nimble, delicate, elegant way that St. Emilions in particular possess. And by this time, the Barolo had gotten all cheese-friendly so we enjoyed it as a special bonus. The port was perfect, not cloying, and was unbelievably sympatico with walnuts and a creamy blue that I’ve blanked on the name of (I had a mere post-it for all my notes; it’s amazing I got this much.)
All photos by Sam Greenfield.
With so much work to do, it’s been pretty hard lately to rise much above maintenance mode in the kitchen. I don’t even feel the urge to get fancy or spend all day messing around with various components or techniques so that dinner can be a unique and creative improvisation like I did so much in the winter. Having said that, I still want things to taste good, and given the chance I will incorporate some high-tech tricks to achieve a better result- provided that doing so is not time-intensive.
In this case, broiled salmon with herbes de Provence is about as basic as it gets. Black rice is a cool-looking departure from the short-grain brown we usually eat, but not any harder to make. The sauce, though, is a little bit interesting. I took both kale and spinach (since we had about a half-bunch of each) and wilted them in a pan to which I had already added a little oil and a few each of fenugreek, coriander, and mustard seeds. In addition to the greens, I threw in a couple of chopped kaffir lime leaves and let it all go for a minute or two. Then I puréed it with the stick blender, adding a little yogurt, a little leftover dashi from Milo’s breakfast miso soup, and enough Ultratex to thicken it so it wouldn’t weep.
The last bit was key, in its subtle way; the extra density of the sauce gave it a spoon-coating texture and light, almost frothy body that was noticeably different from the normal puddle of green leaking a brighter green liquid around the edges. And the spices and lime leaves gave it a surprising South and Southeast Asian lift that perfumed the other components in a welcome way, helping rescue them somewhat from banality. At some point I hope to return to the more adventurous and ambitious end of the spectrum, but for now it looks like simple stuff with minor tweaking will be the focus of our spring eating. Which is fine. And I’ve been wrong before.
Christine has been in Florida with her Mom for just about a week now, so Milo and I have been enjoying our time together. Much Lego has been involved, as has some gardening- planting early things, mulching the ramps (they’re coming up) and putting a cherry tree next to the garage. It’s still pretty cold- tonight it will go down to a totally unreasonable 15˚- but the days are warming and I simply will not wait any longer to begin gardening in earnest, even if it means I have to run around covering everything with plastic every evening for the next couple of weeks. It also gives us lots of physical chores, which is good for us both (and also helps him sleep through the night, so I am way less cranky in the mornings.)
On Friday we went to NYC for a night to see my Brother and have some fun. While there, I went to an excellent wine dinner, but that will be in an upcoming post. On our way back, we stopped at Mitsuwa for some provisions, and we got home just in time for dinner. First up, some hamachi sashimi with ponzu; we didn’t have any jalapeño for the full Nobuzation but I did sprinkle a little shichimi on mine after the picture. Milo was very impressed with the creamy fish combined with the complex fruity-umami sauce, and was gleefully excited to be eating raw fish; he’s had it before on a number of occasions, but never this species so I guess it seemed new. He also declared that “yellowtail” is a silly name and “hamachi” is much better.
Next, more of the fabulous super-thick fresh udon in soy-enriched dashi with raw slices of Berkshire pork on top. They sell various cuts of beef and pork cut thin for shabu-shabu, but since I don’t have one of those hot pots (I threw ours away after the Great Sterno Bender of aught-deuce) I just get the broth wicked hot and drop the meat in right away. It quickly reaches medium as you plunge each slice into the broth. More shichimi on top gave it a little peppery zing with citrusy highlights, and I had a couple cups of the Demon-Slayer sake I bought last time I went down.
Man, these silky fat noodles really do it for me these days. And with good broth and toppings (we’re out of kimchi, but the new batch should be ready soon) they’re so infinitely variable. Kind of a perfect substrate around which to organize the season-spanning meals that this time of year requires. And very popular with the kids today.
During the winter, I stumbled upon an amazing combination of flavors for a lasagna: veal and dashi. I wrote about it here. This time around it was different, but took advantage of another exotic broth to create a standard-looking dish that had a surprising depth and complexity of flavor. In this instance, I used the last quart of barbecued pork broth from the freezer plus a healthy dollop of our basil/sorrel/nasturtium pesto to make the velouté, and ground turkey with a jar of our free-range tomato sauce for the… uh… sauce.
The combination of our super-sweet tomatoes and the pork/pesto liason made the turkey almost taste like ground pork–even sausage–in terms of all the body and aroma it gathered. The noodles were a jerusalem artichoke flour-enhanced semolina, which were OK, but next time I will roll out a custom pasta, probably heavy on some mushroom essence (powdered shiitake and/or duxelles of whatever’s growing in the woods) to give added profundity to the umamitude. So go forth, and slobber; the easiest way to take your lasagna to another place is by using a passionately smoky broth.
With the thaw comes the discovery of various forgotten or hidden treasures in the garden that have made it through the winter unscathed. A week ago, on the first nice Saturday of the year, I was out there turning compost into beds and unearthing a remarkable variety of things- not all of which were expected. We leave parsnips until March so there’s something to enjoy before the first greens come up, and there were some carrots in the parsnip bed as well. A few of the deeper potatoes made it, un-mulched, and the leeks always soldier through in pretty good shape. Some red onions also survived alongside the leeks, there were a couple each of turnips and black radishes in another bed, and somehow I missed a chioggia beet that was also OK after a little trimming.
Along with the last of our garlic–and some thyme and rosemary–I made a simple dish to celebrate all these noble survivors.
While these roasted in the oven, I vacuum-sealed a couple of boneless ribeyes and dropped them into 52˚ water for an hour, then seared them in a little smoked duck fat.
And I also made a green mash with dandelion greens, ume plum, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice- because nothing loves a steak like some bitter green mash with a little mustard on the side.
I don’t really have it in me to blog about the steak- realizing that by even saying this I’m making it sound like it’s going to be exciting or something, which it likely will not be- so I’ll continue to jump around in time like some too-clever-by-half pomo filmmaker and give you the dessert from a couple of days ago, when friends came bearing some of the takeout Pakistani food from the rednecky mini-mart near their house that changed hands recently. A couple of decent curries, rice cooked with black peppercorns, cloves, and copious butter, and not-bad salad for 8 bucks an order. Hard to argue, especially given the scarcity of edible South Asian food in these here parts.
I made dessert, though it is still an open question whether it makes the kids more or less wild; they get so amped up with asking for it every ten seconds that the minute of respite while they inhale it hardly seems like enough of a payoff. I think I prefer no sweets, since their disappointment is less shrill than their begging. But this time around, I cored some gala apples and popped them in a baking dish with the last of the fortified Australian muscat, cinnamon stick, star anise, maple syrup, black pepper, and a little brown sugar. When they were all soft, I strained the liquid into a pan and reduced it into what would have been a thick, gooey caramel given enough time, but instead–due to constant nagging from the little people–was merely an almost-caramel sauce. We scooped the last of some coconut-vanilla ice cream on top and set to. It was blessedly quiet for about a minute.
This is out of order, but it does represent the end- though there’s a fair amount leftover, so it’s always possible I’ll turn that into something new- of all the brothy goodness. Phillippe and Lea had invited us for dinner the other day, but we couldn’t get a sitter so they came to us bearing cassoulet (the pics were either flashy or blurry.) It was delicious, and I made parsnips puréed with yogurt, olive oil, and a drop of vanilla, plus kale and rice and some pesto from the freezer to feel like I had some involvement. We drank a 1983 Drouhin Santenay- definitely on its way out- that did manage to lively up itself and go all delightfuly dried plum and mushroom incense on us while we began to eat. To follow, a 2000 Château Aiguilhe, which represents a pretty good bargain, hitting all the archetypal Bordeaux notes in fine style for a fraction of the price that houses in fancier neighborhoods command. Having said that, the difference between the two only further underscored why I love Burgundy and don’t buy Bordeaux any more.
They left the casserole with us, and so today I took a chicken carcass from Sunday and simmered it with the usual to make a simple stock. Into which, once strained, went the leftover shepherd’s pie, roasted roots from steak night (next post) roasted potatoes and garlic from the chicken, the parsnips, a lamb bone and the beans from the cassoulet, more carrots and celery, some of the rice, pesto, tomato paste, acini di pepe (WW pasta like couscous) and let it simmer gently for another hour or so. While it was doing its evil alchemy, I cubed a heel of stale bread and seasoned it up all crouton-like. I love fridge soup, and when the various remnants that go into it are of such high quality, the result is a transcendent bowl of deeply satisfying peasant luxe.