Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Break From The Grill

In an effort to save a little in calories (and a lot more in dollars) we've been trying to have more meatless meals. After spending the weekend, and into Monday, grilling up several different species (I didn't even post about the beef skirt steak) I opted to use tonight to catch up on some meatless meals.

For salad I tossed some kale with leftover grilled corn, grape tomato, feta, avocado, cayenne, cumin, lemon, salt, and pepper. This was quite possibly one of the finest kale salads I've made in a long time.

I made a quick pasta sauce with tomatoes from Migliorelli Farm; squash from Homestead Farm in Orance, CT; onions; white wine; and garlic. I cooked some Severino gnocchi and tossed it into the sauce to finish. This made enough for about four bowls and cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $8.00 to make.

There's nothing better than deciding that you need to open a bottle of wine specifically to cook with then making the noble decision that you can't just waste the rest, you must drink it! Of course since we are not characters from a book in the mid-Twentieth Century, we cannot even finish one bottle of wine between the two of us. The best we can ever do is maybe join forces to polish off half a bottle, including the bit we used to cook.

I believe we are what's termed in the business as lightweights.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Spatchcock & Roll

I'm on a roll with the grill. Tonight I rolled out our creeky-wheeled grill back onto the pavement (much to the dismay of our neighbors) and prepared for yet another round.

I think I'm going to have to set up a whole gallery of the foods I've grilled this summer that I've had to put on the ground first. Could there be anything that whets one's appetite more than the sight of their food within six inches of someone's uncovered feet? I submit that there could not.

It was early when I seared the chicken. I then moved it off of the coals and left it in the grill to roast. It was my first attempt (with the new grill) to roast with hard wood and in the end it came out pretty good. I rubbed it with some
DennyMike's Sublime Swine Rub and it slow roasted beautifully.

To accompany the chicken I used one of several jars of barbecue sauce I have lying around, this one from Cue Culture in Maine. Their motto: "Where there's smoke there's Cue Culture." For what they lacked in cleverness they made up for with a pretty unique pomegranate jalapeno sauce.

I don't know if I've ever purchased a bottle of barbecue sauce. They just kind of appear in my fridge or are given to me by people as gifts. Generally I'm not a big barbecue sauce guy but this sauce was pretty good. I think I prefer FunniBonz. The main dilemma for me when I open a jar of barbecue sauce is what the heck I'm going to do with the rest of it.

This afternoon I made a slaw with cabbage, carrot, mayonnaise, dijon, cumin, chili, paprika, and lemon. I grilled up a few more ears of the Connecticut corn and also pulled some cornbread out of the freezer to accompany what was going to be some good down home barbecuing. As my Georgian grandmother used to say, "That's some stick to your ribs, cookin', y'all!"

The strange thing is that she was from Georgia the country, not the state.

We toyed with the idea of having wine but then realized that having wine with barbecue is foolish. I had a Rogue American Amber Ale which was a bit heavier than I generally prefer but I appreciated it.Almost as much as Jen appreciates her newfound obsession with Dr. Who.

Nothing really goes with barbecue quite like the sight of the Face of Boe.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Art of Inadequate Grilling Conditions

Our grilling setup is far from ideal. Very far. However, after five years without access to any kind of grill whatsoever it is a luxury that we still take advantage of with a great relish. There are many problems with our grilling setup. It requires rolling the grill out of the garage each time we wish to use it, it requires walking all the way around our building carrying plates of raw meats and other accompaniments.

With limited space it means that I often have to set things on the ground until I am ready to grill them.

And often times I have to call Jen from my phone to ask her to run me out a plate that I inevitably forget.

But in the end it is all worth it for the simple fact that I do not have to heat up our house by running an oven when the temperatures get into the 90's. After some pouring rain this afternoon, however, the temperature inexplicably dove into the 70's which was a refreshing treat. Now we could do something other than melt into our couch with fans pointed directly on us as Jen begins to get me addicted to watching Doctor Who.

I started off by making some nice steamers from the fabulous oceans of Connecticut. I learned how to make steamers in the first restaurant I worked at in Rhode Island when I was seventeen years old. This is one of the few recipes that a tour of duty in culinary school and fifteen years of additional cooking experience has not changed in the least. Enough water to cover the bottom of the pan, some roughly chopped onion, and a cover. Bring to a boil covered for two or three minutes until they open. A little of the broth in one dish, some melted butter in another. Done.

While in Maine last month we had some steamers at one of the restaurants. They were good. I think they put in some bacon and herbs. I appreciated the variation but in the end you don't need that much for a simple dish like this and simplicity wins out.

At today's farmer's market we picked up some zucchini, cranberry beans, and tomatoes all from Migliorelli Farm in Tivoli, New York. We grilled up the zucchini whole and the beans the same way before removing them from their shells and tossing them with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Having never cooled cranberry beans before I'd recommend some additional steaming of some sort. They were edible but not exactly tender.

My local fishmonger mongered me up some local black sea bass from Connecticut which I treated again with my exotic blend of salt, pepper, and olive oil. I'm a true innovator.

The tomatoes we sliced up with a little lemon, salt, pepper, chive, parsley, basil, and olive oil.

To celebrate all these wonderful seasonal local foods Jen picked out a rose from a nice local vineyard in a nearby town called South Africa.

Last time we made S'mores I had nothing but a few tiny bamboo skewers which resulted in some extremely lightly toasted marshmallows and more-than-toasted fingers. In Maine we picked up these huge skewers specifically designed for S'mores and gave them their maiden voyage tonight.

They were spectacular.

Alas, today was the last day of the Tour de France. Each year when the tour ends we are saddened to see it go. Also, we are left wondering what we will do with this extra four or five hours a day that we will not spend watching the gangly figure of Andy Schleck climb up the Pyrenees.

Perhaps now we should finally begin watching Lost or 24 so that we can find out what all the fuss was about all these years. Or maybe we'll just stick to Doctor Who. Since I've just now watched my first episode of the show that's been on since 1963.

One episode down, 768 to go.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Glitch in the Tour

The Tour de France is not easy. It requires discipline, planning, thought, strategy, and careful attention to calorie intake. I am, of course, talking about watching the Tour de France. Stages can be up to six hours long so watching them whilst maintaining our full time jobs is usually our biggest challenge of the summer each year. A challenge we train for and execute with the professionalism of a professional athlete. Or a pair of professional athletes.

Sitting on a couch.

Saturday night, as the riders of the Tour rode into Revel I found myself on the grill making the quintessential french dish: kebabs.

And what better to accompany this French delight than some salad made with kale and quinoa with balsamic (French balsamic) dressing?

I got my hands on some great top loin steak and cubed it up along with zucchini, tomato, pepper, mushrooms and haloumi. Generally I dislike the very idea of a kabob. Something about food on a stick always makes me uneasy. Perhaps it is from years of having to tediously skewer meats for various catered parties. Perhaps it is from years of accidentally skewering my hands accidentally. There's something in it, whether it be the poor memories from the past or the overall tediousness of having to remove the items from the skewer to be able to eat them.

To accompany these grilled treats I poured myself a Peak Organic Amber Ale from Maine. This particular bottle was not purchased on our recent trip to Maine but rather on a much older trip to Connecticut.

"Woah, deja vu."

"What did you just say?"

"Nothing, uh, just had a little . . . deja vu."

"What did you see?"

"What happened?"

"A kale salad just got served for dinner. Then another that looked just like it."

"How much like it, was it the same salad?"

"Might have been, I'm not sure. This one was made with Caesar dressing instead of balsamic and croutons instead of tomatoes, but otherwise like the same salad."

"Deja vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix . . . it happens when they change something. Typically when they change a dressing and/or method of preparation for a kale salad."

To keep with the theme of the Tour de France we had this nice Cheverny white wine from the Loire Valley which is not really anywhere near the Pyrenees where the riders are currently cycling. However it was quite tasty. It is so rare that we ever have wine from France. It's just that most of their wines are generally more than ten dollars per bottle. Who has that kind of money to throw around?

For a main course I sauteed up all the remaining onion, pepper, zucchini, garlic, mushrooms, corn from New Jersey, and green beans from Kent, Connecticut. I threw in some herbs de Provence (see? French!) and cooked up some Gnocchi (made in a French style) with some Parmiginiere Reggianeaux cheese.

Ah, you haven't enjoyed the Tour de France until you've enjoyed it with authentic French food.

Allez Cuisine!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Storming the Bastille Armed with Courgettes

Hey, if you have a gmail account you should totally follow our blog. I heard once about this guy that didn't follow our blog and a bunch of bad stuff happened to him. Don't let that happen to you!

Today, in honor of Bastille Day (and the farmer's market on Sunday), we returned back to basics. I swung by the farmer's market as it was winding down and there wasn't much left but I did pick up some good-looking zucchini as well as some kale that the woman gave me at a discount because it had been sitting out in the sun for a while and she didn't want to have to drag it back to the farm and feed to the pigs.

The pigs can thank me later.

I used the squash to make a makeshift ratatouille in honor of Bastille Day. Since the French apparently have no culinary tradition associated with this holiday I decided the only thing I could do was to make something French. Given that all I had in the fridge were these zucchini this was my best stab at it. It's missing a lot of the other vegetables you'd expect to see in ratatouille but this was all I had. The garlic in the fridge had given up the ghost so I simply used onion, zucchini, tomato, and herbs de Provence for this dish.

Also, I served it with delicious rosemary bread and the oh-so-traditional quinoa on the base. Everyone knows the French love them some ancient grains.

We haven't had wine in a while so in honor of the French and their wine-drinking ways we decided to have a wine. While I thought it appropriate to have a wine from Ventoux (home of the famous Tour de France climb) it was a little too hot for red wine so we opted for the Michigan wine from our wine tour last summer. This particular rose is a Cabernet Franc from Tabor Hill. Having traveled extensively moderately somewhat in both France and Michigan you can take it on my authority that there is essentially no difference between the two places.

And what could be more French than watching a Portuguese man win his first stage in the Tour de France? We were also treated to the sound of muffled fireworks from the next town over as they celebrated their freedom from the oppressive French aristocracy by eating a lot of crepes.

For dessert we had some more of the blueberry ice cream which, like most ice cream, seems to get better with age. Except for that terrible strawberry ice cream I made last month which was an abomination and a waste of perfectly good strawberries.

With some fresh blueberries (we can't stop buying blueberries) and chocolate sauce it was fantastic.

This reminds me of a time when I was young and my father took me to the ice cream parlor down the street from us. I asked for a peanut butter cup sundae with blueberry sauce and she gave my father a look as if she thought I was either insane or just an idiot. My father shrugged. When we got to the table I asked him why she'd made that face and he kindly said that he did not know. At the time I found that flavor combination to be just fine. In retrospect that girl was probably 15, and that combination was probably not that great. My next ice cream: blueberry and peanut butter crunch.

Don't judge it until you've had it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Build a Burger

A recent review of our grocery bills revealed a truth we already knew: we spend about as much on groceries as your average family of eight. As I am always up for challenge I recently accepted the task of slashing our grocery budget in half. This has not actually been as hard as I had anticipated. Our natural inclination is to sample a wide variety of foods both to suit my natural tendency to never want to cook the same thing twice and Jen's intense hatred of leftovers. Being creative on a largely unchecked budget is one thing, doing so on half that budget is another thing all together.

Another side-effect of this shift in spending would not only help us to more easily save some money but also to save some calories as we probably consume more food than we need to.

Last week, before leaving work, I made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a pretzel roll. I took advantage of this opportunity to post a picture of the sandwich to Facebook just before leaving work. After all, what point is there in eating food at all if you don't post or tweet about it? Also, this helps fuel the commonly held belief by Twitter and Facebook haters that these services are only used for the purposes of alerting your friends when you are having a sandwich.

You're welcome.

By the time I got off the highway I noticed that crowds had gathered. They were waving, cheering, and throwing confetti. Some of the people were running out into the street alongside my car. As I drove around the block a few times I realized they were following me! I turned down my radio and rolled down my windows only to hear the muted cheers clarify. Bits of confetti fell through my open sunroof and a woman even asked me to sign her baby.

While I'm quite popular in the New York area this was a little out of the ordinary, even for me. When I finally beat back the throngs of admiring fans and entered my apartment I logged onto Facebook and saw that my peanut butter and jelly sandwich on pretzel roll was being heralded as the greatest culinary achievement since Escoffier's publication of Le Guide Culinaire. Everything I'd done, everything I'd made prior to this was inconsequential. My true genius, apparently, was in putting peanut butter and jelly onto a different type of bread than I normally do.

Since I'm nobody's fool I decided to ride this wave into dinner the following night.

I purchased some more pretzel rolls (that's right, I didn't even make the pretzel roll, I just bought it) along with some other ingredients to craft a burger on the bread that had earned me so much fame. I put a generous dollop of SweetSmoothHot Mustard from SchoolHouse Kitchen (my new favorite mustard) along with some arugula, sliced tomato, sliced Gruyere, and dill pickle slices. On the side: leftover pasta salad from a few nights ago, and potato chips.

Jen and I have conflicting ideas of how burgers should be cooked. I believe burgers should be made from ground beef which is barely mixed together, just formed loosely into a patty and all seasoning should go on the outside of the burger. For me those seasonings are simply salt and Paul Prudhomme's Meat Magic.

Jen, on the other hand, believes that burgers should be mixed up with chopped onion, Worchestershire sauce, seasonings, and mustard powder. My good friend Paul, also Canadian, has the same belief so I assume this is just a Canadian custom. After further research it is apparently customary to pay for these burgers using beaver pelts.

Jen and I both enjoy our own burger methods more than the other's but not hugely. I think we both share a 60/40 preference for our own method which means we just alternate between methods. Since we made burgers using my method most recently it was her turn. Unfortunately I forgot the dry mustard element but for the most part I remained true to her country's technique.

Tonight I pulled everything out of the fridge that we've accumulated since our return from Maine, scratched my chin thoughtfully, then put this together. I call it the 'Sloppy Cheeseburger Wrap' and it consists of crumbled burger, kale, arugula, chopped white onion, tomato, bacon, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, shredded cheddar, and pickles.

What I made was part genius, part abomination, part thing you would find on the menu of a terrible American restaurant that has a name with an unreferenced possessive like Cheetah's or Sarsaparilla's or Armadillo's.

The surprising thing is that the blueberries we purchased in Maine (twelve days ago, mind you) are still in the fridge. More remarkably they are still in good shape. However, I felt the need to get rid of the remainder so I turned them into blueberry ice cream, inspired by an ice cream I observed in a Maine ice cream shop. After making an extremely lousy strawberry ice cream last month I felt the need for a redemption ice cream. This ice cream was far better than its strawberry cousin though I would opt to put a little less sugar in next time.

Today was a rest day on the Tour de France which means we got to take a break from sitting in a stuffy room and watching men in spandex to sit in a stuffy room and watch awkward vampire romance as we caught up on True Blood.

Blueberry ice cream never tasted so good.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Like Tex Mex For Hippies

With temperatures just starting to settle back in the 80's it is cool enough for me to consider cooking something for dinner that doesn't need to be served cold but still grumbly enough, much to Jen's dismay, that I will occupy much of the evening complaining about the heat. Curses to the Tour de France for chaining us to our heat-emitting plasma screen television for three or more hours a night. I wish that we could TiVo the Tour de France and watch it during a more hospitable season, say the Fall. Unfortunately it is hard enough to get through a single day without having the results spoiled for us let alone several months.

Besides, I don't think I could put off seeing another hard-hitting exposé on gear-shifter technology hosted by Frankie Andreu.

To use up the remaining southwest themed ingredients I cooked up some quinoa, served it on some toasted tortilla, and topped it with salsa, black beans, avocado, sour cream, and cilantro. I also drizzled it with fresh lime juice. It's like the type of thing that they would serve at Chili's if a bunch of juice-hippies got lost on their way to their food co-ops and wandered in, demanding to be served at gunpoint. The cooks would pronounce the ancient grain KWIN-OH-AH and the hippies would condescendingly correct them between sips from their hemp milk mojitos.

Other menu options may include: Chia Crusted Jalapeno Poppers, Tequila Lime Texturized Vegetable Protein, Baked Chili Millet Cakes with Jicama Slaw, and Kamut Burgers with Spicy Black Beans and Saffron-Roasted Tomatillo.

As an accompaniment for this meal we had the two beers we purchased on the day of our seven mile hike through Portland at Shipyard Brewery. We purchased matching beer glasses and this may be the only time they are used as vessels for the beers they advertise. Part of me wishes that like one of those trendy Belgian beer bars we had a wall full of glasses to match every beer we served. It would be yet another layer on top of the excessive ceremony we already incorporate into our nightly meals.

As is my custom I made way too much quinoa. So much, in fact, that I may turn it into a mash, distill it, and see if I can make some sort quinoa-based vodka. I can market it exclusively to hippies who like to make mixed drinks. I think I could even knit a tiny drug rug for it as a cool marketing gimmick.

Who's with me on this one?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hot Night, Cold Pasta, Lukewarm About Cycling

I had hoped to return from Maine completely revitalized, my mind racing with new culinary inspirations that I could immediately put into action. Instead what I returned to was this:

Yesterday, with temperatures in the 100's it was difficult to do much of anything other than sit, nearly naked, under an air conditioner which was groaning to keep the room just below 80 degrees. Since the air conditioner in my car died even this small reprieve was a welcome moment in the day. I spent much of that sweat-soaked car ride home wondering if there was anything I could make for dinner that would be cold. If it hadn't been for the 24 hour freezing time for my ice cream maker's base I may have attempted a savory version for dinner.

Instead I picked up a few things and made cool(ish) tacos. I marinated some chicken in lime, olive oil, chili powder, hot sauce, paprika, cumin, and salt and quickly cooked it on the stove top (allowing it to cool) and tossed some black beans in similar spices. Along with a generous helping of kale this helped usher in a welcome home, a low temperature dinner, and a return to slightly more virtuous eating after a week of fatty excess on vacation.

I then threw that all out the window by polishing off the rest of Jen's birthday cake. Jen was much more disciplined and had some yogurt.

Whilst in Maine Jen was astonished by the low price on blueberries so we purchased an insane amount of blueberries. Eight pounds to be exact. Therefore I felt it would be a good idea to supplement the cake with a giant helping of blueberries. The antioxidants neutralize the fat in buttercream right?

Jen's real reason for purchasing the blueberries was simply to take advantage of the deal. The made up reason was that she was going to make a tremendous amount of blueberry jam. To support this she purchased 24 Ball® jars and asked my mother to borrow this book from 1975 about how to preserve food. It contains vast sections of text explaining hot to jar meats, how to build a root cellar by burying old barrels under some snow, and about how if you don't do everything exactly as they say you will definitely die from botulism.

These facts are why I am now eating giant handfuls of blueberries three times a day.

Tonight it was cooler. Six degrees cooler. With little to no inspiration to be in the heat or to cook (or eat for that matter) I decided to make a pasta salad with some of the items from the fridge. So lazy was I that I did the unthinkable: I used a bottle of salad dressing! That's right. I happened to have this salad dressing that I got as a free sample a few months ago. Along with some rendered bacon, olive oil, tomato, mozzarella, and basil it made a cool and refreshing dinner for tonight.

Just for the record I was not too happy with the result. That will teach me to use bottled salad dressing. I generally don't care for it and tonight did not convince me of any error in my ways.

For Jen's birthday my parents got her a home soda maker. I've never seen an adult so excited about any present in history. At least not since I gave Jen an assortment of 50 varieties of Jelly Belly jelly beans a few months ago. Since getting it she's been hard at work brewing up soda creations and leaving a set of bottled experiments in the fridge and emptied bottles strewn about the living room.

While Jen enjoyed some grapefruit soday I had one of the Summer Ales from Geary's Brewing Co. that we brought back from Maine. I ordered this at a restaurant in Maine and suspected that they brought me the wrong beer until I tasted it again tonight and realized that they probably did not. Sorry, random server in Maine! I guess I am no Michael Jackson. The beer Michael Jackson, not the Pepsi Michael Jackson. My dance moves are impeccable.

Now, with the heat upon us, we settle in to watch the Tour de France as we always do. This means a month of trying our best to avoid news, Twitter, and anything else that may spoil the day's race for us so we can watch it over dinner. You'd think it would be easier given America's complete indifference toward the sport.

So with that I'll leave you with this video of Jens Voigt joking about another cyclist getting attacked by a bear.

Bon Soir!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Portland, Day 5 & The Journey Back to Rhode Island

Perhaps more so than any previous trip, we managed to pack more into this vacation than just about any we've had in the past. This had a lot to do with copious amounts of Portland resident recommendations for which we are deeply grateful. If any of you are ever looking to experience all the culinary wonder of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, give me a call.

We started out Thursday at Tony's Donuts where Jen got a plain glazed, chocolate glazed, and molasses donut. I am unable to post any pictures as we reached our hands into the bag like tiny velociraptor beaks and tore off tiny pieces of donut on our car ride before I could capture them for posterity.

I will say this: Tony makes a mean donut.

To celebrate our French-Canadian routes we stopped by Old Orchard Beach on our way home to eat lunch. It was a frigid rainy morning but that didn't stop the beach from being populated by French-speaking Canadians who were actually frolicking amongst the waves as if the water temperature were not in the low 50's. After lunch we dipped our toes in the water then ran, squealing from the beach to the safety of our car.

Before we left for Maine we'd made plans with my family to go to The Redwood when we returned home. The Redwood, to us, was the quintessential New England seafood house. So long as the only way you like seafood is deep fried. This is where I grew up eating fried clams, fried scallops, and onion rings.

The Redwood apparently, at some point in the last decade (or two), has been renamed George's Surf 'N Turf. Otherwise the operation seems to remain relatively unchanged since my last visit. Unfortunately after a week of eating in Maine we were a little less enthusiastic about this visit than we were before we'd headed out to Portland.

We split the seafood sampler and an order of clam cakes and soon our enthusiasm returned. The only two disappointing things we had in Maine were the clam strips and the clam cakes. After showing Jen what proper fried clams (whole clams) were like and proper clam cakes she had a little more respect for the dishes. Also on this plate were fried shrimp, fried scallops, french fries, and onion rings. Possibly one of our least healthy meals yet and not wise after a week of dining out. However, even with the desire to eat only a light salad we tackled the platter admirably.

Tonight we got together around the grill for another celebration of Jen's birthday. We picked up an assortment of stone fruit before leaving for Rhode Island and grilled them up with a balsamic glaze that I made on the stove. There were nectarines, peaches, plums, apricots and a variety of those weird hybrids with names like pluots, plumcotts, aprilums, pumterines, nectarcots, etc.

Before we left Maine we also got our hands on some grass fed beef from Cold Spring Ranch in New Portland, ME. I couldn't pass this up and it was superb. I am mournful that I won't really be having any more any time soon.

We also had hot dogs, firecracker smoked sausages, grilled asparagus, grilled corn, and pasta salad.

Afterward we brought out Jen's birthday cake from Wright's Dairy Farm which was a duplicate of our wedding cake, Jen's favorite cake of all time.

The best part of this is that we have another scheduled cookout tomorrow and with little planned for Sunday so far we will probably do the same. Having access to my parents' gas-powered grill is certainly making me enjoy grilling that much more. I love hardwood grilling but with this level of convenience it's hard to miss it too much.