Friday, May 20, 2016

Pesto and Leche

This was The Week of Sauces! Not a bad proclamation. Quite a tasty adventure, actually.

First was ramp pesto made with spring's first tender onions, parsley, and mint. We ladled it over grilled chicken (brined in buttermilk and Franks HotSauce, then plopped over a can of lemon San Pellegrino for an extended stay on the grill), and the leftovers will pair nicely with potatoes or pasta.

Second was Leche De Tigre (tiger's milk), a sauce that is new to my kitchen and my palate. Our Fig to Fork delivery this week included the recipe from Chef Brendan McDonald of 4Bells. The leche gave our snapper tacos a zesty appeal. Tonight we'll brush the sauce over turkey burgers while they grill.

Ramp Pesto
1/2 cup ramps, chopped
Large handful Italian parsley
Small handful mint
Good handful walnuts, toasted
Good handful of parmesan cheese, shredded
2 cloves of garlic
Juice from half a lemon
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Olive oil

In small saute pan cook ramps in a small bit of olive oil over medium high heat until ramps are just tender, about 5 minutes. Add ramps to bowl of a food processor fitted with metal blade. Add parley,mint, walnuts, cheese, garlic, lemon juice, and black pepper. Turn processor on and add enough olive oil to make a loose paste. 

Leche De Tigre (adapted from Chef Brendan McDonald's recipe)
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 habanero chili pepper, seeded and rinsed well in cold water
3 cloves garlic
1 shallot
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons pineapple juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Wear gloves to cut habanero in half and remove seeds. Rinse under cold water.

Roast red and yellow peppers, garlic, and shallot on parchment lined baking sheet for 15 to 20 minutes or until charred, turning every 5 minutes to get all sides evenly roasted. Remove from oven and let vegetables cool enough to handle. Rinse pepper under cool water and pull away charred skins and seeds. Return peppers to oven to warm them. Remove skin from shallot and garlic.

Add all ingredients into a blender or food processor fitted with metal blade and puree for 5 to 10 minutes. Cool and serve.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Spring simplicity

It really isn't officially spring until I've snapped the bottoms off of the season's first asparagus and rolled them across the hot grill. Radishes, rhubarb, halibut, and a chilled rosé: these simple flavors set my expectations for the warmth that is to come and yank me out of winter's stupor of starch and heft. 

We trekked toward the sunshine last Saturday intent on foraging for the ingredients that launch our seasonal tasks. We required tomato and pepper plants, flowers, potting soil, and a grand assortment of herbs to plant. Across Minnesota millions of others had the same plan. We assembled en masse at the farmers market, the nursery, the hardware store, and Costco; merging with swarms of happy people lugging pots of bright peonies and phlox and finding our place in a line a block long, I heard a woman tell the man next to her, "It is a good thing that everyone is happy when they buy flowers."

T carefully balanced a tray loaded with tiny cartons of basil, sage, and tarragon while I toted bouquets of green onions, asparagus, and rhubarb. Our small car groaned with the weight of several 55-pound bags of potting soil and the bounty of our spring shopping spree.

At home I spread the edible loot across the butcher block and set to work on a rhubarb simple syrup while T travailed in the yard, mowing the lawn and raking unidentifiable foliage. Eventually we connected in the backyard and started filling pots with soil and green promises. When it was time for happy hour, we collapsed with relief from a job well done and opened a bottle of pink Pinot noir.

Rhubarb Simple Syrup
4 cups rhubarb, chopped
2 cups sugar

Place rhubarb and sugar in large stock pot and cover with water. Simmer 30 to 60 minutes. Use immersion blender to puree. Strain through wire mesh colander, pushing solids against mesh to extract liquid, and discard solids. Chill in glass jars.

Use rhubarb syrup in mixed drinks with soda water, and in cocktails. Add to vinaigrette and BBQ sauce.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Portobello Fajitas

T has been off mammals for a while now, and mushrooms are finding their way into our dinner menus more frequently than ever. While I generally reach for shiitakes, portobellos are a perfect for grilling. Their size and texture make me feel like I am eating a meal fit for a ravenous meat eater.

You can roast or grill these mushroom fajitas and get great results either way. Chicken fajitas, move over! A new 'shroom is in town!

Portobello Fajitas with Pineapple and Peppers
Serves 4 

For the mushrooms:
4 portobellos, cleaned 
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon each ground cumin, onion powder, and black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced fine
Olive oil

Combine the cilantro, spices, garlic, and enough olive oil to coat the mushrooms. Cover mushrooms with marinade and set aside for up to an hour.

To roast: slice mushrooms into 1/2-inch wide pieces and roast on parchment paper lined baking sheet in 400-degree oven until mushrooms are tender, about 20 minutes, flipping after 10 minutes.

To grill: grill mushrooms stem-side up over direct coals until liquid starts to form in center of mushroom, about 4 minutes. Flip and continue cooking over direct heat an additional 4 minutes or until grill marks appear. Move mushrooms to indirect heat, cover, and cook stem-side up an additional 12 to 15 minutes, or until mushrooms are tender on the inside. Cool and slice.

For the pineapple and peppers:
1 red or yellow bell pepper
1 red onion
3 assorted chili peppers (such as Poblano, Anaheim, jalapeno)

8 ounce can of Pineapple chunks, reserve juice
Olive or canola oil
3 tablespoons tequila
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper

To cook on stovetop: Slice peppers and onion into thin strips. Saute, in batches so you don't crowd the pan, over medium high heat in a bit of oil until tender and slightly caramelized; about 5 minutes. Flavor with salt and pepper. Add all cooked peppers and onion back to pan, add pineapple and juice, lime juice, and tequila, and cook until liquid is reduced by half. Taste and adjust seasonings.

To grill: cut peppers and onion into cubes and thread on skewers. Whisk together a few tablespoons of oil, the tequila, lime, and salt and pepper. Grill kebabs over direct heat, frequently brushing with marinade and turning when grill marks appear. 

To serve: layer mushrooms, pineapple and peppers on warm tortillas. Serve with pepitos, guacamole, salsa, cheese, and cilantro. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Cat Blogging: The Sims, Neko Atsume, and imaginary friends

Sometime back in the early aughts T and I took a week off between Christmas and New Year's Eve (aka our wedding anniversary). We spent our time relaxing, watching TV, and playing video games. In fact our daughter had recently introduced me to a new game called The Sims. I loved playing Sims so much that we brought our bulky PC into the living room where we were camped out so that I could play from the comfort of our holiday nest. When a friend called to invite me for an afternoon of skiing, I explained to her that I was playing an imaginary game of life that, at the time, was more appealing than the real thing.

For the uninitiated, The Sims is a world that players create by building homes and neighborhoods and filling them with furniture and people (and in later versions: animals, cars, malls, restaurants, etc.). The object of the game (I think) is to create individuals who live happy successful lives. Sims (the people who live within the game) must be monitored to make sure they are fed, clean, and emotionally fulfilled.

That first week of playing Sims was wonderful. I built pretty little houses filled with comfortable furniture and random art. I grew beautiful gardens in the yards and every home had a pool. I memorized the cheat codes so that none of my characters had to work and there was always enough money to add fancy additions, hire a maid and gardener, and order pizza delivery.

I was never very good at The Sims. The character monitors would flash messages to me that my Sims were sad, hungry, dirty, or in desperate need of the bathroom. The one room without a smoke detector would erupt in fire, the house without an alarm would get robbed. The maid would stop showing up and the houses filled with garbage. The gardener disappeared and all of the gardens withered. My Sims usually died within a few hours of creation.

Recently I began playing a new imaginary game of life, although rather than attempting to keep Sims alive I am now collecting Neko Atsume cats. Neko Atsume is a phone app which guides players to lure kitties to a cartoon yard/room into which we place various toys, kitty condos, and food. I fill my little kitty photo album with images of them sleeping in cushions shaped like a burger and playing with a bunny-shaped toy. I am giddy when one of them leaves me a memento (A memento is an imaginary gift that demonstrates the cat's affection toward the player. Mementos vary according to cat. So far I have received mementos such as a shiny acorn, damp matches, and a small bell that does not ring. According to the app creators, when a cat leaves you a memento it is proof that the receiver of the gift has become a cat's friend. Let's face it, we can all use a few more friends, whether real or imaginary.). The object of the game (I think) is to collect all of the cats who may possibly wander into your yard and receive mementos from them.

Your might think that a person who lives with two cats would have no use for a fake yard of imaginary cats or a collection of illusory gifts. But our dear sweet ungrateful little beasts generally ignore me and only seek me out when they need something material, like a full dish or a clean litter box. They prefer T which leaves me with an empty lap. Pretending that fictional cats want to spend time near me fills a need that Oskar and Orson are not willing to meet.

Sadly, I am as rotten at playing Neko Atsume as I was at Sims. I've had the app for months and have yet to collect all of the rare cats. Only a small smattering of regulars visit my yard no matter how much expensive food I put out for them. Thankfully, the app developers have not yet added the "death" function to this game. For now, when a Neko Atsume cat is done with your yard, she simply wanders away. If my pretend kitties started shaking their fisted paws at me because I am unable to feed and entertain them, I'd have to stop playing. Heck, I already have that with my real cats.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Avoiding Death by Semlor

On Saturday I taught a spring brunch class at the American Swedish Institute, organizing the menu around Sweden's King Adolf Frederick's last meal (often referred to "Death by Semlor"). King Adolph Frederick feasted on lobster, caviar, kippers (herring), sour kraut, champagne, and fourteen sweet semlor steeped in warm cream. What a way to go.

Semlor (singular: semla), also known as Fat Tuesday buns, are chubby cardamom buns filled with almond paste and whipped cream. Back in the days of Catholic influence, Swedes ate their fill of the buns before their Lenten fasts. Modern Swedes reach for the buns as soon as  Christmas is complete and don't stop eating them until Easter disappears from the rear view mirror.

Our semlor brunch menu included a batch of cardamom buns; spring greens with citrus vinaigrette; quick pickled beets, cucumbers, and red peppers; fingerlings roasted with herbs and lemon zest; and gravlax and egg salad with roe on toasts. Next time I make this salad I'll serve it on rye toast. Delicious!

Gravlax and Egg Salad with Roe
Serves 12

For the gravlax:
12 ounces salmon
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
fresh dill
lemon zest
Dill or citron aquavit or vodka

Combine sugar, salt, dill, and zest and cover the salmon with the mixture on all sides. Spritz with aquavit. Pack in plastic and weigh down with heavy dish or pan. Refrigerate 48 hours, turning every 12.

Rinse or wipe cure from salmon and slice into cubes. (Retain skin to fry later.)

For the salad:
6 large eggs, soft to hard boiled and diced
8 to 12 ounces gravlax, cubed (about 1 1/2 to 2 cups)
2 shallots, diced
1/3 cup capers, drained
1 cup creme fraiche
1 tablespoon horseradish
Several tablespoons each minced fresh dill and chived, plus additional sprigs for garnish
2 or more tablespoons roe

Combine eggs, gravlax, shallot, and caper in large mixing bowl. In separate bowl whisk together creme fraiche, horseradish, and herbs. Gently coat egg-gravlax mixture with creme fraiche. Garnish with roe and herbs.

Serve on crackers or toasts.

To make inexpensive homemade creme fraiche:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons buttermilk

Combine ingredients in glass jar and cover with plastic wrap; set out at room temperature for 18 to 24 hours. Stir and chill.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Juniper Pork Tacos

A few weeks ago I mentioned to T that I've always wanted a tortilla press. A week later, a surprise package arrived for me, and a beautiful cast iron press was all mine. Romance in the kitchen equals a happy home.

A recent Fig to Fork delivery contained a couple of gorgeous pork chops and other amazing ingredients that I knew would make a unique and flavorful taco. It was finally time to use that tortilla press! While the pork marinated I pulled together a quick salsa-meets-crema of grilled tomatillos, chili peppers, avocado, onions, and garlic that I pureed with a handful of cilantro, lime and orange juices, and yogurt. I used Mark Bittman's Almost-From-Scratch Tortillas recipe to create a batch of warm corn wraps, and then grilled the pork for some of the most delicious tacos ever.

Grilled Juniper Pork 
Serves 2 to 4

Two large pork chops
1 tablespoon juniper berries
3 garlic cloves
Zest of two oranges
Handful of cilantro stems
Tops of 3 green onions
Black pepper
Olive oil

Grind or use mortar and pestle to smash together juniper, garlic, zest, and stems. Place all ingredients in large plastic bag, making sure that all parts of the pork is covered in marinade. Chill 2 to 4 hours.

Bring pork to room temperate (place on counter top about 30 minutes) and then wipe marinade off with paper towels. Grill over high heat, about 4 minutes each side depending on thickness of chops.

Serve with salsa and crema on warm tortillas.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Cat Blogging: Biggest Loser Update 2016

This year at Orson's annual check-up our vet exclaimed, "You have a waist!" We all admired Orson's svelte figure as he growled and paced, not pleased that we brought him in for an appointment during regularly scheduled mealtime. He hissed and glared at us. "Orson is hangry," our vet decided.

It's been two years since Orson's weight loss journey began and it has been a steady dropping of pounds for the former fatty. In fact, as of last week he has dropped a total of 9 1/2 pounds (from 25 pounds to just under 16).

But not all of this adventure has been smooth sailing. Orson makes a nuisance of himself when he believes it is time for breakfast (or dinner). He'll chew on any available surface: antenna, earbud, random wire, T's ear, my finger, furniture, doors, waste baskets, etc. Once we shoo him away from the chewed item, he begins his incessant meowing. "FEED ME FEED ME FEED ME." Poor guy is practically disappearing. I'd have more sympathy for his plight if it didn't wake me up at 3:00 in the morning.