Braised Short Rib Matzohdilla

DSCN4796I get my inspiration from all sorts of places.  Since the husbandman and I are on the cheap these days, I usually peruse the menus of Boston’s finer restaurants, looking for what they’re serving which I can replicate at home. But that’s my high-brow approach; sometimes, it’s better to be influenced by popular culture.  For example:  Chickenhawk’s Chicken and Beans, one of my most popular posts, was inspired by this ditty on the new Looney Tunes show.  Tonight’s meal crawled into my imagination thanks to Sean and Gus from USA’s Psych; a silly show, to be sure, but one that makes me laugh every time I watch it.  On their 100th episode, Sean – with his customary wit – celebrates a verbal mashup of Yiddish and Spanish by coining the term “Matzohdilla”, which Gus thinks “sounds delicious”.  So did I, dear readers – so did I.  The concept of a quesadilla made with matzohs instead of tortillas just lit me on fire!  My mind immediately conjured a delectable vision of crusty pressed unleavened flat-grilled crackers stuffed with gooey cheese and savory meat, served Mexican style with some guac and sour cream for garnish.  I ran pell-mell to Whole Foods to make my dream a reality.


Braised Shortrib Matzohdilla

1lb boneless short ribs
1 can diced tomatoes with green chiles
1 qt beef broth
3 slices bacon
1 can black beans
1 bottle dark beer
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb cheddar cheese
6oz cream cheese
1 avocado
1 small red onion
3-4 tablespoons minced cilantro
4-5 tablespoons diced tomatoes
4 matzohs
sour cream
garlic powder, red chile powder, ground cumin, black pepper, sea salt, smoked paprika, onion powder, EVOO

DSCN4775My original idea was to make carnitas for this meal, but I figured I was already slapping kosher in the face with the inclusion of cheese and cream cheese in my recipe; pork would just be cruelly insensitive.  (Of course, I ended up using bacon in my beans (see below), but bacon doesn’t count, right?)  Instead, I chose some lovely beef short ribs; I rubbed them down with a nice healthy blend of my dry spices (salt, pepper, cumin, garlic & onion powder, paprika, chile powder), and dusted them with flour before searing them thoroughly in hot EVOO in a large pan deep enough to submerge them in braising liquids.

DSCN4777After they’ve been browned on each side and all the edges, I dump my tomatoes and 1/2 my minced garlic into the pan…

DSCN4778…before adding my broth.  These babies floated a bit, but they eventually sunk to the bottom.  I throw a lid on top, lower my heat to a bare simmer, and let these braise for about 90 minutes…

DSCN4779b… or until I can easily shred the meat with a fork – like so.  Um: YUM!

DSCN4780Apparently, I can’t avoid pork.  I tried – I really did.  But before I even knew my auto-pilot had kicked in, I’d done gone and fried up a few slices to include in my beans.  What can I say?  I’m a degenerate.

DSCN4781After my bacon crisped, I dumped in my beans and a few scoopfuls of the braising liquid from the shortribs, and my bottle of beer.  I let these simmer on medium heat until most of the liquid had burned off, then I mash up everything with a fork to give them a nice, spreadable texture.

DSCN4788Time to break out the matzohs!  I spread cream cheese on each cracker, then layer them with meat, beans, and cheese before carefully pressing them together.

DSCN4789Like so!

DSCN4790I get my largest, non-stick skillet set to medium, and I brush it down thoroughly with a little EVOO.

DSCN4791I very carefully lay my matzohdilla in the pan, pressing down gingerly to flatten.  I made two of these – one for me, and one for El Husbandious; I sort of snapped one, but I am happy to say they stayed together pretty well, enough so that none of the filling leached out.  As the matzohs heated in the oil, they became slightly pliable – but without losing their crunch!

DSCN4792The trick to an excellent grilled cheese anything is time.  The heat should be set at a relatively low level, or else the outside can burn before the inside melts.  With constant gentle pressure, it took about 5 minutes on each side for these babies to cook up, and for all the cheddar cheese inside to melt and ooze.  Since I only had one pan large enough, I had to make these in shifts; I placed the cooked one on a sheet in a low oven to stay warm while I grilled up the other one.

DSCN4793See how nice?  All my cheese is gooey and ready, and the matzohdilla is born!

DSCN4793aIn a separate bowl, I whip up a quick guacamole: mashed avocado, diced tomato, diced red onion, minced garlic and cilantro, paprika, salt, pepper, and chile powder.  Mix that all up, and you’re good to go.

DSCN4795My cultural mash-up is complete!  I can’t really express how good this was: the matzohs stayed crispy and crackly, but they didn’t fall apart or crumble under the pressure of my teeth; the cream cheese/cheddar cheese blend was rich and creamy, with the cheese stretching from bite to bite like a most excellent pizza; the savory beans and tender, shredded meat were hot, flavorful, and delicious.  I admit, Clayton and I rather laughed our way through the whole meal.  It was freaking amazing, but I’d never seen or heard anything quite like it before (and I searched the internet for recipes – to no avail!), and it just seemed so silly to have been inspired by a cast-off quote from a TV show.  But, in this case, silly was super-delicious.  I wonder what other mash-ups I can come up with?  Chicken Tikka Chow Fun?  Caribbean Cassoulet?  Pad Thai Pizza?  Suggestions are welcome!

Weeknight Wondermeal: Ginger Honey Glazed Salmon and Scallops, with Pear, Avocado, and Walnut Salad

This dinner is dedicated to some very special friends, for whom – to protect the innocent (and to avoid prosecution by FERPA) – I shall use a delightfully Victorian convention of referring to them by initials only (in no particular order – to avoid any implication of favoritism): AC, TP, KN, MS, CG, TD, CH, AL, SC, and SV. They not only invited me into their summer homes to enjoy lovely dinners prepared by them with affection and good humor, but they inspire me daily with their grace, wit, intelligence, youthful vigor, and general wonderfulness.  However, I am also spurred by a particular comment made by two of the above listed group —  a pair of ladies who suggested that my Weeknight Wondermeals, recipes I tout as super-simple and très-cheap, were “so fancy, and way too complicated!” What the what?  Dear girls, these offerings are the most basic of basics! If you can execute a successful Western blot, or re-engineer the severed limbs of an army of axolotl, you can TOTALLY make any Weeknight Wondermeal, if you have the right stuff in the kitchen.  To wit: tonight’s delectable dinner.  A tender, succulent, juicy salmon filet encrusted with honey and ginger oil, plus a similarly prepared but-also-soy-sauced scallop, served with a super-food salad.  I dare you, young friends, to make this dinner (note to TP: 86  the walnuts!): the effort is simple, but the reward is sublime!

Ginger Honey Glazed Salmon and Scallops, with Pear, Avocado, and Walnut Salad

.75-1lb filet of salmon
2 very large scallops (these equalled .3lb)
1 cup honey
1/2 cup ginger oil (or fresh grated ginger blended with EVOO)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 avocado
1 fresh pear
1 small white onion
fresh arugula
baby tomatoes
parmigiano reggiano
1/4 cup crushed walnuts
sea salt, fresh cracked black pepper, fresh snipped chives (for garnish)

Since I keep honey, ginger oil, and soy sauce in my pantry, my shopping list was pretty slim.  The most expensive items were these specimens of seafood: two huge, fresh sea scallops, and a lovely bright pink wedge of king salmon.  I want them to marinate a bit before I cook them, but they need to do so in separate bags.  Let me explain…

The salmon gets 3/4 cup of honey, 3 oz of ginger oil — a product I purchased at a nearby Asian supermarket, for about $2.49 — and lots of fresh cracked pepper.

I remove the adductor muscles from my scallops (here’s a pic), and then they get the rest of the honey and ginger oil, with the addition of the soy sauce – which is going to add just the right umame to the experience.  I seal both bags up nice and tightly, after removing as much air from them as I could, then I chuck ’em in the fridge to marinate for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, we plug in Little Red and get him all hot and bothered.  Clayton fashions a simple tray out of some foil paper, since we want to catch and cook the marinade as well as the proteins.  You’ll see what I mean a couple steps from now.

I brush a little EVOO onto the portion of the foil that will cook the scallops, but I want to skin of the salmon to stick to the foil (it will make it easier to remove the fish-flesh (and nothing but) later), so I leave that side clean.

The salmon goes on first, and I pour the marinade carefully over it’s pink yumminess to coat it.  It doesn’t matter if it spills onto the foil — in fact, it’s good for some of it to do just that.  As it cooks, the honey will thicken and brown, making a nice glaze.  Again, you’ll see what I mean soon.

The scallops go on next, but they’re doused in less of their marinade, since the soy will have already permeated the meat.  I do save both marinades, in case I want to add more a the halfway point.  For now, though, I lower the lid and walk away for 10 minutes.

My salad tonight was inspired by the similarity between the shape of a pear, and the shape of an avocado.  I surmised that if they had the same figure, perhaps they would go well together…  Yes,  yes – there are all sorts of things wrong with that supposition, but in this case it worked.  I removed the pit out of my avocado, and removed the seeds from my pear, before slicing each half into an equal number of thin wedges.

After fanning the pear slices onto my plates, then layering a fan of avocado over that, I toss some arugula with thin slices of white onion, some shavings of parmigiano reggiano, salt, pepper, and EVOO.

After 10 minutes, my seafood is halfway done, and – as you can see – the honey in the marinade has started to caramelize.  Using a basting brush, I get as much of that honey off the foil and onto the exposed flesh of my fish – top and sides.  It’s slickery — meaning it doesn’t stick to the fish very well unless you sort of scoop it onto the brush and dab it onto the pink.  Be patient, and get as much honey to stick to the fish as you can — it will be SO worth it.

Instead of basting the scallops, I rub them into the marinade darkening on the foil before flipping them.  It’s just like basting, but this time I’m going bottom up instead of top down.

See?  Even through the foil, the scallops are taking on lovely grill marks.  I close the lid for 10 more minutes, and watch the sun sink lower on the horizon over this hot summer day.

When I lift the lid again, my scallops are done (so I remove them to a warm plate to hold), and the honey/ginger marinade for the fish has turned a deep, dark brown.  Never fear!  This is what we wanted!  Using my basting brush one more time, I transfer as much of that black honey to the fish as I can.

Like so!  I lower the lid for another 5 minutes, go indoors, plate my salad, then come back out to fetch supper.  The good thing about using the foil is I only have to pick that up and bring the whole thing inside – no muss, no fuss!  Using a long, narrow spatula, I divide the filet into two equal portions, lifting the fish right off the skin which is stuck to the foil paper.  The flesh slides right off.

After finishing my salad with a couple home-grown cherry tomatoes and a sprinkle of crushed walnuts (for crunch), and garnishing the seafood with snipped chives, we’re ready to dig in.  The whole dinner has taken about 30 minutes of activity, and it cost only about $20 (plus pantry items, like the honey, soy, and ginger oil).  But what deliciosity!

The salmon is sweetly encrusted, with tender, moist flesh and a wee snap from the black pepper; the scallops are succulent and sweet, with the additional amped up savor of rich soy; and the salad is inspired: the fragrant, firm pear is perfectly complimented by the soft, nutty avocado, and the peppery arugula, salty cheese, and crunchy nuts fill the palate with delectable complexity, richness, and freshness.  Each bite was sheer enjoyment!

As the sun sets over Hamilton Street, setting the sky on salmon fire, Clayton and I dig into our salmon dinners with gusto.  So, dear friends — and you know who you are — are you up for trying this yourselves? I promise you’ll enjoy it!

Summer’s First Grill: ChimmiChurri Strip Steaks and Asparagus

It’s SUMMER, baby! After a long, but relatively mild winter, a super-busy spring, a difficult month, a vexing week, and a hard hard morning for Clayton and I (those of you in the know, know to what I am alluding…), we can finally say we got our first real summer evening in Chez Fontaine.  After taking a stress-reducing bike ride through downtown Boston, to the Seaport for lunch, to the North End for meat, to Haymarket for veggies, and back home again (14 miles, more or less), we settled on our lovely little deck, dusted off Little Red, and had ourselves some supper in the fading sunshine.

ChimmiChurri Strip Steaks and Asparagus

2 8oz hand-trimmed NY Strip Steaks
1 lb fresh, thin asparagus
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 lime
zest of 1 lemon
6-8 cloves garlic
2 small foccaccia
1 medium sized tomato
EVOO, white balsamic vinegar, dried oregano, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, dried parsley flakes, sea salt, cracked black pepper

I start by  trimming the woody ends off my slender asparagus spears and peeling 1/2″ or so of some of the outer green off the ends of the stalks.

Into a large zipper bag they go, along with several glugs of EVOO, a glug of white balsamic vinegar, some dried oregano, a pinch of red pepper flakes, a healthy dose of garlic powder, and salt and pepper.  I let these marinate for about 20 minutes while I prep my chimmichurri.

Traditional chimmichurri sauce, of Argentinean fame, is made from parsley – but I like mine predominantly made of cilantro. The peppery snap of the sauce pairs really well with grilled meats — from land, air, and sea.  I pull the leaves off a small bunch, wash and dry them well, and then chop the crap out of them.

I smash my garlic cloves, reserve two of them for later, and then finely mince the rest.

The chopped cilantro and minced garlic go into a bowl, along with a few dashes of dried oregano, a couple tablespoons of dried parsley, the zest of one lemon and the juice from one lime, along with salt and pepper.

Finally, I add just enough of my best EVOO to the bowl to cover the herbs, and I mix this very well.  Letting it sit so it can get to know itself better for a little while is a good idea.

The handsome fella at Sulmonia Meat Market in Boston’s North End ….

… trimmed these babies off a huge hunk of so-fresh-it-was-still-mooing meat – and I was happy.   I sprinkled them liberally with salt and pepper to prep them for the grill.

Here are some cute foccacias I got at Trader Joe’s, of all places.

I slice them into 1/2″ thick wedges, then spread them on a cookie sheet doused with EVOO, swishing them around a bit so they can soak up its olivey goodness.  And here is one of Lolita’s jerry-rigs: I then set my cookie sheet onto a slightly larger sheet before setting them both – one on top of the other – across both my stove-top’s back burners.

By raising the heat on both eyes to medium, I’m sort of making myself a little flat-grill.  Once I get a nice tan sear on the 1st side, I flip all the slices over, push them around in the EVOO so they get nice and greased up, and then drop the heat to low so they can continue to toast leisurely.  This makes perfectly crunchy, crispy bread – ideal for Pa amb tomàquet, one of my favorite Barcelona foods.

Quite literally “bread with tomato,” Pa amb tomàquet was served to us in Spain many different ways, but for my home use I like to keep it super simple: for two people, all I do is slice one medium tomato in half, salt it liberally (especially if it’s a hot-house tomato like this one, which lacks native flavor), and set it face down on top of a crushed clove of garlic and a couple tablespoons of high-quality EVOO in a ramekin with just the right circumference.

Using a couple of tiny forks (designed for picking crabmeat out of claws and legs), I stab through the center of each tomato half.  When the time comes, we’ll each rub the oiled and garlicky face of our tomatoes across the toasted surface of our slices of bread, depositing pulp and deliciousness on each bite. The more I squish my tomato, the more juicy redness I get to enjoy on my bread – and if I want a more garlicky snap I scrape the crushed clove across the scratchy toast.  Who needs butter?  Along with my S&P and my chimmichurri, I bring this out to my deck to start the steaks.

The asparagus goes on first – because we like the heads to get nice and crispy.  Clayton lays them carefully across Little Red’s grate and starts them roasting for about 10 minutes.

While my spears roast, I sit back and enjoy the best thing about our tiny little apartment among the treetops: our view.  I know it might not look like much to many of you, dear readers, but it’s MINE – and the exorbitant amount of money we spent on our 592 sq ft apartment in Cambridge, MA, was paid to secure this piece of sky.

In a few months, our tomato bushes will start bearing fruit; until then I love the trees and Easter egg colored buildings that surround us.

Our southern view.  When the Red Sox are playing, we can hear the game from here, and watch it on the DirectTV blimp that floats overhead.

After my 10 minutes have passed, it’s time to throw the steaks on the grill.

After 5 minutes on this side, Clayton starts the delicate task of rolling the asparagus spears over, pulling them to the front of the grill …

… so he can flip the steaks over and onto the back of the grill, where the electric heating coil can be raised slightly to sear the meat even more effectively.  We close the lid and let this sizzle for about 8 minutes, or until the steaks are a perfect medium rare.

My bed of crispy, seared asparagus spears serves as the base for my tender, grilled steaks and a healthy slopping of tangy, sharp, savory chimmichurri sauce.  The crunchy, garlicky, tomato bread pairs perfectly with the juicy beef and snappy flavors.  A light, simple meal with a complex set of flavors — just what our first night of summer demanded.  And this is one kind of directive I never mind obeying — the “eat something good” kind.

Homemade Hard Taco Night with Carnitas and Pinto Beans

It might be midnight dark at 3pm and windy rainy thundering stormy in New England right now, but yesterday was paradise.  It was hot, only slightly muggy, and the skies were a brilliant azure with dramatic high-blown cumulus clouds lazily shifting forms overhead.  It was also my last summer Friday; the kids are back in town, and the ivy covered halls of Harvard will be teeming with life again come Monday, meaning I’m back to a 5-day work week.  No matter – I love the work, and these spectacular students keep me young.  Warm as it was, I didn’t really want to be trapped indoors for the cooking (nor the eating), and although I did have to get some things done on the range, Little Red stepped up again and provided the perfect cook surface for the vittles.  Slow stewed, citrus punched, shredded pork shoulder – a variation on Lolita’s carnitas – packed into fresh fried corn taco shells with guacamole, pico de gallo, and jack cheese, served with pinto beans on the side.  Crunchy, meaty, garden-fresh, and stick-to-your ribs delicious – a ideal deck-side dinner, which fortifes me for two impending maelstroms: Hurricane Irene and the Harvard undergrads.

Hard Corn Tacos with Carnitas and Pinto Beans

2 – 2.5 lbs boneless pork shoulder or butt
1 navel orange
1 lime
4 cloves garlic
1 large red onion, diced, divided (about 2 cups)
2 cups chicken stock
1 bunch cilantro
some fresh tomatoes
2 ripe avocados
1 small jalapeno (optional)
12 10″ corn tortillas
oil for frying
sea salt, cracked black pepper, ground cumin
shredded monterey jack cheese

Pork shoulder and pork butt are two lovely, richly marbled cuts off the pig, which cook several ways into delicious, tender, easy to shred meat.  My mother roasted it for Christmas, John Stage smokes it for bar-b-que, and today I braised it in chicken stock and citrus juices.  I first remove the lacing and cut  my meat into large cubes, which I seasoned with salt and pepper.

Into a hot pan sizzling with a glug or two of EVOO these meat wads go, and I sear them evenly, using tongs to turn them over …

… until each side of each cube is nicely browned.

Meanwhile, I get about 1 cup of my diced red onion, peel and crush my garlic cloves…

… juice my orange, and juice 1/2 of my lime.  Carnitas call for the citrus flavor of orange, but you don’t want it to be too sweet, so cutting it with lime works perfectly.  Using some pieces of orange work too, but someone had a little accident in the kitchen with the product of her 1st orange, and didn’t have any leftover to peel and use. :-(  No matter!  It was delicious anyway — as you’ll see.

I add my onion, garlic, and a healthy handful of chopped cilantro (about a cup) to my sizzling pork pieces, and toss well.  I cook this until the onion softens… about 4 minutes.

Then I add my citrus juices, which I stir in well.   I bring them just to a boil…

… before I add my chicken stock, which covers about 3/4 of my meat.  I set the heat to medium, and bring this to a slow simmer.

Out on the deck, the sky is lapis lazuli, sapphire, and turquoise, studded with the softest cotton clouds, and Little Red has been heating his coils in preparation of his part in tonight’s culinary adventure.  The forecast promises us a whole weekend of rain, so tonight is our one chance to enjoy the outdoors before the weather sets in.

My pan, full of pork and citrus and chickeny goodness, goes – covered – out onto Little Red’s hot cook surface, where it will braise for the next three hours.

At one hour, the meat has shrunk a bit but is still tough, and about one third of the liquid has been absorbed.

At two hours, the meat has begun to slacken a bit, and is starting to shred slightly, and the liquid has half absorbed.

And at three hours, the liquid has reduced to just the pork fats, the remaining EVOO, and the citrus oils from the orange and lime.  The meat shreds like Slash, and it is savory, tender, and rich.  But I get ahead of myself — there’s lots that needs to be done while the meat is cooking.

My understanding is that hard tacos are a strictly American, Old El Paso sort of convention, and that they are not culinarily indigenous to Mexico at all.  I’ve never been south of the border, so I have yet to validate that for myself.  Regardless, the husbandman *loves* him some hard tacos.  But I just can’t bring myself to buy a kit from the supermarket, no offence to those who do.  I thought – how hard can it be to make  my own hard taco shells?  The answer  – not very hard at all!  With a dozen to work with, it took me the first four to figure out the following technique: I added a few inches of vegetable oil to a deep fry pan and set it to high heat.  When sizzling, using tongs, I floated 1/2 of a 10″ corn tortilla on the surface of the blistering oil – about 5 seconds did the trick, or until it set.

Moving quickly but carefully, I flipped the tortilla over, rolling it in the oil, releasing the tongs from one edge and immediately catching the other edge in their grip.

Holding the other edge under the hot oil, I fried it until crunchy, then dipped the center fold into the pot to crisp it up last.   Like I wrote, it took me four tries to get this right, but once I caught the rhythm, it totally worked.

I noticed that when I lifted these from the hot oil, their folds acted like reservoirs, and held a good deal of grease; be careful to pour all that out when lifting them from the fry oil.  I sprinkled them immediately, while still hot and glistening, with sea salt – and they were like the best freaking taco shells I ever ate.  Now that I’ve perfected the technique, next time I’ll make 6 shells, and cut the rest of the tortillas into quarters and fry them into chips.  Oh, and there will be a next time… very very soon.

Now that my meat is almost ready, it’s time to start my beans – also out on Little Red.  I put my small deep pan, with a few glugs of EVOO, over the heat for about 10 minutes to get nice and sizzling.

About 1/2 a cup of my diced onion and some minced garlic gets added, and stirred into, that hot oil.  I cook this until just softened and fragrant.  Then I add about a teaspoon of black pepper, a healthy sprinkling of cumin, and a dash of sea salt.

Finally, I add my can of pinto beans, liquid and all.  Some folks say drain it, some folks don’t.  Tonight – I didn’t.  I lower the lid and let Little Red bring this to a simmer, heating all the beans through.

In a large bowl, I add my peeled and pitted avocados, which I mash, and to which I add fresh cilantro, a dash of minced garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice, sea salt, cracked black pepper, 1/2 of the rest of my diced red onion, and ground cumin.

It becomes part of my taco fixin’s.

My guac I dress with a broken taco shell and some of the monterey jack cheese I shredded, right before service.

In another bowl, I’ve mixed my diced tomatoes, some diced red onion, minced garlic, fresh cilantro, the juice of 1/2 a lime, a glug of EVOO, and a dash of white vinegar together (along with some diced jalapeno, if you want heat), to make a quick fresh delicious pico de gallo.

My carnitas are perfect: their edges are caramelized and crunchy, their interiors tender and falling apart at the tiniest touch of a fork.  I scoop about 4 tablespoons of that uber-rich pork/citrus/chicken/EVOOfat up and dump it into my beans for flavor.

After about 15 minutes, and some squishing of beans with my fork, they are thick and syrupy and ready for another shot of pepper and some fresh cilantro.  If you like things hot, some jalapeno could be added to this mix, or a dash or two of hot pepper oil.

Finally, as the sun sets in the west, my tacos are ready to be eaten.  We each make our own: mine has an underlayer of soft shredded cheese, a heaping helping of tender, citrus-spiced pork, some pico, some guacamole, some sour cream and a sprinkling of cilantro on top, along with some cheese and cream on my beans, too.

Each delightful bite is a mouthful of fresh, heady flavors, bright with herbs and orange/lime, deep with cumin and pepper spice.  The cooling avocado and tangy tomatoes compliment the richness of the stewed meat, and the crispy, salty corn shells hold their shape, perfectly encasing each fantastic nibble.  Clayton and I relinquish all our civilized notions as we dive head first into our steaming plates, tearing into our tacos with much satisfied beating of chests, grunting with pleasure, and slopping of drinks.  I wish for anyone braving the onslaught of Irene the same happy hunger-fulfillment we enjoyed on Friday; warm insides make light work of wet weather.  Good luck, fellow New Englanders, as you batten down your hatches as we have ours.  See you on the other side of the storm!

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.

Maia’s Bulgogi in Fresh Lettuce Cups

I have an awesome job.  After years on the job market, doing everything from mucking out stables to slinging hash to chronicling history happening in hallowed Ivy League halls, my current job is, by far, the best I’ve ever had.  Why, you ask?  Is it the money? (No.)  Is it the extensive travel? (No.)  Is it the glamour and fame? (No.)  You could keep guessing, or I could just tell you: it’s the PEOPLE.  Universities are full of stuffy muckity mucks, many of whom I like quite fine, but it’s really the students that make such schools so wonderful.  And with this job, I get to know some excellent students – young men and women hurtling towards levels of greatness I can’t even fathom – and I get to help them along their path in my own small administrative ways.  Once they graduate – as my first crop of kids did just recently (meaning the first students I’ve ever gotten to know during their senior year) – our relationship can graduate to friendship, and then they can do what my dear young friend and trailblazer Maia did this past week: recommend a little something something for Lolita to craft in her crazy kitchen.  From Korea, Maia sent the following missive: “i’ve decided that your korean influenced meal should be bulgogi or a japchae spin-off with a delicious kimbap side!” along with a few links (like this one, from another WordPress blog, Hyunjoo’s Cooking Korean, which gave me the basics).  I jumped on suggestion #1: bulgogi.  I’ve eaten Korean BBQ once or twice, but never made it myself, and since the farm-fresh lettuce we’re getting right now is so perfect, I thought a helping of sweet n’ spicy marinated grilled pork with tender rice, pickled carrots, and kimchi might be just the message I could send back to Maia — one of deliciousness!  Thanks for the idea, sweetie – it would have only been better had you been here to share it with me!

To get all the requisite ingredients I’d need for my marinade, I rode my bike to Inman Square’s Reliable Market: a Somerville Mecca for all Asian gustables.  I must have walked by this place a million times before I noticed it was a grocery store, then I kicked myself quick vigorously in the arse until it was committed to memory.

I mean, look at this place! They have tons of fresh produce, walls of frozen product…

 … aisles of spices, teas, canned goods, packaged goods, wines and sakes, ice creams, Pocki, fresh fish, noodles, rice, sauces, and even thinly sliced raw meats — just like what I’d need for my bulgogi.  I didn’t want to snap too many pictures – I was afraid I’d piss someone off, but trust me when I say this market is *awesome*!

My groceries came to $22, and I would now have a good collection of Asian flavors to add to future recipes.  Nice!  Here’s what I used for tonight’s meal:

Maia’s Bulgogi in Fresh Lettuce Cups

1 lb very thinly sliced pork butt or shoulder
6 tbs mirin (or sweet sherry, if you must), divided
6 tbs rice wine vinegar, divided
4 tbs sugar, divided
2 tbs red pepper paste (Gochu-jang)
2 tbs fermented soybean paste (doen-jang)
soy sauce, to taste
black pepper, to taste
salt, to taste
3 tbs minced ginger
3 tbs minced garlic
3 tbs sesame oil
1 small white onion, 1/2 finely minced, 1/2 diced
1 bunch scallions, greens chopped, whites left whole for grilling
1 tbs white sesame seeds
1 tbs black sesame seeds
1 head Boston bibb lettuce
3 large carrots, julienned
If my understanding of bulgogi’s significance in Korean cuisine is correct, it’s about as special there as Hambuger Helper is here.  That’s not to say that it isn’t delicious – but it does rather explain the reaction of the nice lady at Reliable who helped me find the right tubs and bottles labeled with characters that dizzied me and made my eyes crossed (ignorant American that I am).  Upon her asking what I was looking for, I excitedly leaned in and proudly whispered to her that I was making bulgogi for the first time, and wasn’t that exotic of me!?!  I expected enthusiasm and giddiness, I got “m’eh”.  She shrugged, and walked me to the little cubes of fantastical flavor pictured above (after pointing out where I could buy bottles of “bulgogi” or “Korean-style BBQ” marinating sauces – all very delicious, she said), yanking down first the red pepper paste and then the fermented soy bean paste.  I guess if a nice Korean lady approached me at Star Market and said she was making tuna casserole for dinner, I’d be less than impressed, too.  But I’m now the proud owner of over a pound of each of these foreign ingredients – so I need to find some more recipes that use these flavors, stat! The kimchi — the world’s most popular condiment, apparently — filled a whole refrigerator wall at Reliable; this tub was the smallest I could buy, not knowing whether Clayton and I could take the heat (since we’re woosies).  The mirin, which is very sweetened rice wine, ended up being surprisingly thick and syrupy, which is why I added rice wine vinegar to my marinades (to thin it down without diluting the flavor).  Ok, enough yammer; let’s get started!

If you can’t find thinly sliced pork butt like this, you can buy a boneless butt or shoulder, freeze it for about 20 minutes to stiffen it up, and then slice it as thinly as possible across the grain.  Or ask your butcher.  You can use beef, too, or flank steak, or chicken – I saw recipes for just about every cut of meat.  (I betcha duck would be delicious!)  Then, toss those slices into a zipper bag or a large bowl, and mix them with 2 tbs of sugar, 2 tbs mirin, and 2 tbs rice wine vinegar.  Let this rest of a few minutes, while you prepare the rest of the marinade.

 In a medium bowl, mix 2 tbs red pepper paste, 2 tbs soy bean paste, 2 tbs rice wine vinegar, and 2 tbs mirin together.

 Add your minced ginger…

… and your minced garlic…

… and your minced onion…

… 2 tbs each soy sauce and sesame oil.

A healthy sprinkling of black pepper, and it’s ready to mix.

The red pepper paste gives it a deep scarlet color, and the flavor is fresh, nutty, sharp, and spicy.  Add this to your bag of sugar-coated meat strips, and make sure everything is deeply doused.

This bowl or bag of yummy goes into the fridge to marinate for at least an hour – mine goes for a few.

You can use that time to quick pickle some carrots, too.  I have to julienne mine on my mandoline, then use my chef’s knife to slice those slices into thin sticks.  They go into a zipper bag, too, with the rest of the sugar, more rice wine vinegar, 1/2 cup of EVOO, and a healthy sprinkling of sea salt.  I nestle them next to my bag o’ meat in the fridge, where the sticks can soak up all the snappy goodness.

You can choose to skewer your pork slices, like I did, so they’ll be easier to maneuver on the surface of the grill.  I get about 4 pieces of meat on each stick, and life is good.

On to the grill they go, along with the stems of my scallions (just ‘cuz).  It ends up taking about 20 minutes for these to cook to a nice char, so I close the lid and head back in to prep the rest of the ingredients.

This perfect head of lettuce hails from Busa Farms in Concord, now appearing at the Lexington, Arlington, and the Friday and Sunday Cambridge, MA farmer’s markets.  The lettuce leaves are full and deep green, soft and buttery.

I wash my lettuce leaves thoroughly, dry them well, and lay them out on a plate set with my minced scallions, kimchi, diced onions, pickled carrots, and sesame seeds.  These are my taco fillings, so to speak.

Oh, I’ve also made some rice, which is warming on the lid of my grill while my BBQ barbeques.

Speaking of the BBQ – my meat is cooking perfectly.  Little sears are forming on the edges, and when I flip the skewers, the sizzling aroma is astounding.  A few more minutes on the grill, and they’re ready to be served.

I dish up my rice, sprinkle everything with some sesame seeds for crunch, and sensuously slide my moist meat off its wooden pole.

A wad of tender, sticky rice, a nest of sweet pickled carrots, a sprinkling of snappy scallions, a perfect piece of pork, and a bit of spicy kimchi – all wrapped in a fresh leaf of lettuce.

The kimchi *is* spicy, but it is tempered by the sweetness of the meat and the the carrots.  Each bite is an explosion of flavor — fresh and light, filling and warm, steaming hot inside and crisp and cold outside.  I am sold on Korean BBQ, and feel rather a fool that I haven”t made this before.  Thanks, Maia – for schooling me on this deliciousness.  I told you you’d do great things in your life!  Teaching me something about cooking is one of the greatest things I can think of!