Seasonally Appropriate

It was stinking hot today, and drippingly humid, but a front finally passed through with a lovely drop in temperature and some sheeting rain chased by much flashing and booming of the sky. And, as if by some miracle, the power didn’t go out, so I get to tell you what we had for dinner. In heat such as this, thoughts of the stove can of course cause suicidal ideations in even the most devoted cook, so I sussed out something virtually raw that nonetheless provided enough protein (and quantity) to make a satisfying meal. The only problem was that I thought of it at ten this morning, so I was tortured all day by visions of cool, crunchy summer rolls and thick, spicy sauce.

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Crimpin’ Ain’t Easy

I had been planning to make this for days, but never managed to get the ground turkey. Eventually I did, and these shu mai were the happy result. Normally I make them with shrimp and/or scallops, but for whatever reason I wanted turkey. I have learned to listen to my desires, for they are often smarter than I am.

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Miso Butter

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but this recent preparation reminded me how good and useful the combination is for so many applications. Equal weights of butter and white miso (or any other kind; I just like the smoothness for mixing) at room temperature, slathered on the substrate of your choice and then roasted, will yield a gratinesque carapace of maillarded umamitude that has to be tasted to be believed. This example is mahi-mahi, but it works just as well on potatoes, mushrooms, kebabs, carrots, cauliflower–you get the idea. I added some smoked paprika to this for a nice smoky note and redder color, and dijon mustard is also an excellent addition, especially for poultry and meat. Now that it’s fresh herb season, a generous handful of minced whatever would also be a terrific way to customize the flavor in one direction or another. It’s also an excellent thickener for sauces (whisk it in right at the end).

Now that I’ve made myself salivate, I need to go scare up some lunch.

I’ve Got A Spatchcock In My Pocket

It’s been alternately sunny and rainy lately, with a few straight days of each before it changes again. Spring has been pretty perfect so far, though I’m behind on the garden, but that’s pretty much a given. On nice days, we eat lighter food outside on the porch, and on cooler rainy days I try to make heartier things and we eat them inside. At least in theory; this meal was on the substantial side but the day was as nice as they come. Go figure. In any case, it highlights a technique that I don’t see talked about so much, but which makes for a superlative chicken in very little time.

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Sliding Into Home

Lamb is probably the meat that loves seasoning the most. Because it’s so assertive, with that lovely gamy richness, it can take some serious spice without being buried under it. And it matches so well with such a wide variety of strong flavors, from garlic and rosemary to preserved lemon and harissa to feta and black olives (and so many more). What I try to do when I cook it is season the meat a particular way and then use one or more complementary flavors in the accompaniments. It’s good fun to play around with different delivery systems and combinations ranging from formal and fancy to fast and dirty, and I never get tired of cooking and eating it. This application fell emphatically in the latter category, but was no less pleasurable for its informality. There’s not much better than a couple of lamb sliders after a long day spent not eating lamb sliders.

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Pan, Mediterranean

It’s always interesting how the addition or subtraction of a couple of flavors can radically alter the character of a dish. In this case, what could easily have been a fine bowl of rigatoni alle vongole instead became, with a bit of modification,  a superlative Spanish treat.

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If You’re Not Careful, You Just Might Learn Something

This was a simple one, but made exceptionally flavorful by a couple of small steps. We’ve been digging chick peas lately; they’re leguminously sturdy without being too beany, if that makes any sense, and they take well to a wide variety of flavors that beans might not fit quite so seamlessly with. That curry I mentioned recently was good eating, and in the case of last night’s meal it was all about the sympatico that Moroccan flavors also have with garbanzos. Step one was using dried beans rather than canned ones; there’s just no comparison in flavor. These were bone dry and pebble hard three hours before dinner, too, but a brief soak in water followed by 45 minutes of hissing yielded lovely, tender peas ready for their second cooking with all the flavors.

The flavors began with a panoply of spices that I had the kid grind up in the small suribachi: coriander, cumin, mustard, caraway, hot pepper, lemon salt, black pepper, and a clove. Grinding spices is the other important step that elevated this above a regular weeknight phone-in, and best of all I used child labor so it didn’t add any extra minutes to the prep time. While he ground spices, I peeled half an orange and diced the outer skin. He juiced the rest of it, and only drank some of it. We added peas, spices, juice, and some water to a pan in which diced onion had been sweating, then added a fistful of oil-cured olives, some salt, a glug of vinegar, and a big bunch of pak choi I had picked and chopped a bit earlier. I planted them in March, and they’re ready to eat. This spring has been wonderful.

While all this got simmery, I took carrots–expertly peeled by the prep cook–and tossed them about in olive oil, orange juice, hot pepper, cumin, honey, and more cider vinegar until just tender, reducing the liquid to a glaze that coated them with a sweet and piquant shininess. This dish is a clamor-inducing favorite of the small person, and he demanded the biggest portion and all the leftovers in his lunch the next day. Besides all the efficiency of having a helper, having kids help you cook gives them an investment in the outcome of the meal, and an appreciation of all that goes into it. They’ll try anything they help make, and enjoy almost all of it. This was no exception.

So, to recap: dried chick peas, fresh-ground spices, child labor. Oh, he chopped the scallions and cilantro for the garnish, too, which explains the… uh… wabi sabi aesthetic at work there.

The Steaks Is High

One of the happier recent developments in retail around here has been the inclusion of local, grass-fed beef in the offerings of a proximate but otherwise lackluster market. The selection is usually limited to a few sirloins and rib eyes, but those happy few vastly exceed the earlier number of zero; I used to have to drive 20 minutes to get any good meat, which necessitated stocking up the freezer on infrequent trips. Now, when the freezer is getting low, I can just swing by and pick something up for dinner without having to plan ahead or make a special trip. What a concept, right?

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Because You Can’t, You Won’t, And You Don’t Stop

A lot of my posts are just descriptions of a single meal, which is a logical format for a blog, especially if one is diligent enough to document them regularly. Ahem. Moving on. I thought that this time around I’d show a little more about how unlike my actual approach to cooking the concept of an isolated, free-standing meal really is.

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Writing Like It’s My Job

I contributed two pieces to this month’s Chronogram: an exploration of local mixology (using just Hudson Valley ingredients) with Paul Maloney of Kingston’s Stockade Tavern, for which I also took the pictures, and a more serious look at how our farmers have coped with recovery from last summer’s flooding, including the major problems with crop insurance and waterway management that have not yet been addressed. Enjoy.

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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