Monday, July 22, 2013

A New Summer Salad

This fab summer side salad is destined to be on my summer playlist forever. I had at a friend's home in Lake Geneva, WI. I've been looking for some couscous recipes and was delighted to find a summery one. I made mine over the weekend (and enjoyed some today for lunch) with just mint, but next time I'll try a combo of fresh dill and mint. The garbanzos and feta give it some heft as a lunch.

I'd be remiss if I didn't tout the reduced fat feta from Trader Joe's. It's more than does the cheese trick on all sorts of things: atop lamb burgers, in a Greek salad, and here as well. Athenos does a good reduced fat feta, but it's like twice the price. We consume very little cheese and I often throw away about half a brick of feta, so I appreciate the lower price point on the TJ variety.

Anyway, here's that recipe:

Couscous Summer Salad
Print recipe only here

Serves 6-8 as a side dish

1 cup dry couscous, cooked according to
1/2 Vidalia onion, chopped
1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup fresh herbs - parsley, dill, mint, basil in any combination
1/2 Cup crumbled Feta cheese (or more)

2-3 T good Olive Oil
2 - 3 limes, juiced
Salt and pepper to taste

Follow the directions on the package for cooking the couscous. Allow to cool to room temperature while prepping the veg. Add all other fresh ingredients once the couscous has cooled. Toss with the dressing and serve. Keeps well for a few days.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Summer lovin: Board Dressings

Board dressings are a newer fascination. The first one I did was with a Brined Pork Loin, something that I make in the fall and winter. Subsequent efforts at board dressings have been even more satisfying, perhaps because of the season, because not much tops grilling and dining out of doors.

Board dressing does absolute wonders for a piece of meat that you didn't have enough time to marinate. Like last night. I had this gorgeous Bison top sirloin filet. I had intended to dry rub the steak, grill it, and serve it with a chunky avocado salsa, a meal served to me many years ago by the generous and talented Lucas (click here for my riff on his dish). But, the avocados at the market yesterday were unripe. Plan B was a necessity.

Bison can be tricky on the grill. It's lean, but can be tough. It needs enough time on the fire to soften but not so much that it seizes back up. I made a quick marinade of soy sauce, Worcestershire, garlic, salt and pepper, and let the steak come to room temp while soaking up the sodium. But I only had about 30 minutes for this, which is why the marinade was so sodium rich. With more time I would have made a red wine-soy-garlic marinade, a/k/a/ Guamba (with credit to Dave B). Guamba, it should be noted, is more than a recipe, more than a noun. It's not so much spoken as it is proclaimed. It's a call to the table (campfire, really), a conjuring of the appetite, a summoning of all that is good: wine, friends, a blazing fire, and steak. I don't always eat steak around a campfire (pity!), but when I do I prefer Guamba.

Anyhoo...I've been staring at this luscious bouquet of mint lately (if you grow mint, you know it proliferates like rabbits and that it can only be kept in check by producing a fount of mojitos) and working it into various dishes. I had a idea for a mint and lemon board dressing for my steak that would brighten up the marinade. It was wonderful. I grilled the steak to medium and made the board dressing right on the platter. When the steak was done, I transferred it to the platter, turning it over a few times to coat it in the dressing. Steak always needs to rest for about 15 minutes off the grill, and in that time, the juices flow into the board dressing, creating a puddle of love. I had a baguette on hand for dipping, and made a big salad, and we dined al fresco in total bliss.

Here's a few recipes for creating your own board dressings. The first one is what I did for the bison. The other two are ideas for another meal. Experiment as you're lead - the critical ingredients are extra virgin olive oil, some fresh herbs and a smidge of fresh garlic. The citrus zest/juice and chili flakes are optional, but highly recommended.

Board Dressing 1
2-3 T fresh mint
pinch chili flakes
Pinch kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped
1/2 lemon, zested
1/2 lemon, squeezed
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil

Board Dressing 2
3 T cilantro, finely chopped
2 T fresh oregano, finely chopped
1/2 lime, zested
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
Pinch chili flakes
Pinch kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper

Board Dressing 3 
2 T chopped rosemary
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil
Pinch kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

On Blackened fish, Kid Rock, and Summer Plans

I'm embarrassed to admit that I first heard about Walleye from Kid Rock in that All Summer Long song that took to the airwaves a few summers ago. Walleye is native to the Midwest, unlike yours truly, and is frequently served panfried. I saw it yesterday at Whole Foods and it looked lovely, so I brought it home and mixed together a quick blackened spice rub (see below), grilled some veggies on the side (just peppers and onions), and made a quick salad from the abundance of greens in my CSA sack.

This is a good time to promote the Chicago Lights Urban Farm, the good folks behind my summer salad share. I'm really pleased with the produce, and the farm itself is a little oasis in the city. This week, my share included Nero radishes, which are big, black, beautiful - and spicy! Whoa baby. If I were French, I'd slather a baguette with unsalted Plugra and top it with Nero slices. Chef Dominique Tougne was serving radish and butter aperitifs at Chez Moi last summer and they were delightful. Click here for Saveur's directions for making your own.

Back to the Walleye...I enjoy panfried fish, though prefer to do the panfrying myself. The last time I ate Walleye was at a restaurant around New Buffalo, MI, the panfrying was too aggressive. To create a good blackened seasoning, I consulted James Peterson's Fish and Shellfish cookbook and ended up following his recipe. Here it is:

JP's Blackened Seasoning
1 T dried thyme
1 T dried oregano
2 t salt
1 1/2 t cayenne
Several turns fresh ground white pepper

To cook the fish, I set my cast iron pan over a medium high flame to heat. Then I mixed the spice rub on a long platter, rubbing it all together and smashing up the dried spices with my fingers. Next I transferred the Walleye (the fishmonger removed the skin for me) to the platter, dousing one side with olive oil and turning to coat both sides of the fish with olive oil and the dry rub. Then I cut the fish into serving size pieces (I made them small-ish, so each person would have 2-3 pieces, but cut as you wish). With the pan now nice and hot, I added a tablespoon or less of canola oil, and tipped the pan around to coat the bottom evenly. I added the fish and cooked it for about 4 minutes on one side and about 2-3 min on the other side. To determine if its done, test one piece to see if it flakes - just cut off a corner and peek. Serve immediately.

What else am I up to this summer? Well, I'm going to pick up where I left off with my winter Algebra class thru Coursera (or retake the course entirely, as might be required). I'm also brushing up on my French via Duolingo. The latter allows for fierce inter-family competition, the likes of which we've not seen since Super Mario came to the Wii. I'm also looking forward to some serious cooking. Here's a taste of what will be coming out of my kitchen this summer:

Sriracha-glazed chicken skewers (already had these and they were fabulous)
Singapore chili lobster (this is going to be an adventure)
- This Ciopinno;
- Slate-griddled Porterhouse steaks with Roquefort;
- Miche, my lastest favorite bread. Get yours at La Fournette which produced a Blackhawks Miche, pictured here, upside-down;
- Breakfast Crepes with Peaches, Cinnamon Sugar, and Raspberry Jam;
- Half sour pickles (one of my favorite pickles!)

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