The Beloved Husband and I have spent a lot of time on the road this last two months, and I was going to tell the dire, horrifying story of the Worst Meal Either of Us Has Ever Had Without Being Actively Poisoned (the WMEoUHEH With Being Poisoned having taken place in Hull, in England, and involved an ancient piece of skate and a truly bizarre avocado salad), but as the memory fades thankfully into gray memory, pushed out of consciousness by a series of subsequently smashing meals, I can’t feel the same vengeful urge I originally did. Suffice to say this dinner involved the Worst Food, the Worst Service, the Dirtiest Cutlery and Glasses, and, to top it off, a whining owner who came to the table to ask us, stunned as we were, ‘how it all was’, and then launched into a pathetic tale about how he was supposed to be building a ‘biofuels factory in Peru! for the environment!’, but because he couldn’t find decent help, was chained to the restaurant.
As I said, several soothingly lovely meals after that have dimmed the trauma. But really, you know, for lovely meals that make you forget there are actually people out there running restaurants who a.) hate food, b.) hate themselves, and c.) hate customers generally, there is no place like home.
I cannot emphasize that enough. There. Is. No. Place. Like. Home.
(Although I will say that Screen Door, on E. Burnside in Portland, Oregon, is pretty much nearly as good as home as a restaurant gets. If you go there, have the salad with blue cheese and bacon. No matter how long I live, my own blue cheese and bacon salad will never ever beat that. Terrific service, too. Oh how thankful we were to fetch up there one night.)
There have been so many opportunities to erase the infamy of that Horrible Meal on the Road, I almost couldn’t think of which one to give the recipe for. There was the Turnip/Potato/Garlic/Cream gratin, made from an enormous turnip somehow overlooked in the first scouring of The Indigo Ray’s garden. (She gave it to me to give the dogs, but on my peeling and slicing it, the turnip was revealed to be first rate human consumption type food…particularly with cream.) There were the filets of sole baked with breadcrumbs, garlic, tarragon, and butter. There was the Hubbard squash that, when melded with fried sage leaves and sweet garlic, formed the most exquisite of soups.
But really best of all, and easiest, too, was last night’s meal: Cod Filets baked with mustard and cream and Swiss cheese, served with tiny baked potatoes, a salad dressed with a mustard vinaigrette, and little dishes of cumin spiced pickled beets on the side. That was one of those dinners that looks absolutely beautiful on the plate, and where all the elements interact with each other in ways as joyful as the participants of a Balanchine ballet.
I can’t imagine why I haven’t tried that recipe before, the one for Grey Sea Mullet with Gruyere and Mustard in Darina Allen’s SIMPLY DELICIOUS SUPPERS (she got the recipe from Jane Grigson, and we all know who SHE was), unless it was because my mind couldn’t wrap around the fact that it is perfectly easy to make with the kind of fish one gets around here. But somehow, when I found these lovely Alaskan cod filets at the Co-op yesterday, it finally clicked. I didn’t have any Gruyere, and—it being as expensive as it is—probably wouldn’t have used it this way if I had, but I did have some nice raw Swiss cheese. I had cream. And of course I had Dijon mustard, which at any one time, there are at least two backup jars hidden away in the back of some shelf.
Very simple recipe. You just grate some cheese, mix it with cream and mustard, spread it on top of the filets in a buttered baking dish, pop into a preheated 350 degree oven for twenty minutes till browned. Serve.
I fiddled with this a bit, of course. For one thing, I mistrusted that twenty minutes in the oven thing, given that the filets I had were fairly thin, not the nice thick chunks of cod I remember from England, where this recipe originated.
So this is what I did:
For two people:
Preheated the oven to 350 degrees (meanwhile, the tiny potatoes were baking in the toaster oven at 400).
Buttered a baking dish large enough to hold the filets.
Then I laid one filet out, and spread it with half of this mixture:
1/4 lb. grated Swiss cheese
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4-5 teaspoons cream
I topped that with the second filet, and spread it with the second half of the cheese/mustard/cream.
I cut this long, double decker filet in half, and put both halves into the dish.
Popped the dish into the oven. Set the timer for twenty minutes. Checked the fish a couple of times in there to make sure it wasn’t cooking too fast. (Made the salad, dished out the beets.)
At the end of twenty minutes, when the cod looked done but not TOO done, if you know what I mean, I put the dish under the broiler till it bubbled and turned brown.
Put the portions on each plate with the crackling little baked potatoes and a lavish line of mustardy salad greens. Put the plates on the candlelit table beside individual dishes of cold vinegary, oniony pickled beets. Called the Loved One to the table.
And had at it.
Not only was it a lovely meal, not only was it served and eaten with love, but we didn’t have to endure any bullshit self-exculpatory babble at the end of it from an incompetent restauranteur. That may have been the best thing of all.
Well. Except for that fish. That was maybe truly the best.
There really is no place like home, after all…