Cool and Composed

Crespone

Temps reached record highs in Little Rhody yesterday, and as I sat in my air-conditioned office in Boston, I knew there was no freaking way our planned Wednesday night dinner was going to happen in our not-yet-air conditioned carriage house kitchen.

quick-pickled cauliflower and carrots

I wasn’t inclined to cook at all, in fact, and began a mental inventory of fridge and pantry to try to figure out my game plan. I love a big salad for dinner on a sweltering night, and it wasn’t long before I had a few good candidates in mind.

fennel

We’ve always got the ingredients for what we call an “indoor picnic” on hand – good cheeses and cured meats, tinned fish, olives and other brined and pickled things, but our fresh vegetable options were somewhat scarce, and a special trip to the store was out of the question. I did have a big bulb of fennel in the crisper, and decided to use it as my base and go from there.

Dinner:  May 26, 2010

In the end I went with something that was a little bit like an antipasto salad, with shades of giardiniera and panzanella thrown in for good measure, a crisp-crunchy-tart-tender-tangy melange of shaved fennel and red onion, lightly pickled cauliflower and carrots, roasted red peppers, capers, chunks of Crespone salami and Parmagiano Reggiano, and garlicky homemade croutons, all in a zippy red wine vinaigrette.

This salad was surprisingly hearty, but the crunchy texture and the brightness of the flavors kept it from feeling heavy. Best of all, I got it on the table without breaking a sweat.

A little lighter

Meyer lemon

I’m nearing the end of what has been a very long week, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I’m tired, and I am so looking forward to a 3-day weekend to relax, connect with family and friends, and process all that has happened this week at home and elsewhere.

One reason for my lethargy is that as we’ve tightened or belts even more at home, I’ve had to change my commute. I still leave home at the same time each morning, but I’ve been lucky to get home before 7:30, and as you may have noticed, I haven’t had much to say here (which sucks, especially in light of the sweet shout-out I got this week from the ladies at food52. To those of you who found your way here via their introduction, welcome).

Yunan Palace Bamboo rice

I’ve been a bit off my game in the kitchen as a result, but last night’s dinner showed signs that I might just be getting my groove back. It wasn’t exactly as I had envisioned (and in fact, this dish was originally planned for Wednesday night, but was rescheduled due to a few major oversights and errors on my part), but it was really satisfying, and it’s a preparation I’ll definitely play more with.

nori

One of the things I picked up on my last visit to Mercato del Mare was a gorgeous slab of line-caught tuna, which I portioned out and froze as soon as I got home that day. I thawed the tuna and had intended to crust the portions in some nori from She Sells Seaweed at our farmers’ market, but the nori didn’t grind as finely as I had hoped when I put it in the food processor (too fresh and pliant, I presume).

Dinner:  January 14, 2010

I ended up saving the shards of nori to sprinkle on top of the finished dish: a bowl of fragrant green rice, the tuna seared and sliced and arranged on top, with steamed spinach and gingery pickled radishes. I made a quick little dressing with Meyer lemon and toasted sesame oil to drizzle over the fish, and while the acid in the dressing dulled the color of the sliced tuna, the flavor was a really nice addition to the meal overall.

Smoke and Leaves

smoked bluefish

Mike and I are big fans of a good main dish salad, but we don’t often do them during the winter months. I got an idea in my head, though, after a recent visit to Mercato del Mare, to put together a salad inspired by a dish we had at B&G Oysters last year.

Dinner:  December 15, 2009

The star was a chunk of their gorgeous house-smoked bluefish, skinned and sliced thin on the bias, served on a bed of baby winter greens, with crisp watermelon radishes and tart pickled fennel strewn about. To give the salad a bit more heft, I added some wedges of hard-cooked egg, and I drizzled it all with a dressing made of creme fraiche, fresh lemon juice, freshly grated horseradish, and a blob of grainy mustard. Colorful and surprisingly hearty, this salad was just the what I needed at the end of a long, hectic day.

Little Flourishes

great chops

Mike and I have been big fans of the cheese, breads and pastured meats from Bobolink farm and dairy since we first tasted them in New York, and luckily for us, they do mail order. So every so often, we treat ourselves with a shipment of not-so-local goodies, and our most recent indulgence was in the form of some of their excellent suckled veal. Our box arrived on Wednesday, and Mike immediately pulled out a package of rib chops, thawed them in a water bath, then put them in a marinade. On Thursday night, he fired up the grill and cooked them up for our dinner.

Dinner:  July 16, 2009

While these chops are fabulous on their own, I wanted to add a little bit of flare to the plate. A pan sauce was out, since we cooked the chops outdoors, and I was worried that one of the more assertive salsas or sauces I sometimes put together would overwhelm the meat. So while Mike prepped the grill, I took a look at what we had in the pantry and decided to try my hand at a quick currant pickle. The brine had lots of mustard seeds, some juniper and fennel, and a mix of sherry and champagne vinegars in addition to the usual salt, sugar and water. I brought it to a boil and poured it over half a cup of dried Zante currants, then let them sit and steep until we were ready to eat.

The pickled currants were tasty, with a nice balance of tart-to-sweet, and they complemented the grilled veal really nicely, though I think the next time I make them I’ll bump up the salt and mustard just a bit. I’d still call this batch a success, and something I’ll definitely play with again – I can see them partnering well with other grilled meats, and it’s nice to have a variety of accompaniments in my arsenal to add a little bit of pop to an otherwise simple grilled dinner.

Some Assembly Required

Dinner:  July 8, 2009

Some may say that they’re so over, but Mike and I have been in love with banh mi since our first taste of them back in NYC. I’ve wanted to make banh mi-inspired sandwiches at home for ages, and finally did so last night. I had an idea a while back to use duck rillettes in place of the Vietnamese cold cuts I generally favor, so I had Mike whip some up from his latest batch of confit. With the rillettes made, putting together the rest of the was a breeze: I halved a baguette, sliced each half open, and slathered the insides with a Sriracha-spiked mayo. I placed them on a baking sheet and they went into a 400 degree oven for 5 minutes.

While the baguettes warmed, I whisked together a little salt and vinegar, then added some radish coins, thin slices of carrot, and slivers of green chile pepper, tossing them until they were all well coated. I sliced up a cucumber and some pickled red onions as well, and set aside several sprigs of fresh cilantro to top our sandwiches. When the baguettes were just cool enough to handle, I assembled everything, spreading a layer of rillettes inside of the bread, then topping them with the cut and pickled veggies and cilantro. This was a meal that really did come together in minutes, and it was delicious. I’m eyeing the last of Mike’s pate de campagne for a future variation of this sandwich.