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WND – Spring Dinner

June 7, 2012

When I finished 10th grade everyone involved agreed that for their sanity and mine it was better that Chemistry and I part ways. I don’t know exactly what my mental block on Chemistry was, but I was terrible at it. The only parts of it that I even marginally understood were the parts where you set peanuts on fire and boiled water in a test tube from the resulting flame (to calculate the number of calories in a peanut), and balancing equations. The balancing equations part of chemistry I still wasn’t exceptionally good at, but at least derived a sense of satisfaction from making everything achieve a state of equilibrium on either side of the = symbol. This is also, I suspect, why I enjoyed doing math proofs (plus, at the bottom of math proofs you get to write Q.E.D. which always made me feel terrible erudite and like I was one step closer to inhabiting a British school boy novel).

I derive the same kind of satisfaction from menu planning that I used to get from balancing equations in Chemistry, only with the added bonus that I get to eat what I plan. Generally speaking this was not true of chemical equations which tended to involve various unpalatable substances like HCl and H2SO4. Menu planning is all about balancing your week – one day of decadent dining (usually Dinner night) followed by several days of more responsible menus. It’s about balancing your proteins – not every vegetarian meal can involve eggs (or chickpeas); balancing textures – I would eat soup seven days a week but I suspect my roommate might start to object eventually; balancing flavors – every meal can involve garlic, but it probably shouldn’t be used in the same context each time; and balancing what’s in your fridge/freezer that needs to be used. I also tend to keep an eye on what we had for dinner last week, and what we’re eating this week when I’m planning what we’ll be eating next week in an attempt to not fall into the trap of making the same five or six meals over and over again just because they’re easy and tasty.

Ideally menu planning is also responsive to what’s going on outside your front door. Currently this is what I’m finding problematic with planning next week’s menu. It has been ridiculously, unseasonably cold here for the past few days. Ridiculously cold as in, I refuse to turn my heat back on in June but have been leaving my oven door open when I’m done cooking in an attempt to raise the temperature of the house above 58. Ridiculously cold as in, I took a hot water bottle to bed with me on Monday night, and unearthed the scarf and gloves I thought I was done with for the season. The other upshot of this is that I keep staring at my menu plan and thinking that what sounds really good right now is a nice thick beef stew with crusty bread, or shepherd’s pie topped with mashed potatoes, or thick creamy white bean soup redolent with garlic and rosemary.

Intellectually I know that come the end of the week it’s supposed to clear up and get warmer again and that next week should be sunny and sundress weather and that I won’t want heavy winter food anymore (crossed fingers, knock on wood), but right now as I’m wearing corduroy pants, a long sleeve sweater, a scarf and contemplating turning on the space heater under my desk it’s hard to convince myself of that (which is, incidentally, why we’re having chili for Dinner next week).

For the curious next week’s menu plan is shaping up something like this:

Saturday – out to dinner somewhere as yet to be determined

Sunday
grits, fried eggs, (oven) fried green tomatoes, salad, strawberries

Monday
sloppy bombay joes, butter lettuce salad w/ apples/radishes/peas & carrot ginger dressing, cucumber salad with miso dressing, pineapple

Tuesday
butternut squash chili, apple cornbread, salad

Wednesday
turkey sandwich, salad

Thursday
fish tacos, mango slaw, pickled onions, black beans, grilled zucchini

Friday – out to dinner at The Friendly Toast

Dinner This Week

Cold Roasted Chicken
(leftover Roasted Pear Chutney)
Tomato Cobbler
Roasted Asparagus
Spring Greens Salad w/ Strawberries & Fennel

Roasted Chicken

Recipe previously given: Macaroni & Cheese

Tomato Cobbler
(serves 6-8)

There are two versions of this recipe floating around the internet. They both have more or less the same filling, but Martha Stewart’s version is topped with a cream biscuit that involves 2 cups of heavy cream, a stick of butter and a cup of cheese. Mark Bittman’s version is topped with a cheesy cornmeal biscuit which involves a lot less butter and replaces the cream with buttermilk. The Martha Stewart version sounds really tasty (when does butter and cream not sound tasty?) but I just could not bring myself to use an entire pint of cream + butter + cheese to make a side dish for something I was trying to conceptualize as a light Spring Dinner.

Filling
2 Tbsp butter or olive oil (or a combination of the two)
3 medium white onions, sliced into thin half moons
Sprinkle of brown sugar
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Splash of white wine (optional)
2-3 lb cherry tomatoes
2-3 Tbsp flour*
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
Salt/pepper
Thyme

Melt the butter/olive oil in a large skillet. When it is hot add the thinly sliced onions and season with salt/pepper and a sprinkle of brown sugar. Saute over medium heat for 45-60 minutes, or until caramelized. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Deglaze the pan with a little white wine (or chicken stock). Cook off all the liquid until you have a sticky mass of golden brown onions. Cool. (I recommend doing this the night before).

In a large bowl toss together the tomatoes, caramelized onions, flour, red pepper flakes, fresh thyme (to taste) and season with salt and pepper. Pour into a large casserole (I started in a 9” casserole and scaled up when I decided discretion was the better part of not scraping bubbled over filling off the floor of my oven).

* Use 1 Tbsp of flour per 1 lb of tomatoes (so if you have 3 ½ lb of tomatoes, use 3 ½ Tbsp of flour, if you have 2 ½ lb of tomatoes use 2 ½ Tbsp of flour . . . you get the picture).

Biscuits
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
(scant) ¼ tsp salt
(scant) ½ tsp pepper
4 Tbsp butter
2 ¼ oz gruyere (or cheddar), finely grated – divided
1 egg, beaten
¾ cup buttermilk
1-2 Tbsp milk (to brush biscuit tops)

Preheat oven to 375.

Sift together the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter until mixture has the texture of wet sand. Mix in 2 oz of grated cheese (reserve the remaining ¼ oz to sprinkle on top just before you bake).

Beat the egg and buttermilk together. Mix into the flour/cornmeal mixture to form a wet sticky dough (add more buttermilk if needed).

Drop by 1 ½ Tbsp-fuls onto the tomato filling – starting around the edges and working inwards – leave some space clear to allow steam to escape. Brush the tops of the biscuits with a little milk or cream and sprinkle with reserved cheese.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until tomatoes are bubbly and biscuits are browned. Allow to cool for at least 15-20 minutes before serving (the flavors come through better when this is room temperature than when this is piping hot, and the whole thing hangs together better if it’s had a chance to cool and set up a little – plus, you’ll burn your tongue on the tomatoes if you try and eat it right out of the oven).

Note: I used 3 ½ lb of tomatoes, and made 1 ½ times the recipe of biscuit dough. While I would never turn down extra biscuits, I think that in this instance the biscuit to filling ratio was a little too high and next time I’d just do 1x the biscuit recipe for that amount of tomatoes.

Roasted Asparagus

Recipe previously given: Seasonal In Spite of Myself

Spring Greens Salad w/ Strawberries & Fennel

I was planning on using pea tendrils in this salad because I’d seen them the other week at Wilson Farms, but either they were out when I was there on Saturday or I missed my narrow seasonal window for pea tendrils. I settled for tender young beet greens instead.

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