Usually in the summertime I prefer light tastes: sherbet to ice cream, chicken to beef, lettuce to eggplant. This week, though it was hot outside, my cooking seemed to gravitate toward the dark side of the palate.
Granola. Lately the store-brand oatmeal has been tasting too earthy when prepared in the traditional way, so the other morning I turned it into granola. Heat some butter and peanut oil in a big skillet; dump in the oats with some raisins and broken-up pecans; season with cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg; near the end add a little brown sugar and maple syrup. The complex toasty aroma filled the house, reminding me of something I couldn’t quite place. I left the granola in the pan to cool, so it kept cooking for awhile unattended. It was delicious of course, but also darker in color and in flavor than when I’d turned off the stove, and darker certainly than the usual store-bought version. Not quite scorched, but with a subtle back note of bitterness joining the grainy nutty sweetness — sort of like Guinness.
Dinner. The night before last I thawed a chicken breast, as usual expecting that by dinnertime I’d figure out something to do with it. In the cupboard that afternoon I spotted a jar of artichoke hearts, which got me thinking about cooler-weather flavors. I sliced mushrooms, strips of red bell pepper, purple onion, and garlic, sautéing them with walnut pieces and plenty of black pepper in some of the duck fat I had reserved from the duck breasts I’d cooked at Christmas. Later I added half of the artichoke hearts with a splash of the liquid, capers, and some infused oil from a container of olives and garlic I’d gotten at the deli counter. In another pan I cooked some asparagus in butter and beef broth with a little salt and sugar. When both vegetable dishes were done I put them in a warm oven while I made myself a mint julep: mint leaves fresh from the garden muddled in the glass with sugar and whiskey and topped with crushed ice. I set a pot of water on to boil for some flat noodles, then I sliced and seasoned the chicken breast and sautéed it in butter. The cooked chicken I topped with grated parmesan and swiss, placing it in the warm oven where the cheese melted without bubbling. The sauce: pan drippings, homemade chicken stock, cream, dry sherry, white wine, fresh sage, thyme, and oregano. The chicken, the mixed veggies, and the noodles fill the plate, blurring into each other a bit; across the top the asparagus spears recline, bisecting the plate; sauce is poured generously over the noodles and the chicken. It’s an elegant, somewhat casual presentation, reminding K of a fashion model slouching along a runway. It is served with chardonnay, although if I’d remembered the bottle of dry French rosé in the fridge it would have been perfect. The aftertastes are subtly of black pepper and sherry.
Tiramisù. I’d made this dish recently, but on request I reprised it last night. Espresso, dark rum, grated unsweetened chocolate…