Kvelltanschauung

As much as I complain about never having enough time to make the meals I see in my mind’s eye, very often I actually do.  Sometimes, prior to the crepuscular rush to get food on the table, I have an idea, and it comes together like I imagined; other times I have no idea, but the ingredients on hand provide all the fodder (literal and figurative) that I require.

This evening’s meal was seamless, easy, and exceptionally enjoyable to prepare and consume. This was in part because I had the help of my favorite sous chef, who has really arrived at a place where he is keen to learn and focuses patiently on the tasks I give him. His arrival at said developmental milestone was driven firmly and joyously home to me the other morning when he made me a smoothie and then cleaned everything up afterwards (except the blender, with its sharp blades down where the goop adheres). Watching him vigorously sponge off the counter with a determined yet happily satisfied face filled me with all sorts of parental pride and optimism about the future of the world. There might be hope for us after all.

My wife had procured a nice piece of swordfish, which we all love, so the rest was easy. Parsnips provided the starch, collards the greens, and we whipped up another in the ongoing series of miso-based sauces to add a little depth and complexity to what was a very simple meal. Milo peeled and cut the parsnips and put the pieces in the steamer basket inside a pot. He’s attentive and deliberate with a knife; I gave him a short speech a couple of weeks ago about proper safety protocol and reminded him that his fingers are his own, so keeping them intact and attached to his body is ultimately his responsibility. That seemed to register well. I cut up a leek and softened it in olive oil, adding chiffonaded collards and a clove of garlic after a bit. Then I deglazed with stout vinegar, soy sauce, and some water, and covered them to cook. I cut up the fish and tossed the cubes in salt, smoked paprika, dried herbs, and Espelette pepper and browned them all over, removing them to a bowl to finish cooking and give off juices, and I deglazed the pan with maple vinegar and added the pan sauce to the bowl.

For the sauce, Milo whisked brown rice miso, Dijon mustard, and the juice of one blood orange together, and then I showed him how to push it all through a strainer to make it smooth. The best part of this process was him, after an initial tasting, telling me that the orange overpowered the other elements so it needed more miso and mustard. He was right, and we adjusted the proportions. Once the parsnips were done, he stick-blended them smooth with salt, steaming water, and a pat of butter.

To serve, we made little nests of parsnip, put greens inside, and topped them with fish. Then a generous drool of sauce, followed by spoonings of the collected fish liquids. We topped them with scallions, and sat down to eat. Apart from how good this was–the flavors and textures screamed comfort, but the dish was actually fairly light, and the elements really meshed–Milo put it away gleefully. Throughout the cooking, he kept saying things like “Swordfish is my second favorite!” (Hamachi is first) “I love mustard!” and “Put more vinegar in the greens. I like greens with lots of vinegar” and “The parsnips and sauce together are sooooo good.”

I grew up helping my Mom in the garden and kitchen, and those tastes of homegrown food and fresh-baked bread imprinted on me in a way that has obviously made a big contribution to who I am. It’s wonderful to see the same thing happen (I hope) from the other point of view. Another takeaway from this meal is the profound difference that a simple sauce like this one–especially in conjunction with the pan juices–can make. Miso, mustard, and citrus are things that most people have on hand, and of course it’s endlessly variable. But that combination of umami, salt, acid, sharp, and sweet enhances and unifies all the flavors on the plate.

Do these pictures look better than normal? Courtesy of some recent ceramic sales, the new camera arrived the other day. Just in time for the trip to France, which begins tomorrow. I had beter get packing.

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Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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