burgers & sandwiches, lunch/dinner

what i had for dinner: condiment cleanout edition

My fridge is usually empty (gasp!) – but the door shelves are always full. I got capers for something and used only a teaspoon, then found a great recipe for miso poached cod and have a big container of miso languishing, and hit up another specialty store for authentic Indian pickle and then forgot to use it in anything else…and so it goes. Recently, I procured a jar of zesty harissa paste full of acidic and subtly spicy red chile as well as a pricey bottle of aromatic tangy preserved lemon for a Moroccan night. I really, really (really?) enjoyed the flavors of these new-to-me condiments so I’d been looking for an excuse to use them again (and use them up) in a less conventional format.

B’s Adam (not to be confused with my Adam, of Polish pierogi and pie proclivities) was dropping by for a doctoral candidate study break so the guy could use a good meal and some comforting convo. I imagined harissa, much like a tomato relish or tapenade, would be a perfect contrast to some creamy, buttery, melty cheese and a grilled cheese is always welcome on a comfort food menu. I was going to do a bright, tangy preserved lemon soup for the grilled cheese, but decided that their zing would go rather well with a juicy salad to balance the richness of the gooey sandwich. To bring it back full circle, I used up both harissa and preserved lemon to make an elegant yet easy-peasy sauce for shrimp – served over yesterday’s leftover rice and you’ve got yourself a balanced meal for fueling your dissertation-addled brain. I muddled together a bunch of different recipes and found the right balance for my tastebuds somewhere in between them, and ended up leaving the fridge door shelf just a bit lighter.

Harissa and Pear Grilled Cheese (aka Best Grilled Cheese Ever)

(inspired by Thierry Rautureau’s Top Chef Masters recipe)

– cut 4 slices of good quality white bread or French bread, about 1/4 inch thick (I used the sublime Acme sweetdough loaf, which is crusty and bubbly, salty and sweet like a delicious French baguette)

– butter each slice on one side (softened butter works best)

– in a small bowl, mix together 2 ounces of fresh goat cheese (chèvre) with 2 teaspoons harissa

– spread the cheese mixture on the non-buttered side of the bread

– fry the slices of bread (buttered side down) on medium low, go low and slow for that perfectly melty crunch

– while frying, top each slice of bread with a thin slices of a good melting cheese (I used Spring Brook Farm Reading Raclette which is buttery smooth and made for melting. A similar cheese would be Gruyère or Jarlsberg)

– fry up the bread until crisp golden brown and the cheese is melty, then remove from pan

– add some thin slices of pear to 2 slices of bread (I used crisp Bosc, but a greener Bartlett would also add that snappy crunch)

– top the pear with another slice of gooey melted cheesy buttery crisp bread

– slice up and serve (I cut into quarters for an appetizer)

makes 2 sandwiches

Avocado and Tomato Salad with Preserved Lemon

(a mashup of Cooking Light’s recipe with one of Ghillie Basan’s)

– add to a bowl: 2 diced roma tomatoes, 1/2 rinsed minced preserved lemon rind, 1/2 thinly sliced red onion, fresh squeezed juice of 1 lemon,  and 5-6 tablespoons good fruity olive oil (more or less based on how sharp you want your vinaigrette). mix it up.

– add salt and pepper to taste

– add 1 diced avocado and stir together gently

– serve with chopped fresh parsley and cilantro, a teaspoon of rinsed capers, and a good sprinkling of paprika

serves 4

Harissa and Goat Cheese One-Pan Shrimp

(inspired by this recipe by Carr Valley Cheese Company)

– heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat, add 2 minced cloves of garlic, 1/2 thinly sliced red onion, and/or  1 minced shallot

– when soft, add 1lb deveined, peeled shrimp

– when shrimp starts to become opaque add 2 diced roma tomatoes

– add 2 tablespoons harissa and 1 cup white wine, mix to incorporate and simmer until shrimp are cooked through and tomatoes start to soften

– add 2 ounces of fresh goat cheese (chèvre), mix well

– add 1/2 chopped preserved lemon rind (rinsed)

– add salt and pepper to taste

– just before serving add chopped fresh parsley and cilantro

– serve with rice or crusty bread

serves 4


growed up mac n cheese n ketchup

Sometimes you just want comfort food. Sometimes, you unwittingly wander into an awesome indie music festival and end up spending the whole day laying in the grass listening to some of your favorite bands play music all day with your amazing friend Niti and by nightfall you realize you’re starving and you don’t want to eat any festival food because you both have a sudden and relentless craving for mac and cheese and only the kind from a blue box will do and so you leave the concert to drive to Kroger and pick up blue box mac and cheese and Heinz ketchup (no other brand is acceptable) and rush home and make a pot of it and eat it straight from the pot with a spoon while Niti’s then-fiance-now-husband watches with amusement because y’all are crazy. I mean, this happens sometimes and that is OK. Other times you have this exact same scenario occur but you also want to pretend that you have reached adulthood and this is a story of one those other times.

You can class up your plate of cheesy mac by splurging on some decadent crab and brie macaroni and cheese.  I made a big dish of this recently to celebrate a weekend of No Plans Whatsoever and to have a great excuse to get Dungeness crab.  Making a bechamel of brie is super easy and really, you can sub in camembert or any other soft cheese (goat cheese may be a great tangy alternative) that you like. I am always worried about over salting and was especially so in this case with the inherent saltiness of brie – however, even after adding some traditional Maryland Old Bay seasoning I found I needed to add more salt so make sure to salt to your taste. Also, I always use panko for that perfect bread crumb topping – its super light and crunchy.

I further classed up this plate with some simple roasted tomatoes as a play on a side of ketchup. This makes OK out-of-season tomatoes great and wonderful height-of-summer tomatoes glorious. Their ripeness are the perfect acidic complement to the creamy richness of the pasta. Simply drizzle cherry or grape tomatoes with a flavorful olive oil, add fresh ground salt and pepper and roast for 15 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Pour some of your favorite wine, light some candles, and revel in an elegant grown-up meal that satisfies your secret childhood comfort food cravings.


mini-post: what I had for dinner

I rarely cook at home anymore; cooking for one doesn’t inspire me much but the real reason is that I hate to do the dishes.  Without a dishwasher, I dread the tower of pots, pans and utensils that pile up (because I like to make a mess when I cook).   So it was with surprise that I recently rooted around in my kitchen and slapped together some kind of meal for one – which actually ended up being rather delicious.  I had made a rustic pasta sauce by dumping a pint of grape tomatoes into sizzling olive oil and garlic.  I added a few tablespoons of jarred spaghetti sauce as a binder while it cooked down and finished with a ton of fresh basil.  Meanwhile, I toasted rounds of bread in the oven and poached a couple of eggs.  When the eggs were done, I buttered the bread, placed the egg on top, ladled over the garlicky sauce and sprinkled with fresh Gruyère, and placed it under the broiler for a few seconds for a good melt. The results may not be pretty, but the acid from the tomatoes, crisp of the toast, and richness of the egg yolk combined with creamy cheese and basil goodness was splendid. Eggs à la Cocoa?