Friday, September 24, 2010

A barbecue is not just for meat or proteins

Yes, we're carnivores, as you might have guessed from the title and the theme of the blog. But we also have lots of veggies. Especially if I have been to a Farmer's Market, and if we have unplanned visitors and I don't have time to defrost and properly prep meat.

Here are a bunch of ideas, slightly inspired by Bittman, on what to put on the barbecue for your last sessions of the summer. Or, if you are like us, as long as you get good produce, be in in the middle of winter!

From top to bottom: Corn with zucchini, purple potatoes with onion, olives, rosemary sprigs as skewers with zucchini, red onion and tomato. All seasoned with more rosemary, pepper, salt, and olive oil. Hubby wasn't quite that hot on the olives, but I loved loved loved them.

Moving on to dessert:

The nectarines were wonderful. I put on a mixture of sugar and mint, and it all caramelized beautifully. The nectarines get so much better with the heating and caramelizing, it's hard to believe it's the same fruit. And I think the heat brings out the flavors even more. The bright flavor of the mint nicely contrasted the fruit - we all wanted more, but sadly I had used the last of our nectarines.

The grapefruit got some sugar, pepper and rosemary - it tasted good, but the grapefruit wasn't sweet enough to start with for my taste. Still, they came out nice and were gone in a heartbeat.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cumin scented steak with roast veggies

On my last China trip, I again had these wonderful cumin scented lamb ribs they serve in Hunan and Sichuan restaurants (in Shanghai at least). Plus I brought back (or smuggled in) a bag of best grade Sichuan peppercorns - which I learned to distinguish in one of my food classes in China - you only want the hull, the more of the seeds are in there the cheaper the product, because they are gritty and don't add taste.

Yesterday was when I finally put it together. Our first CSA share of this year's quarter cow had beautiful steaks in it, and I had read a few months back that steaks get crispier when you salt them about an hour before you are about to make them. The salt will pull the water out of a thin layer on the outside of the meat (don't do it too long, or you'll get dry steaks..). Just before you're about to put them on the BBQ dry them off, then season them. It results in a very nice dry outside, and, when timed right, in a beautiful juicy pink interior. I had tried that before with great results, but was a bit timid on the seasonings. Not this time, though.

For the seasoning I crushed cumin and Sichuan peppercorns, about 1/2 tsp each, and I added some fresh ground black pepper for good measure. This was for 1 smallish NY strip steak - but I guess you can adjust it for your taste. I love both cumin and Sichuan pepper, so ours was pretty strongly flavored.

We also made some veggies, on a griddle plate on the BBQ, great way to use the heat of the BBQ while it's warming up for the steak.

The veggies were some zucchini, a passilla pepper and an onion, dusted with some more of the cumin - Sichuan mixture, along with some salt, and some olive oil for frying.

Veggies and steak both came out great:

Sorry for the bad quality of the steak photo, but we were hungry and we didn't want to waste time on making it the perfect shot. For those of you who haven't tasted them yet: The Sichuan peppers have a very nice citrus taste, and they numb your taste buds. Not terribly, at least unless you throw lots of them in your food, just a little bit for a slightly strange and tingling sensation. We had a big, jammy Zinfandel (red of course) with it, and it seemed to taste even jammier with the peppers, perhaps because the numbed tongue took the acid out.

A little salad on the side, boring hearts of romaine jazzed up with sunflower sprouts and tomato, dressed with a miso sesame dressing that I got from Japan, from a friend who lives there and shares our love of food and drinks (Thanks Jeff!)

A perfect end for a perfect weekend. Ok, perfect except for the poison oak I got while trying to wrestle the blackberry bushes out of what we call yard.

Oven dried tomatoes - enough to last me through the winter

Each time we drive to or from Tahoe during the daytime, we stop at this one farm stand in Davis, not for the produce necessarily, nothing is organic, but for this Middle Eastern and Asian drink that comes with many different names and grosses out 95% of Americans. It's just yoghurt mixed with salt and water. I've had it as Ayran (Turkish), Salt Lassi (Indian) and Doogh (Iran). And I could drink it every day, except that the sodium content would probably kill me over time.

Anyways, I digress. So the reason we go there is not the produce, but this time they had something that was too good to pass - a whole box of Roma tomatoes for $4.99. I didn't weigh it, but it was at least 20 pounds, if not more. Not organic, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. And winter is coming closer, and there is nothing better than a nice tomato sauce in the middle of the winter with beautiful oven dried tomatoes. Or better yet, the Albondigas I described here a few months ago.

I started with halving the tomatoes, and sprinkling them with salt (on all of them), and herbs and garlic in different mixtures on different sheets.

Off in the oven they went, with convection, at about 200 F. I'm not usually too concerned about the temperature, if you do it a bit hotter they get nice and caramelized, low temperature they are just dried.

Not only is Tahoe nice and dry, I also have this monster oven in the kitchen there, had I had more sheets I could have roasted even more in one go. What you're looking at here is perhaps 1/3 of the tomatoes in the box, btw.

I let them in there for different amounts of time, for different purposes. These guys here

were in for about 2 hours, and you can see that they are still relatively juicy. However, the juice is getting concentrated, so they are much tastier than they were when I put them in the oven. I cooled them, remembered my rant from last time, slipped the skin off, put them in old yoghurt containers and froze them.

You can also go for well dried. Which is what I did here, by first drying them as the ones above, and then leaving them in the oven overnight, with the fan on:

Most of the liquid is gone, and they are perfect one bite snacks. I put some of them in oil and stashed them in the fridge as antipasti or cut up in omelette or in salad. Some of them we took hiking, and some of them went in the freezer as well. I guess you can dry them longer if you like the hard leathery ones you can buy, but I was happy with these nice juicy morsels.

I envy all of you that have tomatoes in their back yard btw!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Just a quickie before I leave for yet another China trip

Leaving on a jet plane... All my bags are packed and I'm standin' here outside your door. Well, not quite. Nothing is packed, but I'll have an hour tomorrow morning I guess, have to leave by 9.

So - just a few pics of two rainbow trouts we made last weekend. We discovered cedar planks, partly because we still have about 2000 sqft of cedar siding in our garage, courtesy of our contractor whose strength clearly wasn't math.... Untreated, so really good for BBQ as we recently discovered.

The trout were filled with parsley and lemon, salted and peppered, and then wrapped in bacon. We soaked the cedar plank in water for about an hour - that almost smelled better than the food I was preparing!

On the grill they went. You can see the fat of the bacon slowly leaching out. We had one flame-up, which we got in check with a water spray bottle pretty easy. They were on there for about 15 minutes, perhaps a bit longer just because our plank was so thick. The cedar will start smoking and put a great flavor into the fish, without generating carcinogenic compounds as you don't have any of the fat flaming up and burning onto the wood. It's also much easier to handle. You don't need to turn, the fish just slowly cooks to perfection.

We'll try chicken soon, but I first need to get that bag packed I think! See you at the other end of this trip, no access to blogspot while I'm gone!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Breakfast Quinoa

Just a quickie post today, I have soooo much work today! I'm home alone and free to eat when and what I want. Almost at least, I really have to drop a few pounds so it has to be sensible. I really wanted something sweet, for a few days, but cakes or cookies are out. So I decided to combine a late breakfast with an early lunch, and my daily intake of fruit. Quinoa also sounded really good.

I browned a cut up nectarine in some basil olive oil (which I had just made in the pan I was trying to use, a bit of butter would have done as well), then added 1/4 cup of black quinoa and a scant 1/2 cup of water. Turned the heat up, cooked for 40 minutes, added 1/2 cup of freshly picked blackberries from the backyard, cooked it for another 5 minutes.

Isn't it pretty?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Cold Tomato Soup? With Vanilla Cream?

This post could also be called: "Why should you try things that sound weird?". The NYT's Diner's Journal Blog had a recipe on a Gazpacho with Vanilla Cream last week. It wasn't just the vanilla cream that was weird (the soup is salty, after all), but it also used a bottle of lemon flavored Perrier. The lemon flavored Perrier was the inspiration to the recipe, but I'm not keen on buying water that gets shipped over from France - period. Stupid recipe I thought.

Until I came across very reasonably priced organic tomatos at the farmers market. And lemons. And so I figured I could take another look at the recipe, and reinvent it in the same spirit. And perhaps the vanilla cream wasn't so bad after all.

The recipe calls for tomato paste - don't have any, so I opted for oven drying the slightly salted tomatos for 2 hours at 250 F. The tomatos had plenty of wonderful summer flavor, I just wanted to get a little of the water out.

And I wanted to remove the skins - these tomatos had pretty thick skin, and I just didn't fancy chewing on little bits of skin. They went in the blender, along with a peeled cucumber, some lemon zest and lemon juice and a little cream. I left out the tomato paste, the Perrier, and the salt - I had salted my tomatos before they went in the oven. And no need to splurge on fleur du sel unless you put it over in the last second. While still in the blender I put in some of my best olive oil. Not too much, but enough to give the soup some body. I put it in a bowl and stashed it in the freezer.

Just before serving I added a splash of carbonated water, to give it a little fizz. I'm not sure it actually did much, but it fizzled nicely. And I made a little bit of whipped cream - perhaps 1/4 cup before beating it - with the vanilla pulp of half a pod - I thought that was plenty.

The result is amazing! It's a very sublime taste, the lemon and its zest brings the tomato flavor out in full force. The EVOO makes it nice and thick. And the vanilla cream - what can I say - it sounds weird, but it rounded everything out. We had guests that night, and they said that it was better than what they had at one of our towns great restaurants the night before. For $8 / bowl!

Sorry, no recipe as I didn't measure anything, but I hope between my description and NYT recipe you'll be all set.

Friday, August 6, 2010

More Porky Goodness: Wine Marinated Pork Chops

Moving from head to toe on my pig (yes, I still have a trotter in my freezer and am pondering what to do with it) I'm making it across the nice cuts. Ok, pork chops usually tend to be on the dry side, tender - yes, but quite something to chew on. I had made one of the chops a few weeks ago, after brining it for a few hours, and it was great in taste, but it still had a bit of that pork chop dryness.

So I turned to Julia Child. And read about marinades. For pork. One caught my eye, which was a wine marinade. This made sense to me - it's not just about pumping water and spice in the meat as you do with a brine, but the acid in the wine probably also helps with tenderizing the meat. After all, that's what you do with a Sauerbraten, which is a tough piece of beef that you marinate in wine for days, and that in the end turns out nice and soft.

I winged it a bit (what's wrong with me, following recipes seems next to impossible to me). I made a marinade with wine, mustard, loads of herbs and garlic, and a bit of olive oil.

The meat was fairly lean, with a wide strip of pork fat around it. I left it in the marinade for a few hours, outside on the counter, and I turned it about every half hour. Magic was happening. A few minutes on the grill, and it was transformed in one of the best pork chops I ever had.

The sauce is the leftover marinade, reduced to where it had a creamy consistency and tasted almost like a vinaigrette. Usually I'd cut the fat off, not really for calories, mostly for its nasty taste. But here?

It was wonderful. The meat was slightly pink, and together with the fat we had super tasty morsels of porky goodness....The sauce complemented the sweetness of the pork just right.