Saturday, May 9, 2020

Fish Tacos in Quarentis

No fists, but two women got in a fight this morning in line at the garden center. It escalated quickly, as Ron Burgundy would say, after one super annoying lady ("the Enforcer") yelled at the lady ("the Beleaguered") ahead of me to move up and stand on her assigned square. Seems the Beleaguered had more social distance than the Enforcer thought she should have. There were, like, ten people in line but no matter what, the line wasn't moving until people left the garden center, so it didn't really matter how spread out we were, as long as we complied with the distancing thing.

There was nothing enjoyable about witnessing the obscenity-laced fracas (which eventually petered out with the Beleaguered apologizing to everyone in line for completely losing it on the Enforcer, whilst the Enforcer continued to try to bait the Beleaguered) but it was notable to see people behaving badly after so much tip toeing, niceties and polite deference. Maybe it's that I work for a company headquartered in Minnesota but lately even drivers in Chicago seem friendlier to each other, people everywhere seem to be cutting each other slack, and we've all been forced to surrender some individual freedoms for what our local elected officials have determined to be the good of the group. Do I sound conflicted about the present arrangement? To quote the Vampire Weekend's Harmony Hall song I like so much, "I don't wanna live like this. But I don't wanna die."

Anyhoo, my news feed informed me that people are cooking more seafood with a bravery I usually only summon for parties where I have friends to cook with. Feeling some shame for the pedestrian nightly meals I've been turning out, last night I picked up (and put down, and picked up again, much like when contemplating use of my hair straightener: "Should I? Do I have time? Will it come out well?) a WHOLE snapper. In a miracle of availability and perfect ripeness of supporting ingredients (butter lettuce, mangoes, avocados, corn on the cob, fresno chilis and cotija), and the last of our stash of El Milagro corn tortillas remaining unspoiled, fish tacos were a go. And while no one else wanted to touch the fish, advice was proffered, the grill was lit, and and my first born and I assembled an array of sides for an incredibly colorful and delicious dinner.

I was nervous about cooking the whole fish but there's really nothing to it but fresh lime, a splash of neutral oil, salt and pepper, and then a hearty redux of same on the platter once you pull the fish off the barbie. Want to give it a go? This amount served three (but would serve two more generously):

  • 1.75 pound whole snapper - rub in and out with a bit of oil, salt, pepper and fresh lime and grill about 5-6 minutes each side (I used my stainless steel grill basket thing). When done, place on a platter with more oil, salt, pepper and fresh lime juice
  • Guacamole: 2 ripe avocados, some finely chopped yellow onion, jalapeno, cilantro, salt, and lime
  • Spicy Mango Salsa: 2 small yellow mangoes, finely chopped red onion, red bell pepper, jalapeno, green onion, fresh lime juice
  • One head living lettuce - optional, if you like the lettuce-wrapped thing
  • Freshly charred corn tortillas - I just zap them on the open flame of my range
  • Shredded cabbage - tossed with fresh lime juice, salt and pepper

Serve with this, my favorite summer salad.

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Sunday, March 15, 2020

Well, hello there!

It's been awhile, friends. In the past few years my career really ramped up and while I haven't been writing, I've had a fun romp as an urban farmer. Two years ago I built a chicken coop and went to the feed shop in Chicago (yes, Virginia, there's a feed shop in the city!) with the intent to come home with 3-4 chicks, depending on what they recommended given the size of my coop. Well, long story short, there was a rubber-chicken sized Pekin duck at the shop that day who had been surrendered by his family for being too aggressive with their dog. It was love at first sight for my youngest, who wore me down (I had, after all, made it well-known in the family that at some point my life had to include ducks) and so we went home with two chickens and Duck, who was charming but a total rascal. Over that summer I built a duck pond, collected eggs and devised various containment strategies for keeping the chickens in our postage-stamp city yard. In the end, a city lot isn't a great spot for birds, who needed more sun, pasture, and the company of other birds of their same feather. Duck now resides on a friend's farm in South Haven, Michigan, procreating happily. See the end of the story for a picture of his young breed.

We surrendered the chickens as well, a decision I'll never feel good about, especially if people start stockpiling eggs. As for how we're faring vis a vis the global pandemic, I am happy to report we are well in Chicago where we find ourselves mostly quarantined and provisioned, our concerns thankfully limited to ensuring our college kids retain that which is most important to them - their independence - even as they retreat home for their spring terms. As far as I can tell, that involves keeping a stocked fridge, an open door, and my own activities.

Anyhoo, in lieu of going out on the town and spring skiing and other activities that are suddenly verboten, I'm fixing to finish the teetering pile of books on my nightstand. If you're looking for recommendations, I offer The Time In Between, Being Mortal, The Overstory, The Righteous Mind, and Jocko Willink's Leadership Strategy and Tactics. Oh, and I really loved He Mele A Hilo, The Professor and the Madman (the OED's origin story) and my colleague William Cope Moyer's memoir, Broken.

On the food front, I just got a pretty good Vietnamese cookbook, though it remains to be seen if the Asian markets up on Broadway are sufficiently well-stocked for the journey down that rabbit hole. Two nights ago I made some pretty remarkable grilled lemongrass chicken but the recipe needs some refinement before I share it. Later that same night we made Maple Cream, something I'd been pretty excited about since seeing a recipe on a blog I positively looooove: The Art of Doing Stuff. The maple cream is pretty awesome, though it took forever to heat and cool and would have been murder had I not had my trusty stand mixer for the hard work of stirring. I slathered some maple cream on toast with peanut butter yesterday for breakfast. We were out of bananas, the only thing that would have made it better. 

Over the past few months I've developed my tomato basil soup recipe into something I'm quite proud of. It's a simple and quick thing, but certain steps are paramount, and like anything else, the products you use matter. I still love Muir Glen canned tomatoes and recommend those. You'll also need a box of chicken broth (I love Imagine Organic but these days almost exclusively use Whole Foods 365 brand), some fresh basil and a Vitamix. Maybe a regular blender can do it - you just have to cool the soup off before blending, and it probably won't get the soup nearly as silky as the Vitamix does. Sorry about that. If you find yourself doing a lot of blending the Vitamix will bring you a ton of joy - look for a refurbished one. Along the way of perfecting the recipe I relearned two essential facts that improved my cooking in general: 1. cook onions slowly over low-medium heat for 5-7 minutes and 2. allow the tomatoes/tomato paste to really caramelize before adding the broth or anything else.

With hope, grocers will figure out how to balance crowds and keep shelves stocked (Peapod, could your timing have been worse?!?) so we can all cook at home. If not, I'm going to have to figure out how to cook all this toilet paper. And with that, here's a pic of Duck's adorable spawn.

Be well, people!

Sons of a Duck!

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Spicy Italian Sausage and Broccoli Sauce for Pasta

I've spent the weekend planning my Thanksgiving Day and other menus for next week when we'll have family in town. Today's recipe is going to be featured one day for lunch or dinner. It's a new favorite, possibly the best new dinner I've come up with in awhile. It's not innovative - folks have been making sausage and broccoli sauces forever. But mine is a red sauce.

Here's what to love about it: it's, like, the easiest weeknight dinner that you will ever make; it's possibly the most comforting meal, ever, AND, AND, AND it's really good leftover!  One day at work I was liveblogging my lunch with an off-site coworker who either thought I had an overabundance of enthusiasm about my lunch or advanced to the nearest Whole Foods to buy the ingredients to make it for her own family.

If I bring it to work, I end up nukeing it to reheat. Otherwise, I employ my tried and true method of reheating pasta: heat 1-2 T water in saucepan or skillet, then add pasta and stir in. Cover and cook over low-medium heat for about 2-3 minutes until well heated. You need it thoroughly reheated but be careful as overcooking will turn it to mush. Taste for seasoning, adding parm, salt or pepper as needed. I had a friend in college who swore by her mom's fried spaghetti - a story that still makes me cringe.

Here's that recipe.

Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli
Print recipe only here

3/4 pound spicy Italian sausage*
2 cloves garlic

1 8-ounce package baby broccoli, cut into 2-inch long pieces
1 fourteen-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
8-12 oz penne or quinoa pasta (I use quinoa pasta for this all the time)

2-4 T freshly grated Parm or Grana Padano

Heat a saucepan over medium high heat. Add the sausage and garlic and saute for 6-8 minutes, breaking up the sausage and allowing it to brown all over. Add the entire can of tomatoes and juices to the pot, breaking up the tomatoes with your hands. Bring to a boil then turn down heat and simmer for at least 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a large pot with water and 1-2 teaspoons kosher salt. Bring to a boil. Prep a large bowl of ice water.

Add broccoli and boil for 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the broccoli to the bowl filled with ice water. Add the pasta to the same pot of water and cook until al dente. When the pasta has about 2 minutes left to cook, drain the baby broccoli and add to the saucepan.

Drain the pasta and add to the sauce, stirring completely. Add freshly grated Grana Padano and serve.

* A note on the sausage: I've been buying the Niman Ranch bulk sausage locally at Plum Market. Whole Foods also carries it sometimes. I like both because they're of the leaner variety.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Chili Shrimp for Any Family

Every once in awhile a new recipe catches my eye and I just know it's a keeper. This particular one from Mario Batali jumped off the page, likely because of the ingredients but also for the story behind its creation.

In Batali's place, a meal like this would be served by cooks to cooks in the wee hours of the morning, at the end of a busy dinner shift. I didn't ever experience this exactly - a pastry chef, I was routinely edged out of counter space by 4pm. But every one in awhile I would be around for the Family Meal, the meal the back of the house shares together before the dinner rush, and the end of a particularly long shift for me. "Shares together" is overstating things - we didn't actually all sit down and eat together. It more like we broke off in small groups for a short interlude. One line cook would take responsibility for preparing the family meal and it was always homey, delicious and really did feel like family time.

My only beef with Batali's recipe is that there's too much coconut milk. I love the stuff, but prefer lighter meals so I routinely use light coconut milk and much less of it than recommended.

Here's that recipe:

Chili Shrimp
Print recipe only here

Serves 4 as an appetizer

One pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 T red curry paste
2 T fish sauce
2 T sambal
2 T sweet chili sauce
1 T sesame oil or canola oil
2 green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 T soy sauce or tamari
2 ounces light coconut milk
2-3 T cilantro, chopped

Combine shrimp, curry paste, fish sauce, sambal and chili sauce in a medium bowl and toss to coat.

Heat skillet. Add oil tand let heat for a minute, then add shrimp and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add green onion. Cover and cook 2-3 minutes. Stir in soy sauce and coconut milk and cook another few minutes. Add cilantro and serve.

Serving suggestions:
Left to our own, we eat these with our fingers. For guests I griddle a few pieces of baguette, thinly sliced on the diagonal and lightly brushed with olive oil. Or, when served as a main dish to those who are not carb-adverse, with rice.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Get Thee to the Picklery

I thought I was making that word up, but no, a Picklery is a real thing! And yes, by real thing I mean a small business that, in spite of all efforts to induce profitability will only rise to prominence (The Prominent Pickle! I've named my Picklery!) as an cautionary tale told to cocksure entrepreneurs: "Yes, but Great Aunt Katie also took Econ 101 and that didn't prevent her from becoming homeless following the inevitable dissolution of The Prominent Pickle."

Anyhoo, I was at the farmers market last weekend and they had gorgeous Kirby cukes so I came home, settled on a recipe from Food and Wine, doctoring it just slightly to use Apple Cider Vinegar, and made us some fine pickles. The following day I used the same recipe with haricots verts and carrots, both equally delightful. And yes, Virginia, they do need to be haricots, not your garden variety green bean. For one, les haricots fit perfectly into a pint sized jar. Two, it's like getting all long things in Tetris - they fit together snugly with, like, no wasted space.

This week I was back at the market, and spent the afternoon cleaning and trimming haricots, carrots and pickles.

Here's that recipe:

Quick Spicy Pickles
Print recipe only here

Stuff to pickle:
4-5 Kirby cucumbers, washed and quartered
8 oz haricots verts, cleaned (I like leaving the tails)
7 carrots, peeled, washed, quartered and trimmed to fit pint jars
1 quart sized canning jar
2 pint sized canning jars

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup white vinegar
3 T Kosher salt
2 T white sugar
2 T coriander seeds
2 cups water
2-3 red chilis, washed and halved
7-8 garlic cloves, smashed gently
10-12 dill sprigs, rinsed and trimmed

Combine vinegars, sugar and salt and place in sun to heat until sugar and salt dissolve.
Prep and trim all veg.
Place one red chili half into each jar. More if you really want to feel the heat.
Add 2-3 cloves garlic to the Quart jar and 1-2 cloves to each pint jar
Add coriander seeds to vinegar and stir
Pack veggies into jars
Pour vinegar over veg until covers completely
Cover and refrigerate 24 hours.

Note: the carrots take 48 hours to be good.

Keeps up to one month.

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Sunday, February 21, 2016

My Kind of Bar

There are several wonderful things about Sundays. One is having time to cook a few things for the week. The other is The Good Wife, a show that ensnared me with its legalese and fantastic supporting cast. Elsbeth Tascoini! Meryl Streep's doppleganger daughter! That dude who ended up on Downton Abbey! Eli Farking Gold! They resurrected Denny from Shondaland to smile his Denny smile at Alicia and Kalinda made thigh high boots workplace appropriate. The only possible upside of the series coming to an end is that Logan Huntzberger will be have time off to visit Stars Hollow.

Anyhoo, during the week I have to be very organized in order to eat and cook well, and so Sundays usually involve a fair amount of gathering and prepping. I've been trying to eat smaller meals  - and more of them. Since I cannot possible prepare that many meals in day I wind up turning to the Kind bar 1-2 times a week to fill in as a mini meal.  I'm a big fan of the Kind bar, especially their line of 5g of sugar ones. But I had a sneaking suspicion I could create my own without too much effort. So today I did.

I used the recipe creator at Livestrong to try and get the bars to be in line with the nutrition on a standard Kind bar and got pretty close. In my sophomore effort I intend to try to boost the protein. You can add other ingredients as you like. I think pumpkin seeds would be a nice addition.

Here's that recipe:

Pinch Bar
Print recipe only here

1 1/2 cups Rolled Oats
3/4 cup whole raw almonds
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup unsweetened flake coconut
1/4 cup dried sour cherries, chopped
2 T bittersweet chocolate chips, chopped
4 T natural peanut butter
3 T honey

Preheat over to 350. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, leaving several inches overhanging on the sides.

On one baking pan, place the almonds and toast for about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and reserve until cooled.

On a separate pan, toss the oats, coconut, and sunflower seeds for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

In a small saucepan over low heat, stir the peanut butter and honey together until it softens and is smooth.

Roughly chop the sour cherries and chocolate chips and transfer to a medium sized mixing bowl.
Roughly chop the almonds, leaving them mostly whole. Add all dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and toss to combine. Add the peanut butter mixture and stir well to combine. Press the mixture into the prepared pan, using a glass or bottom of a measuring cup to pack it down well. Refrigerate about 15-30 minutes. Remove from fridge and cut into 16 bars. Store covered in fridge for several weeks.

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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Almond Tea Cake with Almond Toffee Topping

So it happened like this: I was offered a slice of Basque Cake. I like to never turn down a dessert I've not previously tried. It was at MFK, a delightful lunch spot (I'm sure it's wonderful for dinner but I've only been for lunch), and yes, it was awesome. It was a simple cake, tho unlike others - it had this gooey thing going on in the middle, a delicate crumb and a meringue-like crunch part on the top. And it wasn't too sweet, which is something I'm always yammering about. I like to taste flavor in a dessert, and appreciate texture, and often the two are lost in an emulsion of sugar.

I wanted to make one! I haven't done much baking this year, save a batch of sour cherry doughnuts on Christmas morning. Those were awesome, but I digress. I searched though all my cookbooks and trolled a variety of websites and learned a bit about the cake, but not enough to feel confident I was going to reproduce the marvel that was MFK's. Baking may be like riding a bike in that you won't forget how but it won't necessarily be pretty. As I was heading over to friends' home and didn't want to show up with a failed experiment, I decided to go with an old standard. I added the topping just for grins, and loved it so much I'm making it again for a party tonite.

For those of you whose interest is piqued by the Basque Cake, try this from Lottie + Doof but don't say I didn't say I didn't warn you: it's not for the impatient baker. Follow the link below for my Almond Tea Cake recipe. Almond paste is sold in the baking aisle in an 8oz can or small box.

Almond Tea Cake with Almond Toffee Topping
Print recipe only here

8 oz almond paste
10 oz unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
5 eggs
1 t vanilla
2 cups AP flour
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt

3 T unsalted butter
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1 T AP flour
1 T heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit an 8-inch round cake pan. I use a 3-inch tall cake pan for this cake. You can also use a 9-inch by 2-inch tall pan. Spray the cake pan with baking spray or grease with butter, and fit the parchment round onto the base. Reserve.

Sift the dry ingredients together and reserve. Crack the eggs into a measuring cup (one with a spout for pouring) and add the vanilla extract.

In a stand mixer (or hand mixer) cream together the butter and almond paste for 1-2 minutes. Slowly add the sugar, creaming well over about 3-4 minutes.

Lower the mixer speed to medium and pour in one eggs at a time, mixing well between additions. Add the flour in 3 additions, mixing slowly and just barely between additions. Don't overmix! Transfer batter into prepared pan and bake for about 50-55 minutes.

After about 50 minutes of baking, prepare the topping - don't do it earlier than that because it will harden. In a small saucepan, melt the butter, add the sugar and stir to combine. Add remaining ingredients and reserve.

When the cake has about 5-10 minutes left of baking (like when the toothpick had a few tacky crumbs stuck on it), remove from the oven and carefully spoon topping over the entire surface, being careful not to disrupt the cake. Return to the oven and bake for 5-8 minutes, or until the cake is cooked thru.

Remove from oven and run a knife around edge of cake, as if you were going to release it. Let cool for about 15-20 minutes, then carefully invert onto a plate and then invert again so that the almond topping is on top. Serve and enjoy!

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