Monday, June 30, 2008

Americana Summer Salads

When I lived in Telluride my neighbor, Antonietta, would bring me stack of pizzelle and a big bowl of her three-bean salad at the start of every summer. This provided a needed watering of my southern Italian roots. Really my Italian-American roots, in the case of the canned bean salad.

I loved Antonietta's old-fashioned three-bean salad (her pizzelle were good too, but my allegiance will always be with the anise-spiked ones of my youth). I always said I would come over one time so she should teach me to make the salad myself but that never happened.

So imagine my squeal of delight when this caught my eye: Classic Three-Bean Salad in an email from America's Test Kitchen. These are the same serious people who preside over Cook's Illustrated. I'm forever grateful to them for teaching me to make pulled pork but often I feel sorry for them. They seem to take NO pleasure in cooking. The pity may cease if they continue to provide me with great recipes.

I'm excited that the Classic Three-Bean Salad dressing incorporates fresh beans while keeping with the similar flavors as Antonietta's, mainly parsley and red onion. The recipe is a lot like my favorite coleslaw where the dressing is boiled to dissolve sugar. I'm going to make this on Wednesday after picking up the green and yellow beans at the farmer's market.

Classic Three-Bean Salad
Print recipe only here

* 2/3 cup red wine vinegar
* 1/3 cup granulated sugar
* 1/3 cup canola oil
* 2 medium cloves garlic, pressed
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* Fresh ground black pepper
* 8 ounces green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
* 8 ounces yellow wax beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
* 1 16-ounce can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
* ½ medium red onion, chopped
* ¼ cup minced fresh parsley leaves

Heat vinegar, sugar, oil, garlic, salt, and pepper to taste in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Fill a large saucepan with water and 1 tablespoon kosher salt and bring to a boil. Add green and yellow beans; cook until crisp-tender, about 3-5 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a medium bowl with ice water. When beans are done, drain and immediately plunge into ice water to stop cooking process. Let sit until chilled, about 2 minutes. Drain well.

Add green and yellow beans, kidney beans, onion, and parsley to vinegar mixture; toss well to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight to let flavors meld. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving. Salad can be covered and refrigerated up to 4 days.

Read Full Post

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I admit it. I forgot about figs until I crossed paths with a towering display this afternoon at Pete's. Yes, Pinch went back to Pilsen for more glorious produce and fresh corn tortillas. We had a tough time keeping our Northsidedness on the downlow while rolling through the Southside because my oldest was sporting her Cubs jersey. A man pointed to her as if she were a white buffalo. "Look at that honey," he said to his wife, "there ARE Cubs fans." I didn't ask the Sox fan where in the market I might find a broom since we plan on sweeping his White Sox again this weekend.

Back to the figs...

I love figs. They are perfectly sweet. I've been enjoying (read: pigging out on) summer berries and stone fruits and needed an intermezzo. Figs are just the thing. I love them plain and whole. I'm thinking a lovely breakfast would be a scoop of Greek yogurt topped with quartered figs and drizzled with my Savannah Bee honey.

If serving figs formally I would present them as an hors d'oevre, quartered alongside a goat cheese or halved to accompany a selection of cheeses. Or, as a dessert atop a Chèvre tart or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of Armangac reduction, or accompanying a luscious Zabaglione. I'd consider them in a salad, in place of pear or pomegranate seeds, but I prefer to make them more of a star.

How do you take your figs?

Read Full Post

Monday, June 23, 2008

Saveur Magazine's Best Issue

I've been a Saveur reader for at least a decade but never a die hard reader. There have been several lapses in my subscription, owing in small part to subscription mismanagement and bigger part disappointment in the magazine's ho-hum content and poor recommendations. But the photos always pulled me back for me for more. It has always featured the best food photography. I appreciate it even more now that Tastespotting has left the building. If you haven't heard of Tastespotting, it is (or was, depending on what the future holds) a site where anyone could post beautiful food photos that backlinked to a food blog. It was a great resource for cooks, readers and bloggers alike, and I hope it will have a renaissance. [6/27 update: TasteSpotting, under new ownership, is now online.]

Saveur has improved tremendously since Coleman Andrews left. Well, I should say ...ever since the new editor-in-chief James Oseland found his groove. The July 2008 issue, pictured here, had fascinating and informative feature after feature about so many things that captivate me. Airstream trailers (p. 33), gravlax (p. 37), food travel and recipes from across the continental US (p. 41), a recipe for Figaretti's "Godfather II" Linguini which puts my linguini with white clam sauce to SHAME! (p. 57), knife making (p. 63), and the journey of a wild salmon (p. 71).

Copper River salmon is in season now and it's On the Menu this Week. I'd like to know more about the branding of a fish to the river it swims, and what chefs and consumers think about it (the fish and the branding). Stay tuned for that conversation.

In the meanwhile, if you enjoy reading about food you should try out Saveur. More than any of their peer publications, they write for the food lover.

Read Full Post

Friday, June 20, 2008

When Life Hands You Lemons

If there’s one thing I know it’s that no one leads a charmed life. Everyone gets lemons, some more bitter than others. It’s our reactions that differentiate us.

Today I'm thinking about smaller lemons. Lemons we might one day laugh about. Lemons that can be turned into lemonade.

What about when a spoonful of sugar isn't quite enough? My good friend was a teetotaler until she had children. I bet every mother can relate to the image of a perfectly capable woman overpowered by two average toddlers. I sure can. No mother is practically perfect in every way like Mary Poppins. How did Ms. Poppins unwind after tucking in Jane and Michael each evening?

I’m easily amused by drinking references. The above exaggeration of being driven to drink to combat parenting stress makes me chuckle. I have two other favorites, one absurd: “Would it be bad for our marriage if I started drinking in the morning?” the other a bit wise: “When life hands you lemons, get some tequila and invite me over.”

To be sure, teetotalitarianism* has its place. And spiked lemonade won’t mend a broken heart, improve a bad situation or help you navigate the toddler years. The suggestion that it could is laughable. Having a friend to invite over who will listen to your sad story, commiserate and then encourage you to get back in the game is the ticket.

Tequila won't really help with lemons. But it does make me laugh.

* Tee•to•tal•i•tar•i•an•ism [tee-toh-tal-i-tair-ee-uh n-ism]
1. A made up word to describe a government that does not consume alcohol or tolerate parties of differing opinion.
2. How Pinch would characterize the presidency of George W. Bush.

Read Full Post

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Vacation 2008: In search of summer food

photo courtesy of Newsday

With regards to summer vacation I'm with Clark Griswold: summer really isn't summer if you don't log some miles in the family car. Also like Clark, my determination - rather than unanimous family member enthusiasm - is the driving force behind most of our excursions.

In addition to mastering Pad Thai, I have only two summer goals. They both satiate food- and travelust. Lucky for the family, they don't include trans-continental road trips. Here they are:

1. Frequent Chicagoland U-Pick farms. How else can I meet my goal of eating my weight in strawberries? It's just not responsible to spend the entirety of one's grocery budget on costly summer berries at Whole Foods. Even the innocuous neighborhood farmer's market is cash carnivore at berry time. Enter the U-Pick farm: a small entry fee and strawberries at $3/pound. If only there were a U-Pick TOMATO farm. That would be awesome!

2. Weekly excursion grocery shopping to Pilsen, Chinatown, Maxwell Street, Devon Ave and any other interesting locale. We had a ton of fun visiting Mitsuwa Marketplace a couple of summers ago: great food court, groceries and cooking equipment, and the kids dug the bakery. HMart, the Korean market in Niles is up first, as soon as Mina and I can nail down a date. I'm lucky Mina has offered a guided tour as she'll tell me what to buy. I am SO looking forward to improving my Korean BBQ beef!

What are your summer cooking and eating plans?

Read Full Post

Friday, June 13, 2008

Cheater's Pad Thai

I know this: I've been settling.

Thai Kitchen's Original Pad Thai is JUST good enough that it's stopped me from going full-bore by tracking down tamarind paste and making my own.

The kit, pictured right, requires the addition of bean sprouts, lime juice, cilantro and garlic shrimp (or other protein) to produce a decent - nearly homemade - dinner. In fact you have to do so much cooking using (scramble the egg, cook the rice noodles, sauté the shrimp, chop cilantro, garlic, bean sprouts and peanuts) that it's not that time-saving. The cheating comes from the sauce packet.

I have a few goals this summer and at the top of the list is mastering a great home kitchen Pad Thai. I'll start by tweaking the recipe from Honga's recently released cookbook. Honga's Lotus Petal is an institution in Telluride, Colorado, a cosmopolitan mountain town that I called home for several years. The cookbook recipe isn't that complicated if it's comparable to the Pad Thai served at the restaurant it'll be worth the effort. A major caveat: I seem to remember Honga tracking down fresh tamarind - not the paste - for use in her restaurant kitchen. I imagine the home version will suffer a bit as a result of the (let's be honest) necessary substitution.

Thai Kitchen Original Pad Thai with scrambled egg, garlic shrimp, bean sprouts, cilantro and peanuts

Pad Thai
Print recipe only here

Serves 2

• 7 ounces rice noodles
• 1/2 # protein: shrimp, chicken, tofu
• Fish sauce
• Chili sauce
• Tamarind paste
• 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock or water
• Bean sprouts
• Cilantro
• Peanuts
• Lime

In a large bowl cover noodles with boiling water and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Rinse with cold water and set aside.

Preheat in a wok or skillet:

* 1 T canola oil

Add and sauté:

* 1 small onion, finely chopped

Add and scramble:

* 2 eggs, well beaten

Transfer to a plate and reserve.

Add to the wok and sauté:

* 1 T canola oil
* 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
* 1 t fresh ginger, finely chopped

Add and cook for 2-3 minutes:

* 8 ounces shrimp (rinsed, patted dry and sprinkled with a pinch of kosher salt) or other protein

Transfer to a plate and reserve.

Combine in a small bowl and add to wok:

* 1 t paprika
* 1/4 cup fish sauce
* 1 T brown sugar
* 1 t chili sauce (I used my decero hot sauce. Sriracha hot sauce would work well here, too.)
* 1 T tamarind paste
* Pinch salt and freshly ground pepper

Add noodles to wok as well, and stir to combine. Pour in a bit of stock and stir until liquid is absorbed. Continue to add stock every few minutes, stirring in between, until noodles are tender (using more stock as necessary).

Add the shrimp/protein and eggs back to the wok and also add:

* 2 green onions, finely sliced
* ¾ cup bean sprouts, roughly chopped
* 3-4 T cilantro, finely chopped
* Juice of 1 lime

Stir to combine. Taste for seasoning, top with a sprinkling of roughly chopped peanuts and serve.

Read Full Post

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The First Salad of Summer

Arugula from two farmers: Roquette, left, is more potent than arugula on the right

Yesterday was a perfect summer day. No clouds. Low humidity. Hot.

Ah, summer. There are so many things that are awesome about summer: hot coffee at the beginning of a hot day; tank tops; the smell of Coppertone; the promise of a day spent near the water; corn on the cob; watermelon; BLUEBERRIES!; and arugula. (Disclosure: yesterday’s designation as Perfect was likely influenced by the separate blueberry and arugula feasts I enjoyed.)

Arugula, aka Rocket, makes the list because eating it does to the mouth what jumping into a pool on a hot day does to your body. It’s a great sensation, provided you’ve got access to freshly-picked product.

I don’t bother with supermarket arugula and I would argue that no one should. It never delivers the true intensity of flavor or punch. Get your arugula from the farmer who grew it. Take it home and dress it simply with olive oil and fresh lemon juice, a sprinkle of kosher salt and a few turns of fresh ground pepper.

We ate it this way last night, with delicious skirt steak on top. It was the perfect meal for the day.

Skirt Steak on Arugula
Print recipe only here

Serves 4

• 1 ½ # skirt steak
• 3 bunches arugula
• 2 lemons
• Olive oil

Preheat grill

Lay steak on a baking sheet. Remove as much visible fat as possible. Season with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.

Rinse and spin arugula.

Grill steak over medium high heat for about 7 minutes on one side and about 5-6 minutes on the other. It should be cooked medium-well for best results.*

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, add:
• Juice of 2 lemons
• 5-6 T olive oil
• Pinch kosher salt
• Few turns fresh ground pepper

Take the steak off the grill and let sit for 15 minutes on a baking rack set over a sheet pan.

Slice across the grain.

Toss arugula in dressing and divide among four dinner plates. (Don’t toss the salad too early, the lemon makes the arugula wilt and while this doesn’t affect taste, it won’t look as pretty.)

Top with steak and serve immediately.

*Skirt steak has a lot of texture and tons of flavor - the polar opposite of a filet mignon which is buttery soft but has less beefy taste.

When not properly cooked or sliced it's rubbery and hard to chew. It has to be cooked toward the WELL DONE end of the spectrum or it'll be too tough.

Read Full Post

Monday, June 9, 2008

All a Part of this Nutritious Breakfast

This is one of my favorite breakfasts - Trader Joe’s Blueberry Muesli. As I enjoyed a bowl late this morning I looked over to see my dog saunter over toward his bowl and breakfast along with me.

I have a golden retriever. He’s nine and a half. Dogs of the breed have a notoriously long puppyhood; Bode is no exception. He was irrationally exuberant for nine years. Since his last birthday he’s slowed down considerably. He is bouncy at times, but less inclined to climb the stairs and much less passionate about breakfast than he was in his salad days.

We crated him at night for the first year of his life. The highlight of those days was watching him BOLT out of the crate in the morning, ravenous for human contact and food, glorious food. I could never get the food into the bowl fast enough for him so the routine was to fill his bowls first and then open the crate. He would scramble across the wood floors with astounding speed and complete lack of control (think Bambi on ice but at warp speed), dive into his kibble and wolf it down. For entertainment I timed him. I don’t remember the records he set now, but they were unbelievable - like sub 10-seconds unbelievable - and more than once I had to perform the Heimlich maneuver to unclog his gullet.

It’s said that dogs and their owners share similar personality traits. It's true of Bode and me where breakfast is concerned. Before I had kids I used to wake with such gusto for breakfast. It was decidedly my favorite meal of the day. How could a meal be more wondermous when the choices range from French toast with maple and coconut syrups on one hand and a scrumptious savory scramble on the other. Or cereal! Even the lowly bowl of cereal, piled up with sliced almonds and fresh blueberries would put a smile on my face as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes.

I still love breakfast, but I don’t always get around to eating it before 11. I no longer wake up thinking about it - that happens later, after coffee, after the kids are off to school, after I’ve gotten some exercise. That’s when I remember - Breakfast! Yes! Breakfast! What’s for breakfast?

Read Full Post

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

You Say Salumi, I Say Mmmm, Salame

Lunch for the refined ploughman: Bayley Hazen Blue, Bel Canto, Fra'Mani Salumetto

Last week Pinch took delivery of some excellent salumi from the Bay Area. The San Francisco bay, Badgers, not the Green Bay! I nearly choked with laughter when I heard a Wisconsin radio jock refer to his listening area as the Bay Area. But back to the meat...

Salumi is the same thing as charcuterie; they are the respective Italian and French words for cured meats. Salumi is a bit confusing because it looks like a misprint of salami, which itself is a misprint of salame.

Anyhoo, my favorite was a lumpy salametto (small salami, pictured left) made by Fra'Mani out of Berkeley. I wonder what wine they use at Fra'Mani. All the flavors were wonderful, but the wine really stood out for me.

I have to add Salumi Tour to my list of desirable epicurean adventures. If this adventure takes place state-side (as opposed to Italy) it will be in the Bay Area where many chefs are producing incredible product. Chicago may be a sausage capital, but only in California could one join a salumi CSA. I love the stuff, but a monthly subscription seems excessive, no?

Salumi (in moderation!) e Salute.

Many thanks to Kate for meat trafficking.

Read Full Post

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Must Have Item for the Summer Kitchen

I have a small fleet of juicers ranging from the hydraulic Norwalk to my most recent acquisition, the Amco Enameled Lime Squeezer, pictured above. This newest one will replace two lesser performers. I also have the orange model - slightly larger to accommodate, yes, oranges - on order from Amazon.

This tool is way more efficient than I ever imagined it to be - reducing a robust lime to an inverted puck with a gentle squeeze of the handles. It's similar in efficiency to the Zyliss Susi Garlic Press.

This juicer has been recommended before but I didn't get it until I saw Rick Bayless use it at a cooking demonstration a few weeks ago. Chefs often scorn kitchen gadgets, so I knew this thing had to be good when he whipped one out and sung its praises.

Since receiving my lime juicer I've done a bit of singing myself, only I've discovered most of my friends are way ahead of me. I've been repeatedly patted on the head and told, yeah, those are great - I've had one for several years.

Last night I made Kung Pao Chicken and used it to squeeze fresh orange juice for the sauce. The result: best Kung Pao, ever. Of course I had the quarter the oranges to fit them in my lime juicer - Hurry, Amazon, hurry! - and it took longer than I would have liked to generate one half-cup of OJ. But, damn! It was worth it.

Still not convinced? Here's a list of five other things you will use it for:
1. Mojito
2. Mai Tai and the lesser known but more potent 'Tai Bull (Mai Tai cocktailed with Red Bull - takes you to the Dark Side quicker than the negative thoughts you have about the economy)
3. Guacamole
4. Caesar Salad Dressing
5. Aioli for artichokes

Read Full Post