30 June 2015

A summer salad for the ages (or at least the next week...)

It's hot, and we are painting the house, sort of all day every day at this point.  In the first few days of our hardcore painting routine, we had leftovers in the fridge we could pop in Chef Mike when our stomachs started growling.  Now we've moved on to variation on an Asian-y salad, in which we fill large bowls with prepped ingredients and drizzle one or more homemade dressings and some fresh cilantro from the garden on top.  It's as easy as leftovers, but fresher and healthier.  Whether or not you are painting a house, you might also benefit from a similar scenario at this point in the season.

Finely chop or shred and store in containers in the fridge: napa cabbage, radishes, carrots (I shred these in the food processor), green onion, red bell pepper.

"Cook" and contain: rice vermicelli, which can soak in hot water while you're chopping the vegetables. Drain and season with salt and a little rice vinegar.

Optional proteins can be added to the mix: any leftover cooked chicken, pork, shrimp, or fish can be thrown in, or do what I like to do and bake some marinated tofu.

Toppings: crushed peanuts, torn fresh cilantro, mint, and/or basil leaves (do this at the least minute, obvi)

Here's what my fridge looks like on the "salad shelf":

Dressings: any salad can become either disappointing or amazing based on the dressing. If you don't want to make anything, some Sriracha mayo 1/4 cup mayo + 1 teaspoon or more of Sriracha), jarred hoisin sauce, and seasoned rice vinegar all add great flavor instantly.  But it's nice to have a couple of more complex dressings on hand, anyway, so you don't get bored. 

Dressing #1:
3 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 small garlic clove, finely grated
1 small jalapeno, chopped

Dressing #2:
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp well-stirred tahini
1 tbsp white vinegar
2 tsp grainy mustard
1 tsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup water

Dressing #3:
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup yellow or white miso
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
3 teaspoons canola or grapeseed oil
1 teaspoons dark sesame oil

26 June 2015

The Minnesota State Fair rules the land

Have you seen this list of "new foods" unveiled by the good people of the Minnesota State Fair?  It is awe-inspiring, and I would like to propose a mass migration to their fair lands.  But only for about a month.  I hear the mosquitoes totally suck there.

Some highlights, in case you're too busy to read the above link:

(all photos stolen from MPR, who stole them from Minnesota State Fair)

The mac and cheese cupcake features macaroni and cheese in a breadcrumb crust and is frosted (?!) with Cheez Whiz.

The hot tail is a roasted pig tail coated in a scallion ginger sauce. This seems particularly disgusting, and I am dying to try it.

The kimchi 'n' curry poutine features braised pork and potatoes smothered with curry gravy and cheddar cheese, topped with kimchi and a poached egg. OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD.

This fine-looking Italian meatloaf-on-a-stick is stuffed with mozzarella and pepperoni, topped with marinara sauce and a Parmesan herb blend. Otherwise it might not be filling enough.

Quite possibly winning the award for weirdest food, and also for food that looks the most like a poop, here is a photo of fried kalettes (pronounced kale-etts). Battered kale is fried crispy in wine and served with sweet Thai chili sauce.

Thank you, Minnesota. What's your favorite wacky fair food?

25 June 2015

Follow me on instagram!

I have joined the 10s and finally joined Instagram, posting a mix of travel photos, recipes in the making, and the occasional shot from my garden and other related stuff around the house.

I'm also posting bonus recipes that you won't find here on the blog, like this little beauty of a salad with nectarines and fresh corn, above.  Follow me here.

23 June 2015

Mediterranean Green Beans and Orzo with bonus leftover casserole

What a way to enjoy the green beans from your garden (or local farmer's market)! This dish can be made with no meat, or you can replace the chicken I use with tofu, shrimp, chunked cod, etc. And the casserole is a great way to revive leftovers, suitable for brunch, lunch, or dinner.

Scroll to the end for my 30-second tzatziki, which I think is appropriate with either preparation, as well as most other savory foods.

Mediterranean Green Beans and Orzo

Serves 6-8, or see alternative leftover casserole, below

2 teaspoons olive oil
½ yellow onion, diced
1 chicken breast, trimmed and cut into 2-inch chunks (optional; leave out our replace with protein of your choice)
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes, with juice
¼ cup red wine
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh mint, chopped
½ cup crumbled feta
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the orzo:
1 lb. orzo
1 small garlic clove, minced
Juice and zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon olive oil
Salt and red pepper flakes to taste

Bring a well-salted pot of water to boil; cook orzo al dente according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, warm the oil over medium heat.  When it shimmers, add the onion and chicken, along with a sprinkle of salt, and sauté until onion is translucent and chicken is mostly cooked through, about 8 minutes.  Toss in the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about one minute.  Add the green beans, tomatoes, red wine, teaspoon salt, and fresh and dried herbs.  Stir to incorporate, cover, and lower to simmer.  Cook until green beans are crisp-tender, about 20 minutes.  Season with more salt if desired and pepper.

Drain the orzo and stir in the garlic, lemon zest and juice, olive oil, and salt and red pepper.  Fold the crumbled feta into the green beans just before serving.  Serve with 30-second tzatziki* and lemon wedges. Perhaps it will look something like this:


Mix leftover green beans and orzo together in a large bowl. Grease a baking dish and preheat the oven to 375°F.

In a small bowl whisk together 1 egg, ¼ teaspoon prepared mustard, and 1 tablespoon milk (dairy or alternative), along with salt and pepper to taste; do one of these egg mixtures for each cup of leftover green beans and orzo (so, three cups of combined leftovers=3 eggs, ¾ teaspoon mustard, 3 tablespoons milk…).  Stir the egg mixture into the bowl of leftovers and combine well. Spread evenly into the baking dish and bake in the oven until egg is cooked through, about 45 minutes.

OPTIONAL: When the dish is done, remove from oven and sprinkle evenly with a thin layer of shredded mozzarella.  Broil on high about five minutes, or until browned on top.

Serve with a simple side salad of fresh greens, slivered almonds, blackberries, and sliced fresh apricots dressed with seasoned rice vinegar and salt and pepper, like so:

*30-second tzatziki

1 cup Greek or other thick, whole-fat plain yogurt
1 small garlic clove
½ teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons peeled, diced cucumber
Black pepper to taste

Place the garlic and salt in a mortar and pestle and crush into a paste.  In a small serving bowl, combine all ingredients, including garlic paste.  Taste for seasoning and add more salt or a dash of lemon juice if desired.

19 June 2015

Celebrating summer's simplicity

Fresh fruit and vegetables, cooking hunks of raw meat over an unpredictable open fire, and a cooler full of beer--I wonder why everyone loves summer?  Here are some of my favorite ways to be lazy in the backyard this weekend:

a simple watermelon salad: chunks of watermelon, fresh strawberries, and torn mint leaves.

Pimm's Cup: Muddle cucumber and lemon slices in a tall glass. Pour in 2 oz. Pimm’s and 3 oz. ginger ale, and stir to combine. Add ice to fill the glass and garnish with lemon and mint.

grilled salmon: marinate hunks of salmon in equal parts soy sauce and brown sugar for 30 minutes, then cook on a well-oiled grill until just done.

16 June 2015

Apple-Rhubarb Crumble

This recipe came about over the weekend from the need (desire) for dessert and a little leftover rhubarb in the garden, not nearly enough for a pie.  I amended the skinny stalks with apples I had on the counter, but I think this simple crumble would work with just about any combination of fruit you like best.  Adjust sugar based on what fruit you use (you need a lot with rhubarb, but none with pineapple, for instance), and if you use stone fruits (cherries, peaches, apricots, mangoes would all be nice), don't bother with the flour in the filling, or cut the granola in half if you're using that instead. The granola is totally unnecessary, but I am greedy for more crunch, and it was another thing sitting on the counter.

Apple-Rhubarb Crumble

Serves 8

The filling: 
1 cup chopped rhubarb
2 cups chopped apple (2-3, depending on size)
½ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons rye flour or ½ cup prepared granola
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch ground cloves

1/3 cup butter, melted
¼ cup rye flour
¼ cup brown sugar
1/8 cup coconut flakes
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Place the fruit in a bowl with the sugar and stir well to coat.  Allow to sit at least five minutes, until it gets juicy.  Then add the rest of the filling ingredients, combining thoroughly.

In a mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the topping, stirring well to make sure that everything is coated in the butter.

Coat a 9-inch cake pan (or similar size) with a thin layer of butter or cooking spray.  Pour the fruit mixture into the pan and spread evenly.  Scatter handfuls of the topping all across the fruit, then smooth and pat down into place, so that all fruit is covered.  Bake in the oven 30-40 minutes, or until golden. Allow to cool about 15 minutes before serving.

12 June 2015

Eating at The Kitchen in Fort Collins

I hate paying too much for chicken and mashed potatoes.  I hate the unnecessarily fancy service, the Pottery Barn atmosphere, the glass of wine that costs as much as the whole bottle, all of it.  And thus, I avoided visiting The Kitchen in Fort Collins for a long time.

This mini-empire was started in Boulder in the early 00s by Kimbal Musk, brother of the eccentric Elon Musk of Tesla Motors, among other things. The claim is that community is important to them, so they locally source what they can and also host "community hours" in which patrons are encouraged to sit with strangers and make new friends while eating.  I didn't do that. I just ate with my friend who is not strange.  I also saw a whole lot of non-local elements on the menu, like the oysters (not of the Rocky Mountain variety) and octopus, for instance.

But I soldiered on.  After all, although a glance at the website invokes South Park-like images of Prius drivers enjoying the smell of their own farts, I didn't get any of that feeling when seated by my earnest, perky hostess or served by my down-to-Earth, keepin'-it-real-y'all waitress. The hardwood floors and spare furniture were also stunning.

I ordered a glass of sparkling cab franc because, what the hell? That exists? It does, and you should get it.  Because when a glass of Kitchen White is $8 (I had just paid $9 for the entire bottle down the street at Wilbur's Total Beverage an hour earlier), you might as well try something you can't find easily in stores.  It was dry, refreshing, and a bit mineral-iffic.  I loved it.

The garlic fries were pleasant, but nothing special, and they badly needed salt. The Hazel Dell Mushroom Risotto was rich and creamy, and the seasoning in the slightly brothy mushrooms running over the top of the rice like a deep, dark river was just perfect. The Roasted Cauliflower with charred spring onions, beluga lentil puree, pickled radishes and breadcrumbs was kind of amazing.  The lentils really made the meal--super garlicky, creamy and comforting, and well-salted, they formed the base of the dish.  The cauliflower was well browned but seemed not to be seasoned at all, so it was important to always smear it around in the lentils.  The spring onions were so vivid there must have been some vinegar involved, and the bread crumbs were buttery, evenly toasted, and made from some beautiful, many-seeded bread.

There was, indeed, chicken and mashed potatoes (with lemon sauce), but it was moist and divine.

The food at The Kitchen is definitely elevated comfort food; I'm not sure how "New" it is, though the ingredients are definitely "American".  Head chef Joel Ryan seems to display a fair amount of French influence in his flavors, making the dishes I tried in no way challenging or surprising, but certainly homey and fun to eat. Classical proportion and subtlety are in here; bold flavors and creative combinations are not.

Will I go back? Probably not. But I've got some new ideas about how to cook what's already in my kitchen when I'm not feeling adventurous, and I had a really nice time last night.  So there.

09 June 2015

Easiest marinades for perfect summer grilling

It is clearly summer now, and that means it is clearly time to grill some hunks of meat, tofu, and vegetables (take your pick).  Grilling shouldn't be complicated (ahem...Martha Stewart...), and neither should the marinade.  You don't marinade, you say?  Then you're probably eating some pretty tasteless, tough meat when you grill.  Pick a marinade (my favorites are below), mix all the ingredients together in a gallon-size, zip-top bag, add your meat/tofu/veggies, and throw it in the fridge until you're ready to lay it on the grill.  I marinade land animals for 6 hours-overnight (turn the bag once or twice when you go in there for tonic water and stuff), tofu, fish, and veggies for about an hour before cooking.  And don't forget to add some hickory chips (or some kind of smoking wood) to your coals and oil the grill well before starting!

4-Ingredient Magic Marinade (amount for 4 chicken breasts):
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup oil
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup vinegar

Works on chicken, extra-firm tofu, eggplant, zucchini, salmon, pork (any cut), beef (I particularly like to marinade skirt steak and other lean cuts).  For a little extra zing, throw some Sriracha into the marinade as well (although you'll then have to call it 5-Ingredient Magic Marinade).

Tandoori Chicken Marinade (enough for 16 chicken thighs):
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
large piece ginger, grated
4 garlic cloves, crushed
¾ teaspoon garam masala
¾ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon chilli powder
¼ teaspoon turmeric

This one involves more ingredients, but it really does keep the chicken moist and flavorful  Swap out the chili powder for cayenne (and maybe increase the dosage) if you want it spicy. This works equally well on any white fish, by the way. 

Lemon Marinated Flank Steak (good for 1 1/2 pounds of flank or similar steak):
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon onion soup mix
2 chopped garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

I grew up on this one (you can tell it's Midwestern from the onion soup mix), and it is still my favorite way to eat red meat.  Works well for all vegetables, pork chops, firm white fish, or chicken (any cut), as well. 

02 June 2015

A summer salad to live by

Now that summer eating season has officially started, I am making this brilliant, refreshing salad whenever I have the ingredients.  Add black beans, as I did this time around, or even little bits of chopped watermelon to taste. 

Suzanne Goin's Corn, Summer Squash, and Avocado with Chile-lime Dressing 
from the a.o.c. cookbook

Serves 6

3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups fresh corn
2 teaspoons thyme leaves
2 tablespoons sliced shallots
2 tablespoons seeded, diced jalapenos
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 pound summer squash
2 ripe avocados
1/4 cup sliced green onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 bunch watercress, cleaned, tough stems removed
salt and black pepper to taste

Heat a large pan over medium heat.  Add 3 tablespoons olive oil, the corn, thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Saute quickly, tossing often, for about 2 minutes, until the corn is just tender.  Remove to a platter to cool.

While the corn cools, make the vinaigrette.  Combine the shallots, jalapenos lime juice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small bowl.  Whisk in remaining 1/2 cup olive oil.  Taste for seasoning.

Thinly slice the squash.

Cut the avocados in half lengthwise, remove the pits, and peel.  Cut into 1/4 inch slices and season with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, toss the corn, squash, onion, cilantro, salt, and pepper with the dressing.  Gently fold in the watercress and taste for seasoning.

Serve equal portions on six plates topped with avocado.