Cooking simple dishes
Posted by shannonclark on December 10, 2007
For lunch today I had a salad which I prepared at home. Everything in the salad I purchased at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market this past Saturday, all directly from the farmers and everything was local and organic. I started with a base of mixed greens, then added some baby potatoes which I boiled until tender (checked with a fork) and then cut in half. I then sliced a few small purple onions – not the type which are bulb shaped but a variety that is closer to what people call “green onions”. To top off the salad I had a piece of duck confit which I had purchased from a local charcuterie at the market. I finished the duck confit by heating it until crisp in a cast iron pan on my stove top, I then shredded it and gave the shredded pieces a few minutes to crisp up even further.
For the dressing I took an old small jar (which had once held artichoke hearts) and added balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, fresh ground pepper, and some dried basil. I then close the top and shook the dressing until it stayed on the sides of the jar (I typically use about 1 part olive oil for every 1 part vinegar and add olive oil as needed to get the right texture).
And I finished by tossing the salad so that every piece of lettuce and potatoes was dressed.
Very simple, but also very satisfying, quick to make and extremely tasty. If I had had something else to go with it, also more than enough for two people. All for a total cost of about $10 or less.
Last night I was at a friend’s dinner party down the Peninsula, the party was a BBQ so there was plenty of meat dishes but as I looked over what was on the menu I noticed we didn’t have many vegetables at all (okay, no vegetables at all actually). So I asked if I could make something with ingredients he had around his kitchen – and he said “sure”.
So I made a couple of quick dishes.
First, a very, very simple dish of mashed potatoes. He had a couple of pounds of baby red potatoes, I simply put them into two large pots on the stove in water so all the potatoes were covered and let them cook on a medium temperature until tender. As the potatoes cooked I diced up a medium yellow onion into fine cubes and sauteed the onions in extra virgin olive oil. I added some pre-chopped garlic to the onions near the very end and I only lightly turned the onions, just enough to avoid burning.
When the potatoes were finished I mostly drained them and dumped them into a large glass bowl. Some of the water they had boiled with stayed which was fine. I then added a half of a stick of butter, salt and fresh pepper. I let the butter melt a bit and started smashing the potatoes. I then added the onions and garlic and finished mashing.
Since he did not have a large fork or a potato masher I used two table knives to slice the potatoes (skins and all) going at various angles to end up with well mashed potatoes, this is where having cooked the potatoes correctly and fully really paid off.
As I was mashing the potatoes I had a second dish cooking as well, while I was waiting for the other parts to finish I had thinly sliced a couple of zucchinis. I sliced them into very thin (a couple of mm) circles and then sauteed them in the same pan as I had sauteed the onions, adding just a bit more olive oil back to them. I also lightly salted them and ground a little bit of fresh black pepper on them.
I sauteed them until they were mostly tender and the thinest pieces were almost translucent. I served this dish in a simple, shallow white bowl.
Neither dish lasted very long at all at the party – they were both long eaten before any of the BBQ meats were ready.
So I also made a simple dressing to go with some salad greens someone had brought. For the dressing I found a large old jar w/lid. Added balsamic, extra virgin olive oil, salt, fresh pepper, some dried basil and a couple of spoonfuls of brown mustard. Again, I closed the lid and shook until the dressing stuck to the sides. The up and down shaking emulsifies the oil and vinegar – more simply and quickly than any other technique I had seen or tried.
So that was my simple cooking for the past few days – nothing very complicated – but also apparently from the compliments I got appreciated.
My philosophy of cooking is to start with the best ingredients I can get and to then do about the bare minimum needed to them to bring out their flavors. I try to use fresh, local, seasonal ingredients as much as possible (for which I love living in California) and at least when cooking at home I also care a great deal about the freshness and quality of the spices, olive oils, vinegars and the like which I use while cooking. Most of my spices are from The Spice House in Chicago which is, by far, my favorite place to buy spices – and one of the things I most miss from my old neighborhood in Chicago (I lived just a block away from their Chicago store and could run down the street to get just about any spice I might ever need).