Finding time to cook at home as of late has almost been next to impossible, but I am trying to make time for it.
On Tuesday I was talking to one of my fish purveyors and he mentioned he had some Spanish Mackerel. The first thing I said was " I wish that I could sell it, nobody will buy it." Even though I love Mackerel people seem to have a preconceived notion about it being fishy and oily. I then gave explicit instructions to send one fish and one fish only with a note attached to it DO NOT TOUCH. You see, this fish was for me and Melissa and I didn't want an overeager line cook getting his hands on it. I had a plan and an idea of what I wanted to cook at home. That dish would be simple and flavorful, yet light and heavy all in the same breath.
I love to cook but another important part of my job as a chef is to pass on knowledge. I feel that it is important for everyone to remember that most everything we consume as protein has a face. So while I went about taking care of the rest of the meal Melissa learned how to break down a fish with a little guidance.
She is a natural, barely leaving any meat on the bones. What meat was left we scraped off with a spoon for or audience of kitties eagerly awaiting for the "leavins".
While Melissa was honing her skills as a poissonier, I was starting the ragout/stew/one-pot meal. I have a tendency to use every pot and pan that we own when I cook. (I am seriously considering a second dishwasher.) What better to start with but some house-made bacon from Motor, onions, garlic, and some cabbage that was floating around in the fridge?
After a few minutes of rendering the bacon and sweating the vegetables some French green lentils entered the pot, followed by a bunch of water and what ever herb stem I had lying around. Cover and simmer. Drink Ten Cane rum and Mexi-coke. Repeat. Check lentils. As soon as the lentils became tender I placed the mackerel on top of the ragout and covered again. I wanted the fish to be as light as possible so steaming the fish seemed like the best course of action.
Another cocktail down and the fish was cooked to perfection. The only thing missing was the fat--oh fat, how I love thee! Instead of butter I decided to drown the ragout with really good olive oil. If there is one thing that every kitchen should have it is a good E.V.O.O--the difference between grocery store and gourmet is staggering.
Instead of wine we split a Blond beer whose maker is escaping me know. Simple and awesome, with very little clean up. I loved this dish.
What happened to the kitchens? Melissa and I recently went through our own home search. We have been to new and older houses, some nice and some . . . . ehhhh. In our price range it seems that builders neglect this important detail. One house, pretty decent otherwise, had a kitchen suitable only for microwaving a frozen lasagna and plugging in a Mr. Ice Tea Man:
Melissa: "If we can't comfortably cook a three-course dinner for four to six people, it's not an option."
Real Estate Agent: "Ummm. Ok. Is that something you guys do often?"
Off we went. On to the next nice house with not-nice kitchen overflowing with electrical sockets but lacking room on the counter for pie dough and no possibility for safely maneuvering a heavy stock pot filled with hot stew.
In my experience the kitchen is an important place of gathering. The most enjoyable times in my week are when Melissa and I cook at the house. The background sounds of the restaurant and the repartee of cursing line cooks are replaced by light music, the sound of a knife chopping, and the sizzle of a saute pan. With a nice glass of wine alongside my cutting board we buzz around each other having warm conversation. It is way better than heating up frozen chicken pot pie and watching the Food Network from the couch.
From Shandon, Rosewood, Earlewood, and points beyond we traveled and turned our snooty elitist kitchen noses up to the sky. I think our journey has finally come to an end. We stumbled upon Keenan Terrace, a small neighborhood close to Earlewood, which holds many 1940s bungalows that have remarkably good-sized kitchens and loads of charm. Plus, we'll have five mature pecan trees to harvest, for pecan pie year-round.
I can't wait to cook our first meal in the house--I think it will be some sort of homey goodness that will reflect the charm of the house and my mood at the time. I can assure you that the first drink in the house will be a bottle of bubbles to calm my shaking hands after closing. Pictures of our first meal as homeowners forthcoming.
It probably will be duck, that first meal. There's something about duck that always satisfies.
Sitting on my motorcycle in the afternoon heat I started thinking about dinner. Mondays are a sacred day in our house because Motor Supply is closed and I can partially shut down. The temp was about 120 under my helmet and the last thing I wanted was a heavy heavy meal. EarthFare here I come.
Walking in I spied some beautiful artichokes and a glimmer of a smile crossed my lips. Memories of artichoke fields in Burgundy shot through my mind and the theme of dinner was set. Dinner would be French-inspired and served cold.
Here is a quick run down. Most importantly, don't confuse fresh artichokes with those metallic bastardized ones in the can. They are hardly fit for human consumption. (I much prefer oil-marinated artichokes.) The history of the artichoke dates back to the Greeks. They were said to have been made by Zeus when he cast his lover out of Olympia back to earth in the form of a flower. Yes, I said "flower," and a rather large and prickly one at that. If allowed to open an arthichoke would measure about 7 inches across.
Looks like an unopened flower, huh?
Chokes, as I like to call them, are easy to prepare. First, cut off the top about an inch and a half down with a very sharp knife. Scrape away at the stems with a vegetable peeler.
Next, use a melon baller to remove the innards. This process is a little tricky to get started, just use a little more force then you might think you need. Make sure that you scrape the inside clean and remove all the thread-like strands.