The Cat’s Away

My mom was out of town this week, visiting with her parents in Ohio in the wake of my grandma’s most recent heart troubles. Since it was just me, Nolan, and my dad at the house, I took the opportunity to make a few dishes with my dad’s preferences in mind and use up some proteins from the freezer.

Lamb shoulder chops braised with tomatoes and marjoram: My mom doesn’t care for lamb, and we really needed to use up some tomatoes. I chopped up a few for this braise, and added some fresh tomato puree, pushed through a food mill, toward the end for body along with a pat of butter.

Shrimp tacos with corn tortillas, fresh black-eyed peas, and peach salsa: My dad loves Mexican food, and my mom is not a big shrimp-eater, so this meal was a perfect fit. Unfortunately, it didn’t end up looking perfect, although everything tasted good. I made the tortillas myself and thought they were flexible to roll and fry the tacos as Rick Bayless instructs, but they wouldn’t stay rolled, even with toothpicks, and then they started splitting, and we ended up just slopping them on the plate any which way and half-eating them with a fork. The shrimp filling was deliciously simple and used some more fresh tomatoes and reserved puree from the previous night. I will admit I didn’t try the peach salsa, as you can see from the lack of it on my plate; my dad put it on his tacos and mixed it into his beans, and it was gone by lunch the next day. I made a small batch using half a peach, red onion from our garden, brined green peppers, tomato, garlic, and lime.

Cocoa-based chili with grassfed beef, some leftover black-eyed peas, and masa dumplings: This recipe is one I’ve been adapting over the last year, and hope to write up soon. It is a little spicy and a lot savory, much less sweet than my mom’s standard chili recipe, and the dumplings are a fuss-free substitute for cornbread that everyone seems to love. This time around I used my last two cups of fresh tomato puree to make it, along with some diced tomatoes; I didn’t bother peeling any of these tomatoes, but I always wish I had because all the little scrolls of tomato skin really irritate me.

Finally, last night’s dinner was Baja-style tilapia tacos with homemade flour tortillas, my simple roasted red pepper crema, crunchy cabbage, and this watermelon salsa. I have already made these tacos once for my parents since moving to Colorado, thinking my mom would be agreeable to the fried tilapia; it has a very mild flavor, and she usually likes fish and chips. To my surprise, she was extremely unenthusiastic, so her short absence was my chance to sneak in this personal favorite of mine. I went back to the trusty flour tortillas for this one.

I also made a quick salsa to use up yet more tomatoes and a little watermelon. We have had this huge watermelon from Rocky Ford sitting on the counter pretty much the whole month of September, and my dad finally cut into it the day before my mom left for her trip. That is a LOT of watermelon for two people to eat, and although we have put in a valiant effort, so far we have only consumed half of it. This salsa was a nice change of pace, full of sweetness balanced by the tang of balsamic vinegar, a hint of chile heat, and the tingle of mint at the end. I don’t like salsa fresca with all those squishy tomatoes, raw onions, stinky cilantro, and scary jalapeños, but this watermelon version is much less intimidating. I’m not going to eat a bowlful of it like my dad did last night, literally with a fork like a side salad, but I might actually put a little on my taco next time around. Maybe.

And incidentally, the title of this post is fitting in more ways than one. Not only did I cook a bunch of food that I probably wouldn’t have chosen if my mom were home, we literally had a mouse come out to play while she was gone—it tried to take up residence in the cabinet over the stove where we store vinegars!

Watermelon Salsa

2 C seeded watermelon, diced
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped (I used homegrown Marvel Stripes)
2 scallions, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced (I used mild pickled peppers)
4 T balsamic vinegar
Sea salt to taste
1 T fresh mint, minced

Combine watermelon with tomatoes, scallions, and pepper. Drizzle vinegar over mixture, then season with salt and top with mint.

Source: She Knows.

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