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Improvisational Cooking Experiments


Al Dente
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We were invited to a family cookout last night so I picked up some scallops and monkfish from Black Salt. When I got to my ma-in-law's I perused the fridge and pantry for ideas on what to do with my contributions to the communal meal. I opted to just s&p the scallops with a little EVOO and throw them on the grill. Man, they were good. But for the monkfish, I got a little Iron Chefy...

Tell me if this sounds insane-- ;) I cut up the monkfish into 1" chunks. Then I peeled some PEACHES, cut them up, and marinated them with a little Banyuls vinegar, s&p, and a touch of cayenne. After about 1/2 hour, I skewered the fish and fruit, grilled them, then poured the remaining peach juice mixture over the dish.

I think it worked quite well, though if I were to do it again, I'd probably grill the peaches, and then puree them with the vinegar and cayenne. Maybe I'd add some diced red onion, or maybe grill the onion and add it to the puree. Then I'd sauce the grilled fish with it.

Critiques, commentary, and/or advice welcome.

Do you have any similar experiences?

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Your Mother-in-law has Banyuls vinegar in her pantry? That's impressive! The most adventurous thing my mother-in-law ever had in her pantry and refrigerator was Hellman's Mayonnaise.

She's quite the cook and they have a helluva kitchen-- commercial-grade stoves, indoor grill, 2 refrigerators, 2 dishwashers, 2 sink areas, lots of counter-space, well stocked spices, oils, vinegars, etc., tons of gadgets, tools, serving platters, etc. Everything is top rate, except the dull knives :angry: ...

No mayo-- aioli, homemade.

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I cut up the monkfish into 1" chunks. Then I peeled some PEACHES, cut them up, and marinated them with a little Banyuls vinegar, s&p, and a touch of cayenne. After about 1/2 hour, I skewered the fish and fruit, grilled them, then poured the remaining peach juice mixture over the dish.
The only way to tell is through a tasting. :angry: I can be reached at 202-456-1212.
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Last night, I was inspired by this post to just look around my kitchen and put together what I had on hand, to best showcase local farmer market produce. So without any particular recipe, I made grilled marinated chicken breast with peach salsa.

The chicken was marinated in olive oil, chili powder, cumin, hungarian paprika, s/p and lime juice for about a half hour.

The salsa came together with diced peaches (which words can barely describe, they are so good), diced heirloom tomato, red onion, feta, olive oil, red wine vinegar, s/p. Chiffonade of basil was added on top to really punch it up.

I have leftover salsa, and will dress up pan seared talapia with it tonight.

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After failing to find some duck breast earlier in the day (but finding some seriously good tacos and pupusas near Jessup, MD -- Wa-HOO! on a tacqueria truck no less) -- yes I tried Super Grand, M.O.M, Harris Teeter and a 'Gourmet' Giant after fusing to schlep to Balducci's (and knowing Whole Foods didn't have it -- I riffed a risotto. Onions, some garlic, a little shallot as the base. Some thyme, tomato powder (made from dried tomato slices that we made last summer that I keep in the freezer -- made with a mini coffee bean grinder used for spices only), some swiss chard for color, salt, pepper, and some shrimp. Oh, and a few crumbles of bacon.

It turned out surprisingly good. Maybe not Frank Ruta good, but quite tasty for a 'what can I make since I can't make what I want for lack of ingredients' night. In retrospect, I think I would edit the shrimp, and up the garlic. Maybe add another layer of tomato-ness to it in the form of fresh or canned tomato bits.

I am sure you all do some of the same at some point. Here's your thread to report on your successes and failure.

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Right now I am in the middle of some home renovation that required that I pack-up almost all of my cookbooks (which I use more as a reference than for instructions), so I have no choice but to wing it. And I also find risotto very easy to wing, I have the basic concept down so that I can do it in my sleep, so making additions is easy. I like to play around with the cheese I use, and as the days get colder, I like to use blues (not always Italian), and add roasted fruit such as apples and pears, and then some pecans, pine nuts, or pistachios for texture.

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Risotto is one of my favorite things to improvise with, too. As previously mentioned, once you get the basic technique down, you can come up with infinite combinations. I always keep the risotto basics on hand for those "clean out the fridge" nights. I have also found that risotto fritters are a great way to utilize leftovers.

I was riffing on bruschetta the other day and came up with some tasty stuff. I made a "classic" version with the tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil, but then I did a Mexican version (hot) and a Greek version. The former had a black bean and corn relish with onions and cilantro, and then I topped it with pepper jack and popped it in the broiler to melt. For the latter, I mashed some chickpeas and mixed them with diced cukes and Greek yogurt. I splashed a little lemon juice on top, and yum. The only thing that would have made it better was maybe a little dill.

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I use cookbooks rarely, and mostly for reference purposes rather than following recipes, except if I'm baking. Not that I don't love cookbooks--but I'll sit down & read a bunch of recipes and then improvise.

Tonight's dinner was:

Sunchoke gnocchi with braised cabbage, caraway & sausage in a sour cream sauce.

Vanilla ice-cream with the last of the summer's peach/balsamic syrup.

I made the gnocchi just as I would make a potato one; it had a nice nuttiness to it from the sunchokes. The sauce was a variation on a pasta sauce taught to me years and years ago by a friend who had learned it from a friend who had learned it from her mother--Bridget's Mother's Sauce was a staple in several college households that I lived in and got passed around freely. The original is a mushroom sauce with sour cream, nutmeg and tarragon. Tonight's version was cabbage, caraway & nutmeg with a wee bit of sausage thrown in for good measure.

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