Friday, June 18, 2010

"Freezer" Dinner with Friends

James and I just put in our order for a cattle share from Hearst Ranch, and so, anticipating needing room in the freezer, I invited our friends Eric and Shari over for a freezer dinner -- what I could make from what I could find. Only one problem, when it actually came down to looking there wasn't much in the freezer at all. A couple of flavored butters from or annual oyster events, some left over chilis and stews from the "fridgeventory", a random package of puff pastry, and a couple of frozen naan. Nothing very inspiring and no hoard of proteins waiting to be conquered.
I had to make a trip to Costco the other day (that's how I ended up with 5 lbs of mussels) and staring blankly at the meat case I spied a brisket. That might be fun, I thought, and compared to the whole filet roast I also thought might be "fun", a pretty good value. With no menu idea I put the brisket in the cart and headed out.
Brisket seems so American, so barbeque, so corn on the cob. I had a big jar left of that delicious Chilean Spicy salsa I made the other day and thought that might be a good combo. I decided to smoke the brisket with a rub of Pimentón, onion powder, salt, sugar, cumin and pepper to echo the flavors in the salsa. At least we'd be clearing some space in the fridge.
What to serve with brisket -- it just seemed too dull, too 4th of July to go with corn on the cob and cole slaw but that's always what leaps to mind with brisket.
I've been flipping through Saveur magazine and in spite of the 6lbs of meat covered in dry rub in my fridge I keep turing my head towards rustic French dishes, crispy Fougasse and vegetable ragouts. It didn't seem to go together but I decided why not. A quirky dinner best appreciated by friends.
We are cheese lovers as are our friends Eric and Shari. When I saw burrata at Costco (why don't I go there more often) I immediately imagined this riff on nancy Silverton's Caprese Salad from Mozza Restaurant. Oven Roasted cherry tomatoes, pesto sauce brightened with a finish of lemon juice and creamy soft cheese.
I've never made fougasse before, or eaten it. Something about Saveur's picture of the herb and olive topped bread made the recipe impossible to ignore. Besides I am getting a little weary of no-knead style breads (although there are a few to come). It was nice to have my hands in dough again and these crisp breads, although I don't know if they even vaguely resemble the authentic variety, were perfect with our array of cheese, olives, and thinly sliced salumi.
The main course. I really wasn't sure how long to smoke the meat. I heated the gas grill and then turned off the middle and right burner. I put the meat in a foil roasting pan over the un-heated part of the grill. Over the flames, using two more metal pans, I poured a bottle of beer in one (for a little extra moisture) and filled the other with soak mesquite chips. About 4 and half hours later (and about 45 minutes resting time covered in foil) we had smoked through, pretty tender meat ready to soak up the spicy salsa.
Well, something had to come from the freezer. Back in April James had kindly shucked and frozen the fava beans from our front yard winter crop. With the addition of some farmer's market asparagus and artichokes this vegetable ragout, also from the June July 2010 issue of Saveur magazine, seemed like perfect way to showcase our winter crop and clear a little space.
Light summer tasting potatoes? I split a little pile of yellow fingerlings rom out garden and roasted them in the oven with olive oil , salt and pepper until the cut edges were crisp and golden brown. Following a recipe I saw on epicurious, I topped the potatoes with an herb salad of parsley, tarragon (a favorite of James' but not one of mine -- I figured that was good way to keep me away from the potatoes), mustard, red wine vinegar, and olive oil sprinkled with finely chopped hard boiled backyard eggs (thanks girls!).
Dessert was another matter. I started by wanted to get Jim Lahey's chocolate coconut bread checked off as I am baking my way through his My Bread cookbook. James doesn't eat all that much chocolate -- and, as if the case with most sweet things that are bad for my pants size I have a hard time staying away from it, so . . . it seemed like a good idea to have some friends to eat it with us in case it was really really good. But can I serve toast for dessert? And, what goes with toast? I found a recipe for buttermilk pudding (another one from epicurious) that seemed like a good combo and I had buttermilk waiting to be used in the fridge. Done. But then while flipping through Lahey's cookbook, checking my ingredients I spotted sweet foccacia, now that had to be delicious and used apricot jam and I could substitute in my own homemade stone fruit jam, left over from my pop tart filling. Besides, didn't seem like a bad idea to have a backup in case that coconut chocolate bread (what the hell will I ever do with that) was underwhelming (as indeed it was) Deconstructed bread pudding? Toast and milk pudding for dessert? Different but not too bad. I suppose -- and, two more recipes down.
Now all I need is a freezer dinner to clear out from my freezer dinner.

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