29 July 2006

tooooo hot toooooooo coooooooooook

Tomato-Watermelon Salad with Feta and Toasted Almonds

Fettucine with Walnuts, Zucchini Ribbons, and Pecorino Romano

Too hot to bake.
Too hot to braise.
Too hot to stir risotto.
Too hot to play Guitar Hero.
Too hot to fly my new stunt kite named Friendlies.
Too hot to sit on the porch, plus there are killer bees out there that just won’t die.

The only logical course of action left, then, once the above options have been eliminated, is to hole myself up with the fuzzy cats in the one air-conditioned room in our home and flip through cooking magazines and fantasize about when this heat wave will be over so life can go on and I can eat foods that are not salad. Oh, I love salad, yes I do, but not as much as I love a hot, splattering platter of bacon-wrapped parmesan-stuffed dates, y’know?

Something else that I love is when you are seeking inspiration in your cooking magazines one hour before you want to eat dinner, and you still haven’t gone to the grocery store, and you don’t really want to cook anyway because it’s too hot, but you don’t want to eat freezie-pops for dinner (again), AND THEN…you find two quick, healthy (actually healthy doesn’t matter to me) recipes that you can make for the same meal AND neither of them require the application of exorbitant amounts of heat AND they are both on the same page of the magazine, enabling you to conserve precious sweatdrops by not turning pages back and forth between the recipes while you cook.

If you are thinking that you totally love it when that happens, or if you thinking that someday that would nice if that happened to you, then please open up your August 2006 issue of Bon Appetit to pages 70 and 71, and you will find two superb recipes that Bon Appétit should have turned into a centerfold. That is, if cooking magazines had centerfolds, which I think they should. Bon Appétit, can I come and work for you and design centerfolds for your magazine? Oh Nellie, could you imagine? Hello Dreamjob, good bye Oldjob, I sure wouldn’t miss working in a gymnasium with 55 nine-year-olds, each of them holding a violin or some other stringed instrument that they’ve never played before and I have to teach them all how to play their instruments all at the same time, all sixty of them…and some of them smell like poop…and some of them are wearing roller skates…why do I do this to myself?

Anyways, I digress. I think the heat must be getting to me now.
Back to dinner, the only heat involved in preparing these Bon Appétit two delights is:
1) the boiling of the water for the pasta,
2) the heat from toasting the almonds and the walnuts,
3) the heat of the scorching sun on your forehead when you are walking home from the grocery store, arms laden with ingredients, and
4) the heat from the friction that your knife creates when it is wailing on the cutting board (hee-hee I accidentally typed “whaling" at first).

If you are reading this at 6 PM, then you still have time to go the store and make this dinner and have it on the table by 7 PM. Maybe even earlier if you can cut stuff real fast with your knife, or if you have friends who can help you cut stuff real fast.

Tomato-Watermelon Salad with Feta and Toasted Almonds
Recipe courtesy of Bon Appétit except I didn’t toast the almonds because I was too hot.

8 cups watermelon, chunked (that means cut into chunks)
3 pounds ripe tomatoes, chunked
1 teaspoon fleur de sel or coarse kosher salt ( I'm not sure if the fleur de sel is necessary but I do think the kosher salt makes a difference)
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons chopped assorted fresh herbs (such as basil, dill and mint)
6 cups fresh arugula leaves or small watercress springs
1 cup crumpled feta cheese
½ cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted

Combine melon, tomatoes and salt in large bowl. Toss and let stand for 15 minutes.
Add arugula, oil, vinegar, and herbs to the melon mixture. Season to taste with pepper and more salt, if desired.
Sprinkle with feta cheese and toasted almonds.

Fettucine with Walnuts, Zucchini Ribbons, and Pecorino Romano
Recipe adapted from Bon Appétit

2 ½ pounds small zucchini
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced into a paste
2 anchovy fillets, minced (I omitted the anchovies but I imagine that they would be delicious)
½ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 pound fettucine
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped (make your husband toast the walnuts if you’re too hot)
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided (I used asiago flakes)
½ cup (packed) thinly sliced fresh basil
¼ cup (packed) chopped fresh mint (I forgot this ingredient, ooops. Still loved it!)
Fresh zucchini flowers, thinly sliced, for optional garnish (if someone can tell where to find zucchini flowers in Chicago I would be much obliged.)

Using a vegetable peeler, shave zucchinis lengthwise to create fine ribbons. Leave a small stripe of the peel on each ribbon for color and taste.
Place ribbons (should be about 10 cups) in a large colander set over a bowl; sprinkle with kosher salt and let stand for thirty minutes. Rinse zucchini under cold water; drain well. Spread on 2 large kitchen towels or paper towels; roll up in towels to absorb excess water. Set aside.
Cook pasta in salted water until just tender. Drain, reserving ½ cup cooking liquid.
Transfer pasta to a large powl. Toss with oil and ¼ cup cooking liquid. Add remaining ingredients, reserving ½ cup of cheese. Toss well. Season with salt and pepper, and add more pasta cooking liquid if the mixture seems dry.
Sprinkle with oil, the remaining cheese, and the zucchini flowers, and serve.

23 July 2006

Please Help Me Overcome my Tyler Florence Abhorrence

sesame noodles that make me feel guilty for criticizing
Tyler Florence's cookbook writing skills

Hmmm… I suppose the word ‘abhorrence’ may be too strong to describe my sentiments towards the celebrity chef Tyler Florence, but there are no other sentiments that rhyme with the surname of Florence. The closest rhyme I can come up with is “St. Lawrence,” but St. Lawrence is really not an emotion that you can feel for someone.
A more accurate description of my feelings for Tyler Florence would be annoyance. Florence and annoyance, however, are only approximate rhymes, and I know that approximate rhymes annoy some people more than Tyler Florence annoys me.

What is it about Tyler Florence that grates on my soul?
It’s not his recipes… ever since my husband discovered Tyler Florence’s online recipe for Banana and Pecan Pancakes with Maple Butter, and then proceeded to make Banana and Pecan Pancakes with Maple Butter for his wife (that’s me, yay!), not one of Tyler Florence’s recipes have failed us. You can count on them to be uncomplicated yet elegant, and deliciously delicious. I just made his recipe for cold sesame noodles (see below for recipe) and was more than pleased by the results.
So it’s not his recipes. It’s his writing. It’s atrocious! One month ago, I purchased his cookbook, Eat This Book, and then I spent the next month becoming increasingly irritated by his uninspiring comments. My typical Eat This Book reading sessions would go something like this:

Sit down.
Open book.
Sight a gorgeous photograph.
Lovingly caress said photograph.
Read ingredients and recipe and think to self, “Someday I will make this recipe.”
Drool on photograph.
Wipe drool from photograph in case cookbook is going to be returned to bookstore.
Read Tyler Florence’s comment about recipe.
Read irritating comment out loud to husband or anyone who will listen.
Experience violently fluctuating thoughts about whether I will keep the book or return the book.
Slam book.
Stand up.
Sit down.
Open book.
Repeat steps until I am so clogged with indecision that I have to go eat a banana to calm myself down.

I need help. I can't decide if I am retarded or not.
I returned the cookbook yesterday in a fit of confused rage, but I still haven't decided whether that was the right thing to do. I have typed out a whole bunch of his comments so you can read them and tell me if:

a) I am both retarded and overly judgmental…I should get over it and re-buy the book for the wonderful recipes…stop being such a snot.


b) I am not out of my cotton-picking gourd because I think it’s important that someone publishing a book should able to write well.

A Few of his Comments that will Help You Help Me:
“I guarantee you, roasted this way, your bird will really taste like something.”
But everything tastes like something, Tyler Florence. Even poop.
“This recipe is very simple and it’s really good.”
No doi. If it weren't 'really good,' Tyler Florence, it wouldn't be in your cookbook.
When you bite into a Bosc pear, you really know what time of year it is.
I do, Tyler Florence?
“Summertime is my favorite time to cook because the produce is so great.”
'Great?' Couldn't you think of a better word, Tyler Florence?
“Fresh pasta’s also kind of fun to make.”
What's up with the apostrophes? They are everywhere, Tyler Florence. I don't know why it annoys me but it does. And 'kind of'? It's a book, not a blog, for crying out loud! Maintain some professional standards here!
“…I realized how important it was to savor the important stuff.”
Once again, Tyler Florence, I emphasize the importance of word choice.

Please note excessive use of the word ‘truly.'
“This is truly a great dish.”
“The recipes are easy to put together and they truly taste like the sun.”
“This is a hearty winter dish, a truly satisfying casserole.”
“…how truly great simple great Italian food can be.”
“…you can find amazing organic produce and farmers who truly take pride in their craft.”
“…this everyday vegetable was transformed into something that tasted truly amazing.
“…the mushrooms taste truly amazing.

Get ready for the worst one of all:
“The truffles tasted like sex.”
Not appetizing, Tyler Florence!
Get away from me, book!

Before I returned the gross book, I made his recipe for cold sesame noodles. I feel rather guilty about it because they really are filled with so much spicy-peanut-buttery goodness and Tyler Florence really does not deserve abhorrence from anybody (except for writing the above mushroom description).

Cold Sesame Noodles
Truly amazing recipe courtesy of Tyler Florence

1/2 pound Chinese egg noodles (I used vermicelli, came out fine)
3 tablespoons dark sesame oil
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1-inch piece fresh ginger, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon red chili paste, such as sambal oelek
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
6 tablespoons hot water
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Cucumber slices, for garnish
Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

Cook the noodles in large pot of boiling unsalted water over medium heat until barely tender and still firm. Drain immediately and rinse with cold water until cool. Drain the noodles really well and transfer to a wide bowl; toss with the sesame oil so they don't stick together.

In a small saucepan, heat the peanut oil over medium-low flame. Add the green onions, ginger, garlic, and chili paste. Cook and stir for a minute until soft and fragrant. Mix in the brown sugar, peanut butter, vinegar, soy sauce, and hot water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and the peanut butter has smoothed out. Toss the noodles with the peanut sauce until well coated. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Garnish with the sesame seeds, cucumber slices, and cilantro.

11 July 2006

pinkfully delightful

i drink red wine and white wine but never pink
it's way to sweet...at least that's what I used to think
until I visited the wine region of Willamette
and now I love pink wine damnit

That is the story of my life so far. I used to think rosé wines were way too syrupy and fruity, the sort of wine that I would have enjoyed when I was three.
BUT...I am on a wine-tasting adventure in Willamette Valley, Oregon (which is by the way one of the most wonderful vacation activities known to those with moderate drinking problems), and I have been schooled in the ways of rosé! The key is to find a dry rosé that has had little or no residual sugar added. The pinot noir rosés we have been tasting in the Willamette Valley are crisp, flavorful, and perfect for a summer evening when you desire more substance than what a white offers, but yet the night is just not right for a red.

If you are lucky enough to live in proximity to a liquor store that organizes wine by region, like Sam's Wine & Spirits in Chicago, and you are lucky enough to have money to buy wine, which is not me after this tasty trip, find the Willamette Valley section, ignore your instincts that tell you rosé is for sillies, and select a rosé for your pleasurous consumption.

Vineyards we visited whose rosés were especially tasty:

prettiest labels ever!

view from Van Duzer

Elk Cove Vineyards
view from Elk Cove

If you would rather just skip the rosé and drink pinot noir, Willamette Valley is known for its pinot noir grapes and wine makers. We tasted pinot noir after pinot noir after pinot noir and we didn't want to stop! Vineyards we visited whose pinot noirs were especially memorable:

Peter Rosback, the winemaker at Sineann, was kind enough to let us taste wines directly from the barrels. Yay! All of the barrels contained wine made from grapes grown at different vineyards. My inexperienced palette could still easily discern differences between the different vineyards and I look foward to seeing some of them in bottles soon!

Witness Tree Vineyard

This is the tree on the label. Upon retrospect, I think we should have walked up the hill and paid our respects to the ancient oak. Instead we drank more wine and gaped at more panoramas.
chardonnay grapes at Witness Tree

Domain Drouhin
Abbey and Anne sip exquisite wine we could only ever afford for ourselves on our fiftieth birthdays.

not so bad view from Domain Drouhin

Dont forget to stay hydrated!

02 July 2006

A One-Pot Thai Meal and a Chicken Thigh Spiel

Thai Chicken Coconut Curry

When it comes to chicken, I am a thigh girl. You can blindfold me and dangle a chicken breast and a chicken thigh in front of my face and I will naturally gravitate towards the thigh. Yeah. Especially if it still has the skin on it. Then you can’t keep me away.

I know some of you closet thigh girls and thigh boys will never admit to your overwhelming cravings for dark meat, but when one of your dining companions helps himself to the last thigh on the platter before passing you the pile of dry chicken breast, you silently weep and reprimand yourself for not having the courage to swipe that succulent treasure from your neighbor's plate while he is helping himself to the last serving of something else on the table.

Thigh meat is so flavorful and tender, and almost impossible to overcook. Oh, I suppose it is fattier than white meat, but if I am going to publicly identify myself as a thigh girl then I cannot have qualms about the nutritional intake of my chicken meat.

If you are worried about the extra calories, you can always remove the skin and mail it to me in an envelope and I will eat it because I love it. BUT WAIT! Don’t take the skin off until after the thighs are cooked. Even if you are not going to eat the skin, you should still cook the thighs with the skin on, because the meat stays moist underneath the skin. Then, when the chicken is cooked, you have my permission to take the skin off.

Looking for a satisfying, high-maintenance Thai recipe that brings out the best characteristics of chicken thigh meat by braising it slowly in super-flavorful broth over low heat? Look no further! After experimenting for years, trying to emulate a chicken coconut curry from a neighborhood Thai restaurant, I have finally succeeded. It took forever. I am happy now.

Thai Chicken Coconut Curry (with lots of vegetables)
(serves 6 to 8)
(the leftovers will freeze well if you don’t have 5 friends)

10 chicken thighs, bone-in and with skin (you can use skinless/boneless thighs but I warn you the meat will not be as tender)
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
2 tbs. green curry paste (can be found in the international aisle of most grocery stores...you can always make your own curry paste but this is easier and still tasty)
1 tbs. curry powder
1 tsp. cumin
2 tbsp. fish sauce (don't skip this essential Thai ingredient, no matter how badly it smells!)
6-8 cups chicken stock
1-2 cans coconut milk
1 15 oz. can of garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
1 potato, peeled and cut into half-inch cubes
2 cups frozen peas
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 handful cilantro and slivered red onions, garnish

Salt and pepper chicken thighs. Let them sit so the seasoning sinks in and the meat is not too cold from the refrigerator.
Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil to medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or a large saucepan. When oil is hot, place thighs skin side down in one layer. Do not be tempted to move the chicken pieces around or you will not achieve the crispy skin that will later lock in moisture and keep the meat juicy.
After 5-6 minutes, the chicken skin should be golden-brown and crispy. Using tongs, flip the chicken pieces over and cook until the other side is also golden-brown. The meat will still be uncooked in the middle. Remove the chicken pieces and set aside (the lid of the Dutch oven works perfectly for the setting aside of the chicken pieces, so then you don’t have to dirty a plate unnecessarily).

Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in the same Dutch oven. Add the onions and cook for 4 or 5 minutes, until they are soft. Add the garlic. Stir occasionally. After a minute or two, add the curry paste, the curry powder, and the cumin and stir for one minute so the flavors can blend. Add the fish sauce and stir for fifteen seconds. Fish sauce smells real bad and real good at the same time.

Add the chicken pieces back to the pot, and pour in enough chicken stock and coconut milk so that the chicken thighs are barely covered by liquid. You may have stock or coconut milk that goes unused. If you do not have enough stock or coconut milk to cover the meat, use water.

Cover the Dutch oven and reduce to a simmer. Cook until the thighs are no longer pink in the middle. This could take thirty minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the chicken pieces.

Remove the chicken pieces (again) and set aside to cool. Wheee, this is fun!
Increase the heat to high let the braising liquid thicken for about ten minutes.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin. Discard the skin (don’t mail it to me in an envelope like I requested before because I only love chicken skin when it’s crispy, and this braised skin will be soggy).
Using two forks or your fingers, shred the meat into bite-sized pieces. There is enough succulent thigh meat written into the recipe that you can put some in your mouth and snack while you shred (SWYS).

Add the chicken pieces back into the cooking liquid and reduce heat to medium-low.
Add the garbanzo beans and the cubed potatoes and cook for ten minutes.
Add the frozen peas and cook until thawed.
Remove from heat and stir in the tomatoes.
Garnish with cilantro leaves and slivers of red onion.

I didn’t realize how much work goes into this dish until I typed it all out, but please don’t be scared away. After all, it’s a one-pot meal!
And don't neglect garnish because you are tired of cooking and just ready to eat...I understand the temptation to leave out the garnish. But even if you are only cooking for yourself, take the extra minute and please garnish, you deserve it!

thigh meat....mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm