Nathan and Jess both independently have suggested I keep note of everything that I cook, so I figured it could be somewhat of a project for the new year.
I didn't cook anything the week after Christmas, but I think I quite made up for it this week.
Nathan recently got me this great book, The Flavor Bible, and I happened to flip open to the monkfish page on Monday. For every ingredient, they have complied a list of other ingredients that accomplished chefs consider to be complementary, as well as brief descriptions of their go-to dishes for that ingredient. Serendipitously, monkfish was described as a great match with cabbage, garlic and potatoes, (all of which I had recently gotten from my CSA food co-op), and bacon, (which I pretty much always have on hand). Since I wasn't sure of what to do from there, I typed in those ingredients into google, and came up with this recipe, which included a couple of other things I had lying around: shallots, red wine, fresh thyme, bay leaves, orange juice, and chicken stock, which I had made and froze myself. All I had to buy was the parsley and monkfish, which cost $10 a pound.
I quartered the shallot and also a small onion and I think a couple of smashed garlic cloves, and sauteed them with the bay leaves, parsley and thyme in some butter and olive oil. I added a cup of wine, some stock, the juice of two small oranges, some salt and pepper and cooked the cabbage in the mixture for 40 minutes. There was a lot of liquid involved, but in the end it all cooked off, leaving a deliciously flavored vegetable behind. I think that the homemade stock really gave it an added richness and depth of flavor, but even without it this cabbage would have been a winner.
Meanwhile, I had marinaded the fish in olive oil with salt and pepper for about a half an hour. Before we started cooking it Nathan had to bone the thing, because I was not paying attention and didn't ask the fish guy to do it for me. My boyfriend is incredible, so he did this perfectly. So impressive. By the way, if you don't know, monkfish is incredibly hideous. We quickly pan seared it in the cast iron skillet, and then wrapped it in two slices of bacon and threw it in the oven for about 15 minutes. I stuck it under the broiler in the end so that the bacon would get nice and crisp. Amazingly, the fish was moist and delicious, but not undercooked. A triumph.
My recipe suggested preparing mashed potatoes, but I wanted something a little more toothsome. The potatoes I sliced thinly and pan fried with garlic in a little bacon fat, (sorry mom and dad). There were way too many of them in the pan, but I kept shifting them around to get as many as possible crispy. I finished them off in the oven with the lid on, and they were great. The crispy ones were great, but even the ones that weren't got cooked through nicely, and there were tasty garlic nuggets every so often.
Together, this made for an amazing meal. The Flavor Bible wasn't playing around when it suggested combining all these different things. Separately, each component of the meal was delicious, but together, the ingredients really sang. Wow. A symphony of taste!
Wednesday night we went a more traditional route and fried up some crispy onions with a couple of small blue seared shoulder round steaks from Whole Foods. These were pretty much raw in the middle, which was really rich and meaty tasting, but probably not a way I'd chose to eat my steak in the future, especially if it was a normal supermarket steak. As our side dishes, we made up some rice, a roasted red pepper, and creamed spinach with a poached egg. We used frozen spinach upon Nathan's insistence, but I'll grudgingly concede that it wasn't even half bad. The other ingredients were pretty basic, just half and half, flour, onions, garlic, butter and nutmeg. It was easy and delicious. Do not fear egg poaching-- just heat a couple of inches of water until bubbles are forming on the sides and then crack in your eggs for four minutes. Remove carefully with a slotted spoon, (Nathan managed to break my yolk, which was so sad and left me way less runny goodness) and this WILL be perfect.
Thursday I was home alone and made one of my standard issue dinners: panfried pork chops, orrechiette with sauteed mushrooms in a homemade tomato sauce with fresh rosemary, parsley and basil, and some steamed broccoli rabe with garlic and oil which I kind of burned because I am bad at cooking alone. I also overcooked the pork, which was a thinner cut than I am used to having. This dinner was not all that well executed, I'm sorry to say. I think I was missing my boy in the kitchen! However, I will say that the pasta was great with some grated Romano cheese. Still have some of that in the fridge to look forward to!
Saturday, Nathan and I had Bart over for dinner and made lamb chops with a radish salad and a potato leek gratin. We boiled the potatoes in the left over half and half from the creamed spinach, and sauted the leeks with butter and a little bit of bouillon because I didn't have a chance to bring my stock over to his house. We actually forgot to cream the leeks, and just poured the extra half and half over the whole thing, which ended up having an extra layer of potatoes on the bottom. This wound up being a little watery, but delicious.
Thinly sliced radishes with plenty of olive oil, garlic and salt and pepper are tasty enough on their own, but try tossing in some leek tops and the crunchy, slightly bitter leaves. Drizzle on the balsamic, and you have an amazing salad.
The third component of the meal offers this cautionary tale: Never cook with jerk seasoning on the stove top unless you have a super effective fume hood, (I suspect the oven would be better, but not a perfect solution). Nathan and Bart made this crucial mistake with their lamb, and we all paid the price. Our lovely chops had been on the griddle for only a few minutes when the jerk spices started burning, and the fumes became unbearable. It was like pepper spray, and Bart and I beat a quick retreat back to Pete's room to take refuge from the smoke. I could barely breathe and could not stop coughing. Nathan somehow managed to continue manning the stove, although he was forced to undercook the lamb a bit to stop the meat from releasing toxins into the air. That stuff is lethally hot, as my lamb managed to take on a considerable amount of heat just from being cooked in close proximity to their stupid jerk sauce. My lips were on fire. Despite that major hiccup, it was a tasty meal, with plenty of good wine courtesy of Bartosz.
All of these meals were great, (or would have been without hellish jerk seasoning), and were actually gluten free, save for the pasta and creamed spinach, which easily could be if you used the right flour and gluten free nutmeg. And that's my week in the kitchen in review, for posterity's sake!