In which it is really summer…

panzanella

Well, that’s what I get for procrastinating. That is a Landon Donovan t-shirt. That was taken Tuesday night, when he was my hero. Now Landon, no offense, but it just reminds me of a crushing disappointment. Don’t worry. It’s not your fault. You are not a defender, one of the men who repeatedly forget their purpose in the first half of games and extra time, even if the World Cup hopes of a nation depend on it. I’ll get over it if you guys get a new defensive side. Fair trade, I think.

So now I’ll just talk about the panzanella. This is a food blog, after all.

Panzanella is a great summer salad, because it showcases tomatoes, can be modified pretty much anyway you’d like and can serve as a side, or a light meal. The basics are tomatoes and bread, but other than that, the world is your oyster. I did a fairly straightforward version with bread, tomatoes, mozz and basil. I added olives and quick cooked some red onions, and dressed it with olive oil and sherry vinegar. You could add cucumbers, shrimp, roasted vegetables, various cheeses, really, whatever floats your boat.

I like to use toasted croutons rather than stale bread. It gives it a bit more texture and flavor. I have the ability to add garlic without using raw garlic right in the salad, which can be a bit much. Same with onions. I start with about 4 cups of bread cubes. I prefer crusty bread like ciabatta. I heat a fair amount of olive oil in my cast iron pan, and add garlic and let it start to brown and flavor the oil.

creating flavor

When the onion starts to brown and get fragrant, I add the bread cubes, and let them start to brown and soak up the oil. Right before the bread is finished crisping and browning, I add a splash more olive oil, and some red onion.

building flavor.

I let the onions just start to sweat and soften, and the bread finish cooking, and then I took them off the heat and added the rest of the ingredients. In this case, fresh mozzarella from the farmers’ market, ripe tomatoes (if you hold out until August they’ll be even better-or slow roast them, that would also be awesome) pitted kalamata olives, fresh basil and dress it with the olive oil and vinegar of your choice. Hit it with some salt and pepper and you are in business. This requires almost no effort other than a bit of chopping and crouton watching. No muss, no fuss and limited need for heat, which is always nice in the summer. This is best eaten fairly quickly, as you want the bread to absorb the flavors and juices, but not get soggy. The croutons do help mitigate the sogginess which is nice. I ate the leftovers the next day for lunch and they were still great, even with the soggier bread.

Panzanella (serves 4 as a side, 2+ as a meal)

1/4 cup plus 3 tbl olive oil, divided

3-4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled, left in large pieces

4 cups bread cubes from crusty bread

Scant 1 cup sliced red onion

6-8 oz fresh mozzarella, cubed

1 lb of the best tomatoes you can get, in a large dice (if using cherry or grape tomatoes, halve them)

1/4 lb (1/3 – 1/2 cup – or to taste) pitted black kalamata olives

Chiffonade of 8-10 large leaves of Basil

2 tbl sherry vinegar, or to taste

salt and pepper to taste

Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large (preferably cast iron) frying pan over medium heat. Prepare bowl (wooden works great if you have one) for serving by rubbing the inside with a clove of the cut garlic, and set aside. Add all the garlic to the oil and let it cook, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until the garlic is browned and the oil is fragrant. Add the bread cubes and cook, turning the cubes for equal browning, until they are toasty and browned. Remove the garlic as it starts to blacken and burn. As the bread finishes toasting, and has absorbed all the oil, add another tablespoon of oil and the red onion, tossing to soften the onion until it just begins to sweat. Make sure all the garlic has been removed, and transfer the croutons and the just cooked onion to the serving bowl. I like to immediately add the cubed mozzarella so the heat from the bread softens it a bit. Then add the tomatoes, olives and basil and toss to combine flavors. Add just enough olive oil to so the salad isn’t dry, about 2 tbls. It won’t need much because of the oil used to toast the bread and onions. Add the sherry vinegar and toss again to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste, let it sit and meld while you set the table and pour a glass of wine, and then enjoy!

summer perfection

In which I make something delicious…

Hola amigos!

oh heavens

That there is salmon.

I have a great fish market right down the street from me. The lovely ladies of Mercato del Mare opened the small place about two years ago (I think?) and they always have the regular stuff you might be looking for, and it is always impeccably fresh. And they send great e-mails when they have special stuff. They also have what appears to be delightful ready to eat or heat and eat options, which since I like to do it myself, I don’t take advantage of, but one of these days I am sure I will, because it all looks delicious. They are always willing to chat about whatever idea I have come up with that particular evening, and will help out with any particular requests I might have. I love having them in the neighborhood.

I wandered in there the other day with a recipe for salmon sashimi in mind, and left with some lovely salmon cut in thin slices for me by the ladies. The recipe called for 1/8 inch thick slices, which is really really thin. I think the only way that might have been possible would be to cut them right off the whole filet with a really sharp, thin-blade knife. I am not giving up on that possibility, but in the meantime, the 1/4 inch slices that I ended up with worked just fine. Thanks for the help Liz and Keri!

This recipe comes together really easily, and says it will serve four as an appetizer. I ate it by myself and called it dinner.

First things first, the salmon gets marinated in soy sauce for a minute. Literally, one minute, then you drain it.

marinated

The fish gets laid out on a plate and sprinkled with, in my case, ginger and scallions. It is supposed to be ginger and chives but I didn’t have any.

sprinkled

Then you mix a little bit more soy sauce with the juice of a lime and an orange, while you heat sesame, olive and canola oils for about two minutes.

When you are ready to eat you pour the hot oil over the top of the fish, and then follow with the soy citrus mixture. That’s it. Dinner is served. And it is awesome.

dinner

This tasted a lot of soy sauce (use low-sodium or it will border on overwhelming) and the oil seemed like it would be too much, but wasn’t. This felt luxurious but only cost me about $5. And it came together in minutes. If I want it to feel more like dinner, next time I will serve the fish over rice stick or bean thread noodles for a little bit of substance. And perhaps I will add either red pepper flakes (probably to the oil) or sriracha (to the soy citrus sauce) for a little heat. I suspect if you have friends that like sushi, they will be really impressed by this oh so simple appetizer. And I think it would be easily adjusted for different flavor profiles as well. And this is a good one for the air conditioner-less situation that I find myself in. It is always right around this time of year that I wonder why I love this apartment so much. No air and no dishwasher. Remind me again?

Anyway, if you are as big a salmon sushi fan as I am, sally forth and make this soon. You will not regret it.

Salmon Sashimi with Soy and Sesame Oil (serves 2 as an appetizer, 1 for dinner)

Adapted from Food & Wine July 2008

1/4 cup plus 2 tbl low-sodium soy sauce

1 tsp fresh lime juice

1 tsp fresh orange juice

1/4 lb super fresh salmon, sliced as thinly as possible and then into approximately 2 inch lengths

One 1/4 inch piece of fresh ginger sliced paper-thin and cut into match sticks

1 tbl thinly sliced scallions

2 tbl neutral oil like grapeseed, or a combination of olive and canola oils

1 tsp Asian sesame oil

1 1/2 tsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)

2 tbl cilantro leaves (optional)

In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce with the lime and orange juices. In a medium bowl, toss the salmon with the remaining 1/4 cup of soy sauce and let stand for 1 minute, then drain. Arrange salmon on plate or plates and top with the ginger and chives.

In a small saucepan, heat the oils over moderately high heat until smoking, about 2 minutes. Drizzle the hot oil over the salmon pieces. Spoon the soy-citrus sauce on top. Sprinkle with the roasted sesame seeds and cilantro leaves, if using, and serve.

In which I attain food nirvana…

Well my pets, a lot has been happening around here, just a few short days ago, this was the status of my kitchen.

dismantled

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that this isn’t my kitchen, it is in fact, my dining room, playing host to my most treasured possessions.

dry goods

There’s my kitchen table and all of my pantry items. If your dream was to see the contents of my cabinets, I feel sorry for you, but consider me your genie. There they are.

depression

That picture makes me shudder. But it had to be done. You know how sometimes you don’t even know how dirty something was until it has been cleaned? The kitchen needed it bad. I pulled out the stove and did the floor underneath it. Same for the fridge. Did you know you are supposed to be able to see through the window on your oven door? I cleaned that too. It’s glorious. And now, things are back to normal, thank goodness.

aaaaaaand, we're back

Totally back to normal.

I need a dishwasher, still.

This weekend was exhausting. I feel like a puddle. I ate a lot, and I ate very well, and I made almost none of it. There was book club up in Salem, Thai food with one of my favorite fams on Friday, birthday lunch for my Gram on Sunday at Neptune, and dinner with a friend back in town from New York Sunday night. There was some excellent food and lots of wine and not enough sleep. And in between all that eating, I developed some serious soccer fever over here. Soccer is mostly watched an adored by those who have played it, and I sort of get that. There is not a ton of scoring and it can sometimes end in a tie, but it is a beautiful game, and the boys ain’t bad to look at either. I love that the guys exchange banners and all those adorable tiny people who escort the players onto the field. How excited must they be? The Copa Mundial is soccer in its purest form and I am watching as much of it as possible (which at three games a day is really rotten for productivity.) Another thing I like is the accents on so many of the announcers. But those horns that sound like millions of angry bees and stay in your head for hours after the game ends even through the tv? Who’s idea were those? Thanks, but I prefer my soccer without them. Especially since there is often such great chants and music in the stands by groups of fans that we can’t hear. One other thing I don’t like, what is with the particularly tight jerseys on some of these teams? Never a good look. That is all.

Also: Go Celts! Beat LA.

All this to say I am actually writing about a creation from last weekend. I can’t figure out where time has gone.

Soft shell crab season is short but oh so sweet, and I try to take advantage while it lasts. My favorite way to cook them is to fry in tempura batter. It is really quick and easy and you can’t really go wrong. Except just a warning. If you have a fish market close by, you may want to ask them to clean the crabs for you. It is not hard, but involves cutting the face off a live creature and said creature gets mad, so it’s a little creepy. Totally worth it, but you may not think so.

I had brioche in the freezer that I made a couple of weeks ago, and an avocado and a spring onion in the fridge, and a dish was born. I made a quick salad with avocado, very thinly sliced spring onion, which is nice and mild but still has onion flavor, and a couple of tablespoons of ginger miso dressing.

avocado salad

I made a tempura batter with equal parts flour and club soda, and I toasted two pieces of brioche-you could use a crusty white bread like ciabatta or the like instead if you didn’t have brioche, but the brioche was really awesome. Try to get yourself some. Or make it! I fried the soft shells in really hot oil in the wok, it takes no more than five minutes. They should look like this. (Recipe note: a brand new bottle of club soda will bubble furiously and evaporate more for a thicker batter like the one in this photo, a not quite so new bottle will make a thinner batter-you will be able to see the crab through the batter when fried. This photo below is from soft shells I made a couple of weeks ago, and I prefer the result to the batter from this time around.)

fried to delight

Brioche on the plate, softshell on the brioche, salad on the softshell. I ate one stack and it was so good I went back and made a second.

perfection

I suspected this would be good, but it was just one of those dishes that was unexpected perfection. I was so excited I called my dad immediately. Sometimes things just work out better than expected.

One of these would have made a perfect appetizer, and though soft shells are a little pricey if you are trying to serve a crowd, they are a nice splurge for the occasional dinner for two. And one softshell is a good appetizer size. If you wanted to forego the bread these would also be great over a slaw I think.

Tempura Soft-shell Crabs with Avocado Salad (serves 2 as an appetizer)

2 thick slices brioche or other crusty bread

For the crabs:

2 soft shell crabs, cleaned

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup club soda or beer (a darker beer with have more flavor in the batter, choose accordingly)

Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper (feel free to add some cayenne as well)

Unflavored oil for deep frying-I used canola, grape seed or peanut would also work well

For the avocado salad:

1 ripe avocado pitted, peeled and diced into half-inch cubes

1/4 cup very thinly sliced spring onion (or substitute scallions or shallots) soaked quickly in cold water to remove the bite, and drained

2 tbl Ginger-Miso dressing

black pepper to taste

Make the avocado salad: combine the diced avocado, spring onion, dressing and black pepper in the small bowl and set aside.

Make the tempura batter: whisk together flour, salt, pepper and cayenne, if using, in a small bowl, and then whisk in club soda or beer, set aside. Heat 3 inches of oil in a heavy deep pot or a wok (a wok will heat up faster and require less oil) over medium-high heat until very hot and shimmering. Submerge crabs in tempura batter to thoroughly coat. Test readiness of oil by adding a small amount of the batter to the oil, if it bubbles furiously and crisps up right away, the oil is ready. Add the crabs to the hot oil and cook for 4-5 minutes until they are just lightly golden, you may need to turn them over once if they are not frying evenly. When cooked, remove them from the oil and drain on paper towels. In the meantime, as the crabs are frying, toast the brioche.

To plate: put the brioche on a plate and lay the crab on top of it. Spoon half the avocado salad over the top, and then garnish with some of the crispy tempura bits from the oil if you would like.

Enjoy!

In which there’s a little birdhouse in my soul…

Will induce random happiness

There are lots of things that make me happy. It doesn’t usually take much. It also doesn’t take much to make me cry. I did it twice today, which makes me sound like a crazy person, but I’m really really not. I am not talking about soul shaking purging all your feelings crying, it actually takes a lot (of emotion or of alcohol-those of you that went to high school with me, and good old Mary know to what I refer) to make me do that, I’m talking about the tears right at the surface ready to spring forth at the merest encouragement kind of crying. In this case brought about first by a very heartwarming story on ESPN.com (go ahead a read it and try to tell me it doesn’t give you a catch in your throat) and second by the season finale of Parenthood that I watched on TiVo. Man oh man, that one got me more than once.

But this is about things that make me happy, and today they are many and varied.

Gimlets. I know I have talked about my gimlets before, and I am still working on the measurements to share with you, so you can enjoy this fantastic refreshing beverage as well, sit tight.

The summer. I love when it’s warm. Warm holidays are my favorite. 4th of July is my most favorite because of the fireworks, but Memorial Day comes close because there is always outdoor food cookery and daytime drinking parties.

These:

please, let me explain

I honestly think crocs are the ugliest shoes ever created and are appropriate in public only for small children, but I broke down and got some because I absolutely abhor being barefoot. Unless I am at the beach or under my covers, there are shoes on my feet. I do not like to have dirty feet, and the idea of cooking barefoot gives me the icks. You could lose a toe. So I need to be wearing shoes. Except that the very first thing I like to do when I come in from outside is take whatever shoes I am wearing off. I needed a solution for this. Slippers don’t work because I cook a lot and they get spilled on and gross, and I couldn’t think of another option, so I got some crocs. And I have worn them every single moment I have spent in my apartment since. I don’t have to drag in the city filth on the bottom of my shoes, and I don’t have to risk toe decapitation. And so now they make me happy. And they have NEVER seen the out of doors. And they never will. Not only are they crocs, they are bright yellow crocs, so I will never be tempted. They have never even gotten the paper. Think slippers, but more sanitary.

The fact that my legs don’t look totally glow in the dark in that picture.

Professional sports championship match ups. Go Celts. ’57, ’59, ’60-’66, ’68, ’69, ’74, ’76, ’81, ’84, ’86, ’08…’10!

They Might Be Giants.

The kindness of strangers. A stranger did me a solid, and ended up shooting herself in the foot as a result of her totally unnecessary good deed. All is right with the world now, but it took a couple of extra steps for it to get there, and to show my gratitude, I decided to bake so I could give her a treat when we met today. I made homemade Oreos. It made me really happy to make them, and I hope it makes her happy to eat them.

So much better for you...

I actually regret making these. They are way too easy to put together, and they really are good. They may be habit forming. I have to get the rest out of the house ASAP. The cookies are crispy and a little salty and perfectly not totally sweet, and the filling is upscale Oreo. I have eaten two of these dipped in milk. And two before I thought of pouring myself a glass of milk. Again, I have to get these out of here.

They really are easy. The cookie dough is done in the food processor.

Combine dry ingredients:

flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt

Then add butter and an egg and pulse until it looks like this.

dough

Then rounded teaspoons onto parchment lined cookie sheets. And then they get smooshed a little into disks.

smooshed

And then baked for nine minutes. They puff up a little and then deflate and crisp up as they cool.

the crunchy exterior

The filling is butter, shortening, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla extract. It comes together in five minutes and then you pipe it onto the cookies and match them up.

the creamy interior

I had cookies put together and boxed up from start to finish in less than an hour. These really do come together quickly. Make them soon.

gifted

This recipe came from Smitten Kitchen. I am going to have to pay Deb royalties. This is getting silly.

Homemade Oreos (Makes 25 to 30 sandwich cookies)

From Smitten Kitchen

For the cookies:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup sugar (apparently the original recipe says you can use 1 1/2 cups sugar. I’m ignoring that because they would be too sweet. Delicious, but not Oreos.)

1/2 cup plus 2 tbls (1 1/4 sticks) room-temperature, unsalted butter

1 large egg

For the filling:

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) room-temperature, unsalted butter

1/4 cup vegetable shortening

2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

Set two racks in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 375°F.

In a food processor, or bowl of an electric mixer, thoroughly mix the flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar. While pulsing, or on low speed, add the butter, and then the egg. Continue processing or mixing until dough comes together in a mass.

Take rounded teaspoons of batter and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet approximately two inches apart. With moistened hands, slightly flatten the dough. Bake for 9 minutes, rotating once for even baking. Set baking sheets on a rack to cool.

To make the cream, place butter and shortening in a mixing bowl, and at low speed, gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla. Turn the mixer on high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy.

To assemble the cookies, in a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch, round tip, pipe teaspoon-size blobs of cream into the center of one cookie. Place another cookie, equal in size to the first, on top of the cream. Lightly press, to work the filling evenly to the outsides of the cookie. Continue this process until all the cookies have been sandwiched with cream.