Saturday, April 30, 2011

Weekly Fish #2: Smoked Salmon

Our second installment of Weekly Fish highlights the new smoker that Jess found at the thrift store for a steal. We previously tried some smoked mushrooms and deemed it a success, so naturally we wanted to take it to the next level. Salmon came to mind as a fish that could handle the heat, and so it was to be.

The smoking process begins with heating up some soaked wood chips for a while, then throwing the fish on a rack above the wood chips, and sealing the whole thing for a while. The smoker was quite effective at infusing the fish with a strong smoke flavor, and the house with an equally strong smoke aroma. That's the price of a stove-top smoker: the sensation you've just stepped away from a campfire.

I followed the directions included in the smoker, but found that the fish was undercooked. I ended up finishing the salmon in a grill pan, which didn't seem to take away from the smokiness at all. And I do think the salmon could have stood a little less ... smoke.

Not too shabby, though. You see it plated here with a bit of quinoa, wild rice, dried fruit, pecans, and kale.

I think the next thing we ought to smokeshould be a bit heartier than salmon (itself quite a hearty fish). Ribs anyone? Oh yes.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

First Grill Out - April 24, 2011

Nick and I marked the beautiful day last Sunday with our first grill out of the season. We kept things really basic and opted for some 1/5 lb grass fed beef patties topped with avocado and fresh mozzarella (I was trying to make sure we used up some things that needed to be used, hence the slightly strange combination of toppings). For a colorful side dish we had sweet potato 'fries' that Nick cooked up on the grill as well, in an aluminum packet, with coconut oil. Obviously this meal presents nothing new or revolutionary, but I don't care. It just felt really good to cook food outside in the sunshine, which is something that's been in short supply around these parts. Hey spring, could you please get your ass in gear already?
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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easter Brunch - April 24, 2011

Nick and I had a quiet brunch for two this past weekend, and that might be my favorite kind of brunch. On the menu, which was semi-made-up-on-the-fly, was Polish poppy seed pastry, a mustard tart, and ginger-citrus mimosas. I had planned ahead for the poppy seed pastry, and long time readers might think it looks pretty familiar to last year's Easter pastry. Indeed, I used the same pretty pastry braiding technique that I originally found here. And, I used poppy seed filling again, but this time I did a little extra Internet research to find a true Polish recipe rather than the hamantaschen recipe I used last year. It was an homage to my Grandma Mae (see my sister's tribute here, complete with fun pictures), whom we just lost, and the delicious makowiec she used to make. My intent is to make a true makowiec in the very near future, but in the meantime, I cheated and just used the filling here. Oh, and just to be clear, my Grandma never actually called what she made 'makowiec,' which is why it took me a little longer to find a recipe online. Also, I'm pretty sure she just used the store-bought canned poppy seed filling, but since I was already using store bought pastry dough, I thought I'd better at least make the filling up from scratch. Anyway, I'm delighted that I now know what it's called and that it's part of my Polish heritage.

Nick was in charge of our main dish, which kind of just fell into place. We had picked up Dorie Greenspan's new cookbook, Around My French Table, from the library the day before and were paging through it while waiting for the poppy seed pastry to cook. We happened upon her recipe for 'Gerard's Mustard Tart' and realized that if we cheated and used the second sheet of puff pastry for the crust, we could whip this up in no time flat. Nick jumped into action, and with minor assistance from me, we had this ready in time for our main course. It was light and quite mustard-y with that nice bite of horseradish that hits you in the back of your nose.

And of course, no brunch would be complete without some cocktails. I love how the term 'brunch' makes it not only okay, but expected, that you start drinking before noon. We had chilled some cava and I used the same ingredients as my citrus-ginger soda from a few weeks ago. Some freshly squeezed grapefruit and lime juice, a little ginger-lemongrass infused simple syrup, and cava replacing the soda, and we were in business. The bubbly cocktail was the perfect Easter egg hue and accompanied the mustard tart well, cutting the bite of the horseradish nicely.

I hope you all had a tasty holiday weekend!
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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hand-applied Erratum

When the publisher hand-applies a note inside the cookbook to acknowledge its omission, you know that the ingredient is important. Thank you, publisher, for keeping us all safe from flat, eggless speculouses (speculi?).
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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Weekly Fish #1: Red Snapper with cilantro garlic lime gremolata

Our first installment of my weekly fish dish features Red Snapper. As the name indicates, it is, in the wild, both red and bitey. On the plate it is neither, and takes up a gremolata nicely.

Because fish cooks so quickly, most of the time was spent getting the rice ready. I've become a fan of frying up the dehydrated grains in oil and browning them before introducing the liquid. The liquid in this case included some clam juice, to give it a seafood-y background. We had seafood bullion on hand, but I thought I'd save that for another day and for a heartier dish where EXTREME seafood flavor is called for. Otherwise, it was all systems nominal as rice goes, but for a handful of frozen peas towards the end of the cooking time.

To prepare the fish, I heated up a pan under a broiler for 5 minutes while I mixed up some oil, cilantro, garlic, onion, lime juice, and more clam juice in a bowl. Once hot, I took out the pan, added some oil, and then threw in the fillets, which started instantly to sizzle. After 10 minutes under the broiler, it was ready for the gremolata. I cooked the fish again, now with the gremolata, under the broiler for another 5 minutes, even though the recipe didn't call for it, as the cilantro sauce was by then much cooler than the fish.

It was a well balanced dish, not dominated by any one flavor (always a risk when cilantro is involved), and squarely within the fish dinner theme. The rice in my opinion was quite tasty, with an ever-so-subtle seafood dimension to it, and was something I will definitely repeat.

As I was eating it, though, I realized that I didn't bother to check the Seafood Watch status for Red Snapper. Sadly, looks like I made a bad pick; the Red Snapper is Red for more than one reason.

Next week: smoking a salmon!

- Nick
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Friday, April 22, 2011

Richie's birthday cookies - April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day, dinner clubbers! It is also Richie's birthday today and since we are both going in different directions tonight (me to yoga teacher training and he to see Rush in concert in Baltimore) we are not having a special dinner. Actually, it is somewhat rare for us to even be together at all on either of our birthdays as it seems that one or both of us is usually traveling for work on those days. Today I happen to be working from home, so in between conference calls and emails, I decided to whip up a batch of Richie's favorite chocolate chip cookies as a special birthday treat.

These are from the Cook's Illustrated "Baking Illustrated" cookbook and are the best! They have two recipes - one for thin and crispy cookies and another for big thick cookies. Richie prefers the thin cookies. I'm still working on my baking skills... no matter how precise I am in my measurements, it seems like they turn out a little differently every time. These ended up a little too thin and crispy, although some of them are plumper than others. I don't understand what I do wrong... too little flour? Too much sugar? Who knows! Anyway, they still taste great!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Udon with Smoked Mushrooms - April 21, 2011

Some of you Dinner Clubbers might be aware that I am a voracious thrifter. I love hitting up the local thrift stores looking for all manner of things, but dare I say my favorite things to thrift are kitchen items. Last week I scored a brand new, still-in-the-box, never-been-used stove top smoker...for $10. Yeah, I was excited. To test it out I decided to try my hand at smoked mushrooms. I found a little 'how-to' posted here and got to work. The smoking definitely gave the mushrooms a lot of flavor. I'm not sure it was exactly the flavor I expected, but expertise will come with experimentation. This was a good start. I decided to highlight the mushrooms in an udon noodle dish complete with pan roasted broccoli, poached egg, and a little hoisin sauce. Everything was very flavorful. Nick and I are both excited to play with the smoker in the weeks ahead. Nick especially is looking forward to trying his hand at fish. Speaking of, we are starting a new routine at our house involving a once per week 'fish night' planned and cooked (and blogged about) entirely by Nick. It's going to be a lot of fun, so keep your eyes peeled for some fun fish posts courtesy of Nick!
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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pasta al Pomodoro - April 20, 2011

This is the cover recipe from Bon Appetit's May 2011 issue, aka 'the Italy issue.' Nick and I followed the recipe verbatim, except we cut everything down to serve two rather than four. It was simple and quick, required minimal ingredients, almost all of which are routinely in our pantry, and quite tasty. It's a great recipe to have in your repertoire for when you haven't been to the grocery store in a week and think you have nothing left to cook in the house. I learned one or two new pasta cooking methods as well.  All in all, I have to say I like Bon Appetit's new 'GQ-ed' format.
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Chicken Milanese with arugula salad - April 19, 2011

I know that our dinner club homeland of Madison, Wisconsin got blanketed in snow this week, but we are well into spring here in northern Virginia and DC. Yesterday morning I realized that we could definitely start eating some of the leafy greens in our container garden, so I shuffled my menu plans for the week and decided to try "chicken Milanese with arugula salad" from the Everyday Food cookbook that has been so successful for us lately. I didn't have any red onion around, so I thinly sliced a shallot instead. The salad was delicious of course, but the chicken was just there. Needed to be marinated (or maybe fried?) to give it a kick.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Baked falafel - April 18, 2011

I've been craving falafel lately. I remember buying it from one of the carts on Library Mall when I was a young student at the University of Wisconsin. It was so exotic! So unlike anything my mother served at home, so unrecognizable. I think the first couple times I had it, I had no idea what was in those mysterious balls. It could have been been monkey brains for all I knew. I just thought it was delicious.

No falafel I've had since those days has lived up to my memory, and I didn't really expect this homecooked version to either... especially because I didn't want to deal with the smell or mess of deep frying them. I found this recipe from the blog Chow Vegan. They were tasty, but as expected, the crunchy outside texture was totally lacking.

Mine looked totally different than hers because I 1) did use a food processor, and 2) made my balls much bigger. Instead of 21 small balls, I ended up with only 8 large ones. This was not really a conscious choice, I was just lazy and didn't really read the directions. I wish I had made them smaller though because they took a long time to bake (I did 15 minutes, flipped them for 15, realized they weren't even close to done so then flipped them back for 15 more, and then left them in for another 10 minutes... so almost an hour total!).

Served with pita, cucumber slices, and some raita I whipped up. Richie, having no previous falafel experience to compare to, thought they were great. Success!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring Rice Bowl - April 18, 2011

Rice with Broccoli, Kale, Scallions and Peas

For this dish Nick and I used the leftover rice from our Hainanese chicken dinner from a few nights ago.  We didn't have enough rice to make up two whole meals, however, so I had to bulk it up a bit.  I pan roasted some broccoli florets and kale, warmed some petite peas from the freezer, chopped up a scallion or two and mixed everything in with the reheated rice.  To top off the bowls, I added some Pecorino-Romano cheese.  The result was a very tasty bowl full of spring flavors.  Even if the weather chooses not to cooperate (I am talking about the 3-4 inches of snow forcasted for Tuesday), we can at least pretend it's spring in the kitchen.

Chicken Pot Pie - April 17, 2011

We've been on a bit of a retro meal streak here at the Hartman house. On Saturday it was beef stew and yesterday I repurposed some leftover chicken from Friday into a yummy chicken pot pie with spring vegetables.

I used the recipe from my bible, The New Best Recipe. This time I opted to do the biscuit topping rather than the pie topping because I didn't have any vegetable shortening left in the house. I prefer the pie topping, although the biscuits are delicious too. And the recipe made more than I could fit on top of the casserole, so I baked them up separately and had them for breakfast drizzled with honey this morning. Yum...

I followed the recipe pretty much exactly, except that I thought it tasted a bit bland so I kicked up the amount of thyme and also added some sage and rosemary before putting it in the oven. Last time I made this I think I added sauteed mushrooms and I missed them this time. They add some depth of flavor that I really like.

The bonus is that the recipe is designed for a good sized family and so along with the leftover beef stew from the weekend, our refrigerator is well stocked with tasty and nourishing lunches for the week!

We also finished planting our container garden this weekend. We added two tomato plants, two pepper plants, some cucumbers from seed (that's an experiment... I have never grown them before), and a whole bunch of herbs. The leafy greens are all doing well and I think we might be able to eat our first mini-harvest in another week or so. Pictures will be posted later...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chicken and Wild Rice Salad - April 12, 2011

Here's another recipe I snagged off of that list from the Kitchn. I changed it up a bit to suit our pantry. First off, we live in Minnesota, so there's no way I'm going to be using a wild rice mix from a box. We grow that sh*t here, so I made real, Minnesota-grown wild rice. Next, instead of green grapes, I used dried cranberries, dried currants and a fresh Pink Lady apple to add sweetness and crunch. The slivered almonds kept their place. The chicken breast was poached (leftover from the Hainanese Chicken recipe) and shredded and everything was mixed together with some canola-based mayonnaise and salt and pepper to taste. I actually made this up the night before (with the exception of the apples, which I added right before we ate) and let it chill in the fridge overnight. We ate it cold and it was delicious. It's kind of a heartier, grainier version of the chicken salad we're all familiar with, minus the curry if you happen to make yours that way.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hainanese Chicken - April 11, 2011

The Kitchn had a post a couple of weeks ago that included a spring recipe list and I have shamelessly been using it as my cooking inspiration ever since. This was one of the most interesting sounding meals on the list and it's a Mark Bittman recipe, so we knew it'd be good. I have to say that I love it when a recipe calls to cook the dried rice in oil before adding the liquid, like risotto and Mexican rice. It just seems to taste so much better. Anyway, we cut down the recipe to serve two and it turned out well. We omitted the tomatoes because they just aren't good right now. Also, I made the dipping sauce as instructed, but I was kind of unsure how to use it. I mean, what part of the meal do I dip? We did sprinkle our bowls with the toasted sesame oil and that added a lot of flavor. This was fun and new for us.  All-in-all, we'd give Singapore's national dish a thumbs-up.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Goodbye Grandma Mae - April 11, 2011

Blue Plum Brandy

My Grandma Mae passed away over the weekend.  She was my last living grandparent and had been struggling with Alzheimer's disease for the past few years.  In healthier, happier times Grandma and Grandpa lived a little north of here, on a lake.  My Grandpa, who passed away ten years ago now, fished every single day that he could.  I have many fond memories of fishing for sunnies with him out on the boat, off the dock, and even in the cozy little ice-fishing house in the winter.  When we returned home, we always had a fish fry for dinner that night.  To this day, I have never eaten fish better than those fresh sunfish, pulled out of the water mere hours before, expertly battered in flour, egg and beer and fried up by my Grandma into perfect, golden, crispy nuggets.  I have resigned myself to the fact that I will probably never eat fish that delicious again.

Grandma Mae was an avid gardener and, at the lake, had a front yard full of her favorite flowers.  She was a beautiful crocheter and I am lucky to have some of her hand crocheted snowflakes.  She was a prolific painter of landscapes, a talented bowler, and a beautiful polka dancer.  She also had a mean collection of stamps.  Perhaps most importantly, she was my Polish Grandma.  She didn't drink, but was a firm believer in the curative powers of Polish blackberry brandy. Have a head cold?  Upset stomach?  Headache?  Nothing that a nip of blackberry brandy couldn't fix.  Well, we didn't have any blackberry brandy in the cabinet, but  we did have a bottle of Clear Creek Distillery's Blue Plum Brandy, or as it's known in Poland, slivovits, or sliwowica.  Nick and I raised a glass in honor of Grandma Mae this weekend. Goodbye Grandma.  Godspeed to that big polka dance in the sky.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hartman Garden Update - April 10, 2011

I probably could have finished planting the container garden this weekend because the weather forecast is solidly above freezing now, but since I have yoga training this weekend I decided to wait until next when I can take my time getting organized and deciding what exactly we want to grow.

In the mean time the early stuff is growing like crazy! I can't wait until the onions are big enough that I can just pull one whenever I need a green onion in a recipe. I hate buying scallions at the store because I never seem to use them up before they get slimy.

The miscellaneous flowering things in and around our house are in their full spring glory too. The famous DC cherry blossoms are nearing the end of their blooming period, but the ubiquitous Bradford Pears will be flowering for a while longer. In our little back yard we have an apple tree, pear tree, and peach tree. To our surprise, the peach tree has been by far the most successful. This picture is of just one piece of it, taken from our second floor deck. Last year virtually every flower turned into a peach and we actually had a couple limbs break under the weight. If we knew what we were doing, we'd have pruned it properly to keep that from happening. But we enjoy just watching it grow and eating what we can!

Quinoa and Black Beans - April 10, 2011

We bought a huge bag of quinoa at Costco a while back and I've been trying different recipes that feature the super grain. Most are good, but nothing that really wowed us. I think I've finally found a real winner!

I found this recipe simply by googling "quinoa" and "black beans." It was the first one listed in Allrecipes, which I've found to be a hit-or-miss resource. It's like the world's largest church ladies cookbook: easy, tasty and crowd-pleasing food, though often a bit heavy on the "cream of something soup" type ingredients! This recipe had the best of all worlds - easy to make, not overly processed, and yummy. We particularly like the kick that the cayenne gives it, but you could scale that back if you want.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Meyer Lemon Curd with Scones - April 8, 2011

The other day when I was at the Co-op I picked up some Meyer lemons on deep discount. I decided that I wanted to try my hand at making lemon curd after seeing it pop up here and there on some of the blogs I like to read. I searched around for a recipe and finally decided on this one. It was pleasantly simple to make and left me with a delicious light yellow cream. Success! Now what to use as the vessel with which to consume this sunny treat?

I decided that some rosemary-orange scented scones would be perfect and I made a batch over the weekend. I used my Better Homes and Gardens Baking Book to find a recipe and ended up modifying one of their savory scone recipes so that I could use my ingredients of choice. My thought was that the lemon curd was so sweet that the scones should be neutral in flavor, so I didn't want to use a sweet scone recipe. In retrospect, these could have benefited from a little sugar, but to compensate, we just used more curd. Yum. Fun side-note...the rosemary was pirated from a friend's front yard while I was in Portland at the end of January and it has kept in my fridge really well.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Minneapolitan Pizza - April 7, 2011

Cast Iron Skillet Pizza

These are a couple of things we've been meaning to try for awhile. Namely, pizza made in a cast iron skillet, and with a fried egg. We combined the two the other night to unbelievably delicious results. I came across the method for making a skillet pizza over here at Kitchen Konfidence, a great, new-to-me food blog. Brandon has inspiring ideas, beautiful photos and is a fellow lover of the homemade happy hour. You should check him out, if you haven't already. Once I found this skillet pizza method, I passed it on to Nat and Jamie who are always looking for ways to recreate Punch Pizza, our beloved local Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant, at home in Portland. Well, it passed their test. They've been making it repeatedly and urging us to try it as well. We finally did and it was amazing! After pre-heating the skillet, this only takes about two minutes to cook under the broiler. Frankly, I think my pizza stone just became obsolete.

I had wanted to make a batch of dough according to a recipe from Punch Pizza to make this extra authentic, but their dough takes six hours to rise and I didn't plan ahead. Instead I just made my regular pizza dough recipe and it turned out tasty, but not quite as light and airy as Punch. The fried egg was super fun. I just cracked it on top of the pizza right before I slipped it under the broiler. Just a bit of a heads-up, if you aren't a fan of a runny yolk this probably is not for you. Nick and I, however, loved how the yolk intermixed with the cheese and sauce once we sliced the pizza.

**For some reason my pictures disappear as soon as I close Picassa.  I'm not sure what's up with that, but I'll work on fixing it.  Sorry!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Curried Soba Noodle Stir Fry - April 6, 2011

Curried Soba Noodles with Stir-Fried Broccoli and Cauliflower

I found inspiration for this meal here, and changed things up a bit to acommodate my pantry holdings. The curry sauce was quite flavorful and dressed up the noodles and veggies nicely. In fact, I think one could make that curry sauce and use it in many different recipes with good results.  The only thing I would change would be to cut the sugar down a bit as I found it to be a hint too sweet.  I used soba noodles instead of udon, but I will not make that switch again. I dislike how mushy soba noodles become, even when undercooked. Also, I used extra broccoli and cauliflower to make up for the items I didn't have on hand, like peppers and seitan (or as we like to call it here in Minnesota, 'mock duck.'  Seitan just sounds a little too not nice). I added some cashews for flavor and protein. The end result was tasty and fun.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Hartman Garden Update - April 5, 2011

With a yard barely big enough to spread a picnic blanket on, we don't have much room for a true garden here. Plus, neither of us really have green thumbs or the desire to spend the long hours weeding, watering, and harvesting a true garden. But we do get a kick out of watching stuff grow, and I really love eating fresh, just picked veggies. So, we compromise by having a small container garden. Although the output is just enough to satisfy the cravings and not really enough to provide a lot of sustenance, we have been pretty successful with tomatoes, peppers, snap peas, various greens, and various herbs in the past.

Our average last freeze date in the DC area is April 15, so I'll be finishing up the planting in a couple weeks. So far we have some cold-loving things in... from left to right: arugula, lettuce, sugar snap peas (back), onions (front), and spinach.

Barley and Root Vegetable Salad - April 5, 2011

Warm Barley and Root Veggie Salad with Spinach

This was a meal inspired by cleaning out our fridge and finding many unused root veggies from our CSA. Since our new share starts in about four weeks (yay!), I think it's high time we start using up last years goods. For this salad I roasted parsnips and turnips tossed in my new favorite oil, coconut. It's seriously so good. While those were roasting, I cooked up some hulled barley, which is more nutritious than pearled, but also takes about 20 minutes longer to cook, so plan accordingly. Once the barley was done, I mixed in some fresh spinach to allow the heat from the grains to wilt it a little and then I tossed in the roasted root veggies. We dressed it all with some olive oil, salt and fresh pepper.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Citrus-Ginger Soda - April 4, 2011

Grapefruit-Lime-Ginger Soda

I found this recipe over on 101 Cookbooks and it sounded so refreshing. Especially because last week I was down and out with my first nasty cold of the season. What better way to take in some fluids? I had already made up a batch of some ginger-lemongrass-coriander infused simple syrup earlier in the week, so I ended up just using a quarter cup of that along with freshly squeezed grapefruit and lime juice. I topped the glass off with some bubbly water for some very satisfying fizz. I really think that this, along with my cheater chicken noodle soup, was the turning point in my fight against the virus.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Homemade Nutella - April 1, 2011

Hazelnut-Chocolate Spread

When we last visited Madison, I ate my first spoonful of nutella in a long, long time. JJ had been craving it and had no choice but to share her stash with the rest of us vultures hanging around the kitchen. I had forgotten how good that crap is. And, it turns out it's not very difficult to make it yourself, especially when you have a huge bag of hazelnuts smuggled home from Oregon sitting in your freezer. I looked at quite a few recipes and ended up with this one based on the ingredients I had on hand. It turned out deliciously (although I think I quadrupeled the time it said to toast the hazelnuts...make sure to toast until the skins are nearly black and the nuts are starting to turn brown) and I have been enjoying it on toast. In fact, this morning I woke up convinced that I was going to make myself the perfect breakfast of toast with 'nutella' and bananas. I could almost taste it. But, alas, I had forgotten that I had passed up the bananas at the co-op earlier in the week. So, I had to settle for toast with 'nutella' sans bananas. Still, not too shabby.


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