When good friends Patti and Jim came for dinner and to watch the movie “Chocolat” a couple of weeks ago, it was easy to choose a quintessential French do-ahead cold weather meal like Bœuf Bourguignon (aka Beef Burgundy or BB).The movie, a forever fave starring Juliette Binoche, Alfred Molina, Judy Dench, and Johnny Depp, is set in France and why not follow a great location theme for our menu? I had been wanting to make the fun Salmon Rillettes out of Dorie Greenspan’s AROUND MY FRENCH TABLE and so that was tidily in the bag (with Kir to drink), as was dessert. Patti, a much-in-demand local caterer and baker extraordinaire, decided to make Julia Child’s Queen of Sheba Cake ( Reine de Saba–a famous chocolate and almond confection) and who wouldn’t take her up on that… My stumbling block was a first course salad. I wanted green, green, green because “BB” is a hefty-heavy meal and there was chocolate cake, too, wasn’t there? I liked the idea of totally simple and fairly quick but stunning– a show stopper sitting on the table when they arrived sort of deal. (I don’t like to be too busy when friends come and I want them to see what’s ahead food wise.) Of course I didn’t want just a green salad. Tooling through the produce aisle trying to figure it out, what looked the very best to me were some skinny green beans also known as haricots verts, which while lovely on their own tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, lemon zest, and crushed red pepper needed a boost or larger venue for this special meal. I brought them home, cooked them until just past “crisp” and settled on lightly slathering them all in a two-vinegar, very very Dijony vinaigrette. Which was great. Fine. Totally.
Except, we couldn’t just eat green beans. Well, we could… but. So I dolled the whole shebang up with crisp mixed greens, bright white crunchy fennel, juicy cherry tomatoes, tender roasted red peppers, and creamy goat’s cheese. In other words, not so much that you couldn’t see what was there but just enough to show it all off. Thinking hard about balance — comes right after color– there was nothing to do but finish it off with yellow-yellow lemon zest for acid and capers for salinity. Right after I chose the best big round platter in the cupboard, you see. (24″ in diameter and made in Provence) And that’s how I got “Lemony Green Bean and Goat Cheese Salad.”
You either love grits or you hate them. They’re one of those kinds of things. If you grew up eating them, as did I, they’re comfort food par excellence — we so need comfort food now — whether buttered and tucked under a big plate of eggs over easy with spicy patty sausage or baked up all cheesy in a casserole dish for the Thanksgiving or any other buffet. They do not, as some folks will insist, taste like paste. (I always liked paste myself.) The trouble has come with the advent of instant grits, which while technically kinda-sorta grits, are nothing compared to the pot of goodness made with stone-ground grits that take longer to cook and definitely need more attention than mashed potatoes. I’d just as soon skip grits if they’re instant, but I’m sure they have their place for folks camping with a bunch of kids demanding a hot breakfast 10 minutes ago.
If the goal of feeding folks in the summer is to keep the cooking and the heat at a minimum, I’m in. As my friend Jodie says, “I turn into a troll when the temperature gets above 65 degrees F.” Even it it’s not terribly hot outdoors — or is, in fact, lovely — my house seems to turn into a hot box on June 1 every year. Of course that’s just one reason Americans grill (the contemporary version of the separate summer kitchen) and eat outdoors anytime we can. The other is we’re inordinately attached to kicking back for three months every year. Or we say we are anyway.
This week marks the beginning of weekend picnics, warm holiday get togethers, nights in the backyard, weeks at the beach, days at the cabin, and all kinds of thrilling grilling on your balcony or patio! For fun, I ran through my TOP FAVORITE original summer sides on More Time at Table and brought them all together in one place just before Memorial Day. I’ll keep perusing my files and as I find other luscious things I think you’d like, I’ll stick them in. Be cool!
There always seems to be time for certain meals in your cooking rotation. Perhaps yours are something like chicken tacos, lentils with roasted vegetables, veggie chili, pork tenderloin and potatoes, grilled salmon on salad, eggs and bacon, vegetable soup, burgers, or some such round up of goodies. Is it because these are the things you know best how to make off the top of your head? No recipe needed, eh? Are they the meals it’s easiest to shop for? The ones all five of you will eat or dishes providing the needed leftovers? Easiest on the budget? The ones you have time for?
Here with rotini (new photos added November, 2012)
As cooks, we sometimes wake up with something special on our minds.
Something that just keeps going round and round and, until we make that dish, we just can’t do anything.
No one should get in our way then. No how.
Then we go to the grocery store.
Are way-laid by a point of entrance display of, say, raspberries. Or avocados. Or, in this case,
I had every intention of making a Splendid Table newsletter dish called something like “Sicilian Chicken.”
Until I saw cherry tomatoes