Wednesday, August 4, 2010

a case for the room temperature meal

In my never-ending quest to throw summertime dinner parties in our sweltering apartment, I have given up using the oven, made chilled soups, and served random yet tasty assortments of cold food. But when cooking dinner for my friend Jamie the other night, I decided to try a different approach: the room temperature meal.

Maybe this should have occurred to me earlier: use the stovetop before guests arrive, let the food cool down, then serve it at a leisurely pace without sweat dripping down your face.

Jamie always seems to order steak when we go out for dinner, so I picked up a nice fat flank steak at the market, and rubbed it with rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper. I grilled it about an hour and a half before he arrived, then let the meat rest, so the juices settled into a perfect medium rare.
I thought about side dishes that could be prepared in advance and I remembered a nice-looking recipe on Food52 for summer squash and zucchini with chilies, mint, and almonds. I sauteed the vegetables, then let the flavors sit and meld together before dinner. Easy. Potatoes are also good at room temperature and naturally go well with steak, so I boiled some potatoes, then drained them and sauteed them in butter, olive oil, and a little garlic.
By the time Jamie arrived, dinner was done, the dishes were washed, tomato crostini were at the ready, and I was gloriously sweat-free. I even had time to put some Jenny Lewis on the iPod. Hot food is so overrated.

Dinner for Jamie
Pan con tomate
Grilled skirt steak
Sautéed zucchini and summer squash with chili, mint and toasted almonds
Potatoes with garlic
Peach melba

Sautéed zucchini and summer squash with chili, mint and toasted almonds
From Food52
(Serves 4 people)

1/4 cup sliced almonds
2 medium zucchini
2 medium yellow squash
Olive oil
1/2 very small red bird chili, seeds removed and finely sliced, or pinch red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (I used lemon juice)
3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh mint

Toast the almonds in a pan over medium heat until golden, watching carefully, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. Trim the zucchini and yellow squash and cut each one in half lengthwise, and then in half again, so you have four long quarters. Slice each quarter into 1-inch chunks. Put about 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a wide sauté pan with high sides and set over medium-high heat. When the pan starts to smoke, add the zucchini and squash and a large pinch of salt, and turn the heat up to high. Sauté the squash, tossing frequently, until it’s well-caramelized but still has a bite, about 3 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and add the chili to the pan. Cook for another minute, tossing occasionally. Sprinkle the sugar and vinegar (or lemon juice) over the squash and toss to combine. Cook for another minute or so. Turn off the heat and stir in the mint. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary, and then fold in the almonds. Serve immediately or at room temperature.


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Daniel said...

How come when I'm just too lazy to heat up my leftovers for lunch, they don't taste this good?

Gabi said...

I admire you for cooking in advance! The room temperature meal sounds like a great idea, but I always find myself cooking right before guests arrive.

One thing that is actually really great after sitting for a bit is Indian food. It always tastes better after the flavors are able to meld more. My mother-in-law cooks in the morning before work and then just covers the dishes until dinnertime.

Lisa said...

Nikkilooch: Ha, thank you.

Daniel: No clue, maybe the refrigerator makes a difference?

Gabi: Thank you! So interesting about Indian food. Does she reheat anything or is it all eaten at room temp?


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