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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fish Burgers & Deep Fried Corn On The Cob

Although dinner last night was a little work, I had a blast throwing it together. I brought some fresh  haddock trimmings home from work thinking I might make a simple tomato based fish chowder that I knew I would like, but knew Michael wouldn't.  I usually save those types of meals for my food orgies when he's travelling.  The trimmings were too small to fry into anything forkable, so I decided to make fish burgers.  Fish burgers?  Fish cakes.  Fish croquettes.  Whatever the name, they were pan fried fish patties.

I needed a sauce.  Something with a bit more oomph than tarter sauce.  I decided to make  blender mayonnaise and flavor it with capers, dill, and chives.  Refined tarter sauce.  Fresh mayonnaise is a snap to make and tastes lighter and fresher than manufactured mayonnaise. I dropped 2 egg yolks (pasteurized) into our aged blender with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of cracked Tellicherrie peppercorns, 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, and a pinch of sugar. With the blender squealing away on the highest speed, I drizzled in 1 cup of vegetable oil  very slowly until the mixture emulsified into a creamy yellow tinted gorgeous mayonnaise. Totally fun!  I reserved half for the burger mix and the other half for the sauce.

With the help of the food processor, I minced green peppers, onions, and celery.  After removing them to a mixing bowl, I tossed in the haddock and pulsed the processor a few times to chop it finely without pasting it.  I added that to minced vegetables along with an egg, fresh dill, parsley, chives, breadcrumbs, and my fresh made mayonnaise.  I blended it carefully, formed the mix into burger patties, and refrigerated them to firm up.

I was all over the place with what to serve with dinner.   What exactly goes with fish burgers?  I couldn't make up my mind, so I made all the sides that had bounced around in my head..  Halved new potatoes steamed and sauteed with parsley butter sat side by side with fresh sliced grape tomatoes from the garden.

The kicker?  Deep fried corn on the cob slathered in butter with salt, pepper, and fresh squeezed lime juice.  Crazy, right?  I heated our deep fryer to 350, carefully placed the Peaches & Cream corn cobs into the hot oil, and let them fry until the kernels were golden and caramelized.  While still hot, they were generously buttered and seasoned.  The texture of the corn was fantastic, almost as if grilled.  Crunchy, soft, chewy, and fresh.  The salt accentuated the sweetness of the corn while the lime cut through the fatty butter.  The flavored buttered bits and juices dripped from the fried corn and puddled onto the plate for licking.  It happened. I licked the buttery salty lime corn juice right off the plate.
I placed the fish burgers on simple toasted buns and drizzled the caper dill  chive mayonnaise over the top.  And they were...Over. The. Top.  Glammed up fish cakes on a bun.  The moist juicy burst of minced vegetables gave the fish patties a light mouthfeel with texture.  The creamy sauce was bright from the lemon, briny from the capers, and  grassy from the herbs. 

Yep, it was a a bit of trouble  throwing that meal together.  The appliance usage and cleaning alone would have turned most people off, but I had a great time preparing it and the food was special.  Worth it, in my book.

Try deep  frying fresh corn on the cob.  Totally outrageous!

Really Big Melons

The Casey County cantelopes at the market were the biggest melons I've seen in quite some time.  No pun intended.  They were huge.

We bought one and lugged it home in a seperate bag to keep it from squashing the rest of our tender vegetable stash.  Once home, I peeled, sliced, and filled an entire punch bowl with the very ripe orange jewels.  We ate some while it was still warm and then rearranged the refrigerator to accomodate the bowl.
Although we have been nibbling on it all week, we have hardy made a dent in the pile of cantelope bits.

Needing some space in the refrigerator for other things and inspired by Mark Bittman on an episode of the Today Show, I decided to make melon soup.

It was stupidly easy.  Embarassing, even.  But, worth every bit of non-trouble.  The hardest part was dragging the blender out from its hiding place in the cabinet.

I filled the blender almost to the top with the cut up cantelope, added  the juice from 1/2 lemon, a dash of salt, a pinch of sugar (which it did not need), a 1/4 cup of organic pure apple juice, and pureed the mixture on high for a few minutes.  The cats scattered from the intense squealing noise of our out-dated  college frozen margarita-making blender.

That was it. A gratuitous  sweet garnish of basil finished it off.  The melon was amazingly sweet, juicy, and refreashing.  So cooling  on a hot summer day.  A perfect amuse bouche.


What's up with those big Casey County Melons?  I'm not sure I could handle a pair of them. One was definitely enough.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Neon Lights

The color of produce this time of year is mind-boggling.

We were leaving the Farmers Market the other day when a few stalks of Neon Lights Swiss Chard poking out from a basket caught my attention and practically slapped me in the face with thier vivid colors.  I had to have them.  What to do with them?  I didn't know and it didn't matter.  They were so striking and stunning, I had to have them.

We love swiss chard and I usually treat it as any other green.  But, that chard was special. With Chard on my mind, I flipped through Lidia Cooks From The Heart Of Italy by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, a James Beard Award Cookbook nominee, and found her Umbrian  recipe for Strangozzi with Chard and Almond Sauce, or Pasta with Chard and Pesto. I used her recipe as inspiration.

Pasta:  Any long form of pasta can be used for the recipe, although it is typically made with fresh pasta rolled out and cut by hand.  I love making pasta.  I can do it in my sleep.  I like the way it feels in my hands.  Firm, soft, and pliable.  That something so messy can turn into lovely pasta strands pleases me. I made fresh pasta.
I usually use the cutter on my pasta machine to make ribbons. The traditional method for Strangozzi calls for  pressing out long sheets of pasta, flouring them lightly, rolling them into cigars, and slicing ribbons using a serrated knife. I went traditional.  After rolling and cutting, I let them rest in little nests to air dry.

Chard:  After rinsing and drying the chard, I sliced the stalks on the diagonal and cut the leafy tops into bite sized ribbons.  I jullienned fresh local carrots and thinly sliced garlic and onions.

With  Mise en Place, the dish moved pretty quickly.  Because everything needed to saute together for a short time, I  blanched the carrots and chard stalks in well salted boiling water beforehand and set them aside.

I tossed the garlic and onions into a screaming hot oiled cast iron skillet to soften and caramelize. I threw in the chard greens and reserved vegetables to saute in the onion garlic oil.  While they briefly sauteed, I dropped the pasta into the still boiling blanching liquid for 2 minutes.  When the pasta was al dente, I used a spider to scoop it out of the water cauldren and dropped it right into the simmering chard mixture..  After a good stir to incorporate the pasta with the greens, I seasoned with salt, pepper, and parmesan reggiano cheese.A ladle of  pasta water  loosened the sauce.  At this point in her recipe, Lidia Bastianich tosses the mixture with fresh basil almond pesto. Although I love pesto, we had enough garlic and cheese going on, so I went lighter with fresh julienned basil. 

One last quick simmer to blend everything  before plating took about three minutes.  I used that small window to prepare a garnish of pan-seared prime rib.  Yup.  To the side of the beautiful Strangozzi with Neon Lights chard, we had  thinly sliced seared prime rib as a nibble.

A shower of cracked Tellicherry pepper and  reggiano cheese finished it off.

Fresh pasta is very hard to rival.  There are really good quality dried pastas on the market.  I use them and love them, but there is something about scratch-made pasta that simply elevates it to an ambrosia state.

The Strangozzi was perfectly al dente with a butter soft exterior.  Clean and pure.  When tossed with the garlicky onion sauteed chard and sweet carrots, it transformed into a flavor sponge, absorbing  the slight cooked-out  bitterness of the chard which countered the richness of the cheese and olive oil.

And the prime rib?  Well seasoned and well marbled, it provided lip gloss and a smidge of  weight to a somewhat dainty Strangozzi con Salsa di Beitole e Mandorle.  And was heaven.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Purple Power

We had spectacular skillet roasted chicken last night.  A very  simple non-recipe. I seasoned a cut up half  chicken with salt and pepper, roasted it in a preheated oven at 350 for about 45 minutes, pulled it out, turned the oven to broil, doused the chicken with a lemon, olive oil, dried oregano, and garlic vinagrette, topped it with fresh oregano, threw in some halved lemons, and broiled it until it was charred and caramelized.
That could have been dinner.  Call it a day.

However, I found drop dead gorgeous purple potatoes and twisted frond-topped baby carrots at the market yesterday morning. I couldn't resist pairing those beauties with the roasted chicken.

Again, another non-recipe. I peeled, trimmed and cut the potatoes into oblique shaped quarters. The carrots were trimmed and peeled with the green tops reserved.  Whenever I find carrots with tops attached, I use the greenery much like parsley which adds fresh grassy flavor with carrot undertones.

I sliced a small red onion, tossed it with the potatoes, carrots, olive oil, salt, pepper, minced garlic, and roasted them alongside the chicken until they were cooked through, softened, and almost candied. When they came out of the oven,  I threw in a large slab of butter, carrot parsley, and fresh dill.

I plated the roasted carrots and  potatoes, topped the vegetables with the chicken, and poured the lemon garlic sauce over all of it.

Fresh sliced heirloom tomatoes for cool freshness finished the plate with breadsticks to sop.

The chicken was sweet from its own caramelized goodness, voluptuous from the olive oil oregano combination, and crisp tart from the fresh lemon juice. A  fantastic self made pan sauce.  Once all of that flavored sauce dripped down onto and into the potatoes and carrots, it created a dipping pool for everything.  The potatoes were very interesting.  Yeah, they tasted like potatoes, but their texture was very unique.  An usual texture that seemed to border bewteen waxy and starchy.  Mealy, in a good way.  Toothsome.
The carrots were unbelievable.  Though small, they packed huge  fresh carrot flavor.  Sweet, bold,  soft, and firm.  Totally fresh.

The chicken was fabulous. 

The vegetables were a total  tribute to local farmers. Period.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Blackberries & Other Things

I am not a baker.  Not even close.  Baking is a little too precise and fussy for me.

This morning we picked up some beautiful wild Madison County grown blackberries at the Farmers Market..  I was torn between the wild blackberries and the huge plump shiny ones that most vendors were selling.  The wild ones reminded me of the blackberries my dad used to pick from the fence rows on his farm. We went wild.

I decided I would make a blackberry tart.  We were  back home in our pajamas by 10:00 am. and I really didn't have traditional ingredients for...well, anything.  Probably why I don't bake or make desserts.  Nothing on hand.  I wasn't going back out in the blazing heat, so I conjured up a little tart with what I did have on hand in the pantry.

I found an unopened box of Lemonade Girl Scout cookies left over from the cookie selling wars and ground them in a food processor with 5 tablespoons of cold butter and a few drops of cold water. Crazy. It felt dough-like.  I plopped it into a tart pan and began pushing the dough toward the edges and up the crimped sides of the removable bottomed pan.  After pre heating the oven to350 and docking the dough., I baked it for 20 minutes until it was almost brown.

Tart shell done.

I had nothing for a filling.  No marscapone or cream cheese.  Not even heavy whipping cream to whip into a gorgeous sweet airy filling.

I did have a huge naval orange, lemons, sugar, butter, and eggs.

  I love lemon curd and tranferred that method over to make  fresh orange curd.  I beat 3 eggs, 2 egg yolks, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 stick of butter, 1/2 cup fresh orange juice, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, and the zest from the citruses until frothy.  I slowly heated the mixture over medium low heat and whisked until it thickened.  Once thickened, I immediately put it into a chinois to strain, covered it with plastic wrap, cuts slits to vent, and refrigerated it for several hours.

Once it was thoroughly chilled and somewhat firm, I spread the orange curd onto the lemon cookie tart shell  and sprinkled the tiny wild blackberries over the curd.  We had a jar of Kentucky Proud Windstone Farms all natural seedless blackberry jam in the refrigerator.  I heated 2 tablespoons of the jam until melted and dabbed the tops of the wild blackberries with it for a bit of glaze.  It was surprisingly lighter than I thought it would be.  The fresh orange curd was airy with just a slight hint of orange flavor, complimenting the lemon crust.  The mildly tart wild blackberries were the perfect foil to the buttery creamy curd and crunchy tart shell.
Although very tasty, I'm still not a baker.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Keller Chicken

Thomas Keller has a recipe for fried chicken in his latest cookbook, Ad Hoc At Home.  It is pretty basic, sort of.  The recipes are all over the web.  No need to buy the cookbook unless collecting cookbooks is an obsession. Check. Actually, my Ad Hoc was a gift from Michael.  Once the ingredient list is conquered, his fried chicken method is simple fried chicken.  That being said, the brine recipe has 37 ingredients if counted individually (24 bay leaves, for example) , 9 if counted as units.  The seasoned flour recipe has 7 ingredients not counting the chicken pieces or buttermilk dipper.
Make his brining solution and brine the chicken for 24 hours.  Blend his seasoned flour mixture together and set it aside.  I cheated,  because....well...I  just happened to have had his mix in the pantry.  It was an ingenious  companion gift with the cookbook from Michael.
Brine. Rinse. Dredge. Dip. Dredge. Fry. Drain. Salt.  Fried chicken.
His cooking temperature method is a bit fussy.  320 degrees for the dark meat.  340 for the white meat.  11 minutes for the dark meat.  7 minutes for the white meat.  Too fussy.

I fried my chicken in a cast iron skillet over medium heat until it was golden brown before transfering it to a 350 degree oven to cook completely through.

What I love about his  fried chicken method is the addition of fresh leafy thyme sprigs thrown into the hot oil after frying the chicken that  spatter wildy, cook, crisp up, and turn a vivid  green to arrange over the chicken.  As beautiful as that sounds, that is where his recipe ends. 

What a lost opportunity to  explore the importance of pan gravy. Or sauce.  Or something. Maybe it is the southerner in me, but what self-respecting chicken fryer would ignore the fabulous chicken bits and flavor left in the leftover oil filled skillet?  Especially after it has been infused with fresh thyme sprigs!

After frying the chicken, I  tossed a bundle of fresh thyme into the hot oil to crisp and arranged it over the chicken.
I added an equal amount of flour to the skillet for a roux and finished the gravy with chicken stock and heavy cream.
The chicken was well seasoned, crisp, crunchy, and chin dripping moist. Fantastic. We ate our fried chicken wih a bowl of pan gravy for chicken meat dipping and a bowl of clover honey for crispy chicken skin dipping.  Uh huh.  Think about it. Undone.
The star of the meal  was a much less complicated salad from our garden of sun-warmed just picked thinly sliced cucumbers and tomatoes dressed simply with lemon, olive oil, salt, cracked pepper, and fresh thyme.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Old Bay

After my family moved back to the States, we spent every summer at the beach on Chincoteague Island, Va.  A small causeway seperated the town of Chincoteague from  Assateague Island National Seashore.  Although they are often referred to as the ponies of Chincoteague, the horses actually live on Assateague and own the island with  full rights of way in regards to cars, bycycles, and pedestrians.  The ponies live  peaceful lives until the annual swim and auction  benefitting the local fire department.  They are rounded up, checked by vets, and herded into the bay for a swim across the water into town for auction.  They are treated well and find suitable new homes. In addition to the financial benefits, it is also a good method for population control. A win win situation.

We vacationed on the island either before or after the pony swim because the festival swells the population of the small town from 3,000 to 45,000 in one week.  We stayed far away from our island home during that time of year.

Our summers there were quiet and languid. When we weren't swimming, kite flying, or shell hunting, we were crabbing for our dinner.  The narrow causeway between the two islands was  the ideal spot for snagging beautiful Maryland blue crabs. Chicken necks tied to string were playfully thrown out into the water and gingerly  wound back to shore  with crabs nibbling on the chicken parts the entire while.  Once spotted in the shallow water, they were netted and stored in buckets of sea water until we had  secured a few dozen for steaming.

We had several crab pots back at the house to accomodate and cook our daily catches.  They were designed to steam crabs above  rapidly boiling flavored water.  The steaming liquid could be seasoned in many ways, but one thing that never changed was the liberal dousing of Old Bay  seasoning that coated the bright red steamed shells of the cooked blue crabs.  I can still see it, smell it, and taste it.  Old Bay was, is, and will always be the only way to season steamed crabs. It is an intoxicating blend of celery salt, mustard, red pepper, black pepper,  bay leaves, cloves, allspice, ginger,mace, cardamom, and paprika. Ideal for sweet delicate crab meat.

It has been so hot and humid here lately. Chincoteague kind of hot and humid, without any ocean breeze or an ocean, for that matter..  The sweltering  humidity and heat has reminded me of beach weather.  Beach heat. Beach food.  It occured to me yesterday that if I couldn't have the ocean here, I could at least taste it. 

Since fresh Maryland blue crabs are not available, I decided to have an Old Bay steamed shrimp dinner with the same flavor profile of steamed crabs.  On the way to the market, we came across a pickup truck parked by the roadside with farmers selling fresh corn from their heaping  truck bed load full of fresh picked Silver Sweet corn. Sold. That's when it hit me;  Steamed Shrimp Low Country Boil.  I would cook the shrimp in the style of steamed Maryland blue crabs, but steam them over traditional low country boil ingredients.

It came together quickly and required no work.  Once we got home, I shucked the corn. It was so fresh.  Still wet from an early morning harvest.  The silks were tight, thin, and damp. I cleaned the ears, halved them, and tossed them into a large bowl with quartered new potatoes, chopped green peppers, and sliced onions.  I nestled the bowl into the refrigerator next to a pound of 21-25 count fresh peel-on shrimp and took to my couch until dinner time.

A few hours and several glasses of wine later, I started the oceanless Old Bay steamed shrimp low country boil feast.

I placed a large stock pot over a medium high flame and poured in a cup of water, a cup of chicken stock, a half cup of white vinegar, and 2 tablespoons of Old Bay.  Once the liquid came to a boil, I tossed in the red potatoes, green pepper, corn, onions, and a stick of unsalted butter.  After simmering the vegetables for 30 minutes, I placed a colander into the pot over the vegetables, layered the deveined unpeeled shrimp around the colander, doused the shrimp with more Old Bay seasoning, and covered the pot to steam the shrimp for exactly 2 minutes.  Overcooked shrimp is a very bad thing.  For their size, 2 minutes was perfect for tender shrimp.

Steamed crabs are traditionally dumped onto a newspaper covered table littered with wooden mallets for shell cracking.  Although low country boils are sometimes served in a similar manner, I emptied the entire pot of shrimp, vegetables, and cooking liquid into a large serving bowl. A  parsely stem and thinly sliced lemons finished it off.
No utensils needed.  I plopped the gigantic bowl in the middle of the coffee table between the two of us in front of the television and surrounded it with demi-tasse bowls of drawn lemon butter and  hot steamed napkins. Finger food.

The Old Bay, stock, vinegar, butter, and water pot likker bathed the corn and potatoes with a buttery pepper spiced richness. Perfect for  toasted baguette soppers. The stock infused corn popped with every bite providing texture while the sweet and tender shrimp melted with gorgeous mouthfeel. Having to pry the spice laden shells off the pink shrimp meat was dirty primal finger-licking fun.

Was it as good as fresh steamed  blue crabs from Chincoteague summer's gone by? Hardly, but it was really good. The Old Bay Seasoning was a culinary memory sensor.  Even without an ocean or a breeze, it was almost as good as being back there.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Szechuan Scallop Tom Yum Goong Pho Noodle Bowl

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?  My biggest food orgy dilemma when Michael is out of town is what to eat..  I usually can't decide between  my favorite spicy seafood Asian dishes, hemming and hawing the whole time I'm deciding.  Enough of incoherent indecisiveness.  Last night I combined all of them into one spectacular orgy of food.
I started with shrimp stock made up of  bagged shrimp shells stashed in the freezer combind with garlic, galangal, ginger, peppercorns, and fresh cilantro. I covered everything with water, brought it to boil, reduced it to a simmer, skimmed the scum,  let it go for 20 minutes, and then strained it to use for the soup base.

Tom Yum Goong is a salty, sour, spicy Thai shrimp soup. I brought the reserved shrimp stock  to a simmer with split cherry tomatoes, fish sauce, shrimp paste, galangal, garlic, ginger, lime zest (no Kaffir leaves), lemon zest (no lemongrass), and lime juice.  As it simmmered, reduced, and concentrated, I occasionally added additional stock to maintain the desired soupy consistency.

While the soup bubbled away, I soaked  rice noodles in very hot water for 25 minutes, drained, rinsed, and tossed them liberally with Korean Red Chili Paste (gochujang).

Just before dinner, I scored beautiful sea scallops, dusted them with freshly ground Szechuan peppercorns, seared them in a screaming hot skillet, delgazed the pan with black bean and Ponzu soy sauce, and set them aside to rest.

I plated the red chili jeweled rice noodles in a large pasta bowl,  ladled the Tom Yum soup over the noodles, placed the pan-seared  Szechuan scallops onto the noodles, poured the skillet juices over the scallops, and garnished everything with traditional Pho garnishes: bean sprouts, sliced jalapenos, shaved red onions, sliced carrots, fresh cilantro, fresh basil, lime halves,  hoisen, and Sriracha.


Flavor explosion. All the ingredients really worked together, to my surprise.  The pungent sharp Thai soup swirled into the Korean chili paste which bled into the Chinese black bean sauce, creating  a hybrid Asian fusion sauce....of sorts.  It was a spicy, sour, salty, and savoury spice bath for the scallops and noodles.  The toothsome bounce back bite of the rice noodles gave a welcome chew that offset  the soft mouthfeel of the pepper crusted scallops while the Pho garnishes provided needed freshness, crunch, and blazing heat relief. Tart fresh sqeezed lime juice was certainly a mouth saver.

It was not a timid dish.  Lip numbing, even.

I packed the few remnants into the refrigerator in anticipation of a late night sleep eating rampage.

Mission accomplished..

Szechuan Scallop Tom Yum Goong Pho Noodle Bowl. Faux? Fusion confusion?  Maybe, but total food orgy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Michael is away on another business trip in St. Petersburg, Florida courtesy of the Bill Gates Foundation.  I have gotten used to it this summer.  His little mini trips away have  afforded me some alone time and food orgies.  Good.  Still, this 120 year old Painted Lady Victorian home gets even bigger when he is away.  It makes noises and creeks even  from a calm wind. The squirrels antics on the roof and in the attic are amplified. Their fast little pitty-pats pound like thunder.  I'll  have to admit, I turn on all the lights at night and leave all the televisions blaring when alone here.  Bright house.  Distraction.  Alone, not lonely.

The cats are a great source of entertainment, but they really can't answer my questions, engage in conversation, or fetch me another glass of wine.  I have to get my own wine.  A woman's work, this old house, when alone.

So, on this particular night, as my fangled food orgie concoction simmers away on the stove, I can't help but think back to our  time together on the ship a few weeks back.

We always venture to the top decks of our ships in the late late  hours of the night when all the exhausted families are tucked into their bottom-dwelling cabins and gamblers are bellied-up to their poker tables, roulette wishes, and slot machines.  Thousands of passengers simply vanish at night. It's always quiet up there on those decks.  Empty.  Full of us.
We walk, lounge, drink, talk, and even hold hands.  Black sky.  Black water.  The only light coming from the ships themselves. Glowing orbs in the middle of the sea.

I sometimes wonder what our ships must look like in the darkness from far away as they move slowly with light trailing behind quietly cutting through the waves.

I imagine they must look much like our glowing  house on a dark street in our dark nieghborhood when Michael is away.

That puts him here with me, then.

All is good.

Say a prayer in the darkness for the magic to come
     No matter what it seems
Tonight is what it means to be young.
                    -Streets Of Fire