Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Green Giant

There's a lot of this going around lately. Or maybe it's already passe, who knows, but I went quick-and-dirty-fusion tonight.

But let me share a little back story...

Somebody, I don't know who, brought some garden vegetables to work with a 'free to the world' post it attached. I didn't find out about this until midday though. I was in the breakroom early for my cup of coffee (or three, hey, it was a cold commute in) but they appeared only after that. There was a couple green bell peppers and some little zucchini that I saw other people took. When I got there there was a single item left, but it was impressive. There was a two foot long, 4-5 inch diameter grey zucchini. I took it. I felt weird, I don't like to be that guy that takes the last piece of birthday cake, and this was way more conspicuous. Nobody else was taking it, I hear it had been there for about 4 hours. So it was mine now. Hmm... had to figure out how to lash it my bicycle's cargo rack for the journey home. But that was a few hours away yet. In the meantime, it sat there on my desk gathering more innuendo than I expected, but such is cubicle culture.

I still never found out who brought it to work. When I do, I'll have to thank them.

I decided pretty early in the day what to do with it. So I emailed Wife and asked her to steam a batch of brown rice by the time I got home. Upon my arrival (soggy bottomed, it was wet out!) I set the oven to 350, sliced my squash lengthwise and scooped out the seeds, I was making baked boats! I opened a can of tomatoes and dumped them in a mixing bowl with about 1.5 cups of brown rice, some green onion, some garlic, a bunch of caper berries, a little rosemary and a little olive oil. Not working from a recipe I just steered myself in a somewhat Italian direction, it seemed to work out. After mixing the bunch together I packed it into the hulls as best I could. Into the oven with it for 40 minutes while I changed my focus to some pasta.

Butterfly pasta! The girls always like the butterflies. Michaela, my oldest, loves pasta in general, but Maeve, her younger sister, not so much. She doesn't hate pasta, she just doesn't ever eat much of it. Fun shapes definitely help things along though. While the pasta water was boiling though I got to work on something to put in it.

I pulled out two little zucchini from the fridge. Yes, yes, I realize I have the zuc motherload already in the oven, but Wife bought a bunch of it at the grocer several days ago and I have plenty to use up. I sliced those into 'knuckles.' At least that's what I call them? After chopping the top off I slice the squash diagonally, rotate 1/4 turn so the cut surface is facing up and cut at the same diagonal angle starting at the widest part of the previous cut. You wind up with these great triangular cut chunks that are fun to work with and even better to eat. If you don't know what I'm talking about my desciption probably isn't helping, if you do know what I mean let me know what the cut is really called and link us all to a youtube instructional.

While going to town on my 'knuckles' I also thawed some edamame in the microwave. I used about a 1/3 lb. Once those were no longer frozen (2 minutes, 22 seconds in this case) I pushed out the beans and set them aside. I also chopped a fistful of cilantro, two large cloves of garlic very then, chiffonaded (?) two leafy stalks of thai basil, and more-than-a-cup of romano cheese. I sauteed my knuckles in olive oil over quite high heat for a few minutes, until they were starting to brown a little. To that I added the soy beans and sautted them for just a couple minutes. Removing my skillet from the heat then, I added the garlic and tossed together with salt and pepper. I wanted the garlic to hold onto it's punch.

Once the pasta was done and drained I added the basil to that pot along with a scoop of sambal badjak, the shrimp extract therein lends a lot to this dish (not to mention the heat!) and toss. The rest is mere assembly: add the veggies to the pasta, top with cheese and and a little cilantro. Grabbing a slice of the baked zucchini boat and and glass of wine this fast meal wasn't going to stand a chance against the hungry horde. mmm.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Eggplant Stir Fry

You can get great eggplant this time of year. Eggplant though, is a vegetable that I have really struggled with in the past. Inspired by 'gorgeous-on-tv' recipes I have had only 'this-is-gross' experiences at home. But I'm getting better and this quick and easy stir-fry was certainly a success. Horde approved!

I modded a recipe from a book my parents bought for me a few year's back. A couple of friends from Hawaii have since recommended the restaurant, they say it's where they always send their tourist friends (which is a good thing, I think?). At any rate, it's a great little book with stunning photos of the food and approachable recipes.

I chopped a lb of tri tip strips quite small and marinated for a few minutes in hoisin sauce, ginger and a little soy sauce. Meanwhile I cut up one largish eggplant (I wanted to get some of those great pale japanese eggplants but my asian grocer was out) a couple yellow bell peppers and nearly a whole head of garlic (aw yeah).

Heating up the wok and a little oil to the smoking point I first fried a third of the beef until it was well seared and removed to a plate. Adding a smidge more oil if necessary I added a third of the eggplant and a third of the peppers and tossed for about five minutes until it was nearly cooked through. Then I added a spoonful of yellow bean sauce and the beef back and tossed it all together until the veggies were completely cooked. Turning off the heat throw in a handful of thai basil and give that a quick toss. Done!

I split this portion between the kids and readied the wok for another go round. Repeating the same steps Wife's portion was done in another 5 minutes and mine 5 after that (but to mine I added a generous portion of sambal badjak, I like it hot!!). Everybody takes a scoop of steamed jasmine rice on the side and we have a weeknight dinner done in no time.

Beet Tart and Pumpkin Risotto

Inspired by recent posts by RhubarbSky and Orangette I tried my hand at a beet tart. It was not a hit though. At least not with the rest of the horde.

Lacking a stand mixer and the patience to make do without, I just fashioned my crust by pulling out one from the freezer at the grocery. It was probably a little sweeter than it should have been, but it was easy.

Apart from that I followed Orangette's recipe exactly. I loved it, but I like beets. I have yet to convince the rest of the family of their merits but this time it just meant more pie for me. I actually made two of them, the second one I brought to work where it was a huge hit. Two factors came into play though. 1) only people that liked beets tried it and 2) I think it was a little better the second day, chilled.

I think if I get the chance to do it again (likely not for the home crowd) I may try to make a layer out of the wilted and strained greens and increase the feta to about 6oz, it could have used a little more of the salty cheese 'punch'.

Along with the tart I made a nice pumkin risotto, that did recieve a warm enough reception to make it onto a future menu. I like to cook with the little green kabocha pumpkins that litter the produce stands this time of year and this was a great way to use one. I picked out a smallish specimen and halved it, then shaved off the green rind with a sharp chef knife and diced into 1" cubes. The process takes a little patience but I wound up with enough for two meals so I just froze half of it.

For the rice I think I made about a cup and a half of arborio rice and heated a quart of beef broth. First heat the rice in a heavy skillet for few minutes with some olive oil and a little diced onion. Once the onion starts is well sauted then deglaze with a little sherry. Then add a ladelful of beef broth.

protip: if you dip the base of the full ladel back into the broth it won't drip!

The rice will readily soak up the broth, just have a wooden spoon handy to keep it from sticking to your skillet. Keep adding the broth, ladel by ladel, until your rice soft and creamy (basically I just described the instructions on the back of the rice package, you just follow those).

Normally i won't add any of my veggies to my risottos until the rice is done. I like the vegetables a little crisper to offset the creaminess of the rice, but if they are too firm without a little cooking I'll add them a little sooner, as the rice is nearing completion. Things like asparagus, carrots ...or pumpkin. Once the rice and the pumpkin are done though, add a handful of finely grated romano cheese, a can of white cannelini beans and several stalks worth of fresh basil (but not the stalks themselves). I like to use the thai basil, it has an extra anise like flavor that is brilliant here. Add pepper and salt if necessary (between the stock and the cheese it should be already pretty well seasoned).


Monday, September 8, 2008

worth the wait, i hope?

whoops, it's been more than a month since I've posted a meal. I've been cooking, and I've got more than a few meals I want to tell you about. I just been crazy with some other projects and haven't gotten a chance to come back here.

But tonight I made some amazing grilled sandwiches, you'll be interested to hear.

The other day Wife and I picked up some frozen tuna steaks. Not sushi grade or anything, just some fairly inexpensive vacuum sealed ones. They needed to be cooked through, but that is okay, I like cooked tuna too. I really did very little to them, about an hour before they hit the grill I set them in some soy sauce flavored with ginger. Just on the one side, the other only got a light dusting of kosher salt.

But on top of the tuna I made some bean patties that turned out quite well. For those I opened two cans of black beans and one of chickpeas. Leaving one can of black beans alone I dumped the other two in the food processor with a single glug of olive oil and the juice of a lime and gave it about five good pulses. Well shy of slurry state, but quite broken up were the beans. Transferring to a bowl and adding, lessee...an egg, some breadcrumbs, some corn meal as binders. Also some cumin an some chopped peanuts I toasted in a pan, some chili powder, a couple cloves of garlic and salt and plenty of pepper. Oh, I also found some grilled onions and green chili left in the fridge from the meal the night before. I ran my knife through those to a fine dice and into the mix they went. I was basically on a pantry raid, but trying to keep in a southwesterly direction.

That mixture chilled in the fridge for awhile, then I pulled it back out and formed patties. I got eight of them out of this, plenty for tonight then I can freeze the rest after they come off the grill. They'll be brilliant for a workday lunch.

All the patties, bean and tuna alike went onto the hot coals with a little oak smoke from some kiln fired lumber scraps my neighbor gave me. Tasty.

While they were all outside obtaining perfect grill lines I found a carrot and a poblano chili in the crisper. Not owning a mandoline yet, I just ran my peeler first around the carrot, then just on the same side all the way through which yields wide very flat strips. To each of those I ran the tip of my knife down effectively julienning the bunch into about 1.5mm threads. After a quick decapitation and membrane strip the poblano recieved a similar treatment.

All that was left was assembly. Taking a toasted hamburger patty (admittedly, a nice roll or ciabata would be nice, but you takes what you have on hand sometimes, yaknow?) I slathered some mayo, plopped down my tuna, plopped down a bean patty, scattered some of that vegetation, some salsa fresca, and the crown.

Plunked down next to it were some basic onigiri (unfilled, but rolled in sesame) and a tall IPA.

My kingdom for a sandwich.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Two Meals, One Bottle

Yesterday I uncorked a nice bottle of French Wine, it was a blend of Grenache and Syrah, it was quite tasty. Other members of The Horde do not care for wine, of any varietal, so when I open a bottle I usually have to be ready to let it ride for at least two days, or ready to get really toasty. Lately though, I prefer to just have a couple glasses with dinner and let it rest and see how 24 hours treats the wine.

Yesterday, Sunday and all, I was able to spend a little more time on supper than a normal weeknight. Digressingly, this summer my oldest daughter is ridiculously busy. She has tap lessons, ballet lessons, swim lessons, and soccer practice. Something every single weeknight. It makes it really difficult to cook something good when you're under dropoff and pickup deadlines. But yesterday was a somewhat more leisurly evening and I had planned on roasting a bird all week.

Roasted chicken is one of my favorite things to cook. It's really easy to make, really difficult to mess up, and I can really bend the flavor in any direction I please. Yesterday it was lemons, fennel and rosemary. I clipped a little rosemary from the garden and heated it with some chopped lemons in the nuker for a minute. Stuffed that into the cavity and trussed the chicken. Next I chopped the fronds off the fennel bulbs and lay four of them down in my casserole to make a little raised bed for the chicken, which I then placed atop. Around the chicken I tossed two fennel bulbs, quartered-or rather eighthed, a thinly sliced lemon, and a couple cans of chickpeas that I rinsed and seasoned (salt, pepper, little paprika, little cumin).

The whole thing gets placed in the oven, preheated to 375. I let it sit uncovered in there for the first hour and fifteen minutes. After that it gets a loose tent of foil for the remaining 35. Pulling it out of the oven I pulled the chicken out of the casserole and let it rest under the foil tent while I made the gravy. There was a lot of liquid coming off the chicken and accompaniments, nearly two cups worth in the bottom of the casserole so I just strained that off into a little saucepot reduced for a few minutes and thickened the rest of the way with a tablespoon on cornstarch. What a wonderful gravy that made! Tart and lemony, a hint of the rosemary in the background, but still a lot of excellent chicken dripping flavor.

Beyond the ckickpeas and fennel, I just sliced up some watermelon and we had an excellent meal outside on the deck.

Tonight, back to the weekday grind. We're flying out on vacation in a couple days to visit my sister (look forward to some good Southern Alabama cuisine posts soon) so this week we are keeping things simple, light and quick. Plus there's tap and ballet lessons for the oldest to reckon with, and my own swim training to contend with, so simple and quick is imperative. I cut zucchini into quarter-turn nuggets-have you seen how to do that?- just cut at and angle, then turn it a quarter turn so the sliced side is up and cut across it at the same angle, rinse and repeat until done. If you can't visualize it I'll post pix sometime. Lessee, I wasn't really following a recipe so, I think I tossed those with a little salt, pepper and paprika and sauted in a skillet. I boiled some water and cooked some edamame too. As soon as that was done I replaced the boiling water and put in some bowtie pasta. While that was doing it's thing I popped the beans out of thier shells. "Push Beans" the girls like to call them. They volunteered to help for this bit too, we had a good time shelling into a bowl.

Once the pasta was done, it was just assembly. Put some bowties into a bowl, toss with a little sambal (an Indonesian hot sauce, comes in a million billion varieties, check em out) throw in some zuch, some beans, top with a little sauted sliced garlic (sorry, I think I left that step out above, it was in the skillet just before the zuch), some salty romano cheese and some fresh cilantro. I poured the first of the last of my French red blend, snapped a photo and we all dug in.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

gravlax & grapes

For those of you that follow me on twitter, I know you havbeen salivating while awaiting my new salad recipe. This one was a little taste from bizarro world. We cook the grapes and leave the salmon raw. Or rather, we don't cook it, not with heat at any rate.

I found a recent recipe in a magazine for gravlax, a cured salmon developed by the Scandinavians. Read about it, it's interesting. The recipe I found didn't require digging a hole on the beach though. Basically, you take a good size hunk of atlantic salmon (don't bother using any better, oilier species for this, save them for the grill), I used a about a one chunk of a fillet that was basically an even inch thick and 7 inches square. Coat both sides liberally with salt, fresh dill, black pepper and I used some ground coriander as well. Very tightly wrap it with cellophane and place it in the fridge on a plate with several layers of absorbant paper underneath. Flipping every 12 hours, leave it in there for between 48 and 72 hours. It will shed a lot of water during this time and you may need to change out the towels. When that time has elapsed you just rinse it in the sink and eat it up. It's best sliced very thin across the grain and served with complementary flavors and textures.

So, for the salad I was on the lookout for such flavors and textures. Luckily I caught a recent episode of Jamie Oliver's excellent new show, Jamie at Home, and he was making a pukka strawberry salad. What really caught my eye though was these hunks of halloumi cheese. I've used it one time in the past, it's akin to a heavy brie, but the magic is that you can cook it or grill it. Jamie took some fresh basil leaves, pressed them into cheese, and browned them on that side in a nonstick pan with a little oil. It crisps the cheese but the leaf remains green and winds up looking like some strangely delicious little fossil.

The other bit of cooking here is real easy, after removing your cheese just throw a few handfuls of red seedless grapes in the same pan and crank the heat. Add just a little water so they steam as it burns off, then let them crisp just a touch on one side. While they're doing their thing start assembling the salad. Place your crisped cheese on the side a salad plate, take a handful of rinsed and dried red leaf lettuce in the center of the plate, and lace in a couple few slices of the gravlax. Top with the hot grapes and sprinkle just a little balsalmic and your good extra virgin across the top.

The buttery texture of the cool gravlax, the crisp and sweet lettuce, the rich flavor of the cheese all played off the warm and juicy grapes. Holey moley, my mouth is watering as I recall it all. I made about 10 of these all at once and served them as an appetizer. I think this dish is best served this way. I can't wait to try this one out again with more friends.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Quick and Delicious

Tonight dinner needed to be rushed. I had less than an hour to get home, prepare and eat dinner, then hit the road to pick up my buddy, Crash, to go run a long series of errands neccesary before this weekend's epic ride. I came home and immediately got to work. I love cooking under deadline like this, it's fun to feel efficient and capable. That said, it's not like I havn't cooked this meal a thousand times before, this is a regular menu item in these parts and we nearly always have all the fixins ready in the pantry.

Pasta Puttanesca

First thing, I filled the big pasta pot with water, threw some heat under it. Got out my big cast iron skillet and did the same there. Next I quickly pulled apart and minced nearly a whole head of garlic. There were about 8 cloves used, all told. Open a small tin of anchovies and toss them and the garlic in the skillet. I hold a fork against the near edge of the little fillets and slice them across using a cheapo knife. It's easier to deal with than chopping them on a cutting board, plus I can use all the olive oil they are packed in this way. Throw in some red chili flakes too, let's make this spicy! Keeping the skillet on med/low heat let the garlic saute for several minutes until it softens and mellows. mmm.

I open a 6 oz package of pitted kalamatas. I like to rinse them in warm water before I throw them in. Otherwise they sometimes have a funny film on them that makes my teeth sqeak. If you don't suffer from this same affliction, skip that. Toss them into the skillet along with a 15 oz can of diced tomatoes and a little can of tomato paste. To that add a little over a cup of chicken broth.

Once it starts to bubble and boil, lower the heat and slap a spatter guard on top, if you've got one. If you don't, get one. I paid less than $5 for my set of three flat mesh screens and they have collectively saved me countless hours of stovetop cleanup.

Is your pasta water boiling? Add a pound of dry pasketti (as the kids say, you know). Make sure you give it a good stir after about a minute to prevent clumping. After that it will develop a little starchy coating so you shouldn't have to worry.

Letting your sauce simmer down, it should begin to thicken and darken after about 15 mins, you can keep simmering this almost indefinitely. As it thickens just keep adding a little more stock, it will get yummier and yummier as the first three ingredients continue to mellow into the tomatoes. But once you are almost ready to serve, go ahead and remove it from the heat and add 2 tablespoons or so of caper berries and a healthy fistful of parsley. Get flat or curly parsley, your prerogative , they taste exactly the same.

To serve this up properly: plate your pasta, add a healthy dose of sauce to the top, shave some romano cheese above that, and finish with some more fresh parsley. Pour a healthy glass of vino.

To eat this properly: dive in, make a mess of things and be sure to slurp those noodles. Vino to wash it all down.

Off to pick up Brian, pick up our rider packets, last minute stop at the bike shop and we hope to see you on route to Portland this weekend!