Thursday, August 26, 2010

I'm Not Afraid Of No Eggs

After a trying day at the Freakshow, the last thing a chef wants to do is come home and have to cook, and eat, a big ol' complicated supper. Today was one of those days. The remedy to this chef's ills was a quick, not so bulky, tasty meal to nourish his tortured spirit.

All the way home from work I kept thinking "omelet, omelet, omelet". Upon landing in the little red kitchen, I pulled my caddy of fresh cackleberries out of the fridge, ventured to the backyard herb patch with my kitchen shears, and shredded a couple of cheese odds-and-ends that were tossed aside in the cheese drawer of the icebox. I threw together a quick little salad of romaine, tomato, and avocado. Then, I chopped up a scallion with the herbs that I had just gathered; some dill, tarragon, chives, and parsley.

In just a very short time I had a simple and satisfying little meal ready for the eating. I'm not afraid of no eggs.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Backyard Taboulleh

Not exactly a traditional treatment of taboulleh, but I didn't stray far. First of all, I gathered copius amounts of parsley and mint from the herb garden. I also added a wee bit of basil just because I wanted to, and the last bit of a fading bunch of cilantro from the vegetable drawer in the fridge. When I went there, I found that I was fresh out of scallions. So, I went back to the herb patch and grabbed a handful of fresh chives to stand in for their sturdier cousins. After thoroughly washing my verdant harvest, I pinched off the biggest part of the stems and spun dry the greenery in my salad spinner. While all this was going on, I had a half-cup of medium bulgur wheat soaking in a bowl of hot water for about 30 minutes. After chopping the herbs and draining the bulgur, I combined them in a bowl and added about a half-cup of good olive oil and the juice of one large lemon. To finish the salad, I went back to the garden and picked a fair amount of ripe salad tomatoes. (At this point, I'll interject something: There is nothing better than going to your backyard garden to gather ingredients for something that you're cooking in your kitchen. Just saying...) A quick rinse of the tomatoes, then a little rough chopping and into the salad they went, still warm from the sun. Toss everything together, add salt and pepper to taste, and adjust with extra lemon or oil, as you like.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Good Eatin'

I won't bore you to death with every little detail, but I will tell you that, yes, I know I went overboard in the kitchen today. I cook for a living every day at work. Then, on my day off I cook like a madman here in the little red kitchen. It's insanity, I tell you. Pure insanity. I'll just say that the garden made me do it. From top to bottom: Oven-BBQ'd Bramble Hollow Chicken, Melted Tomatoes, Baby Carrots cooked with Purple Viking Potatoes, Beet Greens and Chard with Caramelized Onions and Israeli Couscous, Cucumber Salad, Fresh October Beans cooked with Okra (thanks to Brandon Stevens for the inspiration), Roasted Beets, and Halifax County Cantaloupe. Mighty fine dinner tonight, if I do say so myself.

Melted Tomatoes

Also known as "tomato confit", these rank among my favorite cooked preparation of tomatoes. Simply core fresh tomatoes, then cut them into chunks. Toss the tomato chunks with some onion (or scallions or shallots) and/or fresh garlic, a drizzle of good olive oil, and a little salt and pepper. Throw them into a baking dish with some sprigs of fresh herbs (today's herb was thyme) and slide them into a 350º oven for about 40-45 minutes. They'll be ready to eat when the flesh kind of collapses and the skins begin to blister. If you continue to cook them for a bit longer, maybe up to an hour total, the juices will evaporate some and they'll be especially savory. These make a fantastic side dish to most any dinner, or are quite good as your main dish with some crusty bread and a simple green salad. I've been known to eat an entire dish that way. Whe you're feeling adventurous, try them over pasta or polenta. If your tomatoes taste a bit too tart, don't hesitate to add a pinch of sugar or a little honey to take the edge off. Another thing I've done with my melted tomatoes is to run them through a food mill to make an incredible roasted tomato sauce. The possibilities are endless. Top them with some cheese during the last few minutes of baking. Crack a couple of fresh eggs on top of the tomatoes and continue baking until the eggs are set to your liking. After cooking and cooling your melted tomatoes, chop them to make a delicious salsa or topping for bruschetta. OK, now go melt some tomatoes.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cuban Pork Roast

One of my very favorite ways with a pork roast, specifically a shoulder roast, is to marinate it Cuban-style then oven roast it. The roast you see in the photo above is the last piece from our locally pastured hog that we got from Bramble Hollow Farm in Montvale last fall. I took that bad boy out of the freezer last night and set it down in a deep bowl that has a snap-on lid. Then I mixed up a Cuban-style marinade using freshly squeezed orange, lemon, and lime juices. To those juices I added a spice paste I made with my mortar and pestle; toasted cumin seeds, dried oregano, fresh garlic cloves, coarse salt, and ground black pepper. Then, I stirred the whole concoction together with some good olive oil and poured it over the roast in the bowl, placed the lid on the bowl, and let it marinate overnight on the kitchen counter. This morning I turned the roast over and rolled it around in the marinade and let it finish marinating for a few more hours.
Then, into my cast iron dutch oven and into a moderately-hot oven it went. After about an hour, I removed the lid from the dutch oven and returned it to the oven for two more hours, turning the roast over about halfway through that uncovered phase of the cooking. Once the internal temperature reached about 160º to 165º, I took the pot out of the oven, set the roast on a platter, and covered it with a piece of waxed paper for a few minutes. I added some water (about a cup, I guess) to the dutch oven and stirred to combine the water and the pan juices. Then, those pan juices got placed into one of those funny looking "separator" type pitcher/measuring cup thingies to settle for a few minutes. While the jus was resting, I pulled the pork roast apart discarding the bone and any jiggly bits that I deemed inedible. Once the jus had a chance to separate, I poured those delectable flavors back over the pulled pork on the serving platter. Going for less than traditional sides seemed to be the thing to do tonight, as I wasn't really in the mood for beans and rice. So, I cooked a pot of stoneground grits with some fresh corn cut off the cob, a couple of sliced scallions, and a chopped red bell pepper from the garden. Just when the grits were ready to serve, I stirred in some chopped fresh basil and a knob of good butter. Also, I made it out to the backyard garden this afternoon before the rain came and cut a right good mess of chard. After washing the chard thoroughly (in 3 changes of water!), I separated the leaves from the stems and sautéed the chopped leaves with some julienned onion and chopped fresh garlic in a bit of olive oil. I'm saving those chard stems to make pickles with on Wednesday. Anyway, we ended up with a fantastic dinner made mostly of homegrown and locally procured ingredients, once again. See? It's easy!