Monday, April 26, 2010

Fair-Weather Friend

I picked up this new cookbook at Half-Priced Books the other day, Simply Organic, A Cookbook for Sustainable, Seasonal and Local Ingredients by Jesse Ziff Cool. It had a couple recipes that looked good right off the bat and really pretty pictures. I like to buy cookbooks used because I am fickle about the ones I keep. This way, when I decide it isn't worth the shelf-space, it wasn't a huge waste of money. There is an inscription in the front of this one: Merry Christmas 2009! Love, Mom and Norman. Sweet, but I guess someone else is pretty fickle about their shelf-space also!

I spent quality time Friday waiting for my daughter in gymnastics reading all the recipes, marking the ones I want to try with post-its. I am happy to report that I have 16 post-its sticking out of this book! That is pretty good for fickle me.

The book is arranged by seasons; early spring, late spring, early summer, mid-summer, you get the picture. I marked one fall recipe, Autumn Vegetable Gratin and one winter recipe, Chicken with Dried Cherries, Capers and Chiles. All the rest of my post-its are sticking out of the spring and summer chapters. The post-it density is so lop-sided, it makes me wonder if it is me (I love tomatoes) or the cookbook (the winter recipes suck). If I was a stickler for organic, sustainable and local, we would have some serious problems come November!

Before the recession hit home, I was going every week to a local farmers market just down the street. It was just one farm, but they had a great variety of veggies. I liked knowing that these smiling farmers were the same ones tilling and planting. Ahhh! Organic, sustainable, local, and yummy. Healthy and guilt free for a price. Come late summer, though, panic sets in when the tomatoes are replaced by okra and greens. I am not from the south. Even fresh, local, sustainable okra is still okra. I just don't like it.

I love the idea of eating all organic, sustainable, seasonal... in the summer, when the eating is good. If I was a country girl, I guess I would can and preserve the bountiful summer harvest to use during the long cold winter. Somehow I just don't think that is going to happen. Not this year, at least.

Environmentally, there is no question that eating organic, local and sustainable is best. During the summer, as much local as possible! However, best for my family is eating fresh veggies from afar, rather than not eating fresh. Bad tomatoes are better than no tomatoes. Carrots for a snack in the dead of winter are far superior to anything processed. It is my guess that even Ms. Cool would agree that though Herb Stuff Artichokes are best in the early spring... eating them in November from South America is better than canned peas any day.  After all, I live in Texas. Artichokes are never local.

I don't really know if this week's recipe is seasonal or not... though I suspect not. However, until the farm-stand has "real" tomatoes, roasting the rock-hard ones you find at the store can be a nice tangy substitute. This is not quick eating, to be sure, but it worth the effort, and can be made ahead of time to help speed up the dinner time rush. I have made this recipe with Cod, Salmon and grilled chicken breasts. Though Salmon is my favorite, chicken is a nice substitute. Just sprinkle on some Herbs de Provence and a little garlic salt to season. Slice over beans and serve.

Salmon with White Beans and Roasted Tomatoes
*serves 4 with ample bean leftovers

2 lbs large tomatoes, cored and quartered
1lb cherry tomatoes, red and yellow if you can find them.
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup olive oil

1 large yellow onion, halved and cut into thin slices
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbl olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 cans Great Northern white beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped and divided
2 tsp Herbs de Provence

1.5 lbs Salmon
Olive oil
Garlic Salt
Herbs de Provence
Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. In 9x13 glass baking dish, mix tomatoes, sugar salt and olive oil to coat. Roast for 35 to 50 minutes until cherry tomatoes are nicely browned and large tomatoes are falling apart.

In a large skillet or dutch oven, heat 2 tbl oil on Medium heat. Add slivered onions, salted liberally, cooking low and slow until slightly browned and very soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add garlic, and cook until fragrant. Add white beans, broth, half of the basil (hold remainder for garnish), and herbs. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low, cooking for 15-20 minutes until some of the broth has evaporated and beans are very soft. Add in tomatoes and all their juices, stir to combine and adjust seasoning. Keep on low until ready to serve.

While beans are simmering, heat grill to high and make a tray for your salmon with a doubled sheet of foil. Olive oil the bottom of foil pan. Pat fish dry and season top of fish with garlic salt and herbs. Place seasoned side down on pan. Slide foil pan onto grill, adjusting heat to one notch under high. Grill 4-6 minutes on one side, checking to see if it is nicely browned. Flip Salmon with a large spatula and grill on skin-side for 4-5 minutes more, until cooked through, firm to the touch with only the slightest darkened flesh on the inside.
Break or slice salmon into serving sizes and serve over beans. Garnish with remaining basil.

Recipe Notes:
Tomatoes are ready to go into the oven!  This picture is from another meal that also roasts tomatoes, so you don't see the red and yellow cherry tomatoes in there.  They are cooked the same way, except if you have beefsteak or romas cut up, try to turn them cut side up.
Here the onions are just about ready.  A little browner and you are ready to add the garlic.

Add the beans, broth and spices and bring them toa boil.  I just figured out the Macro function on my camera, can you tell?

Ahhh, the tomatoes are in!  Costco had these great little yellow cherry tomatoes.  They are so good!
So, how do you turn a big piece of fish over on the grill?  Well, I think that you need these tools: a cookie sheet, big spatula and an old oven mitt.
Slide the cookie sheet under your foil pan and use the oven mitt to help bring the foil up and off of the flame.  Then stick your spatula under the fish to loosen it.  Get most of the fish under the spatula (as in the picture) and slightly tipping the cookie sheet, flip your fish. Maybe I need to video this?

The fish might come apart a bit, but with practice you should be able to keep it in one peice.  Then slide the foil back onto the flame.  Ta Da!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

World Peace via Condiments

Hello. My name is Heather and I have condiment issues. Yes, you heard me, condiments. I don't know who it is that designs refrigerators, but they do not give enough of a nod to the condiment. My fridge, for instance has 4 shelves and a butter keeper in the door. They are packed full and overflowing. I have jars on top of jars, bottles squeezed in. It is so bad that sometimes when I pull the door open I get attacked by selfish thrill-seeking condiments. I've learned the expected trajectory of the usual suspects; mustard, plastic lemony thing and sun-dried tomatoes. I've got their game covered.

Then there is the Tetris-esc assembly of condiments in the shelves. One must consider height, kid reach-ability, probability of use, likeliness of escape, and stack-ability. Do you want to segregate your condiments by nationality, or experience that whole melting-pot thing? Thoughtful arrangement of condiments goes a long way in making cooking easier and more enjoyable.

We reached the height of condiment overload when I bought the cookbook Cooks Illustrated, Best International Recipes last summer. I love the Cooks Illustrated folks. The balance of science and food, the lengthy explanations, all lend a weighty confidence to their recipes. Prior to this cookbook, my Asian cooking wasn't much more than bottled Teriyaki Sauce on white rice. Now I make pot-stickers, stir-fries, curries, all sorts of great veggie-loaded, low-meat meals. The health benefits, fabulous. That the kids will eat carrots, broccoli, bell peppers, edemame and other great veggies in one meal, couldn’t be happier. The effect on my fridge door, not so good.

Here is the problem, for just the Asian chapters alone I have had to add Fish Sauce, Oyster Sauce, Hoisin Sauce, Black Bean Sauce, Green Curry Paste, Lemongrass Paste and Thai Red Chili Garlic Paste. Add that to the existing Soy Sauce, Teriyaki Sauce and Sweet and Sour Sauce. That is a whole shelf!

But wait, it gets better... want to add another culinary culture? You have to add more condiments! I have Italian; capers, sundried tomatoes, and basil pesto. Two salsas and Taco Sauce for Mexican. Tahini for homemade Hummus, which I wouldn't mention, except it is such a large bottle! Add this to the regulars; two jams, lingonberries, syrup, 4 salad dressings, mayo, 3 mustards, whipped cream, chocolate and caramel sauce, maraschino cherries, ketchup, pickles, two kinds of olives, lemon and lime plastic juice fruit, yeast, 2 kinds of butter, probiotics, cream cheese, chicken base, 2 kinds of Bar-B-Que Sauce, Tarter Sauce, Cocktail Sauce (Hey, sweetie, I found the Cocktail Sauce!), kefir, half and half, and milk. You get the picture.

I would love to cook from some of the other chapters, but I just don't have the real estate.

Humor aside, I am so blessed to live in a place in which all of these ingredients are available to me. As the world is shrinking, I feel a responsibility to introduce my kids to far away lands. I don't know many languages and probably will never be able to afford to take them to the far corners of the earth. But I can open up their taste buds to a variety of cultures and hopefully link our lives to places afar, one dish at a time. A culinary global initiative. If I have to give up refrigerator space for world peace, well, I can live with that.

This stir-fry recipe is a good place to start on the Asian map. The sauce is from Best International Recipes with a couple tweaks, 'Stir-fried Shrimp, Asparagus and Carrots with Orange Sauce.' Not too many condiments and a good base that works well with shirmp, salmon or chicken. It lends itself to the time-impaired, especially if you buy some or all of the veggies pre-sliced. You will find that the cutting prep work is extensive, but cooking takes about 5 minutes. Make sure that you all your prep work is done and you have everything lined up on the counter before heating the pan, because the cooking's quick.

Stir-Fry Shrimp with Orange Sauce

1/2 cup Orange Juice (or 2tbl Orange Juice Concentrate and enough water to make 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup Chinese rice cooking wine or dry sherry
2 tbl soy sauce
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or 1/2 tsp red chile sauce)

Stir Fry:
1 pound large shrimp
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice cooking wine

3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 tbl minced fresh ginger
2 green onions, minced
2 tbl vegetable oil

2 red, green or yellow bell peppers, cut into thin strips
1 large head broccoli, cut into medium florets
25 baby carrots, sliced in halves or quarters for uniformity
1/4 cup water

For the Sauce: Wisk all ingredients together and set aside

For the meat: Toss the shrimp with the soy and rice wine and set aside, 10 minutes to one hour.

For the herbs: Mix together minced onion, ginger and garlic with oil in small bowl. Set aside.

To Stir Fry: Heat 1 tbl oil in large non-stick skillet over high heat until smoking. Add half of shrimp and cook, without stirring until the shrimp are browned at the edges, about 1 minute. Stir/turn shrimp and continue to cook until they are nearly cooked through, about 30 seconds longer. Transfer the shrimp to a medium bowl and repeat with more veggie oil and shrimp. Remove all shrimp and cover with foil.

In the same pan, heat 1 tbl oil on high heat until smoking again. Add broccoli and carrots and toss for 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup water, lower heat to medium-high and cover with lid. Steam for 2 minutes, until veg is crisp tender, then uncover. Add bell pepper and cook for 2 minutes more.

Create a hole in center of veggies in the pan and pour garlic mixture into the hole (see picture). Cook garlic mixture, smashing it into the pan for 30 seconds and then mix it into the veg.

Add shrimp and sauce to the pan and stir/cook for about 1 minute until sauce is bubbly and thickened. Spoon over rice and enjoy.

Recipe Notes:
Here are my ingredients. I use the Chili Garlic Paste and throw a bit of Hoisin in there, too.  You don't need to do that!  You might want to add 1tbl of brown sugar to the sauce, though, if your Orange Juice isn't very sweet.  I like to line up all my veg on the cutting board, just like this, so that it is easy to swipe into the fry pan. 

Do you have one of these?  It is a great tool for sauces that switch between tablespoons and fractions of cups.  I just pour in what I need and never have to dirty my measuring spoons.

How much ginger is one Tablespoon?   I put R2 next to a piece of ginger that is about 1 tablespoon.  Does that help? I have found that you want the same amount of ginger as garlic in volume.  So go ahead and guess, and then just add or subtract until it looks like the same amount. 

My broccoli and carrots are steaming away.  Don't steam them into mushy-ness or they will get even more mushy as you cook everything else.  Better to undercook in the steaming stage and then extend the boiling of the sauce at the end if the texture isn't to your liking.

Now the peppers are in the pan.  I like to keep the peppers pretty firm, so this goes quickly!

The veg in this picture has been moved to the rim, allowing a space directly on the pan to add the garlic mixture.  You don't want the garlic to get brown or burn, but you do want to cook it till you can really smell it.  Smush it around!

Here the sauce is added and it is getting all bubbly and thick.  Cornstarch thickens at boiling, so make sure you see the bubbles.

You might have noticed there aren't any shrimp!  This day I made the veggies seperate and grilled some salmon for the meat component. Because I wasn't adding shrimp or chicken I could use my aluminum pan instead of the non-stick.  Use your non-stick if you are adding shrimp.
This recipe also works with chicken.  Slice 2-4 breasts very thin and in a bowl add:
1 tbl cornstarch
1 tbl flour
1 tbl soy sauce
1 tbl rice cooking wine or sherry
2 tbl sesame oil

Mix well with your fingers and let sit 10 minutes to an hour.  Heat the same amount of oil and cook just like the shirmp, in two to three batches, flipping when slightly brown.  Set aside and cover with foil and add back to the pan when you add the sauce!  This process is called velveting and is useful in many asian recipes.  It is imperative, though, that you use a non-stick pan if you add chicken, as it will stick!!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Quick and Cuss-less

Did you see the movie Fantastic Mr. Fox? I loved that movie. Nearly peed my pants I thought it was so funny. Which is strange, because my Mother in Law didn't think it was funny at all. Maybe it was the dry humor. You either like that kind of thing, or you don't. This explains a lot, actually.

In the movie, which is billed as a kids flick, the characters cuss a lot. They say "cuss" as in "Why the cuss didn't I listen to my lawyer?" or "This is gonna be a total cluster-cuss for everybody," or "You scared the cuss out of us." Brilliant. Not exactly kid-safe, but brilliant. Being a bit of a sailor mouth myself, I adopted it immediately.

Like today. I did something bad to my body and my hips hurt. The pain is somewhere between whining and crying, settling in at wincing and cussing. Give me a good hamstring or Plantar Fasciitis to complain about. Those sound hard-core and athletic! But to complain about your hips? Sounds... old. Which very well might be the case, but I am too young to admit it. Either way, it is cuss-worthy and I have been throwing them out like candy.

Sitting elicits the worst of the cuss. This is unfortunate, as the post I want to write is going to take more butt-to-chair time than I can muster at this point. I will save it for when my hips are not on fire. Instead, how about a nice quick side-dish? A nice quick side-dish and no quippy story. I am in too much pain for quipping. Cussing quip-less!

This is a great veggie side-dish that goes with just about anything you might grill during the summer. I don't know where I originally found this recipe, but the picture clearly shows Garbanzo Beans in the filling. Very strange, as there are no chickpeas in the ingredient list. I think that beans would work, though, so you might want to add a drained can for fun!

Grilled Peppers with Corn and Cheese

3 large Red Bell Peppers, halved, cored and seeded
Oil spray (like Pam)
3/4 cup fresh whole kernel corn, or frozen, thawed and drained
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
4 oz Monterey Jack cheese, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 tbl lime juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground coriander

Prepare grill at medium high. Brush and oil grates. Spray both sides of peppers with oil. Combine everything else in a bowl.

To grill: Grill peppers on both sides, 8-10 minutes total, until lightly charred and softened. Off grill, fill each pepper with corn mixture. Grill covered for 4-5 additional minutes until cheese is melted and peppers are hot.

Recipe Notes:
Here are all my ingredients.  We were out of Monterey Jack Cheese, so I used Colby-Jack instead.  I wouldn't suggest this, as it doesn't melt in the same way!  Tastes good, though.  This is a summer favorite of ours, yet I always seem to make it with frozen corn.  I buy a bag or two of the "white" variety and always have some in the freezer. 

Peppers on the Grill.  Don't they look glossy and beautiful?

We always take the peppers totally off the grill (and bring them inside) to fill up.  Then, they can sit until you are just finishing your other grilled items.  Throw them back on for the last 5 minutes and enjoy!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Some Pig

When you don't normally eat four-legged animals, holidays can be a challenge. Thanksgiving aside, Christmas and Easter are a mine-field of roasts, lambs and hams. Believe me, just because we don't eat them any more, they still look mighty good in the pictures.

I just spent an hour on Food Network trying to find a special recipe that everyone will love for our Easter dinner. I came up with a big nothing. There are lots of special things (lobster!) that I would like to eat, but for this one meal it is important to me that the kids are dazzled. In the old days, we would have had ham, some kind of scalloped cheesy potatoes, two veggies, pink salad and a chocolate dessert. A perfectly dazzling, well-rounded, kid approved, colorful meal (with an abundance of scrumptious leftovers).

OK, I am going to say it, I want ham.

The whole thing feels like that scene in The Big Chill:
Michael: I don't know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They're more important than sex.
Sam Weber: Ah, come on. Nothing's more important than sex.
Michael: Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?

I am stumped. I feel like I live in this strange middle ground, constantly re-drawing the dotted line around what we eat and what we don't. Where the inhumane treatment of some animals bother me, but not others. Where the environmental concerns of some plants and animals are more important than others. The health of some foods more current than others. Always new information, new studies, charts and graphs. Doing what I can with what I have...

I can't be the only one who feels this way about food. Maybe because I love it so, because it is important to me, these issues are a real presence in my life. They are a constant companion between the store and our table. I can see my Dad rolling his eyes, "you are taking this too seriously." He is probably right. But then, taking things seriously is part of my nature.

Despite it all, I want ham. I want a pig that was kissed and hugged every day. I want the pig that ate only the best piggish food. A pig that frolicked in grass and wallowed happily in clean mud. A pig that had an untortured piggy life. I want a pig that had a name.

Oh god, I just rationalized eating Wilbur for Easter.