I really let myself go! No “report” since April. Here are some thoughts and the results.
Instead of trying to fill in all the gaps, I’ll talk about two of the new things I picked up since April but may not write about until next year.
The first was grilling. What I didn’t appreciate about grilling until this year is that it’s extremely convenient, at least when you’re burning gas. Setup is easy. Open the valve, light the flame, and close the lid. Step away and prep. Once the grate is sufficiently hot, scrape down and then cook. Cooking is also easy. Put food where there’s space. Mark on both sides. Finish over medium- or low-heat zones. Cleanup is glorious. While you eat, put the heat to low and close the lid. At the end of the night, brush down the grill, close the lid, and cover. There is so much less to clean. Also, skills transfer from the grill to the stove. I think it’s because you see the food more when you grill. My chicken roasting skills definitely improved after a few weeks of grilling.
The second was seafood. Mistakes with seafood are relatively expensive. So it’s not my first choice for dinner. Furthermore I’d avoided seafood for the four years we lived in Philadelphia. Fish at the local Whole Foods didn’t seem worth the price and I got too distracted by new ingredients in the Asian markets to put in time at their live fish counter. Now that we’re in Massachusetts, there’s a reliable seafood diner down the street, a reputable fishmonger a few miles away, and even decent looking live clams at the supermarket. Now I’m comfortable cooking clams and mussels on a weeknight, and getting there with fresh filleted fish.
The dinners I remember
Grilled chicken and vegetables: Vegetables as in whatever, but a lot of onions, stemmy vegetables like broccoli raab and cauliflower, and some greens like swiss chard (clearly my favorite leafy green this year). Chicken seasoned with salt, vegetables tossed with extra virgin olive oil and salt. Everything onto the grill. Food turned as infrequently as possible. Sought grill marks without greasy singed flavors.
Chicken thighs and cauliflower grilled over fresh rosemary: Basically the same as above. The only difference is that I put down a layer of fresh rosemary (the plant my mom gave me last year has been productive) under both the thighs and the cauliflower. The effect was subtle. I should have stripped the leaves from a sprig and tossed them with the cauliflower but it didn’t occur to me at the time.
Grilled chicken thighs and eggplant “lasagna”: Tomato sauce with onion and butter. Thinly sliced eggplant brushed with a garlic olive oil and grilled. Lasagna layers were tomato sauce, whole fresh basil leaves, eggplant, shredded mozzarella. Ricotta or bechamel would have been nice, though I didn’t have the former and only just thought of the latter.
Clams steamed in beer: I basically followed this recipe, relying on this concentrated fish stock. Company recommended by James Peterson in Sauces. Both the recipe and product worked for me. The most important task is to figure out the optimal beer-to-stock ratio for the beer you’re most likely to have on hand.
Clams/mussels steamed in white wine: Shallots into butter. Deglaze with white wine and stock. Add purged clams, cover, and steam. Remove the clams as they open to a bowl. Thicken the sauce with dairy if desired. Stir in parsley and citrus and then pour the sauce over the clams.
Seared lobster in a lobster sauce: I was fussy for a laugh but also out of fear I’d waste the lobsters. My in-laws had left a few raw ones in my freezer. I decided to practice “killing” them in the hopes I won’t chicken out the next time we buy live lobsters. Halved each lobster lengthwise, setting aside the tomalley and roe, and removing the faces and antennae (not sure about this step, but the dish came out nicely anyway. Separated the claws (claw limbs) and tails from the bodies, discarding the poop tract. I seared the bodies and tails cut side down and claws however they fit. Turned and seared again. Everything into a jelly roll pan and finished in the oven. Butter and shallot into a saucepan with corn stock and the tomalley and roe. Reduced, seasoned with salt and lemon, garnished with basil chiffonade, and served with the lobster.
Grilled chicken thighs with chard and mashed potato gratin: Not on the grill. Extra virgin olive oil and smashed garlic into a saucepan over medium-low heat. Chard greens into salted boiling water, strained, and added to the garlic oil. Peeled, chopped potatoes into salted boiling water, strained, and added to a wide-mouthed bowl. Broke down the potatoes with a whisk and then whipped with butter and whole milk. Folded the chard and garlic oil into the potatoes, scooped everything into a baking dish, topped with grated parmesan cheese, and broiled.
Beef stew: Like my earlier recipes. As long as I’m thoughtful, this is easily a weeknight dinner. The night before, I seared a chuck shoulder roast, circulated for six hours at 53 C, cooled, and refrigerated. Also, I roughly chopped 1 pound carrots and 1 pound potatoes, lightly coated with extra virgin olive oil, roasted at 450 F, cooled, and refrigerated. The next morning, 4 cups boxed low-sodium beef stock and 1/2 of the roasted vegetables into the slow cooker at low. That evening, I boiled the bag juices to release albumen and strained through a paper coffee filter. 2 tbsp flour browned in 2 tbsp butter for roux. Deglazed with 2/3 cup red wine and bag juices, reduced almost to nothing, and added the slow cooked stock and vegetables. I mashed the vegetables into the sauce as it cooked. Once the sauce had almost finished cooking down, I seasoned lightly, and added the other 1/2 of the roasted vegetables. The last step was to select stew meat from roast, cut into bite-sized pieces, and then heat to serving temperature in the sauce. I’d forgotten to buy fresh parsley that weekend. That would have been my garnish.
Philly cheesesteaks: An homage to Tony Luke’s steak with broccoli raab and sharp provolone. Also starting to experiment with portion control by measuring 4 oz meat per person and starting from 1 lb of fresh chard. My palate was satisfied and I didn’t feel gross afterward. Chard greens into salted boiling water, strain, and hold. Very thinly sliced low-temp beef chuck (see above) into a cast iron skillet on medium-high. Season with salt. Flip, top with sliced provolone and cooked chard. Season with salt. Cover with sliced sandwich roll, pick up with spatula, fold, and serve.
Roasted soy and lemon chicken with ginataang talong (eggplant done with coconut milk): Tempered two chicken legs, seasoned them with salt, browned presentation and bottom sides, and baked. Sweated shallots and garlic, added 2 cups brown chicken stock, and reduced. Sauce finished by seasoning aggressively with soy sauce and lemon juice. I worked from some sliced and roasted eggplant to make the ginataang talong. Sweated shallots, garlic, and ginger and infused their flavors into 1 cup coconut milk. Corrected salt with fish sauce. Layered the eggplant and infused coconut milk in small rectangular ramekins and baked until eggplant warmed up. Served with a store-bought bagoong guisado.