~ Serving American home cooking on the Upper West Side Since 1981 ~

Improvising A Meal When You Don’t Have All Your Ingredients

Seppi Renggli, my chef and mentor when I worked at the Four Seasons in NYC, said that after the 35 years it takes to become a chef there are three things you must know how to do: roast a chicken, chop an onion and use all of your leftovers in the house to create a complete meal.

I would add how to make great soups to that because they are a great test of economy and invention. One of my sons watches the cooking channel a lot and he said that when Emeril evaluates a new chef he asks them to make a soup.

We were in Connecticut recently in an area where the nearest grocery store is 5 miles away from our little farmhouse so I needed to make my menus and shopping list carefully. Can’t just walk back around the corner for something forgotten or missing like I can in the City.

The plan was for liver and onions and I had just picked up a Vidalia onion when I spotted some fresh peas. On my way to the liver I saw a beautiful piece of Steelhead Salmon. I took the salmon and backed up for an Idaho potato (had rice the night before!)

On the farm over the summer I could get some carrots, beans, potatoes and herbs from our little garden, but nothing is usable there in November.

Oops, home again, starting to cook and no lemons. I was going to bake the potato, but the sour cream container in the refrigerator is essentially empty! Hmmm! It’s 6:30 pm and I’m not going back out.

OK, I preheat the oven to 400 degrees; cut the new potato in chucks with the skin on, rinse, and pat them dry. Then, I melt some butter in a pan on my stove and throw in some kosher salt, pepper, paprika and dry mustard. Next, in a bowl on the side, I mixed together some sour cream and Parmesan cheese. Once the butter is ready it will give off a “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” smell. Add your butter to the sour cream and cheese mix. There should be just enough to coat the surface of your potatoes. Next I throw my beautifully seasoned potatoes into the roaster-toaster (toaster oven) for 30-40 minutes.

Next I bring water to boil with some Morton’s salt (good for the teeth) for the peas, add some julienned (thinly sliced strips) Vidalia onion and simmer for around 20 minutes or until the peas are tender.

As for the fish: I have no lemon so I grab a little wine (cheaper the better) for a sauce later on. I take out my cast iron skillet (any pan that distributes heat evenly is fine) and heat some oil, adding butter once it’s hot. I then go to my Penzeys spices: Hungarian paprika, salt, cracked black pepper, “Arizona dream”, red pepper flakes and a crushed garlic clove. If you don’t have some of these exact flavors, salt, pepper, paprika and your favorite hot spice are the most necessary for the right flavor. Throw your fish in once the spices heat up in the butter and oil. Each side of the fish takes about 2 1/2 minutes or after the garlic turns a light brown. I take it out, and reduce the heat. For a sauce I then reduced some red wine (too pricey a label, but a necessary sacrifice) in the pan, added some orange juice and had a sauce for the fish. Balsamic vinaigrette and your choice of acidic juice works as well.

The potatoes have about 5 minutes to go. I drain the water from the peas and add salt and pepper to the pot and with a little virgin olive oil, and heat them up on a low flame, uncovered for about a minute. At this point all the components to the meal were complete and ready to serve.

Crunchy, Spicey, Skin-on Steelhead Salmon w Red Wine Orange Sauce

Sweet Vidalia peas
Sour Cream Parmesan Potatoes

A satisfactory, if improvised, dinner menu, but I think I still need to work on my shopping list when the grocery store isn’t around the corner.

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