Wednesday, May 2, 2012

UnRecipe: I'm Bringing SundayDinnerBack

Nowhere near as rhythmic or booty-shaking as JT singing he's bringing SexyBack, I would still like to make an appeal to anyone who takes a look at this post, to please consider bringing SundayDinnerBack. Not that it was missing. I just think it's a pleasant weekly ritual to encourage at least one meal, fresh out of the oven or off the stove, that brings everyone to the table.

Eat this, Norman Rockwell - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I'm the first to admit, weekend meals are my "cheat" days -- the biggest question being, Burger or Pizza? I tend to cook quickly-prepared dishes during the week to supply us with a bevvy of dinner leftovers and Tupperware lunches, so by the time the weekend comes, I'm spent and just want to lay down for a while and have my nutrients brought to me, preferably in a cocktail glass. But when motivation kicks in and the fridge is well-stocked, I'll get a bee in my bonnet to make something that I can savor cooking as much as I can savor eating. Case in point, right around St. Patty's Day, corned beef was on the brain. I enjoy corned beef, but I have not, in fact, ever made it. I perused the meat section at the store, but people must have nabbed all the brisket, because all that was left were these bagged, pre-brined cuts of meat that kinda scared the bejeezus out of me. When I think I need a PhD to recognize, much less pronounce the chemical preservatives they put in brining liquid, the Food Angel on my shoulder says, Throw it back, lest ye be better preserved than Cher in a nuclear winter. Maybe being Cher isn't such a bad thing, but not as a result of eating Mummified Corned Beef.

A not-so-traditional corned beef, but Indy didn't mind - Photos by Wasabi Prime

To the Interwebs, Robin! I used Alton Brown's brine for corned beef; I didn't have saltpeter, which is the chemical you use to preserve the pink color of the meat, and I didn't have juniper berries. While the lack of juniper berries probably removed a degree of flavor potential for the meat, I wasn't disappointed -- I quite liked his use of whole cinnamon to perfume the meat, and the other flavors combined nicely. As always, good job, Alton Brown! Given the absense of non-scary brisket at the store, I did have a cut of round steak, aka London broil as some labels are apt to call it. It's a large slab of beef, somewhat tough and not a lot of fat marbling through it -- kind of like a flank steak. Since it's a bit on the gnaw-gnaw-gnaw side, round steak isn't a terrible substitute for corned beef, as the slow cooking will most certainly break down the sinewy bits, rendering it fork-tender. The slow cooker worked its magic on the brined beef, leaving me time to prepare a wonderfully rich and sinful side dish -- cheesy potatoes. Whole red potatoes, cut into large chunks, boiled just shy of fork-tender, then tossed in a cream and cheddar sauce before getting set into a casserole dish and shoved into the oven to finish off. I sprinkled some panko crumbs over to make a nice crust, but it all gets ooey-gooey mixed together when you spoon those potatoes onto a plate with slices of corned beef. I made a sauce for the beef, reducing the liquid left in the slow cooker, adding a splash of marsala and some pre-soaked wild mushrooms. I know, not so Irish, but we didn't even have this on St. Patty's Day, it was days after, as the brining process recommends over a week's time. When you see Alton's recipe saying it takes 243 hours, that's the brine talking. But consider a dish like this for the Sunday a week from now -- so get that herbed soak going on a slab of meat today!

Saucy, cheesy, bacon-y good -- who needs to live forever? - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Like everyone else, I get inspired to make things by magazines, books, and TV, and I saw this recipe for Roast Chicken with Romesco sauce from Martha Stewart. I love romesco sauce, that peppery, tangy sauce from Spain that's pretty much good on everything. I could seriously just eat it on its own, just a little bit of bread, call it done, it's so good. I used the basics of St. Martha's romesco recipe, but of course added my own touches -- I put in finely-chopped preserved lemons, just a little to heighten the tangy flavor. And I totally goofed when I was opening cans of what I thought were tomatoes -- I opened a can of chickpeas instead. Whoops. I could have left them out, but I didn't have anything in mind for them later in the week, so I said, eff it, and in they went, during the sauce's finish. Completely crazy, I know, but I added some mushrooms in there too, so it made the sauce almost like its own side dish, there was so much stuff mixed in there. And beneath everything was some seared chicken. I swear, it's under there somewhere.

Chicken n' mushrooms n' romesco sauce - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I've said it before, but I like buying whole chickens and just breaking 'em apart myself. No, not Hulkamania where I tear through it like some rabid animal, I use a knife. I'm awful at butchering my own meats, it literally feels like I'm butchering the butchering process, but I get there one way or another. As a result, there's a serial killer-like supply of chicken carcasses in the freezer for stock and all the broken down parts ready for Sunday Dinner. It feels productive to be able to do this yourself, it's cheaper, and you have enough time to practice your chicken dismemberment on a weekend. Duh, Winning. A good cast-iron Dutch oven is perfect for searing the chicken to a toasty brown color. I deglazed the pot with a little stock before adding the romesco sauce and stowaway chickpeas and mushrooms. The chicken was nestled in and it was covered up and shoved into a preheated 350 degree oven for maybe 20 minutes, just to finish off. Set it, forget it, moving on... 

Bacon makes it better and faux-Mac n' Cheese - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Aside from asparagus making your pee smell weird (well, it does), it's delicious and the perfect size for making little bundles and wrapping slices of bacon around them. What would I call such a thing -- Aspara-bacon Haystacks? Pork Torches? A-spear-a-Bacon?  Who knows, but they're an indulgence to add to a plate, just to make sure you're not eating too healthily. I've seen this done with individual asparagus spears and prosciutto -- equally good -- but since the bacon is thick, having a bundle of mid-sized spears together helps lengthen the cooking time, giving the bacon a chance to render and tighten. I threw a whole tray of these bad boys into a 375-degree oven and it probably took about 20 minutes, give or take. Having the asparagus tossed with a light drizzle of oil helps them along, and I like these with a lot of pepper.

Because everything for this Sunday meal was so comfy-cozy, I craved macaroni and cheese, but I went with cauliflower and cheese instead. I would say it's a healthier dish, but not really, as the cheese sauce is pretty rich -- full cream, shreds of cheddar, the works. The cauliflower is just an easy pasta-swap, since it holds up well and doesn't have too-strong a flavor to counter the sauce. I cut the cauliflower into bite sized pieces, added to boiling water for just a few minutes, just to lightly soften, and then quickly drain before tossing with the cream sauce. Much like the cheesy potatoes, the cauliflower-cheese combo gets put into a casserole dish, a sprinkling of breadcrumbs and extra Parmesan if you have it, and into the oven it goes to finish.

Yes, it was quite a rich meal, but it felt so fancy-schmancy to have multiple courses at home and it made having dinner on a Sunday special and something to enjoy. The Mister works late and I often eat early, so our meal schedules are always out of sync -- weekends are when we can really appreciate a meal together, without the pressure of time or the onset sleepiness from a busy workday to intrude. So come on, bring SundayDinnerBack.

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