Saturday, June 21, 2008

Phuket Shrimp

Friday June 20

An ancient Thai dish we just made up. Remember, when you're tired of the ordinary, just say, "Ah, Phuket!"
Stir-fry some Mae Ploy green curry paste in a tiny bit of oil, Napa cabbage (large then small), diced red bell pepper, a dash of chicken broth, and a touch of (Philippine!) nam pla. Put that on a warm platter, and stir-fry a pound of shelled shrimp quasi-marinated with lots of minced ginger. Once they're opaque, take them out and reduce the sauce, adding a touch of lime juice. Finally, return everything to the pan and heat through.

Yum. Which means "salad" in Thai.

Corn and Fish Chowdah

Thursday June 19

Due to Trader Joe's packaging, we had about a third of a pound of scrappier sole bits and a quarter pound of lox bits left over from yesterday's Soletimbocca. There were also four ears of corn and a red pepper lying about. The answer: a lovely chowdah (that's how they say it in Bahstun, its natural habitat).

So in a kettle with lovely butter sauté a stick of chopped celery and 3/4 of an onion, also chopped. When all is tender, add a diced red pepper and let it go for a while. At that point add the kernels cut from all the corn, and enough milk to cover. Bring to a low boil. Season with fresh chopped chervil and thyme. Once the corn is tender (and this may take a while depending) add a half-pint of heavy cream, rehot. Then the above-mentioned sole, chopped up, . At the very end, throw in the chopped lox bits, stir a few times, and there you are. The lox serves the smoky function of bacon in a regular chowder base.

Oh, and there was a secret ingredient: along with the herbs, a touch of Pimenton de la Vera, to make even more smoky flavor. Subtle, but nice.

Soletimbocca with Green Peas

Wednesday June 18

Holt has been working on this idea for a while. He tried an experimental version, when we had left over prosciutto, but it overpowered the delicate sole.

But this time, he had the proper ingredients: a layer of thin-sliced smoked salmon (in particular, Trader Joe's lox bits) folded into a fillet of sole. Each "sandwich" was lightly floured and sautéed until golden; and while Barbara watched them, Holt made a batch of hollandaise sauce to go with them. And lo, it was perfect Soletimbocca.

As we noted last Friday (and yesterday as well), there happen to be a lot of sugar-snap peas in the garden. We've been alternating between having them as in-pod and out-of-poddy experiences, just to make things a little different each day. So today we shelled and boiled them, and served them as a delicate accompaniment to the fish. They were fresh and buttery-tasting, though we hadn't added a mite of butter. Go figure.

Steak with Portobellos and Snap Peas

Tuesday June 17

Just a simple T-bone, defrosted and pan-fried. In another pan, the lovely slices of portobello, sautéed with extra-virgin olive oil along with a crushed clove of garlic (later removed) and showers of fresh garden thyme. And sweet garden peas, this time in their snappy pods, just boiled for a couple of minutes until tender. And they so were

Stuffed Chicken Breasts and Roasted Asparagus

Monday June 16

We had a little ricotta that wasn't going anywhere, and some deboned chicken breasts in the fridge. So Holt decided to make ricotta-stuffed chicken breasts the Martha Stewart way.
Some people hate her as a matter of principle, but not us. Holt's sister JoDee gave him MS's Entertaining many years ago and the recipies (whosever they may have been) have held up very well.

We used fresh garden arugula instead of spinach here, and roasted asparagus instead of plum tomatoes between our breasts (ahem). A little of the stuffing to go underneath, between the breasts and the tenderloins, also helps flavor the meat.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Grilled Swordfish and Braised Bok Choy

Sunday June 15

Trader Joe's had some frozen swordfish steaks that seem to have been both sustainably fished and reasonably priced. Greek restaurants usually make souvlaki out of them, but these were such nice little steaks we didn't want to cut them up. We just patted them with oil, dried oregano, pepper, and salt; then grilled them on high heat until firm. A squirt of fresh lemon, and you might as well be at the Tri'Adelphoi restaurant near Omonia (if it's still there after thirty years).

We cooked the bok choy more or less the same way we did last time.
Just melted the frozen broth, threw in a couple of tablespoons of butter, and braised the split bok choy until they were tender (this bunch were full-grown, so they took a few minutes longer to braise).

Kathy and Russel's Wedding Barbeque

Saturday June 14

A perfect June evening to dress up in our garden-party outfits and walk to the wedding of our good friends Kathy and Russel, at their new home here in Clifton. Their back garden was a perfect party space, and after a relaxed Reformed ceremony, a banquet of barbeque was served in the tent on their lawn.

The caterers were a local place called "Pit to Plate." Their pulled pork and chicken and meaty ribs were very good, and you could adorn the meat with a selection of sauces, not just hot-medium-mild but North Carolina and Western style. There were also traditional sides like corn bread, green beans, redskin potatoes; beer, of course; and bibs for those nervous about the effect of barbeque sauce on their attire. We didn't see the rabbi chowing down on the pork, but she would have enjoyed it had she tried.

For dessert, we toasted the happy couple with champagne and three kinds of cake (real cakes, mind, not those inedible tiered things). And we wish them many more delicious barbeques in the future.

Fettucine Primavera

Friday June 13

You plant peas in earliest spring, when the weather is sullen and the soil muddy. You wait what seems to be months, your mouth watering for fresh produce, for a few brave vines to struggle up out of the clay. You weed, you mulch. More vines pop up, twining their way wherever you don't want them to go. Squirrels nip at them, and a flower or two blooms. Finally, one morning you notice a few peapods. You pick that tender handful, and they are marvelous. And from that moment, you will have nothing but PEAS, all over every vine, more and more every day until you're sick of them; and if you don't pick them right away every day, they get big and tough and inedible. This is the irony of home gardening.

Our peas are sugar-snaps, but one way to escape the monotony is to shell them as if they were pod peas. We boiled the baby peas and some chopped-up asparagus in the pasta water until they were tender, then fished them out (immediately putting the fettucine in the green water to boil), drained them, and added them to a skillet in which we had boiled down some heavy cream flavored with lemon rind, lemon juice, lemon thyme, and a shot of lemon vodka. I know that's four kinds of lemon, but we were conservative with the rind, and the flavor was fresh, not overpowering.

Fresh Corn and Amazing "Pasta" Salad

Thursday June 12

A vegetable dinner, served in three courses. Bicolor corn is coming in - still not local, but we needed a taste of summer. Two cobs each, smeared with chile-lime butter, opened the meal.

Then, we got inspired by the leftover ribbons of zucchini from Sunday's dinner party, and decided to make a salad that would look exactly like a plate of pasta with red sauce.* So Holt got out the trusty Benriner and ran a couple of zucchini and some peeled pickling cukes through its "noodle-izer." (Okay, so they're green; let's say that it's spinach pasta.) He salted them, let them drain, and then patted them dry. Their "red sauce" was just finely-diced red tomatoes, and the "parmesan" was crumbled feta cheese. Garnished with a little basil oil, these "pasta" salads looked and tasted fantastic.

*A Thomas Keller brain-storm.

And the sauce was nice mopped up with a thin slice of herb bread, which Holt had baked and then complete forgot about serving to Jeff and Caroline.

Plus there was sliced honeydew and cantaloupe melon for dessert. In other words, dinner was one amazing elaborate thing bracketed by two completely simple things. And it worked.

Napa sausages with onions and red peppers

Wednesday June 11

Just Napa sausages from Kroger's in Findlay Market, fried in a skillet along with sliced onions and red peppers. Kroger's makes their sausages the old fashioned way, but I hope they don't allow their kitties to get this involved in the process.

Party Leftovers

Tuesday June 10

Or as Julia calls it, "feasting on the remains." Normally we try to make some changes in said remains, but this time it was too easy to just have seconds of prosciutto melone and sliced pork roast. The only variation was on the leftover potatoes and sugar-snaps; they were already dabbled with tonnato sauce, so they became sort of a potato and pea salad.

Chiles Rellenos with Multicolor Salsa

Monday June 9

We still had four of the Poblano chiles we had roasted the week before, so we stuffed them with the filling left over from making yesterday's courgette appetizers, fleshed out with 5-6 oz. of mild goat cheese and a nubbin of fontina we had sitting around. Dipped the stuffed peppers in beaten egg, rolled them in seasoned cornmeal, and fried in oil until golden.

As we had managed to snag some yellow tomatoes as well as red ones, our normal pico de gallo got some extra color, especially when we added red onion and orange pepper, with everything in neat little dice, plus a handful of fresh garden cilantro. A squeeze of lime juice was all it needed.

Early Summer Dinner Party

Sunday June 8

Jeff and Caroline were coming over for dinner, and though we had hoped to have appetizers on the garden patio under the fans, the temperature and humidity both climbed toward the 90s - i.e., it turned into a typical Cincinnati summer day. As that's what we've grown to expect, we had planned a cold supper from the very beginning, and the only change was, we enjoyed it all indoors in the air-conditioning.

Said appetizers were made of Findlay Market ingredients as far as possible. For prosciutto-melone, Holt carved up both a cantaloupe and a honeydew, with Canadian prosciutto on the side for the guests to adorn as they would.

Holt also made Gordon Ramsay's stuffed courgette rolls, a.k.a. ricotta-stuffed zucchini appetizers. You can see how he makes them here. The ricotta he was using must be stiffer than American ricotta; we had to beat in 4 oz. of cream cheese to thicken the filling, and even then it was a bit loose - though still scrumptious. Oh, and we adorned the little rolls with our own basil oil, both inside and out. With the appetizers, we had some Italian prosecco that Jeff and Caroline had brought.

Our favorite summer main course is pork tonnato, because all the work is done beforehand, and it's served cold. In Italy, of course, it would be vitello tonnato, but even if you could find a veal roast in Porkopolis, it would cost as much as gold or gasoline. So the night before we had roasted a half a boneless pork tenderloin, rubbed with dry thyme and oregano, to medium (140º)*; and made a batch of mayonnaise in the robo-coupe: 1 egg, whirled up with a dab of dijon mustard into which 1/2 cup of olive oil and 1/2 regular oil is s-l-o-w-l-y drizzled.** Then you add a can of oil-packed tuna, a mess of capers, and 4-5 anchovies*** were pulverized. Liven it up with a shot of lemon juice and leave it overnight to mellow. On party day, all we had to do was slice the cold roast super-thin and garnish it with the tuna sauce.

As side dishes, we boiled up some tiny new Yukon Gold potatoes showered with fresh chopped tarragon, and a big batch of sugar snap peas from the garden, with fresh mint. They looked so pretty on either side of the pork roast. We continued with the white wine, a Con Class Rueda.

For dessert, Holt had baked a Southern Nut Cake from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts. He doctored the cake with a touch of bourbon, for that local flavor of Old Kentucky (except that many of Kentucky's bourbon-making counties are dry, so you can't get their own chief product within their limits). We served it with Graeter's coconut chip ice cream, not knowing that Caroline was allergic to coconut; but it was all right, she had cream and bourbon instead. In fact, we all had an extra bit of bourbon to keep her company, and a hilarious time was had by all.

*Don't let them buffalo you about pork. A pork roast done to 160º will be bone dry. Take it out at 140º (by our instant read thermometer) and let it sit so the heat diffuses.

** This is an old Martha Stewart recipe. We like it because it uses whole eggs. Half EVOO is right, since just olive oil make the mayo too overwhelming.

***The secret ingredient - don't tell kids if you want them to keep eating it. In fact for this batch, we tossed in a hunk of Gentleman's Relish that John and Priscilla gave us in their English care package.

Addendum: How to slice up melon all neat! Holt first saw this a restaurant in London when he was about 14 and still thinks it's the best thing ever. Just whack the tip of the knife into melon slices at discrete intervals perpendicular to the rind, then straighten out the wedge. Run the knife along the rind, and if it's a good sharp knife the little wedges stay put. Cool, huh?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Linguine with Bay Scallops

Saturday June 7

Luken's at Findlay Market had bay scallops that weren't swimming in too much chemically-enhanced juice, for $5/pound. That gave Barbara an envie for the sort of seafood linguine that you would get at beachfront towns in Italy. It also gave her an excuse to trim back the oregano, which is threatening to swamp anything it gets near in the garden.

We picked a handful of said oregano, a half handful of thyme, and a precious sprig of basil, de-stemmed the leaves, and chopped them up. The pound of scallops was draining on paper towels in the meantime. We boiled up a pot of linguine, and when it was five minutes from being done, heated a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. We sautéed a minced clove of garlic, then added the chopped herbs, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, and finally the scallops. They were fried on both sides (you can stir-fry them, but be gentle) until just opaque; then the pasta was drained well, and tossed in around them.

The results may have some extra liquid,* but the pasta will suck that up. Still, it never hurts to have a spoon ready, just in case.

*Do not attempt to boil this down, otherwise the scallops turn into rubber eraser tips--not that we've ever made that mistake.

Tuna Steaks with Tzatziki

Friday June 6

The weather is getting summer-hot, and Greek food seems to be the right thing; maybe because it doesn't involve long cooking, or maybe because we're used to eating it while on excavation/tour in Greece, and that's usually during summer. Also, this was done on the spur of the moment, and as we were very hungry, the preparation couldn't take too long.

The tuna steaks were Trader Joe's frozen; we put the package under water in the sink to defrost until bendable. In the meantime, we set a cup of plain yogurt in a sieve lined with cheesecloth to drain, and peeled and diced up a mess (okay, 3or 4) of little pickling cukes, salted them, and let them drain. When both had dripped sufficiently, we patted the cuke cubes dry and mixed them with the yogurt.

Now here's the beauty part. Normally you make tzatziki with chopped garlic, and unless you let it sit and rest for at least two hours, the fresh garlic will make it taste harsh and raw. So we used a handful of garlic chives, finely minced, instead. A squeeze of lemon juice, a pinch of salt and pepper, and it tasted great immediately.

The tuna steaks were dusted with fresh thyme, salt, and pepper, and quickly pan-fried, left slightly rosy and rare inside. The pan was deglazed with more lemon juice, and the results poured over the fish. Kali orexi!

Alsatian Onion Tart

Thursday June 5

This is, I suppose, quiche, and back in the 80s there was a book, Real Men Don't Eat Quiche. Well, they're all dead now from heart attacks, and this recipe contradicts that, but bears out a different bit of folk wisdom: that the only scent guaranteed to drive men mad is bacon.

Holt decided to use a cornmeal crust, for additional crunchiness. He found a good one here, tasty but a little friable (not fryable).
The only changes were that we used Crisco for lube instead of Pam, and the Silpat that Becky gave us (measured out conveniently in inches) instead of parchment paper. And we blind-baked the crust a bit, to give it a good start.

The filling began with frying a quarter pound of chopped bacon, its mesmerizing scent pervading the house. Then 4 or 5 sliced onions went into the pan with the bacon fat; it was pretty lean bacon, so a couple of teaspoons of butter went in too. Covered the pan to help the the onions get limp, then the pan was set aside to cool, and a custard of 2 eggs, a half cup milk, and a TBSP of flour (it's just thickening) got whipped up, with a dash of nutmeg, pepper, and salt, then the bacon, onions, and a cup or so of grated cheese (gruyère is typical, but we used Italian fontina). As soon as the tart crust was a bit brown, in went the custard.

The pie baked at 400º for almost an hour, until it was set in the center. We let it cool for 15 minutes, which could have been longer but we were so ravenous we couldn't wait. Holt baked it, Barbara was driven mad by the smell of it baking, and we both ate it. Thus are myths busted.

Braised Baby Bok Choy with Leftover Chicken

Wednesday June 4

This year one of my garden experiments was baby bok choy (Mei Qing Choi), and it has been quite a success. The rows of little plants have been coming along so beautifully we decided to thin them out and eat the smallest, tenderest ones (pour encourager les autres).

But we began the night before, by preparing the carcass of yesterday's roast chicken, which was going to provide both protein and seasoning for the next night's dish. We picked all the meat from the bones, and put it on a plate. We put said bones in the unwashed roasting pan, with all its luscious brown bits congealed in the bottom, added a few celery tops, a bay leaf, and enough water to barely cover the layer of bones, and simmered it all very gently on top of the stove for about an hour and a half. Then we lifted out the bones (when they cooled a little, we picked them over again for any precious remaining chicken meat), poured the liquid through a sieve, and let the resultant crockful of broth and plateful of chicken sit in the fridge overnight.

About 15 minutes before dinnertime, Barbara went out and picked a basketful (about a pound) of bok choy, cutting each plant from its root as a single bunch. She rinsed them carefully, getting all the sand out from between the stalks, and where a plant was larger than the others, cut it in half lengthwise.

In the meantime, Holt had skinned a spoonful of luscious chicken fat off the top of the crock of broth. He put it in a big skillet with a couple of tablespoons of butter and a cupful of the chicken broth, brought it to a simmer, then added the baby bok choy. They only took 5 minutes to be tender and done, and we arranged them around the rims of two warmed plates.

Then we threw all the chicken meat into the pan with the remaining sauce. Once it heated up and the sauce reduced, we piled the chicken into the middle of the plates, and anointed it and the bok choy with a drizzle of sesame oil. A sprinkle of salt and white pepper, and it was a perfect dish: fresh, tender, and slightly Asian-fusion.

Of course, you don't need to go through all the steps with the chicken carcass, if you don't happen to have a chicken carcass. You could always use just plain chicken broth, substituting an extra tablespoon of butter for the chicken fat. In fact, you could skip the chicken and substitute, say, sautéed pork strips, or scallops, or whatever other protein appeals to you. In fact, this would have been excellent with the smoked duck, if we'd had any left (which we so totally didn't).

Roast Chicken with Spring Vegetables

Tuesday June 3

It's always good to have a simple roast chicken. We usually do it in the time-honored way, and this time was no exception: chopped rosemary under the skin, half a lemon up the butt.

And of course, you have to roast some vegetables alongside, so we threw in some sliced carrots, onion, and (in the last ten minutes) zucchini, all tumbled up in the chicken fat and dusted with salt.

After we'd enjoyed the vegetables and the chicken breasts, we picked all the available meat from the carcass, took the unwashed roasting pan, and…well, I'll leave that story until tomorrow.


Monday June 2

Strangely enough, we haven't done chilaquiles for over a year. But we had bought and roasted some poblano chiles, which inspired us to do a vegetarian version of the recipe.

So no chorizo this time, just layers of chips, cheese, and pico de gallo made of chopped tomatoes, onions, and loads of the coriander that was bolting in the garden. Holt had gotten the layers all ready, and had topped the casserole with yogurt, when he realized he'd forgotten the poblanos that inspired the whole damn thing. So he tunneled the chopped poblanos in, and it all came out fine in the end.

Jackson Pollock

Sunday June 1

Frozen pollock (rather like cod) was ridiculously cheap at IGA this week, so we added this to our list of smartass names for fish dishes (Salmon Rushdie, Porgy and Bass, the Piece of Cod which Passeth all Understanding, etc.).

We put the frozen, boneless fillets under water to defrost, and started browning half a diced onion in olive oil. When it was transparent, we added a pound can of puréed tomatoes (good fresh ones aren't in yet), a handful of chopped fresh oregano from the garden, a sprinkling of capers, and a half lemon's worth of lemon juice (before you juice the lemon, take some long thin strips off the rind - you'll see what to do with them later). When it's thickened and saucelike, pat the fillets dry and drop them into the pan. Cook, flipping once, 10-15 mins. total, until the fish flakes and is opaque.

Now, if you want to present it properly, here's what you do. Put the fillets on warmed plates. Reduce the red sauce, if it needs it, and splash it irregularly over the fish, including little spatters on the rim of the plate. Sprinkle with more capers and oregano leaves, to add green to the presentation, and drizzle aimlessly with a bit of balsamic vinegar, for brown. Finally, toss a few strips of lemon rind about the plate, and serve.

Pollock with good taste (i.e., you can hang it in MoMA)? No, pollock that tastes good.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Artichokes and Strawberries

Saturday May 31

No, not together; that would be awful. But these were the fruits of Spring we got at Findlay Market, so we had them in courses.

We started with some brie and crackers, and a glass of wine. We needed our protein.

Then, whole (giant, meaty!) artichokes, cooked as here.
Dipping sauce was melted butter with lemon and garlic; believe it or not, the garlic turns a beautiful turquoise blue.

Finally, a basketful of local strawberries, fresh from the farm. We just plunked it into the middle of the table and nibbled the berries off the hulls, dipping them occasionally in a bowl of white chocolate ganache that Holt made some time ago, we forget for what. Doesn't matter - it tastes AMAZING on fresh strawberries.

Penne with Red Gravy and Pepperoni

Friday May 30

Made with the last frozen block of red gravy Holt made at the end of March.

Ralph Squeglio was a purist, and never put anything as American as pepperoni in his red gravy. But we needed the protein, so we sneaked some, baton-chopped, in. Parmesan grated over the top, too, which is more canonical.

Smoked Duck Risotto with Pea-Shoots

Thursday May 29

After we nibbled the last of the meat off the duck legs on Tuesday, we reunited them with the rest of the carcass and - no, we didn't re-animate the duck; we're cooks, not mad scientists. We made broth out of it for a smoked duck risotto.

The broth was produced as if for garbage stew, with these changes: smoked duck not chicken, including the brown, smoky skin; only celery tops for seasoning; and much more water, as the risotto would need at least three or four cups of broth.

We picked the duck meat off the bones, but threw away the soggy skin. And when the broth had chilled overnight, we skimmed off the duck fat and saved it for sweating the onions.

The risotto was prepared pretty much as it had been the last time we made it, but we made two crucial errors. One was that we only used one heaping cup of rice, so we didn't have enough left over to make risotto cakes. Two was that Barbara had the ingenious idea of clipping some ends off her sugar-snap-pea vines and adding them in the last ten minutes of cooking. She thought they would taste like tender snow-pea shoots, but they turned into tough little threads. Tasted fine, but took a good deal of chewing. Next time, she'll either grow snow-peas specially for their shoots, or use fresh green peas.

Still, a savory and sophisticated dish. America, smoke more ducks!

Roast Beef and Vedge Leftovers

Wednesday May 28

Saturday's roast beef, cold, sliced, on a plate. Next to it, Saturday's roast vegetables, nuked and steaming. Piles of marinated artichoke hearts and olives on the side, as a relish. Nothing wrong with that.

Smoked Duck Legs in Port Sauce with Roasted Asparagus

Tuesday May 27

We piled the legs of the duck we smoked on Sunday, plus a heap of fresh asparagus tossed with olive oil, into a cast-iron skillet, and put it in a 450º oven for about 20 minutes, turning it occasionally, until the duck was hot and the asparagus was tender. Then we dished them out onto hot plates, added some port to the hot skillet, and deglazed. When all the brown bits dissolved, we threw in a big spoonful of cranberry chutney to give the sauce a nice fruit flavor, and poured the result all over the duck. Pretty elegant, considering it's all last-minute leftovers.

Penne with Salami and Zucchini

Monday May 26

As always, it's right here.
The people love it, and we are but humble instruments of the people.