J. R. Barrett
From my hero, Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park: Life finds a way.
Sorry – I’ve been remiss. Should have posted long ago. Here are a few pictures from my backyard, showing the many ways life does find an unexpected way.
My husband says I’m a real bitch when it comes to food. Guilty as charged.
I’m still gagging over Friday night. This was the second time we’ve been invited by another couple to meet for dinner at a restaurant of their choice – dutch treat.
I accept responsibility. Much of the problem is mine. I’m picky. Especially when we drop a big wad of cash for food and alcoholic beverages, the alcoholic beverages consumed in larger part by our dinner partners.
When I eat out it’s because:
a. I’ve been invited as in this case.
b. I love the food at a particular restaurant.
c. A particular restaurant prepares a dish way better than I can.
d. A particular restaurant prepares a dish I love but have no interest in making myself because of the time and effort involved.
***Ooh! Check the end of the post. Guess the mystery food and win a dessert recipe from my private collection!
Okay. Here we go.
1. Piling mixed greens on top of every starter and entree instead of providing a fresh seasonal vegetable. Asparagus is everywhere right now. Green beans just came into season out here in California. Brussel Sprouts are still fresh. Cauliflower is big. Baby artichokes are cheap. C’mon! I don’t need a mess o’ greens piled on top of my food, especially when the greens are coated with an herb vinaigrette reeking of marjoram.
It wasn’t hard to identify the greens. I’m growing them in my garden– Japanese Misome and Mizuna. Greens of the moment.
Every single item we were served, starters and entrees, was covered with the same sloppy room temperature greens. I watched plate after plate pass by our table, each plate filled with the same greens. Every single menu item looked exactly like every other menu item – a salad.
2. Every item on the entire menu was served in a giant bowl. This is beyond annoying on a good day, but even more so when the entree is barely visible within the bowl. It is so hard to eat stuff out of a giant bowl. (You try cutting a steak in your giant bowl. Not that I got a steak…)
This may be the first time in my entire adult life I’ve ever been served an entree so small as to be virtually nonexistent. I don’t need or expect a huge portion, frankly I don’t want a huge portion. However I needed a microscope to see the kabocha squash tortellini I ordered. Not that it much mattered because the tortellini sucked. They were cold, undercooked, made with wonton skins instead of pasta dough, and they tasted overwhelmingly of marjoram because of the herb vinaigrette from the greens piled on top.
Which leads me to–
3. Serving what is supposed to be hot food at room temperature.
Nothing arrived hot. Everything arrived at room temperature including the night’s signature cocktail, Sludge… oh, sorry, I mean a Blood Orange Royale. What should be cold, sparkly, light and refreshing was a flat overly sweet red-orange room temperature mush. It was disgusting. I had to send it back.
4. Serving chicken that is unrecognizable as chicken. My husband ordered a roast chicken breast stuffed with tomato confit. When his entree arrived he and I stared, flabbergasted. Beneath the ubiquitous mess o’ greens was something neither of us had ever seen before, something we hope we’ll never see it again.
Let’s see if I can describe this…
My husband to our server– “Uh, excuse me, I ordered roast chicken.”
Our server– “Yes. This is chicken.”
My husband, poking around with a fork– “It is? It doesn’t look anything like chicken. It looks like something…” (Words failed him.)
Our server– “Yes. It’s our version of roast chicken.”
Me, elbowing my husband– “I know what this is. This is Howard Wolowitz’s mother’s turbriskafil.”
Well, in my defense that’s what it looked like.
Do you remember when your kids were toddlers and you made your own baby food? I do. I had this little grinder/baby food maker and I kept it near the table. When I’d serve chicken I’d stick pieces of chicken into the grinder and turn the crank. The chicken came out all smooshed– chicken paste. That’s what this looked like, chicken paste.
So what my husband had in his giant bowl were three rolls or a roulade of smooshed chicken. It looked as if someone had taken a boiled chicken breast, put it through a grinder and turned it into a paste the texture of Gefilte fish, which I suppose is sort of fitting since Passover begins in another week or two. Once the chicken was all pasty the chef spread it over what appeared to be sausage casings. He layered in a little tomato confit, which looked and tasted like liver, and then he rolled it up. This stuff, whatever it was, was super pale, not roasted or braised or sauteed or caramelized by any stretch of the imagination. It was cut into three pieces and stuck on end in the giant bowl. And then covered with a mess o’ greens.
I’m telling you, Howard Wolowitz’s mother’s turbriskafil.
It was the grossest thing I’ve ever seen in a restaurant.
The memory of this meal kept me up all night. Food will do that to me. I can obsess for days about either an extraordinary meal or a terrible meal. This was terrible. Damn, I hate flushing money down the drain.
***Guess the mystery food! Our also virtually nonexistent starter arrived covered with greens. My husband and I shared what was supposed to be: Poached Artichokes, Fromage Blanc, Hen of the Woods, Barigoule Emulsiona. (Found a tiny blob of cream cheese buried on the bottom of the bowl) The dish didn’t exactly arrive as described. However, the greens were topped with a mystery food. I’m good at identifying pretty much anything but neither my husband nor I could figure out this particular food. Whatever it was had been shaved so thin as to be almost transparent.
Here are the details:
It was white-ish in color, 2 strips per bowl placed on top of the greens, each strip was approximately 2 1/2 inches long and 3/4 of an inch wide.
It was raw.
The flavor was vaguely root vegetable and a little off-putting. But it was definitely not a raw parsnip, not an apple, not a pear, for sure not a lotus root. No sweetness. No tartness. I caught some slight nuttiness.
My husband thought it was cheese when he first looked at it, but the texture was cellulose, so it was a plant.
My thoughts – Celery root? Jerusalem artichoke?
Suggestions? Once I get your ideas I’ll call the restaurant and find out what it actually was.
My husband is a big fan of scallops. Me? Not so much. I hate biting into a piece of grit and scallops tend to be gritty/sandy. Regardless of my personal feelings about scallops, once in a while I’m willing to prepare them. I try to solve the grit problem by rinsing them gently in cold water and then soaking them in a citrus marinade – turning the bag frequently – hoping any remaining grit will work its way out.
Be aware – if you leave seafood/fish in a citrus marinade too long the citrus will cook the seafood/fish and you’ll have ceviche. Which is edible, more or less. Although I like sushi and sashimi I’m not into ceviche. Tastes like fish mush to me.
So, anywhooo – I waited until the last minute to clean and marinate the scallops. In the meantime I made my marinade – the juice of three lemons, 1/4 cup or so of honey, 1 Tbs. cumin and 1 tsp. chili flakes.
I also soaked my golden raisins in a couple Tbs. of rice wine (for the cauliflower salad), and roasted my head of garlic for the white bean puree.
I roasted a dismembered head of cauliflower with two sliced shallots. So what you do is break up the cauliflower and slice the shallots. Spread them on a baking sheet, drizzle on olive oil, sprinkle on kosher salt, pepper and a little superfine sugar and let roast until the cauliflower begins to brown.
When the cauliflower is done, remove from the oven and pour everything into a plastic bag. Stick in the fridge until ready to serve.
Making the white bean puree – drain and rinse one can of white beans. Pour them into a food processor along with the roasted garlic, 1 Tbs. of Zatar spice, 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. coarse ground black pepper, 1 Tbs. olive oil. Puree until just a little chunky. Set aside until ready to prepare plate.
An hour before you are ready to serve, rinse scallops and put into a plastic bag. Pour over the marinade and refrigerate. Turn bag frequently. Heat saute pan. Add a little butter or olive oil. When hot, reduce the heat to medium and add scallops. Cook maybe 3-4 minutes per side, depending upon the size of the scallops – until they get a little brown.
While the scallops are cooking prepare the plates. Spread several Tbs. of white bean puree on each plate. Sprinkle over smoked paprika.
Drain the golden raisins. Mix them with the roasted cauliflower and shallots along with 2 Tbs. drained capers. Spoon around the white bean puree.
Set hot scallops onto the white bean puree and serve with a green salad. (I actually prepared cold crispy green beans with toasted almonds.)
So I stopped by Whole Foods the other day to pick up some probiotics. I don’t often shop at Whole Foods, not because of the prices – Whole Foods in our community realized they’d have to keep their prices in line with the other grocery stores if they wanted to remain competitive. I don’t often shop there because the parking lot is the essence of hell.
Regardless of how much I detest that parking lot, I found myself at Whole Foods. I noticed free-range chickens were on sale for $1.99 a pound. I figured… Why not? I’ll roast two chickens and see where they take me.
Brown-Butter Herb-Roasted Chicken with Sweet Potato Tzimmes.
I grabbed sage, rosemary, thyme and parsley from my herb garden. Dropped the herbs into a pot with one stick of butter and simmered the butter until it turned into brown butter.
Meanwhile, I peeled and diced 1 large yam and 2 small apples. Diced up 6 baby Yukon gold potatoes, peels on, sliced a sweet onion and mixed the veggies together with maybe a dozen pitted prunes I had left over from some other dish. I stuck them in the bottom of a roasting pan, sprinkled on salt, pepper and a couple teaspoons of superfine sugar – tzimmes is a sweet dish.
I placed the chickens on top of the veggies, loosened the skin over the chicken breasts and spread part of the browned butter-herb mixture beneath the skin, drizzled the remainder over the two chickens.
Then I seasoned the chicken skin with dried sage, paprika, cumin, black pepper, kosher salt and annatto. I stuck in a meat thermometer, covered everything lightly with foil and baked at 350′ for maybe 3 hours – until the meat thermometer read 185′. I removed the foil and baked for an additional 10 minutes, then removed the chickens from the oven, covered them, and let them rest for 30 minutes.
When I was ready to serve I sliced up part of one of the chickens, spooned up some of the sweet potato tzimmes and served it with barely steamed asparagus.
Just Picked Salad Greens with Cold Sliced Chicken, Sundried Tomatoes, Sweet Potato Tzimmes and Asparagus with Green Peppercorn Dressing.
I picked a bunch of Japanese greens from my garden, piled them in the center of the plates. Sliced the breast of one chicken and layered the meat on top of the greens. Sliced the leftover asparagus into thin strips and layered this on top of the chicken. On one side of the greens I set a spoon of the cold tzimmes, on another side I set a spoon of marinated sundried tomatoes. I spooned the dressing into another corner of the plate.
Green Peppercorn Dressing – This is something you have to play by ear depending upon what you have in your fridge. Mix 1/2 cup buttermilk or sour cream with 1 scant Tbs. crushed green peppercorns, 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1/4 cup olive oil, a few pinches garlic powder, a few pinches sugar, and a couple handfuls (handsful?) of Asiago or Parmesan cheese. Whip it good. Serve immediately.
Shred all the remaining chicken. Mix with whatever you have available – barbecue sauce, salsa, tomato sauce – whatever. I used a little over half a cup of spicy barbecue sauce. Drain remaining vegetables. Stick in a food processor or blender with 1 can of pinto beans or black beans. Blend until it has the consistency of refried beans.
I prefer raw tortillas because they are very thin and light. One of the grocery stores in town carries raw tortillas. I had some on hand. So I used my fry pan – no oil necessary – to cook them. I stacked them after they were cooked through, covered them with a clean dish towel, and set them aside until I was ready to put together the enchiladas.
So you need 1 large can of red enchilada sauce – which I always have in my pantry – grated cheese and diced onions. To prepare the enchiladas spray the baking pans with nonstick cooking spray. Spread some enchilada sauce over the bottom of each pan. (One can is good for two pans of enchiladas.) Hold the tortilla in your hand. Spread on a few Tbs. of the bean mixture, couple Tbs. of the chicken, sprinkle on some chopped onion and a few Tbs. of grated cheese. Roll up and press, rolled side down, into the baking dish. Fill the baking dish. Cover with remaining sauce and sprinkle on remaining grated cheese. Bake at 350′ for 20-25 minutes. This made two pans. I stuck one in the freezer.
While the enchiladas are heating through, dice up one small head of iceberg lettuce, 1 bunch of green onions, 1/2 bunch of cilantro, 2 tomatoes, 2 avocados, and 1-2 jalapenos – seeded, ribs removed. Layer in a large bowl.
Dish up the bubbly enchiladas and serve with the cold crunchy greens and sour cream or crema fresca.
Yum! Yum! Yum!
Sorry I don’t have pics. We ate everything too fast.
Mine’s doing well! Waiting for the potatoes and shallots to come up, and must hold off before I plant tomatoes, eggplant and chilies, but the rest is going gangbusters!
I do love gardening. It’s so satisfying to grow your own.