Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mâche Salad with Quail Eggs

You’re only as good as your ingredients.

Well, if the fresh-picked mâche I served last night together with soft-boiled quail eggs, fragrant blushing apricots, soft baby sage leaves, glossy thyme and you-could-cut-it-with-a-spoon pork tenderloin were any indication, then I was Thomas Keller.

I’d been dying to use the lamb’s ear lettuce that I allowed to grow into little poufy bouquets. When I stumbled upon a dozen-pack of quail eggs at the farmer’s market this weekend, I knew I had to get them. Paired with the mache, a sweet sherry-shallot vinaigrette and just the right amount of yolk-ooze for richness, it was divinity on earth. Plus, my daughter loved just peeling and eating the little taupe and brown speckled orbs.

Also at the farmer’s market I found not just apricots, but fresh, firm, fragrant blushing apricots, boxes upon boxes that someone was physically removing from a trolley and emptying into a bin. I halved them, added a very little drizzle of honey, fresh chopped thyme, a crack of black pepper and canola oil. The honey is optional, really, because the fruit will caramelize into its own glossy glaze on the grill. The apricots behaved perfectly: they kept their shape once cooked, and developed the most sensuous sheen and sweetly savory flavor. I topped them with a drizzle of fig balsamic vinegar upon serving, and ringed them around the pork tenderloin on the serving platter.

For the pork, I blended in a Ziploc bag at least 1/4 cup of honey, a good dose my husband’s Evan Williams Reserve Honey Bourbon, two large cloves of microplaned garlic, sea salt, ground pepper and chopped thyme. The honey helped create the most incredible crust, further enhanced by a final sprinkle of sea salt before serving. I put the tenderloin on a blazing hot grill, turned it only twice, and that was it. I grilled the apricots while the pork rested.

To round out the meal, I went with an old favorite: white potatoes and sweet potatoes tossed in my Sherry vinegar, shallot and sage dressing. They’re good hot, cold, room temperature and especially the day after. I believe I’ve written about them before.

This all sounds elaborate, but the integration of ingredients on hand and the thread of common herbs and flavors across each dish was both fluidly intuitive and deliciously complementary. Each element just made sense. And it was, honestly, all fairly quick. Only peeling the potatoes was somewhat time consuming. The rest was toss, grill, serve and – most importantly - enjoy.

Honestly, I picked up my daughter from camp and gave her a snack after arriving home at 4:00 p.m. We chatted, she wanted some TV, and out of nowhere it was suddenly 5:00. To the tunes of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons Greatest Hits, I started by picking my herbs outside and had everything on the table at 6:00 on the dot. I was completely in the zone.

I feel guilty for admitting the ease, because it also felt so good to serve a special weekday meal like this for just the three of us.

Mâche from the garden: $5 (easily. I can’t believe what a single miniature plastic shell of this costs at Fairway, if they have it.)
Still in the red by $6.86. So close and yet so far!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Stuffed Squash

Earlier than anticipated, I’m already giving away produce.

One eight-ball zucchini plant produced her first little squash well over two weeks ago and the rest of them, obviously jealous, have been pumping them out to keep up. I had forgotten how productive summer squash can be once you pick the first fruit. The pale, tender green variety has been the most productive, but the sunny yellow and dark green types are catching up.

Either way, those sweet little orbs have made their way to friends and family. In our household, they’ve been cut into sticks to dip in hummus, halved and grilled, sliced and steamed, and as of last night, stuffed.

I first prepared cous cous then blended in Greek gigante beans in a light tomato base with a touch of garlic. I cut the stem tops off the squashes, hollowed out the inside, the slicked them (inside & out) with a little olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. I quickly grilled them to blister the outsides and lightly sweeten the flavor while keeping the squash still firm. Once removed from the grill, I spooned in the cous cous mixture, topped them all with a final crunch of sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil, then served them with roasted red and yellow peppers fresh from the grill, which my husband chopped roughly and used as a garnish.

Squash aside, we’ve also harvested two pounds of wax beans and easily two pounds of Kirby cucumbers. Those barely make it to the table or into salads, as they’re just so crisp and delicious eaten whole while sitting on the patio, straight off the vine.

2 lbs wax beans @ $1.29 / $2.58
2 lbs cukes @ $.99 / $1.98
Conservatively, 5 lbs zucchini @ $.99 / $4.95
Many Salads of green & red looseleaf lettuce $2
Harvested: $11.51
Offsetting last “in the red” total of $23.37:
Still in the red by $11.86, but quickly closing the gap.