Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Two Dinners

Saturday night, I needed to improvise a good meal. I felt like eating chicken (mainly by default...after all, chicken is what people eat when they don't know what they'd like to eat), so I picked up some chicken thighs from the grocery store, and figured I'd find a way to make them. I stumbled across a post at the Amateur Gourmet about chicken breast braised in hard cider. I didn't want to braise anything, as I got a late start on the cooking for the evening, but I liked the description of chicken browned in bacon fat, then slow roasted in some sort of alcohol. I had bacon, and I had wine (I don't keep hard cider in the house. What, do you?). I chopped up a shallot and a few pieces of bacon, threw a few tablespoons of olive oil in a pan, and I was in business.

For a side dish, I'd gotten pears, endive, and walnuts. I knew I had some Roquefort in the fridge, so I figured I'd make a classic salad. There was also anise (which I thought was fennel...Have you seen them? They look exactly the same), which I grilled with olive oil, and a head of radicchio, which I sliced into disks, grilled, and topped with a lemon juice vinaigrette (in so far as this is a recipe, it's from Italian Easy, a cookbook about which I frequently rave).

Slightly out of focus endive, pear, walnut, and Roquefort salad. Don't stare too long at, you'll get a headache.

The salad was quite good. Of course, you could put Roquefort on a Ritz cracker, and I'd ooh and ah over it. The chicken browned up nicely, and the bacon added some punch to the dish. The radicchio was the surprise hit of the meal. The lemon juice neutralized some of the intense bitterness of the cabbage and gave it a complex flavor that opened up in the mouth. Not a bad meal for one that started with chicken thighs and little else.

Chicken thighs cooked in bacon fat and white wine, anise (not fennel!),
and grilled radicchio.

Monday night wasn't quite so scatter shot. I knew I wanted pasta, and I felt like trying something new. This meant diving into our new Mario Batali cookbook again. What jumped out was linguine with monkfish, zucchini, and thyme. Since I would be near a Whole Foods, and consequently able to lay on some decent monkfish, this seemed like the right fit.

The only challenge of the recipe, which wasn't really a challenge at all, just a bit of a time issue, was that it required some basic tomato sauce, which I hadn't yet made. Luckily, for the first time in months, I'd started cooking at an appropriate time. I whipped up the sauce with no difficulty, and now I've got a batch of it in the freezer for next time.

Other than making a batch of sauce ahead of time (not hard) this recipe is easier than sleeping in on Sunday. Basically, you chop up the monkfish and the zucchini, chop the thyme (looking back on it, this may have been the most difficult part of the recipe. I hate chopping thyme. Those little annoying leaves. Rosemary. Now that's a spice made for chopping...), and boil some water.

Monkfish was made to go into pasta. Perfect texture (kinda chewy, but not in a gross way), perfect color, perfect flavor (buttery and salty, like it'd just swum out of the sea). This dish garnered high praise from Edan -- she ate the leftovers for lunch the next day (leftover pasta has a way of lingering in our fridge until it has worn out its welcome).

(Sorry. No pictures of the monkfish. You'll just have to imagine its incredible chewy perfection. Here, I'll help. Picture a really good pasta dish you've recently eaten. Now add monkfish. Yeah, I know. It's good.)

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