Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chicken Fingers and Waffle Fries

I would file this under my best child friendly meal. Our kids will eat almost anything but I know many parents are faced with picky eaters. As witnessed at a 5 year old birthday party this weekend; one little girl with plate of fruit salad, watermelon, carrot sticks and cucumber rounds and across from her another young lady with only a hot dog and two meatballs on her plate. I serve this when we have 4+ kids at the house, this way, each child can pick what best suits their palate. The kids love it, they can design their own meal and there is the added bonus of eating with your hands. There isn't much in the way of preparation either. You need some time to marinade the meat but aside from that it's just a lot of chopping and I find the kids like to help with that too.

The flank steak and marinade is my memory of what my neighbor Claudia used to serve me growing up. I quit eating meat at 13 but I continued to eat that flank steak as my only exception for a couple more years. For many reasons I’m lucky Claudia moved in next door. One of those reasons, besides some truly sentimental and personal reasons, is my culinary edification. She introduced me to my life long love affair with Indian food. I had my first Afghan meal with Claudia. Claudia served me my first stuffed grape leaf, my first ceviche and my first flank steak. I ate my first duck beak and fish liver with Claudia and probably a lot of other firsts I can’t remember. She will eat anything; she’s well travelled, has zero food prejudices, a fabulous appetite and a deep appreciation of other people’s cultures. And she grew a fig tree in her front yard, in Baltimore, exotic!

I can remember some epic eating adventures with Claudia. A recent trip to her home in Southern California resulted, accidentally, in a massive binge on about 2 lbs. of bulgogi and 2 refills of the banchan. However, the one that stands out the most is when we went to New York one weekend when I was in high school. She had a conference but we also had a mission to find a prom dress I had seen in a magazine. I remember the trip incredibly well and I still have the dress to prove it; I wore it last month as a matter of fact. While there, Claudia treated us to a six entree meal in Chinatown, including two orders of salt and pepper shrimp. We ate it all. And marveled at the fact that we did.

So below is my version of her flank steak. Eat it as it is alone or serve it as described below. And if you have kids they will love you for it.

Lettuce Wraps - Serves 4

1.5 pounds flank steak

1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons molasses

1 tablespoon honey

3 garlic cloves, smashed

4-5 slices fresh, peeled ginger

2 spring onions, sliced

1/2 red pepper, sliced

1 cup bean sprouts

2 spring onions sliced

3 carrots shaved or shredded

1 handful basil

1 handful cilantro

20 lettuce leaves, I use red leaf

1 cup rice cooked with 2 cups water

Notes: You can use any vegetables; I usually just use whatever I have in the vegetable drawer.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

French 75

Jim got home the other night from a man-cation of camping in the Ozark’s with his college buddies. We were about 5 minutes past the airport he said ‘Wow, I could use a French 75.’ I guess all the fishing, canoeing, living like pigs, fire and playing war games over saturated Jim in man-funk and he was ready to atone for those 5 days with a tall, pretty cocktail. Although I’m unclear about how manly a trip it was since Jim came home clean and toting a bottle of Jameson’s that was more than 3/4 full.

The French 75, named for the WW1 machine gun because of its potency. This is the beverage for me. It is the Cinderella’s glass slipper of beverages. Look at it, seriously, don’t you want to dive right in? It’s gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and sparkling wine. There is some contention that it should be made with brandy and not gin. My personal preference is gin. However, I had an absolutely amazing one with cognac at The Driskill in Austin. If you have not been to the Driskill and find yourself nearby, and I mean like Houston, Dallas or Oklahoma nearby, go. Actually it was so amazing I had three.

To compromise on the brandy versus gin debate I add a brandied cherry to mine. Who doesn’t want a brandied cherry as a treat for finishing a delicious cocktail? I make simple syrup and keep it in the fridge. I usually have fresh lemons on hand but I have been know to juice lemons getting long in the tooth and freeze the juice. The brandied cherries will keep for months in the fridge, just use a clean spoon or a toothpick when retrieving them.

Have this drink tonight. It’s 97 degrees here. I am going to make some tonight and Jim and I can sit quietly on the porch in front of the fan, sipping our cocktails.

French 75 - Makes 2

3 ounces dry gin - I use Bombay Extra Dry

1 ounce simple syrup

1.5 ounces lemon juice

Lemon zest

Sparkling wine - I use either Gloria Ferrer or Chandon rose or brut varieties

Brandied cherries - optional

Combine the gin, simple syrup and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker and shake over ice, pour into a champagne glass top off with champagne, add in the cherry and using a zester peel off a 2” strip of lemon peel, peel the zest over the glass so the lemon oil from the rind spritzes on to the glass.

Simple Syrup

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

Combine both in a pot and heat over medium heat until both are combined, this takes just a few minutes. Cool to room temperature and store in the fridge.

Brandied Cherries

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1.5 cups brandy

Juice of 1 lemon

1 lb. cherries, pitted

Bring the liquids to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Put the cherries in a tupperware or glass jar and pour the brandy liquid over top let cool and place in the fridge. The cherries get better with time, store them for at least a month before using. They should stay perfectly fine for several months in the fridge as long as no contaminants get in the container.

** Notes - Do not double this recipe, it certainly can be cut in half. I use the Gloria or Chandon because they are inexpensive but any champagne, sparkling wine or Prosecco will work.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Summertime Memories

Barefoot and carrying a general patina of dirt, catching fire flies, racing big wheels, climbing trees, hailing the ice cream man, eating onion grass and listening to the bees buzz in the magnolia tree outside the bedroom window. Sent outside and probably told to stand in the grass, which you dutifully did and then instinctively bent at the waist to eat watermelon, slurping and trying to avoid the juice and catch it all at once while spitting seeds at the ants as they gathered in the pool of watermelon juice. This was summertime. Summertime before sleep away camps and summer jobs.

When given a slice of watermelon you don’t just eat it and enjoy it, it involves more physical and emotional interaction than a fork and knife can provide. You slurp it, you make ridiculous noises and if it’s particularly good one you may make incoherent commentary. You eat outside half leaning off of the porch, or hunched over the sink. It requires a stance. You don’t slowly savor watermelon, no, you dig in and you eat it with a certain steady speed racing the slice of watermelon as its juices run down your arm. And I bet you think about being a kid.

I don’t spend enough time eating watermelon in the summer as I did when I was a kid. Why is that? Too messy? Too big? Too silly? Perhaps all of those reasons. But I know I love it and I know when September comes I lament its absence in the grocery store. So here’s how we adults can have our watermelon.

Watermelon Slush - Makes 1

1 cup watermelon, cubed and frozen

2 tsps. mint, roughy chopped

1-1.5 oz. vodka (or water for a N/A variety)

Combine the ingredients in a blender on high, blend until smooth.

Monday, July 11, 2011

From Summer with Love

A fresh tomato is just about the best present you can give. Large, ripe and smelling like the yard it came from, homegrown tomatoes are a luxury. They need very little to shine, a sprinkling of salt, maybe a little pepper or a tiny drizzle of olive oil, but that’s about it.

Two summers ago Jim planted a small vegetable garden beside our tiny house. He planted zucchini, squash, various peppers and an okra plant that produced, ironically, a single okra. He also put in five tomato plants of various types (at this point in the story he’s quick to point out someone - me - removed all the plastic identifying placards - just so you know). Jim took the role of gardener very seriously and would spend about an hour everyday after work watering, fertilizing, measuring and admiring his work. Amazingly the squirrels and the birds (and the squatters next door) stayed away and the tomato plants thrived. Jim was very fruitful, extremely so that by the end of August it seemed every lunch consisted of tomato sandwiches, evening appetizers were fried green ones and pasta sauce galore clogged the freezer. By September we couldn’t give enough of them away. I said ‘I know it’s not right, but if I don’t see another tomato until next summer, I’ll be okay’. And I kept my word, for the most part.

This tomato pie has been with me forever, much like the eggplant meatballs or my rosemary salmon. It’s just one of those dishes I do. It is at its best when made at the end of summer with the tomatoes from your yard or someone’s yard and the basil that’s going to seed with big fat leaves. It’s not complicated and the ingredient list might even say ‘duh’ but it never fails to make people happy.

Tomato Pie - Serves 6-8 as a side dish

3-3.5 lbs. tomatoes (approximately 8)

1/2 cup + 2 tbsps. basil torn

8 oz. boccacini cut in half, or a larger mozzarella cubed

3/4 cup parmesan grated

3 tbsps. olive oil

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

salt + pepper

2 sheets pastry for a 9” pie

1 egg

Seed and chop the tomatoes in to 1/2” chunks, dry them on paper towels. Slice the boccacini in half and dry on paper towels as well. You will want to remove as much moisture from the ingredients as possible. Combine the first three ingredients, toss and sprinkle with olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper and toss again to coat. Preheat the oven to 350. whisk the egg. Line a pie pan with one sheet of pastry and pour pie filling in, top with remaining pie shell, crimp edges to close, brush top of pie with the egg wash and using a fork prick several times to vent. Place in oven and cook for approximately 45 minutes or until the crust is golden. Cool pie for 20 minutes prior to slicing.