With the season of wonderful vegetables and fruit, you might think all my cooking would be centered on some way of showcasing these only-now items. And where possible that certainly happens. But along with the longer days of summer come projects which have been long-postponed, home renovations, and later meals when you can finally walk away from a job that has to happen today or tonight, especially if work depending on that completed task is scheduled to start bright and early in the morning with the sound of trucks in the driveway.
By the time you do have time to eat dinner it can be quite late, and your appetite is lightened by warm weather and a general (and welcome) leanness. Despite a full library of wonderful cookbooks and cooking magazines, my addled brain often turns to a couple of dependable sources. One is always Mark Bittman, either in his Minimalist column in the NYT, or his own website and of course his books (I have the green one, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian). I also like the practical realism of his suggestion. We try to aim a bit lower on the food chain in general. And his table and list organized approach (in the book and sometimes in his seasonal articles, like 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less) lets you take the ideas as a suggestion rather rigid recipes.
For the other quick approach, I often do a fast marinade of a small bit of meat or fish, the plentiful veggie on hand, maybe Greek style from memory or family traditions, or borrowed from the talented enthusiasm of Tom Douglas, another favourite author, chef and inspired restauranteur, from Seattle.
What I like about both of these writers (and chefs) is that the techniques make sense to me, and translate to an approach I can often use with flexibility. They may use a slightly different combination of seasoning or prep that helps me refresh my own standbys, or refine and expand my skills and gives a new take on ingredients I hadn’t mixed before.
I have tried Tom’s Greek marinade (with Metaxa if you have it, otherwise ordinary brandy will do) on shrimp grilled outside as well as quickly seared on a stovetop non-stick grill pan, as well as pork tenderloin. This lean and fast souvlaki simply requires the meat be cut into 1½” cubes, threaded on water-soaked bamboo skewers and coated with the marinade. I try to give the pork at least 45 minutes with the marinade, back in the fridge, and for a single tenderloin, cook half the skewers one night, and hold the remainder overnight in a sealed container for a fast 2nd night’s dinner. You can find the marinade in Tom’s Big Dinners.
With regard to a reduced meat approach. I don’t eat meat every day, don’t even desire to, but I am not a vegetarian. I do recognize many advantages to reducing the role of meat in my meal planning and limiting those meals to the best locally produced and sustainably farmed sources possible. I try to take that approach with all of our food, and mostly, with the luck of where I live and choices we make, we can come close to the target we set. I have treated meat as more of an accent for many years, although higher protein diet trends sometimes put a easy emphasis on animal sources. I think a decent balance can be had. I also recognize that cured meats are still a temptation, so I limit those to the best examples, and wish I could say only rarely ;-). Like cheese and chocolate, sometimes I just have to say “none please” for a measure of time (say 40 days), like a drying out period after a month of Wensleydale and Stilton. Then I am looking for seasoned but simple dinner that makes me feel virtuous and satisfied.
Of course sometimes I would rather be sitting in Lola’s or the Dahlia Lounge having Tom’s crew cook for me, but one can’t be greedy!
Next post – Beech mushrooms and other favourites from my local Asian markets.