Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Friends with Strangers

I’m pretty devoted to my chicken recipes, especially a roast chicken.  I normally do roast chicken the Thomas Keller way with a Jaques Pepin twist.  Which simply means I use TK’s recipe but I don’t truss the bird, it is hands down the easiest thing to make, tasty too.  But that all changed last week.  
I am a member of a couple online food ‘communities’.  And like all online communities you make ‘friends’ with people in other cities.  Ignoring your parents and talking to strangers.  For all you know they could have different political opinions and plastic on their couches.
While commenting/chatting, whatever you call electric banter, with one of my total stranger ‘friends’ we discovered that she not only lives 3 blocks from my childhood home but she also happens to be real life friends with my very best friend.  Small world indeed.  Anyhow, we did what any normal electronic friends who have never met before would do, we became Facebook friends.
It’s been a week of blog related mishaps. So it’s a good thing my virtual friend posted that she was roasting an herb stuffed chicken with seasonal vegetables.  Somehow that just sounded like perfection to me and so I resolved to make one.  I knew it was a total winner when our pre-teen son took a bite, his eyes popped open and said ’Mmmm, wow, that’s really good! What did you do differently to the chicken?‘ YES!  I served it with a squash, zucchini, leek casserole the first time, which was also gobbled up, hopefully I can remember what went in to that.  It was so good we made it again the other night.  So thanks to my friend Linda, who I don’t actually know, for changing my chicken gears.  Hopefully one day we can actually meet, in the meantime, we will be enjoying this chicken. 
Herb Stuffed Roast Chicken - Serves 4
1 - 4.5 pound chicken
4 cups herbs on stems, use at least 4 kinds, I used
Globe Basil
Purple Basil
Bee Balm
1 lemon, sliced then cut in half
3-4 cloves garlic, sliced in half lengthwise
Kosher or sea salt
Rinse and pat dry the bird, very well. Dry bird = crispy bird.  Salt and pepper the cavity.  Stuff the bird with the lemons, garlic and herbs, alternating to get a good distribution of flavors.  Truss the bird.  Place the bird breast side up on a roasting pan.  Sprinkle liberally with salt all over.  Place in a 425 oven for 40 minutes or until a thermometer reads 165.  Let rest 5-10 minutes.  Carve and serve.

Note:  As usual chicken doesn't photograph so sexy, my apologies.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Stats

Somehow I’ve managed to hit 5,000 views on this thing.  I’m not sure who reads this besides Jim and a few friends but I guess someone does.  Maybe 5,000 doesn't sound like a lot, but it does to me.  Apparently it has been viewed in 10 different countries with Google being the number 1 referring site, followed by Facebook.  I’m not bragging, I’m just baffled.  I can tell you my most popular recipes are the eggplant meatballs followed by the Vietnamese chicken and, bizarrely, rutabaga ribbons.  Don’t get me wrong, I love rutabaga ribbons, which is why they are here, but it seems like an odd recipe for the top 3.  My least popular posts:  my very first one, which is for mashed sweet potatoes with smoked paprika (it’s delicious), my butterscotch cookie recipe, and my salad dressing recipe.  I am forever making salad dressing.
So, like that rutabaga recipe I’m going to celebrate with something simple.  Jim suggested we have a party with dishes from this blog, but I informed him if we did, we’d have to blog about it, and it’s way too hot outside for a party.  The best part of summer is how simple it is to make a great dinner.  The grill, the produce and all the herbs make summer the most delicious time of the year.  Like most recipes, this salad came in to existence because it’s what we had in the house.

Tomato Salad with Dill, Capers and Lemon Vinaigrette  - Serves 6-8

1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
2 tablespoons dill, chopped
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon capers, drained
sea salt, such as Maldon
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
Place the tomatoes in a bowl, toss with the dressing.  Add in the dill and capers, lightly toss, sprinkle with salt and serve.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Daydream

When we couldn’t sleep or felt totally wronged by the college cafeteria, my college roommate, Val, and I would describe favorite dishes from favorite restaurants to each other.  Sounds a little torturous, I know, especially after we probably had some Sysco canned green beans for dinner.  But it always did the trick, Val and I would drift off with visions of crepes and sushi all through our heads.
Val grew up in Brookline and had another outpost in the West Village at her Dad’s house.  She had also spent a summer in Aix.  She had a delicious food list.  Mine wasn’t too bad either.  Baltimoreans don’t be so surprised. No other place has our crab cakes, steamed crabs, Tio Pepe’s pine nut roll, Mary Sue easter eggs, Italian pastry shops on Bel Air road, our cheesy Baltimore version of Little Italy, soft shelled crab sandwiches, mussels, Berger cookies, crab chips, the treasures inside Cross Street and Lexington Markets, shall I continue?  All of these items are unique to Baltimore.  Sure you can get a crab cake anywhere, but it probably doesn’t taste remotely as good as the ones in Baltimore.  And while you also might be able to ferret out a soft shelled crab I bet it’s in a restaurant with a white table cloth not on a piece of white bread at a diner in Remington for $5. And if you live in Baltimore I suspect you tend to take all of this for granted.  I did and now I spend my time trying to recreate many of these items.
One other Baltimore tradition is the shrimp salad sandwich.  Shrimp salad is always served at bridal showers, with a side of croissants from Costco.  But more traditionally it is served on white bread with lettuce and tomato.  Eddie’s of Roland Park is the bench mark for shrimp salad sandwiches.  Eddie’s is the bench mark for a lot of things, I don’t know any other grocery store where you can have a grown man follow you around the store and place items in your cart, because selecting groceries is that exhausting?  Their deli is amazing and run like science lab, exacting, precise and very, very serious.  And if they don’t actually wear lab coats they wear something extremely similar.  Whenever I visit Baltimore I make a point to get a shrimp salad sandwich from Eddie’s.  I daydream about this sandwich.
Like crab cakes, everyone in Baltimore has a shrimp salad recipe.  I have tried to make mine as much like Eddie’s as possible.  They manage to keep their shrimp whole, I find they stay on the bread better if cut in half lengthwise.  You can guarantee after all this talk I am having this sandwich for lunch today.

Shrimp Salad for Two

3/4 lb. shrimp (30-40 count shrimp)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
4 teaspoons diced celery
1 tablespoon green onion, green part only sliced thinly
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay, or your preferred Chesapeake Bay seasoning
1/8 teaspoon dried parsley
1 tiny pinch celery seed
salt and pepper

Heat 1-2 cups of water to a boil over a steamer basket, add the shrimp and steam until just cooked, about 4 minutes.  Cool on ice.  When the shrimp are cool, peel and devein them, then slice (or not) them lengthwise.  Combine the shrimp and the remaining ingredients and chill for 1 or up to 24 hours.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Sauce

It used to not be on the menu, it was just a very well known secret.  My friend Sheryl introduced me to it.  We started by dipping our chips in to it but eventually ended up dousing everything on our plates with it. It was a good secret to know.  The ‘it’ is Chuy’s creamy jalapeno dip and if you’ve had it, you know exactly what I am talking about.  The stuff is as legendary as Kraft macaroni and cheese or a good batch of Ronald’s fries.  
I would describe Chuy’s as Tex-Mex Elvis-a-fied TGIFriday’s.  It has lots of tacky junk tacked to the walls and you can dine in a Cadillac but unlike TGIFriday’s it’s actually cool to go to Chuy’s in spite of the cheese factor.  It’s the kind of place where you can openly drink a frozen margarita and not feel like a dick because everyone else is happily having one too.  Specifically the ridiculous ‘dot’ or ‘double dot’ which is a frozen margarita served in a bathtub of a glass with a dot or a double dot of strawberry margarita in the center. It’s Disneyland level dining for adults.  
I don’t know what they put in that sauce to make it so awesome.  I’ve been trying to replicate it for years.  When I lived in Texas some of my friends speculated that the backbone of the sauce was ranch dressing.  At home I mainly use the creamy jalapeno for fish tacos but I also use it as a crudite dip served with jicama and peppers.  Apparently I now have the chance to compare mine to the real deal, Chuy’s just went national and opened an Atlanta location.
Creamy Jalapeno Dip - Makes about 1 cup
1 - 4.5 ounce can green chiles
4 ounces sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 bunch cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/3 of a jalapeno, minced or 5 pickled jalapeno slices
1 tablespoon pickled jalapeno water from the jar
Place everything in a food processor and process until blended.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Going Green

Our friends Jessica and George like the things we do, which are mainly eating, drinking, and traveling.  When we see them several times a year it’s a time for epic food marathons.  George is a chef with 2 restaurants under his belt, training in Boston and a pedigree of growing up English and Spanish in Venezuela.  So he’s got a big set of crayons in the kitchen.
I can honestly say some of my favorite meals have been with them.  The day before they got married Jessica picked me up at the airport in with a pea coat in hand.  I had just moved to Atlanta from Texas and was not equipped for a February wedding in Boston.  From the airport we went to their home in Dorchester.  George made us lunch.  I remember it exactly, but I doubt he does.  George:  you made a porcini mushroom risotto with parsley; we drank a Sam Adams seasonal ale, it was you, me, Jess and your mom and it was great, perfect even.  A warm meal and a heavy beer on a snowy day.  I believe it’s the best risotto I’ve ever had based on that memory alone.  And it snowed and snowed all night and we have the wedding pictures to prove it.
George has continued to feed me and Jim over the years and introduce us to things we didn’t know we couldn’t live without, like smoked paprika and chimichurri sauce.  I’ll put those two things on almost anything.  The first time I had chimichurri was at their house in the ‘burbs.  They had just had their son and had left Dorchester for Main St. USA in the Boston suburbs.  It looked very much like the town in Vermont where I had attended college.  They lived on the actual Main St. and it had, stereotypically, one traffic light and a post office.  The house was white clapboard, as you would expect, with matching labrador retrievers in the yard.  
On that trip Jessica made her famous sangria with the very special addition of Southern Comfort (don’t knock it till you try it).  George made dinner, of course.  I don’t know what else the meal consisted of but I know for certain it was the first time I had ever had yucca and chimichurri.  Out of that dinner I have parlayed that chimichurri sauce onto most everything besides steak.  I use it as dip for shrimp cocktail, I marinade swordfish in it and I most famously make zucchini ribbons with it.  
This recipe is my own and I do things differently than George so don’t blame him because my recipe is not traditional.  These zucchini ribbons go well with a cedar planked fish.
Zucchini Ribbons with Chimichurri Sauce 
Chimichurri sauce - Makes 1 cup
1 bunch parsely
1 bunch cilantro
1/2 a cup of olive oil
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
2-3 garlic cloves, blanched
1 teaspoon cumin, toasted
1 teaspoon honey
large pinch red pepper flakes
sea salt to taste

Combine ingredients in a food processor and process until combined.

Zucchini Ribbons
With a peeling knife remove the outer green layer, then peel in to strips, creating 4 sides to the zucchini, stopping when you get to the seed layer, this should take about +/- 8 swipes of the knife.  Plan for 1 zucchini per person.  Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Meanwhile prepare and ice bath.  When the water boils turn it off and plunge the zucchini ribbons in for 30 seconds, remove and plunge in the ice bath.  When they have cooled drain and dry them well on paper towels or a dish towel.  The sauce and the blanching of the ribbons can be done a day ahead.  Do not dress them until you are ready to serve them.  Toss the zucchini with 2 teaspoons of sauce per zucchini.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Summer of Eggplant Part III, Revenge of Eggplant

When I started this blog it was not my intent to feature an eggplant recipe every year.  The story behind the name is a different one than that of an innate love of eggplant.  But it has become expected of me and I guess I can do my best to help a vegetable (fruit actually) out.  This particular vegetable seems to have some pretty bad PR, even worse than the other ones.  This year’s eggplant installment is sponsored by Georgia Tech.  
The other day Jim, the kids and I were dining in the student center at Tech prior to our son’s drama camp play.  Like any food court it had a UN worthy assortment of ‘ethnic’ foods.  I got grocery store style sushi, the kids got some sort of imitation Chinese food swimming in sugar and sodium and Jim, functioning fully out of character, went Middle Eastern.  Now, the gyro or Middle Eastern food wasn’t so out of character, it was the side of baba ganoush that was off.  Stuffed grape leaves would have been in character but not eggplant dip.  He met me at the check out line pleased with himself ‘Tabbouleh and baba ganoush!’  Big smile. Unfortunately it was a truly insipid baba ganoush and I didn’t see any tabbouleh.  It was the sort eggplant dish that encourages people to hate eggplant.  It had the texture of baby food and it was beige except for the flecks of, was it carrots?  
So when I came home to a clean and empty house, save for two very exhausted dogs, I took the opportunity to work on the blog (and do laundry).  I tried to think of items I wanted to blog about but I could not get that bad baba ganoush out of my head.  I knew I had an eggplant dip recipe somewhere and it needed a day out.
Eggplant Dip 
1-1 lb. eggplant
3 tablespoons basil
Juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons tahini
2 tablespoons harissa
2-3 garlic cloves, blanched or roasted
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Slice the eggplant in to 1” slices, place in a colander and sprinkle liberally with salt and rest for about 20 minutes. Rinse or wipe off the salt and leave to dry on paper towels for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 375. Pat the eggplant dry again. Oil a baking sheet and brush the eggplant slices with half of the olive oil. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the slices are golden brown and the the interior is soft. Let eggplant cool. 
Place the eggplant and the remaining ingredients in a food processor and pulse until just combined.  Serve at room temperature with a bland cracker.  I prefer the olive oil variety.
Note:  I use this recipe for harissa, you can use store bought or whichever harissa recipe you prefer.  If you make it, it keeps for about a month in a tightly sealed container in the fridge.  It’s also really good on eggs.
You do not have to blanch or roast the garlic.  If you read this blog with any regularity, you know I cannot tolerate raw garlic, but if you can, by all means go ahead.  If blanching or roasting seems like too much effort there is the microwave.  I’ll deny I told you to do so, but about 8 seconds in the old micro should do it, or so I’ve heard.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Little Philanthropy

A little known fact about me is that I went to school in Colorado for two years.  I don’t talk about it much.  And it’s not because it’s a big secret or I’m embarrassed by it.  I just didn’t have a very good time there and therefore I don’t have much to say on the subject.  I didn’t have a very good time in kindergarten and you won’t hear me talking about that place much either.  I will say it was a stunning location for a college, at the base of Pikes Peak, and the campus is lovely too.  I had fantastic teachers, people who inspired me and I got to go do and see things I had never, ever experienced on the East Coast.  The experience made me a better person.  However, I had nothing in common with the other students, which made me feel like an alien. Sort of like wearing someone else’s clothes for two years. 
I was living away from Baltimore for the very first time and suddenly aware that not everyone ate steamed crabs or Mary Sue easter eggs. How odd.  To compensate, I had a large can of Old Bay sent to me from home, which I dutifully carried with me to the dining hall everyday.  You also couldn’t find a bagel to save your life, except for the frozen ones, so I had those shipped in too.
Colorado is not known for its regional culinary delights, or perhaps I just can’t think of anything that screams Colorado.  Tex-Mex? Or is it Co-Mex? I met my first chimichanga in Colorado Springs at the gas station and we became fast friends. Maybe chicken fried steak?  The first time I saw a chicken fried steak was in the college cafeteria.  I didn’t understand why you would want to chicken fry a steak and why couldn’t you just call it fried steak or even steak fried steak?  Anyhow, the point was lost on me.  But I have since learned that Texas also lays claim to the invention of the chicken fried steak and may well have rights to that claim.  Someone recently pointed out to me that Rocky Mountain Oysters are uniquely Colorado. I never managed to have one of those.  If that was my regional delicacy I’m not so sure I would brag about it. 
Another great thing about the college, besides the view, was the ice cream.  It was served at every meal.  Yes, every meal.  The campus lore goes like this:  Old Lady Bemis (I believe of the toilet empire) graduated from the college in the 1800s when it was an all women’s college.  She gave the school a large gift and in return, they did what most colleges do; they named a building for her.  Her gift, however, came with a caveat:  ice cream must be served at every meal, even breakfast.  I thanked Old Lady Bemis everyday when I helped myself to those ice cream buckets.  When I finally transferred to another school I was sadly made aware that not every school serves ice cream everyday, in fact, you are lucky to get it once a month.  I checked the Colorado College website to see whether they were still serving ice cream at every meal but it was extremely unclear.  Kids, if you go to CC and you aren’t getting your daily ice cream allowance I’d take it to the top.
So for Old Lady Bemis and her generous gift, I give you grown up cherry ice cream.  I have tried numerous ice cream bases and Thomas Keller’s is hands down the best, and there’s a reason for that.  I have changed it slightly to use 8 egg yolks, because while 8 yolks is obscene the recommended number of 10 is pornographic.
Grown Up Cherry Ice Cream - Serves 6-8
2 cups milk 
2 cups cream
3/4 cup sugar
8 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1.5 ounces Cointreau 
2 cups cherries - pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon of orange zest
Combine the milk and the cream and 1/2 of the sugar and bring to a boil.  Meanwhile whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining sugar until thick.  Temper the eggs with 1/3 the hot milk mixture, whisking until combined.  Return the mixture to the milk mixture and continue to heat while stirring until it can coat the back of a wooden spoon, add in vanilla.  Remove from the heat and strain the mixture in to a bowl over an ice bath.  Let cool and store in the fridge for several hours or overnight.  Pit 2 cups of cherries and roughly chop them, reserving the residual juices.  When the custard is ready place it, the Cointreau, and the orange zest in an ice cream maker and process per the instructions.  Just prior to finishing, add in the cherries and any juices they produced when chopped, process until blended, place in a container and freeze.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Cocktail Surprise

I love cocktail food.  I really don’t think there is a better meal than a bite of this and a bite of that.  One of our favorite date nights is to go to the drive-in and have a one bite cocktail snack  picnic in the parking lot.  We bring meat, cheese, stuffed grape leaves, hummus, veggies, crackers, fruit, assorted dips and wine.  And in the shadow of the largest land fill in Atlanta we classy up that broken down parking lot. 
Now Christmas time is just the best for this type of ‘dining’.  With all the holiday parties I can actually make cocktail food a steady diet for almost a month.  I love it, I totally look forward to it.  Prior to each party I imagine what will be served.  I am secretly gunning for some monument to cheese, a mayonnaisy goop pretending to have sophistication, a seafood assortment (sushi, shrimp cocktail, stone crab claws, I’m not picky) and a surprise.  I do like to be surprised, the same old artichoke dip gets real old after week 1 of the holiday party circuit.  Creativity is important and certainly appreciated, because I am certainly going to rate the cocktail snacks after the party.
I’m alway planning cocktail themed party menus.  They don’t ever happen but dreaming up platters of one bite snacks and dips gives me no end of pleasure.  For instance, let’s just delve in to the archives of daydreaming here.  Chicken mole skewers, tuna croquetas, tortilla espanola (cut in to bit sized pieces) and a crudite with chimmichurri and creamy jalapeno sauces.  Or mini cornbread muffins, ham biscuits with Vidalia onion jam, pickled shrimp, peach/goat cheese/basil crostini and cole slaw spring rolls.  Dear God.  Cole slaw spring rolls?  
For reasons I won’t go in to 1.3 lbs. of ground turkey showed up in our fridge.  I’ve never cooked with ground turkey nor did I desire to, I just didn’t want to waste food.  In fact I’m firmly of the belief that we could all eat something tastier than turkey on Thanksgiving.  Don’t act so shocked.  People act like they are so excited about this bird and a day later bemoan it’s existence. Seems a little fickle.  Not only that, you spend at least 2 days worrying and working with this bird only to get what?  A slightly less than mediocre slice of meat that is more than likely dry?  Even on its best day wouldn’t you rather have a pork chop? I would.  Ground turkey really is tofu for people who are squeamish about tofu.  It’s always pinch hitting for ground pork and ground beef: turkey burgers, turkey meatloaf, turkey bolognese.  Who wants to eat that?  Why bother, just make it vegetarian. 
So back to the box of blandness boring the crap out of the other foods in my fridge.  I’m not sure where this came from, perhaps a Bridget Jones flashback, but I decided to make turkey curry meatballs.  I’ll say this, these are pretty darned good but I won’t be apologizing to this bird anytime soon like I did the chicken. 
Jim was out of town when I made them so I had a cocktail party of one; I ate them standing up in the kitchen with a glass of wine, or maybe two.  Now I’m going to have plan a party menu around my new cocktail snack. 
Curry Turkey Meatballs with Sriracha Mayo - Makes about 2 dozen meatballs
1 1/3 lbs. of ground turkey
2 1/2 teaspoons of curry powder (I use Penzey’s Singapore Seasoning)
1 large egg
3 tablespoons of panko
1” hunk of ginger, minced
1 green onion, sliced lengthwise and chopped
1 shallot, minced
Juice of 1/2 a lime
1/2 red jalapeno, minced
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
Vegetable oil

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan over a medium-low heat, add the shallot and ginger and saute for 2 minutes.  Add in the onion and the pepper and continue to cook for about 5 more minutes.  The purpose is to get everything soft but not crispy.  Remove from the heat.  Meanwhile mix together the egg, turkey, curry powder, panko and lime juice.  When the onions, pepper and ginger have cooled add them to the mixture and make 1" meat balls.  Wipe out the pan and add another 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over a medium-high heat.  Working in batches (about 3 so you don't over crowd the pan) cook the meat balls until they are cooked through, about 7 minutes.
Sriracha Mayo (from Midge at food52.com)

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sriracha sauce

Combine all the ingredients and serve with the meatballs.
Notes:  The mayonnaise recipe is from Midge at food52.com.  She pairs it with her winning recipe for okonomiyaki, which are absolutely fabulous and a regular visitor to our dining table.  You can click here for her recipe.