Monday, August 9, 2010

Trash Talk

I am not interested in your chocolate layer cake, your brownies or your doughnut, at all. But I will gladly take your anchovies. Or your sardines. I have spent this entire summer bingeing on taramosalata. Working out for an extra 10 minutes so I can reward myself with a handful of crackers, slathered, no, piled high, in salty, pink bliss. Quite simply, I love trashy fish.

We are headed to Monterey at the end of this month for our friends’ Danny and Kasia’s wedding. We are really looking forward to the wedding, wine tasting, a climate different than that of Venus, and the Eden that is California and its delicious food. Jim and I are somehow very lucky to travel to Northern California every late summer/fall and we wine taste and we eat too much and we laugh until we hurt and we drive windy roads and we look around at all the kooky flora and we truly relax. It’s a tradition I hope never ends.

So we are dreaming of our impending vacation. Yesterday Jim asked me if I had read this month’s Bon Appetit article about Monterey. I had not. He said he left the magazine open to the first page of the article. This morning I checked it out, first item on the menu - grilled sardines - yum. I really didn’t need to go any further. But it also said that since fresh sardines are rare in this country outside of this part of California, true, I have never seen them here, they had a cheat method for those without fresh sardines - a sardine dip instead. We were in luck! I had all the ingredients needed just downstairs.

Jim’s kids are good about eating. They aren’t too fussy and we don’t feed them kid food, (which in my opinion should be banned) they eat what we eat and they really enjoy it. Occasionally an item comes up that might be skeptical, like snails. Jim’s son wouldn’t touch them but his daughter popped three right in her mouth and smiled and said ‘yum!’ I’m not sure if she did this to irritate her brother or she genuinely liked them. I don’t care, she ate them. She also likes eel and ikura. Jim’s son was given a surprise this Sunday when I made a snack plate of various whats-its for visiting friends and he asked if he could have some. I made him a kid sized plate of what we were eating, he came back for more and my friend Jessica asked ‘How were the eggs? ‘What eggs?’ ‘The fish eggs.’ Frowny face. Taramosalata not so good all of a sudden. So I made the sardine dip last evening and I thought it was pretty good but Jim’s son told me and made a point to tell me how awesome he thought it was, again and again, and ate so many servings Jim had to tell him to stop before he ruined his dinner. And we told him it had sardines in it and everything was OK. Jim really liked it too.

Sardine Dip - Serves 4 as an appetizer - adapted from Bon Appetit

1 can boneless sardines packed in oil

2 tablespoons chopped Spanish onion

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

salt and pepper

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine the first five ingredients in a food processor, turn on, stream in oil and lemon juice, scrape down sides, turn on again. Serve with table water crackers.

Notes : Good with a dry white wine.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Taking Requests...

Everyone has a skill set and not-so-skilled set. In my bag of tricks I can boast that I am an excellent parallel parker; I can fit my behemoth 20 year old station wagon into spots fit for an MG and I can do it on the passenger side too. I can poach the heck out of an egg. And I can make a damn good salad. Really. And I have a formula for it but first let me prate on about what I don’t like about other salads for entertainment value.

Entree salads are different beasts than side salads (and many people would argue there is no such thing as an entree salad), so for the sake of this blog I’m going to stick to side salads. Things wrong with side salads: boring vegetables, insipid dressings distributed by a food conglomerate, or giant trophy leaves of lettuce that slide across the plate on to the tablecloth with everything else when you cut them, proving you are an uncouth heathen. How many times have you seen cherry tomatoes, cucumber, raw mushrooms and raw onion? What do you do with that cherry tomato? Bite it whole and let the seeds and juice gag you or shoot out of your mouth on to your fellow diner? Cut it in half like some OCD salad eater? The rest is just a snooze fest. There is very little creativity when it comes to salads out there. I really can’t argue that I’m more creative because I have a formula for creating a salad, but mine taste good.

I make salad dressing at least 3x a week; why I don’t make more than a day’s worth is not a question I can answer. I have several salad dressings I make, all based on the same theory. Recently a friend of mine requested that I post my everyday salad dressing on this blog. She wanted to shave a few pounds via salad for dinner and she wanted it to taste good. The thing is I don’t really know what goes in to it. Well, of course I know what goes into it, just not the proportions. So I have tried to make it several times and when I measure it it seems off. Normally I use my leftover jelly jars and pour the ingredients in, always in the same order, I can tell based on the level in the jar what is correct.

Now, for the salad, it goes like this: greens (I usually use a lettuce - bibb, green leaf, or recently, the very cheap Romaine or spinach or arugula), a chopped fresh herb (basil, cilantro, chives, mint, fennel fronds), fruit and a protein - either a nut (always toasted), cheese or meat or sometimes a combination. Next step, goody to leaf ratio. Honestly, you prefer the goodies (goodies = good) and the goodies are anything that is not leaf. My theory is it should be about a 65% greens, 35% goodies. Then there is the dressing. It shouldn’t be cloying or mask the flavor of your food; just like wine it should complement the salad.

I normally have these items on hand in some form or another. Usually it comes in scrap form, leftover from some other dish but not enough to make a real dish, whatever herb is floating around in my vase by the sink or in the herb garden. Nuts: buy them and store them in the freezer so they don’t become rancid, we always have pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, pignoli... whatever. Fruit: again, whatever leftover; apple, orange, blackberry, strawberry and if you don’t have those may I suggest dried cranberries, dried blueberries or golden raisins? Seal them up and they will last in the pantry. Cheeses: shaved parm, chevre, blue, gruyere or sometimes, in our case, whatever leftover, bizarro, stinky cheese Jim has picked up on a whim. Meat: think pig or cured fish; prosciutto, Spanish chorizo, bacon, pancetta, smoked trout, smoked salmon. Seriously it’s like legos, pick one ingredient, grab another and start building.

So let’s try this a few ways. Arugula, chopped Navel orange, sliced fennel, toasted pecans and chopped fennel frond. Romaine, mint, chopped cantaloupe, goat cheese and prosciutto. Spinach, basil, golden raisins, blue cheese and walnuts. It’s easy and tasty. So pick your building blocks and lessgo.

Balsamic Vinaigrette - dresses 1 head of Romaine or a side salad for 4

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, the better, the better

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard (I prefer old stand-by Grey Poupon)

1 teaspoon honey

1 garlic clove cut in half on the bias


1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence

1 teaspoon Orange zest

1 teaspoon Lemon zest

Put everything in a jar and shake, or a bowl and whisk. It is preferable to make it an hour or two before dinner and let the garlic flavor infuse, discard garlic before dressing the salad. I dress the salad, meaning only the greens and mixed in herbs, 5 minutes before serving, I put the goodies on top. Nuts, meat, fruits and cheeses do not need to be covered in dressing, and really, it effects their textures and ruins their colors.

Salad with Cantaloupe, Proscuitto and Goat Cheese - Serves 2-4

1 Heart Romaine (approximately 2 cups chopped)

1 1/2 ounces goat cheese - crumbled

1 ounce prosciutto - chopped

1/2 cup cantaloupe - chopped/cubed

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Love Letter

This meal came back to me very clearly today while running and listening to an old play list. Years prior I remembered running to that song as I approached the corners of Gibson and Fulton Terrace and I just stopped running and I cried. I realized that I was quite hopelessly in love with Jim whether I wanted to be or not. Being in love is like having the most awesome secret in the world, it’s shiny, tingly and it’s warm and it’s all yours and it makes everything and everyone more enjoyable. But clearly overwhelming.

A few days or weeks later I was running, yet again, and I wondered what does falling in love look/taste like? What does it look like on a plate; what do I want to eat that can celebrate this emotion? The first part was easy; it popped right into my head: scallops. I don’t know why but apparently falling in love feels like pan seared scallops. Scallops with lentils, baked ones, not too soupy, and nothing too earthy to season them. Falling in love certainly has something green on the plate, but nothing bland, there is something zippy about falling in love. This was the hard part, finally after a few miles, I had it! Falling in love is pan seared scallops with basil oil, baked lentils and roasted asparagus with thyme gremolata. My friend Jayme called while I was preparing dinner for myself and asked what I was doing ‘I’m preparing an ‘I’m falling in love with Jim dinner.’ ‘Ooohhh, what’s in that?’ I told her the menu. ‘I hope he realizes how lucky he is.’

The funny thing is I have never made this meal for Jim. I’ve certainly made some parts of the sum. I should but....

While writing this down I decided that asparagus sounded like the perfect accompaniment for hot weather but I wanted it with steak. Right now, being in love feels like steak, steak Jim will cook. Hopefully one of those pampered, grass fed, manicured and massaged $25 steaks from the meat guy at the East Atlanta Farmers’ Market.

Shaved Asparagus with lemon and parmesan - serves 4 as a side dish

1 lb. asparagus, ends trimmed and shaved

1.5 ounces shaved parmesan

1 tablespoon olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

salt and pepper

Trim the ends of the asparagus and shave it with a paring knife. Heat oil in a pan add asparagus, saute for a minute and add in 1/2 lemon juice and 1/2 parsley, salt and pepper. Saute for another minute, remove from heat and toss with cheese and dress with remaining lemon juice and parsley.

Notes: Shaving asparagus is equal to peeling garlic or shrimp or husking corn in my mind as far as tedious kitchen chores are concerned. Hang in there, it’s worth it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bald P-Nuts

I loved my Grandpop, I just thought he was the best. My best memories about my Grandpop involve food. We ate our way through quite a lot, but I suspect it was genetics and a shared food crazed chromosome.

He had a fig tree (which is decadent to me). I’d show up in SC from Texas and I’d wake up to find Grandpop monitoring the squirrels in the fig tree. We’d go to chase them out and stand in the kitchen eating figs and drinking really awful coffee. It’s a fantastic memory. When he passed away two years ago, I knew that memory was the one I would miss the most.

We’d ride toward my aunt’s house on Yonge’s Island (crazy throw back dudes on the side of road selling the BIGGEST watermelons ever from their beat up 40 year old pick-ups). Grandpop would see them, he would get big eyes and he’d say “let’s pull over and talk to this man.” Then we’d leave with a COLOSSAL watermelon I was certain would pull our tail end down. When we got to my aunt’s house and cracked it open there was no question that it would be the best watermelon ever.

Oh... there was not a shrimp my Grandpop didn’t like; he could sit for several hours peeling and eating shrimp. When Parkinson’s prevented him from peeling shrimp my Aunt Barbara would sit patiently for hours, or so it seemed, and peel him shrimp. Grandpop would eat until her hands could peel no more and then I would peel them. Communicating was hard for him then but he would signal that he was sated by pushing back from the table, smiling very broadly and patting his stomach.

My first boiled peanut was with my Grandpop too. We went to the Pig one day, I had never seen a green peanut. There was a pack of people crowded around a produce stall furiously sifting, I asked Grandpop: “What is it? Why is it so popular?” “PEANUTS!” was the answer. “Get in there and get us some!” He pushed me through the crowd and I did as I was told: me, Grandpop and those other eight people shaking it out for the best peanuts. Turning the pile over looking and looking and turning again. I got in there, dug out the best ones I could find and we went home with a giant bag to boil up for the next few hours with more salt than you care to know about. Like chili, boiled peanuts are usually made by the truck load. My cousin Sonny has this problem solved; he freezes them in quart sized ziplocs - brilliant! He’s always ready to bring a side dish to a party and they never go to waste.

I have been watching the peanuts at the YDFM, they have been awfully small but this weekend I couldn’t take it anymore, they had at least ballooned up 3-4 small nuts per pod and that was good enough for me. I realize a boiled peanut recipe is not really a recipe, but at this time of the year, when I‘d normally be hanging with Grandpop cruising fried fish shacks on the road to Folly Beach it seems right.

Maybe you live somewhere where the side of the road “P-Nut” sign does not exist. They are the ultimate in road vittles so you must have some for your next road trip, jaunt to Grandma’s or next major couch sitting, beer swilling, sports game watching, unbridled salty snacking. They are certainly different than a roasted one most certainly more fun and slightly less messy. This is a smaller, less time-consuming batch.

Maryland Style Boiled Peanuts

1 lb. green peanuts

1/4 cup kosher salt

3/4 cup Old Bay

3 tablespoons tabasco

Put peanuts in a large pot and fill with water, bring to a boil; add the seasonings. When the pot reaches a boil, boil for 45 minutes - 1 hour. This amount of peanuts should not involve the need for refreshing the water in the pot but should the water evaporate, add more water. Cool and serve at room temperature.

Notes: I like my boiled peanuts not overly salty or mushy, salt and cooking time will need to be adjusted if you like yours “traditional”.