Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Wisconsin Memorial Weekend

Nick and I spent the weekend eating our way across Wisconsin, and meeting up with Dinner Clubbers along the way! Our first stop was in Black River Falls (home of the orange moose) for a short, but fantastic 14 hours with Matt, Nikki and their family. Matt whipped up a delicious dinner of Cook's Country meatloaf, creamy mashed potatoes, and broccoli. I contributed with a blueberry pie for dessert, and we all sipped on Old Fashioneds to get our Wisconsin holiday weekend started off right.

The next morning, Matt again outdid himself with a breakfast feast of French toast casserole, Neuske's bacon and fresh pineapple. After a sunny, happy morning filled with great food, amazing friends, and some really entertaining bird watching, Nick and I hit the road and headed for Madison, but not before a quick stop in Lake Delton for some Dunkin Donuts love. Chocolate glaze and sprinkles? Hell yes.

Madison was particularly lovely this weekend. Not only did we get to spend time with Greg, JJ and family, but Nick's parents were also in town, and, if that weren't enough, Rima was visiting!

We haven't prowled around Madison with Rima in nearly six years. A truly sad state of events since we used to do it weekly. Needless to say, we took full advantage of our good fortune and hit many of our favorite haunts, revelling in nostalgic gluttony. We had beers at the Great Dane, Bloody Marys at Genna's, old fashioneds at The Old Fashioned, and some of the most incredible Himalayan food at Chautara. We walked around the beautiful Capitol grounds by night and by day and took in the Dane County Farmers' Market.

Friday evening in Middleton we took in a traditional Wisconsin fish fry with coleslaw and some of the best tartar sauce I've ever tasted.  We also explored Columbus, Wisconsin and visited Sassy Cow Creamery for some delicious ice cream treats.  I found out that they supply the ice cream base to Izzy's Ice Cream in St. Paul.  We next headed to Prairie du Sac for a tasting at Wollersheim Winery and to soak up some of the elusive sunshine on their outdoor picnic area.  Sunday brought us to New Glarus for beer tasting at the brewery and some amazing wood fired pizza being made to order right outside.

We had a really fantastic weekend.  Thank you so much to all of our hosts who provided warm dinner tables and comfy beds, to all our loved ones who travelled so far to meet up with us, and to the State of Wisconsin for being so kick-ass.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pork Chops and Bok Choy with Chili-Garlic Marinade - May 28, 2011

My task for this week is to use up as much of our CSA delivery before the second one comes on Thursday! The turnips, which I was most concerned about, turned out to be delicious and I wish I had more. The eggs are long gone, as are the strawberries. About half of the spinach remains and most of the onions - in part because we are also growing spinach and onions on the deck. And the pac choi/bok choy, which has been taunting me from the crisper drawer all week!

I'm not a huge fan of cabbage of any sort, unless it is transformed into sauerkraut and piled on a Wisconsin brat, that is! So, I wasn't sure how to deal with this. So I turned to the From Asparagus to Zucchini cookbook and saw this recipe for grilled pork chops and bok choy. My impressions are mixed. It was OK. Unfortunately, the marinade didn't really add much. If I were to do it again, I'd ramp up the spices and the garlic by adding some fresh chopped garlic and possibly some red pepper flakes. And I'm not sold on the bok choy. It isn't bad, just not yummy. I still have a few stalks left and need some other ideas.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Braised Pork with Turnips and Greens - May 27, 2011

I forgot to take a picture, but this dish was just too good to not share! As I mentioned earlier, I was a bit intimidated by the turnips in our first CSA box. I've never cooked them before and really had no idea what to do with them, or even what they taste like. I wasn't brave enough to just cook them up and decided a good entry to turnip eating would be to prepare them with something I knew we would love... So pork to the rescue!

I followed this recipe for Braised Pork with Turnips from Mark Bittman, but added a few twists. First, Richie requested noodles as a side dish, which turned out to be a brilliant idea. I cooked some egg noodles, tossed them with butter and caraway seeds, which added a natural complimentary taste to the pork. Second, inspired by Jess's comment on my original CSA post, I added the chopped greens during the last three or four minutes of cooking. Delicious! I'm a turnip convert and hoping to see more in future shares!

A few thoughts on the recipe... I used a shoulder roast and didn't trim all the fat off, so it ended up being fairly greasy (though in a very tasty way!) at the end. I think the dish would be very different with a leaner loin roast. Also, I used chicken stock because I had a partial carton in the refrigerator that needed to be used, but I'd like to try the recipe with white wine next time.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Rhubarb Infusions - May 27, 2011

No surprises here, right Dinner Clubbers? I used our first batch of rhubarb to make infused simple syrup and vodka, left and right respectively. I've done both before. This year I changed up the vodka recipe a bit and used a combination of rhubarb and strawberries. I did this for a number of reasons. First, rhubarb and strawberries taste great together. Second, I wanted to make sure the vodka turned a really lovely pink color, and my rhubarb was a little green. Third, I have a freezer full of strawberries that I picked last summer and have yet to work my way through. Since berry season is fast approaching here in Minnesota, I needed to clear out some space. And, lastly, I wanted to share something that was at least slightly new with you, Dinner Clubbers.

My plan is to use these to make up some tasty Memorial weekend cocktails, which perhaps I will share with you all in collage format next week. In case you all need some ideas for your holiday picnics and cookouts, I'll share what I've been doing so far.

My current favorite is a Rhubarb Julep:

One part rhubarb simple syrup
One part bourbon
Charged water, optional

Fill glass with crushed ice and add your syrup and bourbon. Top with charged water (soda water) if desired.

Rhubarb simple syrup:

2 cups sugar
2-3 cups water
One bunch of chopped rhubarb (3-4 stems)

Combine all ingredients in a pot and place over med-high heat on the stove. Stir until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let steep for 30 min to an hour, covered. Strain out rhubarb and chill.  (This is a great idea if you want to add rhubarb flavor to any beverage, alcoholic and non, and you don't have the 4 or 5 days needed to let your spirits infuse).

Here are a few other ideas:

The Wiscosmopolitan
The Rhuby-Q

or, if you prefer gin:

The Rhubarb-Sage Gin and Tonic

Have a very delicious Holiday weekend Friends!  Be safe and eat well.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Spring-Time Pizza - May 26, 2011


Last night was pizza night, and a chance to use up more of our delicious ramp and nettle pesto. I made up some fresh pizza dough using a combination of white and freshly milled whole wheat flours. We again used the skillet pizza method, which I cannot recommend more highly. It is quick, easy, and makes the best pizza I have ever had at home. It has effectively cured me of my wood burning pizza oven envy.  I mean, come on, to get these results and not even have to turn on your oven?  Love.  In addition to the pesto, we topped the pizza with some smoked provolone and Pecorino-Romano cheeses, olive oil, coarse green garlic infused sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Oh, and an egg, just for fun.


After two minutes under the broiler (well, actually closer to three...the egg was a little slow in cooking) we got a perfectly charred, crispy pizza. As much as I enjoyed the pesto over pasta, it was ten times better on the pizza. Cooking it gave such a delicious roasted onion and garlic flavor, and the smoked cheese was a perfect addition. Also, last night was the first chance we had to try out our new pizza peel, which I snagged while out thrifting, of course. It worked great and was much easier to maneuver than our big wooden cutting board, which is what we had been using for pizza transport.
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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ramp and Nettle Pesto Pasta - May 25, 2011

As I alluded to, I decided to make a pesto with some of our ramp leaves. The recipe I used, from the Perennial Plate, also incorporates nettles, much to my delight. Quite frankly, I like using up some of the more obscure vegetables from our CSA box as quickly as possible, since otherwise they tend to get shoved to the back of the fridge and I find them weeks later, a brown, soupy mess.  So, along with the dandelion and burdock soda in yesterday's post, I am happy to report that we have now utilized both of the veggies I was worried about this week.  I did have to make some substitutions to the pesto because I didn't have some of the other foraged greens listed, so I threw in some of our saute mix greens to round out our version. And, because of how I planned on using it, I also added some toasted walnuts and Pecorino-Romano cheese.

It turned out lovely and vibrant with a light, green, garlicky flavor. We used ours to top pasta, along with some additional cheese and a handful of saute greens. The result was tasty, and mild compared to traditional pesto. As you can see from the bowl, I made quite a bit and we have leftovers. My plan is to use some for a pizza sauce as Daniel did in the original recipe.
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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Dandelion and Burdock Root Soda - May 24, 2011

Has anyone else seen this soda flavor at the store?  I found it by the fancy soda/drink mixers at my co-op and made a mental note to attempt a home-made version the next time dandelions were in season, which is pretty much anytime we don't have snow here at our house.  Since we got burdock root in our last CSA delivery, I thought I'd give it a try.  I did a quick internet search and found that this flavor originates from across the pond and is categorized with other 'root' beverages, such as root beer and sarsaparilla. 

I decided to use my standard simple syrup infusion method and I chopped up our three small burdock roots into thin coins.  Next I picked and thoroughly washed a good handful of dandelion flowers, removing as much of the stems, and as many ants as I could. I tossed both of these into my sugar and water mixture.  I boiled for five minutes and then let everything steep, covered and off the heat for about an hour.  Then, I strained out the roots and flowers.  Now, try not to be alarmed that the syrup looks like a jar full of urine.  I know it's a bit startling, but keep calm and carry on (this is a British soft drink, after all). 

To make the soda, I added a quarter cup of the flavored syrup to a glass and topped it off with charged water (that's my Dad's charmingly retro term for carbonated water that I'm trying to adopt because I love the sound of it).  The verdict?  Well, it's subtle and slightly vegetal, but certainly refreshing.  Reading the ingredients from the mass produced versions, I found that ginger and anise are sometimes mixed in, no doubt to increase the flavor profile, but this first time around I wanted to keep things unadulterated so that I could truly taste the burdock and dandelions.  I'm glad I tried it.  Maybe I'll have to purchase some from the co-op and see how mine compares.  Also, we may have to start experimenting for a new Homemade Happy Hour concoction.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Weekly Fish #5: Branzino

The objective this week was to prepare a whole fish. We stopped by Coastal Seafoods, and after briefly debating whether to get a whole trout or a whole branzino (and with the help of our very knowledgeable monger), we decided to go with the road less traveled.

Branzino may or may not be the correct name for this fish. It is known variously as branzini, bronzini, or branzino, and more generally as European seabass.

Mr Bronzino is grumpy about the fate that awaits him.

The fish were rubbed with salt and pepper inside and out, stuffed with lemon slices, thyme sprigs and bay leaf, and covered with a bit of olive oil. My intention was to grill the fish whole -- I was really excited to get those diagonal grill marks across the body of the bronzino. Sadly, the gas tank ran out as I placed these marvels on the grill. Plan B involved first browning the sides of the fish in a hot pan and then roasting them.

While the fish roasted, we cracked open a Fitger's Brewhouse Imperial German Schwartzweizen, which we picked up on our trip to the north shore this winter. This beer was part of a limited edition series named after each of the Great Lakes, this variety being Lake Superior. Our bottle was numbered 43 (of 204); I pride myself on having a seventh sense when it comes to detecting prime numbers, and knew instantly I was in for a treat.

It was very dark in color, and had a toasty sweetness to it, almost a smoke and toffee aspect. Not necessarily the best pairing to a white fish, but we were itching to open it, and Weekly Fish provided just the excuse we needed.

Because it's farm share season, we had much on hand to serve with the would-be-grilled-but-instead-roasted branzino. Jess whipped up a tasty salad of spinach and other greens, plus ramps and chives, which provided a very Springy dimension to the dinner. I diced and roasted some parsnips, and topped with a vinegar and mustard dressing. Parsnip, in my opinion, is best when caramelized a bit, and the mustard offset the inherent sweetness nicely.

Branzino was delightfully fishy, just as you would find a red snapper to be, which was a pleasant taste and olfactory sensation in such a stripped-down preparation. Lesser fish would need a sauce to make it as interesting.

Jess and I agreed that the game to be played with the whole fish concept is that of bone dodging. We also agreed that the branzino was about as boney as we would consider to be enjoyable. Any more (or smaller) bones, and it would have taken away from the total experience.

Overall, I'm glad to have completed the whole fish objective, and can highly recommend the branzino as a great variety for this purpose.

At the end of every weekly fish I've had a pretty good idea what I want to tackle next. But this time I'm not really sure. Will it be our first Weekly Bivalve? Or perhaps an even smaller whole fish dish (does anyone know where to find whole anchovies or sardines)? Tune in next week to find out!

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Jaime's CSA Delivery #1 - May 20, 2011

They are here! I was so excited to pick up my first delivery of CSA produce this week from Olin-Fox Farms in Reedville, Virginia. I brought it right home, and immediately unwrapped everything so I could take a picture of all of it! Then I had to wrap it it back up and start figuring out what the heck I'm going to do with it... You all know Richie is not a big veggie eater (and truth be told, I'm not that big of one either), but I'm committed to using this experience to expand our horizons.

This week's goodies, clockwise from upper left, are: sugar snap peas, free range eggs, spearmint, strawberries, spinach, green onions, turnips, radishes, and pac choi.

We eat the sugar snap peas like candy, just snacking on them straight out of the refrigerator. The strawberries are delicious and I know we'll have no problem with the spinach or the eggs. But I've never been a radish fan and I have never cooked turnips or pac choi (which I had to Google in order to discover it is the same thing as the Americanized spelling "bok choy") before. Any ideas, dinner clubbers?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

CSA Delivery #2 - May 19, 2011

I just picked up our second vegetable share of the season (Nick and I do a half share, which means we only pick up every other week). As usual, we have some exciting vegetables to work with over the next two weeks. Starting in the top left is rhubarb, our first of the year! My favorite thing to do with rhubarb is infuse vodka for fun springtime cocktails. This way I can enjoy the delicately sweet-tart flavor without being turned off by rhubarb's annoying texture (stringy when raw, mushy when cooked...I just can't do it).

Next we have some nettles, which are an interesting green, and one that can cause some unpleasant dermatological symptoms if not handled with care. I found an interesting recipe involving nettles here.* More chives, and, another member of the onion family, a bonus round of ramps are next! I just pickled the remainder of our last batch over the past weekend, so I may be gluttonous and enjoy these raw, or perhaps another round of pickling is in store. I'll keep you posted.

On the bottom left we have burdock root, which is really good roasted or fried in thin coins, flavored with your favorite seasonings. They make for a great homemade version of potato chips. With the ramp greens, which are withheld when pickling, I might take Harmony Valley Farm's suggestion and make a pesto.  See a fun recipe here.*

The last two pictures are of our garden herb pack, which is one of my favorite things about this farm share. Every year we get a nine-pack of baby herb plants that we can transplant at home for a continuous supply of fresh herbs throughout the summer. It's such a great idea, and many of these herbs are perennials, even here in zone 3. This means that I have some giant herb plants in my yard from CSA years past and so I can share this year's plants with friends who need some. Of course I keep the basil and rosemary for myself since these guys do not like our Minnesota winters.

Above is a shot of my very freshly planted rosemary, basil, and parsley plants. Parsley is a perennial, but the rabbits in our back yard will not leave it alone, so I'm keeping these as reinforcements. Hopefully in a few weeks, things will look almost as good as Jaime's garden.

Vegetables not pictured include a bag of saute mix greens, overwintered spinach, and parsnips.

A big thank you to Harmony Valley Farm for these beautiful herbs and vegetables!

*Okay, so if you checked the recipe links above, you will have found yourself on my favorite new food blog, the Perennial Plate.  I was told about the blog by my co-worker, Walter (Thank you Walter!).  Daniel and his significant other, Mirra, spent all of last year eating locally here in Minnesota, with occasional forays into Wisconsin, documenting all of their adventures in videos that you can watch.  I blew through all 52 original episodes in a weekend...yes, I was late to the party and had to play catch up.  They are currently driving across the country seeking out more local food in new places and continuing to blog and post video episodes as they go.  Perhaps they will be visiting your town, Dinner Clubbers.  Be on the lookout, and check out their fantastic blog!
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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chimichurri Sauce on Grilled Flank Steak - May 18, 2011

Tonights dinner was all about the sauce... chimichurri sauce, that is. I was first introduced to the delectable taste at Restaurant Magnus in Madison a decade ago and have still not figured out how to recreate it exactly.

Here is my basic recipe:

"Roast" two garlic cloves by tossing them, still in their peels, in a skillet over medium heat and then ignore while you get the rest of the ingredients ready. After 10 minutes of faux roasting, peel and toss the garlic in a food processor along with two chopped scallions, a bunch of parsley, a splash of red wine vinegar, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Process until smooth, then slowly add olive oil until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.

This one was good, but not fantastic. A little too much oil, not enough vinegar, and could have used a bit more red pepper. As you can see, I served it over grilled flank steak (which I cooked beyond the medium rare I was hoping for) alongside some lightly dressed greens, grilled rosemary potatoes, and a piece of french bread to sop up the extra chimichurri.

While I was out on the deck picking the lettuce, parsley, and scallions for tonight's dinner I thought I should also take a few pictures for posterity's sake.

Here is one of the two tomato plants. I'm amazed at its growth so far! We've had a ton of rain so I think I have watered it only a couple times.

At the far end of the deck I have cucumber plants trying to grow, a variety of herbs along the railing, two pepper plants, some green onions, and then arugula in the foreground.

And here is Cally-Cat venturing out on the deck to smell the air and try to grab a bite or two of something green before I shoo her back in. She particularly seemed to like the chives and onions, which is why they are raised, but has recently grown interested in my fledgling peas which you can see in the corner.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Weekly Fish #4: Broiled Tilapia with Spring Vegetable Risotto

As alluded to last week, I was in the mood for a simple white fish after the intensity of house-smoked salmon and of crabs. What fish is simpler than tilapia?

Jess suggested that we incorporate a veggie risotto, a celebration of Spring. So, we got to work on shelling some fava beans.
The fava beans appear to enjoy a life of luxury, bean-wise. Their crib is very large and lined with velvet, and the beans themselves enjoy plenty of elbow room.

In addition to the legumes, the risotto featured ramps, plantae's herald of Spring.

I stuck a skillet under the broiler to get it thoroughly hot, and gave the tilapia fillets a coating of olive oil, salt and pepper. The fillets were thrown into the pan, fried on the stove for a few minutes, and then put under the broiler for about 10 minutes. Simple.

Have you ever ordered a halibut in a restaurant, and been given a perfectly sized and crispy-edged cut of fish atop a bed of rice? This was the effect I was going for, and was, I'd say, 61% successful. Of course, tilapia is a much wimpier fish than halibut. So perhaps I'll take my learnings from this week's dinner and apply them to a choicer variety.

A nice New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc rounded out the meal nicely. As is the case with many Kiwi sauvy's, it was magically tropical, and a pleasant foil to the salty crispiness of the fish.

As warmer weather approaches, I'm in the mood for a something more adventurous next time. Perhaps a steamed whole fish, with a sauce at once sweet, spicy and sour?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Wilted Spinach Salad with Greek flavors - May 16, 2011

This is a recipe entirely of my own design, inspired by the much richer (and totally delicious) bacon-y version of a wilted spinach salad but with the flavors of a greek salad. I decided to make it today because I had just enough spinach left in my container garden for one serving and Richie is out of town! I also had the added drama of rushing to finish clipping the spinach as the rain drops started and the thunder and lightening rolled in.

The recipe is essentially this: Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet, toss in a chopped scallion, some chopped fresh oregano (both also from my container garden), a small garlic clove minced, and salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is soft, then add in the juice from half a lemon, swirl and pour over the baby spinach. Toss to wilt, then top with feta cheese and a sliced hard boiled egg. I think it would also be good with some sliced black olives, but I didn't have any in the house.

It is always a thrill to eat a fresh dish with several elements from the container garden. We still have some arugula and lettuce growing, but the minute our weather turns to the expected summer sauna I know they will both bolt. The snap peas are taking their sweet time... The vines are growing but we don't have any flowers at all yet. We've had a lot of nice cool pea growing weather, so I don't understand why they are behind this year. On the other hand, the tomatoes are growing beautifully. Lots of flowers and a couple tiny green babies already!

Creamed Greens over Polenta - May 16, 2011

With the exception of one crazy 88 degree day last week (which ended in tornadoes and hail storms), we have had a very cold, cloudy and wet spring here in Minneapolis. It's been so cold in fact, that we still haven't had lilacs or crab apples bloom yet, which puts us at least two weeks behind where we usually are this time of year. All this cold weather has had me returning to the warm comfort food I normally associate with winter. Case in point, creamed greens and polenta. I was inspired by a side dish at The Craftsman, as well as a recent visit to another local favorite,  Brasa Rotisserie. We often do sauteed greens, but I've never made creamed greens until now. I found this recipe online and had to use whole milk instead of heavy cream because that was the only dairy I had on hand. Despite significantly lower fat content, the greens, a combination of kale and spinach from our CSA farm, were still rich and delicious. I made the polenta using chicken stock and mixed in grated Pecorino-Romano cheese towards the end of the cooking time. This meal was tasty and satisfying, but I trust that you'll understand when I say that don't want to have make this again for at least three months. I really, really just want the sun to come out so I can start craving yummy spring and summer food.
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Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Big Texan - May 15, 2011

Bourbon and Grapefruit Cocktail

We haven't posted a Homemade Happy Hour in awhile. This recipe in the June 2011 issue of Food & Wine magazine is the perfect remedy for that. Bourbon, check. Fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, check. Simple syrup, check. Homemade maraschino cherries from our cherry tree, check. The only thing we didn't have on hand was the fresh basil, so I subbed in some fresh rosemary instead. The herbaceous-ness was subtle and when I do this again, I will make sure have fresh basil, and perhaps even use some of it to make an infused simple syrup to amp up the flavor a bit. Despite the lack of basil, this was delicious!
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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Pork and Root Vegetable Salad - May 14, 2010

I was inspired by the Thai-style beef salad that Jaime posted last week and this is my decidedly Mid-Western take on it. Nick and I went out to one of our favorite restaurants, The Craftsman, last weekend and we brought home leftovers including half of Nick's delicious (and large) pork chop. Our bed of greens is made of of goodies from our CSA share including overwintered spinach, sorrel and ramps, which I tossed with olive oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper. I also roasted some CSA parsnips and sunchokes, and added them on top of the greens. Next up I took the reheated pork, sliced it thinly and added it to the bowl. I sprinkled chives on top of everything and our entree was complete. While this was packed with very different flavors than Jaime's version, the basic principle was the same, combining warm components with cool, crispy greens.  I enjoyed our adaptation, especially with the addition of the sweet, roasted vegetables.  Plus, it was a fun way to utilize our leftover pork.
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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Quinoa and Spinach Salad - May 9, 2011

In a quest to make a new meatless meal that utilized some of the veggies and herbs I'm growing on the patio, I played around with the Google recipe search. I first searched for quinoa since I determined the super-grain was going to be my base, then added spinach since I have just enough left growing for one more meal. It was fun eliminating the ingredients I didn't have or didn't want to use and seeing what was suggested... (Tilapia? No. Feta? Why, that sounds delightful! Dill? Excellent idea!). I ended up with this recipe for Spinach and Feta Quinoa Cooking on a blog named Closet Cooking.

I made a few changes to the procedure and would make even more if I made it again. First, I questioned the order in which he adds ingredients to the pot. I didn't like the idea of adding the spinach before the quinoa. It just didn't seem like my precious, delicate baby spinach should be cooked to oblivion! So, I waited to add it until after the quinoa was done cooking. I'm glad I did, because the fresh herbs had been cooked almost to nothing. I added more fresh parsley and dill right before serving and wished I had more spinach to add at that time too because it had wilted way too much. If I did it again, I'd cook and then cool the quinoa before adding any of the herbs or the spinach.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Chicken Fricassee with Harvest Grains - May 8, 2011

A few weeks ago we were watching Top Chef and somebody made a "fricassee" and the judge remarked "I can't believe you made a fricassee in just 30 minutes!" or something like that. To which I said, "What the heck is a fricassee?" I remembered the word from one of my favorite childhood books, Caddie Woodlawn ("If at first you don't fricassee, fry fry a hen!") but had no idea what it really meant.

So when I saw a recipe in last week's food section of the Washington Post called Not Enough Thyme Chicken Fricassee, I knew I needed to try it - especially since the recipe title was pun-y!

It turned out quite delicious, although there was a thick layer of grease floating at the top of the finished dish which I skimmed off much of. I also removed all the skins before I served it because most had become separated from the meat anyway and were all soggy and unappetizing. I think next time I will just remove the skin to begin with. It was also bordering on being a bit too salty. I did use reduced sodium chicken broth as the recipe called for, but the only tomatoes I had were the normal kind and not no-salt-added. I generously salted the chicken at the start of the cooking and could probably lay off that a bit and just adjust the seasoning at the end if it needed more.

Finally, I served the fricassee over Harvest Grains Blend from Trader Joes. It is a mixture of Israeli couscous, orzo, baby garbanzo beans, and red quinoa and was just a perfect complement to the meat and sauce.

After we were done eating, we agreed that we still didn't know exactly how to define "fricassee" - other than "tasty"!

General Tso's Chicken - May 9, 2011

After finding this recipe in the May issue of Food & Wine magazine, we decided to try our hand at homemade take-out. Turns out, we're pretty good at it. This was much better than the soggy delivery version, and Nick and I both love that soggy delivery version dearly. I followed the recipe fairly closely, making only minimal substitutions. The first was using red chili paste instead of chili-garlic paste, simply because that is what we had in the pantry. Next, rather than make a special trip to the store to pick up scallions, we decided to use some of our ramp stash, and chopped some to replace the green onions called for in the recipe. We took the 'serve with' suggestions listed and I made a side of jasmine rice, which turned out perfectly due to my newly acquired trick of rinsing the rice under cold running water for 30 seconds prior to cooking. This removes the surface starches and prevents the rice from becoming a big sticky glob. Nick expertly steamed up some broccoli florets and we were set. I was super happy with the results, but would caution that this takes a little bit of time, makes quite a few dirty dishes, and probably isn't the best weeknight meal from an ease perspective. That being said, I could have saved myself a headache by using the boneless, skinless chicken thighs suggested, rather than try and butcher the bone-in, skin-on thighs that I had on hand.  Oh, and I did kind of miss not having a fortune cookie to nibble on after the meal.
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Saturday, May 07, 2011

Weekly Fish #3: Crab Three Ways

Before The Wire, Maryland was best known for its crabs. Crabs are to Maryland as Cheese is to Wisconsin. As Moustaches are to Chicago. As Passive Aggressive is to Minnesota. The premier crab accoutrement, Old Bay Seasoning, bears a "Made in Maryland with Pride" stamp on each tin. The locally favored potato chip, Utz, offers The Crab Chip flavor. (Alert viewers of The Wire will see a bag make a cameo roughly every fifth episode.) Crabs are everywhere.

So it's not really any wonder that, back in late 1970's, The Seafood Marketing Authority within the Department of Economic and Community Development decided to release a cookbook, heavy on the crab recipes.

I present you with the original Maryland Seafood Cookbook. Not to be confused with "The Maryland Seafood Cookbook, Vols. I, II, and III" found on Amazon. Nay, this bad boy bears no ISBN:

The recipes themselves are very simple, and do not fuss with anything so fancy as smoked paprika (which I ended up adding to embellish the dish below). Why bother dicing an onion when you can just use some instant minced onion? It's all the same. Why bother specifying a particular species of fish? It's all the same. Margerine? Butter? Oil? It's all the same. These recipes are so unfussy that this book may well have been written by a bunch of impatient crabbers inbetween pulling up their pots.

Incidentally, Jess gave me this book for my birthday, having stumbled across it in a thrift store here in Minnesota. The happy surprise was two-fold, because I remember this very same book from my Maryland years. Crazy.

On to the weekly fish dish itself.

We decided early in the week to do some crab cakes, and I thought I'd prepare a couple of other crab dishes while I was at it. So, the trio of crab dishes were:
  • Avocado soup with a crab tomato salad
  • Crab cake
  • Crab Imperial
My local grocery store didn't carry the Phillips brand canned crab, so I settled for something else. (When I asked for Phillips, the monger said "I haven't heard that name in years." Sad.)

Readers of The Flavor Bible will know that crab + avocado is one of the Best. Food. Pairings. Ever. I've wanted to validate that claim, so this was a natural first course for our weekly fish. There isn't much to the soup itself; just avocado, ramps, garlic, lime juice, sour cream, water, salt and pepper, blended to oblivion. I mixed up some lump crab meat, cherry tomatoes, front-yard chives, olive oil, salt and pepper into a basic salad, and dropped it into the soup when served.

Protip: chill the soup bowls in the fridge prior to serving.

Everyone has a different recipe for crab cakes, but everyone agrees on the First Fundamental Theorem of Properly Caked Crab: use as little filling as possible. Use just enough egg, mayo and bread crumbs to bind the crab into a patty that is ever on the verge of falling apart, and rely on the crab molecules' van der Waals forces to do the rest. Following that, recipes will vary on the details; my recipe this time included a healthy amount of dijon mustard and Old Bay Seasoning, but no onion, green pepper, or Worchester sauce this go-round.

The cakes were crabby, mustardy and delicious. I decided to add some oil to the butter for the saute, which I think helped crisp them up much better than usual.

The last of the trio was straight from the Maryland Seafood Cookbook. In honor of the recent royal nuptials, I just had to go with the recipe entitled "Crab Imperial." Crab Imperial, according to The Seafood Marketing Authority, is crab, seasoning, and filler, baked and broiled in a ramekin (or a scallop shell, which I lacked). I did my best to dress it up with some smoked paprika and other spices, but in my opinion the mayo in the recipe was too dominant. And if you know me, you know well that mayo is one of my least preferred foodstuffs. Next time: less mayo, more Old Bay. But then again, why not just make more crab cakes instead?

So, lovers of The Wire, bear witness to the original Baltimore gangster, prepared three ways.

After heavily-smoked salmon last week, and dressed-up crab this week, I feel a need to return to a basic, white fish dish for Weekly Fish #4...


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