Queen Grits: Scallops, Shrimp, Serrano Ham, and Ouzo Cream with Chives

DSCN4681There are a handful of pseudo-cliches I could start this posting with, like “you can take a girl out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of a girl”, and “once a redneck always a redneck,” and “roots run deep” – but I couldn’t possibly do that, could I?  Instead, I’ll straight up admit it: I love shrimp and grits.  It’s a classic dish o’ mine, stemming from a season working at Jim Shaw’s on Vineville after college, where they serve their grits as a side dish, but where the perfect compatibility of shellfish and hominy first entered my consciousness.  A few years later, in the Florida pan-handle, I enjoyed the Boss Grits at Boss Oyster, the first time I’d seen OTHER stuff thrown into the bowl – like bits o’ pork and a sweet white sauce.  Tonight’s dinner is a variation on this theme: succulent shrimp and seared scallops atop cheddar grits with sauteed Serrano ham and my favorite ouzo cream.  The meal is warm and satisfying, steaming and buttery, fragrant and briny, unctuous and sweet: a perfect plate, in less than 30 minutes.  If you’ve never married grits to sea critters before, I urge you to correct that discrepancy in your gastronomic resume.  You’ll be glad that you did.


Cheddar Grits with Shrimp, Scallops, Serrano Ham, Chives, and Ouzo Cream Sauce

1 cup grits
4 1/2 cups water, salted
4 tbs butter
1/4# slab Serrano ham (about 1/2″ thick)
4 large shrimp
2 large scallops
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup cream
1/2 cup Ouzo
3 tbs chopped fresh chives
sea salt, cracked black pepper, Adobo seasoning, paprika

DSCN4669This is, at heart, a very simple meal.  I start by getting a few tablespoons of butter melting in my largest non-stick fry pan, while I get my water boiling for my grits on the back burner.

DSCN4670Once the foam has subsided, I throw my chopped Serrano ham into the lightly browned fat to saute and crisp.

DSCN4671Moving these meat bits around often, I toast them up really good.  I add a dash of black pepper and some paprika to the pan as well, which combines with the smoked pork to make a dizzying aroma.

DSCN4672Once my water comes to a boil, I stir in my grits well, lower the temperature to simmer, and cover the pan for about 10 minutes – reaching in to stir only once or twice.

DSCN4673I wish I had a flat grill, but alas.  Instead, I’m crafty.  I push all my cooked ham to one side of my pan, which I slide off the burner and balance on the raised edge of my stove – which is at the same height as the burner itself.  This leaves an exposed half of my pan directly over the heat, and allows my pork to stay warm but without the element underneath.  When you have a crappy kitchen, you learn to improvise.

DSCN4674On the exposed surface of the pan, which is still glistening with porkypaprika-y goodness, I layer my shrimp (which I’ve peeled to just the end of the tail) and my scallops, which I’ve sprinkled with salt and pepper.  I let them sear for about 3 minutes on each side, until the shrimp is perfectly opaque, and my scallops are seared to a crispy golden brown exterior.

DSCN4675Meanwhile, my grits are cooked perfectly, so I toss in 1 tbs butter and all my shredded cheddar cheese, which I mix in well.  I also add a dash of Adobo seasoning – which has garlic and pepper in it as well as salt. This I blend well until all the cheese is melted.

DSCN4676At the last few moments, I remove my proteins from the pan, and put them aside on a warm dish.  I put the pan back on the burner, add my last tablespoon of butter until it melts, then in goes my sweet sweet ouzo.  I let this reduce for about a minute over high heat.

DSCN4677In goes my cream, which I whisk in very well, leaving the heat on high so it can bubble and boil.

DSCN4678It thickens nicely.

DSCN4679A steaming mound of warm, sharp cheddar grits are surrounded by a pool of fennel scented rich cream.  Mounded on top of this tempting pile are the buttery shrimp, sweet seared scallops, and salty crispy-edged tidbits of Spanish jamon, scattered with the mild oniony tang of snipped chives.  Wholesome, delicious, and heart-warming.  What better for a weeknight dinner after a long day’s work?

Creamed Corn Skillet with Flounder, Beets, Bacon, and Cilantro Oil

DSCN4255I get my inspiration for dinner in all sorts of random ways.  Sometimes just a whiff of something wafting through the air will remind me of a ghost of flavors past.  Sometimes a color engenders a need for the flesh of something similarly hued.  But usually, I trawl food porn websites like Tastespotting or FoodGawker (neither of which has ever accepted any of my photos for their site — a challenge I will continue to try to overcome!) for images that get my juices running.  I also skim the menus for restaurants I can’t afford and try to make what I read there, so that I can enjoy their chef’s imagination without having to pay those prices (sorry peeps, we’re on a *very* tight budget these days).  For this meal, I have The Phantom Gourmet to thank – sort of.  I often have their TV show on local Boston-area restaurants playing in the background while I’m futzing around on Sunday mornings.  Sometimes they have my complete attention, but more often than not I just hear what they’re talking about — and that’s what happened here.  I vaguely overheard something about creamed corn, and something about a skillet — and that’s all I needed.  Creamed corn is one of my favorite side dishes, hailing from my mother-in-law’s down-home redneck kitchen; she’d pick the corn herself from their garden and spent hours and hours creaming it and freezing it in gallon bags to eat throughout the year.  I never went to visit without picking up a few frosty sacks of that golden goodness, but now that we live 2000 miles away I have to make it myself.  And although I LOVE her simple Southern recipe, I have made some adjustments to mine to amp up the deliciousness to Lolita standards.  In this case, a piping hot cast iron skillet blisters a healthy serving of cheesy creamy corn, topped with some flaky pan-seared flounder, chunks of bacon, gemstones of purple beets, and an artful drizzle of bright, herbaceous cilantro oil.  A filling but also light warm winter’s night meal, wholesome and delicious.  I think Rose, my mother in law, were she here in Boston instead of down in rural Georgia, would agree.

Creamed Corn Skillet with Flounder, Beets, Bacon, and Cilantro Oil

1 bag frozen yellow corn
4 slices bacon
2 beets
1 bunch cilantro
3/4 lb flounder filets
1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
1 cup heavy cream
4 tbs butter, divided
2″ sprig fresh rosemary
sea salt, cracked black pepper
flour for dusting
juice of 1 lemon

DSCN4238My beets will take the longest, so I get them started by scrubbing them clean.  I’m really only planning to use a few little cubes — I have a vision, y’see? — but cooked beets hold well so I’ll use the leftovers tomorrow in a salad.  (I know I said I hate leftovers, but beets are an exception, since they taste as good cold as warm.)

DSCN4243They get doused in EVOO, salt, and pepper, and paired with my sprig of rosemary, then wrapped tightly in foil paper.  I throw them in the oven on 350 for an hour or so – until they are tender enough to be easily pierced with a fork.  (In all honesty, I was baking cookies in the oven at the same time, and I sort of just let these go until I’d made all 6 batches.  You can’t really overcook a beet.   But I was worried that my cookies would taste like rosemary, since the oven was so redolent with the scent … they didn’t.)  It takes beets a while to cool, so I let them do so on the counter for about 20 minutes, so I could peel them and dice them before setting them aside.

DSCN4240Next, I remove the leaves from a bunch of cilantro and throw them into my blender thingy.  I add about 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), a squeeze of lemon juice, some salt and pepper, and a blend the hell out of it until I have a thick green viscous liquid.

DSCN4241Using my mesh spoon, I strain the green oil from its solids…

DSCN4242… using a spoon to press as much flavor and color out as possible.  I pour the oil into a squeeze bottle.  The rest of the green delish mush can be frozen and used to flavor something needing a pop of cilantro paste later.

DSCN4245Time for the creamed corn.

DSCN4246It all starts with bacon.  I chop my slices up roughly, and fry the bits out with lots of black pepper.

DSCN4247I remove the bacon to a paper plate to drain, then wipe most of grease out – leaving about a teaspoon of fat and as much of the toasted black pepper as possible in the pan as well.

DSCN4250I then set the heat to medium low, add the corn, cream, and grated cheese to the pan and get everything to a low simmer.

DSCN4251As that heats, I prep my flounder.  This huge filet came from Whole Foods today.  I had to trim a bit o’ skin off one edge, but it was a beautiful piece of fish.

DSCN4252As is easiest – and often best – with flounder, I toss it with salt, pepper, and flour…

DSCN4253… and pan-sear it in brown butter over high heat for about 4 minutes on each side.

This last bit went really fast, and I didn’t get to catch the picture.  After my fish is fully cooked, I move the pan off the heat, and place my two 8″ skillets onto two hot burners on my stovetop.  Using my hand blender, I whir a cup of my creamed corn into a thick mush before returning it to its saucepan for a hearty stir.  Then I pour half of the corn into each skillet – which are now hot – bringing the liquid gold to a bursting, bubbling boil.

DSCN4256I layer my planks of tender seared flounder over my thick, rich cheese and corn gravy.  A handful of perfect ruby beet cubes provide cool bites of sweetness, while the unctuous chunks of bacon stud the dish with salt and savor.  Generous squirts of cilantro oil add green to the visual and grass notes to the palate.  The sizzling pans keep the meal hot until the last bite, which Clayton and I scraped up with some crusty buttered bread.  I  need to use these cast iron babies more often, because every time I do, magic like this happens.

Fish and Corn Chowder, Semi-Deconstructed

I have the Claytonhusband to thank for this meal; it was his idea, more or less.  Y’see, out on the farm, he digs up all sorts of lovely veggies, and sometimes they trigger his gastronomic imagination.  Potatoes are the newest crop he’s pulling from the earth, and their heirloom selves have been appropriately misshapen and deliciously ugly.  He fished out two particularly bulbous spuds and proclaimed them dinner, suggesting that something could be served in them were they to be rendered ‘bowl-like’, and wouldn’t something chowdery and fish-like be nice.  Along with two huge cobs of the season’s last sweet corn, that was all Lolita needed.  Witness my semi-deconstructed corn and fish chowder: a rich, sweet corn milk, crispy cubes of pancetta, and pan-roasted haddock piled atop a massive baked potato skin, and topped with snips of chives.  Warm, rich, and delicious – perfect for a chilly autumn evening.

Fish and Corn Chowder

2 large ears fresh corn
1/2 gallon milk
cracked black pepper
2 medium or 1 very large russet potato
1/2 lb pancetta, diced
3 small shallots
1 yellow carrot
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch chives
1 lb fresh haddock (or cod, or pollack, or schrod – any flaky white fish will do)

This picture is very suggestive.  Of deliciousness, that is!  Each of these spuds is about the size of a newborn baby’s head, and the corn the size of my forearm.  The Clayton grows some good veggies.

I start by shucking and de-silkifying my corn cobs, then using my potato peeler to scrape the kernels out.  Next time I’ll do this inside a large pastic bag instead of over a bowl; I got corn bits and juice EVERYWHERE.   The kernels I reserve for later, but the cobs get put into play right away.

I totally have to shout out to Rooftop Gourmet, who largely guided this recipe with their very similar “Pan Roasted Cod in Fresh Corn Chowder” post back in April.  In particular, the above technique of boiling corn cobs in milk really lit my fire — I’d never considered that before, although it seems so basic and natural I rather feel like a heel for not knowing about it prior to this posting.  It yielded what can only be called “corn milk” – a richly, thickly, butter n’ sugar sweet corn flavored lactic dream. I set my 1/2 gallon of milk and my two denuded cobs into a large soup-pot and simmered them together with a healthy sprinkling of black pepper for about an hour – skimming the skin off the top periodically.  Meanwhile, I rinsed, dried, wrapped in foil, and set my two potatoes in my preheated to 400° oven to bake for the same hour.

Pancetta is a wonderful thing.  It’s a smoked, spiced, and rolled pork belly – an Italian bacon.  Harvard Square’s legendary gourmet shop  Cardullo’s purveyed this healthy chunk to me, at a surprisingly (for them) reasonable price.  I dice it into chunks…

… then chuck them chunks into a pan to sear until crispy.

Once I’ve got a nice crispy sear on my pancetta, I remove the bits from the pan – keeping 2 or so tablespoons of the rendered fat in the pan and holding the rest to the side for later – and add in my diced aromatics: my shallots, garlic, and one large yellow carrot from the farm.  I had several orange carrots, too – but I thought that the yellow would work better with the color scheme of this meal.

I sauté this mix of earth-grown goodness until all the bits have started to sweat and soften.

Then I add the reserved corn kernels, stir well, and let saute for a few moments.  This is the flavorful base of the corn chowder.

Now comes the corn-milk, which has been simmering for an hour now, and which tastes just like farm-fresh corn.  I pour about 4 cups into the pan, and bring everything back to a simmer.

 My potatoes are ready, too.  I cut them in half, then scoop out the majority of their inner flesh, leaving two large bowls which I oil up with some of the pancetta drippings before throwing them back in the oven to crisp up a bit.

 The pulled-out potato gets added to the chowder.  It’s now a full-fledged soup, but I let it continue to simmer and thicken a bit, since I don’t want it too watery on my plate.  I taste it often, though – ‘cuz I can’t help myself – and adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper until it tastes perfect.

 I didn’t really mean to, but I sort of reassembled my two haddock filets into the whole boneless fish.  This lovely lovely came from the Harvard Farmer’s Market fishmonger, Fresh Lobsters and Fish, owned and operated by Carolyn and Chris Manning.  I’ve enjoyed their excellent products before (see here and here), but this is the first time I’ve tried their haddock.

 Since these two filets are odd sizes, I trimmed them down into two roughly same-sized planks each, and chucked the scraps into the chowder to gently poach and flavor the soup.  The planks I salt, pepper, and dust with flour.

A pat of butter and the rest of my pancetta juice gets added to my small non-stick fry-pan, and heated over high-heat until the butter is completely melted and beginning to froth.

 Into the hot fat my fish planks go.  I sear them skin-side down for about 5 minutes…

 … before carefully flipping them to brown their top sides.  Oh my, but this looks delicious.

My potato skin cups are perfectly roasted and ready to go.  I salt and pepper them up thoroughly, then place them in the middle of my plates before spooning chowder all up in there.

Delicately pan-seared and balanced haddock filets top a rich, creamy, corn chowder served up in a potato bowl with crunchy, salty chunks of pancetta studded throughout.  Each bite is both familiar – as chowder is to all we New Englanders – and surprising, since the flavors don’t blend until they come together on the tongue.  The buttery crisp edges of the flaky white fish compliment the tough-tender spud skin and its pillowy soft interior, while the milky soup stays warm and hearty as it waits to be gobbled up with both fork and spoon.  Clayton’s initial idea, a fellow-blogger’s inspiration, and Lolita’s interpretation: a meeting of minds, a medley of flavors, and one absolutely marvelous meal.

Seafood Sunday! Steamed Crab Legs and Shrimp with Molten Parmesan Polenta

Most of the time, when I want shellfish, I want it as simply prepared as possible, since it tastes so damn good just the way it is.  Shrimp and crab legs in particular (and lobster, of course) are best, in Lolita’s world, when they’ve been steamed or boiled, and then served with melted butter.  I’ve had them made in myriad other ways, too, and enjoyed it – but if I see “boiled shrimp” on a menu, I go gaga.  They can be expensive, though, and here in Boston they cost $2-$2.25 *each* when purchased at a raw bar.  That’s why I make them myself; at even $16/lb for the large 16/20 count shrimp (that means there are between 16-20 shrimp per pound), I’m saving a ton of money — which means I can buy and eat more shrimp!  On Sunday, during a foray south to the sleepy little metropolis that is New Bedford, MA, to visit their thrilling whaling museum, we foraged through the industrial waterfront area seeking a seafood market that sold to the public.  Boy oh boy, did we find one!  The perfectly plump shrimp and long, shapely snow crab legs you see above were so sparkling fresh, that they needed very little by way of accouterments other than a simple beer and spice infused steambath- but Lolita whipped together a fun and flavorful parmesan polenta overflowing with a creamy cheese sauce anyway, just to add a little starch to this swimmingly spectacular meal of fruits from the sea.

Steamed Crab Legs and Shrimp with Molten Parmesan Polenta

1lb snow crab legs
1lb 12/15 count tiger shrimp
2 cans/bottles of beer
whole peppercorns, fresh cracked pepper, juniper berries, sea salt, bay leaves
2 cups polenta
heavy cream
grated parmesan cheese
1 1/2 sticks butter
truffle salt

New Bedford is a rather economically depressed little town, which is sad, considering its rich history.  I betcha not many people outside of Massachusetts are really hip to it, unless they’ve been lucky enough to read Moby Dick. It’s an American masterpiece for a reason; for those of you who’ve never tried, or have tried and failed, to read the novel, I encourage you to READ MELVILLE.  I realize that, as a lifelong student and lover of literature, I’m hard-wired to read where many fear to tread, but Melville’s voice is one every person on the planet should hear in their own heads as they absorb the words off his pages.  Moby Dick may be a whale of a book, but it is a work of incredible beauty and of almost divine grace, a story which captures the motion and passions of the sea, and harnesses it for its readers to ride to dizzying heights and soulful depths.

Fleet Fisheries Fisherman’s Market might have been one of Melville’s favorite places to shop for seafood, if he weren’t at sea himself (and dead and buried these past 120 years).  Their storefront, hidden in the back of their warehouse with an unobtrusive signpost pointing the way to an unassuming single door leading in, was like the TARDIS – I expected a small counter and a cramped cooler with a couple of fish in it, and instead I was greeted by a huge white space chock full of iced shelves bursting with tons of fish in various states of deshabille – whole to gutted to filleted to cooked.  And the prices!  $14/lb for  12/15 count shrimp! (Those are usually $21-$25/lb at Whole Foods.)  $8.99 for snow crab legs!  Shut the front door!  Less than $30 later, Clayton and I had the makings of a killer seafood feast.  It may be worth the hour and a half drive down there to shop again…

Just look at that plump, beautiful shrimp.  We got about 20 from our 1.25 lb, so Clayton and I were pleased as punch.

Now those are some legs, baby!  Two clusters, each with five legs and one handsome claw.  These are, of course, not harvested anywhere near the Massachusetts coastline — they come from much farther up north, as anyone who watches “Deadliest Catch” knows — but given the major seaport that New Bedford still represents, they can bring them in in bulk and pass the savings on to voracious leg-lovers like me.

Nothing goes better with shellfish than beer.  I’ve been drinking this Session Black Lager lately with gusto, and El Claytonious has been enjoying the ubiquitous, and local, Narragansett tallboys.  I used one of each in my boil.  Why?  Because we each only had two beers left, and the day was early, and we were too lazy to head to the store for more.  I don’t recommend using a port or stout or barley wine or anything too heavy for a beer boil, but lagers do provide a surprisingly good flavor base.  It’s not the alcohol, it’s the hops and malt that infuse the tender meat inside these exoskeletons with flavah.  I pop both open and dump them in my pasta boiler/steamer pot.

I also add about 1 quart of water, some peppercorns, juniper berries, bay leaves, and a healthy amount of salt.  All this gets set over the burner and brought to a boil – which takes a little while (considering how much liquid there is, and how cold my beers were).

Shrimp and grits are standard house fare at Lolita’s, but I try to shake it up from time to time with some polenta – grits’ less ground-up cousin.  2 cups of corn meal whisked into 3 cups of boiling salted water gets me started, and I cover this and reduce the heat to low so everything can simmer and thicken.

Now that my shellfish boil is roiling, I add my shrimp to the deep pasta pan and lower them into the beerwater.

I then put my crab legs into the shallow steamer basket, fit that on top of the pot (above the shrimp), and then cover.  This only needs about 5 minutes to cook, which is good – since my polenta is almost ready.

It’s nice and stiff, the corn toothsome but no longer hard, and I add a tablespoon of butter and some parmesan cheese.  But it’s too dry for me, and I want something more creamy and flavorful.

At the last moment, I decide to whip up a quick simple parmesan cheese sauce with about a cup of heavy cream set over medium heat to simmer, about 1/2 a cup of grated cheese, and some black pepper, sea salt, and a scratch or two of fresh nutmeg.  I whisk all this together and allow it to thicken slightly.

Our assortment of weapons, and our baths of butter.  I add a few dashes of truffle salt to my butter (because I’m decadent that way), and Clayton starts banging his shellfish forks on the table, demanding his dinner.  (My favorite is the furthest fork, with the wee little tines on one end, and the lobster-clawed, inner-knife-edged cracking/splitting apparatus on the other end.)

To moltenize my polenta, I first dished it up into a buttered 6oz ramekin to set the form – which only took a moment or so.  I then carved out the center of the form, removing a wine-cork sized plug from the middle, into which I poured my parmesan cheese sauce.  The result?  A delicious and fun to eat mountain of sweet/salty corn grits spilling over and out with a creamy river of omygoditsogoodness.  My perfectly boiled shrimp and steaming hot crab legs are redolent of only the best parts of beer, with a little kick and sweetness from the juniper and pepper berries.  The truffle butter bath is the perfect dipping sauce for my firm white thumbs of shrimp, and it dribbles lazily down my chin from the threads of my hard-won crab leg meat.  I should have dashed some chopped parsley or green onions over the plate for presentation purposes, but damn it if I wasn’t too hungry for this meal to waste the time with flair.  Sometimes, it’s the simplest things that make the most wonderful in the mouth.

Grilled Veal Chops, Sweet Buttered Corn, and Heirloom Tomato Caprese

A summer’s night dinner on Lolita’s deck in Cambridge is always a delight, but after a day of bicycling through Boston it’s even better!  We had planned on having guests tonight, but alas, said plans fell through – so the husbandman and I decided to take a whirl around town straddling our steel and spoke steeds to see what sort of goodness we could find.  Starting by riding along the Charles, then zooming past the Museum of Science, tripping by the canal locks under the Zakim heading towards the Garden, skirting by Charlestown on Commercial Avenue, turning into the labyrinth North End, sailing along the Rose Kennedy Greenway, speeding across the Northern Avenue Bridge, passing the pedestrians into South Boston, gliding along the South Bay Harbor Trail to the newly developed Fan Pier, and settling into a lunch at the new Legal Seafoods Harborside: about 7 quick, city miles full of sights and sounds and smells and sea-fresh air.  On our way back home, we re-visited the North End to buy something special to eat with the fresh veggies from the farm waiting in our fridge.  We ended up with heaven: fresh, elegant, and easy for our al fresco dinner under the darkening sky.

Grilled Veal Chops, Corn, and Heirloom Tomato Caprese

2 12oz veal chops
2 ears fresh super-sweet corn
1 boll fresh mozzarella
2 large cucumbers from the garden
2 bright Heirloom tomatoes
5oz Greek yoghurt
1 bunch fresh mint
4 tbs minced red onion
fresh basil
good balsamic vinegar
sea salt and black pepper
white bread and fresh butter

I had two things to buy: meat and mozzarella.  The first item I hunted for here, at the Sulmona Meat Market, a bastion of butchery still serving the North End after 40 years in the business.  It has taken me a while to learn how to order meat at one of these tiny shops: when one enters, one sees that the counters and cases are surprisingly bare, and for most of us accustomed to portioned steaks and chops and ribs cut in all manner of ways displayed prettily in oxygenated glass refrigerators to make the meat redder and more “meat-looking,” the lack of product is disconcerting.  I admit, the first few times I walked in to see what they had, I walked back out again – a little unsure how to proceed when there were no prices and no product.  But this time, I persevered.

The two men pictured above were the day’s butchers.  The younger guy in the back (who was, I must admit, unexpectedly easy on the eyes – I hope the 6-foot tall blonde wife he was describing isn’t reading this) kept disappearing into the old-fashioned wooden-doored walk-in, emerging moments later with huge hunks of perfect meat in his hands for his customer.  I asked the older gentleman what they had in stock; he asked me what I wanted.  I said I didn’t know, but did he have pork?  Did he have beef?  Did he have lamb?  He said yes he had pork.  Yes he had beef.  Yes he had lamb.  Humph – he wasn’t making it easy. But watching the other guy come in and out, it suddenly struck me: he probably had a veritable menagerie of barn-yard animals back there, all just waiting to be *freshly* cut to order.  He was’t going to haul a whole carcass out for me – I had to know what I wanted.  But all I knew was that we wanted to grill, and that I wanted something special, so I went through my mind’s register of elegant meats I’d not eaten in a while, and I finally blurted out “veal chops”.  He nodded sagely, slowly disappeared into the cooler, and reappeared a few minutes later with the sweetest pink side of veal I’d ever seen.

A whacking cleaver, a big-ass bone-saw, and a deftly handled chef’s knife later, and I had two perfect chops trimmed and wrapped and ready to be weighed.  At Whole Foods, veal like this would cost me $22/lb; at Savenor’s even more.

Using a pencil likely brought over on the Mayflower, my new best friend slowly inscribed the price of each of my two items (I also bought two links of sweet Italian sausage) on the inner wrapper, and using long-hand, he added up my price.  My veal weighed in at 1.5lbs, and at a miraculous $13 per pound, it cost less than $20!  The gamble – ordering hand cut meat from a butcher sight-unseen and price-unknown – paid off.  These would prove to be the best veal steaks I’d ever eaten, and for the best price I’ve ever paid!

I know my last post included Greek yoghurt, too, and that maybe I’m getting a little repetitive here, but that was a basil sauce for salmon, and this time I’m making a fresh cucumber, mint salad.

I start by peeling, slicing, and de-seeding my cukes — plucked just moments ago from the vines overhanging our roof-deck.  Clayton’s green thumb has never been more verdant.

A tutorial on how to chiffonade is never out of place; let’s do one here.  I’ve washed my mint leaves and patted them dry with paper towels, and now I’ve got them all stacked loosely together, stems aligned.

Then I take that bundle and roll it into a loose cigar.  Using my just sharpened chef’s knife, I slice as thinly as I can.

The results: crispy, very thin, very long ribbons of snappy, minty freshness.

Along with salt, pepper, and the yoghurt, I add my mint to a bowl with the cucumbers.

I mix the contents of the bowl together very well, adding more salt and pepper as needed to taste.  I also add some minced red onion.  Lemon zest would be good here, too – but I was out of lemons.  Curses!  Anyway, this goes into the fridge to chill.

The corn has also been a theme around here lately — it’s just so sweet, fresh, and good right now!  These two ears were specifically picked for us by the farmer from whom we purchased them; Clayton told him about my blogging, and he wanted to really put forth a good display.  (I’ll change the preceding sentence with info on the actual farmer and his farm once I get that info from my ol’ man.)  We grill them simply by just removing all the outer husk – leaving only the inner-most leaves intact – and placing them directly on the hot grill.   They take about 25 minutes, so we give them a small head-start over the veal which will only take 15 or so.

Speaking of veal – here’s how the steaks look just sprinkled with pepper and basking in the early evening’s setting sun.  Pepper is all these babies need; veal is so tender and delicious on its own, and I really wanted to enjoy just the unadulterated flavor of the meat.  Besides, my thought is that the cucumber salad will be a lovely accompaniment to this dish – sort of a riff on lamb and tzatziki.

These lovely heirloom tomatoes – one a black crimson, I think, and the other a big yellow –  hail from Kimball’s Fruit Farm stand.  If the tomatoes I’m eating I haven’t grown myself, then I’ve purchased them from these guys — they really know their fruit!

I mentioned earlier that the only other thing I needed to buy for this meal was mozzarella cheese, and the North End helped me out there, too.  The Cheese Shop at 20 Fleet Street is the new incarnation of Purity Cheeses, which was closed when it’s bona-fide wise-guy goodfella owner got indicted for something decidedly non-cheese related (unless you use “cheese” as a euphemism for laundered money).

These three beautiful bundles of lactic dreaminess cost $9; it is the best goshdurn cheese in the state.  Sorry, artisanal cheese-producers selling your stuff at farmer’s markets and at chi-chi restaurants – previously Purity has got you beat.

A caprese salad might be a tired concept – showing up as it does *everywhere* – but more often than not these days it’s made with crappy, tasteless tomatoes, pre-packaged pesto sauce, dry, rubbery mozzarella cheese, and “ay-tail-E-anne” dressing.  When it’s made with real quality ingredients like these rich, sweet, meaty heirloom tomatoes, my own garden’s abundant Italian basil, true fresh mozzarella gently formed from curds and floating in brine, nutty EVOO and thick, viscous balsamic vinegar – it is a revelation.  Topped with some exotic flakes of black salt (blended with volcanic ash, a gift from my sweet sister), this colorful salad is as strikingly beautiful as it is devastatingly delicious.

I plate this next to a cold mountain of my creamy, minty, crispy cucumbers.

After 10 minutes on the grill, my peppered veal steaks are browning perfectly, and are ready to flip.  The smell of sizzling meat is making me salivate.

We’ve been rolling the corn around pretty regularly, too, so it can cook on all sides.  The husks become nice and papery, and the silks crisp and dry.  It only takes a moment, when the cobbs are ready, to peel back the paper and string and snap everything off at the base, leaving nothing but hot, steaming corn ready to be rolled in butter.

Now that’s a plate.  Sorry, my dear friends who didn’t make it to dinner tonight (we’ll reschedule soon!) – but you missed something really amazing.  Except for the pat of butter adorning the corn (which we laid on our slice of bread, to give it a good place to wallow), there is very little fat on this filling and full platter of supper!  Lean veal, simply grilled, two light salads – both fresh and locally sourced – and super-sweet corn come together in a symphony of salubrious satisfaction.   Well worth the 14 miles biked there and back, this repast is a rich reward for another work week down, and just the right way to rev ourselves up for the work week just on the other side of Sunday.  As the sun slowly sets in the west, streaking the sky with brilliant azure and fierce crimson, Clayton and I tuck into our dinners with enthusiasm – oooohhhing and aaaahhhing on each outstanding bite.

Grilled Veal Chops, Corn, Cucumber Mint, and Heirloom Tomato Caprese

Weeknight Wondermeal: Pork Chops with Grilled Apricot n’ Raspberry Compote

Here’s what makes a “weeknight wondermeal” in Lolita’s vernacular: very few, very fresh, but easily accessible ingredients; quick prep and cook time; and low cost.  Here’s what made tonight’s meal: several items from the farmer’s market, 2 items from Whole Foods, and a handful of things from the pantry; 20 minutes; $20.  I’m talking meals I whip together without really thinking about it — dinner decided on a dime and in the moment — quick prep to plate time, so I can enjoy the lounging on the couch and the drinking of the post-work beer.  Tonight there was much lounging, and several beers, and then a quick whip through the kitchen and a short visit with Little Red, and goshdurnit if we didn’t have a damn good, snappy savory sweet buttery sugary satisfying supper.  Spiced pork chops covered with grilled apricots muddled with sweet-tart honeyed raspberries fresh from the farm, and super sweet corn rolled in buttered bread and truffled salt: both homey and elegant, rich and tart, bright and balanced.  And it goes well with beer.

Pork Chops with Grilled Apricot n’ Raspberry Compote

2 bone-in thick cut pork chops
1 pint farm fresh raspberries
3-4 fresh apricots
2 ears farm fresh corn
Japanese mystery spice
sesame oil
sea salt and black pepper
lemon juice
2 slices white bread
2 pats butter black truffle salt (optional)
scallions for garnish

These lovely raspberries are from Kimball’s Fruit Farm, located in Pepperell, MA, the best producers of heirloom tomatoes in the state, IMHO.  The  apricots are organic, from South Carolina, purchased at Whole Foods.  The corn was purchased at the Busa Farm Stand located in front of the historic Carty Barn just off Lexington Road (Rt. 2A) just outside of Concord.  It’s called “Supersweet” – and I can totally see why: it tasted like a Kellogg’s breakfast cereal (without the guilt).

And these are my lovely pork chops.  I asked my cool dude butcher to root around for two that each had both the rich, dark tenderloin and the leaner, lighter loin.  NICE.

My mystery spice: a gift from my dearest friend, who brought it home to me from a visit to Japan, in which there is a cacophony of flavors – salty, green, dare I say fishy?, sharp, spicy.  I will continue to snap pictures of its labels, in the hopes one of you, dear readers, will translate for me, and tell me what I’m eating.

Here’s the lid.  Whatever does it mean?

My pork has been liberally sprinkled with mystery spice, my apricots have been halved and pitted, and my corn has been stripped to just it’s innermost husks.  Everything goes out on Little Red, and the lid is lowered for 10 minutes.

After which time, my corn is ready to be turned (see the grill marks and browned kernels?)…

 … my chops to be flipped (see the lovely sear?), …

 … and my apricots to be pulled. I close the lid, and leave my corn and pork to cook for another 10 minutes, while I ready my quick compote.

My warm, grilled apricots are cubed and tossed with a handful of sweet, fresh raspberries, some salt and pepper, about 3 tablespoons of honey, a dash of sesame oil, and a squeeze of lemon juice.  This I very thoroughly roughly mix — a.k.a. “muddle” — which slightly crushes the berries and spreads the warmth of the pit fruit throughout the whole bowl.

A simple piece of white bread with a healthy pat of butter makes the perfect base for my incredibly sweet cob of fresh grilled corn.  The bread holds the butter in place, allowing me to roll my corn with its golden melting goodness all over.  A sprinkle of black truffle infused sea salt takes it up a notch.


My tender spiced pork chops are topped with the sweetartsavorywarm fruit sauce quick mixed from grilled apricots and red raspberries, thickened with honey, but nutty from sesame.  My sugar corn is buttery and umame, burstingly saccharin and blisteringly steamy.  The skies outside might be heavy with pending rain, but the sensation in my mouth is light, fresh, fruity, and delicious.

Deckside BBQ Pork, Potato Salad, and Grilled Corn Picnic

This summer has been a wee bit crazy for us; we’re very much the home-after-work, dinner, TV, sleep, work… type people.  A tight season for us financially, but we’ve enjoyed our staycation by virtue of the visitors who’ve peppered our summer: my mother, a young… kinswoman (how else do I describe my best friend’s lovely and compelling 17 year old daughter, no longer a precocious toddler, but as close to me as family?), and soon Clayton’s mother.  Combine these visits with some house-sitting out in the ‘burbs (air conditioning much appreciated, commute — not so much), a new job, fritzy internet service, and a flurry of other mundane-yet-maddening circumstances, and, well, I’ve been out of touch – and out of the kitchen.

But not tonight.  Tonight we spent the night at home.  Tonight we had clear skies, fresh meat, garden vegetables, and a hankering for satisfaction that we simply couldn’t leave unfulfilled.  A quick stop at Whole Foods for some ingredients, and dinner and a scant 3 hours later under the darkening canopy of the twilight sky.

I start with a pound of boneless “country-style” pork ribs.  This is a delightfully marbled and tender cut of meat, if cooked right.  I rub it heartily down with Cajun Foreplay.

I then wrap them tightly into a foil packet, and place them on the “cold” section of Little Red, my magical electrical grilling machine.

I love the hieroglyphs on Little Red… this pictographic language showing me how to cook my meal.  Frankly, there are three heat settings, and a tilting heating element, which allows you to pivot the back coil closer to the rack, thereby creating a “cool” and a “hot” zone.  It’s rudimentary, but it works.  All hail the Meco Grill!

It does its stuff… our fire in the sky.  The clouds in the distance are dark and threatening, but they never break.

I’ve boiled off an even number of white, red, and purple potatoes for my first ever potato salad.  I don’t know why I’ve never made one before, but I can tell you that I’m rarely happy with those I’ve tasted.  In my mind, a perfect potato salad is in which the dressing is only there to hold together the potatoes, as opposed to the potatoes being there just to hold together the dressing.  Too sharp flavors, like vinegars or mustards, just ruin the effect of an absorbing, creamy, starchy, and satisfying — like cold mashed potatoes, only not so, er, mashed — side dish.

I’ve boiled them until they’re easily pierced with a fork (about 25 minutes), drained them,  cooled them in cold water, and peeled them, leaving a bit of the skin on for texture.

I’ve minced a very small onion, several scallions, and a stalk of celery, as well as hard-boiled egg (I only end up using one of the ones pictured).  I add all these ingredients, plus 4 heaping tbs sour cream, 1 heaping tbs mayonnaise, 1 scant tbs mustard, the juice from half a lemon, some sea salt, black pepper, a tbs of Cajun Foreplay into a bowl, where I mix it well.  I also dice some Emmenthaler cheese and add it, too, just for fun.  It adds a nutty toothyness that’s really a treat.  I chuck it into the refrigerator to chill while my corn and ribs cook.

Speaking of which: after about 1 1/2 hours, it’s time to take my ribs out of their little foil packet.  Clayton splits it easily with a utility fork.

Six little piggy nuggets, all lined up in a row, sweltering in heat and spice — just like I like ’em.

Clayton moves each beautiful bite from the foil to the rack.

Then he bathes them lavishly with Sensuous Slathering Sauce.  Notice the corn packets in the background?  Husked butter and sugar stalks, and several pats of butter, also grilling in Little Red, for about 20 minutes.

Yum.  Let the sweet savory sauce caramelize…

After 5 minutes, plate your pork, and pour another portion of sauce over their sizzling surfaces.

Using two large metal spoons, and two tablespoons, I shape a couple of canelles out of my potato salad.  I see them do this on Iron Chef all the time, and I’ve gotten pretty good at the technique through practice.  Why?  ‘Cuz it looks prettier than just a couple of lumps.

Here’s my meal: tender roasted pork ribs, fresh potato salad, and buttery sugary corn on the cobb.  The spuds are creamy and savory, with just a touch of cajun seasoning and surprise Emmenthaler cheese.  The ribs are full of flavor and soft and stringy, melt in your mouth goodness.  And the corn… the corn is just simple roasted corn, bathed in butter, studded with sea salt, and oh so bursting with sweetness and light.