Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Pinch of This, a Pinch of That

I grew up helping my mother cook, from chopping parsley with a cleaver as big as my arm at five years onwards and upwards. Somehow, since we've moved I've been cooking a good deal more than I had before, and trying to work on some new dishes outside of the vital four or five that I've always done (steaks, salmon with a yogurt sauce vert, gruyere stuffed portobello mushrooms, sherry-ginger teriyaki grilled chicken and a couple of others aside from the standard omelette etc. regimen.)

For what it's worth, I will pass this along to any male folks who fear the kitchen: women love to have a guy cook for them, and you'll get a pretty big handicap for trying, even if it comes out terribly. If you dive in and try to do it, just get ready to look up what the terms mean, (julienne is just a way to cut tiny slivers of a vegetable... you can do that, right?) and never forget the rule that (I believe) Julia Child was fond of reciting: if it doesn't come out "right", it's just a New Recipe!

Eventually, you can just work out your own ideas, but when you are trying to get a little more flexible, and learn some new flavors, work from a recipe. Every guy (gentle lady readers, I don't mean to assume that you all love to cook, but odds are generally that men are less likely to feel compelled to do any of this, so you are free to listen to this marginally informed voice as you wish) should know how to cook two or three different things for dinner without having to have a heart attack about it. It will never harm you, and almost definitely help...

That being said, in the past week or two, I've run through the following that can not be recommended enough:

Miso Glazed Salmon
Tigger loved this one, and was trying to sneak the unused marinade out behind my back while waiting for the fish to cook outside. You can do this on the barbecue grill, with or without Alder or Cedar planks, though they do make it a lot easier to work with the fish, and produce a fantastic flavor if you have the time to find them. Alder-, Apple- or Cherrywood chips on the fire are a great addition, but not essential. They will certainly make you feel more rugged... and there's something to be said for that.

Almost any version of Moroccan lentil soup you can find is to be done and is just tremendous. Just remember to add lemon juice at the end, and give yourself more time to let the soup cook, you can just let it simmer away until you are ready to eat... while you're not required to puree the soup down in a blender, I am not crazy about the texture of lentils or beans, so running it through a blender means not having to go wild with mincing down all the ingredients to microscopic sizes. I let ours bubble away for about two to three hours and it's just spectacular. Not hard, just really good cold weather comfort food.

Last weekend I tried a slow smoked rib recipe, using a pretty standard KC style dry rub, and while I wasn't perfectly happy with the results, consider the following: a full rack of ribs at a restaurant is going to cost you $20 at least. That cut of meat is probably the cheapest thing you can find at the butcher, and there's something really satisfying about standing around a barbecue, indirectly cooking ribs and fiddling with the vents to keep the fire low and slow, while drinking with a good friend for two or three hours waiting for lunch.

The rub needs some working out, and the technique is in development, and it won't impress a date to have you stinking of hickory wood and drunk by the time dinner rolls around, but the next selection is pretty spot on for that purpose...

It's a bit more work, and I wouldn't call it exactly healthy* (note the butter, cream, and of course the cholesterol from shrimp as well) but this version of Shrimp Bisque will not disappoint. You can make it easier on yourself by getting shelled shrimp or another kind of fish and using fish bouillon, but the process of making stock is part of the fun, and having a pot of boiling shrimp heads on the stove has a certain morbid appeal. It won't be a quick process, but it will be like heave when you're finished. For that recipe, I did also add a cup of sherry, which I like the flavor of, and used Old Bay instead of "Creole Seasoning", because the local store was not cooperative with any concept of Creole anything. Worked out just fine. Don't let the soup boil again once you add the cream, or ugly things will happen! Again, this one I like pureed down to make a smooth consistency with all the flavors blending together, but you don't have to if you aren't feeling like it. Again, you'll save yourself a lot of knifework to get the vegetables slaughtered to sufficiently miniscule pieces, but it's your call. I also switched the green peppers for a few tomatoes with the seeds removed, as Tigger loathes peppers. I'm working on that, though.

There have been others, but these were something to write home about. Or, for that matter, randomly stand on a virtual street corner shouting about. Enjoy good eating and beautiful weather if you are blessed with it, and be well.

*It is all well and good to be aware of counting calories and being healthy, but there are times where it is best to remember these words:
"A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart that looks at her watch." --James Beard
That being said, you'll find that the other recipes indicated here are not only cheap and satisfying, but remarkably healthy. Maybe a little heavy on the salt for the salmon, but that's about it.

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