Monday, August 29, 2011

Slow-Roasted Oven Tomatoes

You absolutely cannot define summer without mentioning tomato.  If you didn't eat at least one tomato straight out of your garden or from a friends or a neighbors, you shouldn't say you had a good summer.  Go ahead and buy them from a local farmer's market, those are good too.  Fresh and local, that is of importance.  If you, like me, have put up with the shitty, tasteless grocery store tomatoes all winter as necessity sometimes dictates, then you plunge headfirst into the local tomato season, making all kinds of things to celebrate the juicy fruit.  Lots of BLTs with thick slices of giant beefsteaks.  Tomato chunks to start a fresh sauce.  Peeled and diced up for garden salsa.  Stuffed with blue cheese and basil, sprinkled with bread crumbs and grilled.  Sliced for a pizza.  Sliced for a tomato cheddar quiche.  These roasted tomatoes would liven up any salad, a burger or sammich, an orzo salad with feta and red onion, (my intention) or another rice/risotto/pasta dish. Snacking right from the bowl is also a welcome, if not addictive, way to eat your way to the end of a  successful season. 

 Slow-Roasted Oven Tomatoes

As many grape, cherry, or small plum tomatoes as you can carry in two hands. 
6-8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

Fire up the oven to 235F, rack in middle.  Wash tomatoes, then slice in half and layer cut-side up on a large sheet pan.  Sprinkle in the garlic, then season with kosher or sea salt and black pepper.  Splash some EVOO in there, then get your hands on your food- toss well and then lay the tomatoes back to cut-side up.  Roast for about 2.5-3 hrs, rotating the rack halfway through.  Remove to a rack to cool and keep these for a few days in a container uncovered, to assist in drying them out as much as possible.  After a couple days they can be covered and again left at room temp, do not refrigerate.  Not that it matters, you'll be grabbing one or two of these every time you walk past the bowl, conveniently situated on the kitchen counter, within easy reach.  If you want to keep them long-term, pack into a glass jar and cover with EVOO.  Don't add the garlic cloves, unless you like botulism.  It's not for me, personally.  

I've never seen peppers grow upside down before, but apparently it's quite normal for some types.  These chili de Arbol are orientated quite the opposite of the jalapeno, which is too fat to achieve such defiance of gravity. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Salt and Pepper Potato Chips

La Nina.  El Nino's bitchy cousin has caused some very strange and dangerous weather in this country this year.  It started on Feb 1 with a local 20" snow fall, (adult snow day!) record rainfall in July, golf ball size hail in July that wiped out half the garden, a horrific stretch of killer tornadoes in the South, record flooding along the mighty Mississippi, a series of training thunderstorms in northern IL/southern WI that caused damage, giant dust storm in Arizona, more intense than usual wildfires in CA, and now Hurricane Irene that stretches from the coast of North Carolina clear up though Maine to our quiet, friendly neighbors in the provinces. 

How does this relate to making your own potato chips?  It's one of those 'life is too short so you should do this while you can' type mantras.  This recipe also fits into the don't buy, DIY group.  There really isn't a better bag (or can) you could buy that top homemade potato chips. 

Unless you have exceptionally patient, superior knife skills, the only way to achieve such a thin cut is with a mandoline.  You should invest in one, or make homemade fries instead of potato chips. 

The opportune time to season these guys is fresh out of the oil, while still very hot and receptive to some sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.  A pinch of garlic powder or cayenne is optional yet likely tasty. 

Salt and Pepper Potato Chips
two servings as side (to this burger)

1 large baking potato
~2. C oi-canola or vegetable
sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper
fresh parmigiano-reggiano, sprinkle of garlic powder, cayenne, dash of hot sauce, dried herbs optional

In a large vessel, preferably a cast-iron dutch oven, add enough oil to reach about 1".  Any more and you're wasting a resource and money.  Over medium heat, the frying temp should be 360-375F.  Thinly slice a washed and scrubbed potato.  Lay out in a single sheet and pat dry with paper towel, then add one at a time to the oil, in 2 or 3  batch increments- you don't want to crowd the raw potato slices, they shouldn't be all up on top of each other like a limo on prom night.  You will also need a bit of room to flip them after 100 seconds or so, ensuring they cook evenly, which will take a few minutes. 

Once golden brown, remove them with a spider or slotted spoon to a wire rack, either resting on a sheet pan or on paper towel, yesterdays paper, you get the idea.  Season immediately, eat very soon after that. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Grilled Swordfish with Lemon, Basil, Caper Butter

At this point in the summer, you might have grown tired of the standard salmon on the grill.  Even with variations such as a cedar plank or the very yummy, rosemary-mustard brown sugar glaze, it's time for something else.  We need another tasty ocean creature to throw on the grill, so...enter the swordfish.  It's healthy, sustainable, yet it's not super cheap- cause you of course are going to your fishmonger for some fresh, good stuff.  If you're thinking of defrosting some shit from a cardboard box, throw out your grill and go to the nearest Long John Silver's.  Swordfish is a firm fish with a mild to medium flavor that can be simply grilled and livened up with a flavored butter- the lemon and basil scream summer, the capers bring a briny, oceany, tangy profile for your enjoyment.  Fresh basil and good quality capers are important, just like any other recipe with so few ingredients, the quality of the ingredients (uh, see quote at right) will usually determine the outcome. 
If you ever desire a quick way to boost the flavor for a grilled steak, a piece of chicken or some sea or lake food, a compound butter is what you need.  Even Rach could do this, and she would carry all the ingredients from the fridge at once!  That's pure talent.  But seriously, it's quick and easy.  Like mashing some with roasted garlic to add to a baked potato.  Or mixed with a crumbles of Gorgonzola with cracked black peppercorns atop a grilled ribeye steak.

Here's one of my favorite food people discussing compound butter

Grilled Swordfish wth Lemon, Basil, Caper Butter
2 servings

3 TB butter, unsalted, softened
1 TB chopped fresh basil
1 ts brined capers, chopped
1 ts lemon juice
2 swordfish steaks, about 6 oz, 1" thick
reserved lemon wedge

Preheat the outdoor cooker or an indoor grill pan to just under high.  In a small bowl, combine the butter, basil, and drained chopped capers with a fork.  Whisk in 1/2 the lemon juice (that's a half ts, for those in the accelerated mathematics program) and then chill in the fridge while denaturing the protein over heat. 

With your fish at room temperature, coat with the remaining lemon juice, EVOO and season with S&P.  Cook over high heat until just cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.  Watch carefully to avoid flareups, have that spray bottle of clean water handy.  If you want the fancy crosshatch grill marks, shift 45 degrees after two minutes on each side, I usually don't bother.  Let rest for 5 minutes, then add a generous serving of the flavored butter.  Give a good squeeze of the lemon, suggestions are to serve this with a salad, some rice, another starch, whateva you want- I went with some fresh veggies slathered in a homemade vinaigrette. And some vino, you bet. 

This is the type of meal to have a glass of wine with.  A Pinot Gris from Oregon? Of course I would.  A Pinot Blanc? Okay.  Chardonnay? Yes. I'd go for a good Chardonnay to pair with this swordfish. Don't be afraid to enjoy Chardonnay, it's okay to do so, even in public.  I see more and more on restaurant wine lists, and it's not just the really good French stuff.  Lately I've enjoyed a grocery-store staple, Robert Mondavi, to a vintage from the stellar California vineyard, Bogle- both under $15.  Americans have turned up their noses to Chardonnay for the past decade or so, but it's certainly gaining some ground back with newer styles to entice wine drinkers.  I hope Pinot Grigio is the next to fade, most of it is just so similar tasting and lacking in anything but a one-note flavor. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

BBQ Baby Back Ribs with Bourbon-Bacon Sauce

Just by looking at the calendar, I'm feeling rushed to grill all those ideas I had, to actually get a list of the ingredients on paper, go buy them, and get that thought cooked and plated for human consumption.  Even though I've gone through multiple gas tanks (and some charcoal) this year, there's plenty of protein and veg still lined up wanting on the outdoor cooker.  My favorite so far? Shitty pictures, so you didn't get to see the grilled mussels- complete with garlic, chili pepper, white wine butter sauce.  It is coming to the end of summer, and the tomatoes in a few weeks will attest to that deliciously.  No worries, you needn't be crying in your BLT's with red wine caramelized onion mayo, there are many weeks of grilling left, throughout the fall and sometimes here and there in winter, but it's usually shut down for a couple months.  What has been your favorite grilled meal so far this summer?  What's left on your to-grill list?

Yes it takes a few hours to make your own ribs at home, but it's not very difficult.  The hardest part might be finding the right indirect set up with your grill to operate in the proper temperature range.  After that it's just low and slow, like Ad-Rock did say.  This is barbecue, which is not cooking hot dogs or burgers on a grill outside.  That's just grilling, which is fine- but every now and then you need some time to boost the testosterone level a bit and spend some quality time with your grill.  It's good easy chillin, fire up some tunes and break out a cold beverage, sit your ass down and relax.

If you've never smoke-grilled ribs at home, here's the deal-
1. Remove the membrane from the back by getting your paring knife in there to get under, then use mostly hands to tear it off- you want to get the dry rub in there, have some fat melt out while cooking, and not chew on plastic when they're done
2. Dry Rub- for at least 2 hours, overnight is better
3. Mop- every 30-45 minutes during cooking (depending on length, see below) of apple cider vinegar, can be seasoned a bit too with any of the above spices
4. Low and slow
5. Sauce- during the last 30 minutes, twice
6. Rest, slice, pass with reserved sauce
7. Napkins, perhaps a moist towelette with lemon slice

You can make the sauce beforehand or while the ribs are smoking, and it will keep for days in the fridge or a few months in the frozen section.  

BBQ Baby Back Ribs with Bourbon-Bacon Sauce
4 servings

2.5 TB hot smoked paprika
2 TB kosher salt
1 TB black pepper
2 TB garlic powder
1 TB onion powder
2 ts cayenne pepper
1 TB oregano, dried
1 TB thyme, dried

4 strips good bacon, cut into 1" pieces
1/2 medium red onion, diced (bout 1/2 C)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 C ketchup
1/2 C cider vinegar
1/2 C packed brown sugar
1/4 C Worcestershire
3 TB bourbon
2 TB dark molasses
2 ts chili powder
1.5 ts hot smoked paprika
1 ts mustard powder

In a medium saucepan, cook the bacon over medium heat until rendered and crisp.  Remove with a slotted spoon and add the onion, cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and stir for thirty seconds, then add the rest of the ingredients, whisking to combine.  Simmer for 25-30 minutes, then let sit off heat to continue thickening.  

3-4 lbs baby back pork ribs
3-4 C wood chips, apple or hickory, smoking box or aluminum foil poked with holes

For the ultimate low and slow, you want 235-245F for about 5 hrs, until the meat has pulled back from the ends and is just about falling off the bone.  If you only have 2 hrs, then you need about 265-275F until nicely tender.

After removing the membrane from the ribs, apply the rub and then wrap tight in plastic.  Park in the fridge for 2 to 12 hours, the longer the better.  Cut into portions suitable for grilling, letting come to room temp before applying heat. 

Prepare your wood chips by soaking in water for 30 minutes.  Fire up the grill, place the smoker box/aluminum foil with chips over direct heat.  In the indirect zone, you can either use a rib rack or an inverted V-rack, or cook bone side down on the grate.  Depending on your set up, you probably want to rotate the ribs a few times, so each end is exposed to the hotter section.  The chips should barely combust at this low temp, providing a steady, gentle smoke, not a giant cloud of smoke.  Mop, glaze, rest, eat, wipe. 

The smoke penetrates the meat, leaving a nice pink smoke ring-

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Shrimp Tacos with Cilantro Crema, Pico de gallo

Shrimp is the new black.  Shrimp scores well in many categories- they are tasty, healthy, quick, easy, and when you buy smart- affordable.  Thinking about what's for dinner on a summer weeknight?  Shrimp.  Even if you have to defrost some frozen shrimps for a bit in water, any dish can be thrown together quite quickly, like these soft-shell tacos.  These crustaceans are simple on the grill, cook quickly over high heat until opaque, no longer pink.  Hot and quick, no chance to overcook  these delicious little guys.  No one wants to chew rubber. 

Classic summertime flavors here- shrimp, lemon, cilantro, fresh tomato salsa, crisp lettuce.  You may of course substitute for whatever you like or have on hand.  To season the shrimp, I used this spice blend from my favorite spice merchant.  A similar lemon pepper or just flake salt and freshly cracked black pepper will do, or Old Bay or Emeril's essence would be proper if you want that paprika hit.  Again, throw together what you want, it's gonna be good. 

Shrimp Tacos with Cilantro Crema, Pico de gallo
four servings

1 lb large shrimp, shelled and deveined
shrimp seasoning/lemon pepper
1 C lettuce, chopped
1/4 C sour cream
1 TB cilantro, chopped
8 flour tortillas, warmed
1 roma tomato, seeded, diced
1 TB diced red onion
1/2 small jalapeno, minced
1 ts fresh lemon juice
2 ts EVOO

In a small bowl, combine the chopped cilantro and sour cream, season with a touch of S&P.  In another small bowl add the tomato, onion, jalapeno, lemon juice and oil, season with a pinch of S&P, mix well.   Set both bowls aside. 

Fire up your grill to just under full steam, between medium-high and high.  Coat the shrimp with oil to prevent sticking and grill for about 3 minutes on each side, until just cooked through.  Remove from heat and let sit for a couple minutes.  You could also saute in a grill pan or skillet for the same amount of time, if your outdoor grill is broken.

Warm up the tortillas, layer on some cilantro mayo, add 5-6 shrimp per taco, then top with the Pico de gallo and (lots of) lettuce.  You wanna add some cheese or anything else? I won't be offended, it's your meal.  A shot of hot sauce? Lovely! Enjoy while out of doors, sipping on a fresh beer, such as this summer quaffer

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Baby Potato Salad with Radish and Celery

I've been on a radish kick lately, I really can't figure it out.  Do you enjoy the little guys? 

Two reasons to make this dish- numero uno, it can be made ahead and assembled at the last second.  That saves time and impresses yo date.  Secondly, this potato salad can withstand the heat of summer and that hour and a half sitting on your dude's picnic table, cause it doesn't have mayo or dairy in it.  It's also pretty tasty, if you like the gentle peppery, earthy bite those little red guys bring.  Add some celery for crunch and balance, and certainly do not skip using the champagne vinaigrette, it really adds the zing you need.  You may have already bought some from making this? You need more convincing? It's healthy, as even the fat is healthy, it's damn inexpensive, and very easy to prepare.

Besides celebrating the radish lately, any chance I can get to whip out the mandoline I take it.  Now I got this nice fancy one from France (thanks Mom!) that is schweet, but most of them are not too expensive.  I wouldn't get the cheapest one you can find, unless you wanna be making knuckle sandwiches.  Alternatively, slice your veg with a knife as wafer thin as you can get.  At least your knives are samurai-sharp, right? Right?

Baby Potato Salad with Radish and Celery
four servings

1.5 lb baby fingerling potatoes or baby yukons, scrubbed
1/2 C EVOO
3 TB champagne vinegar
4 celery stalks, sliced very thin, (bout 3/4 C)
1bunch radish, sliced very thin (bout 1 C)
6 scallions, green part only (bout 1/2 C)

Cook up them taters in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 15 minutes.  The smaller guys will cook first, yeah-pull them out first.  Drain and let sit until cool, bout 5 minutes.  Slice about 1/3-1/2" thick.

To season the taters well, give them a tasty soak by whisking the EVOO and champagne vinegar, with a touch of S&P, in a bowl and then adding the potatoes and the celery.  Let sit for 20-30 minutes to marinate.

When you are ready to enjoy this, add the radishes and green onion.  You might need to season to taste with S&P.  Best served at room temp. 

Only a mandoline could do this in seconds-  If only this was a pile of black truffles...

Monday, August 8, 2011

Roasted Red Pepper, Caramelized Onion, Salami Pizza

The summer of Michigan has taken a detour south.  Why not go South in summer, to the heat and humidity?  We've had plenty of that in Chicago, so it's the norm right now- similar to Nashville TN, the countrified, smaller version of Vegas.  Without casinos, but that's the other reason for Kentucky.  Besides bourbon.

Last bender in Nashville there were culinary delights from this touristy place right on the strip, to the huge booths that held the hungry and hungover college crowd (who we're still partying with to draw out our own adolescence) at this spot towards the campus of Vanderbilt.  Our host that late morning was well recognized as a performer a few hours prior at a popular karaoke bar.  I can't remember what he sounded like, as there was a beach party going on with ladies in bikinis, so I was clearly distracted.  They literally dumped sand all over the floor, a few inches worth.  It was disappointing to learn this only happened once a year.  Nashtucky, you always impress my inner 'billy.  

There's been some quality time smoking this summer with the new grille, but it's not yet on par with Puckett's.  They smoke their shit right right under the roof in some fancy stainless steel contraption, certainly not the usual get-up you'd think- some giant old behemoth of a smoker half rusted out, a thousand pounds of metal coated with 50 years of melting animal fat.  You couldn't see much of it's operation, but there were a few other things to keep you busy- like the live band and my favorite beer so far this year, a deliciously tasty summer fare called Sweetwater IPA.  They brew near Atlanta and their main advertisement is freshness, so they only distribute to a few cities in the Southeast.  Back in the day, that would have been called 'keeping it real'.  Goose Island, unfortunately, has done the complete opposite. 

Where does this combination come from?  I literally had one pepper in the crisper, some leftover salami from a punk picnic, and the usually present alliums.  There's always pizza dough ingredients in the pantry. 

Roasted Red Pepper, Caramelized Onion, Salami Pizza
4 servings

1 packet or 1 oz. fast-acting yeast
1 C warm water, about 105F
1 ts white sugar
2.5 C bread flour, King Arthur preferred
1.2 ts kosher salt, Morton preferred over that Crystal brand
1 large red pepper
1/2 C caramelized onion (about 1 large onion, thinly sliced, low heat, touch of oil and salt, 30 minutes, stir twice)
veggie oil
good salami
pizza sauce (bit of shallot and garlic, oil and chili flakes, hot saute pan, add tomato sauce and season with Italian herbs, S&P, fresh herbs, etc.
1-1.5 C mozzarella, freshly shredded
4-5 leaves fresh basil, chiffonade

If you've never made a dough before, read about it here.  

After you've punched down your dough to rest for 10-15 minutes before rolling out, fire up the grill to high or use an indoor grill pan.  Don't forget to always heat up the oven to 500F for at least half hour with your stone on the lowest rack.  Oil up your whole pepper, cook on the grill until the outer skin is at least 75% charred, about 10 minutes.  Turn every couple minutes to avoid burning.  Once done, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let sit for 5 minutes, then the outer skin will be easy to remove and discard.  As soon as you can handle the hot pepper, cut into 1" pieces, sans seeds of course.

To assemble the pie- Roll out the dough, sauce it up, add the appropriate amount of cheese, then the good stuff- the salami, caramelized onion, and the red pepper pieces.  Bake on the hot stone for about 12 minutes, depending on many factors such as the heat of your oven and how done you want your pie.  Let cool until you can't help but slice into, top with the basil chiffonade and chili flake, oregano, whatever you like to do.  
The extra step to roast the red pepper is well worth it- the sweetness, the savoriness, the saltiness, all you need to add is a Sweetwater IPA to bring the bitterness and you're in good shape. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Innovative Grilling- Turkey Torpedoes and Grilled Turkey Meatballs

Let's start out August a little different than a typical post.  There's no recipe here, just a few thoughts on grilling, the hands down most popular way to cook in summer.

The dinner plan was all set- some ground turkey thawing in the fridge, creminis from the farmer's market, plenty of onion ready to be decorated with grill marks, and some cheddar, from WI of course.  Only thing missing? Hamburger buns.  Shit. Now what?  Well, I did have hot dog buns on hand, so we went from grilled turkey burgers to what I now call Turkey Torpedoes.  (Just cause I like the alliteration)  Sure enough, they tasted something like a turkey burger but the sausage shape was certainly confusing to the brain, as it kept saying 'sausage, sausage, sausage' when in fact it was all burger.  Never give up on your meal, no matter what ingredient you lack.

Do you know how easy it is to grill meatballs?  You don't need to skewer them, just make sure your grates are well-oiled and hot, then it's balls away.  Don't want to fire up the oven for a meatball sammich and get the crib all warmed up? Go outside the box and go outside your house.