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Monday, June 21, 2010

Solstice Cleaning



It's the first day of summer, and I'm hot. Not "hott" like Christina Hendricks, but "hot" like sticky, and I smell like I've been riding the rails. My day has been full of various flavors of annoying first world problems, and as I was telling E how crabby I felt I knocked over a two gallon pitcher of fruit punch. Inside my fridge. It poured into all of the drawers, all over the kitchen floor, and into the dark recesses underneath the refrigerator. This is our third summer here, and as I helplessly watched sticky pink liquid run everywhere I realized that I have never moved the fridge to clean under/behind it.

"YOU HAVE GOT TO BE F*@%ING KIDDING ME," I hollered while E tried really hard to keep a straight face, and I could swear I heard a laugh track and a sad trombone off in the distance.

Well, I really needed to clean out the fridge anyway.......and as I pulled produce out of the drawers I noticed that some of our farm veggies from last week were starting to look a little busted, especially the greens.


Woe.

If you catch wilty greens in time, you can bring them back to life by trimming the end and setting them in a big bowl or sink full of ice water. Sometimes they're just too dried out and/or bruised to make it back but it's always worth a shot. It will take anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour to see results. You'll be able to tell which ones are disposal-bound, because they're the ones that look worse after sitting in the ice bath - soggy and sad. I managed to save some lettuce and some parsley, my beet greens and escarole didn't make it, and the kohlrabi tops had started to yellow. Don't bother with yellowed leafy greens (and broccoli, for that matter). Most of them taste bitter and nasty, and are mostly bereft of nutrients anyway. The longer that produce hangs out after it's been picked, the more vitamins it loses. It's best 4-5 days after it's been harvested (buy local!).

The best thing to do, I decided, was to take the pile of vegetables and turn them into dinner.


Here is the pile.




I weeded out the fruit and put it back, made an herbed avocado and tomato salsa for later, saved the celeriac and scallions for slaw (look for that in a couple days), and started trimming and peeling and chopping what was left.

I sliced the kohlrabi into 1/4" rounds, peeled and quartered the beets, and peeled and sliced the sweet potato. I blanched them in a pot of boiling salted water for about a minute, then shocked in ice water, then set aside in a large bowl. I trimmed the snow peas and garlic scapes, quartered the haruki turnips, peeled and sliced the red onion, and set those in a second bowl. I marinated the vegetables in a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, some chopped garlic and salt and pepper for about a half hour (overnight is also fine if you want to plan ahead). I did so in two separate bowls because I didn't want to pick through before I put them on the grill. As you can see in the photo: I grilled the sweet potato, kohlrabi, and beets directly on the rack because they're bigger. For the smaller stuff I used my grill wok.




I heart my grill wok. It was pretty cheap, I've had it for years, and with a hot grill and a little practice you can make kick ass grilled stir fry. SO great for smaller pieces of food, like shrimp. Nothing falls through the grate!



After the bigger pieces were done, I took them off and sliced them up, then tossed them with olive oil and salt and fresh ground pepper. I sprinkled the whole deal with chopped fresh herbs from my garden.

The veggies were served with crusty bread and mushroom risotto. I didn't make my own risotto this time, I had a bag of Trader Joe's in the freezer. Like I said, it's hot. I was not about to hang around the stove any longer than necessary. Any kind of grain would be nice - or a quick, light pasta like aglio olio.



Friday, June 18, 2010

Super Fast Dinner!


Time - we never have as much as we need. For most of us, it's because we have terrible time management skills. The internet has ruined us. For most people it used to be a luxury to be able to sit and read the newspaper, now we get all pissy if we don't get to spend an hour or two every day dicking around Digg or whatever. I've been reading a lot about how
constant access to information is rewiring our brains, and it's scary. I've been implementing some new rules for myself; Don't refresh Facebook. Don't carry your phone around and check it every minute (I leave it in the car, my bag, the other side of the house, I don't give a fig anymore). Close the laptop if you're watching a movie. You don't want to look at Reddit, so don't (it's a time-suck, and it's stupid).

It HELPS. I get so much more done. I focus on one thing at a time. I don't want to stab my friends and colleagues (well, just a little less).

Even so, some days I don't have the time to assemble anything too complicated - but I still need to get something tasty-and-nutritious-that-is-not-pizza on the table for the fam.

If I don't kick out a frozen Trader Joe's entree (surprisingly tasty, but not enough in one bag to feed us all), my go-to is pasta. As I've mentioned before, I like to use enriched whole wheat pasta for it's flavor and nutritive value. One pound of cooked pasta, one jar of pesto (or about a cup of home-made, and 4 oz cream cheese mixed together is a big winner around here. This time I used Tofutti's 'Better Than Cream Cheese' so that Jeffrey could enjoy without pain, and I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised at how good that stuff tastes. Very very close to actual cream cheese flavor, tastier than store brand cheap cream cheese for sure. Before you drain the pasta, reserve about a cup of the cooking water, then mix it with the pasta, pesto and cheese. It turns it into more of a sauce by warming and thinning the cream cheese.

On the side, I made braised greens with bacon. Our CSA farm share just started up and that means that we have leafy greens to spare. I used bok choy and dinosaur kale this round.

Braised Greens With Bacon

1/2 lb good quality bacon
1 large bunch hardy leafy greens (kale, collards, bok choy, mustard)
1/4 c white wine
1 shallot, minced

Rinse and roughly chop greens. Set aside.

Slice raw bacon into 1/4" cubes or slices. Heat a wok or very large skillet on medium high, and fry the bacon bits until crispy. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Fry shallots in bacon grease until they just start to brown, then add white wine. Add greens, stir, cover. Cook, covered, for 2-3 minutes until greens are wilted and tender. Stir in bacon bits, season to taste with salt and pepper. Best served immediately.

If you add bacon to anything, my kids will eat it. Anything. I wish it was better for us.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Another Arabian Night

The lighting in my dining room is whack.


Middle Eastern food is perfect summer fare - there's a lot of grilled meats and cold dishes. There is also the added benefit of their diet traditionally being low in fat and high in fiber, and rich in olive oil - good for your heart! I've been ready for a flavor change - as I've been doing a lot of Tex Mex, Asian, and pizza (the Holy Trinity in our house) - and I love the complexity of Middle Eastern cuisine. Pungent spice blends, fresh herbs, tangy yogurt, earthy grains; it's all wonderful.

On the menu last night were kofta (a grilled spiced meatball), cucumber/carrot/onion salad with yogurt dill dressing, and lemony boiled potatoes with carrot greens.

I've never made my own kofta, so I spent quite a bit of time looking up different recipes to see if there is a hard and fast traditional spice blend to use. Turns out that it varies by region, like barbecue here in the states, so I made up my own. There are also a few different ways to cook the meatballs, including skewered, baked, and directly on hot coals. I went with making little slider-sized patties on the grill. The only thing I forgot was some pita or lavash type bread, and I didn't feel like going to the store, but these would also be great stuffed into a pita with the carrot/cuke salad on top.




Spice Blend

This makes more than you need for the recipe - save the rest to rub on meat or fish - with a little olive oil - for the next time you grill!

1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp good quality paprika
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cracked pepper

********************************
Kofte

1# ground beef or lamb
1 T minced garlic
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh mint, chopped
1 handful chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp spice blend

Combine all ingredients, shape into meatballs or small patties, and grill to preferred temperature.




Carrot Cucumber Feta Salad w/ Yogurt Dill Dressing

Dressing

2T mayo
3T yogurt
1T lemon juice
1 tsp raw sugar
handful fresh dill
s/p

Salad

2 cucumbers, seeded and sliced
3 -4 carrots, sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
4 oz feta cheese, cubed or crumbled

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add carrots, cook for 1-2 minutes until bright orange and al dente (tender to the bite). Drain, then drop carrot slices into large bowl of ice water. (This arrests this cooking process and retains the nice bright color of the carrot as it flash-cools them.) Drain well.

Toss all ingredients with the dressing, chill for at least a half hour to allow flavors to blend.

You know in the movies when someone goes to the grocery store and they leave with the paper bag that has a baguette and the fronds of a bunch of carrots sticking out of the top? Yeah, what is that?

I am going to assume that if you have ever purchased a bunch of carrots that still have the tops attached, you have cut them off and thrown them away. Big mistake! They taste a little like carrot and a lot like parsley, and are chock full of vitamins. I used them straight up in place of parsley in the following recipe, so if your store only carries carrots in plastic bags just use parsley instead.


Lemony Potatoes with Carrot Greens

2# red potatoes, quartered and boiled
1 bunch carrot greens
1/4 c olive oil
2 T lemon juice

Toss, serve warm or room temperature.






Monday, June 14, 2010

Sunday Night Dinner Party


My friends found a trivia board game in which you place bets (with poker chips) on whether or not your opponents will answer the question correctly. It is ridiculously fun if you enjoy trivia and not having any faith in your friends.

We played for the first time last night, after dinner and a dramatic reading of the first few chapters of "My Immortal" courtesy of E. I don't care if it's for real or not, it is the most amazing piece of literature ever written. (Yes I know it's four years old, no I had never heard of it before.)

Dinner was a series of "And And And Food", as my old boss used to call it. Lemon and Herb Roast Pork Shoulder with Spinach, Shiitake, and Goat Cheese Ravioli and Roasted Grape Tomatoes, Zucchini, and Garlic Scapes in Balsamic Brown Butter. Julia supplied a Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp with vanilla Haagen Daz for dessert. We tried Lost Angel Mischief, which I picked up based on how I usually choose wine - the pretty label. I'm (mostly) kidding. It was really nice, very lush and berry. I could happily drink it all summer, it's an "easy" red and would go down well even in hot weather. Plus, it's a steal for $10.

For the pork, I dug out my terra cotta roaster that I usually forget that I have. I had used it a couple times in the past to make oven stews, but this was the first time I used it to roast meat. I'm a convert! The pork was so juicy, but still had a nice crust to it. The onions perfectly caramelized and nothing stuck to the pan. I'll definitely be experimenting with the roaster again soon. I picked mine up at TJ Maxx, years ago for about $20, a quick Google search shows that they're generally affordable and come in all different sizes. Mine has a glazed interior, which I would recommend as the clay will absorb flavors and the glaze will hinder that from happening.



Here is a thing that I like to do for pork, and sometimes for chicken; make a salt & garlic paste, rub the pork down with it, then roll it in chopped fresh herbs and a little bit of olive oil. Garlic paste is made by mincing fresh garlic cloves with a pinch of salt added in. The salt works to break down the garlic. (You can also add a little bit of lemon or lime zest in there for extra flavor) This is a helpful video, though I don't see why she's so fussy with slicing the garlic in the beginning. I just smash the clove with the side of my big knife, pull off the paper and root end, and chop from there. So much faster, and you're just grinding it down anyway.
I soaked my roaster in cold water for about a half hour, then added the pork, a sliced red onion, and poured a little less than a cup of white wine and the juice of half a lemon over the roast. Start in a cold oven, set the temp to 475, and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, until the internal temperature of the pork is about 160.

Home-made ravioli is not as daunting as you might think! My secret? Won Ton wrappers.* For real. You can get them at the Asian market for a couple of bucks, and you can keep them in your freezer until you're ready to use them. Then you can stuff them with anything! A little bit of cheese, your favorite vegetables minced or mashed, some ground meat, some chopped seafood, the list is endless. It can be a little time consuming while you're getting the hang of stuffing and folding, but I threw these together in about a half hour - 45 minutes if you count the cooking time.


Shiitake Spinach Goat Cheese Ravioli

1 package won ton wrappers (I use round)
12 oz goat cheese
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 c minced shiitake mushrooms
1 bunch spinach, stemmed and chopped fine
1/4 c vermouth or sherry (or white wine, whatever)

Heat a skillet on high. Sautee' mushrooms and garlic in a couple tablespoons of olive oil until mushrooms have released all of their liquid and begin to stick to the pan. Deglaze the pan with vermouth, add spinach. Sautee' until spinach has wilted. remove from heat and let cool. (You can cheat by popping the mix in to the freezer for a few minutes while you prep your work area.) When cool, mix with goat cheese and salt/pepper to taste.

Here's how to set up your stuffing station; take two cutting boards or cookie sheets and sprinkle a layer of cornstarch over each. (One is going to be your work area, and the other is where you will set the finished ravioli.) Two bowls: water in one, in the other a beat an egg with a teaspoon of water. A pastry brush would be helpful here, but I have used my fingers more than once.

Ok! Lay out won ton wrappers over board #1. Using the pastry brush (or your fingers), paint the outer rim of each wrapper with egg. Set about a teaspoon of filling in the center of each wrapper. Keep your left hand dry, pick up the ravioli with your left hand and fold it in half. (If you dip your right fingers into the water bowl, you can use that hand to tuck the filling into place without it sticking to your fingers.) Pinch along the seam, sealing the ravioli closed. Repeat until you're out of filling.

Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Add the ravioli one at a time - I do it in batches of 6 -8. When the ravioli floats, it's done. Since your filling is already cooked, you're just cooking the pasta. Fish each ravioli out using a slotted spoon, and transfer to a plate where it can sit and wait for saucification. (Real word, I say so.)

This makes quite a few, but you can freeze them before they're boiled.



This is one of the easiest sauces out there, and incredibly versatile. Also fantastic on chicken, fish, or roasted vegetables.

Balsamic Brown Butter

6T unsalted butter
2T balsamic vinegar
s/p to taste

Melt butter in a skillet on med/high heat until golden brown, stirring or swirling occasionally. Remove from heat, whisk in balsamic vinegar. Season to taste.

That's the base recipe but it's simplicity leaves a lot of room for creativity. When I made this last night, for the ravioli and roasted summer veg, I minced a shallot and about a teaspoon of fresh sage and fried them in the butter before removing from the heat and adding the vinegar.

*photo courtesy of Burning Pasta - I forgot to take a picture, and this is the brand I use.



Sunday, June 13, 2010

Infinity Tacos




How many different ways can one family eat tacos? The answer is infinity. (Infinity Tacos is the name of my Los Lonely Boys/Evanescence cover band.)

I had a small beef brisket from our CSA, and decided to slow cook it for taco filling. Since I don't give a frig about authenticity, I rummaged around in the cabinets and came up with a melange of ingredients to throw in the crock.

I rubbed the roast with Lime Pepper and Kitchen Bouquet, and let it sit while I chopped a head of garlic. I sautee'd the garlic in a few tablespoons of oil, and then quickly seared the meat on all sides. I then transferred the meat to the crock and topped it with a can of roasted green chiles, a couple of quartered tomatoes, a sliced onion, a half a jar of pizza sauce that I had in my fridge and some agave syrup to balance out the acid in the onions and tomatoes (probably about 2T?). Then I set it on low nd came back to it eight or nine hours later. I took the roast out, shredded it by ripping it apart with a fork in each hand, and returned it to the pot, mixing it back with the cooking juices.

fig. 1




fig. 2


The results were tender and flavorful, peppery without being too spicy. I used a jarred tomatillo salsa and smoked shredded cheese to complement the meat.

The reason that I didn't write this up in my traditional recipe format is that I don't intend this as a strict recipe (which it certainly can be), but more of an example of how I take what I have and wing it from there. I know a lot of people don't feel comfortable cooking without a recipe, and I don't blame you! When I was first teaching myself to cook, before I was working in kitchens and learning from more experienced people, I didn't trust myself to experiment. Even now - when dealing with flavors and cooking styles that I am unfamiliar with - I will stick hard and fast to recipes until I get the feel. Eventually I get to the point where I instinctively know what something will ultimately taste like as I'm composing a dish.

Maybe we don't all have this ability, and I'm taking it for granted. Maybe it's kind of like how anyone can be taught to play the guitar, but not just anyone can be Clapton. I'm certainly no Keller (the food world's Clapton), but I'm just as good as half the hacks on Food Network (eff you Bobby Flay) and I think that anyone with a love for interesting food and some core knowledge can throw together an impressive meal any day.

Here is another example: pasta salad. Like Taco Guts (what we refer to taco filling as), the possibilities are endless. Do you have pasta? Good, you're halfway there. I made the following salad for a pot-luck at E's school. I wanted something a little different but not "weird", and something that the parents could enjoy in the sea of mac and cheese and meatballs that everyone always brings to these events.

Chicken Chipotle Pasta Salad

Dressing:

3 cloves garlic, minced
zest + juice of 1 lime
3/4 c mayo
3/4 c sour cream
1 scant tsp chipotle powder


Blend together, set aside.

2 c corn
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 whole chicken - roasted, boned and chopped (can you say "rotisserie", boys and girls? I can, especially in summer.)
1 c chopped fresh cilantro
1 # pasta


Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain, and then immediately rinse in cold water. Drain off as much water as possible.

Toss pasta with remaining ingredients and dressing. Chill for at least one hour to allow the flavors to blend.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

FINALLY

FINALLY it is summer weather and FINALLY I get to bust out the grill and ALSO I got a new computer machine from which to "update" this "blog" - and the world is back in balance once again.

Quick post tonight! I am sleepy as heck and not feeling very wordy, but I made some pretty skewers that I want to share.



Grilled Tuna & Fruit Skewers

Marinade:

the zest and juice of 1 large or 2 small limes
1/4 c lemon juice
1/2 c oil (canola, soybean, etc)
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
handful of chopped cilantro
s/p to taste
-----------------------
4 tuna steaks, cubed into 1" pieces
1 bell pepper, 1 small red onion, also cut into 1" pieces
pineapple chunks, fresh work best but canned is ok too. Frozen may fall apart!
strawberries, tops removed


Marinate the tuna chunks for at least 1 hour. Toss the fruit and onions and peppers with a little bit of oil. Thread all ingredients on to skewers. Cook for about 5 minutes on each side.

There are two ways to keep the food from sticking on to the grill - first, get your grill super super hot. The hotter the grate, the faster it will sear the food. You can also cover the grill grate with a layer of heavy aluminum foil, and spray that with pan spray.

Serve with some kind of rice.