Friday, August 8, 2008

A hot August night, a vichyssoise, corn tempura, pork chops with thyme, and a Viognier.

You are at work. There is blistering heat outside. You are planning to make dinner tonight, and there is no a/c at home. To make matters worse, there are no cookbooks around. What to do?

The names and places may change, but the story is the same for all of us. There are nights where we want to make dinner but none of your no-brainer meals - like roast chicken - seem right. You want something warm and safe. Or, on a Hot August Night, something cold and safe.

I turn to either Food & Wine, or the New York Times. Yes, the
Times is more than just election coverage and reviews of candy stores in Wisconsin. It is an enormous repository of recipes from 4 columnists. Some dead. Some alive. Craig Claiborne, Pierre Franey, Jacques Pépin, and Mark Bittman - the current columnist. Go to the 'advanced search' page, and enter the name of your preferred chef, and then a keyword. Yesterday I entered Pépin and summer, which is how I found these recipes, ideal for a hot night.

A vichyssoise is a cold soup, a purée of leeks, onion, and potatoes in chicken stock, with cream. The recipe is here, but it calls for 6 cups stock, and 3 cups is plenty, really. I like puréed soups to be fairly thick.

Pork Chops
The pork chops with thyme are here, but all you have to do is pat the chops with salt, pepper, and dried thyme, and sauté them ~4 minutes on each side, and rest in a 180F oven 10+ minutes.

Corn Tempura
The fun one was the corn tempura, to which I added onion slices. Make a batter with 1 C flour, 1 C water and 1 egg. (If you haven't done that before put the flour and the egg into a bowl, and add 1/4 c water, mix well, the add another 1/4 c water, mix well, then the rest of the water. This way you don't get lumpy batter). Refrigerate the batter while you prepare the corn and the onion. Slice 1 small onion into half, and then into thin slices.

Have you ever cooked with fresh corn?  You'll never buy frozen corn again, after you've used fresh. For this recipe you need 2 corn cobs. After shucking a cob, 
slice the kernels off with a sharp knife: hold the cob in your hand, pointing away from you and make a long slice going away from your body along the length of the cob, slicing off kernels as you go - don't worry if you leave parts of the kernels behind, this is the quick & easy method. Rotate the cob and make another long slice. Finish slicing all the kernels off this way.

Mix the kernels and onion into the batter. Preheat 2T oil to medium-high heat in a large nonstick pan, and make 4 tempuras at a time. Each tempura needs a scant 1/4-cup of the batter mixture. Sauté 3 minutes, then flip and sauté 2 more. Take them out, add another 2T oil, and make 4 more tempuras.  You'll have 12-16 of them. They are good, and a different way to get your vegetables.

Finally, we had a great wine, a Viognier, from the Coteaux de Languedoc. If you are looking for a change of pace with a white, the Viognier is nice. This one had an intense flavor and smelled of flowers and a little citrus. By the way, here's a little tip I thought up on my own, if you have trouble finishing a whole bottle over dinner, just start drinking when you start cooking!

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