Sunday, May 13, 2012

Bengali Salmon and Kale Crisps

Saturday 12 May
Of all the dwarf Siberian kale Barbara planted, only two tiny plants have yet come up.  But Holt found some beautiful local kale at the farmer's market instead, so we decided to make simple and addictive kale crisps. 
The bunch made three pansful, so we were able to snack on (and finish) the first pan while the others were crisping.
To go with what was left of the crisps, we once again made Madhur Jaffrey's recipe for salmon in Bengali mustard sauce.
And just to show that we have the world's strangest cat, Dora sniffed once at the salmon and passed by to nuzzle at all that kale.

Pretty Good Meatloaf and Oven-Fried Vedge

Friday 11 May
Barbara is still trying to get back to that Best Meatloaf Ever she once achieved almost by accident.   
Today's try was pretty damn close.  She used saltines, and actually measured the amount she whizzed up (it was 4 oz. of crackers, which makes about 1 cup crumbs) and the amount of kosher salt she put in (it was 1 tsp.).
And since any vegetables cooked in the meatloaf pan just get cold while it's resting, she made a separate pan of steak-cut potatoes and parsnips, tossed them in oil and salt, and put them on the top rack.  And they were good with ketchup too.
The flavor and consistency were good, if a bit soft, and the crust was not quite crusty enough.  So not quite the best ever, but we'll keep trying.

Steak and Potato/Salad

Thursday 10 May
This is our default quick meal after a long day at the office.  The steak hadn't defrosted enough in the fridge, so had to have a 10-minute ride in the microwave on defrost before it could be pan-fried and frequently flipped.  Served it with a sauce made by deglazing the pan fond with red wine and monte-ing with butter.  The leftover Spanish potato salad from Sunday made one side dish, along with some tossed redleaf lettuce with ranch dressing.

AIA Dinner at Kathleen and Steve's

Wednesday 9 May
Barbara's old friend Patty Gerstenblith came in to give an AIA lecture, and Kathleen very kindly gave a dinner at her home so that the students would have a chance to meet and talk with her informally.  Even more kindly, she allowed us to glom onto it and get a chance to chat with Patty and her husband, as well as eat good food.
The catering was done by Fresh Table, who have a stand at Findlay Market.  Lots of their stuff is local and eco-conscious, and we are occasionally inspired to duplicate some of the dishes they display (beets and sweets were originally their idea). 
Their dinner was simple and straightforward: sliced turkey breast with a choice of basil or plain mayo, little buns to put it on, roasted vegetables, cold noodles with pesto, green salads with grape tomatoes and mushrooms in a garlicky mayo dressing, and chocolate-dipped strawberries for dessert.
There was something for everyone, so thanks to Kathleen and Steve for hosting, and to Patty for giving us such a good talk!

Chicken and Mushrooms

Tuesday 8 May
Saturday's chicken meal was only the breasts, so we had the legs and thighs (and a wing, and a prayer) left over for today.  We also had a bag of mushrooms we'd bought at Findlay Market, and some cream that needed attention, so we thought we'd do this, with fresh tarragon but without the onion.  
One nice touch: sometime in the past (we can't remember when) we'd made dried porcini and frozen the extra porcini water we didn't end up using.  This was ideal for reheating the chicken before the cream got poured in, and makes an agreeably bland dish into something elegant and special.  And so was the Hayes Ranch "best foot forward" chardonnay we drank along with it.  

Chiles Rellenos with Tomatillo Salsa

Monday 7 May
We missed Cinco de Mayo (which was devoted to the Kentucky Derby), and even Sexto de Mayo.  When we got to Séptimo de Mayo, we knew we had to have Mexican food.  Or at least, New Mexican.  
 The solution was chiles rellenos: roasted four poblanos under the broiler, let them steam, then peeled and seeded them and stuffed the skins with a combination of coljack and cheese, with some garden cilantro in the mix.  We dipped them in egg and then in seasoned fine cornmeal as an experiment, and fried them until golden outside and melty inside.  The fine cornmeal was okay, but we decided we prefer the rustic texture of coarse.
On the side, we served a slightly liquidy version of our own tomatillo salsa.  It made us eat the chiles faster so they wouldn't get soggy, but they were tasty enough that we would have eaten them pretty fast anyway.

Gazpacho and Spanish Potato Salad

Sunday 6 May
Our recipe for baked beans calls for tomato juice, but unless you swipe a small can from an airplane cart, making it means that you'll have about a quart of tomato juice left over in the fridge.  We don't particularly like bloody marys, so we thought we'd make a gazpacho with the leftover juice.
We've done linguistic gazpacho twiceand the basic sort fairly often; normally we like to use fresh tomatoes, and no stale bread.  But this time, the tomato juice made a good base for some minced red onions, a couple of diced fresh Romas, and some cucumber, both minced and diced.  With a little bite from sherry vinegar, it made a fine first course, especially when drizzled with green extra-extra virgin olive oil from (where else?) Spain.
We then continued in the Spanish mode with a warm potato salad made withchorizo, as we've done before. 

Roast Chicken with Root Vedge

Saturday 5 May
Maybe roasting a chicken is not the best thing to do on a hot day, but we had one fresh chicken and zero better ideas.  At least our convection oven does the job in under an hour, the Thomas Keller way. 
Once again we minced up some fresh herbs (rosemary and winter savory, in this very flavorful case), mashed them into a pat or two of butter, and worked it up under the skin of the breast and thighs for extra flavor. 
And if you're running the oven anyway, you might as well throw some parsnips and carrots into the pan to roast and soak up the juices.
It was Kentucky Derby day, so we watched the horses run and drank Mint Juleps while staying out of the kitchen. 
In fact, we ate our chicken breasts and roast vedge out on the patio under the fans, enjoying what cool breezes we could grab.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Tuna Steaks with Asparagus and Sugar Snap Peas

Friday 4 May
We still had half of the asparagus and peas from the Northside Farmers' Market, so decided to cook them quite plainly beside a pair of  defrosted 'ahi tuna steaks. 
We shallow-boiled the trimmed asparagus and peas with salt from our dried capers, and seared the tuna in butter and olive oil in another pan, then removed the fish and deglazed with a splash each of lemon juice, wine, and the rinsed capers, to make a savory sauce. 
Today the temperature went up to 89º, so maybe we need to stop buying "spring" asparagus.

The New, Improved Fettucine Primavera

Thursday 3 May
The Northside Farmers' Market's fresh local asparagus (again!) and sugar snap peas inspired a fresh take on Pasta Primavera. 
We had the tomato version only a couple of weeks ago, so decided that this one would be sauced with cream, and as different as we could make it.
So we cut the tips off the asparagus, reserved them, and shaved the tender stalks into ribbons with a vegetable peeler.  We topped and tailed the sugar snaps, cut them thin along their length, and threw them and the asparagus ribbons into a pan of butter to sweat down with a touch of salt and white pepper.
Started the fettucine boiling.  When the vegetables were just tender,  added a splash of lemon vodka, then heavy cream to thicken, plus a Tbsp. each of chopped chervil and tender little sage leaves.
About 4 minutes before the pasta was due to be ready, threw the asparagus tips in and let them boil together.  When both were done and drained, tossed them in the pan with the creamy sauce.
This was the breath of spring, and despite what we said last time we made it, beats the other version (which, after all, uses out-of-season tomatoes) all hollow.

Sausage with Lentils and Chard

Wednesday 2 May
We wanted to use some more of our overwintered chard-from-the-yard.  Rummaged in the freezer to find something we hadn't had recently, and came up with a packet of Charles Bare's bulk sausage.  Googled "chard" and "sausage" and came up with this.
As usual, we read the reviews first, and though almost everyone had changed the recipe (as usual), several were right-up raves.  We heeded their advice, chopping up the beautiful rainbow stems and sautéing them with the other vegetables, and using 1 lb. bulk sausage to 3/4 cup lentils to about 1 3/4 cups water, with extra grinds of fennel seed and salt and red pepper flakes.
But in our universe, it takes at least 40 minutes to cook lentils, even before you throw in the chard.  Why does no recipe mention that the type and age of your lentils/beans/dried pulse of any kind makes a difference?  We keep our basic beans and friends on hand all the time, and the recipe timings always have to be doubled, if not tripled.  Wise up, Epicurious!
That said, this unromantic-sounding recipe was surprisingly good as a main course all by itself.  We will definitely do it again, just as we did it this time (maybe).

Chicken Roulades and Baby Artichokes

Tuesday 1 May
We saw an ad with Kelsey Nixon boosting this recipe on TV, and out of curiousity, looked up the details on the internet.
It is one insane recipe.  You go through a long messy process of de-skinning and stripping down 2 chickens just to get 4 chicken breasts to roll up in the buttered chicken skin, and at the end she blithely tells you to make soup with all the rest!  We would get at least 4 meals out of packing up double thighs, drumsticks, and wings, not to mention the pickings from the broth we make - from the carcass, not the good meal-worthy parts. 
So as usual, we adapted, and came up with something that sane (read cheap) people might make.  In fact, we did it with only one - giant, 13-oz. - skinless chicken breast, which is what we happened to have.
So: butterflied, and pounded the chicken breast until we had two broad swaths of it, then cut it in half, salted, and peppered.
For the filling, gathered about 6 big leaves of chard from the yard, stripped from the stems, and chopped it fine.  In a big pan, sautéed a Tablespoon of pine nuts in butter, then added the chard and stirred until it was quite wilted.  Put it in a bowl and mixed it with 3 oz. goat cheese, a half lemon's worth of zest, and a teaspoon of chopped rosemary. 
Then just put half the filling along one side of each chicken scallopine, rolled up, and secured the ends and side with 3 toothpicks.  Baked in an oiled pan at 350º for a little over 20 minutes until the interior temperature was 165º, then ran under the broiler a couple of minutes until golden.  And it didn't leak as much as I bet that buttery-skinned stuff does.  You have to let it rest at least 5 minutes before slicing, but it looks great when you do.

For our side dish we had 9 baby artichokes we rescued from Madison's last week.  After the usual trimming - no need to remove the choke with these babies - we halved and boiled them for 8 minutes, then fried them in olive oil for 3 minutes a side, until brown and crisp.  Showered them with salt, and they went very well with our off-the-cuff chicken roulades.  
Take that, Kelsey!

Striped Pangasius Veracruz

Monday April 30
We bought this pack of frozen fish at Trader Joe's, only to find that it was the poster child for fishy false advertising.  Still, our only intention was to have something flat and white to play our succulent variations upon (as they say on "Iron Chef America"), so we don't feel defrauded.
Today's savory sauce was a tupper of red gravy left over from last Tuesday.  We made it Veracruz with a couple of Tablespoons each of chopped green olives, capers, and fresh oregano leaves.
Preheated the oven to 400° F., smeared a little sauce and a slosh of olive oil over the bottom of a square baking dish, and arranged the two defrosted fish fillets pisces-fashion in the dish.  Sprinkled their tops with salt and pepper, and spooned remaining sauce over.  Baked them uncovered until the fish was just opaque in center, about 18-20 minutes. 
In the meantime, sautéed some half-moon discs of zucchini in olive oil for 5 minutes on one side, 4 on the other, until brown and crispy, to serve on the side.
Verdict: pangasius is sorta like swai, which is sorta like basa, i.e., an undistinguished white fish whose virtue is being farmable and cheap.  Amp up the flavorings, and it's fine.

Beans and Cornbread II

Sunday April 29
Left over from last Sunday, ready to be heated and toasted for a snug supper at the end of a long drive.

Uncommon Ground, Chicago

Saturday April 28
Peggy and John had found an amazing event for Saturday evening: the Classical Revolution conference, a classical music jam session to be held at the Uncommon Ground restaurant in northern Chicago.
We had a wonderful intro of swingy music by Lev "Ljova" Zhurbin; the cello stylings of Ian Maksin; and Joseph Kluesener (I think) playing John Steinmetz's Etude No. 5 for bassoon, "Streets of Laredo."
The restaurant was as interesting as the music.  Uncommon Ground is a "green" restaurant, with much of its produce coming from its own roof garden (with solar panels). 
There was some confusion at first, when they seated us in the non-music room, but eventually we got to the back room with the stage setup, and were served by the quick and quirky Katherine. 
Wines were nothing to write home about (as they wouldn't be if you demand biodynamic), but we did fine with a 2007 Barra Chardonnay from Mendocino.
We got a couple of salads for the table: a Klug farms shaved asparagus salad, with radishes, fiddlehead ferns, sherry vinaigrette, a poached organic egg, and bagna cauda dressing; and an "uncommon" chopped salad: romaine, chunks of chicken, cherrywood-smoked bacon, Black River gorgonzola, cucumbers, avocado, and scallions with a smoked tomato ranch dressing.
For mains, we had sweet pea "caramelli," i.e. little transparent ravioli of sweet peas, roof-garden mint, pea tendrils, garlic broth, herbed Neufchatel cheese, and browned garlic chips; and grilled Rushing Waters trout with sweet potato hash, house bacon, brown butter vinaigrette, and chioggia cucumber relish. 
We stayed late enjoying the music and the vibe, and had a wonderful time.  Classical Revolution is a great movement, and we hope to go to the sessions of the Cincinnati chapter at the Northside Tavern.  As for Uncommon Ground, they're a bit disorganized and scatty, but for such gatherings, it's a very natural place to go.