Thursday, July 29, 2010

In a pickle? Pickle!

Clockwise from left:  blueberry/ginger preserves, grapefruit marmalade,  strawberry/rhubarb jam, pickled green beans, and pickled red onions.
I am the youngest of three kids, and each one of us couldn't be more different than the other.

Eldest child, Kevin, is the former Marine turned golfin', cowboy mechanic living in Vegas.  You know...that old story.  The middle child, with an incredible family of her own in Iowa, is an Episcopal priest lovingly known as Father Beth.  And then there is me...the artsy fartsy one living in the South with his big gay Valentine.

Certain accommodations have been afforded me due to birth order and financial status.  As the aforementioned artsy fartsy member of the family, my career choices have been of a more...spiritually gratifying nature as opposed to anywhere near financially satisfying.  I'm not living in a card board box talking to my pet shoe, but owning a house and jetting off to exotic lands at a minutes notice I ain't.

Which is why July is a challenge.

It is this month in which every single member of my immediate family celebrates a birthday.  It is definitely Christmas in July in terms of gift buying and spending.  So, during these economically trying times...which I call my twenties and thirties...one must become inventive when money is not at hand.

So...in a gift giving pickle?  Pickle your gifts!  In a jam about what to give?  Give jam!  If we are to believe what our mother's tell us, it is better to receive something that is hand made and thoughtful than another tchotchke or bauble to clutter up your house.

At least, that's what I'm bankin' on.

I am not going to publish recipes that aren't mine without permission (I'm nice that way).  I floated around on the interweb, borrowed from recipes, and added my own twist to them.  Now is the perfect time to play with pickling, canning, and...um...jamming.  So get out those mason jars and tongs and play with your food!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Waxman Challenge

Last night was the premiere of a new show called Master Chef.

The conceit is simple:  home cooks strut their stuff for a shot at $250,000 and a book deal while dealing with the snarky critiques of Gordon Ramsey and a couple of highly respectable, yet terribly egocentric, guest judges.  I am totally hooked, and I am wondering why I am not on it.

During last night's episode, I actually was quite tearful.  Here were a group of stay at home moms, software programmers, and everyday Joe's risking national ridicule all because each share a common passion: food.  They shared their "signature dishes," prepared with varying degrees of success and finesse all with the hopes of taking one step closer to winning the coveted prize.

Of course, I was inspired.

Flashback to Barbuto.  J and I were having our perfect New York al fresco dining moment:  I was desperately trying to figure out how to snap a photo with Obi Wan KaWaxman, and J was attempting to fashion a tranquilizer dart out of a bottle of Pelegrino and some chili peppers to keep me from bum rushing the man to get a hug.  And then the chicken came.

This was no ordinary chicken.  Succulent, juicy, and filled with a verdant freshness that made you understand that this man had been touched by God...or had spent some serious quality time figuring out how to cook barnyard foul.

So...inspired by the Zen-like Grill Master and the hopeful everyday cooks on a reality show, here is my interpretation of Waxman's Herb Chicken

Herb Chicken a la Duff a la Waxman

1 4lb chicken
1 yellow onion, quartered
1 lemon, quartered

For the Slatherin' Goodness

3 garlic cloves
4 anchovy filets
1 Tbl capers
1 tsp fresh thyme
2 Tbl fresh parsley
2 Tbl fresh basil
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
salt 'n pepper

Preheat oven to 400.  Combine all of the Slatherin' Goodness ingredients in your trusty mini food processor.  Whir away until it becomes a green, fragrant pool of love.

Place chicken breast side up in a cast iron skillet.  Stuff cavity with onion and lemon.  Now slather that chicky with the Slatherin' Goodness, making sure you get underneath the skin as well as covering the entire bird.  Cover with foil and roast for 50 minutes.  Remove foil and cook for an additional ten minutes to crisp up that bird.

Allow to rest for a bit before carving.  Picture yourself sitting outside in the Meat Packing District with your Valentine and enjoy.

The carnage.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Kabob: Revisited

Some plastic wrap company keeps telling me that I throw away over $500 worth of food a year.

NO MORE!

What's is the fridge:  left over kabobs, grilled eggplant, homemade pesto, arugula, grilled chicken breast.


A simple yet, delicious solution:  Grilled Chicken and Veggies on Ciabatta with Pesto Mayonnaise.  Feelin' Fancy is great, but sometimes a good sandwich does the trick.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Kabob Diversion

I am fully aware of the daunting task ahead of me.  I'm just refusing to do anything about it...yet.

In my other life, I am a theatre teacher.  For the past three years, I have been charged with creating a theatre program at a pretty groovy little school outside of Memphis, and, over those three years, my students have worked their booties off to create something wonderful.  We have tackled classic American plays, Shakespeare, narrative theatre, musicals, and have even generated a couple of original scripts developed through ethnographic studies and interviews.  Not too shabby for a program with roughly twelve extremely active participants and no formal performance space.

Perhaps our crowning achievement was when we received an invitation to take a show to the American High School Theatre Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Yea, us!

Now, I have to pick a show suitable for young actors with little or no set that can travel across the pond to the world's largest theatre festival and raise an obscene amount of money to do so.  This summer should be dedicated to pouring over scripts, devising fund-raising possibilities, and working with designers to have everything ready to go.

Instead, I went to the grocery store.

If you have any ideas about which play I should take, I would love to hear them!



Yogurt Marinated Chicken Kabobs

This marinade made me soooo happy!  The chicken is beyond juicy and flavorful.  This made eight skewers, plus two that were just with the veggies.

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup plain yogurt
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup fresh mint
2 Tbl fresh rosemary
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Veggies, sliced into sturdy wedges

zucchini
yellow and orange peppers
fennel
red onion

Combine yogurt, garlic, herbs, lemon, oil, salt and pepper in a bowl and set aside.  Cut chicken breasts into 1 1/2" cubes and place in marinade.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Soak skewers in water to prevent burning.  While skewers get waterlogged, slice veggies into wedges and create an assembly line.  Once you start skewerin' the chicken it gets a little messy.  Assemble skewers alternating chicken and veggies (about three pieces of each per skewer).

Preheat grill pan over medium heat and turn on the fan.  It's gonna get smoky in here!  Place skewers on grill and char those suckers.  About 5 minutes on each side.  Transfer to a baking sheet and finish cooking in a 350 oven for about ten minutes.  Serve over Minted Eggplant Couscous.

If you have extra veggies, make a couple of skewers with them.  Just drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Delish!


Minted Eggplant Couscous

This is a great dish to bring as a side for summer get-togethers, and it gets better the longer it sits.  More than likely you will use less vinegar.  I don't really measure out each ingredient, so start with a couple of shakes and add until it tastes good to your pie hole.


2 cups chicken stock
2 cups couscous
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small eggplant, grilled and marinated with mint
1/2 cup dried apricots, diced
1/2 cup currants
1/4 cup pistachios
1 red pepper, chopped
3 carrots, diced
7 green onions, diced
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
a ton of fresh parsley, chopped
2 Tbl fresh mint, chopped
Salt/pepper to taste

Grill and marinate the eggplant as we talked about in an earlier post, except this time use mint as your herb and forget about the capers.  Let sit for a couple of hours so flavors can combine.

In a medium sauce pan, bring stock and garlic to a boil.  Stir in couscous, cover, and remove from heat.  This will be done in five minutes!

While the couscous is couscousing, chop your veggies and apricots into bite sized pieces and drain the garbanzos. 

Using a fork, fluff the couscous and transfer to a large bowl. Add in veggies, pistachios, apricots, currants, and herbs.  Dress with lemon, vinegar and olive oil. Toss to combine.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Dinner: Improvised - Help the Cootie Laden

Ever have a friend who is havin' a bad week, and you're not quite sure what to do to cheer them up?

A good friend of mine has Cooties.  It's actually kind of serious, terribly annoying, and, sorry Tugar, not very pretty to look at.  Couple this affliction with the swamp-like summer heat of Memphis, and you have one unhappy camper on your hands.

Mission:  provide comfort (or at least distraction) through food using what I have in my kitchen and bring a smile to a friend's face.

What's in the fridge:  a whole chicken, spinach, red cabbage, some tired turnips, carrots.

Cootie Boo's fave is Thanksgiving food, and I just saw the movie Salt.  Why not brine the chicken?!

Spice Brined Chicken

I usually brine a turkey for Thanksgiving, but I have used this method with chicken or pork throughout the year.  It's time consuming, but so worth the effort.  It gives the meat an incredible spicy flavor, and keeps it moist and juicy.  I tend to raid my spices and throw in what sounds good at the moment;  just stick to your earthier spices.

1 4 lb. chicken

For the brine

1 medium yellow onion, unpeeled and quartered
1 head of garlic, slice in half
2 turnips, cut into thirds
2 carrots, cut into thirds
1 2" piece of ginger, sliced
1 1/2 cups kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
3 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 Tbl whole black peppercorns
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
3 cups water

In a large stock pot, combine ingredients and bring to a boil.  (I like to give the mixture a good stir to dissolve the salt and sugar a bit before turning on the heat, otherwise you will have some crustiness on the bottom of your pot that is a bee-otch to get off.)  Let the brine cool completely.

Once the brine is at room temperature, place your chicken breast side down in the brine and add enough water to cover.  Cover and put it in the fridge for six hours.

Preheat oven to 400.  Remove bird from brine and rinse thoroughly under cold water.  Pat dry and place in a cast iron skillet.  Here is where you can play around.  I make a butter mixture to rub over the little chicky with a half a stick of butter, cumin, cayenne, orange zest, and pepper.  Again, play with whatever you think sounds tasty.  Slather the bird with the butter, under and over the skin.  Shove an onion in the cavity with maybe some citrus and fresh herbs.  Cover with foil and roast for 45 minutes.  Remove foil and roast for an additional 20-25 minutes uncovered to brown that sucker. 

Let that baby rest for 10 minutes and carve.

Sauteed Red Cabbage and Spinach

The balsamic make this side tangy and slightly sweet, and it looks kind of like Christmas with the bright red and green.

1/4 head of red cabbage, shredded
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 oz baby spinach
2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
2 Tbl olive oil
salt/pepper to taste

In a saute pan, heat oil over medium heat.  Add sliced onions and cook for 5 minutes.  Add cabbage and saute until it begins to wilt, about 7 minutes.  Add garlic and vinegar, and cook until vinegar reduces by half.  At the last minute, add in spinach and stir it around until just wilted.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately.


I am not a dessert man, but what sort of Thanksgiving-ish dinner is complete without a sweet bite?!  I made a Rhubarb Tart with Orange Glaze (thank you, defunct Gourmet magazine...we miss you!) and I added some fresh figs I had picked up at the Memphis Farmer's Market.  A fantastic dessert that was super easy to make!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Requiem for an Immersion Blender

"Honey...should this be making this sound?"

Dearly Beloved,

We are gathered here to celebrate the brief but productive life of Kevin, the Kitchen Aid Immersion Blender.

I remember when we first met.  It was a beautiful fall Saturday afternoon, and I was mourning the loss of another dear friend, Steve - the Braun Hand-held Immersion Blender, with whom I had had a serious relationship for quite some time.  I was working through the rich tapestry of emotions oft accompanied with grief:  anger, confusion, denial.  How could you leave me this way?  Is there something I could have done to prevent this disaster?  If I use a different outlet, perhaps you will whir once more.  But, alas, Steve was gone.

And then I laid eyes on you.  Your nine speeds, your easily detachable wand for cleaning, your clever design for convenient storage were seductive and thrilling.  I was filled with excitement and feelings of betrayal.  Was it too soon after Steve to move on?  Will he understand?  Wiping a bittersweet tear of remembrance away from my glistening eye, I took Kevin in my arms and the rest became history.

Kevin stood by my side as we courageously created soups and dips and the pedestrian smoothies.  We were a great team: dazzling dinner guests and drawing an envious eye at the lunch table with our delectable culinary creations.  Like all perfect relationships, I knew it wouldn't last.  That it couldn't last.

But who knew you would go down in a blaze of glory while preparing avocados to enter a delicious bath of yogurt and cream before moving on to chilled perfection! 

To answer your question, J:  No. It should not make that sound.

I shall miss you, dear friend.

Forgive me if I meet another.

In honor of Kevin, please enjoy these soups and remember to cherish each moment with your loved one.  You never know if it will be your last.


Buster:  A Study in Grief


Roasted Eggplant and Red Pepper Soup

If you don't have a gas stove, you can roast the peppers in the oven with the eggplant.

1 large eggplant
4 red peppers
2 Tbl olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
6 cups chicken stock

Preheat oven to 450. On a baking sheet, toss that eggplant into the oven...whole!  Roast for about 40 minutes until it looks kind of like a deflated balloon.  While eggplant roasts, turn on your burners and place peppers directly on the flame, turning frequently to char each side.  Once charred, transfer peppers to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Once peppers are cool enough to handle, remove skin and seeds. 

Over medium high heat, saute onion until tender about 7 minutes and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Add garlic, cumin, and cayenne to the onions and stir to coat.  Cook for about one minute.  Add peppers and flesh scooped from the eggplant.  Cook one minute.  Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Simmer for about 15 minutes.

Using your *whimper* immersion blender, puree soup until smooth.  Serve warm with crostini and goat cheese.

Chilled Curried Carrot Soup

This is a great starter for lamb!

1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2" pieces
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
2 Tbl olive oil
2 Tbl curry powder
1 tsp salt
6 cups chicken stock
1 can of coconut milk
zest and juice of one lime

In a stock pot, heat oil and curry over medium heat, stirring for about one minute.  Add onions and saute until tender.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add carrots and stir to coat with curry infused oil.  Cook for 10 minutes.  Add stock and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 15 minutes.

Using your perfectly functioning immersion blender, puree until smooth.  Pass soup through a sieve, discarding all of the solids.  Stir in coconut milk and lime juice and zest.  Chill completely.  Serve with a wedge of lime and chopped scallions on top.

In lieu of flowers, please send me money so I can buy a new immersion blender.

Friday, July 23, 2010

My Dinner with Amy: a video experience

My first video dining experience:  a delightful evening in Chicago with my good friend Amy: Professional Lesbytarian.

Please forgive any "up the nose" shots.



Okay...so it ends a tad abruptly.
To sum up:  In Fine Spirits is a fabu place for simple, clean, seasonal food from local farmers.
If'n you enjoy the vino, it's a great place for small plates and wine pairings.

And, by the by...
our waiter's name was Anders.
What I tell ya...Lesbians and Ligonberried.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Heart Chicago

Hog Butcher for the World,

Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

the opening lines from "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg

I would like to think of myself as a spontaneous person.  You know, they kind of guy with a devil-may-care attitude who throws caution to the wind and listens intently to the ceaseless whispers of his Id.

But, I am not.

So it was a big surprise when I found myself in my car yesterday, headed North to my old stomping grounds:  Chicago.  I love this city, particularly my old neighborhood.


Located on the north side of Chicago, Andersonville was primarily a Swedish neighborhood which experienced a big infestation of the gays in the '90s.  I like to say that it is the Home of Lesbians and Lingonberries.  The residential section features tree lined streets with a variety of homes, brownstones, and walk-ups, and people are always bustling around with their pets in crazy collars and babies strapped in with some stylish, ergonomically designed baby sling.  You can see every walk of life here.

Cutting through this mini-melting pot is Clark Street, home to several boutiques and fantastic restaurants.  All of the businesses are locally owned and, with the exception of a lone Starbucks, there are no chains from Catalpa to Lawrence.  In lieu of recipes, I submit for your viewing pleasure, and my reminiscence, a culinary stroll through Andersonville.

Please hum, "This Used To Be My Playground," quietly to yourself while viewing. 

Jin Ju
Love this place!  Great Korean food...perfect for small bites.


Ann Sather
An Andersonville staple with cinnamon rolls the size of your head!  Perfection!
And, no...that's not Ann at her car.


Taste of Lebanon
Total hole in the wall with the best (and cheapest) falafel evah!


Andie's
It's been there for years.  Yummy, but for some reason, you have to eat it there...the take out is odd.


Kopi Cafe
Groovy little coffee house with tasty plates and a little boutique with "world gifts". 
Just found out they got a liquor license
...not sure how I feel about that.

Swedish Bakery
With a real live Swedish Chef!  Best pastries ever!


T's Bar and Restaurant
Come for the mixed crowd...stay for the fries with curry mayo!

m henry
Good luck getting a table here on the weekend, because this breakfast place is AMAZING!
Don't miss the Blisscakes or the Black Bean cakes with your choice of eggs...which is what I had for breakfast today.

Marty's
Martini's the size of fish bowls...proceed with caution.


Huey's
A great hot dog joint, but don't pass up their Bacon Blue Cheeseburger.


Erickson's
Fab Swedish deli!

Reza's
Kabobs and dill rice.  'Nuff said.


Calo's
Until the remodeling, eating here was like entering into a joint on a Jersey strip mall.
Great I-Tal-Ee-Un food and steaks.

In Fine Spirits
Wine shop attached to a restaurant with a cool patio.
I'm eating here tonight!  Will give a full report tomorrow!

Monday, July 19, 2010

So I told her what she could do with her zucchini...

I had a "feeling famous" moment.

Yesterday, I received my first email question!  The moment was thrilling.  Reader mail!

I had visions of Oprah-esque magnitude. Dressed in age-appropriate casual chic-ness, trying not to give you my profile lest I should disappear from view (I would be skinny Oprah in this moment), and gazing directly into Camera One, I would address you, my best friend, saying, "Melinda from College Park, PA writes, 'I have a challenge for The Improvised Chef's Three Way.'"

I bet you do.  And you know I love a challenge.

"'It's probably an easy one, but I'm not that creative in the kitchen."

Stop.  Don't say that!

"My co-worker brought me a zucchini - a HUGE zucchini - and we have to figure out what to do with it so it doesn't go bad.  Any ideas?"

Well, Melinda in College Park, since this is a family show I am going to refrain from calling this Scott's Three Way with a Huge Zucchini.  It simply begs a law suit.  Instead I will make some small talk about how now is the time of year when zucchini seems to be taking over your garden like Audrey II, and, blithely and benignly, I will tell you exactly what you can do with that huge zucchini.

There is a ton of stuff you can do with America's favorite gourd.  As stated earlier, I love to grill and marinate the suckers.  It makes for great snackin' and impresses people on an antipasti plate.  (For the recipe, see Confession post).  My mom used to make zucchini bread which tasted like love in loaf form(and if she was at home instead of selfishly going on vacation I would post her recipe).  Throw it into a chilled soup with potatoes for a veggie summer supper, add fresh zucch to a salad with garbanzos, artichokes, hearts of palm and olives for a little Mediterranean feel, or you could make zucchini pancakes.

Chilled Zucchini and Potato Soup

For a vegetarian option, omit the stock and use water.  Whenever I use veggie stock in soup, it tends to take on a general vegetable flavor instead of focusing on the star veg.

2 Tbl olive oil
1 1/2 pounds zucchini, trimmed and chopped
1 medium yellow onion
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup white wine
1 medium Yukon gold potato, chopped
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme (string 'em up)
4 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 Tbl lemon zest
salt/pepper

In a large stock pot, heat olive oil and add onions.  Cook until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic, thyme, potato and zucchini.  Cook for another 5-7 minutes until veggies are tender.  Add wine.  Once wine has reduced to half, add chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Turn down heat and simmer for 20 minutes until potato cubes are fork tender.  Remove from heat and take out thyme sprigs.

Using an immersion blender or working in batches with a food processor, whir that sucker until smooth.  Stir in cream and lemon zest.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Chill that bad lad until completely cool.

Sauteed Zucchini with Lemon over Penne

Contrary to my beliefs, not everything has to be a big production.  This is one of those KISS recipes (Keep It Simple, Stupid).  Easy, tasty and satisfying.

2 Tbl olive oil
1 1/2 lbs zucchini, trimmed and cut diagonally into 1/2" slices - it's prettier this way
Zest and Juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 pound penne
1/2 cup shaved asiago or pecorino cheese
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (optional)
1 tsp red pepper flakes

Bring a large stock pot of salted water to a boil.  Once we have bubbles, add in the pasta and cook for roughly 7 minutes.

Once you have dropped the pasta, heat oil, garlic, and red pepper over medium high heat.  In a single layer, add zucchini to pan.  Cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes.  Flip zucchini to brown other side, about an additional 3 minutes. At the last minute, add lemon juice, zest and basil.  Toss to coat.

By this time your pasta should be ready to drain.  So drain it and return it back to the pot. Drizzle in a little olive oil and throw in that cheese.  Give it a stir. 

To serve, place cheesy pasta on plate and top with the lemony, basily zucchini and pine nuts.

Zucchini Pancakes

These babies are yummy and totally cheap eats.  Combine lemon juice, yogurt (or sour cream), and whatever fresh herbs you have laying around to make a nice little dippin' suace for them.

1 HUGE zucchini
2 carrots
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 eggs
4 Tbl. flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup grated parmesan or asiago
1 tsp fresh tarragon, chopped
1 tsp fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp fresh parsley, chopped
salt n' pepper

Using a box grater, grate zucchini and carrots.  Transfer to a clean towel and squeeze out all moisture.  Imagine a particularly frustrating child's neck as you wring.  I do.  Place in a bowl with onions and garlic.

In a small bowl, beat eggs and add to veggies.  In yet another bowl (we certainly are using a lot of bowls), combine flour, baking powder, cheese, salt 'n pepper, and herbs.  Add to eggy vegetables and give it a good stir to combine.

In a non-stick pan, heat up canola oil until very hot.  Spoon in mixture, creating "silver dollar" pancakes and cook until crisp.  Flip 'em and do the same.  Drain excess oil on paper towels.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

ICA: Ice Cream Anonymous

I am (not) married to an addict.

Now, J doesn't drink, smoke, do drugs, or even eat poorly.  The man hasn't eaten cheese in a year and a half, for God's sake, which has been a serious point of contention for this Midwesterner.  I mean, really...it's cheese...nature's snack!  Next to Doritos.

No.  J's problem is much more insidious than funny smelling cigarettes or not-so-wholesome websites.  It's ice cream.

Every night it's the same thing:  "Baby, I need some cream." 

And my usually mild-mannered Valentine turns into a twitchy, sweaty beast hungry for the junk.  Little did I know that our seemingly frivolous purchase earlier this summer was all a part of a covert master plan to feed the need for cream.

Here is what we came up with at 11:00 last night.

Basil Strawberry Ice Cream with Vanilla Bean

We had gone to the farmer's market that day and bought huge bunches of locally grown basil and, in a moment of extravagance, we happened to have a vanilla bean in the cupboard.  That stuff is gold!  If you don't want to spend the $87 for a fresh bean, substitute 1 tsp good vanilla extract. The basil adds a wonderfully floral quality and enhances the sweetness of the cream.

1 pint strawberries, sliced
3/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1 tsp lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk

In a saute pan over medium heat, combine strawberries, sugar, and vanilla and cook for 7-10 minutes.  Use a potato masher to smoosh it up to desired consistency.  Add basil and cook for one minute allowing basil to wilt.  Cool mixture completely.  If you are doing this at 11:00 at night, like I did, pour mixture into a bowl and place into a cold water bath.

Once chilled, combine berries with milk and cream.  Pour into ice cream maker and let it do it's thang for about 25 minutes.

And thus concludes The Improvised Chef's adventures with the ice cream maker.  You get the idea.  Sorry so many posts about ice cream, but it's summer and it's HOT!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mmmmm...Cabbage Paste

My OCD struck again.
There I was. Sitting on my janky couch, watching TV, minding my own business. Then suddenly, out of the blue, it hit me like a thunder bolt: An overwhelming call to action, an inner Walt Whitman poem/Levi's commercial sounding a bugle call to glory, a culinary barbaric yawp singing from deep inside my soul that the very foundations of our country would crack if left unanswered.

"I want to make pate a choux. Nay...I need to make pate a choux."

I know, I know...this happened to you just the other day, no?

Actually what happened was someone on the Food Network made some and I had never made it before. And that, O Captain, My Captain, is that.

So...pate a choux (literally translated as "cabbage paste") is a basic pastry dough used to make cream puffs, eclairs, farts of nuns (I kid you not...look it up if you don't believe me), or Parisian gnocchi. It looks very fancy and impressive, and, after doing some research, it couldn't be easier to make. I'm very proud of my puffs.


Pate a Choux recipe

Don't get freaked out by this! I successfully made it on my first attempt...and I don't bake.
1 cup water
1 stick of butter
pinch of salt
1 cup of flour
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 425 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a sauce pan, bring water, salt, and butter to a simmer. Once heated, add all of the flour at once and stir in the same direction with a wooden spoon. It will look freaky to begin with, but it will turn into a lovely little ball of dough in no time. You want to cook it until it dries out quite a bit. Take off heat and cool slightly

Transfer dough to food processor or mixing bowl, and add the eggs one at a time until dough is completely mixed and glossy. We're moving the dough again...this time to a piping bag. Or in my case, a gallon freezer bag with the end snipped off. Pipe out golf ball sized little poofs of love onto baking sheets. Don't they look kind of like little cabbages? Oh...I get the name now!

Damp your finger and give the little poofy tops a push down so they don't burn. Pop 'em in the oven for 10 minutes on 425, then lower temperature to 375 for 20 minutes.

One recipe said to prick each one to allow the steam to escape to prevent the puffs from getting soggy.


OKAY...

So now I have these puffs, but what the hell am I going to do with them?

I love the idea of a cream puff, but I'm not really a sweets kinda guy. I have some goat cheese in the fridge. And some beets...


Roasted Beets with Mixed Berry Pesto and Goat Cheese Cream Puffs


1 bunch beets (1-2 pounds), peeled and sliced into 1" cubes
1 clove garlic
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 450. Place beets and garlic in a sauce pan and cover with water. Bring beets to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Transfer beets to a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 20-25 minutes.


Mixed Berry Pesto

1/2 cup dried mixed berries (cranberries, blueberries, cherries)
1/4 cup walnuts
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup fresh parsley
2 Tbl fresh mint
1 lemon, zest and juice
salt/pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

Combine ingredients in a food processor and whir away until mostly processed but it still retains some texture. Stir in some additional olive oil to make pesto a little more saucy. Serve over beets.


Goat Cheese filling

2 oz goat cheese, at room temp
2 Tbl sour cream
1 tsp horseradish
3 green onions chopped
a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce
salt/pepper

Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl until smooth.

Slice puffs horizontally and spoon in a bit of the mixture. For the perfect bite...take a nibble after a fork full of beets and berry pesto.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Balsamic Vinegar: It's Not Just For Salads Any More.

Jason Severs can make some Italian food.

He and his wife, Rebecca, are the owners of Bari Ristorante e Enoteca, an amazing place in Midtown Memphis which serves up traditional southern Italian fair prepared by a bona fied I-Tal-EE-Un. There is a wine list that goes on for miles and a cheese menu that brings tears to this Midwesterner's eyes. The food is uncomplicated, fresh, and delicious, and the mood feels like you have been asked into their home.

I'm not a big dessert fan, but Jason's are absolutely perfect: not too sweet, always tasty, and some incorporating fresh seasonal fruit. My personal favorites are his Blueberry Balsamic Tart (ask your server what they call it in the kitchen) and his Balsamic Gelato.

If you can't wait to get to Bari for some of these summertime treats, you can try the improvised versions below. But you should get yo' booty there for the real deal.

Balsamic Berry Frozen Yogurt

The first bite of this bad boy is a total surprise: tart and tangy! I had to do the fro yo because every time I try to make gelato I end up with really runny scrambled eggs.

1 cup blueberries
1 cup blackberries
1 cup raspberries
1/4 cup to 1 cup of sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 cups full fat plain yogurt (full fat yogurt is preferred, if you use low-fat or non-fat yogurt, substitute 1/4 cup of it with heavy whipping cream)
1/2 cup whole milk

Place the berries, sugar, and vinegar in a medium saucepan. Heat on medium heat, stirring, until all of the sugar has dissolved. While the mixture is heating, use a potato masher to mash up the berries. When all of the sugar has dissolved, remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.

Stir in the yogurt and milk until completely incorporated. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for several hours (or overnight) until completely cold.

Process the yogurt mixture in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions (usually about 25 minutes). Serve immediately (it will be soft) or let it firm up a bit by freezing it for several hours.

Balsamic Strawberries over Vanilla Whipped Cream

Light and tangy, perfect for a summer dessert. It ain't no tart, but it'll do in a pinch.

1 pint of strawberries, sliced
1 tbl sugar
3 tbl balsamic vinegar

1 cup heavy cream, cold
2 tbl sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Combine strawberries, sugar and vinegar in a bowl. Allow to sit for at least 15 minutes so berries can do their thang!

Place cream in bowl. Whip it. Add sugar and vanilla. Whip it some more. Duh.

Serve strawberries over cream.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dinner: Improvised

I have a serious problem when I go to the grocery store.

Very rarely do I go the store with something specific to buy. Sure, sure...there is the odd occasion that I need dog food or ye olde TP. But, usually I stroll into the local Schnuck's without a list, roaming the aisles and loading up my cart with whatever looks tasty to me at the moment. As a result, I tend to overspend and end up throwing away unused ingredients. But, I also have a pantry full of the most random items, impulsively picked up on my adventures in grocery shopping.

Mission: Revitalize some tired, old ingredients in the fridge that are on the edge of usefulness and make something tasty.

What's in the fridge: bag of turnip greens, a couple of baby eggplant, some ginger that has about two days left, salmon, a couple of tired Ripley tomatoes, a lime.

Here is what I came up with.

Grilled Salmon with Coconut Curry Sauce.

2 6 oz. salmon fillets
2 Tbl olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 Tbl. fresh ginger, chopped
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
2 Ripley tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 can of coconut milk (just the creamy solids)
10 basil leaves, chopped
zest and juice of 1 lime

For the sauce, heat a skillet over medium heat. Heat oil and add curry, turmeric, and coriander. Cook for one minute. Add onions. Toss to coat and cook until tender (about five minutes). Toss in the tomatoes and cook until they start to break down. Reduce heat and stir in coconut milk solids. After about a minute, take of heat and set aside.

Heat grill pan over medium high heat. While pan is heating, drizzle salmon fillets with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, cumin, and coriander. Place fillets seasoned side down and grill for about 7 minutes. Flip fillets and grill an additional 4-5 minutes.

As the salmon finishes, return sauce to a low heat and add basil, juice and zest. Serve over the grilled salmon.

Wilted Turnip Greens and Baby Eggplant

1 bag of washed turnip greens
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
5 baby eggplant
juice of 1 lime
2 Tbl olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oil in a saute pan over medium high heat. Add onions and cook until tender. While onions are cooking, remove the tops off eggplant and cut into quarters by slicing lengthwise. Cube the eggplant and add to onions. Cook for 5 minutes, until the eggplant begins to soften by still maintains its shape. Add garlic and cook for one minute. Slowly add greens, turning with tongs to speed up the wilting process. Once all of the greens are in the pan, add lime juice and toss to combine. Salt and pepper to taste.

I had left overs of both the sauce and the greens. Combining the two made a great little lunch!

Feeling Famous

As a kid, I always pictured my life turning out like an 80’s “I Love New York” commercial or a Diet Coke ad featuring the Manhattan Transfer. You know, hopping from club to cab to restaurant to club with your glamorous friends in a metallic neon pink bubble skirt. Well, I wasn’t wearing the bubble skirt. Okay…maybe I was. That’s not the point. These two commercials, as manufactured and manipulated as they may be, created in me an extremely specific idea of sophistication and elegance. A goal to achieve. A way of life.

I now refer to it as “feeling famous.”

“Feeling famous” is that certain moment when the stars align and you are in the perfect location, with the perfect people, having the perfect conversation, and you are looking really goooooood. It can be elusive, but it is attainable.

A few weeks ago, I was in the Big Apple to make my Diet Coke dreams a reality. J and I, on his night off, went to see Fela, at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. (If you are anywhere near New York, it is a must see - Sahr Ngaujah is a crazy-talented alien from the planet, Afrobeat. Amazing.) Dizzy and invigorated by the show, we met up with friends at Toloache, a wonderfully high tone Mexican restaurant offering up the best guacamole on the planet and cricket quesadillas, for a tony late night supper. We sat in a high-backed, circular banquette, funky ambient restaurant music playing, and enjoyed food and each other...all with fabulous lighting.

Much to my surprise, my Diet Coke reality involved neither clubs nor cabs. It happened surrounded by good friends on 50th St. between Broadway and 8th wearing flip flops and a linen jacket…which felt remarkably like a neon pink bubble skirt.

J’s Improvised Fruta Guacamole

This is fantastic as a dip or as the glue for delicious tilapia tacos!
3 ripe avocados
½ Vidalia onion, finely chopped
½ cup finely chopped green apple
½ cup finely chopped mango
½ cup finely chopped strawberries
2 Serrano chilies, chopped and seeded
Juice of 2 limes (zest of 1 lime)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large mixing bowl, scoop out avocados and mash with the back of a fork. Add onions, fruit, peppers, zest and juice. Stir to combine. Salt and pepper to taste.


Spicy Slaw with Jicama
For those of you who are unfamiliar with jicama, it is God’s little joke of the vegetable world. Imagine the illegitimate love child of an apple and a potato. It is sweet and crunchy and absolutely delish!
½ head of green cabbage, shredded
½ head of red cabbage, shredded
3 carrots, grated
1 red pepper, julienned
1 cup jicama, julienned.
½ cup corn
½ cup black beans
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Spicy Vinaigrette (see Barbuto Redux post)


Place ingredients in a large mixing bowl and toss with Spicy Vinaigrette. Allow to sit for a couple of hours so flavors can marry.

Tasty Tilapia Tacos
This can serve a crowd or serve one. A good rule of thumb: one tilapia filet per person. You can also use that good ole standby the Flatout Flatbread instead of a tortilla. It’s good and good for you!
Tilapia filet
Cumin
Ground coriander
A touch of cayenne pepper
Drizzle of olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Preheat skillet over medium high heat. While pan heats, drizzle filet with oil and season with cumin, coriander, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Place seasoned side down in pan and cook for about 5 minutes. Season other side. Flip fish and cook for an additional 3 minutes, until cooked through.

To assemble tacos: layer fish, slaw, then guac into your chosen taco vessel. Mmmm…tastes like summer.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Some Sustainable Tastiness for Memphis

I'm not the most tech-savvy of folks, so I couldn't figure out how to put the video here.

But click on the link to find out more about the Trolley Stop Market.

Delish!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Fro Yo Inspiration!

I think I'm OCD.

-ish.

Throughout my life, I tend to glom onto one idea or thing, and it becomes all consuming. As a kid it was stuffed animals and HBO. In high school, it was Cosby sweaters and INXS. College: Doc Martins, Merchant Ivory films, and giraffes. Late twenties, it was Shakespeare and Ricky Martin. Now I have officially moved into my cooking/foodie phase.

And, for some reason, people pick up on this trait when it comes to any sort of gift giving occasion. A few years ago, I had to place an official moratorium on giraffes. This past Christmas/birthday season (my birthday is 12/28...so start shopping now), I received no less than 9 cookbooks (some that are amazingly old school with chapters dedicated to flaming food and "the man's job: steak"), cooking lessons at Viking, and gift cards to Williams Sonoma. Complete heaven. So it was off to Williams Sonoma!

But, I have a problem. I tend to panic when I enter that store. I have a very small kitchen, picture a typical Manhattan apartment kitchen without the benefits of living in the Big Apple. It is already chock full of gadgets and equipment, and it takes the strategical mind akin to the one who planned the storming of Normandy to find storage space in this teeny tiny room. My usual pattern is to walk around the store (or Valhalla, as I call it), ooh and ahh, and then leave empty handed, a routine J has patiently suffered through on several occasions.

However, this time was different. After careful consultation and a brief moment involving several slow, deep breaths into a paper bag, we walked away with that most frivolous of kitchen appliances: the ice cream maker. Thanks to the oppressively swampy Memphis summer and SMW's fro yo recipe, I have officially been bitten by the ice cream makin' bug.

So, in true Improvised Chef fashion, I played around with one recipe and came up with another one.

What ice cream flavor should I try next?



Vanilla and Thyme infused Pineapple Frozen Yogurt


1 pineapple, peeled and cored
1 Tbl fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 Tbl good vanilla (or if'n you're feelin' fancy...1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped)
1 Tbl butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbl. brown sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup milk









Place the pineapple, vanilla, thyme, butter, and sugar in a medium saucepan. Heat on medium heat, stirring, until all of the sugar has dissolved. While the mixture is heating, use a potato masher to mash up the pineapple. Add lemon zest. When all of the sugar has dissolved, remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.If you want a smooth result, you can process the cooled mixture in a food processor, or skip. I recommend skipping.

Stir in the yogurt and milk until completely incorporated. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for several hours (or overnight) until completely cold.

Process the pineapple yogurt mixture in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions (usually about 25 minutes). Serve immediately (it will be soft) or let it firm up a bit by freezing it for several hours.

Makes about 1 quart.

Laura and her Giraffe Menagerie.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Confession: A Pinch of Fresh Herbs

“Well, I do declare!”

One hears this phrase and instantly an image appears: a banana curled, corseted, hoop skirted Southern belle sitting on the lanai of her antebellum plantation fanning herself while sipping mint juleps and talking about the lahf-stahyle to which she has become acc-uh-stomed.

While this particular chromosomally challenged, Foghorn Leghorn/Scarlett O’Hara hybrid exists only in my head, it is true that Southerners, as a rule, are a declarative people. Whatever is stated is done so with the fervent passion of one speaking gospel…even if the speaker changes their mind within the duration of the conversation.

My dear friend, CSGPW, is one such declaration spewing Southerner. She is an incredibly talented actor, director, and writer. A gifted storyteller (ask her to tell you about that damn monkey, Jinx) and self-proclaimed rock star, she will tell it like it is or how it should be without a hint of hyperbole, irony, or doubt in her voice. Her porch is the location for the weekly tent revival/hippie love-in/food orgy of trashy, yet delicious, dips and random potlucky goodness attended by a dear circle of friends. It is here we talk, laugh, eat, and drink, and, as we move into a food induced rhapsodic state, we gleefully wait for the evening’s words of wisdom to come forth from the mouth of our hostess.

“Life is too short to suffer through mediocre theatre!”
Here, here!

“There ain’t nothing worse than hearing the tsseeee tsseeee of a gah’ tam skeeter buzzin’ around your ear in the middle of the night!”

Amen, sister!

“Nothing pisses me off more than having to pay for fresh herbs in the summer.”
I totally agree.

Nothing pisses me off more than having to pay for fresh herbs in the summer, too!

That’s why, this morning, I snuck into your garden and raided your herbs.

I promise to make you dinner.


Chilled Summer Squash Soup with Lemongrass and Thyme

4-5 lbs yellow squash, halved and chopped
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 stalks lemongrass
Small bundle of thyme, about 6-7 sprigs
6 cups chicken stock
1 lemon, zest and juice
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
2 Tbl olive oil

Heat oil in a stock pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook until tender but not browned (roughly 5-7 minutes). While onions sweat, remove ends of lemongrass stalks. With the back of your knife, give those stalks a good whack to release oils. Once onions are tender, add garlic and sauté for one minute. Add squash and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add lemongrass and thyme. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes. Remove from heat.

Fish out lemongrass stalks and thyme. Working in batches in a blender or using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. In batches, pass soup through a sieve, using the back of a ladle to help things along. Thoroughly mix in zest, juice, and yogurt. Salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until completely chilled.



Basil Pesto

2 cups loosely packed basil
5 cloves garlic
¼ cup walnuts
1 lemon, zest and juice
¼ cup parmesan cheese
¾ cup olive oil


In a small food processor, combine basil, garlic, walnuts, and lemon zest. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the cheese. Store in an airtight container with a layer of olive oil on top.


Grilled and Marinated Zucchini



I first encountered this method while working at Bari Ristorante e Enoteca in Memphis, TN. The process is a little time consuming but well worth the work. These bad lads are great on an antipasti plate with a variety of cured meats and cheeses or thrown into a salad or couscous. Play around with different vegetables and herbs.

This is a method; you decide the quantity.

Zucchini Eggplant
Garlic, thinly sliced Oregano (or Mint)
Capers, drained
Basil, finely chopped
Olive oil
Salt/Pepper


Preheat a grill pan over medium high heat. Using a mandolin, slice zucchini length wise in thin, ¼” strips. In batches, grill zucchini until grill marks just barely become visible through the side remaining up (about 3 minutes). Flip and grill for another minute. Set aside to cool.

In a flat container, create one even layer of vegetables. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Add a few slivers of garlic, a few capers, and basil. Drizzle with oil. Continue to layer until all of the vegetables have been treated. Cover and refrigerate, allowing the vegetables to marinate for at least 3 hours.


Repeat process with eggplant substituting oregano or mint for the basil.

The key to this is moderation. Don’t go too crazy!

Lemon Herb Vinaigrette

1 shallot
1 clove garlic
1Tbl fresh parsley
1 Tbl fresh basil
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp fresh tarragon
1 Tbl Dijon mustard
Juice of 3 lemons
¾ cup olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste


In a small food processor, mash up everything except the oil until smooth. With the motor running, drizzle in oil until combined.

Flatbread Pizza

Again, this is a method I use a lot. You could make your own dough, but who has the time?! Flat Out Flatbread makes the perfect crust and it’s slightly healthier than regular pizza dough. You can pretty much top it with anything, so show your creativity and play with your food!

Preheat oven to 400. On a baking sheet, place flatbread and drizzle with olive oil. Flip it over and mush it around to get off excess oil, and then flip it again. Light salt and bake for roughly 7 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. This crisps it up. Top it with your choice of goodies, then back in the oven it goes until cheese is ooey, gooey delish.

Pesto
Grilled Zucchini and Eggplant
Sun-dried tomatoes (oil packed)
Oil cured olives
Red onion, sliced
Goat cheese

Top with arugula tossed in Lemon Herb Vinaigrette. There is no picture. J, my Valentine and photographer, was talking on the camera...I mean phone...and we wuz hungry! But trust me, it was real purty like.
Returning to the scene of the crime! Very attractive, no?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Shout Out From Chicago

I hate Stacey Malow-Williams.

In fact, I hate her entire family.

Stacey is an incredibly talented chef. Sis is an amazing singer, Bro is an accomplished actor/director. Each one is gorgeous, creative, intelligent, practical, and ambitious.

And they have the nerve to be NICE on top of all that. Even the parents treat everyone they encounter as one of their own.

And she sent me this recipe.

It's just not fair.



Blueberry Ginger Frozen Yogurt



This stuff is amazing! The ginger and cinnamon make the creamy cool concoction have a slightly warm finish. Tastes like you've mashed up a ginger snap inside! Yummy. By the by, I didn't take this picture. But it looks pretty darn close to what I made (except I put candied lemon zest on mine).



3 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (about 1.1lb)
3 Tbsp lemon juice
3/4 cup to 1 cup of sugar (depending on how sweet your blueberries are, and how sweet you want the result to be)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 T. fresh minced ginger
1 1/2 cups full fat plain yogurt (full fat yogurt is preferred, if you use low-fat or non-fat yogurt, substitute 1/4 cup of it with heavy whipping cream)
1/2 cup whole milk


Place the blueberries, lemon juice, sugar, salt, ginger and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Heat on medium heat, stirring, until all of the sugar has dissolved. While the mixture is heating, use a potato masher to mash up the blueberries. When all of the sugar has dissolved, remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.If you want a smooth result, you can process the cooled mixture in a food processor, or skip, in which case you'll have pieces of blueberries which can add flavorful texture to the frozen yogurt.

Stir in the yogurt and milk until completely incorporated. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for several hours (or overnight) until completely cold.

Process the blueberry yogurt mixture in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions (usually about 25 minutes). Serve immediately (it will be soft) or let it firm up a bit by freezing it for several hours.Makes about 1 quart.


Check out her personal chef site: The Itsy Bitsy Gourmet

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Scott's Three Way

I want to be The Next Food Network Star.

It would be the perfect combination of all of my interests: food, education, and performing. I have dreams of going to work at the Food Network Studios in Chelsea Market, shooting an episode or twelve in a day, then dashing off to a show with J where I would graciously autograph a copy of my memoirs/cookbook mysteriously pulled from a Midwestern housewife's designer knock-off bag bought from a street vendor. Move over, Aunt Sandy. Scotty D has arrived!

I have actually begun the arduous process of completing the rather lengthy application. Along with providing your original recipes and describing what ingredient best personifies you, they ask you to come up with two or three concepts for your show, should you win. The Improvised Chef is, natch, number one: a delightful, half hour romp through your pantry making delicious food and having a few laughs along the way. My other concept is Scott's Three Way, which offers up three different tasty recipes/preparations focusing around one ingredient. While the double entendre of the title may prove to be too PG-13 for the middle and lower parts of the country, it's a darn good idea and completely suitable for Blogland.

So using the ingredients from the last blog (Mom's Barbecue Sauce, Grilled Salmon, and Peaches). I offer up two additional recipes. Let me know if you like 'em!

Barbecue Gravlax

This takes some time, but it's well worth the effort.

2 lbs. salmon
1 cup Mom's Barbecue Sauce
1 cup kosher salt

Combine salt and BBQ sauce in a bowl, and gird your loins. We are preparing to slather that fish with the stuff and wrap it in plastic wrap. Line a casserole dish with plastic wrap and pour half in half of the mixture. Place salmon skin side down in the dish and pour the remaining sauce on top. Wrap up tightly, place a smaller dish on top to weigh it down, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, 36 hours is preferred. Basically, you are mashing the salmon allowing the salt to "cook" it. I use a crepe pan and bottled water.

Remove salmon from plastic wrap and discard the goo. Rinse salmon under cold water to get rid of all of the excess salt and sauce. Pat dry. Using a serrated knife, slice salmon into thin strips working with the grain of the fish. Serve with rye bread and Peach and Red Onion Chutney.

Grilled Peach and Red Onion Chutney

Make the Grilled Peach and Red Onions (see previous post), and throw it in a food processor. Add a couple additional splashes of tarragon vinegar and, presto, you've got chutney!

Grilled Salmon Flatbread Pizza

8 oz salmon
4 oz prosciutto
1/2 red onion, sliced into rings
1/4 cup smoked Gouda, grated
4 Tbl Mom's Barbecue Sauce (divided)
2 pieces of Flat Out Flatbread (preferably the sun dried tomato variety)
salt/pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400. Place flatbread on a baking sheet and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Flip them over and wiggle them around on the sheet to remove excess oil. Flip 'em back over, sprinkle with a little bit of salt, and pop in the oven for about 7 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and flip placing salted side down. Set aside to cool (this helps crisp up the bread).

While bread toasts, slice prosciutto into ribbons and crisp up in a saute pan. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Heat grill pan over medium high flame. Drizzle salmon and onions with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place salmon on grill skin side down for 7 minutes. Flip salmon, cook for an additional 5 minutes and throw them onions on the grill! Remove from grill. Flake salmon with a fork into sizable, yet still bite sized pieces.

To assemble pizzas, spread barbecue sauce on flatbread. Layer salmon, onions, and prosciutto. Top with cheese. Place in oven and cook until cheese has melted.

Serve with a salad of arugula or spinach, peach slices, red onions, and a touch of blue cheese.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Mom's Barbecue Sauce

Growing up in St. Louis, I could always tell when summer had officially arrived. Yes, school was out. Yes, I would ride my bike to swim practice every morning at the crack of dawn. And, yes, Grease 2 was playing on HBO on indefinite repeat. But, for me, the beginning summer was marked when, in our refrigerator, an old Peter Pan Peanut Butter jar with a red lid appeared filled to the rim with Carl's Barbecue Sauce.

My entire childhood existence was set in suburban St. Louis, save for a brief stint in Connecticut. As is often the case with the youngest child, it is difficult to imagine that my family had a life before I had blessed them with my birth. Much to my surprise, there were a host of experiences in exotic locales such as Orlando, FL or Laredo, TX that I would never know. It was in Orlando (I believe) where my parents became great friends with another couple, Carl and Sandy. As most young couples do, they spent time together socializing, planning dinner parties, and making wonderful 60s dishes like tomato aspic, rumaki, and fondue. It was during this time that Carl developed his barbecue sauce recipe.

A couple of years ago, I was visiting my mother (who still lives in the house of my childhood) and asked if we could make it. This recipe is one of the most ridiculous things you have ever seen. It has about 40 different ingredients and a few bizarre measuring techniques. But, it creates one of the most deliciously tangy and sweet sauces, and it was the taste sensation of my youth. At the end of my visit, Mom wrote out the recipe on an index card and slipped it into my bag. It now resides inside a cookbook in my kitchen, stained, well worn, and full of reminiscence.

Although the recipe may be Carl's, it will always remind me of Mom.

Mom's Barbecue Sauce

1 Tbl Tabasco
1 Tbl liquid smoke
2 Tbl lemon juice
2 Tbl olive oil
1 Tble horseradish
3/4 cider vinegar
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp white pepper
dash of crumbled rosemary
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 pkg Onion soup mix
16 oz tomato sauce
3 chipotle peppers in adobo, chopped (this was my addition - optional)
1 stick of butter (my mom called it "oleo"...isn't that cute!)
2 cups of water.
3 Tbl cornstarch

Basically bring all of this to a simmer and add in the cornstarch. Cook until thick. If using the peppers, blend until smooth before adding cornstarch.

This is fantastic on grilled salmon! Serve with grilled asparagus and Grilled Peaches and Red Onions.

Grilled Peaches and Red Onions

6 peaches, cut into slices
1 red onion, cut into 1/2" rounds
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 1/2 Tbl fresh tarragon leaves
1 clove garlic
2 Tbl rice wine vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat grill pan or outdoor grill over medium/high heat. Brush grill lightly with oil to prevent sticking. Working in batches, place peaches and onions on grill, cooking just long enough to get grill marks. Set aside in a bowl to cool.

In a small saucepan, bring OJ to a boil. Lower temperature and simmer until reduced by half. Set aside to cool. Once cooled, combine with tarragon, garlic, vinegar in a small food processor until good and mashed up. With the motor running, drizzle in olive oil. Pour over peaches, add salt and pepper to taste.

Great as a side or combined with arugula as a salad.

Taste the Trailer Park

I love Anne Burrell.

For those of you with lives that don't include marathon sessions of drooling in front of the TV watching the Food Network, Anne is the spiky-haired spitfire host of Secrets of a Restaurant Chef who likes to use phrases like "shootin' match" and "BIG MEAT" and constantly refers to each stage of a dish as a "situation". I feel like we were separated at birth. She was sent to culinary school; I went to learn how to pretend on stage. She was Mario Batali's right hand woman, and she always makes some really tasty vittles while teaching you something you may not have known. Little fun facts like a chef's hat (or toque) has 101 pleats to represent the 101 ways to prepare an egg or that risotto is, contrary to popular belief, not the name of a delicious Italian rice dish, but rather a method of cooking.

Well, Anne, I have discovered a new cooking method of my own: Loose Meat.

I first encountered this tasty yet nasty sounding food shortly after I moved from Chicago to Memphis. Our friend CSGPW (with that many initials how could she be anything BUT southern) called us up and with her emphatic, M'sippi drawl stated that she had a "wild hair" and a "hankerin'" for some Loose Meat and she was"fixin' to fix some up." What I experienced that night was nothing short of culinary magic straight from the back woods or the finest of trailer parks.

Think Sloppy Joe meets a Krystal or White Castle burger. It is oniony, mayonnaisey, mustardy goodness on a bun. Perfection in its simplicity. State fair food you need to eat with a fork. There is nothing pretentious or polite about these suckers. They are the guiltiest of guilty pleasures, and you are a little embarrassed about how much you love them. Kind of like Pretty Woman.

Apparently there are several variations and many protest to have the original recipe, which is why I have determined it is a method of "cooking". Midwesterners claim it as their own (it was the best seller at Roseanne's diner) and Southerners will swear that you can only find it in the Delta. What follows is my introduction to the Loose Meat genre: the Tallapoosa Loose Meat Sandwich.






Once you try this, you will want to marry your cousin and become a carnie.

But don't.

That's just weird.



Tallapoosa Loose Meat Sandwich

Don't judge.

2 pounds ground beef
a lot of flour
3 cans of Campbell's French Onion soup
tons of freshly ground black pepper

Preheat a large cast iron skillet and brown the meat. Season with pepper. Whatever you do, DO NOT ADD SALT. With the soup, you are about to unload enough sodium that could kill a yak. Once the beef is browned, add enough flour to generously coat. The mixture should become a little gummy. Add the soup and stir constantly until, according to CSGPW, "you have the consistency of oatmeal." Done! Follow the Commandments to serve.



The Tallapoosa Loose Meat Commandments

Thou shalt not get ketchup anywhere near it.
Thou shalt not use any cheese.
Thou shalt put it on a plain hamburger bun.
Thou shalt use Duke's mayonnaise and good ol' plain yellow mustard.
Thou shalt use only hamburger dill slices.
Thou shalt use only red onion slices.
Thou shalt serve it with plain Lay's potato chips.

The beverage of choice: an ice cold Co'- Cola in a glass bottle.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Fourteen Year Old Girls, Vampires, and You

Confession:

I am a fourteen year old girl.

I am easily excitable, completely spastic, and, at turns, wildly optimistic or the biggest defeatist imaginable. I love pop music and junk food. I love worrying about what I'm going to wear (I suffer from dresslexia), and I constantly think I'm fat. I'm totally into pop culture. I find Lady Ga Ga to be utterly fascinating, and I become wildly ecstatic when faced with the prospect of an ANTM marathon.

The one thing my teen aged brain cannot comprehend is the phenomenon that is Twilight.

It's summer blockbuster time, and, once again, The Twilight saga is back. Like herpes. And with it, the age old debate of Team Edward v. Team Jacob is once again the issue at the fore of every one's mind. To be fair, I have not read Stephanie Meyer's teenage bodice rippers, and many of my adult female friends insist they are page turners. But, for some reason, I just don't care. Yes, yes, I get the sexiness that is der vampir. All that neck nibblin' and junk. But, I'm the kind of guy who goes out of his way to make fun of his students who have "burned themselves with a curling iron". And to add to my disinterest, the sullen stars of the movie franchise always look a little smelly or as if they are smelling something smelly. Even that gay-looking werewolf is starting to look like a llama.

http://letterstotwilight.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/j1up2.jpg

In order to keep these cootieboos at bay, I gladly offer up my Garlic Soup. It's a little rich for the hot summer months, but there are vamps afoot! So, do yourself a favor: turn up the AC and rent Fright Night.

Garlic Soup

2-3 heads of garlic
2 yellow onions, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
a couple of splashes of cognac
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups beef stock
1/4 cup cream
1 baguette, crust trimmed and cubed (roughly 2 cups)
2 bay leaves
a bunch of fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400. Slice each head in half (like Freddy Kruger) discarding the tops, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place a few sprigs of thyme on top of the exposed garlic and wrap with aluminum foil. Pop it in the oven for 30 minutes. We've just made roasted garlic!

In a stock pot over medium heat, saute onions with a little bit of olive oil until tender. Make a little bouquet garni with the bay leaves and a few sprigs of thyme (that just means tie those suckers up so you can fish 'em out later) and add them to the onions. Add roasted garlic by squeezing the bulbs over the pot to release the cloves. Add wine and cognac, stirring occasionally, and reduce by half. Add chicken and beef stocks and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Fish out herbs and add bread cubes. Simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Using an immersion blender or working in batches with a food processor, mash up soup until smooth and return to heat. Add cream and salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Make it into a meal by adding roasted cauliflower to the soup and serve with mixed greens and a balsamic vinaigrette.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Don't fear the 'chovy!


Consider the anchovy.

It's small, fuzzy, and salty. And most people hate them.

To those philistines, I say, "Man up!"

Anchovies are your secret weapon in the kitchen. They are slipped into sauces and dressings to add a nutty, slightly briny quality without you even knowing they are there. You just know what you are savoring is deliciousness on a plate. Many times anchovies are one of the star ingredients in a dish like puttanesca or delightful puff pastry stuffed with the little suckers. Other times their presence goes undetected, as in a green goddess dressing. Below are a couple of ideas for you to start incorporating them into your cooking. Be brave! Give 'em a try!


The Best Damn Caesar Dressing Ever

6 anchovy fillets (oil packed)
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 egg
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp capers
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 1/2Tbl Worcestershire sauce
a couple of dashes of hot sauce (I like Chipotle Tabasco)
ground pepper to taste
3/4 cup olive oil

In a small food processor, combine all ingredients except for oil. Mash it up good, until garlic, capers, and anchovies have become a paste. With the motor running, slowly add oil until dressing has thickened. Pour over torn Romaine lettuce and toss with shaved pecorino or parmigiano cheese and finely chopped anchovies. Garnish with additional cheese and grape tomatoes (optional) and serve with crostini.

Green Goddess Dressing

You don't need a food processor for this, but why spend your time choppin' when you could get to eatin'.

3-4 anchovies
1 shallot (or 2 green onions), chopped
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 Tbl fresh tarragon
1 Tbl fresh mint
2 Tbl fresh basil
2 Tbl fresh parsley
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tsp white pepper

Throw all that stuff in a small food processor, and whir, baby, whir! This is great on a simple wedge salad or on mixed greens with radishes, green onions, red peppers, and oil cured olives. (I like to throw in some blue cheese and grilled chicken to make it a meal)

Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon Anchovy Sauce

1 head cauliflower, broken down to florets
2 Tbl olive oil (plus 1 Tbl for sauce)
1 tsp. celery salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
3 anchovy fillets
2 Tbl. butter
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 400. Arrange florets on a baking sheet, drizzle with 2 Tbl olive oil, celery salt and pepper. Toss to coat and throw that bad lad in the oven for about 30 minutes (or until caramelized).
In a small sauce pan over low heat, add remaining oil, butter and anchovies. Using a wooden spoon, mash on those 'chovies until they have dissolved into the butter and oil. Add lemon juice and parsley, give it a good stir, and pour over cauliflower.

This is a great side with grilled salmon or turkey kielbasa.

Radishes with Anchovy Butter and Arugula

1 baguette, cut into 1/2" thick slices
1/2 stick butter, room temperature
3 anchovy fillets
2 Tbl chopped parsley
black pepper to taste
8-10 radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
arugula

Preheat oven to 400. Brush baguette slices with olive oil and toast those suckers up on a baking sheet. About 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

While the bread is toasting away, reduce by half the vinegar over a medium heat until nice and thick. Allow to cool. Congratulations! You have just made a reduction.

In a small food processor, combine butter, anchovies, pepper, and parsley. Pulse until all ingredients are good and mixed up. Spread butter mixture over cooled crostini. Top with radish slices, arugula, and drizzle with balsamic reduction. This is a perfect little bite for a cocktail party.