Meals of the week

mitchell umdJust catching up from the week:

Plate: Loin of pork with red curry-orange sauce, braised with sweet potatoes and carrots. Sauteed kale.

Discipline: Let’s see, you tweeted a picture of this one, didn’t you? (That’s sweet of you, although here is how I generally feel about that.) I think of boneless pork loin in the following baseball-biz terms: using this cut is exploiting a market inefficiency. Pork tenderloin at the farmers’ market will run you $16-$18 per pound. Boneless loin, which in some ways I actually prefer, fetches $9-$11. That is still a lot, but given how little meat we buy, I don’t really mind. It’s amazing to me what a single step down from the top of the food summit will achieve. I like pork tenderloin, too, but there’s no justification for buying it when you can get nearly the same level of flavor for something like half the cost. Also in baseball-biz terms, it’s how you use the piece more than what it actually is that sets its value. (Boneless loin actually gives you more options, too.) Cuts like tenderloin (filet mignon, etc.) are for people who don’t feel like cooking. They are pretty delicious just salted and peppered and then grilled five minutes or so. Truth be told, it’s not much more complicated to turn out a good boneless loin (or shoulder steak or whatever); you pay a premium for the luxury of not having to think about it at all. And for the “brand”: “tenderloin” is sexier than “boneless loin.”

We drank Leitz 2002 riesling spatlese with this; I don’t recall the German-wine vineyard-site fine print on the rest of the label. I got it at one of Mark’s auctions for something like $25/btl. That’s cheap for really good spatlese riesling in its sweet-spot for drinking, from a primo vintage.

Plate: Grilled wahoo with rice and spinach.

Discipline: I bought this fish from Locals Seafood at the University Mall farmers’ market. That dinky little market can be refreshing sometimes, because there are like eight vendors and one of them sells stupid baked goods that I don’t pay attention to. I got to the market half an hour after it opened on Saturday, and one of the vendors had already sold out of everything; he was already packing up. (Well, it’s February; no one has much to sell.) I like going to this market every now and then. For one thing, Locals Seafood sets up there–the radius restrictions at the Durham market DQ them, which is stupid. So in Chapel Hill I can pick out fresh fish without having to order it in advance from those guys (whom I love).

For another, it can be healthy to go to a market where pickings are modest. You don’t overindulge, you don’t get spoiled, you don’t forget that farming is a seasonal, weather-affected endeavor. We had a snowstorm three days before this market on Saturday, and the major road that goes by Univ. Mall was rendered impassable and refugee-ish for 24 hours. I didn’t mind showing up not long after that event to find that my choices were limited to fish, greens, sweet potatoes, eggs and fresh lamb (from Fickle Creek). Since you have an aversion to lamb, it was basically a four-food display of choices. And the greens were really limited by the time I arrived: bags of spinach, weedy-salad mix, weedy-braising mix, and larger-sized bags of spinach and weedy-braising mix. The enforced discipline at the market meant transitive discipline at dinner, which we ate at 5:15 and was essentially two of the four things I bought at the market, plus rice. It happened to be delicious. But the effect was: Here’s all there is to buy: what are you going to do with it? Challenge accepted. The trick to it? Don’t try to do too much. This is like taking an outside pitch the other way for an opposite-field single.

We drank the rest of our Hobo Rockpile/Branham Zinfandel, which had been open for two days. I was happy to discover that it was still in good shape. Nathan told me this was the best Zin he’s ever had. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but for the price it’s close. Very light and restrained.

Aside: We wolfed this dinner down and then went to watch Duke play Maryland at Devine’s. I’m not going to lie to you: My heart was pounding for the last 20 seconds of the game, and when Mitchell’s shot somehow didn’t fall for Maryland, there was that astonishing, palpitating extra release of energy that comes after the climax, as your body offloads all the excess adrenaline it has built up. Maybe that’s why I wound up with a headache.

A little more about discipline here: Maryland’s Charles Mitchell missed that last shot that hung on the rim and then fell off and would have won them the game. It was Mitchell, a very emotional player, who got upset with the ref earlier in the game when he was whistled for an over-the-back on a rebound attempt. He was so demonstrative about it that his teammates had to calm him down as they went to the bench for a timeout. I remember thinking, you’ve got to get a hold of yourself, kid; this game is going down to the last minute, and it’s gonna require everything you’ve got, and you can’t be wasting energy on a call that goes against you. Sure enough, it comes down to this last shot, and he takes it, and it was hard not to think that his failure to master himself earlier in the second half came back for retribution and inched that ball out of the cylinder.

Plate: Golden tilefish.

Discipline: What did I serve this with? That baby tatsoi? I don’t recall. Rice, as per almost always. That was the night of the major snow; we were lucky that Locals got this fish delivered to us before the Triangle became a winter war zone. My point here is that tile, while evidently being a mercury-bomb (super-avoid!), is really delicious. It’s an improvement on grouper and about 25% cheaper. I think I read somewhere that a good amount of fish served as grouper on restaurant menus is actually tile. [Redacted] at [redacted] told me that their grouper orders routinely arrive with a couple of tiles mixed in, and they have to decide whether to send them back or just say hell with it and cook the tile as grouper anyway. Sometimes it probably just depends on what day/time it is and whether he feels like messing with the hassle of the phone call, rescheduling pickup, hawking over the subsequent invoice for credit, etc.

Two days later I made a little stew out of the remaining scraps of tile, and the stew was actually better than the dinner. Simple, too: cooked it in chicken stock with capers, garlic, scallions, chile flake, lemon. Over leftover rice. Fish stew, done well, is one of the great underrated meals.

I’m fairly certain we drank that Contra Soarda vespaiolo with this. I super-dig this wine, another obscure one that would cost twice as much  money if anyone knew what the hell it was. If there is plate discipline, there is bottle discipline, too. Just look one inch away from center, there’s all this good wine that’s absurdly cheap for the quality. So much of poor value in the world of food and wine is just punishment of people who are too timid or lazy to do any searching or wandering at all. Life in general, too…

Plate: Grilled kielbasa and poached egg over shiitake mushroom polenta; salad.

Discipline: The egg was a last-minute idea (that whole “breakfast” joke that makes fancy-restaurant chefs feel so clever about themselves; also, we didn’t have enough food without the egg). The kielbasa was from Chapel Hill Creamery, whose meats I much  prefer to their cheese, which I find perfectly good but very poor value. $16-$18 per pound for cheese, a snack food? I can buy pork tenderloin for that! I think I’m one of those people who doesn’t “get” cheese; it’s lost on me. Also, dairy and my digestion are like an episode of American Gladiator.

This turned out to be quite delicious. Polenta is so easy to make, it’s almost cheating. I remember Mindy’s former beau, Bill (who cooked for [redacted] long ago, way before I worked at [redacted]), showing me how to make polenta when I was 24 and saying, “It’s almost impossible to overcook polenta.” And you can put almost anything in it. It’s like risotto for the lazy cook. The secret to keeping lumps out is to mix the cornmeal with a little cold water and make a slurry, which you then drizzle into the saucepan of hot stock. Whisk a few minutes; when it starts to thicken, you go take a shower and come back later.

We had Marquis D’Angerville 2004 Volnay Clos Des Ducs with this. Breaking out fancy stuff on a night when some solace was in order. This wasn’t a good year at all for Volnay, which may account for why I was able to buy 4 or 5 bottles cheap on distributor closeout. More discipline: know your vintages! If you do, that allows you not to worry so damned much about them. It’s more, know your producer. D’angermouse is really famous, and old (they still spell it “Vollenay”). The wine was delicious, and in no need of further cellaring, although it’s necessary to add that the cork was quite soaked and the wine perhaps accelerated in its evolution. A real treat.

Then we went to The Parlour and got ice cream. Wasn’t the narrative mostly about how mean the countergirl was? I liked my ice cream and you loved yours, but we talked mostly about the disaffected service. It didn’t occur to me till just now that she could have been someone we knew… or our daughter. We needed an extra scoop of comfort tonight, and to have some things because of other things we want more but can’t have.

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