16 June 2013

Dark Flavors

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 10:24 am

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…



  1. You see, Living Well IS the Best Revenge. I can’t even condemn gossip woman Mary Hart for superficiality, since she’s the first I heard utter it on Entertainment Tonight, giving off an aura of her own Midas Touch (she was much younger, and has since quit the show, of course.)

    My birthday yesterday was the most perfect I’ve EVER had. We drove up Bruckner Blvd. and had a lot of traffic, but finally we got there, and Alex and I preferred to sit in the cushy burgundy banquettes instead of the patio with umbrellas. I think I wrote that you don’t even need a dessert after their Veal Saltimbocca, succulent over spinach and Prosciutto, but I had one anyway. The ONLY desserts they had were sorbets in the peel of the flavour, orange, pineapple, some others, Fine Chianti as always, but then I wanted a glass of Chardonnay.

    We’d last been there in late November or early December, 2011, and I was totally smitten with this waiter who hadn’t been there in 2010. He wasn’t the ‘rehearsed’ flirtatious italian waiter (I like those, too, as one in about 2000 came out as I was looking at the menu, and I said something about what I wanted, and he got very sexy and said “You mean you REALLY want to EAT some VEAL…” Perfectly outrageous, but this is the type Zagat does note in their blurbs…)but was rather so natural and incredibly tall and skinny with slicked-back hair and a hook nose and this un-self-conscious grace of movement. Before he had on just a blue silk short-sleeved shirt, now maybe he’s the headwaiter and wore a white shirt and tie. He wasn’t even our waiter, who was none too ultra-literate even about waiting (trying to take things before finishing, as some of the amateurs do), but he came over an OUTRAGEOUS number of times to as if ‘everything is gooooood?’ Neither Jack nor Alex shared this taste in this tall drink of water who got my number so totally I didn’t even try to cover it up. I wore my gorgeous bright-yellow and green Tahiti floral shirt, which I try to wear as rarely as possible, since I don’t know if I’ll get to replace it so easily. The manager/owner came over once to talk to us, this waiter was totally outrageous and came over at least 10 times.

    He would not choose between the 6 different sorbets, instead claimed they were all perfect, so I got the orange, and it was very refreshing. There was a sausage-shaped potato pancake earlier which was out of sight too. Then this group of liqueurs that they’d made there, one was from figs, which I got, very much like a nice cognac.

    On the way back, Alex drove us, turning off spontaneously from the freeway, into remote parts of the Bronx where he grew up. He showed us the apt. building he grew up in before they moved to Manhatten, and the one he lived in when they got a better place back in the Bronx. There were these miles-long industrial and auto-repair districts. Both of his old buildings were run-down by now, and he even pointed out the exact spot where he and a buddy used to misbehave in the second one. Then we were back in Manhattan, in West (Black) Harlem and East (Spanish Harlem), it was all so colorful, we went by the Holel Theresa, where Castro stayed in 1960 or so, and is now offices. All of it had the exact same feeling of exoticism that going on a long trip has had in the past.

    Oh dear, you did a lot more work than I did on your feast, I see. On a lower culinary level, but that I also love, I eat every few days a $5 plate of Halal food, either chicken or lamb over rice with white sauce from arab lunch wagon vendors. This is easily the best value for really tasty food I know of, and they give you a salad too. I got a gyro from one of these today and ate it in beautiful leafy Madison Park, full of hydrangeas, both the old-fashioned and the cut-leaf.

    I haven’t cooked much for awhile, although I always take advantage of the asparagus season, with the street vendors having the very skinniest tastiest ones until the season is over, which is by now, and they’re mostly dry or even a bit overripe and beginning to rot, which has little appeal. I’m simpler, though, and just want lemon and butter.


    Comment by Patrick — 16 June 2013 @ 1:25 pm

  2. Bon anniversaire, Patrick! It sounds like a fabulous occasion. Most Italian restaurants around here substitute chicken breast for veal in these recipes, sadly — I’m not sure if it’s the expense or the customers’ squeamishness about eating baby cows. I see from your post that the name of the restaurant where you had this meal is Portofino. A friend once brought me a ballpoint pen from Portofino that had a little sailboat embedded in plastic case such that when you tipped the pen back and forth the boat moved. A few years later I stopped in at Portofino, a picturesque Mediterranean fishing village. I’d hoped to find a comparably touristy memento to give my friend in return but all I could find was one of those little gizmos for slicing the tips off cigars. Afterward I realized it didn’t even have the name of the town on it, but I gave it to him anyway. The best Italian place here in town locked its doors this week without advance notice, nobody seems to know what happened. I had a gyro this week too, from the place next door to the now-shuttered Italian restaurant.


    Comment by ktismatics — 16 June 2013 @ 2:59 pm

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