Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Southern cookin'

A while back I signed up for one of those book clubs where you get a whole bunch of free books up front. I figured that it would be a good way to stock up my cookbook library, and I really thought that I would get around to canceling my membership as soon as I was able to. Of course, they make it really hard to do this - you have to actually send in a letter, as if anyone uses paper mail anymore - so I still haven't gotten around to canceling. You also have to go to the website and opt out of the selections that they otherwise send to you every month. This is yet another thing that I usually never get around to doing. Usually, I send them back, but when a Southern cookbook showed up on my doorstep, I was intrigued. This is my first crack at Southern food: collards, Hoppin' John (rice w/ black eyed peas and some other stuff), and chicken braised in beer, onions, and tomatoes. The first two dishes were from the cookbook, the last one was just something I threw together to get rid of some cheap beer that had been sitting in the pantry since our last party.

It was a pretty hot evening, and since we were doing a Southern dinner, Andre mixed up a batch of mint juleps on the rocks.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Black beans

When Abby and I were visiting Costa Rica, I got hooked on their traditional breakfast: gallo pinto with eggs and Salsa Lizano, a tangy green sauce that Costa Ricans put on just about everything. Gallo pinto is really just beans and rice with a few other random things mixed in. Its a great way to get rid of bell peppers, carrots, and onions that may be sitting around the fridge. You can make up a big batch of it and just scoop out a bit and reheat it while you are cooking an egg to make a nice filling breakfast. It's really good served with warm corn tortillas, and if you can get your hands on some Salsa Lizano, use this as well.

Yesterday, I planned on making a batch of gallo pinto, but when I tasted the beans, they were so good that I decided not to mix them with rice. For breakfast, I just had black beans with a poached egg. Here's the recipe:

2 large cans black beans
½ onion (red of Vidalia), fine dice
1 green or red bell pepper, fine dice
1 carrot, fine dice
1-2 jalapeno, fine dice
5 cloves garlic, mince
3-4 Tbsp chopped parsley (substituting cilantro if available)
0.5 lb chorizo
4 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch salt
¾ can of water
olive oil

Add enough oil to the bottom of a large pot. Cook the onion, pepper, jalapeno, carrot, garlic, and parsley over med-low to low heat for about 10 min. Add a pinch of salt to help everything cook down.

Add chorizo and cook over med-low heat for another 10 minutes.

Add the beans. Do not rinse or drain. Add water, vinegar, and bay leaves. Let simmer on med-low heat for 1 hour so the liquid reduces.

Serve over rice or as is. You can reduce the liquid more or less depending on whether you want a soup.

If you are vegetarian, leave out the chorizo, but add some paparika. Even better, you might be able to find veggie chorizo at the grocery store. I think Smart Food or one of those companies makes this.

This is great as a soup topped with caramelized onions and sour cream. Since I made up such a large batch, I did this for dinner (I didn't have any sour cream though). To caramelize onions, just slice them up and cook over low heat with a bit of oil or butter for a long long time (~45 min). They cook down quite a bit.
Here, I used a red onion because that was all that I had in the pantry, but I really think a Vidalia or some other sweet white onion is better for caramelizing.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Tuna & cannellini bean salad

This is a fairly simple and inexpensive salad to make. It makes a great light dinner or lunch that is perfect for the summer. Start by cutting red onion in half and then slicing very thin half rounds. You will need a little more than 1/4 of an average sized onion. Place the onions in a bowl of cold water. As you are preparing the rest of the dish, go back to the onions every 10 minutes or so, squeeze them, and replace the water.

Next, prepare a vinaigrette. Add some olive oil, red wine or balsamic vinegar, a spoon full of dijon mustard, one minced clove of garlic, and some oregano to a bowl and whisk together to make an emulsion. I think a more acidic dressing is good for this salad, so make the ratio of oil to vinegar about 2 to 1 or 3 to 1 depending on your taste.

Drain and rinse two cans of cannellini beans, add to a large bowl, and toss with about half of the vinaigrette. Next, cut a Belgian endive in half, quarter a small head of radichio, and drizzle with olive oil. Sear for about 1 min at med-high on a grill pan (a normal pan will work fine). While the lettuces are cooking, cover a tuna steak with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Sear at high heat once the lettuces are done for about 1-1.5 minutes on each side. I use frozen tuna steaks for this, which you can get at some grocery stores (like Trader Joe's or Market Basket) for about $5/lb. Once the tuna is done, let it rest while you slice up the lettuces crosswise. Add the endive, radicchio, and onions to the bowl with the beans. Chop up the tuna steak into small pieces and add this as well. Toss everything together and add more of the vinaigrette. Finish the dish off with chopped parsley and crumbled feta (if you happen to have it lying around).

This whole dish should only take about 20-30 min from start to finish.

Pesto risotto

I had few older herbs and vegetables laying around the fridge, threatening to turn bad on me, so I whipped this up for dinner. Start by filling a medium sized pot with water and bring that to a boil. Grab a bunch of basil, parsley, and some spinach (I used frozen spinach), and blanch it. You can do this either by dropping everything in the boiling water and fishing it out with strainer a few seconds later, or you could put everything in a bowl and ladle some of the water over it, pour out the water and add a bit of cold water to stop the cooking. I think the second method is a bit more tidy. Blanching helps set the color and it makes the resulting puree a little more green. While you bring the water to a boil, you can toast a few pine nuts if you have them. I would guess that about 1 - 1.5 Tbsp would be sufficient for two servings. Throw these in with the herbs, add a little olive oil to the mixture and puree with an immersion blender, a mini food processor, or a blender. Reserve the puree for later use.

To get the risotto started, finely mince a couple cloves of garlic (1 -1.5 per serving depending on your preference for garlic) and add it to a pan with 2 tsp olive oil and .5 Tbsp butter over medium heat. Add 1 cup arborio rice for 2 large servings and cook for another minute. After a minute or so, begin adding the boiling water one scoop at a time. Stir and add more water when the rice has absorbed almost all of the liquid. You should do this over a low heat. While this is cooking, chop up some asparagus into 1" lengths and partially cook them in the same water that you are adding to the risotto. This should not take long. Remove, shock with cold water, and set aside. Once the risotto is almost done, stir in the puree and the asparagus. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I served this with haddock fillet, but it's probably best on its own. I didn't think the fish was a particularly good match, but that could just be due to the fact that I didn't get a very good cut of fish.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Port Townsend fish market

On a family visit to Port Townsend, we stopped by a cool little fish market that was right in the middle of a shipyard.
All of the seafood was super fresh and super cheap.

Leftover lunch

We had still more leftovers to get rid of after my aunties left town, so we had some more friends and relatives from my mom's side of the family over for lunch. I took the leftover salmon and roasted corn and made a batch of salmon burgers.
My cousin Robert brought a bunch of Dungeness crab that he had caught. Below, Robert watches his son, Matt, help himself to some of the crab. Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of the crabs before they had all been shelled.

Leftover breakfast

Every culture has its own version of fried rice, a recipe that is made up on nothing but leftovers. The Italians have frittatas. We had a bunch of left overs from the previous two nights, so this was the perfect thing to do for breakfast. I made two types of frittata. One had the left over roasted vegetables, and the other had salmon, potato, and cilantro.


After dinner, Midori made s'mores for the first time.
I think she really liked them.

Family reunion dinner 2

Pretty much everyone had a hand in preparing the next family reunion dinner. The menu included grilled vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, red peppers, and portabella mushrooms), teriyaki chicken, tri-tips with a korean style marinade, sushi and musubi, and potato patties made from roasted potatoes that were left over from the previous night.

Here are my aunties Susan and Pauline and my sister Laura showing off the key ingredient for musubi, Spam. Most people outside of Hawaii think this stuff is pretty gross, but I like it.
Below, Auntie Susan expertly assembles the musubi.
Here's a picture of the potato patties that I whipped up. This was an improvised dish that made use of a bunch of left over ingredients that we had sitting around. I diced up the roasted potatoes from the night before and combined them with left over roasted corn, minced onion, garlic, scallion, mayo, egg, and flour. I would have liked to grill them. The mixture probably would have fallen through the grates, though, so Auntie Nora fried them up.
Here are a few pictures of the final spread.

Family reunion dinner 1

My grandmother is getting on in years, so my dad's sisters have made it a point to come up and visit her each of the last few summers. This year, my brother, sister, and niece came out at the same time, so we were able to have a mini family reunion. Wild salmon is in season and really cheap, so I went a little overboard on the salmon purchase. We already had a big fillet of salmon and some lamb left over from the previous night, but when we went to the store and saw whole wild salmon for $6/lb, I had to get one. This fish weighs 6.5 lbs.
I stuffed the whole salmon with fennel, lemon, garlic, thyme, butter, salt and pepper. When you're cooking a whole fish this size on the grill, be sure to truss it so everything doesn't fall out. The strings will also make it easier to flip the fish. Also, make sure that you scale the fish before tying it up. I remembered this step after tying the fish, and it was significantly more difficult to work around the strings.

For the fillet of salmon, I decided to paint it with a honey mustard, citrus, and thyme glaze and cook it on a cedar plank. If you can incorporate a trip to the lumber yard and power tools into your food prep, that's probably a good thing.

Here are some pictures of the cooking and the finished products.

I also made a relish for the salmon that was made of roasted corn, avocado, tomatoes, red onions, garlic, cilantro, and lime. Basically, it was guacamole that hadn't been mashed up.
The menu was rounded grilled corn and Greek salad and roasted potatoes that my sister made. Midori was a big fan of the corn, which is unusually good this season.

Back home

I spent the first week of August back in Poulsbo and was either in the kitchen or at the grill most of the time. In my book, that's a pretty good vacation. My second night back, Sarah and Joe came over for dinner and we made garlic and rosemary lamb skewers with a cabernet sauce, wild salmon with a spice rub that Sarah whipped up, chickpea salad, and grilled vegetable ratatouille (with some fresh vegetables from Grant's garden).


I love good tomatoes. It's hard to get good tomatoes where I grew up in Washington state, but, fortunately, you can get some great tomatoes in Boston. It was a hot day, and the first batch of heirloom tomatoes had just arrived at the store, so I decided to make gazpacho with seared scallops for dinner. Here's the finished product.

The recipe comes from a Bobby Flay cookbook. It includes all of the veggies pictured above, diced really small. Use only half of the onion, and put half of the tomatoes and one cucumber in a blender with 6 slices of good white bread and a couple of cups of tomato juice. Add the diced vegetables to the puree along with olive oil (a couple tablespoons), red wine vinegar (~1/4 cup), lime juice (2 limes), and salt and pepper to taste. I thought that this recipe was a bit heavy on the onions, so I would do one of two things next time: use half the amount of onions or soak the onions to take the bite out. Soaking the onions involves changing the water and squeezing moisture out of the onions about every 10 minutes. I also would have pureed more of the vegetables since I like a smoother gazpacho.
I served the Gazpacho with a Kim Crawford sauvignon blanc, which is a really great summer wine. Here's Andre, getting ready to dig in.