Sunday, July 27, 2008

Crab Cakes and Beets

Friday July 25

Or a festival of round things. We roasted some beets the night before when it was cool and sliced and tossed 'em with a little olive oil.
Then made our usual crab cakes.
Topped the beets with a little of Nancy's fresh chèvre.
Thought about making little risotto cakes from the leftovers of last night but our plates were full and things were already nicely rounded out.

Fresh Corn, Tomato, and Basil Risotto

Thursday July 24

A perfect dish from New Joy, especially when maybe you've gone a tad overboard on the corn.

The New York Times gaves it as follows:

Adapted from the new ''Joy of Cooking''
Total time: 40 minutes

1 cup ripe tomatoes, seeded, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 cups chicken stock
2 cups corn cut from 4 or 5 large ears
2 tablespoons butter, preferably unsalted
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions, white part only
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice or American medium-grain rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese.

1. Combine tomatoes, basil, lime juice and salt. Bring stock to simmer. Puree 1 cup of corn in food processor. Heat butter in large saucepan or skillet over medium heat until foam subsides, then add scallions, stirring until they are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add rice, and stir to coat it with butter before adding wine. Cook, stirring until absorbed.
2. Add 1 cup of chicken stock, and cook, stirring over medium-low heat until stock is absorbed. Add remaining stock, 1/2 cup at a time, reserving at least 1/2 cup for Step 3. Cook and stir until liquid is almost completely absorbed before adding more. Continue until rice is almost tender, about 15 minutes.
3. Stir in pureed corn with another 1/2 cup of stock. Continue to cook, stirring and adding stock as needed until rice is al dente, 5 to 10 minutes more. Stir in corn kernels and fresh tomato mixture. Season with salt and pepper, spoon into warmed soup bowls, and sprinkle each serving with grated Parmesan cheese.
Yield: 4 servings.

Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 520 calories, 12 grams fat, 30 milligrams cholesterol, 370 milligrams sodium, 15 grams protein, 90 grams carbohydrate.

The recipe is given here in a nice blog with some pretty pictures.

There are five points to this dish:

1) Marinate the tomatoes with lime and basil beforehand. You're essentially making a salata caprese hybridized with a tomato salsa.

2) Make a nice risotto however the heck you like. We used the last of the smoked duck broth, a little wine, and lots of water.
By the way, we often just dump a frozen berg of stock into the risotto pan. At low heat it melts at just about the same rate as it is absorbed by the rice and Less Work for Mother.

3) When the risotto is almost done, stir in the whirled up corn. It's got a lot of starch and will crisp or burn if added too early. This I think is a skipable step, but a nice touch.

4) At the very end stir in the salad.

5) No dam' cheese. What are you crazy? You got something that fresh, you're not going to muck up the flavors with cheese.

The pure essence of summer.

Sausages with Caramelized Onions and Radicchio

Wednesday July 23

With a bumper crop (whatever that means exactly; one so large that you have to tie it to your bumper?)* of radicchio coming in this looked like the perfect dish: one for which we already had all the ingredients.

Our radicchio is radicchio di Milano, whose scientific and poetic life you can read all about at Holt's fascinating site:
Vergil's Garden.
Click for all about the multiform species Cichorium intybus.**

Oh, about the RECIPE.
1) Radicchio by any other name would still be bitter. Following Chinese tradition we added a pinch of sugar to the mix. Not following Chinese tradition, we added a little cubed potato to the pot liquid and let them steam to spread the flavor out a little. We think this was a pretty good save for something that threatened to leave sweaters on our teeth.
2) Radicchio is NOT spinach. It's a green. It takes a good 20-30 minutes to cook down to the point where it's not squeaky. Do not believe anyone who claims that it's done in two minutes.

So, in the Epicurious recipe, we would DOUBLE the amount of red onion and HALVE the amount of radicchio.

*OED [perh. from BUMP n.1 or v.1: with notion of a ‘bumping’, i.e. large, ‘thumping’ glass.]
1. a. A cup or glass of wine, etc., filled to the brim, esp. when drunk as a toast.
2. slang. Anything unusually large or abundant. (Cf. whopper, whacker, thumper, etc.) Esp. freq. in attrib. use = exceptionally abundant or good .
1759 Gentl. Mag. XXIX. 271/2 In some of the midland counties, anything large is called a bumper, as a large apple or pear.

**AKA: chicory, wild chicory, blue daisy, blue sailors, coffee chicory, coffee weed, common chicory, succory;
barbe de capucin, chicorée, chicorée à café, chicorée amère, chicorée bleue, chicorée commune; Zichorie, Sonnenwedel, Wegwarte, Blaue Distel, Kaffeezichorie, Sonnenkraut, Sonnenwirbel, Wegtritt, Wegwächter, Wilde Zichorie; radicchio selvatico, cicoria selvatico.
Radicchio, Roter Chicorée, Rote Endivie, Veroneser Radicchio; radicchio, radicchio di Verona, radicchio di Treviso, etc.

Corn and Crab Chowder

Tuesday July 22

On Saturday, we cooked up 13 ears of corn, and ate four. The other nine were taken from the cauldron and immediately thrown into a sinkful of cold water, and once they were cold we scraped the kernels off into a big bowl. This was put into the fridge for later uses, and one of those uses was today, when half of it went into a corn chowder. Chowder demands pork products and fishy things; fortunately we had bacon, a knob of Schad's ham, and a can of Trader Joe's claw crabmeat all ready, so little pre-preparation was needed.

We started by chopping up the bacon, sizzling it in a pan, and frying a chopped onion in its fragrant fat. Then a couple of diced Yukon Gold potatoes went into the pan, and after they were stirred around a bit, we added a little water and covered them, so they'd steam nicely. Thyme is of the essence. Then lots of milk and whatever cream you can spare.

Eggs in Nest

Monday July 21

We began reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle at Vaden and Ginger's, a book that is rapidly becoming the bible of the Cincinnati Locavores, not without reason. The recipes are reproduced at the website.
All in an attractive pdf format. They call it "Eggs in a Nest." The "a" seems to have gotten lost in our idiolect.

To the instructions, we would only add that with chard, it's best to treat the celery-like stems and spinach-like leaves separately. The eggs were the lovely Mennonite ones (actually the farmers were Mennonite; the chickens seemed agnostic, though with a preference for Hindus, Buddhists, or Pythagoreans) and they came out with perfect marigold-yellow-half-liquid-half-solid yolks. The tomatoes were some ones we had dried in the smoker and frozen. We didn't bother with rice, especially not brown rice, which we personally think turns any dish into Lent.
There's a lot of iron in both the chard and in the eggs, so wine pairing is a sommelier's nightmare. We recommend cheap.

Spanish Potato Salad

Sunday July 20

A good buy on Yukon golds at the market and the discovery of two frozen chorizos tucked away in the freezer for a rainy day (which this so wasn't) led to this Spanish Potato Salad. On Saturday, we boiled up the potatoes whole, a technique which I had poo-pooed for years but which really does lead to superior potato-salad-osity. We cut them up in nice chunks and doused with salt, olive oil and a little sherry vinegar and left overnight to marinate.

On Sunday, before swimming we fried up the chorizo, some white and red onion (no red peppers to be had at this time of year), deglazed with some white wine and added that to the potatoes.

A tasty treat awaited us on a hot summer's night. Think of it as a deconstructed tortilla

T-Bone Steak with Fresh Corn

Saturday July 19

Summer abundance is finally evident in Findlay Market, in the form of Ohio sweet corn. Holt got a nice deal on a dozen butter-and-sugar (bicolor) ears, and when we got them home we found they'd thrown in an extra ear - a farmer's dozen? We shucked them and boiled them all up - four for immediate dinner, the rest for later uses, because why waste energy cooking in small bits, especially in this heat? They were juicy and tender, a great first course with just butter and salt.

You don't want to have your steak along with the corn, because both are best eaten while still hot, and one distracts from the other. But it's fine to re-use the same plate, because both are good with butter and salt. This particular steak was a 3/4 inch T-bone, which Holt pan-fried and flipped every two minutes; while it was resting, he couldn't resist deglazing the pan with a little red wine and slopping that on the buttery plate as well. And because nothing exceeds like excess, we also topped the meat with gorgonzola butter.

Result: an explosion of flavors in the mouth.

Shrimp with Snap Peas in Oyster Sauce

Friday July 18

Last Thursday, when I said we cooked the last sugar snap peas from the garden, I underestimated the staying power of those little vines. Though browning rapidly, they put forth new growth from their bases, and each evening walk in the garden (a.k.a. "mosquito's smorgasbord") produced several handfuls of both young stubby pods and bulging overgrown ones I had missed on a previous go-round. I saved them up in the crisper drawer, and at the end, I had about half a pound of edible pods and a quarter pound of peas out of the shell. So I decided to substitute them for snow peas in a simple Chinese dish of shrimp and peas.

Holt, chinese-sous-cheffing as usual, got the mise-en-place together, shelled a pound of shrimp (while I was shelling peas), and marinated it as above. Both the podded and unpodded peas needed longer cooking than slim snow peas, so after a quick wok-fry of the garlic (which I now do off-heat - it's safer), I gave the little pods five minutes' stir fry with some salt until they turned bright green, added the loose peas, melted about a quarter cup of frozen broth (duck this time) in the wok, covered, and simmered at low heat for another five minutes, until both pods and peas were tender. I removed them to a covered platter, and proceeded as usual with stir-frying the shrimp till opaque, adding the oyster sauce, and re-assembling the whole dish with a sprinkle of sesame oil.

Results were as tasty as they were picture-pretty, though picking up the loose peas calls for wicked chopstick skills. But we has - I mean have - them, and managed the dreaded mid-air chopsticks-to-chopsticks pea-pass without a single splat.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Frittata of Zucchini and Blossoms

Thursday July 17

Before we left Indian Lake, Vaden took Barbara to a local Logan County farm to get some eggs and free-range chicken. The chickens were certainly free-range, as they immediately strutted out of the barn to investigate us. A bit shyer were eight or so adorable kittens, who ran and hid despite their momcat's stropping herself against our ankles. The farmer said we could have a discount if we took a kitten, but I don't think you could catch one unless you'd brought a mackerel for bait.

Anyway, we drove home kittenless, but with a dozen fresh-laid marigold-yolked eggs. So frittata for dinner was a natural choice, especially once Barbara picked two days' growth of baby zucchini and their blossoms from the garden.

The preparation was similar to last year's version, this time no anchovies ("You've got the wrong man. I spell my name...Danger!"), but with larger strips of zucchini and our friend's home-made chèvre, which made savory dots on top.

Grilled Vegetable Feast

Wednesday July 16

When you live on the water and have a boat, you easily fall into the habit of the evening cocktail cruise (and you hope that you don't fall into the water due to its effects). Ginger and Vaden have happily succumbed to the temptation, and their pontoon boat has comfy couches, an awning, and even cupholders for all participants.

Tonight's signature drink was the Mailbox Cocktail, which Martha Hall Foose popularized in her Southern cookbook, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: over crushed ice, pour equal parts bourbon (she likes Maker's Mark, as does Vaden)* and good ginger beer/ale, plus a squeeze of lime. Of course, our hostesses packed snacks (and plates, and colorful napkins, and insulated glasses) too: crackers with Boursin or Old English Cheese spread.

When we returned to land, Vaden once again fired up the grill, this time for an assortment of freshly-picked vegetables, including zucchini, onions, and peppers of various colors. Ginger had already made an egg and mushroom casserole, and the two went beautifully together. The sun set as we ate at lakeside, so we could watch fireflies hovering over the grass, and hear ducks sleepily quacking in their roosts. Magical.

When it got really dark, we came inside for dessert, which Ginger whipped together: spiced pecans, a tasty local cheese made to be grilled, grapes and dried apricots. Ideal for an evening of sipping and talking, because it comes in small bites and none of it is ever entirely gone.

*Cheaper folk—us—concerned about diluting a good sippin' bourbon might substitute Very Old Barton, which gives a similar effect.

At Indian Lake with Vaden and Ginger

Tuesday July 15

Once again we drove up to Indian Lake to see our friends Ginger and Vaden. In fact, we pretty much duplicated this picture on last year's blog, as once again it was the season for fresh Ohio corn, and the best place to shuck it is outdoors, where the silk can blow away. And we forgot to use the camera. Then Ginger showed us how to microwave it by wrapping the ears in a moist paper towel and nuking it for 2 minutes. It may be untraditional, but it preserves the fresh-picked sweetness perfectly.

The main dish was also suitably summery: marinated London broil, superbly grilled by Vaden. We love that char-broiled red meat, but Ginger, who does not, had a fillet of salmon instead. Ginger herself had made the accompanying side dish, a delicious melange of fresh peas and cheese in a creamy sauce, piled on top of fresh beefsteak tomatoes and garden lettuce leaves.

Dessert was vanilla ice cream topped with fresh peach slices and blueberries. Summer doesn't get any better than this.

Coq au Vin à la Quercynoise

Monday July 14

Something to celebrate Bastille Day. We got the recipe out of our much-spattered copy of the Larousse Book of Country Cooking. As specified in Peter Hertzmann's thorough treatment of the subject, this type of coq au vin is supposed to be made with wine of Cahors. On the same page, Hertzmann beautifully sums up the basics of coq au vin:

"Bacon and vegetables, usually onions and carrots, were cooked on top of the stove until the bacon rendered some of its fat and the vegetables started to cook a bit. These were either pushed to the side or removed from the pan and the chicken, whether old or young, large or small, hen or rooster, which was cut into serving pieces, usually eight, and browned in bacon fat. Some form of high-proof spirits, cognac, armagnac, marc, or eau-de-vie, was then added and ignited. Flour was then sprinkled onto the ingredients and mixed in. Wine was added to dissolve the flour. Any reserved vegetables were added back to the pan along with some mushrooms and herbs. The mixture was then placed over a low flame and cooked, covered, until the chicken was done."

We couldn't agree more. We used bacon, onions, two normal supermarket-Amish chicken breasts (one split breast), cognac (Larousse says Armagnac, but cognac is what we have; at least it had Napoleon on the label), no flour, three-buck-Chuck's merlot, parsley, thyme, and "baby bella" (crimini) mushrooms.

Allons, enfants de la Patrie...

Yet Another Saltimbocca Variation, and Whipped Potatoes

Sunday July 13

We seem to keep coming back to saltimbocca, whether made with pork or sole; prosciutto, ham, or lox; provolone, mozzarella, or no cheese at all. The only unvarying ingredient is fresh sage, since we happen to have a bush of it right outside our back door.

Today's variety began with four thin medallions of pork topped with sage leaves and then slices of Schad's ham. We fried them in butter and oil, first ham side down, then up; this was Holt's ingenious idea to make the ham stick to the pork, and it worked. After both sides had browned, we topped the ham side with a slice of fresh mozzarella and a further sprinkling of chopped sage, and let it steam a bit covered, making the cheese melt just a bit. So these were open-face saltimboccas.

In the meantime, we'd been boiling up a pot of cubed Yukon Gold potatoes. When they were done, we whipped them up with butter and cream and salt in the Kitchen Aid. Holt cannot think of mashed potatoes without crater gravy, so once the saltimboccas were out of the pan and on their warmed plates, he deglazed the pan with white wine and scraped the brown bits into a nice pork gravy. Not canonical for an Italian meal, but satisfying anyway.

Cantaloupe Soupe, Squash Blossoms, and Pompeiian Pollack

Saturday July 12

We ran into our friend Liz the other day (as we were on foot and she was in her car, that was better than her running into us). Since we're all heading off to different parts of the world soon, we decided to gather for a last informal summer dinner.

Liz brought a nice bottle of sparkly wine from Australia, Taltarni (Brut taché). We had it along with the first appetizer: Holt's Cantaloupe Soupe, made with the aforesaid melon, apple juice, a little plain yogurt, and cinnamon, all zoomed up in the robo-coupe. The decorative topper was a little cinnamon, sprinkled and marbled by the chef himself.

The second appetizer was freshly-gathered fried squash blossoms, done in the traditional Italian way, stuffed with fresh mozzarella and slivers of anchovy. And as a bonus, each of us got one big blossom with its teeny zucchino attached.

Our main course was Pompeiian Pollack. Okay, we made the name up, but it was inspired by a fish in tomato and caper sauce we had at the Motel Villa dei Misteri at Pompeii Scavi, and by the fact that we had three portions of pollack in the freezer. We just sautéed half a chopped onion, then added three chopped fresh tomatoes and simmered until they broke down and thickened. Then threw in a small handful of chopped fresh oregano and parsley and a couple of forkfuls of capers, and poured it over the defrosted fillets in their pyrex baking dish. They had fifteen minutes in a 400-degree oven, until the fish flaked; any extra liquid was spooned off, and the fish was served topped with savory sauce. Alongside were pizza fingers, made of a cheeseless end of Barbara's birthday pizza, sliced and toasted for a few minutes.

After the main course, Barbara strolled outside and picked a giant salad of all her varied red and green lettuces, plus a dash of arugula for spice. She dressed it with her home-made basil oil, some Maldon sea salt, and a small drizzle of red wine vinegar, and everyone said it was the freshest, tastiest salad they had ever had.

That made room for the dessert Liz had brought: a deliciously creamy cannoli cake, doused in chocolate. The perfect end for a sort-of-Italian summer dinner.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Mushed Stuffrooms

Friday July 11

The end of the week calls for ingenuity: We'd forgotten about the nice mushrooms (neither a mush nor a room—discuss) from the Nice People at Finlay Market, but made a nice dish of stuffing with all the other leftovers from various lunches. So: finely chopped cubes of the last of the ham, ditto the last two slices of Holt's herb bread, ditto the quarter of an onion in the vedge drawer, all sautéed with butter and wetted down with the last teaspoon of cream. Topped with parmesan (of which we have plenty). And behold, it was delicious.

Summer Garden Pizza

Thursday July 10

It was Barbara's birthday, and what with various viruses and overindulgences, we were not in the mood to go out for the usual gastronomic homage.

When asked what she wanted for her birthday, Barbara said "I want a movie and a pizza."

The movie was easy: "Get Smart" was playing three blocks away at the Esquire, and was just the sort of laughable romp that was needed. We went to the matinee, then walked home for dinner.

Holt had made dough (from Carol Field's The Italian Baker) for the birthday pizza earlier in the day, so while it warmed and rose, we had slices of canteloupe melon and white wine. Then he layered the crust with the fruits of farm and garden: local tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, squash blossoms and basil leaves from just outside the screen door. And it was perfect.

Celentani with Fresh Kentucky Goat Cheese

Wednesday July 9

After all our meat-filled overindulgence at Lois and Jon's (THANKS, GUYS!!!), we had something a mite plainer when we got home. Just boiled up a batch of pasta (curly celentani) and slathered it with fresh chèvre made by a friend of ours who keeps her own goats on a farm in Kentucky. We won't say who, or which farm, as undoubtedly there are horrible tortuous laws against making goat cheese in anyplace but a factory, or without a license, or shipping it across state lines, or selling it. But it was a gift - so there.

All we did was warm the chèvre with butter in a pan, and loosen it with a little cream. The hot pasta was tossed in, and a shower of fresh chopped chives from the garden made it perfect. Trendy and locavore as it sounds, it reminded Barbara of a childhood comfort food, Lukschen mit Käse (which is NOT supposed to be sweetened, no matter what the Jewish food websites say).

Beef on the Coals in a Thunderstorm

Tuesday July 8

Lois has an amazing recipe for a two-inch thick slab of meat (London broil type, which can be sirloin, round, or flank) that is slathered with mustard (golden, yellow, mixed), plastered with rock salt (as for ice cream making) and placed directly on hot coals. To acquire said slab, we went to the Old Time Meat and Deli, where after long consultation and discussion, the butcher cut us a slice off the shoulder that looked like something you'd throw to a lion.

Unfortunately, by dinner time, uncertain midwestern skies had decided to let loose with a temper tantrum: thunder, lightning, and drenching rain, which made the other guests (colleagues Bill and Martin) arrive umbrella'd and squelching. They were warmed with drinks ("biciclette") and one of the many specialties of this house, crepas de huitlacoche -
because now Holt and Barbara are smart enough to pick up cans of corn smut every time they visit Jungle Jim's, and bring a couple every time they see Jon and Lois.

One dish for dinner was prepared indoors and ahead of time: a creamy but peppery potato gratin, baked with queso anejo and poblanos from a local taqueria, which we'd managed to visit both yesterday and today without eating anything - probably because we were always full.

But the other main dish could be prepared in no way but on fresh coals, so Jon went out in the pouring rain and labored to light charcoal in, and then cook on, a grill that was only partially protected in the lee of the garage. He came in intermittently to change his soaked clothes, and at the end of three outfits, he triumphantly bore in the enormous, bloody, perfect slab o'beef. With that, the gratin, and lashings of some very tasty Greek red wines (including an Alpha 2003 from Thessaloniki and an Aivalis (Αϊβαλής) Monopati 2004 from Nemea ), he probably ended up feeling warm and good, as we all did.

We ended the meal with a bounty of Lois' home-made cookies, and many chocolates, including the very appropriate katzenzungen brought by Bill and Martin.

Fish Taco Extravaganza

Monday July 7

While Holt spent the day in the library, virtuously Beccadelli-izing (and eating leftover pibil pig wrapped in a torilla—note that the modifier is not misplaced), Barbara and Lois toured downtown Champaign, acquiring ingredients for another Steven Raichlen feast from the May 2008 Bon Appetit. That is obviously an issue that Lois and Jon will keep on their cookbook shelf, full of post-its and abundantly splattered.

This time it was grilled fish tacos.

We used tilapia, and the leftover roasted tomatillo salsas from yesterday instead of the salsa verde of the recipe. Results were marvelous, better than any of the fish tacos we had in San Diego.

We drank piñas coladas again beforehand, and white wine with our tacos, including a ConClass Rueda. And dessert was Jon's home-made ice cream, a very sweet finish.

Central American Dinner at Jon and Lois'

Sunday July 6

Thanks to the fact that the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana has an excellent rare book collection (containing the letters of Beccadelli, celebrated lousy Latin poet and obscene author of obscene Hermaphroditus) we had an excuse to go up there and see our BFFs, Lois and Jon. We reminisced about Tucson days on their beautiful terrace, sipping piñas coladas, until we were rum-soaked in our good old San Carlos fashion. Then, somehow, they produced out of nowhere (i.e., several hours' work while we weren't looking) a full Central American feast, mostly inspired by some Steven Raichlen recipes in the May 2008 Bon Appetit.

The centerpiece was a luscious piece of meat: pibil-style pork.

On the side were yucatecan pickled onions,

fresh pico de gallo, two kinds of roasted tomatillo salsa, and of course, rice.
Several wonderful wines accompanied the meal, but things start (!) to get hazy here. From the bottles by the recycling we see that we had an Oratoire St. Martin 2005 (from Cairanne in Côtes du Rhône Villages) with a nice blends of grapes (marsane, roussanne, etc.) and a D'Alessandro "Il Bosco" Syrah 2005 (from Cortona).
But there was some wonderful chocolate flavors (including dark olive) for dessert.

Canestrelli Trifolati

Saturday July 5

Today Luken's at Findlay Market had nice bay scallops. Coincidentally, Marcella Hazan had a nice way of doing them "truffle-style," as if she were baking mushrooms. You just sauté the scallops briefly in oil with minced garlic until just opaque. Shower with chopped parsley and a spoonful of capers, (and a little chopped roasted red pepper, if you got, which normally we do but this time we didn't) put in a baking dish, top with fine breadcrumbs, and broil until golden. Outstanding.

USA Steak! with Turnip/Parsnip Mash

Friday July 4

We didn't have any special plans for Fourth of July, but a Big American T-bone is always welcome. We grilled it (indoors, thanks to the Jenn-Air and the roiled-up weather outside) using the frequent-flipping method.

As we didn't have any potatoes, we cut up some turnips and parsnips and boiled them to make a mash (with butter). But here we made a mistake: we boiled the turnips first and added the parsnips ten minutes later, because when you roast them in the oven, parsnips get tender quickly; but when you boil them, parsnips get tender NEVER, making for a rather lumpy mash. Next time we'll know, and boil the hell out of those suckers.

Sole Meunière with Caper Butter and Butta Rice

Thursday July 3

As we've already mentioned, Trader Joe's packages frozen sole in pound-and-a-half bags. It's too much for one meal, and once you've defrosted the bag, you have to use up the rest of the delicate fish quickly. That's our excuse for having (horrors!) THE SAME THING TWO DAYS IN A ROW.

We're also still eating light, undemanding, stick-to-it (ahem) foods. One of the best is rice. Barbara's grad school apartment on Frost Street was occasionally graced with the presence of Hitoshi Hashimoto, who gave us the recipe for what he called "Butta Rice" - actually, fried rice. For that, you need already-cooked cold rice, but today, it inspired a light, freshly-cooked imitation.

Rice takes longer than sole, obviously, so we started by melting some butter in a small saucepan with a tight cover. In it, we sautéed a small diced carrot and a few small tender snap peas, the last in the garden, for a minute or so. Then we poured in a third of a cup of rice, a pinch of salt, and two-thirds of a cup of water, and brought the whole thing to a boil. We slapped the cover on, lowered the heat to minimal, and let it go for 19 minutes by the timer (you can't mess with rice, it burns readily). When the timer goes, you open the rice and taste: if too moist, let it sit open for a minute; if too dry, steam closed for a minute; if perfect, fluff it up and leave it half-covered until ready to serve.

In the meantime, we took the sole fillets and tossed them in a brown paper bag with flour seasoned with a dash of salt and pepper. They were fried in the big skillet, in butter and oil, only about a minute on each side. Then they sat on hot plates in the warming oven while we added a big knob of butter and a forkful of capers to the skillet, until it browned and thickened. This got poured on the fish, and the rice adorned the side.

Okay, so it's a white meal. But it's what the people want.

At this point, perhaps we should expound on the difference between "rice" and "R*I*C*E."
"rice" is the raw, hard, little grains of the increasing expensive stuff, while "R*I*C*E" refers to the cooked, fluffy, tender mess of the increasing expensive stuff. This useful distinction was first introduced to the culinary world by that immortal opus, The Impoverished Students' Book of Cookery, Drinkery, & Housekeepery, by Jay F Rosenberg (1967), which got a lot of hippies through graduate school. Copies still turn up on abebooks.

Sole Goujons with Fried Baby Zucchini

Wednesday July 2

Still some digestive problems today, so we tried to eat delicately, if not completely in bianco. Sole is easy on the stomach, and Holt was intrigued by the light batter of this recipe. Though it looked like it would be too thin, it actually clung to the tranches of Trader Joe's (defrosted) sole we prepared, and then fried up a treat. So we threw a few tiny baby zucchini, just snipped from the plants in our garden, into the batter and fried them up too, making a nice side dish. The paprika salt gave it all a nice smoky flavor (we used pimenton de la Vera). And we also made some tartar sauce, the more traditional American dip, with dill pickle, sweet pickle, and capers.

Goujon, by the way, is what the English, not the French, call what we, the Americans call fish or chicken fingers, while what the French really call goujons, are what we, the Americans call catfish (more or less).

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Tuesday July 1

Holt's stomach was a bit sensitive today, so we babied it with the classic Italian-American dish. He had already slow-cooked and frozen a batch of red gravy, so we were almost there. All we had to do was the meatballs, more or less from JoC: finely chopped onions, just enough bread crumbs to bind, and an egg (though we might try wine next time).
The only changes were adding a touch of allspice, for a meatier flavor (a trick from a Swedish meatball recipe); and broiling, rather than frying, to make it lighter.

Once the half-pound of spaghetti had boiled and been drained, we twirled it in the heated-up sauce, adorned it with meatballs, grated parmesan over the top, and sang a few verses of "On Top of Spaghetti, All Covered with Cheese." (We really didn't. We just ate it.)

Chicken with Red Wine and Root Vegetables

Monday June 30

A tender chicken isn’t what's normally called for in coq au vin: a recipe for a tough old bird. But we treated two nice chicken bosoms as for the classique, with a dry marinade of thyme. Then sautéed in butter (bien sûr) with little batons of turnips, carrots, and a bouquet garni from the garden of spring of more thyme, parsley, and a bay leaf. A splash of red wine and cooked covered till turnips are tender.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Shrimp with Peas and Sorrel

Sunday June 29

We returned to a somewhat bare cupboard and scourged together a meal of whatever was fresh in the garden and frozen in the fridge. There were a few tender peas in the pod and some bigger peas that needed to be shelled. Each had to be braised separately with a little butter, wine and red oinon (one after the other, but in the same pan. Do we look crazy? Well, yes, but also lazy). Then we tossed in a handful of sorrel, added some cream, and then the shrimps. The thinking was that sorrel was green, like peas, but they were not a great success together. Oh, well.

Dinner with Katharine

Saturday June 28

Another of our new colleagues, Katharine, invited us over for dinner at her house in Jordan, which is a cute little one-road town in wine country. We ate on the terrace of her house, while Cool gales were fanning the glade, etc.

We drank a lovely rosé throughout, whose name we unfortunately forgot to write down by dipping our fingers in the lees (of which there were none), possibly under the influence of the single malt that Katharine served afterwards (oddly enough we've forgotten its name, too).

We began with amazing bruschette of smoked trout (from the little smoked trout place down the road, of course) on pesto, with a sprinkle of red onion.

Holt was taken back to his Russian days by Circassian chicken (Çerkez tavuk, also known as Georgian chicken: Kotmis Satsivi), that Ottoman delicacy of chicken in a walnut sauce. He used to make it all the time to feed various invading armies, mostly friendly. This was an especially rich and luscious rendering of an old favourite (we're practicing), served with an eggplant salad (Patlican salatasi), far too lovely to be called a mere side dish with crispy little strips of pita bread and yogurt dressing. Everything was mopped up with warm pide, and packed down with a tossed green salad.

And then we walked to the local ice cream parlor, where Katharine bought us big scoops of lovely gelato-style ice cream. That's another reason to live in Jordan.

Dinner with Ally and Dave

Friday June 27

One of our new colleagues, Ally, invited us over for dinner at her house. She and her husband Dave eat vegetarian (I think this is more accurate than "are vegetarian," as if it were a religion), of the piscivore sub-group (okay, maybe it IS a religion).

We sat out on their sunny patio watching the cat patrol his kingdom, while sipping a rosé and nibbling.

A refreshing chilled yogurt and cucumber soup started things off on the exact right note for a midsummer's meal. And the sourdough rolls were just the thing to mop up the last yummy drops.

We had brought along our last bottle of Chateau Igé (a Macon) that went very nicely with enormous and perfectly seared sea scallops on a bed of spinach.

The desert, I mean savory, I mean savoury, was a Canadian cheese plate with droozles of honey, raspberry jam, and quince preserves. See what we mean by blessed are the chesemakers?

Afterward, we, and the cat, lolled about in purring satisfaction.

The Lake House, Vineland

Thursday June 26

Fanny, one of our new Brock colleagues, mentioned The Lake House as a nice place for an evening meal, and boy, was she right. It's only a few miles out of St. Catharines, and its cool and comfortable patio looks right out onto the lake. The service is quick and obliging, too.

We were happy we went with Fanny's recommendations for food as well. The semolina-coated calamari appetizer turned out to be an enormous heap of tender, succulent squid rings, with three dipping sauces: pepper-jelly, green curry mayonnaise, and remoulade, all excellent.

Our main courses were: a fine thin-crust white pizza topped with smoked salmon, thin-sliced redskin potatoes, and squirts of tomato pulp; and a thin slab of swordfish topped with a "salsa" of cored cherry tomatoes and maple syrup (which, ghastly as it may sound, brought out the sweetness of the tomatoes perfectly), with asparagus, puffed potatoes, and mandolined carrots on the side. Swimming along on the plate of swordfish was a cute little angel-fish made of puff pastry, providing the perfect whiff of whimsey.

The wine was unexceptionably local: a Vineland 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, which Holt categorized as green-appley. And we enjoyed watching the clouds burgeon over the lake as we sipped.

Ristorante La Scala, St. Catharines

Tuesday June 24

Daylight hours of this week were devoted to running necessary errands, so it was natural to seek more pleasant diversions after business hours. At Stefan's recommendation, then, we sauntered out a couple of blocks to Ristorante La Scala, on Church Street.

There seemed to be only a single chef and a single waitress to deal with the Tuesday night crowd, but they were both eager to please, and it was pleasant to sit under the trees on the tiny back patio, especially with a bottle of Pillitteri unoaked chardonnay (2004) to keep us happy.

We started by sharing a big plate of steamed mussels, pleasingly dosed with limoncello, diced red onion, and parsley. Good idea, the limoncello, especially with the sweetness of red onion to echo it.

We then went on to grilled herbed calamari (both meaty steaks and tentacley tentacles) with what the menu called the "chef's starch" (in this case, a disc of mashed potatoes), broccoli rabe, and slices of grilled eggplant, zucchini and red bell pepper. The same starch and vedge appeared under the veal scaloppine alla marsala as well, which showed a certain lack of imagination and hands; but as I said, La Scala is eager to please, and on the whole it did.

Treadwell, Port Dalhousie

Treadwell, Port Dalhousie
Wednesday June 25

Treadwell is nestled into a river weir at Port Dalhousie (pronounced "de Lucie") on Lake Ontario, which is generally more noted for its stunning lakefront, twin lighthouses, beautiful old carrousel, and unfortunately loud patio bars, than for sophisticated dining. Nonetheless, Treadwell is apparently making quite a name for itself among local foodies, and boasts "farm to table cuisine." The back of its menu lists all its local suppliers, from swineherds to (blessed are the) cheesemakers to ramp-gatherers; but it's nonetheless a friendly and down-to-earth (literally) place, and we had no problem getting a table when we strolled in this evening.

Following our custom established and hallowed in New Zealand, once we'd decided we'd have both meat and fish, we asked for a Pinot Noir. The sommelier, who resembled a nerdy but sophisticated high school student, willingly guided us toward a local choice, Lailey 2006, a bright, slightly acidic wine that went very well with all our choices.

We started with an amuse-bouche of sweet red pepper soup and fresh dill in an espresso cup. There were slices of baguette and "ancient grain" bread and a familiar-looking puddle of oil and balsamic, but the oil turned out to be "cold-pressed canola," with all the heaviness of olive oil but less of the fruit.

One appetizer was "surf & turf" (thanks, Thomas Keller, for inspiring all the cute names): unctuous balsamic-glazed Berkshire pork-belly alongside a slice of tender lake perch. It was supposed to be entwined with Storasko's wild ramps, though our waitress said that the enormous green curl on top of the plate was in fact a garlic scape. On the other hand, we've tasted and hated garlic scapes, and this oniony curl tasted much milder and better.

The other opener was spinach gnocchi under a similar wild garlic scape, showered with smoked ricotta, toasted almonds, and parmesan foam. There were also greens lurking under there, unidentified as to origin, but very tasty nonetheless.

Of course, we fell upon the main course of truffle-dusted Lake Erie pickerel with cries of "new fish!" (and several verses of doggerel about a liberal pickerel and its fraught relationship with a cynical mackerel). It turned out to be meaty and succulent, like some freshwater monkfish. It came with buttered chanterelles, fava beans, and leaves of little gem lettuce in a tarragon citrus butter.

The other main was two perfect little chops from a rack of pesto-crusted Cumbrae farms lamb, even its fat tasting very light, without that mustiness that lamb (okay, mutton) sometimes exudes. It came with buttered "linguini" (really angel hair, and we couldn't see the reason for it anyway), bits of chorizo (ditto), fava beans, in a puddle of mint jus and mint leaves. This was a bit schizoid, but all the individual flavors were good anyway.

At the end, the waitress brought what the Greeks would call "spoon sweets" - jellies of fresh pomegranate and strawberry, served on spoons - as lagniappe. A sweet ending to a wild and entertaining meal.

Formal Dinner at Springbank House

Monday June 23

If you ask him nicely, and in advance, Stefan will whomp up a dinner just for you and your party in the formal dining room at Springbank House. So we made sure to ask him nicely, and he and Andrea obliged with a personalized four-course dinner that was unforgettable.

It opened with wild boar sausages on pineapple and melon chutney, floating on a cloud of julienned kohlrabi à la crème, and sprinkled with parsley and scallion. These were not the spicy, cured boar sausages you find in Italy, but ground and lightly seasoned loin meat, much more subtle.

Next came an inspiration, as if a Thai soup had been re-imagined in a New England kitchen: cream of corn soup with sautéed shrimp and fennel, tender and sweet, laced with a whiff of white truffle oil.

We brought the wines for the meal, as Springbank House doesn't have a liquor license. So the first courses went with a Legends unoaked chardonnay (which Barbara said tasted of bananas, but Holt said tasted like honeydew melon, which is fortunate, as Holt doesn't like bananas).

Andrea then opened and decanted our our Vieux Mas des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2003, to accompany something we'd never experienced before: creppuette of lamb, pairs of perfect frenched chops topped with shiitake mushroom slices and spinach, each one wrapped in caul fat, so that all the flavors had melded as they roasted. This was flanked by sautéed asparagus spears and "Parisienne" potatoes, tiny perfectly-roasted spheres rolled in poppy seeds.

Finally, dessert was a fan of sliced Ontario plums, topped with nutmeg-dusted Muscat sabayon, and scattered with local raspberries. Andrea and Stefan kindly joined us in a wine-tasting (or finishing) at the end, and we continued our discussion of local foods, customs, and oddities of the human race until well into one of our most enjoyable evenings ever.

Informal Dinner at Springbank House

Sunday June 22

It takes eight hours to drive from Cincinnati to St. Catharines Ontario, including roadside stops for schnerdling (we need to look at the Car Talk website to see how that's spelled, but it means the same as what they used to call "a wicked haircut"), picnic lunch, and the immemorial talk with a humorless guy in a flak jacket at the US/Canada border.

So we were pretty tired when we stumbled into Springbank House, in the pretty Yates Street section of St. Catharines. We were met by Andrea and Stefan, plus their wonder-dog Bruno; all three had treated Barbara so kindly when she last visited at the end of March that she had to bring Holt here for a visit too. Not the least sign of their kindness was, they let us rest for an hour or so, and then brought us outside to their garden for a last-minute patio dinner.

Andrea poured a local sparkling wine, and Stefan grilled fillets of fresh, salmon-pink rainbow trout, sprinkled with just a little cayenne-based spice mixture, on the gas grill. A salsa of finely-diced tomato and cucumber went alongside, along with chunks of grilled red and yellow bell peppers, asparagus finished with a touch of sesame oil, and perfectly-steamed golden potatoes, with knobs of good sweet butter. The air was fresh and cool after what Stefan said had been six days of non-stop rain, and we, the roses, and hostas enjoyed some unaccustomed sun.

Suddenly we felt less tired, and were able to stay up late talking, fortified (of course) with local ice-wine and slices of raspberry pound cake slathered with strawberries and caramelized bananas. Now I remember why I wanted to come back to Springbank House so much.

Teriyaki Pork Medallions with Bok Choy

Saturday June 21

As we may have mentioned, it is bok choy season here at the Floreamus Garden. Barbara gave big bagfuls of the stuff to Scott and Ann next door; to Kevin, who designed our garage; and to David, who claims he's going to come to Canada with us and be our Arab houseboy (and artiste). But there's still bok choy aplenty, so we had it ourselves, halved and braised in chicken broth, for dinner.

Pork and bok choy go quite well together, and we chose to go Japanese rather than Chinese this time. We made a teriyaki sauce of 5 tsps. of soy sauce, 1 tsp. of Xaoxing wine, a touch of sugar to balance them out, and a good shot of grated garlic and ginger. A couple of thick pork medallions marinated in the sauce, then baked in the oven at the People's Temperature until firm; at the end, we turned on the broiler and gave them a nice browning. Their extra sauce was good poured over the bok choy, with a driblet of sesame oil to finish.