Friday, August 3, 2007

Extra Virgin Fest

Dan and I live in a smallish apartment. To be fair, when we moved into it, we'd been married for two weeks and had just sold all of our furniture and moved halfway across the country. Our smallish apartment seemed vast then--with no toddler, no furniture, and most of our stuff still in storage in Michigan. Now there's barely room to turn around, we own the world's largest couch, and we are feverishly house-hunting for something both affordable should I describe it? Non-crack-den-like.

One thing we haven't had for the three years we've been here is a barbecue grill. We have a tiny deck off the living room that faces the woods between Oxon Hill High School and John Hanson Elementary. These woods are actually quite lovely--full of all sorts of wildlife, including two very angry and aggressive foxes that like to fight underneath our bedroom window at 2 A.M. But the deck is small, and here, there really isn't great weather for grilling--it's either gray, sloppy, rainy, and cold, or hotter than the surface of the sun.

Lately, however, I've been hungry for good, real charcoal-grilled food, not the imitation that the George Foreman Grill approximates. Dan has had trouble resisting the ancient, primordial urge to wield a club and burn animal flesh over an open flame. Last weekend, in Target, we found a small Weber charcoal grill for $30, brought it home, and put it together on the deck.

This hasn't been the best week for grilling--we've had something else going on pretty much every night, including the Nationals-Reds game on Wednesday (best seats we've ever had, thanks to the ticket scalpers outside the Metro--$45 seats for $30!--and the Nats won). But last night, with great determination, we lit the grill and brined a couple of pork chops.

I could not have been more pleased with the result. We buy most of our meat at Sam's Club, not because I am a great fan of Wal-Mart, but because they sell really excellent meat at great prices. I still prefer, for holidays or special meals, to pick up something free range or custom dry-aged at Whole Foods or one of the butchers at Eastern Market, but for every day meals, you can't really beat 93% lean ground black angus for $2.09 a pound. Anyway, these pork chops came from Sam's in a gigantic 9-pound package that I split up into four or five smaller packages and Vacuum-Sealed (I could write a whole post about how much I love my Vacuum Sealer, and all of the things that I Vacuum-Seal, and don't you wish you had one? but I will spare you for now). They were thick-cut, lean, boneless loin chops, brined for two hours in salt and brown sugar, and they could not have been juicier or more tender. I used a rosemary-garlic seasoning mix (also from Sam's; one of the other things I get there is giant packages of seasonings that I use most, like chili powder and this rosemary-garlic stuff) and olive oil, and on the grill, they picked up the best, most delicate smoky flavor. Great stuff.

As an afterthought, I threw a couple of ears of sweet corn in some boiling water and made a wild-rice salad. The wild rice salad was so good and easy to make I thought I'd put the recipe up here, because I am kind of a show-off when it comes to delicious things I just make up.

2 packages Uncle Ben's Long Grain and Wild Rice Original Flavor
1/2 cup finely diced red onion
1 finely diced shallot
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped pecans
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup (more or less, to taste) good-quality balsalmic vinaigrette dressing (I like the Simply Enjoy brand Italian Balsalmic Vinaigrette from Giant, but you can make your own with 3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup good balsalmic vinegar, 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard, a pinch of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1/8 teaspoon of pepper, and 1 minced clove of garlic and/or 1 minced shallot, all whisked or shaken together)
salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the rice according to the package directions, omitting the seasoning packets. While the rice is cooking, toast the pecans in a dry skillet over medium heat until they smell toasty. Let cool. Combine the dressing, onion, shallot, cranberries, and pecans in a serving bowl.

When the rice is done, rinse it in cold runnning water, shake dry, and mix with the olive oil. Mix with all of the other stuff in the serving bowl, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

This is enough salad for a smallish crowd, but leftovers are great. The sweet corn left something to be desired, but I'm kind of fussy. Maybe we'll try it on the grill next time.

Next up: pasta salad, maybe, with salami and basil and fresh mozzerella? Red-skin potato salad with chervil and dill?

1 comment:

Treen said...

Pasta salad is amazing. Salami and mozarella would be fantastic in it. I like to make Spaghetti salad when I know that nobody around me likes it, so I have an excuse to eat the entire thing.

You and G should have an Iron Chef war. He's way craftier with food than I could ever be. I'll play the chairman and make the creepy, intense-o face when I announce the secret incredient.