"Those who forget the pasta are condemned to reheat it." ~Unknown

Sunday, June 27, 2010

If Spontaneity is the Spice of Life This is a Well Spiced Meal

What is it about Chinese food that has a bad rap. I've always wondered why, if a Hollywood director wanted to visually scream "LOSER!" they would stick one of those cardboard take-out containers in a person's hand. For some reason Chinese food has a bad reputation as the undercooked fare of people who are too lazy to care. That's what the movies tell you.
Any ways, Cyrus is out to once-and-for-all eliminate that idea. He's going to grill a chicken breast in a style reminiscent of, well, Chinese food. The recipe (I rarely say that on Cy's weeks) is from dad's new License To Grill cookbook by Chris Schlessinger and John Wiloughby.

As a side dish dad is teaching Cy to make hobo potatoes, he and Cy bustle back and forth, laying out tin foil, halving potatoes and adding salt, butter, olive oil, garlic and other spices. Then throw the foil wrapped taters onto the grill and finally dress them with Italian parsley from our garden and fresh grated Parmesan (this also works well just throwing the packet straight into the fire). In the salad we have spinach, also from our garden (Clark: there's that local/lo-cal option you were looking for, twice, in more ways than one!) (see comments for: "It Was Like Summer Out There" May 16, 2010).
Wow that is a fragrant glaze- Hoisin Sauce, lime juice, ginger and garlic with gobs of basil. The glaze for the chicken smells like...it's indescribable. Meanwhile Cy has had a kitchen misadventure. He was tossing the bell peppers and onion in olive oil. He poured in about a cup too much oil. When dad realized what was happening he intervened and siphoned off most of the oil into an almost empty jam jar. Then mixed it into a sweet. Bam! Sour. Bam! Olive-y salad dressing.

This is a bit of an odd dinner. The plan is very loose. I thought the salad was done when Cyrus, sitting next to me savoring the short break in the cooking out of nowhere asked, no-one in particular, "Could we put nasturtiums in the salad?" Then he went outside and picked a bunch of nasturtiums from the garden. And now Dad's adding peaches to the salad. If spontaniety is the spice of life this is a well spiced meal. Now Dad's grating parmesan onto the salad? Geez! It looks like it snowed. I think they've gone crazy.

An odd dinner indeed. While the focus was intended to be a chicken covered in hoisin sauce that became a side dish with co-main courses in the hobo potatoes and salad. The whole meal was vibrant and special. The way each bite was so unique and special. The food was so bright. The salad wasn't just green, the chicken wasn't chicken colored and the potatoes weren't just white. This meal was diverse and vibrant. This meal will be remembered. This meal was something from a dream.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Good Stew On a Dark Day

A woman from out of town walked out of Portland's convention center and sighed. The past three days that she'd been in town, it had been raining continuously. She opened up her umbrella and asked a little boy on a tricycle, "Does it ever stop raining here?" The little boy replied, "How should I know, I'm only six years old."
Even though today is the last day of spring we had to change our plans thanks to the cold weather and stuffy noses. We were going to make bulgogi a Korean seared flank steak. But stuffed noses all around made me change the recipe. (Okay actually we hadn't noticed the 4 hour marination time).
So we switched recipes and moved 7847 miles east to Cuba. For Old Clothes. Old Clothes? Do we need to change recipes again? No we don't, Ropa Vieja is a Cuban stew that (just our luck) uses flank steak. Ropa Vieja also means old clothes.
I'm starting to understand the name Ropa Vieja now. This stew won't be done until I'm an old man and my clothes are in shreds. At least, that's what it feels like. This is taking forever!

The clothes have been shredded. Have you ever shredded flank steak before? It gets harder to shred as it gets colder. Not to mention boring. Yet it does explain the name of this dish, I've never seen anything better at impersonating a pile of old rags. I've also never been so confused by cooking directions. Then I realized I had been reading the wrong recipe!
I'm back on the right recipe and I'm getting the feeling that I'm almost done. In 15 minutes I need to add the frozen peas and olives. and 10 minutes later this meal is done.
It's been a bit of an odd meal preparation wise. It seems that a lot of what was done we did again and again not to mention for the first hour and a half of cooking we had a wide variety of vegetables in the pot, everything from carrots to celery. Yet after that hour and a half we tossed out all the veggies. Seems to me to be a little wasteful, I mean why couldn't we use the veggies in a recipe the next day, they would be perfect in a shepherds pie if you added some potatoes.
Oh well, those veggies have gone down the gullet of our grandma's dog, Maggie, by now.

The stew was amazing. It was hardy, complex and rich, at least thats what dad says, I can't taste anything thanks to my stuffy nose. There was one thing I could taste though, the pimento stuffed green olives, They quite simply exploded with a complex, salty flavor. The stew had a great array of colors with the red and green bell peppers, peas and olives with a back drop of rice and meat. It was a great stew for such a dark day. If only we could get a ray of Cuba's sunshine.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The First Day of Summer

Portland is a special town, it's got all the big city benefits of New York but it's also got a small town feel and is wrapped around nature. Portland is filled with great restaurants, cafes and parks. One of my favorite places for breakfast in Portland is Pine State Biscuits on Belmont street. Pine State has a number of wonderful dishes but their signature dish is the Reggie. The Reggie is a fried chicken breast, bacon, american cheese and gravy sandwiched between a biscuit cut in half.
Cyrus loves the Reggie. He wonders how humans survived before it's invention. He's making Reggies for dinner.
Thing is, Pine State doesn't have a cookbook. So what Cy is actually making is a series of different dishes which will be combined into the Reggie. The bacon is done frying and the chicken is sizzling, the biscuits are on pause for now while Cy prepares the fruit salad side dish. The sizzzzzzle and pop of the chicken, the slliiidddde snap of my brother's knife cutting through one huge apple. The smell of the bacon, the taste of a "borrowed" chunk of apple.
It's like summer time in Portland and I suppose it is, after all, school gets out on Tuesday. There's something odd though about the smell of the frying sausage (for the gravy) it almost makes it more summer-like.

I'm getting the feeling that our cooking is coming to a close. The fruit salad is being mixed with it's dressing and I can't hear any more sizzling/popping noises from the stove. The timer is going off on the biscuits and the sausage gravy is done. The only thing left is the stacking. The penultimate step in the creation of these Dagwood style sandwiches.
That are quite good. The Reggies where immensely salty and the fruit salad was sweet and wet, the perfect thing for outdoor dining in the summer. The sun is still high in the sky and I have the feeling that when I'm done writing I'll go back outside. Today's food was good and today was good too. After a long rainy Spring, today was the first day of summer.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Laughter Is Brightest Where Food Is Best

Does anyone know how to grill in a torrential downpour? If so you might want to share some tips. See, here we are in June. Normally we don't have to deal with rain in June. So, mom suggested that we grill a leg of lamb. A few months ago we had got a whole leg of lamb and since we would have ten mouths to help us eat it today mom suggested (demanded would be more accurate) that I grill it. And then an uncontrollable factor gave us a whack on the head.
Being a morning person I got up at seven-thirty. I woke up laying on my side staring out my bedroom window. After a couple of moments I had the normal order of thought returned to my head. Mmmmm. Sunday. I'm cooking. (Yawn). Oh! I'm grilling! Hmm. It's cloudy. @$##.
That's when I became consciously awake.
I've spent the whole morning with half of my brain sorting out the grill problem and the other half doing whatever was being done.
Ultimately though you just have to face the problem head on. Even after two rain-soaked hours at Oaks Park, our neighborhood's amusement park.
I have no idea what I should be doing. I missed the first hour of cooking and now I feel lost. Oh well.

One of the things I don't like about the days when I cook is that I never have time to write. Now I have time though. I've made a salad and prepared the garlic bread. I've glazed the peaches and watched the leg o' lamb come off the grill (this is the least involved I've ever been in a main course. All I did was stick a thermometer in twice!)
All our guests have arrived bringing us three additional dogs. I have a real good feeling about tonight.
The table has been set but there is something missing. Sure the people aren't there but there's a great big empty spot on the table. It's the lamb! That's what's missing! How long does it take to carve a simple leg of lamb dad!? Ten years?
The ten years have passed and we have eaten.
It was really good eatin' too. The lamb was beautiful and smoky with tart undertones. The salad was dominated by the dressing which was tart yet sweet like a preserve. The garlic bread was perfect and the peaches were tart, not sweet, and I didn't like them but everyone else did so they must actually be pretty good. This was a feast in every sense of the word. I can hear laughter ringing from the dining room. Laughter is brightest where food is best.