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!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

I'm coming at this the wrong way, apparently

Last night we dropped by my older brother's house for a barbeque. My sister in law made an amazing bowl of slaw with chipotle peppers, jicama, corn and some thai basil. My parents made some southern style red rice. I brought beans and Rhubarb Skies (thanks Carrie, they are delicious!). A very successful meal.

Later, on the way home, I asked my oldest what her favorite part of dinner was. "Not having to finish my rice," she says.

Friday, July 4, 2008


Finally beginning to cooperate, the summertime skies opened up after this morning's thunderstorms and were begging me to fire up Chewie. I did not have any difficulty complying. The day before the Fourth, let's make something 'Merkin: Hamburgers!

I picked up a new variety of new pototoes yesterday at the Mukilteo Farmer's Market, Skagit Golds. They are a small waxy spud, "superior to the Yukon Gold," the grower urged me. I made a foil pouch for them and filled it with some butter, garlic, rosemary from the garden and some shakes of salt and pepper. I won't refute that they came of the coals very firm, buttery texture, delicate skin. A darm perfect little tater.

We also grilled up some corn, I just removed the gossamer and pulled the shucks back up over the cobs and grilled them that way. They flavor up well and are easy to deal with.

Which brings us to burgers. Again, a simple prep here. The butcher left the raw hamburer sliced in natural rounds from the processor used, so I merely firmed them up and fixed their shape a little bit. They seem to keep a little more air in them without further handling and yeild a very tender finished product. A little salt pepper and worchestershire dribbled on top finishes that up.

Now, my current favorite burger has been static for the last several months, so I'm even able to use a photo here I took several months back. The veggies and beer differed last night, but the star of the photo is identical. To assemble this little gem, first, before you cover your coals with grills throw a poblano or pasilla (around here in WA the grocers label the same pepper totally interchangably, I don't know which I'm really eating!) right on the coals and let it blister and turn black and charred. Keep rotating it until it's that way all over. Let it cool. Then run it under some water and the charred skin will rinse right of. Now you can sort of fillet it and use the slices to adorn your burger. Bell peppers also hold up well to the same treatment, you can even do lots at a time during peak season to freeze them for later.

Add the burger to a toasted bun with a little light mayo on the base (oil-based watertight barrier to prevent a waterlogged bun) and place the cooked burger on top with some provolone cheese. To that add grilled onion and poblano. Top it with some Banana Sauce. Yep, that's right. I picked up some Jufran brand Banana Sauce at my local Asian market awhile back on a whim. It was $.59. It totally freaked me out at first; it's made with a lot of vinegar so it tastes quite a bit like catsup, but with bananas instead of tomotoes. They even dye it a little so it's red too. But it works! The banana plays with the pepper and onion surprisingly well and the whole burger is remarkabley delicio!

Have a safe and wonderful Independence Day everyone!