Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mint and Walnut Pesto

An annual rite to the end of summer is the harvest, a form of which has been going on all over the world for millions of years.  Squirrels don't hoard nuts for the hell of it, and bears don't sleep in a cave for months because they are tired.  If you live in the Midwest like I do, it's gonna get cold, and even worse, dark, real quick.  Right around the time it gets tough to see what I'm grilling when it's only 7PM, that's a big change in the angle of the sun's rays that I ain't happy with.  More like, pissed off about.  However, eating seasonally and embracing all four seasons, or sometimes just the three you get, is a tasty opportunity to smile while tearing another page of the calendar.  People still have paper calendars?  A rainy and chilly night provided a fantastic dinner last week.  You gots to have this one for your repertoire in October.  You will be baking them again in November.  I might make some of these this weekend.  Where's my sausages and beer??  Is this the year to grill the Thanksgiving turkey? 

This pesto is designed to be like that hibernating bear and hide for a couple months.  Although not in a cave, your freeze would be much better.  When I have a couple fillets of tilapia or something that needs a little brightening, this pesto is gonna save the meal.  Lamb is an easy, delicious target.  Shrimps and some pasta mixed with mint and walnut pesto sounds good. 

Don't have an overgrown mint patch to harvest? Hit up this place and get it on the cheap.

the oregano will be hung and dried, seasoning pizzas and Sunday gravy all winter long

Mint and Walnut Pesto
about 1 C

2 C mint leaves, packed
4 garlic cloves, chopped (eyeball to your liking)
1 ts kosher salt
1/3 ts fresh black pepper
1/2 C walnuts, chopped
1 C good extra virgin olive oil (first cold press)

To the bowl of your food processor, add garlic, walnuts, mint,S&P.  Pulse a few times to get everything chopped up and enjoying each other.  With the blade running, add the oil slowly until about 1/4 C remaining.  Stop and scrape down the sides (to pick up that little mint leaf in the pic) of the bowl, then add the rest of the oil in the same fashion, until desired consistency- you might like your pesto a bit looser or thicker, maybe even like a paste- I like mine thick but still pourable.  Store in those tiny (3 TB?) tupperwares in the fridge for a few days, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.  Now I have to go measure those containers to find out...damn ADD.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Yogurt Marinated Lamb Kabobs

There's something special about campfire meals.  It's not difficult to summon man's urge to grill some dead animal while enjoying the outdoors.  Even the simplest concoction like franks and beans (or beenies-n-weenies to some folk) reach new heights when cooked and eaten in the great outdoors.  F&B were always featured in heavy rotation among my camping recipes.  You got some dogs for lunch and you use some of the 8-pack for dinner, combined with a can of beans and a small onion, diced, throw it in a skillet.  Place on a grate over the fire, cook for a bit until nicely warmed through and bubbly.  It helps to lengthen the skillet handle with hockey or duct tape to a broken hockey stick, cut to preferred length, to give yourself a few extra feet from the fire.  Burning hair on your knuckles is quite malodorous, and usually doesn't impress the ladies.  You could also use a halved broom handle or other piece of wood to extend your stirring reach, but that would not be as cool as using a hockey stick.  These snapped twigs can be re purposed as tomato plant stakes as well.    

If I do stop at one of those fast-food places, I'm gonna grab some extra condiments and S&P packets and save them for hitting the local KOA.   Even if you don't like camping, there's always a picnic or some other travel eating event where you can't bring the pepper mill or box of fleur de sel, but you certainly don't have to go without proper seasoning.  People be living like cavemen and shit without S&P.  Camping luxuriously is all about good food and inflatable mats.  So see below and then go here

What do you like to cook while camping? Those hobo packets where you wrap a bunch of stuff in foil and toss in on some red-hot coals for a quarter hour? That's a classic technique for an endless variety of meals.  You go even easier with steaks? Brats? If yuo got one of them fancy propane 2-burner stoves, you can make the best meal of all- an early morning breakfast of pancakes or eggs, sausages or bacon on the grill slathered in maple syrup.  Along with pretty much anything else you could cook on a normal stovetop.  Wash that down with some mostly-ground free coffee from the press, because of course you revived the fire when you woke up.  I've already told you about my favorite camping meal.  What is yours? Maybe these lamb kabobs could be??

Step one- you need 4 things to build a fire suitable for cooking purposes- a combustible substance, such as aged (dry) pine logs, oxygen, a source of ignition, and a tasty adult beverage.  

Yogurt Marinated Lamb Kabobs
2-3 servings

For the yogurt marinade-
20-24 oz greek yogurt, (or regular plain yogurt strained thru cloth for 1 hr)
zest from 1 large lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 TB shallot, thinly sliced
1 ts kosher salt
1/2 ts fresh black pepper
3-4 sprigs mint
3-4 sprigs rosemary

Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl.  Bruise the herbs a little by squeezing them to bring out the essential oils and thus flavor.  Stir to mix well, if you want to break up the herb sprigs a bit go ahead, I didn't bother.  

For the tzatziki-
3-4 oz yogurt
1/4 C cucumber, seeded and diced
2 ts lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, minced
pinch kosher salt
fresh black pepper

Add all ingredients to a small bowl, mix well.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.  Chill.

The yogurt marinade with herbs from the garden, and the lemony-garlicky cucumber tzatziki-

1.5 lb lamb loin or shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1" cubes

The loin will be more expensive yet easier to trim, the preferred cut over the harder working shoulder, although use what you can get or what the budget allows.  Sometimes you is broke, sometimes the butcher doesn't have the exact cut you're looking for.  Part of cooking is working with the provisions available.  

Add the lamb to a large, resealable plastic bag, then cover with the yogurt marinade.  Squeeze most of the air out of the bag while sealing, then mix well with your hands for a few minutes to really get everything liking each other and comfy for an overnight stay in the fridge.  At least 8 hours, 12-24 is best.  A day in the cooler, massaging and rotating every now and then to distribute the flavors when you grab another soda pop, that is proper treatment.

Prepare a hot grill while threading the lamb pieces onto metal skewers.  Season with the extra S&P packets from that 2:15AM Taco Bell stop you would rather not mention.  Your grill does not have to be built from a wood fire at a Wisconsin state park, although that is highly recommended.  With the grate oiled, grill the kabobs over medium-high direct heat for 5-6 minutes per side.  I like my young sheep a little past medium, so the chunks of meat are lightly charred on the outside yet still tender on the inside, but not too chewy.  If you like your lamb a bit closer to life, shoot for 4 minutes per side. Throw some pitas on the grill for a literal hot minute, then make some lamb kabob pitas with tzatziki sauce!  That's the way I like to camp. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Grilled Mussels a la mariniere

You didn't think you could grill bivalvia mollusca?  Nonsense, my friends.  You can grill clams and oysters too!!  There's more to outdoor shellfish cooking than shrimp on a skewer.  Although shrimp are in a different phylum and class, still kingdom animalia though.  Mmmmm...animalia, my favorite kingdom to eat.  Have you forgotten the taxonomic classification of organisms?  I'm sure coming up with this theory got Linnaeus laid all the time in Sweden, but it wasn't a good opener at the bar in my college days.  For my classmates, that is.  I spent most of my schooling years studying, and didn't really have time to frequent any bars or saloons. 

They call mussels the poor man's oyster for a reason- you can't get a pound of oysters for $5.  These little guys are not only cheap, they're super tasty- and there's just a few simple rules for handling them.  First, you need to ensure your mussels are alive when you purchase them- just ask for them so at the fishmonger.  Most places will pack them up for you in a plastic bag sitting on a bag of crushed ice inside another bag.  This will keep them at their preferred temperature while you continue shopping, standing in line, fighting traffic/carts/pedestrians in the parking lot.  If you get home and have one that won't close its shell with a gentle tap, throw it out.  Do not store in fresh cold water, they will die.  Do not asphyxiate by sealing off that plastic bag- keep it open so they can respirate.  That's about all you gotta do to keep em nice and happy- use them preferably the day you buy, although as long as you store them properly 95% of them should live stored this way.

One last thing.  Please use a good wine-something that you like to drink...after all, it's a very large component to the flavor in this dish.  Good matches here would be a sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, pinot gris or pinot grigio.  To quote someone famous, 'I love cooking with wine, sometimes I even put it in the food'. Hiyooooooooooooo!!!!  (To quote someone else, not quite that famous yet, but certainly on the way) 

Never prepared mussels before? To clean them, but scrub the outside lightly under running cold water with a brush (that hasn't seen the soap).  If the beard is present, rip these little hairs out.  You don't want to eat that.  And again, if the shell is open and then does not close with a littler tapperoo on the shell, it's a dead guy.  A mussel quickly deteriorates once they go to shellfish heaven, and that's not tasty anymore.  You want a tasty dead guy?

Grilled Mussels a la mariniere
two servings

2 lbs mussels, prepped
3 TB butter
1/2 C shallot, diced
4-6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 ts dry thyme
1/8 ts chili flake
1/8 ts black pepper
2 C dry white wine
1/2 C fresh chopped parsley
3 TB lemon juice, halves reserved
half loaf of good, crusty bread

Fire up the grill for medium high direct heat.  In a large dutch oven or pot, melt the butter over medium heat.  Saute the shallots for a couple minutes, then add the sliced garlic.  Stir and cook for 30 seconds, then add the chili flake, thyme, and pepper.  Of course this is all measured out as part of your mis en place, so that you are not trying to do all this now and thus burning the garlic.  Pour in the wine and increase the heat to bring to a boil, then manage the flame so you have a decent boil going, not splashing all over the place, but more than a simmer- you want most of the alcohol in the wine to boil off.  Cook for 8-10 minutes, the liquid will reduce slightly. 

While you cook the liquid gold bath for the mussles, take the shellfish outside to the hot grill.  Place carefully onto the grates, spread out evenly and try to keep the side that will open pointed up, as to not loose too much juice.  Cook for about 5-8 minutes, turning a few times, until they are done- which is when the shells open by a half-inch to an inch, depending on their size.  Grill the reserved lemon halves if you like.

Add the grilled mussels to the sauce, the parsley and the lemon juice, stir to mix everything up nicely.  Serve with plenty of broth, an empty bowl for the shells, and there should be some of that white wine left as well.  An accompanying salad would be tres bon.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cranberry Orange Scones

Blame it on the economy, but I am done paying $23 for breakfast.  Sure it's much more convenient, but now with a coffee bean grinder, even the black stuff at the diner isn't better than mine.  I bet you too like to sit at the counter of your local spot, reading the paper and hearing the regulars talk shop, sports, weather.  But more than once a month, that money is better spent on something else, like a nice bottle of wine.  Now if I could just remember to stop frying bacon without a shirt on, that can sting sometimes.  

You know these will be on the brunch plate in Autumn.   Those were ridiculously good. 

For this round of dough, I decided instead of the typical scone (cut like a pizza) shape to use the 2" biscuit cutter and thus the round appearance.  Just re-roll the dough remnants twice, gently of course, and you got biscuit-scones. 

Cranberry Orange Scones
8-10 scones

2.5 C AP flour
1/4 C sugar
1 TB baking powder
1/4 ts baking soda
1/2 ts kosher salt
1 egg
2/3 C heavy cream
1 stick butter, cut into 1/2" cubes, very cold (as in, put in freezer for at least 10 min)
1/2 C cranberries, dried
zest from 1 large orange
3 TB melted butter

Fire up the heater to 375F, rack middle position.  

In a medium bowl, add the cream, egg, sugar, whisk well to combine.  In the bowl of your food pro or another large bowl, mix the dry stuff- flour, salt, soda, and powder.   Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs by pulsing quickly about a dozen times, or with a pastry cutter or two forks.  Add in the wet stuff, mix until just combined.  Turn out on your board/counter.  Fold in the cranberries and zest, then form  into a circle.  Cut into about 8-10 scones, place on an ungreased sheet pan.  Brush the tops with melted butter, then sprinkle with a bit of sugar.  Bake for about 15-18 minutes, until nicely golden.  Eat as soon as possible, although they will last all day.  Yeah right.  

My scones weren't impressively golden brown this time, next batch I would use an egg wash- an egg mixed with a ts of water, or maybe a splash of cream mixed in with the egg? Egg yolk only and cream?  What do you think??

Serve with your favorite jam or preserves, or a pat of butter.  Enjoy the savings.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mixed Fruit Salad with Basil, Lime, Mint

It's over :(  Another summer in the books.  Technically, since it's September 1st, it's not meteorological summer anymore...even though it was 96F today and might be 98F tomorrow.  That's not the fall I envision in my mind-it's filled with thoughts of grilled cider-brined pork, apples, oven-roasted squash, colorful falling leaves (which hopefully are rounded up and lit afire, love that smell, although not good for enviro), Irish pumpkin cheesecake muffins, long sleeve t-shirts, grilling when it's not 96F outside, and the always shocking start to the 6+ month hockey season.  To the rink in flip-flops and shorts never gets any easier. 

You might be familiar with what I call summer in a bowl, but this dish is close at the heels of deserving that title.  I literally did not put my bowl down, just spoon after spoon after spoon feeding my face.  I love blueberries, the savory vs. sweet enjoyment here with the herb-infused simple syrup and fresh herbs is lovely.

The inspiration for this recipe came from watching a plate of basil and berry topped pancakes be devoured at this bucolic little patio adjacent to this place. Although enjoyed with a glass of fruit juice, a fresh mojito could be employed for an adult brunch treat.  Gotta use up all the mint (and basil) anyway that has been lovingly cared for, watered and weeded all summer long.  The hardier herbs, like the rosemary, oregano, and thyme, will last through any upcoming chilly nights.  Those will also be harvested and dried in a month or so.  I don't really bother drying basil, it's just not a good taste to me.  It's much better stored as pesto in the chiller or ice box, covered with a bit of EVOO.  When the mood strikes, whip out your pesto real quick and you would be much happier with this on the menu.  Hell yes that will be a great surprise in three months to find hiding in the bottom of the freezer underneath a pile of cheese rinds.  Of parmigiano reggiano.  To put a little umami in the chicken stock, of course.   

You can use any fruit you like- never cut a mango before?  You have tangerines at the crib? Throw em in.  Some blackberries? Absolutely.  This will last in the fridge for a day, although is best day of. 

Mixed Fruit Salad with Basil, Lime, Mint
6-8 servings as side

1/2 C each water and white sugar
1/2 C basil leaves, packed
1/4 C mint leaves, packed
lime zest from a medium guy
1 large mango, cored, diced
1 pint strawberries, halved (giant ones cut into thirds)
1 pint blueberries
2 kiwi, diced
1 C champagne grapes, or regular seedless red or green grapes, halved
3 clementines, segmented, or 1 large orange, diced
10 leaves mint, torn
10 leaves basil, torn
2 TB lemon juice, bout 1 large guy

Basil and Mint Simple Syrup- combine equal parts of sugar and water, apply heat to dissolve the sugar- this may be done on the stovetop or microwave.  Add basil, mint, and lime zest, stir to combine, give a little pressure, a light muddle if you will, on the herbs to extract the essential oils.  Park in fridge to cool for at least an hour, or in a container overnight.  Strain before using. 

Salad- Add all the fruit to a large serving bowl, then add the herbs and lemon juice, stir gently to mix.  Add the chilled syrup and stir again, careful not to beat up the froot too much.  Stash in the chiller for at least 20-30 minutes before serving, mix well again before doing so.  

This can be enjoyed slightly cooler than or at room temp.  Which means take it out of the fridge when ready to eat, then go outdoors, find a comfortable place to sit, and just try to put the spoon down before it's gone.