Dinner Plans #44
Haul so hard.
Ah, the end of summer. The time when those of us on the East Coast ride on the produce high that West Coasters somehow enjoy all year long. Jersey corn, Maine blueberries, Georgia peaches, Anywhere tomatoes. Trips to the market are fruitful, work days… not so much. Here in New York, we’ve experienced an extraordinarily Wet Hot [American] Summer, which has made looking cute damn near impossible, but eating cute very possible. While it may be fleeting fast, there’s still plenty of produce right now, and if you’re anything like us, you’re stocking up on more of it than you know what to do with. This week, we’re laying out what to do with a few fruits and vegetables we always find ourselves with an abundance of: think cherries, eggplant, and the worst offender — squash. We’ve also got food-focused comedian, writer and video producer Cody Reiss’ Dinner Plans menu of crunchy, fatty, silly and satisfying non-recipe recipes. Cook some (or all) of these dishes, enjoy your last few summer Fridays, and we’ll see ya in September!
ON THE MENU THIS WEEK:
CODY REISS’ DINNER PLANS
A Writer’s Note: My own personal style of cooking is what they call in the biz “willy-nilly” — using whatever’s on-hand, improvising, no recipes. In my experience, this is how most cooks actually make food for themselves — based on intuition, general principles, and taste — and I think that sharing the thought processes and theory behind cooking can empower people to make more enjoyable meals. So when Gaby and Courtney asked me to write about some of my favorite recipes, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to share a free-wheeling approach to cooking with their readers (you!) I’ve never really published cooking instructions, and as soon as I got to cooking, I started to feel a self-inflicted pressure to make something awesome and approachable quickly overwhelm my cooking instincts. Here’s how it all played out:
Big Chicken Taco: Two chicken thighs lay on a plastic cutting board in front of me. What… to make? I thought back to the chicken thighs I made in college, when I first started to cook — the meat pink and undercooked near the bone — and decided to de-bone the thighs. I’d never actually done this before, but I’m okay with a knife and had watched enough Jacque Pepin videos to know the basic deal. One slice down the bone, a quick shimmy around it, scrape, pull, scrape until the bone is loose. I put the thighs skin-side-down in a hot cast iron slicked with a squirt of oil. Can you make chicken thighs like salmon, mostly cooking on the skin side? We’ll see. While the chicken sizzled away, I found some lovely Vista Hermosa flour tortillas and slaw my roommate had made the night before (sorry Pierce!) in the fridge. I would make… a taco! I toasted the tortilla in a pan, chunked and salted a tomato, fiddled with the chicken a bit (a lot) until it was done: skin rendered and crisp, meat delicately cooked. After resting, I sliced the thighs into thick slices, piled it into the tortilla, scattered slaw and tomato over it, and squeezed a nice ribbon of a hot sauce over top. Flecked with crunchy chicken fat, fresh and acidic from the slaw and tomatoes, it was drippy and spicy and all around satisfying.
Sorta Tortilla Soup: “Okay,” I thought, “soups are easy to generalize in a way that might be instructive.” First step: some sort of flavorful liquid. I grabbed the leftover bones from the above chicken thighs, put them in a few cups of water, and tossed in some aromatics — an onion roughly chopped, half a head of garlic, peppercorns, a sprig of rosemary, and some of my roommates baby carrots (sorry again Pierce). I let that simmer for about two hours before straining it. The thin broth wasn’t too flavorful, so I grabbed a tomato and a hot chili I grew on my roof, and used a microplane to grate them into the broth along with a clove of raw garlic. Microplaning a tomato? My instincts eluded me. I tasted it again. Still not that cool. I added a few big pinches of salt. Closer. Into the fridge for more flavor — a spoonful of gochujang, a squirt of tomato paste. Closer. A big squeeze of lemon. Good. But now I just had some sort of weird broth. Panic. I grabbed a pint of leftover rice and dumped it into the soup, warming it in the broth. Okay, what is this? I thought of the tortilla soup I’d get from a local Mexican restaurant growing up. Not so far off... I poured the strange soup into a strange bowl, crushed some tortilla chips over it, sprinkled in a big handful of raw onion, and tore in some basil and… it was pretty good! Light, a bit spicy, with big spoonfuls of soft rice and some nice crunch to boot. Would I serve it to company? Maybe not. But as a meal for myself, I wasn’t mad at it.
What I Actually Eat For Dinner: The truth is, right now, I actually eat the same thing for dinner almost every night. After a four month road trip last winter where I ate basically nothing but BBQ, I came back to NYC with a baker’s dozen of extra pounds on my body, and set out to get rid of them. “You just have to disconnect food from pleasure,” my friend told me. So I started eating the same thing everyday, which is the following: seared skin-on salmon (pat it dry, generous salt, skin-side down in a medium-hot pan until ¾ cooked, kill the heat and give it a flip), sautéed kale (cook a chopped onion, hot chili, and half a head of garlic in oil, add a spoonful of miso, some fish sauce and soy sauce and cook a few minutes; add a bag of kale and cover and cook until tender, then finish with more salt, a glug of rice vinegar and another of mirin), and a grain (follow directions on package). It’s simple, dank, and probably pretty healthy. I made this the other night and noticed I’d internalized the process to the point that I didn’t have to think about it at all, but when it came to the plating, I remembered I had to share the meal (with you) and felt the pressure creeping in. Below you can find my panicked attempt to plate this casual meal in a presentational way.
Bonus BLT: Every year, I tend to have a revelatory experience with one specific fruit or vegetable. Two years ago it was oranges. Last year it was tomatoes, and it was the summer I fell in love with BLT’s. A recipe for a BLT seems a bit silly — it’s only 3ish ingredients, but I think a few guiding principles can ensure maximum radness. Buy the best tomatoes you can afford (plump and juicy heirloom boys rock), turn them on their side, slice them THICK with a bread knife, season generously with salt and let them sit and juicify as you work on the rest of the ingredients. Buy the thickest-cut bacon you can find and cook slowly in a pan or in the oven until you’re desired texture. Toast your bread, either in a toaster or fried in any leftover bacon fat. Make some mayo (if you’ve never done this please god give it a try — it takes a few failures but you’ll be so glad to learn) or use my favorite. Break off some leaves of a crunchy, neutral lettuce like iceberg or romaine. Bread, mayo, tomatoes, bacon, lettuce, mayo, bread. Slice it on the diagonal, and enjoy. The bread gets soggy with tomato juice as you make your way through the sandwich, and that is a good thing.
SO YOU WENT OVERBOARD AT THE FARMER’S MARKET
Eggplant: Pick up some little purple, white, or striped jewels at the market? Suddenly realize you’re not even sure you like eggplant in the first place? Don’t fret. I like to use the thin Japanese and Chinese ones to make Nobu-style miso eggplant, scoring their delicate flesh and searing in a pan before broiling with that funky, addictive elixir. Miso eggplant is like a LBD: not exactly revolutionary, but never unwelcome at the dinner table. Bigger, globe eggplants can get charred over an open flame and purée into creamy bliss with this unbelievably delicious, labne-filled smoked eggplant dip. My body says no, but my (Court) fake Italian roots say yes, eat the entire batch of this vinegary-sweet caponata in one sitting with a baguette. I love this recipe because even in the dead heat of summer, I’d rather turn on my oven than fry anything-- apologies to Gab’s real Italian roots. On that no-frying note-- both of us love everything about this simple, layered, casserole-like, roasted eggplant parm. Sorry Gab’s grandma!
Squash: Gratin is absolutely not a summer food, though I’d eat this herby squash gratin’s cheesy layers of soft shallots, crunchy breadcrumbs, salty salsa verde and sweet slices of squash any time of year. I like giving any leftover salsa verde a home on my BLTs and turkey clubs throughout the week. Sub your summer squash into this nutty, briny, citrus-y zucchini spaghetti recipe, featuring addictive caramelized fried lemon slices. When I have people over for dinner, I like serving this squash-ricotta-mint-hazelnut situation with thick slices of grilled sourdough so that my friends can slather the hot bread with the creamy ricotta, and layer as many or as few caramelized, marinated, minty squash slices on top as they please.
Cherries: Stunning, beautiful, gorgeous, otherworldly, this pistachio and cherry bombe is the Naomi Campbell of summer desserts. Making one requires patience — you’re looking at multiple hours of freezing time between steps, but each component is shockingly simple: hand-mixed pistachio biscotti dough, store-bought vanilla ice cream, cherries, quickly cooked with a little sugar. If that’s a little too much effort, we’ve been eyeing this new no-churn cherry-marzipan ice cream, albeit with regular heavy cream or this vegan option. The almond-cherry combo is a no-brainer, and highlighted especially in this sophisticated, easier-to-make-than-you-think cherry frangipane tart, (which I, of course, like to amp up with brown butter frangipane.) Any excess cherries that are perhaps… a little past their prime are destined to become Bourbon-Soaked Cherries for future Manhattans. And above all else, there’s always the simplest, classiest, most delicious dessert: a bowl of cherries.
Are you among the few anxiously awaiting fall? All this produce-talk just making you want to throw on a cozy knit and chuck some mulling spices in a crockpot with cider? Make this upside-down pumpkin crumb cake recipe that went out to paid subscribers over the weekend. It’s the food equivalent of lighting a fall-scented candle from Michael’s.
Not a subscriber yet? You can fix that here: