September 21, 2015

Here is what we cooked last week:

Monday: Dunnings gathering at Roland’s (Strip District).   So-so food, hinky crowd.
Tuesday: Szechuan Lamb Chops, Fresh tomato salsa, Mexican-style grilled corn
Wednesday: T. Keller Roast Chicken with salad
Thursday: Father Duch appreciation at Field Club.
Friday: Thai grilled salmon with watercress and cucumber salad
Saturday: Cheese, Pickles, apples and celery
Focaccia with rosemary and grapes
Baked orzo with mushrooms and peas
Grilled Rib Eye with black olive vinaigrette
Lemon-Lime Semifreddo with amoretti.
Sunday – Brunch with the Steelers – Frittata (bacon, mozzarella, spinach and arugula, sauted shallots) with tomato salsa.
Dinner – left-over orzo, rib-eye, green salad with black olive vinaigrette.

On Saturday, Greg, Kelly and Mike joined Beez and me for a steak-house feast. The weather was perfect, the Pirates beat Chicago, Andrew and Julia called and Billy ran into Julie and Peter Slavish in Wrigleyville after the Pirates beat Chicago – a coincidence that made us smile. All in all, a perfect day.

I will assume that you know how to grill a steak. If not, don’t tell anyone, and immediately (I mean right now – drop whatever else you’re doing) get a copy of Steve Reichlen’s “How to Grill,” and study pages 54 to 72. 2” thick rib eyes take 6-7 minutes per side over a hot grill – DO NOT OVERCOOK.

Here are two dishes I want you to know about, if you don’t already – Thomas Keller’s method for roasting a chicken and baked orzo with mushrooms and peas (a casserole dish for the 21st Century).

Roast chicken – Keller is, of course, the proprietor of The French Laundry in Yountville and notoriously rigorous and impeccable in his cooking. But nothing could be easier than his method of roasting a chicken. Bring a 2 to 3 lb. chicken* to room temperature (1-2 hours). Pre-heat your over to 450. Dry the chicken thoroughly with paper towels (you’ll never get it totally dry, but work on this for a while– you want the chicken to roast, not steam). Salt the cavity and then truss the bird as tightly as you can. You want a compact package for even cooking. (There are videos on the web that can help with this. For a sizeable fee and transportation – limo with chilled prosecco and spiced pecans – I’ll be glad to help). Now generously salt the outside of the chicken and put into a skillet and place in the oven for about 1 hour. I turn on the broiler at the end, if the skin is not crisp enough.

Remove the chicken (turn it so that most of the juices from the cavity run drip into the skillet) to a cutting board for 5 minutes or so. In the meantime, add some chopped thyme to the pan juices and baste the bird. Keller recommends serving with Dijon mustard on the the side – and he’s right, which was a surprise to me.   Pair this with a bunch of lightly-dressed greens and you can charge $24.99 per diner ($34.99 in New York).

*Finding a small bird is the most difficult part of the process – Giant Eagle offers chickens this small only occasionally – try a local butcher or Whole Foods.

Baked orzo with mushrooms and peas. The baked orzo is a dish from Giada Di Laurentis and one of the all-time great comfort dishes – you’re going to want this badly when the days grow short and the cold rains come.

You can get the recipe on the Cooking Channel web-site. It’s very simple. Pre-heat your oven to 400° F, and butter a baking dish or casserole. You’ll need something with dimensions equal to about 9x 13×3”.

Sauté a chopped onion and a package of sliced mushrooms (about 8 oz.) in 3 TBS of butter over medium heat plus (i.e., higher than medium but below medium-high) – first the onions for about 4 minutes, then add the mushrooms and cook until the edges turn dark – maybe 7 more minutes. At this point add 1 cup of marsala wine and cook until it reduces by ½ – 5 minutes or so. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, bring 4 cups of chicken stock to a boil and barely cook (6.5 minutes) 1 lb. of orzo in the stock .   Mix the mushrooms and onions in a large bowl with the orzo and chicken stock and add in cubed mozarrella – one of those large balls of mozarrella that come packed in brine – about 4 oz. of shredded fontina, a cup of peas (frozen are fine – but thaw them first), ½ C heavy cream, 3/4 teaspoon or less of salt and ½ tsp of pepper and stir well. Put into a buttered casserole or baking dish and top with a mixture of bread crumbs (1/2 cup), grated parmigiano (1/4 cup) and 1 Tsp of dried thyme.

Put casserole into the oven and bake for 25 minutes, broil for another 2 or 3 to brown the top and serve. Warning: Invite a lot of people over for this dish. It is a lot of food and, if you have my level of self-control, you’ll be like a guppy with a co-dependent owner about the left-overs. Well – you probably won’t die, like the guppy, but you will find yourself stretching the limits of anatomical possibility.

Extra: Why not list the ingredients before the recipe? Well – for one thing, you need to read a recipe through at least twice to understand the cooking sequence and timing. While you’re doing that, you can write down the ingredients for yourself. For another thing, I haven’t got the time – BUT, hold on – by next week we (a young lady name CJ and I) will have turned this weekly note into a blog and I’ll be dressing up recipes, probably adding ingredient lists, inviting all of you to contribute and generally making this long, linear note much easier to read and navigate.