Saturday, April 28, 2007

Some Things Cannot Be Improved Upon

After two very, very long weeks I just wanted a very simple breakfast. Because I like to cook, there are times (like this one) when I realize that I can combine flavors, amplify or dampen flavors, but I cannot make a flavor. This lovely piece of fruit came in my delivery this week. What did the poet say? "...only God can make a grapefruit..."?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

What We Had For Dinner Last Night

This is a quick post for a quick dinner. My original plan was to make a type of Salad Nicoise: cold, steamed veggies, eggs and potatoes with cold tuna. It was a little cool outside when dinner time came around, so I decided to cook up some salmon, instead. Then I veered further offtrack and made a mayo/tamari/garlic dipping sauce…and, well….as often happens with me, dinner completely mutated into something else.

So: In the morning, I boiled 2 potatoes and 2 eggs together. I took the eggs out of the cooking water after 10 min. and ran cold water over them until they were cooled off. Then I set them in the fridge. I continued to cook the potatoes (jackets on) until they were tender, then gave them the same treatment as the eggs. In the meantime, in my large wok-steamer, I steamed the green beans for 5 min and the leeks (trimmed, but whole) for about 10. Then I set them on a plate to cool. Afterward, I put everything into the fridge to get it chilled.

I mixed up about 1 C mayo with 2 Tb. tamari (soy sauce) and, using the garlic press, added a very, very tiny clove of garlic. Then I let that sit in the fridge with everything else to let the flavors marry.

Come dinner time, I heated the oven to 325°, salted and peppered the salmon, and got a frying pan hot on the stove with a little olive oil in it. I cooked the fish flesh-side down first for less than a minute, then flipped it over to skin-side down for 30 sec. more. Then I put the whole pan into the oven for 10 min. more. In the meantime, I arranged the platter: cut the eggs and potatoes in quarters, split the leeks in half, drained and sliced some jarred roasted red peppers, and put it altogether. I drizzled a little extra virgin olive oil over the veggies, sprinkled some French sea salt over all – and WOW, what a GREAT DINNER! No leftovers. None.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Official Start of Grillling Season

Well, OK – I admit it, I never stop grilling. There’s no weather too cold to get a nice tenderloin roasting for dinner on that grill. I think I got that from my father who once grilled the Thanksgiving turkey in a heavy, wet snow storm – it was the best turkey I ever had.

But let’s talk about grill types. If you have a gas or propane grill, you know how to use it. It’s basically an outdoor stove and its uses are pretty straightforward. If you have a charcoal grill, you’re a step closer to my hickory chip-smoked heart. But if you grill using hardwood charcoal, you’re definitely hardcore – and I am hardcore.

There’s a little butcher shop right next to Timber Creek where I buy my hardwood charcoal. I pour it into my cylindrical charcoal starter and crumple a piece of newspaper underneath. Just light the paper with a match: no starter fluid required and in about 15-20 min. your charcoal is red hot. While it’s firing up, I soak some hickory chips to flavor the food. I usually pour that hot pot of flaming charcoal onto an equal amount of charcoal sitting inside the grill, let that sit about 10 min. more, and at that point it looks like this:

These coals are banked to one side because tonight we’re making pork tenderloin with grilled veggies. I simply sprinkle a generous amount of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper all over the tenderloin….I don’t put oil on the meat. I seem to get a better crust with less burning this way. Drain the hickory chips and sprinkle them over the coals. Reset the grate over the coals, and set the meat over the hottest part of the fire and allow each side to sear evenly.

Then I prepared the veggies. Today, I’ve been a little pressed for time, so I took the easy way out. I used a spray bottle of olive oil and sprayed the veggies all over – leeks and baby bok choy this time. I soaked the bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes, then ran the veggies through. A little more salt and pepper, and they’re ready to go. By now, the tenderloin has been nicely seared on all sides, so I moved it over to the cooler side of the gril, and moved the leeks right up over the fire. I positioned the bok choy about half way between the two. Then I covered the grill, closed the air holes on the top about half way, and went inside to the kitchen.

On the stove, I melted a couple of Tb. of butter and added a clove of garlic run through the press. I let it sit over very low heat while I went outside to move the veggies around and add a tomato to the grill, cut in half -- cut side up. The meat was cooked in about 15 min. and I took it off the grill to rest while the veggies finished up. Then I split the leeks and poured the garlic butter over them and poured a little inside the bok choy. I grated some Parmesano over the hot tomato, sliced the pork and arranged a sliced starkrimson pear alongside, and dinner was served.

Yes, yes, this dinner may sound kind of boring to some. But I told you I’m hardcore. I could eat breakfast lunch and dinner from the grill, and my philosophy is: never waste a good fire.

Tomorrow I’m grilling artichokes. Want to come over?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

An Easy Holiday

This past weekend we had a good showing of family for our holiday dinner. A total of 13 adults and two children – and that’s not even half of them! This time, I wanted to enjoy myself. I often spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and not very much time visiting during an occasion like this, so I changed my gameplan. I ordered the Raw Veggie Box from TCF and made in advance a huge tray of Radishes, English Peas, Zucchini, Yellow Bell Pepper, Scallions, Baby Carrots and a couple Sugar River Cheeses. I also had made a dip made of 1 part mayo, 1 part sour cream and a healthy dash of habanero sauce. It had a kick! I found a bottle of chardonnay I didn’t even know we had, so the day began very pleasantly, indeed.

Dinner was as simple as I could possibly make it. I bought a spiral cut ham and just brought it to room temperature – no cooking needed. I took 5 lb. of Russian Red Fingerling Potatoes and put them in a roasting pan with 5 large sliced Leeks, 5-6 large Garlic Cloves, chopped, a couple Tb. of Kosher Salt and a generous sprinkling of Fresh Rosemary Leaves. I tossed them together with some Extra Virgin Olive Oil, covered the pan and put them in a 400 degree oven for 45 min. Then I stirred them, lowered the heat to 350, and let them go another 45 min. Next, I lowered the heat to 300 and just let them sit in there another 15 min. or so while I finished setting up the buffet.

Before the guests arrived, I took 5 lb. of trimmed Asparagus and peeled the bottom half of each stalk. Then I dropped them in the steamer for 20 min. at serving time. I also melted a stick of butter in a measuring cup in the microwave to dress them (easier to pour that way).

My favorite part of the meal, tho, was the salad. I have a great time experimenting with salads. This one consisted of mainly Romaine, but I also added a little Escarole since I had some in the fridge. I tore and tossed the greens, then zested a few Lemons and minced an equal portion of Flat Leaf Parsley. These, I tossed with the greens to coat them and bring in a nice background flavor. Then I added the rest: chopped Scallions, Grape Tomatoes, and some jarred Roasted Red Peppers. Then I covered the bowl and set it in the fridge till dinner. Next, I made the croutons. Making your own croutons is an essential step to making a great salad. A salad doesn’t need croutons, but if you’re going to have them, make them yourself. Once you’ve made your own, you’ll never eat store bought croutons again. Consider them to be as important an ingredient as fresh lettuce is to your salad. To make them, I bought a loaf of Rudi’s Olive Oil and Rosemary Bread and let it sit out a few hours the day before the party. The morning of the party I cut up the bread in rather large cubes, and brought my wok up to high heat. I then added a generous amount of Olive Oil to the pan, and dropped in the bread cubes. Next, I turned the heat down to medium and began tossing the cubes so that they each got some oil on them, and they toasted evenly. Before they were finished, I sprinkled them generously with Kosher Salt, tasted a couple because I’m the cook, and let them cool on a cookie sheet. Now you can make them in the oven on a cookie sheet, but my oven was occupied, and they take longer that way.

When it was time to eat, I finished the salad. First, I drizzled some Extra Virgin Olive Oil over the salad and barely tossed it. Then I sprinkled some Balsamic Vinegar over it. Again, I barely tossed it. Then, with a vegetable peeler, I shaved huge tongues of fresh Parmesano Reggiano generously over the greens, and topped it all with the cooled croutons.

Then came the fun part: After everyone went through the buffet line, They noticed these little wine glasses on the table with strange colored granules in them. These are some of my salts. I got this idea from Willson, the chef in Madrid, Spain who I link to on the right (“Will’s Eats”). He had done a post about some of the specialty salts he uses, and, truth be told, I’m an incurable salt collector myself, so I took a cue from him. For the dinner I put out Celtic Sea Salt from France, pink Murray River Salt from Australia, and Black Salt from Hawaii. These are only 3 of the 15 or so salts I have in my kitchen, but the idea was to have some fun at dinner, so I kept it simple. The salad described above rises to incredible heights of flavor with the addition of a good specialty salt, and the Asparagus would play well with them, too – so we went for it…it’s amazing what a little very, very good salt can do for a dish. We drank a nice Rose` from Spain and chatted and ate for quite a while. We had wonderfully easy and enjoyable day, and at the end I gave a tip of my hat to Will for the inspiration.