Dinner Diary July 14, 2006
This is tasty. You can’t get away with using anything less than the best ingredients with these dishes. For the corn tomato cream sauce:
- Have everything ready to go; ‘mise en place’. Shallots diced fine, corn off the cob, tomatoes coarsely chopped, scallops dried, salad greens washed and dried, rice already cooking slowly.
- Sautee the shallots in butter.
- Add the vermouth and cream; enough to be able to reduce it until it’s got some body to it after it’s simmered a bit.
- Add the tomatoes and cook just until they’ve given up some liquid and the sauce has body again.
- Add the corn and cook till everything is just warmed through.
- Add the seasoning and keep this sauce warm.
- Get a pan really hot, put some butter in it and sauté the salted and peppered scallops until they’ve browned up nicely – cook them longer than 2 minutes or so per side, assuming that they’re large, and I’ll hunt you down.
- The rice is finished. The liquid that you’ve been boiling it in had saffron in it right?
- The salad has been plated and dressed.
- A nicely chilled wine is on the dinner table.
- QUICK, QUICK, QUICK, QUICK!
- Sauce on the plates, scallops atop the sauce, saffroned rice artfully placed at the edge of the sauce (NO! not a damn ring of it – use some imagination), salad and main course to the table.
- You and your sweetie give each other a nice swift little kiss.
It is in fact a ‘company dinner’. One of those dishes or menus worthy of being served to our friends.
SEARED SCALLOPS ATOP THE CORN AND TOMATO SAUCE, SAFFRONED RICE AND A SOFT SHELL CRAB ALONG FOR THE RIDE
(OK, there’s no imagination in the plating of the rice)
Moral Bankruptcy And Too Many Tomatoes
Bonnie and I have only had one ‘knockdown food fight’ in more than 20 years of being together – so far.
It was a hot and humid summer evening. I had been unemployed or barely employed as a consultant for some time and the situation was beginning to wear on both Bonnie and me. Usually we can weather the really down moments because one of us will bring the other one up, but when we’re both having a really down moment; it’s a bit tougher to push on through.
I was moping about the house feeling desperate and frustrated. Upon my saying that I would do anything for money, Bonnie, failing to see my perspective (that perspective being a future bereft of martinis, steak and wine and living in a refrigerator packing box over a subway grate – alone), accused me of being morally bankrupt! She was right in saying so; at that moment I was ready to do almost anything (no photos – well maybe if they were really grainy it would be OK) to get some money in my pocket.
Timing is everything. It was full summer and the tomato crop was at its height. As Bonnie and I both like tomatoes, we had many in the house. The tomatoes were being eaten and canned so there were more around than would normally be. Big, bright red, juicy tomatoes mounded high in bowls, covering the kitchen counters. Heat, humidity, desperation, frustration – the alarm clock on the bomb ticking the seconds off until the second hand hit 12:00 and Bonnie exploded, choosing to vent her anger at my moral bankruptcy by
FLINGING THE TOMATOES AT ME! REALLY RIPE TOMATOES!
Pick up a fair size tomato in your hand and bounce it around a bit. Pretty hefty heh? Only a little smaller than a softball. The first one that she threw whistled past me and hit the wall behind me so hard that I thought that it had made a hole in the wall. The main ‘splatter diameter’ (watch CSI) was easily 5 feet, juice and seeds going far beyond that. She was just warming up. Poor, frustrated Bonnie, the tears did not hinder her aim. The second one hit my forehead. It felt as if I had gotten hit with a brick; there was tomato juice running in my eyes, I saw seeds everywhere and it had ricocheted from my forehead to the kitchen ceiling. All this time I’m pleading, “Honey, I didn’t mean it, stop throwing the tomatoes and let’s talk.” No effect – this was a lot of pent up frustration being let loose. The third tomato hit the refrigerator door and dented it a little. There were more tomatoes thrown, all hitting me and various other things in the kitchen – walls appliances, tables, stove. I prayed to God that she wouldn’t score a direct hit on my face. My forehead is as hard as a rock, but my beautiful nose! Please don’t let a hard tomato break it! Man was she ever angry! Fast! Furious! A storm of tomatoes! The spray of the juice was tremendous and unpredictable and the kitchen air was perfumed with the summer scent of tomatoes – a very strong scent. Actually the air was not so much perfumed with the scent of tomatoes, as perfumed, and hazy, with the spray of tomatoes. It did not end quickly, but end it did – we were out of tomatoes. Claiming the higher ground, which is often worthless real estate, I can say that I did not throw one tomato. She was right to call me on my moral bankruptcy. Never give up, never surrender.
For those of you who haven’t experienced something like this, I can tell you that it clears the air regarding your relationship and puts priorities in order. It also sets you up for a house cleaning that will stretch into months. So much so that many months later you will find tomato juice stains, skin and seeds in places that you didn’t even know that you, or your home, had. And in the end I cooked something, and we continued down our road.
TOMATOES – LOTS OF TOMATOES
Dinner Diary August 20, 1994
After I had finished ‘playing’ with the new smoker, I removed the various components until I was down to the bed of still glowing coals. At that precise instant two baby squirrels in the tree above the smoker decided to make their first attempt at getting out of their nest. Of course, they landed directly on the glowing coals. I stood there for a split second but, then, did what I knew that I had to do – I reached in with my bare hands, cupped my hands beneath each of them and brought them from the coals. Yes, my pain was excruciating, but the babies were out of the coals. They were scared, they were on fire and they ran up and down my arms in their panic. I finally smothered their flames with the water in the nearby birdbath and the babies ran back up the tree to join their mother. But by then the damage had been done to my arms and hands. I was in a daze, the pain intense, my eyes saw the world fade to black and there was a roaring in my ears; a voice in the distance was saying something. Indistinguishable at first but getting louder and clearer each time I heard it. Finally that sweet voice, “David, David, your cranberry-orange tea breads are done.”
Thrashing about in the bed, covered with a cold sweat and shaking, the sweet demons voice receding in the reality of the morning, I awoke screaming from this recurring nightmare.
I really enjoy smoking things, including various foodstuffs. I had not intended to smoke, or make charcoal out of, the cranberry-orange tea breads. I found out early on that you can, in fact, smoke foods too much. So much so that you are tasting nothing except smoke. So, as with all things, moderation and a light touch where need be. The scallops in particular were indescribably good. Well, not at all indescribable: the taste of the smoke mixed quite wonderfully with the salt of the sea and the richness of the scallop meat. I was inspired to ‘smoke’ as a result of the superbly smoked victuals that we purchased, and devoured, from Hatch’s Seafood in Wellfleet. These smoked loverlies included but are not limited to: scallops, bluefish, salmon, shrimp and swordfish. They are all superbly smoked. Eat them as an appetizer, make a spread out of them (or buy Hatch’s spreads), use them sparingly in soups, toss them with pasta.
When you’re lucky, you can stand in the parking lot in front of the store and get a contact high by inhaling the glorious fragrance of their efforts. It really is a nice pastime. You’re standing there on a sunny day, a little bit of wind, blue sky above, white clapboard sheathed New England town hall – including steeple – beside the parking lot and the salt taste and smell of the sea in air – all mingled with the smoky, but not too smoky, fragrance of Hatch’s best efforts. I lean on the side of our car with a big stupid grin on my face. I’m pretty good at the smoker – Hatch’s is great.
WELLFLEET TOWN HALL
Dessert – Roast Chicken
I’ve been on a quest to make the perfect roast chicken for some time now. As with the most simple of items or tasks it’s often easy enough to just ‘do it’, but very hard to do it well. You can’t hide the chicken behind something else, if you’re serving roast chicken even a sauce or gravy won’t cover up a poorly roasted bird. I’ve deduced some truths that work for me in creating the perfectly baked chicken. These truths work for me, maybe other truths work for you.
- Buy the best chicken that you can afford. In our area that usually means Bell and Evans (at the local super market) or the Griggstown Quail Farm (north of Princeton and online). I’ve spent ridiculous sums of money for chickens at the local farms in our area, but you can’t always justify spending $20 for a four pound organically raised chicken. As for Purdue, Tyson or any of the other factory farms stay far, far away from them. You can’t farm something that’s healthy and tasteful if you’re ‘farming’ thousands of them at a time. Also, a ‘real’ chicken should weigh in at about 4 pounds or so – not 6, or 7, or 8 pounds – that’s a chicken on steroids.
- I dry my chicken, I don’t brine it. On the morning of the day that I’m roasting the chicken I unwrap it from its packaging, wipe it with a damp paper towel, put it on a platter and put it back into the fridge. The theory being that the blowing air from our self-defrosting refrigerators will dry out the skin and give it a leg up on crisping up. I’ve tried brining. What it’s gotten me, fowl or meat, is mushy flesh with none of the brine flavors. I know that many of you will disagree. You do that. Go right ahead.
- A simple seasoning: a little soft butter on the skin to brown, kosher salt and black pepper – that’s it. I rub the walls of the breast cavity with salt and pepper and stuff the breast cavity with whatever hard fruit I’ve got lying around: half a lemon and half a granny smith apple, maybe some herbs if I have them. My theory on this is that the fruit will provide enough moisture as the chicken roasts so that the ‘underside’ as it were of the breast meat will not dry out. Maybe I’m dreaming, but it seems to work. I also truss the chicken, again, so that the breast cavity retains some moisture.
- Take the chicken out of the fridge about a half hour before you plan on cooking it so that it can get close to room temperature.
- My game plan for the roasting, for a chicken that weighs in at about 4 pounds, is: a preheated 400° oven, 10 minutes at 400°, turn the heat down to 375° and continue to roast for about one and one half hours. There’s no reason to open the oven door during this time. When the time has elapsed take the chicken out and test its thigh meat with an instant read thermometer; you want to see 180°. If the thermometer shows 180° I put the chicken back into the oven for a breath or two. I’ve always found that it’s always better to go just a little bit longer. Take the chicken out again and prick it’s thigh with a sharply pointed knife. You want to see the juices run clear with just the slightest, slightest, hint of pink. If it ain’t that way then back in it goes for another breath or two or what have you until the juices are the right color.
- Remove the chicken from the oven when it’s ready and let it rest for at least 15 minutes, 20 minutes is better. It won’t cool down too much and the meat will suck back in the juices that were expelled under heat.
- Carve away and best of luck to you. Each chicken and each oven is different so don’t be afraid to begin your own quest for your perfectly roasted chicken.
A WELL ROASTED CHICKEN