Archive | August, 2006

Summer’s Bounty Savored & Saved

22 Aug

Summer.

Lazy, hazy days full of jewel-toned, opulent tomatoes and heady herbaceous basil. Tiny, succulent berries, voluptuous stone fruits, lemon ades, barbecues

Cheese.

*screeeech*

Cheese?

What does cheese (Gromit!) have to do with summer?

Well, there’s two people in our household and thus two people daydreaming about their perfect summer dinner. I dream in technicolor heirloom tomatoes, the boy dreams in black & white mozzarella.

It’s kind of a fun word association game to play with him.

I say heirloom tomato salad. He says DiPalo’s fresh mozzarella.

I say heriloom tomato sandwich. He says Bianca from the Hawthorne Valley Farm School.

I say heirloom tomato bread soup. He says goat cheese from Coach Farm.

I say heirloom tomato pasta sauce. He says young peccorino (also from DiPalo’s).

You get the picture. We are two highly focused type-A people when it comes to our food obsessions. Luckily, our obsessions dance together like Fred & Ginger, beautifully and in perfect step.

And so we let them dance on Saturday in the form of the simplest salad. Just tomatoes, basil (purple opal and genovese), extra virgin olive oil scented with Moro oranges from Sicily and a few chunks of ricotta salata, paired with Bread Alone‘s outrageously addictive herb focaccia and of course, DiPalo’s sublime fresh mozzarella.

And since my obsession runs pure and deep, I decided it was time to do some “putting up”. It was too hot to actually make marinara sauce, so instead I froze some components to keep for a lazy cold day in December when a ray of August sunshine will be more than welcomed.

I passed some heirloom Italian paste tomatoes through a food mill and made an herby puree of Ryder Farm’s magical basil, Betsy’s garlic (the best garlic in the world) and oregano and froze them. (Doesn’t the frozen puree look like ‘mater pops?) It was a lot of work, but work I’ll be so happy I did in the dead of winter!

And FYI: It’s important to make and store your own pestos this summer (no matter how bad they look in photographs). There’s going to be a shortage of the imported stuff. Shudder to think!

Clam Clam Clam Clam

21 Aug

Lovely Claaaaam! Woonderful Claaaaaam!

Sorry, woke up with a craving for some Spam. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, click here).

I love clams almost as much as I love stupid Monty Python sketches (Helloooo Polly!), and that’s a lot!

I love steamers. They’re the Graham Chapman of the clam world.

I also love the funny two-necked Adriatic clams we had in Croatia. They’re the Michael Palin of the clam world.

But my very favorite clam is the Little Neck. They’re the John Cleese of the clam world for sure!

My very favorite place to get my very favorite clams is at the Union Square Greenmarket, but it’s never easy. The stand on the west side of the park often sells out very early on Saturdays, a day I tend to be rather lazy.

So when the planets align and I do manage to get my paws on some Clammity Claaams! Wonderful Claaaams! I get rather happy schmappy.

The last time this happened I brought my Little Necks home, purged them and then threw them in the oven to roast. When they were all nice and bacony (clams are the bacon of the sea) I pulled them out of their shells and added them at the very last minute to a lovely risotto. Good times people, good times!

I was happy as a clam.

Head below the jump for John Cleese Risotto.
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What’s On Your ‘cue?

15 Aug

No, not that queue, your barbecue!

First there were pretty bridesmaids… Now, let’s get on to the ugly brides; grilled meat!

Example A: Harissa Marinated Lamb Leg Steaks with a cucumber yogurt salad on the side. Definitely not pretty, but sublimely delicious.

Walking around the Greenmarket a few weekends ago we concocted this meal on the fly*. We got home, threw some harissa and olive oil in a bag, crafted the base of the salad, let things macerate and marinate and a few hours later threw it all together, grilled the lamb on the stove, sat down and feasted.

A few bites into the lamb the boy looked up at me and said, “Seriously, this is the best thing you’ve ever made. You should stop cooking now!” The lovely lamb-y gaminess shone through the subtle, spicy heat of the harissa to become a medley of flavors made in heaven. If you have some of this exotic spice paste in your fridge make this ASAP!

But, did I stop cooking? Oh heeeells no!

Example B: Gingerale, Ginger & Jerk Pork Skewers.

This past weekend tired of “grilling” on the stove-top, we decided it was time to get ‘hoodie with it and grill on the sidewalk.

There was some ginger ale in the fridge and so I thought, why not take a cue from Nigella’s trashy classic, ham cooked in cola, and use the ginger ale as a marinade. To the soda I added a huge chunk of grated ginger, a few cloves of garlic passed through a garlic press (I know, I know), a glug of citrus flavored vinegar, salt, pepper and a healthy heap of jerk seasoning to a Ziploc bag and added beautiful chunks of Dines Farms‘ goregous pork roast.

I let the pork marinate for a few hours while I concocted the Grated Kholrabi & Carrot Slaw. Our original plan was to take the whole mess down to the East River Park and grill but it seemed too far to walk, and not having done this in a long time (no outdoor space in our apartment building) we decided to just join our neighbors out on the sidewalk celebrating the Dominican Day Parade and grill on the “stoop”.

We got lots (and lots) of funny looks, a few jealous looks and probably some disapproving looks, but you know what?

Who gives a flying rat’s ass! We had the most delicious freshly grilled, gorgeously caramelized, gingery, garlicky, spicy pork skewers and they didn’t.

So, will we do it again? Oh hell yeah! Anyone wanna stop by?

*It dawned on me a few hours after dinner that I’d seen a meal like this before, somewhere…. and then it hit me I’d seen a far more complicated version over on Grant’s fabulous blog!

Always The Bridesmaid

14 Aug

Side-dishes are always shunted off to, well, the side.

But unlike their human counterparts, culinary bridesmaids are often better dressed than the brides they’re there to support, especially when that bride comes in the guise of grilled meat.

Grilled meat may be the most delicious, tasty and wonderful food in the world, but they’ll never win any beauty pageants.

Summer salads, sidedishes and relishes, conversely, are beautiful, chock full of the brilliiant saturated colors of the season.

To that end, meet a few of my favorites from this summer.

Easy Pickled Onions are the little black dress of grilled meats. Simple, easy and always the right choice. Just finely slice some red onions, place in a container, cover with white vinegar, about 1/4 cup of cold water, a healthy pinch of kosher salt, about a teaspoon of sugar, and if you like spice, a finely sliced serrano pepper. Place in the fridge for a few hours to “pickle”. Serve with any grilled meat.

Honeydew & Mint Salad, flavored with lime and Ancho chile powder was delicious, especially when paired with citrus and chilie marinated pork. The salad never would have been able to stand on her own as a meal, but had it not been there, it would have been missed. Man and woman cannot live on pork alone.

Cucumbers In Dill & Yogurt were the perfect foil to harissa marinated lamb steaks. I have no idea if this is a traditionally Greek recipe, but it sure tasted authentic! Allow some finely sliced shallots, minced garlic, salt, pepper, about a 1/2 tsp of lemon juice and some chopped dill to meld with a cup of the very best yogurt (especially sheep’s yogurt) in the fridge for a few hours. Right before serving mix in a few peeled, seeded and chopped kirbys and some more chopped dill. Prepare to be adored.

Easy Turmeric-Scented Pickled Summer Squash are yellower than the August sun. I didn’t pickle these traditionally; sterilizing, boiling, etc. because I knew they wouldn’t last long enough to justify all that effort. I simply packed some finely sliced summer squash, purple onion and smashed garlic into two mason jars and then covered them in a solution of turmeric, salt & pepper, brown sugar and white vinegar. (Pickles made this way must be consumed within a few weeks of canning).

They’re not just delicious on sandwiches or straight out of the jar, they also provide the base for a mean summer slaw. Grated Kholrabi & Carrot Slaw was as easy as pie. Simply mix the grated vegetables with about half a jar of squash pickle and its juice, season with some salt, pepper and a dash of olive oil, mix and serve while sitting on the sidewalk, grilling ginger ale, ginger & jerk marinated pork skewers (more on those and all the other meats tomorrow).

The ‘dacks Meet Dalmatia

10 Aug

I’m a priss.

Much to the boy’s chagrin I hate his idea of camping; tents, the world as my toilet, sleeping bags. My idea of camping is one that I choose to believe Jackie O or Audrey Hepburn or Mary Lou Whitney could get behind.* It includes indoor plumbing and beds (not necessarily in the same building). I like a solid wall between me and the hungry bears and rutting moose. I like a roof to protect me from falling trees.

When the family last year said we were going to spend a week in the ‘dacks** in a cabin I must admit, the priss in me was excited. The Adirondacks are the epicenter of sophisticated camping! Great camps! Adirondack chairs! Chris Craft boats! TR! Yeah, as usual my imagination ran away with the spoon (god I hate it when it does that).

The camp is lovely, very dated, a little grubby, but perfectly acceptable and quite cozy. The boy and I get to stay in the “Doll’s House,” a wee little out-building with a sitting area, a teeny kitchen, a toilet and a bedroom (with a shower in the corner). Last year when my nephew was still a fussy baby, it was a godsend. This year, a little less so.

As we drove into the camp it looked like the apocalypse had come and gone. HUGE trees were down everywhere, the road lined in what promised to become beautiful firewood. The main house had not been spared by the storm. It had been knocked on the roof and lost a few window panes resembling a boxer who had just gone a few rounds.

I’ve often poked gentle fun at a certain friend’s dog who gets so scared by thunderstorms he tries to sleep on your head. After that first night, Lou, I apologize. The thunder was so, well, thunderous, that I was shaking like a leaf. It is amazing how magnified the sound is when it comes down a mountain and travels over a placid lake. It sounded very much like the bowling pins in the legend of Rip Van Winkle.

Happily the next day, the weather was HOT. Last year it was so cold and damp we never went swimming and had to keep a fire going at all times. Not so this year. After one buggy hike i jumped straight into the lake. The hiking was far more strenuous in the heat and humidity, compounded by the constant fear of “widowmakers” (broken tree limbs hanging in upper branches of a tree that can come down at any time with nary a sound).

Besides getting to spend quality time with my mom, step-sister and her little man (aka my nephew), playing with Herr Wally, swimming and going on my step-dad’s sunset booze cruises, I love the cooking (natch). The stove is a delight, truly old school gas (no pilot light) and the huge kitchen is airy, bright and has nice high counter-tops (perfect for my above average height).

The boy and I decided that for our dinner we were going to cook the classic Dalmatian streetfood, Čevapčići (authentic at left, ours below and to the right). We had a jar of Ajvar hanging out in the fridge (sadly something carried home in our carry-on luggage, which judging from today’s events won’t be happening again anytime soon) and I had a rough recipe to work with.

Čevapčići are casingless sausages generally made of pork, lamb and beef. There used to be a decent grocery store in Tupper Lake (the closest town to the camp), but it closed. Tupper Lake has fallen on really hard times but will hopefully be boosted by the new Wild Center there. They have otters!

So this forced us to go to a store called the IGA (we say eh-ga, whereas I think it’s supposed to be called the i.g.a. Check out their site, they have an anthem), and the IGA forced us to make the Čevapčići with only pork and beef (pre-ground and with no indication as to proportions or parts, sigh). We also didn’t have any baking soda, so I used two egg whites to impart lightness. I spiced them more than was called for with some dried herbs I brought back for my mom.

And boy were they delicious! The boy grilled them and we even found a decent stand in for the gorgeous Croatian bread. I served them with olive oil braised summer squashes and new potatoes flavored with sage and raw, minced garlic. The meal was an unabashed hit with everyone but the little man. I think they were too spicy for him (it’s alright, he’ll learn to love the spice). My only complaint was that they were a little dry. The next time I make them I’ll actually be able to choose my meat, I’m sure that will make all the difference.

*I just want it to be known that I have even done my version of camping in the dead of winter up near Ithaca many times which, I think, qualifies me to be a bit prissy.

** Ever wondered why people call the Adirondacks the ‘dacks? Try saying the word with the sad New England inability to pronounce a glottal stop (think people (like myself) who are incapable of saying the word kittens like it actually has “t”s in it’s middle as opposed to “d”s). It curls the tongue into weird yoga positions that tongues don’t like to do, hence the need to shorten the word to ‘dacks.

Head below the jump for the recipe for ‘dacks Meet Dalmatia Čevapčići.
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