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Celebratory food from a basic kitchen


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Racking my brains on this one -- we are finally getting out of our apartment for a week and headed to a rental house on Cape Cod for the week of my partner's birthday.

 

Given the pandemic, we aren't going to want to go out to eat a fancy birthday dinner, so I'm planning to cook something. But while I know I will have a kitchen and a gas grill in the rental house, I don't have a lot of confidence it'll be well equipped, and we'll have limited (but non-zero) space in the car for equipment. I will of course bring good knives and make sure I have a couple of good pans to work with. 

 

Adding to the challenge: we'll be getting the majority of our groceries curbside from a mass market grocery. We will be picking up our CSA share for the week on our way down, and I'm very open to tracking down local produce -- but I have to pull this off on our second full day in residence, so fewer stops is better.

 

I should add that he hates shellfish, which is very inconvenient on the Cape! He's also not a big fan of steaks or other large, plain hunks of protein (although a dish that involved e.g. grilled beef as a component would be fine).

 

So yeah. The above combination has me mentally stuck. I have a million ideas for easy meals the rest of the week but not this fancy one. I know one of you has to have a brilliant idea to help me get past the block 🙃

Edited by dtremit (log)
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It's oddly hard to answer that -- birthdays are usually when we go out and try a new fancy place we haven't been to before, often with a tasting menu or similar. So it's more about the experience than the specific dish.

 

When I think back to the stuff I've made at home that he talks about, it's either elevated comfort food (which tbh is sort of played out after six months of trying to cheer ourselves up cooking at home) or some elaborate recipe for company that requires half the batterie de cuisine (or a dozen oddly specific ingredients) to pull off.

 

I'm overthinking this, I'm sure -- but I really want to be able to do something that feels special (without too much risk of abject failure).

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Granted it's a surprise squelcher, but there's always the good, old, "If you could have anything in the world for your Birthday Dinner,..that I can create in a rental kitchen...what would it be?"

Edited by Margaret Pilgrim (log)
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eGullet member #80.

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Is wine part of the occasion? If so, a spectacular bottle could be the focus of the meal, and you could choose your food accordingly. 

 

Otherwise, I recommend not overtaxing your neurons about this. It's such an ideal season for vegetables, I'd emphasize those. There's corn, tomatoes, eggplant, cauliflower, greens, summer squash, fresh herbs... A simple marinated, grilled flank steak, sliced thinly across the grain (and sprinkled with Maldon sea salt, if you have any at home you could bring), would set off the vegetables nicely.

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"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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2 hours ago, dtremit said:

Given the pandemic, we aren't going to want to go out to eat a fancy birthday dinner, so I'm planning to cook something. But while I know I will have a kitchen and a gas grill in the rental house, I don't have a lot of confidence it'll be well equipped, and we'll have limited (but non-zero) space in the car for equipment. I will of course bring good knives and make sure I have a couple of good pans to work with.

 

What do you mean with gas grill? I googled it and saw outdoorsy bbq units, so I'm thinking you're not referring to a gas grill oven in the kitchen itself?

 

Not an expert on grilling or meat, but what about beef tataki? It's quick and can be presented festively across veggies of your choice on some nice big plate.

If meat and fish is doesn't appeal that much, why not go for some big bold veg? If it's not something you do at home, this could feel special. Grill a cauliflower whole, so you have a centerpiece to cut at the table. Douse it in some colourful marinade so the cutting gets an extra wow factor. Or take a comfort food route: grill an entire celeriac and slice it thick as an alternative burger.

Edited by CeeCee (log)
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One of the special types of meals I've done for a husband is a few courses tied together by the same ingredients. The courses should not require last minute attention, and small portions over a  leisurely meal can be a lovely ambiance like a tasting menu. A modified simple version  of bastilla: use phyllo and poached chicken. The broth - add back the bones and simmer and reduce served in a small portion with small pasta as a first course.  Bring phyllo and whatever else fits in the ice chest to avoid the grocery acquisition drama. . Do spicing to his taste. It is lovely and you may have leftovers. Tone down or omit sweet on top if he does nt enjoy sweet/savory combos. A  green salad with light dressing to cleanse palate, and a sweet he likes with coffee and cognac after or bit later. I cooked in beach rentals twice a year for years and never brought a pan. Not great stuff there but one makes do. The vegetable suggestions above make sense but how veggie lover is he? 

 

Edited by heidih (log)
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I asked about the gas grill, because of salt dough. Looks like that is not an option on a bbq. Too bad, it could be something special when you whack it open and it's smaller than a pinyata without having to hang it somewhere. Not just celeriac, but also potatos and beets could be wrapped up in such a dough.

 

And of course cheese. Can it be a party when there's no cheese? Haloumi and paneer are obvious options for holding their shape when grilled. But there's also provolone or provoleta as the Argentinians say, which can be grilled. You can also bread a thick cheese slice to his liking and fry it up in a pan. For some people this is casual food, but then you might upgrade it to a more exclusive cheese.

Or make feta foil packages, individual ones to anyones preference. I sometimes mix a Turkish cheese like feta with fresh spinach and wilt it down in the oven with the grill on. The moisture either evaporates or makes the texture more loose, as I give it a stir every now and then. We like it with cumin, garlic and green peppers like jalapeño's or holland green peppers. Just take care that the garlic might not mellow out enough if you stick it in raw. On the other hand, people who dislike that will keep their distance so it could help keeping things covid proof😉

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I would do an Italian themed dinner which should deal with the protein component restrictions you mentioned.  Risotto, ravioli, hand made pasta...various shapes...fresh basil, good ricotta, Etc.  Lots of vegetable dishes to choose from.

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If you're not sure about the kitchen, I'd probably avoid anything that requires dough - you don't know how much counter space you'll have, and you probably don't want a big clean-up either.

 

If he's not a fan of big pieces of meat or any shellfish, why not go fish if you're on the coast? Do a thick piece of something in the pan, oven or on the grill, lightly roast or braise some good vegetables and do a beurre blanc sauce - very quick and easy, but still impressive and somewhat "special".

 

Open a good bottle of white and have a pile of peas in the pod to snack on for apéritif, and it should be fairly memorable. Especially if you can eat outside.

 

Followed by cheese and good fruit for dessert (unless you really want to do some pastry work in a rental kitchen...).

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18 hours ago, liamsaunt said:

What town are you staying in?  A lot of the specialty shops are offering curbside pickup.  I'm heading to Wellfleet for a month in 10 days or so.  

 

We'll be in the northern part of Dennis this time -- so within a reasonable (and scenic) drive of a lot of the Cape. Would *very* much appreciate recommendations on the shopping front; my existing Cape knowledge is very Provincetown-specific.

 

I see Truro has a Monday farmer's market which might be helpful.

Edited by dtremit (log)
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I'd think about preparing the big dishes at your apartment and schlepping it to the cape where it can be finished.  You could add easily acquired stuff like potatoes/salad locally.

 

Takes all the doubt out of it and removes the stress of sourcing stuff.

 

My main goal, if it were me, would be to have fun and minimize worries.

 

Unless the adventure of pulling this off is part of the fun.

Edited by gfweb (log)
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Thanks for all the suggestions here, I really appreciate it! 

 

Thinking through a lot of them -- I think maybe going in a middle eastern direction would be good. It is a favorite of his -- it just didn't cross my mind for a fancy dinner because he's usually talking about things like the $3 sabich sandwich we had the last time we were in Detroit, or the specials at a bakery nearby.

 

I can pack a fairly limited number of seasonings and condiments to pull that off, and use those to weave the courses together per @heidih's idea. A pack of phyllo could become a couple of things. 

 

It lets me make good use of the grill, which we don't have at home.  We should have eggplant and peppers to char — and I could do a mixed grill on skewers, or possibly a grill roasted lamb roast along the line of @Alex's flank steak idea. 

 

And all of it makes good leftovers, which is a great way to justify making an enormous spread only three people will be around to eat 🙂

 

@CeeCee, I actually have halloumi already, which I almost forgot about! (I have always wanted to try salt dough.)

 

@jmacnaughtan – I will probably do a fish dinner later in the week when I have more time to track down the right stuff. 

 

@Margaret Pilgrim -- if I asked him what he wanted he would get all flummoxed and end up saying "anything you make will be perfect." I am incredibly lucky to have someone around who eats and loves nearly everything I cook. The downside is that he claims to love everything equally and I end up reading what's left on his plate like tea leaves to try to discern what's actually his favorite 🤣

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8 minutes ago, Margaret Pilgrim said:

Roasted or split and grilled Cornish hen with Cape Cod beach plum sauce.

 

Ooh. I have never had a beach plum. 

 

@gfweb unfortunately we're going to be really short on space heading down -- we are taking our dog, and have to pack all our towels and bed linens. So practically speaking everything we want to wear, use, eat, read, etc is going to have to fit in our back seat. 

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1 minute ago, dtremit said:

 

Ooh. I have never had a beach plum. 

 

@gfweb unfortunately we're going to be really short on space heading down -- we are taking our dog, and have to pack all our towels and bed linens. So practically speaking everything we want to wear, use, eat, read, etc is going to have to fit in our back seat. 

 

Good priorities! The dog trumps the food for sure

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1 minute ago, gfweb said:

 

Good priorities! The dog trumps the food for sure

 

The dog would prefer we put the food in the back with her, of course :D We'll compromise by letting her lounge on all the pillows.

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56 minutes ago, dtremit said:

 

Ooh. I have never had a beach plum. 

 

@gfweb unfortunately we're going to be really short on space heading down -- we are taking our dog, and have to pack all our towels and bed linens. So practically speaking everything we want to wear, use, eat, read, etc is going to have to fit in our back seat. 

 

Ooh - never had a beach rental where we had to bring linens and towels though and some of us bring our favorite pillow. 

Beach plums to me are a good mix of sweet. complex, tart

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1 hour ago, dtremit said:

 

We'll be in the northern part of Dennis this time -- so within a reasonable (and scenic) drive of a lot of the Cape. Would *very* much appreciate recommendations on the shopping front; my existing Cape knowledge is very Provincetown-specific.

 

I see Truro has a Monday farmer's market which might be helpful.

 

 

 Wellfleet is one town closer to you than Truro, and they have a farmer's market every Wednesday from 8-12.  Stop and Shop in Orleans offers curbside pickup for online orders.  If you drink wine, Truro Vineyards offers curbside pickup with a 10% case discount.  I like their dry rose and their sauvignon blanc.  They are also offering tastings and food, but the time I went I felt it was too crowded to get our of my car.

 

One idea for your birthday meal--though you will need to call first to be sure he is still doing it after Labor Day (he usually stays open through late October, but this year is just weird) -there is an outstanding restaurant in Wellfleet called Ceraldi.  On Wednesdays and Saturdays the chef is offering curbside pickup for what he calls "seven sets."  It is a seven course meal that he prepares in full.  It comes cold with reheating instructions. All the food is in oven safe containers, so you don't even need pots and pans.  He is extremely talented, and it would definitely make for a special dinner. If you click on the Outer Cape dining thread in the New England forum, you can see photos I have posted of meals there over the years.

 

I have a friend who lives in Dennis year-round, so I will ask her for any other suggestions that might be right in town, and will get back to you.

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Here is the info from my friend in Dennis.  There are three food markets in town that offer curbside and/or delivery.  Dennis Public Market (rte. 6A), Ring Brothers Market (rte. 134), and Rory's Market (rte. 28 in Dennisport).

 

There are two farmer's markets in Dennis.  Matt's Organic Gardens on Upper County Road on Fridays, and Bass River Farmers Market on Thursday and Saturdays.

 

She also said most restaurants in town are offering curbside pickup and/or delivery.

 

Hope that helps!

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Thanks @liamsaunt! That is all really helpful info, in both posts.

 

It looks like Ceraldi is only open Wednesday and Saturday — so a no go for the birthday, but could be very nice for a special treat for later in the week.

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@dtremit - probably a dumb question on my part, but have you asked if the owners/management have an inventory of kitchen equipment?  I would be very surprised if they don't because they have to check it to make sure nothing is missing.  I'm sure that they could send you a copy of that and then you'll know exactly what you will and will not have to work with and what you absolutely must bring.  My extended family did an Airbnb in Charleston WV last year.  We were planning to cook most of our breakfasts and dinners and the owners sent my sister a list of what they had.  Made planning a lot easier.  Of course, you may have already thought of this.  

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thought I would come back and post what I came up with — ended up focusing on a lot of recipes from Ana Sortun’s cookbooks because my partner loves her restaurants so much.


The main dish ended up being grilled sirloin tips with tomato and brown butter — the recipe called for skirt steak but I didn’t find it, and these looked excellent. Served with grill roasted peppers and grilled onions with sumac (and some store bought flatbreads).

 

i also made some quick hummus; whipped feta with sweet and hot peppers; hot pepper labne; grilled halloumi; and some turnip pickles. I also made Michael Solomonov’s tomato bulgur from Israeli Soul, which was...ok.

 

Thanks to everyone for the suggestions — it really helped!

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