Sunday, May 29, 2005

Saturday Night: A Dinner Party for a Hot Day

Last night we had Jon and Cati over for the final dinner party in this place; we move on Wednesday. Since Friday was pretty hot, I figured Saturday would be as well so I planned a meal that didn't require too much stove/oven work.

We started with vichyssoise (from Bourdain), and then had the "sea bass and cucumber gravlax" (made with red snapper from the farmers' market fish guy) from JPFF, "raw beef with parsley, capers, and hard cheese" thing from License to Grill without the hard cheese (sirloin cut into 1/2" dice, diced red onion, parsley, EV olive oil, salt, pepper, marinaded in the fridge for a few hours; lemon juice and capers added just before serving), and "jicama-apple salad with orange-mustard dressing" from License to Grill. For dessert I just served orange segments with some whipped cream

Some notes:

  1. Jon and Cati brought over a couple of bottles of French Rosé that went very well with the food.
  2. The vichyssoise recipe is really good. It's quite odd to eat something that's so totally smooth but savory and flavorful, but it's calling to me right now and it's not even 8 a.m.
  3. I played around and used a ring mold (i.e. chipotle can with top and bottom cut off) for the fish and beef. That's pretty minimal effort for a presentation that's much more impressive.
  4. I was actually the only one who ate the beef raw, for the others I sauteed it over very high heat in a bit of olive oil for a couple minutes, then added the lemon juice and capers. I didn't try this form of it, but it got complements. The cooked beef can't be ring molded, so I just served that in lumps. :-) Those others are insane, the raw beef was just fantastic.
  5. It's not the right time of year for proper tomatoes, so I used halved grape tomatoes for the fish's garnish; those worked just fine.
  6. I never would have picked truffle oil as something to put over fish, but boy was it good.
  7. Orange segments, membranes removed, are one of my new favorite things. Too bad navel orange season is pretty much over.
  8. I have too many cookbooks full of fascinating recipes that I'd really like to try. I've done almost nothing with License to Grill or Let the Flames Begin, but every time I open them I find something that sounds great. I should make a list of "things that must be made" and work my way through it. (shyeah, right)

Friday Night: Tuna "escabeche" with grapes

I had some albacore tuna thawed and was inspired by Bittman's column from last week about escabeche, so I decided to do something like that. Andrea requested that whatever we do have ginger in it, so I came up with this (quantities that aren't counts are approximate, this was a throw together):

two albacore tuna steaks, cut into "square" strips (i.e. as wide as they are thick)
1 cup seedless green grapes, preferably crisp and a bit sour, halved lengthwise (well, halve as many of them as you have the patience for)
2 jalapenos, minced
1 habanero, minced
2 inches ginger, minced
juice of 2 limes
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup OJ
EV olive oil
salt and pepper

Dredge the tuna strips in seasoned flour and then sautee in olive oil until nicely browned on each side. Remove to a gratin dish and add the lime and lemon juices. Combine the other ingredients with a good splash of olive oil in a small bowl, then pour over the top of the tuna. Mix gently.
Cover and let stand, mixing gently every 15 minutes or so, for an hour or two. Serve at room temp. (It's even better the next day)

We ate this with cornbread (standard Big Flavors recipe with one ear's worth of fresh corn and a bit of polenta replacing some of the corn flour) and a salad. Both Andrea and I made plenty of happy noises during dinner, and that wasn't just because we were drinking prosecco with our food.

A couple of notes:

  1. Albacore, which is super dense, is a great fish for this particular preparation; swordfish would probably also work well.
  2. The fish was excellent straight out of the pan, it's worth thinking about using this sautee technique to make quick dinners.
  3. I don't think this has much to do with escabeche. :-)
  4. It really was even better after spending a night in the fridge.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Thursday night: Pasta Three Ways

Last night it was clear that we were going to be having something with pasta and asparagus and ricotta, but it was unclear exactly what that something would be. Rather than actually make and decision, we staged it and had pasta with three different sauces:

  1. Pesto cream: This was the last of the pesto from last week's batch. I mixed it with a bit of cream and some pasta water.
  2. Sausage and vegetables: I browned some italian sausage and added thinly sliced scallions (CSA), diced red bell pepper, steamed asparagus (each spear cut into 3-4 pieces), olive oil and a bit of crushed red pepper. Just before serving, I tossed in a spoonful of pasta water to deglaze and make a bit of sauce. I topped each serving with fresh olive oil.
  3. Ricotta and nutmeg: this idea, from A Tuscan in the Kitchen, used the last of the ricotta I made last weekend. I mixed the ricotta with a good pinch of sugar, a bit of salt, some freshly ground nutmeg, and enough pasta water to loosen it up.
The first sauce was predictably good, no surprises there. The second is something that would become a regular part of my repertoire if asparagus wasn't so damn seasonal. :-) It would benefit from a bit more sauce, which isn't something that would be hard to arrange. The ricotta/nutmeg dish was really interesting and a complete contrast. Andrea and I both liked it a lot, but it maybe needed a bit more separation (in time) from the other dishes.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Wednesday Night: leftovers + sauteed asparagus

Last night we finished off the salmon patties from Tuesday and accompanied (well, really preceded) them with some asparagus sauteed with butter and shallots. mmmm, sauteed asparagus.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Tuesday Dinner: Thai-style Salmon Patties

On Sunday we got a couple of salmon backs from the fish guy at the farmer's market. I threw them on the grill on Sunday after finishing the veggies, flaked the meat off, and stored it until last night, when I made it into patties with a Thai-influenced set of spices.

For the patties, combine the flaked salmon (3/4 of a pound or so), an egg, 4 thinly sliced scallions (CSA box), 3 cloves minced garlic, 1 inch grated ginger, 3 julienned keffir lime leaves, 5 or 6 thinly sliced Thai chilies, a handful of chopped cilantro, and some freshly ground coriander. Form patties and sautee them in veggie oil until brown on both sides. Hold the patties in a 200 degree oven until ready to serve.

Make a sauce by sauteeing a couple Tbs of Thai red curry paste in canola oil, add about 2/3 of a can of coconut milk, and let it simmer for a bit. Just before serving add a good pinch or two of sugar and fresh lime juice to taste.

Serve the salmon patties on top of the sauce, with rice. Top with some julienned basil.

We accompanied this with a salad and some dino kale (CSA box) sauteed with soy sauce and lime juice (and zipped up with some srirachacahacahacha). Deeeelicious!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Monday Night: Slow cooked salmon with salsa

One of our farmers' market purchases this weekend was a nice fillet of salmon from the fish guy (we also got some salmon backs, more on that tomorrow). I've been wanting to try a slow-cooked salmon recipe (there are several in FStoS and one in JPFF) for a while and last night was a good chance.

I salted and peppered the skin-on fillet, put it in a oiled dish, and cooked it in a 200 degree oven for 45-50 minutes. The resulting fillet isn't a cooked color, but the flesh is opaque.

As a sauce, I emulsified some chile morita salsa (from WF) with some epazote leaves, a bit of fresh marjoram, and canola oil. I finished the sauce by adding about half a lime's worth of juice to adjust the tartness.

This was absolutely stunning. I may never cook salmon fillets any other way.

I accompanied the salmon with leftover polenta and grilled veggies and some sauteed rapini greens (topped with the vinaigrette from Sunday night, which provided a really nice contrast). We were quite happy at the end of the meal. :-)

For dessert, I used a JPFF suggestion and topped a graham cracker with some of my homemade ricotta, honey and rum raisins. Nice and simple, but I think Grand Marnier (the original suggestion) would work better than run.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Random Weekend Note: Ricotta Cheese

I was intrigued by a recipe I found for making ricotta cheese, so I gave that a try on Saturday.

The resulting cheese is right in texture but it has a cooked taste to it that I don't normally associate with ricotta. Maybe that's because I haven't had good ricotta before? Maybe it's because, despite my very slow heating of the milk (45 minutes to get to 90 degrees), I still had some borderline burned milk on the bottom of the pan? This last thing is probably only addressable using a double boiler.

Anyway, the cheese is different but good, now we just need to use it up. :-)

Random Weekend Note: Baked Beets

In an attempt to find a beet preparation that we were willing to eat, Andrea and I tried baking the beets from our CSA box. They were less offensive this way, but still have a dirt-like quality to them, not so nice.

Sunday Night: Grilled Veggies with Polenta; Orzo Salad with Fava Beans and Spinach; Cream Cheese with Oranges

We had neighbors over for dinner last night and needed to do a vegetarian meal; this is what we came up with.

For the veggies, I used three different kinds of small summer squash from the farmer's market (pattypan, Ronde de Nice, sunburst), red onion, and red peppers. We ate the veggies with polenta (hard polenta with a bit of butter and parmesan made with Bittman's technique I) and a vinaigrette ("Jean-George's Classic Vinaigrette" from FStoS).

The salad was made with diced red onion, diced celery, fava beans (farmer's market), orzo, and spinach (CSA box) and dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.

Dessert was a variant on the Oranges and Cream Cheese recipe from JPFF, the variation being that I added the julienned orange zest to the cream cheese instead of using it as a topping. I also lightened the cream cheese after adding the orange and sugar by whipping it for a couple of minutes.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Saturday Night: Beans and Greens, Diced Veggie Salad

This week's CSA box has a huge quantity of greens, so I'm putting greens in everything! :-) Last night I did a cross between beans and greens and the cannellini beans with chorizo from a couple weeks ago.

4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 red onion, diced
4 oz chorizo, diced
1 15 oz can cannellini beans
1/2 a head of escarole, washed and very coarsely chopped
a good pinch pimenton
a couple sprigs of lemon thyme
white wine
chicken stock
olive oil

The preparation is pretty self explanatory. I served this topped with a bit of chive and some good olive oil and accompanied it with bread. It was excellent. Andrea's comment: "too bad it's not winter so we can have this more often".

Diced Veggie Salad:
I started with marinating some minced red onion in salt and red-wine vinegar for a bit. I added fresh corn (microwaved with a bit of water for a couple minutes to soften it), radish, cucumber (seeded), and carrots. The veggies should be diced to be about the same size as the corn kernels (I actually diced the cucumber coarser than this, but it should have been the same size as the corn). I also added some julienned sweet basil, a bit of sugar, and a grind of black pepper. Finish with some good olive oil.

To accompany this we had some sauteed rapini greens (with garlic and crushed red pepper). mmmmmm, rapini greens.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Thursday night: poached sole with pesto-cream sauce, "risi bisi"

For the main course here I made a quick pesto (no parmesan, and we had no pine nuts, so I used walnuts) with CSA basil, mixed it with a couple tablespoons of cream, and served it on top of poached sole fillets (from TJs). Poaching was probably not the best preparation method for the sole, which ended up being pretty tasteless, particularly when compared with the pesto. Next time I'll try sauteeing the fish.

To accompany the fish I made a quick risi bisi from the "soupy rice with peas" recipe in JPFF (using spring garlic and scallions from the CSA box as the allium component), and some sauteed greens (radish greens and spinach from the CSA box). The rice was particularly good this time, maybe because of the different alliums?

Dessert was CSA strawberries macerated in sugar and a bit of lemon juice. To serve, I added a bit of grappa, spooned the berries and juice over crushed shortbread, and topped with the usual soft whipped cream. I almost dislocated my shoulder patting myself on the back for the grappa idea, which worked really well.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Monday Night: Crab Cakes and Potato Gratin

Last night I tried the "Crab Cakes with Red Sauce" recipe from JPFF. We ended up eating crab "cakes" that had great flavor, but pretty much no structural integrity. I know that there's always a balance in making crab cakes between lightness and cohesiveness, but these were a bit too far on the "falling completely apart" side.

Some notes:

  1. The canned crab we got at Costco tasted ok, but it was in very small pieces. Nothing like proper lump crabmeat.
  2. The wasabi in the sauce never really "bloomed". I don't know if that was because I added the powder directly to the sauce instead of making a paste with water first, but that would be an easy question to answer.
  3. It probably wouldn't hurt to get the breadcrumbs a bit finer than I did last night; I put too much bread in the food processor at once and it stayed pretty coarse.
Andrea made a gratin to accompany this out of the leftover mashed potatoes from Sunday night, some grated carrot, scallion, and roasted pepper. Seasoned with nutmeg and pimenton, and topped with some grated parmesan, this was delicious.

For dessert we did another quickie thing from JPFF, "Banana coupe" (bananas macerated in honey, lime, and bourbon, served over crushed cookies and topped with toasted almond slices and a bit of sour cream). This was really good, but the bourbon was a bit sharp. I'll try to use less tonight when we make the second half.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Sunday Night: Steak Diane

We were out of town all weekend and, after a day of hiking at Pinnacles, I didn't have energy for anything involved. So on the way back we stopped at WF and got a nice ribeye, which I coated with black pepper, seared in olive oil and butter, then finished in the oven. I made the sauce (derived from FStoS) by deglazing with cognac and adding grainy mustard and some cream. We had the steak with green beans and mashed potatoes. I think it's worth revisiting this sauce with a nice beef stock instead of the cream, but it was damn good as it stands.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Tuesday Night: Schnitzel with Salsa

I couldn't eat leftover braised beef again last night, so we had schnitzel. I used a piece of pork loin, pounded out to about 1/4", and the standard flour-egg-crumb breading. As a "sauce", we used chile morita roasted salsa from WF (this stuff is quite good). I was in the mood for really hot, so I added a slug of habanero sauce to mine.

We had the schnitzel with sauteed veggies (spring garlic, broccoli, onion, zucchini, with some hot sauce), steamed rice, and a salad.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Saturday Night: Italian Dinner Party

We had a big group over for dinner on Saturday for an approximation to an Italian seven-course meal.

The full menu was:

  1. Antipasti: Jolie did a beautiful combination of things, including some fabulous fava beans and roasted peppers with capers.
  2. Soup: Minestrone from Cati, I need to get this recipe (from the Biba Tratorria book) from her.
  3. Pasta: Cannelloni filled with mixed greens (using the FStoS recipe).
  4. Secondi: Stracotto (from A Tuscan in the Kitchen) , gratineed asperagus (from Marcella Hazan), sauteed mushrooms (also from Hazan).
  5. Salad: Steve and Dianna brought mixed greens
  6. Cheese: a nice selection also brought by Steve and Dianna
  7. Fruit: Karen and Jamshid brought strawberries and blood oranges from their CSA program. We tossed the strawberries with a bit of balsamico and black pepper. The oranges were beautiful on their own.
I don't have the whole list of wines we did, and I stupidly took out the recycling this morning without writing stuff down. What I know: Nerello del Bastardo, two kinds of prosecco (one we got at AG Ferrari, one Aaron and Jolie brought), a couple other Italian reds, a California red (Beaulieu Tapestry) from Karen and Jamshid, an alto adigo that Jon and Cati brought, the muscat that I bought at Costco a couple months ago.

Random notes:
  • We picked up some par-baked italian bread from Il Fornaio at TJs. I was very surprised by how good this stuff is.
  • Six pounds of uncooked greens takes up a LOT of space. I took before/after pictures, I just need to remember to grab them and put them online.
  • I need to make lists when I cook as part of a dinner party. I have a strong tendency to forget final steps after I start talking/eating. So I forgot to add finely chopped parsely to the mushrooms. I also forgot to pour some truffle oil over them before serving. Dumbass. Luckily, they were still good, but still...
  • The alto adigo was interesting. I'm not good enough to decouple wines from each other/food when I have them in close proximity, but this seemed to be a relatively low-acidity white with a bit of body. Of course, I tasted it after a glass of prosecco, so that may not be the best assessment.
Despite my forgetfulness, I'm really happy with how the food turned out. [I'm also glad to have a group of friends willing to play along with these crazy ideas. :-)]

Friday, May 06, 2005

Note: Making Creme Fraiche

The other night on one of the Julia Childs cooking shows she mentioned that you can make creme fraiche by combining 1 cup of heavy cream with 1 tbs of cultured buttermilk and letting it stand overnight.

I'll have to give this a try.

Thursday: Crepes with Greens, Zucchini with Chorizo

Last night we finished off the last of the buckwheat crepe batter by filling crepes with sauteed greens (broccoli rabe, radish greens, spring garlic, chervil, all from the CSA box) and romano cheese. Three of the four crepes I made ended up ugly as sin, but the food was still excellent.

To accompany this I diced a couple zucchini (1/2" dice), microwaved them for a couple minutes until soft, then added them to a pan with some sauteeing chorizo slices. Given how potent the chorizo was, I had too much of it, but the dish was still good. Particularly since it was the product of a "shit, the chorizo I'm frying is too strong to eat straight up" thought process.

Dessert was macerated strawberries (CSA), topped with a creme fraiche simulant (half sour cream, half heavy cream) mixed with a bit of sugar and vanilla. This would have been better on biscuits, but that wasn't going to happen last night and it was still damn fine.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Wednesday Night: Scallops with Crepe Pieces

This was inspired by the Scallops with Crepe Chips recipe in FStoS, but I simplified it a bit. I did use the buckwheat crepes recipe from FStoS, which was a problem last time. I got it right this time -- there is supposed to be a cup of water in the batter that's not mentioned in the ingredient list, just in the text. Letting the batter rest for an hour helps a lot too.

To make the crepe pieces: cut each crepe into quarters, then cook them in a bit of oil until they get crisp.
To make the scallops: sprinkle 1/2 pound bay scallops with salt, pepper, and cayenne, then sautee them in a couple Tbs of butter over medium-high heat.
To make the dressing: mix 1 Tbs grainy French mustard, 2 Tbs cider vinegar, 2 Tbs oil.

Serve the scallops with the remaining sauce in the pan, top with minced shallot and a bit of the dressing. Serve the crepe pieces on the side.

For vegetables we had, from the CSA box, a couple spears of steamed broccoli and a bit of broccoli rabe sauteed with garlic and crushed red pepper.

The whole thing was delicious, though it would have been nice to have the crepe pieces a bit crisper (like they're supposed to be). I got hurried and didn't let them cook long enough.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Tuesday Dinner: Cannellini Beans with Chorizo

This was an improvised weekday throw-together.

~1 oz slab bacon, diced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 a red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 a red pepper, diced
~4 oz chorizo (6" or so), sliced
15 oz bottle cannellini beans
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs thyme
a good pinch pimenton
olive oil
chicken stock
white wine

Heat some olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook until it's almost brown. Add the garlic and cook until it starts to brown. Add ~1/2 cup chicken stock, onion, red pepper, pimenton, and herbs and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer a couple of minutes until the onions start to soften. Add the chorizo and wine. Simmer 5-10 minutes, adding more liquid when needed. Add the beans, along with their liquid. Simmer another 5 minutes. Add a grind of black pepper and adjust seasoning.
Serve topped with coarsely chopped parsley, chives, and a bit of olive oil.

The chorizo, pimenton, and herbs here worked really well with the beans to make a great dish. Don't forget the parsley at the end, it's a vital touch of green flavor.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Monday Dessert: Raspberry Gratin

Dinner was leftovers (good leftovers, but leftovers nonetheless), but for dessert I made one of the Raspberry Gratins from JPFF (the one with shortbread cookies). Yum, yum!

Monday, May 02, 2005

Sunday Night: Vegetable Soup

Andrea wasn't feeling well yesterday, so I just did a simple veggie soup for my dinner:
Chicken stock, small yukon gold potatoes, diced bacon, diced carrots, thinly sliced green garlic, mustard greens, bay leaves, thyme and parsley (tied together).

I served it with croutons and parmesan cheese. mmmm, soup.

Saturday Night: Grilling

Saturday night I did a bunch of stuff on the grill. It had been too long since I did an all-grill meal. The menu was:

  1. grilled chicken livers with satay sauce from Thrill of the Grill: the variation here is that I used a Thai satay sauce that's been in the freezer since Kurt and Cheryl's shower.
  2. grill bread from Let the Flames Begin
  3. grilled vegetable salad: zucchini, onions, and red peppers grilled and then tossed with lemon juice and olive oil. Served over green lettuce
  4. grilled chicken wings: a mixture of plain wings and wings soaked all day in jerk marinade (from last week), served with 3 sauces:
    1. satay sauce
    2. banana-guava ketchup
    3. the sauce from the "Chicken Wings Basque Style" from Thrill of the Grill (This is garlic, parsley, rosemary, lemon, olive oil, tabasco)
No dessert from the grill, but I don't think any would have fit in my stomach.

Grilled chicken wings with assorted sauces will definitely have to stay on my list of things of things to make; they are just excellent.