Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Psychological Problem

I have a psychological problem.

My friends would tell you I have many, however, the one that I most readily fess up to is the fact that I cannot stand an empty refrigerator.  I have a mini panic attack if I open up that fridge and it isn't just teeming with tasty vittles.  It's bad. 

So, when J and I returned from three weeks in San Francisco, I was downright giddy with anticipation for my inevitable trip to the grocery store.  And I went nutso.  I shopped with the wild abandon and unstoppable voracity of that baby gorilla in the trailer for that new Planet of the Apes movie, only not quite as homicidal.  Fresh fruit and produce, sausages and ground turkey, fizzy water and organic juices.  You name it and it went in the basket.  I drove home that day, trunk overflowing with grocery goodness, filled with the smug satisfaction of knowing that Mama was gonna be eatin' gooood for a while.

Then I realized that we would be leaving again in a week.

I have enough food to feed a third world nation. 


Over the next week, I did my best to feed the world (or at least a couple of friends) and had worked through most of the perishables.  Good job, me.  And then last night, I saw them.  Staring at me from the crisper drawer.  Those damn zucchinis.

What to do, what to do...

You work with what ya got, and you make soup!

This soup is great on its own or as a starter for a light summer meal.
Chilled Zucchini Soup with Lemongrass and Basil

Fresh lemongrass can be easily found in Asian food markets.  If you can't find it, you can use a prepared lemongrass paste (but those usually contain eeeevil corn syrup).

3 medium zucchinis, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 stalks lemongrass
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves, plus 1/4 cup chiffonade
2 cups chicken stock
3 cups water
1/2 cup low fat Greek yogurt
2 Tbl olive oil

In a large stock pot, cook onions for about five minutes in olive oil until they become translucent.  While onions are working, cut off the ends of the lemongrass stalks and whack the stalks with the back of your knife.  This releases the oils.  Add lemongrass and garlic to the pot and cook for about 1 minute, stirring occasionally.

To prepare the zucchini, slice off ends and make a cut down the center lengthwise.  Slice each half into 1/2" half moons.  Add to the pot and season with salt and pepper.  Allow the vegetables to cook until softened, about 7 minutes.  Add water and stock.  Bring to a boil.

Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat and add 1 cup of basil leaves.  Simmer for 5 minutes and remove from heat.  Using a pair of tongs, fish out and discard lemongrass stalks.  They have fulfilled their destiny.  Puree the mixture with a hand mixer until smooth.  Pass soup through a sieve into a bowl, discarding solids.  Add yogurt and puree entire mixture once more to smooth out the soup.  Allow to cool and refrigerate until completely chilled (at least 1 1/2 hours).

Ladle into bowls and garnish with a generous sprinkling of reserved basil leaves.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sometimes It's Better to KISS

Keep It Simple, Stupid.

A tasty way to start the day.

Greek Yogurt
Drizzle of Honey

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer Soup

I've said it before and I'll say it again, "It's hot."

And, after my culinary stroll through San Francisco, I'm quickly looking like one of those unfortunate Wal Mart people.

So I am chubby and hot.

In an effort to cool off and slim down, I offer you...soup.

I'm sorry...I love this picture.

Chilled Carrot Soup with Dill

This is a fantastic little soup for hot summer nights. Serve with a salad and some crusty bread and, vi-oh-lay, you've got dinner! Make it vegetarian by substituting water for the chicken stock. I find that veggie stock muddles the taste of this soup.

6 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
Juice of 1 lemon
3 sprigs dill, plus 1 Tbl finely chopped
2 sprigs thyme
2 Tbl olive oil

In a large pot, heat oil over a medium flame and add onions. Saute for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Create a bundle with the dill and thyme, and throw it into the pot.  Add carrots and cook until they soften a bit.  Add stock and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and discard the herb bundle. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. Ladle the soup into a bowl through a sieve, pressing on solids and discard the pulp. Stir in reserved dill and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Garnish with a sprig of dill (and maybe a dollop of yogurt or sour cream).

Monday, June 27, 2011

'Tater Salad Revisited

As a kid, my mom was always in charge of bringing a salad to any church potluck.  Seven Layer salad, Caesar salad, some weird sort of Asian inspired thing with La Choy Chow Mein noodles in it (you know, to give it some crunch) name it, ask and Phyllis shall provide.

And she would provide it in the biggest Tupperware container my seven year old eyes had ever seen.  I mean this thing could hold a baby.  And not one of those Cabbage Patch Preemies, either.  I'm talkin' big enough to hold that unfortunate smoking baby big.

Okay.  So maybe not that big.

And someone should smack that baby's parents.


My fave was when my sweet mother would fill up that tub with her old school potato salad.  Good ol' Idaho Russets, finely chopped red onions, crunchy celery, and chunks of hard boiled eggs (why do all old school recipes have hard boiled eggs?)...all bathed in Hellmann's mayonnaise and a liberal sprinkling of Lawry's seasoned salt.  It was the most delicious, heart attack in a bowl I had ever eaten.

Well, summer is here, and, while I no longer attend church potlucks on a regular basis, it's always nice to revive a classic and put a new spin on it.  You never know when a potluck might pop up.

Now if only I could get my hands on that Tupperware...

Caramelized Onion 'Tater Salad 
Red, White, and Blue (ummmm...Purple) 'Tater Salad

'Tater Salad! with turkey cheeseburgers and asparagus.
I used a medley of red, purple, and Yukon gold new potatoes.  Feel free to use just one variety.  I do recommend using the smaller, new potatoes.  They'z prettier.  Having a hard time finding peppadews? Check out the salad bar!

2 1/2 lbs new potatoes, washed and quartered
2 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
4 celery stalks, chopped
6 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup peppadew peppers
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
2 Tbl basil, chopped
2 sweet Vidalia onions, sliced
2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
4 Tbl. butter
2 Tbl olive oil

3/4 cup low fat Greek yogurt
1/4 mayonnaise
2 Tbl Dijon mustard
1 Tbl rice vinegar

In a large saute pan, heat butter and oil over a low flame.  Once melted, add sliced onions and cook them slowly, stirring occasionally, to bring out their natural sugars. When the onions have cooked down and are a beautiful golden caramel color, crank up the heat briefly and de glaze the pan with the balsamic vinegar, allowing it to reduce.  Remove from heat and set aside.

While the onions begin to cook down, get out a big ole pot and scrub them 'taters up good.  Slice them in half, then into quarters.  Dump 'em in the pot and cover with cold water.  Throw in the garlic cloves (whole), bay leaf, and season water liberally with salt.  Cover the pot and place on a high flame until they boil.  After they come to a boil, remove lid and simmer for about 5 more minutes until done.  A fork should slide easily into the potatoes, but they should still have a little bite to them. Drain potatoes and discard bay leaf and garlic.  You don't want to bite into that.

In a small bowl, combine yogurt, mayo, mustard, and rice vinegar.  Set aside.  While everything is cooking away, prepare the rest of the ingredients for the salad.  While the potatoes are still warm, combine all ingredients and toss with the dressing.  Allow to come to room temperature and refrigerate for at least an hour.  Season with salt and pepper.

If you like a creamier salad, add a touch more yogurt.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Da Bombe!

Here in Memphis it's hot.  As my friend C likes to say, "It's Africa hot."

So we were in need of something to cool us off.


Lemon and Vanilla Ice Cream Mosaic with Blackberry Puree

This is so freakin' easy to make, and there are endless possibilities with flavor combinations.  If you want to feel fancy, play around with adding some liqueurs to the puree.

1 pint lemon sorbet
2 pints vanilla ice cream
10 oz blackberries
2 Tbl sugar

Let the ice cream and sorbet soften in the fridge for about 30 minutes (or if you are in Memphis, just walk outside for a sec with it).  Place berries and sugar in a blender and mash 'em up good.  Strain through a sieve, pushing against the solids with a spoon.  Pop it into the fridge while you prepare your pan.

Lightly grease a loaf pan and line with parchment paper or plastic wrap.  Spoon in the sorbet and ice cream so that the two are separate and evenly distributed about the pan.  Drizzle the blackberry sauce in between.  Continue to add layers of ice cream and fruit.  Using the back of a spoon, press down on the ice cream to remove air pockets.  Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze until solid (about 3 hours).

Turn over pan onto a platter.  The mosaic should just slide out.  Slide in a thin knife if it needs a little coaxing.  Slice and drizzle with extra sauce.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

I've Always Been Partial to Swine

So...there I was.  Back in M-Town, in my friend's kitchen, charged with preparing her a delightful meal on what was to be her last Friday night off until August. 

Tired of fast food and all things chicken, C asked for something tasty that was fresh, summery, and perhaps of the sea.  No problem. 

And we began to prepare a delicious hoisin glazed salmon with grilled asparagus and kale.

That's when it got funky.  And not in a good way.   The beautiful piece of fish I had purchased was decidedly...err...shall we say...past its prime.  However, I did not panic!  As C slowly recovered from the vicious assault on her olfactories, we hopped into the car and found perhaps an even better vessel for my Asian inspired goodness:  pork chops!

With the stank gone and delectable pig parts in hand, we got those chops marinating and grilling within minutes and Friday night was saved.

The Pork is mightier than the Salmon.

Hoisin Glazed Pork Chops

This glaze is great on chicken and, yes, even salmon.  If you are using it with fish, skip the marinade and brush on as you grill.

1/3 cup Hoisin Sauce
2 Tbl rice vinegar
1 serrano chile, seeded and chopped
4 green onions, chopped
2 Tbl cilantro, chopped
1 Tbl. fresh ginger, chopped
1 lime, zest and juice
1/2 tsp sesame oil
2 Tbl olive oil

4 boneless pork loin chops, butterflied (6oz)

Place all of the ingredients minus the olive oil in a small food processor.  Whir away until smooth.  With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil.

Place chops in a glass casserole dish and cover with marinade, reserving 1/3 to use as a sauce.  Let those suckers soak up the gingery, cilantro-y, hoisin-y goodness for at least 30 minutes (but no longer than an hour).

Preheat grill pan to medium high heat.  Throw on the chops and let them do their thing for about 7 minutes.  Flip and continue to cook for an additional 5 (for a nice medium).  Allow to rest.  Spoon on reserved marinade and enjoy!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

More From San Fran: A Little Indian in the Castro

J chowing down on his thali!
If you are looking for some fantastic Indian food while in San Francisco, look no further than Kasa.  This wonderful little "fast food" joint in the Castro offers amazing, homestyle Indian food that is beyond tasty and super cheap.  You can get either a Thali (the Indian version of a Southern meat and three) or Kati rolls (think a tiny Indian burrito), both of which will have your tastebuds dancing like a Bollywood musical.  What ever you do, don't miss out on the daal (a thick stew of cumin spiced lentils) or the karahi paneer (delicious Indian cheese served with sauteed green peppers and tomatoes).

Resolution:  I am going to figure out how to make me some daal and, if I'm feeling crafty, some homemade paneer.

Don't be scurrrred.  Try something new!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Makin' It Smell Like Home

I am a nester.

I never thought I would fess up to it, but I am.  Gone are the days of longing to be out and about in the thick of things.  I love being at home and futzing away in the kitchen.  J and I have been spending a great deal of time in San Francisco this summer, and, although it's been fantastic running around the city gorging ourselves on the fantastic food, something has seemed out of place.

Our place just didn't smell like home.

Well, I fixed that by fixin' a good ole roasted chicken.  Nothing makes a house feel like a home than the comforting smells of simple cookin' wafting through the joint.

Try it.  You'll like it.

That's what I'm talkin' about.
Roasted Chicken with Fennel and Lemon

The lemon and the fennel come together beautifully to make a bright, fresh taste that you won't mind turning on your oven even on the hottest of summer nights!

 1 5 lb chicken
3 lemons, plus the zest and juice of another lemon (so I guess that would be a total of 4)
2 yellow onions
1 head of garlic
2 fennel bulbs
Healthy squirt of anchovy paste
1 Tbl parsley, minced
1 tsp rosemary, minced (plus 2-3 sprigs for a bouquet)
1 tsp tarragon, minced (plus 2-3 sprigs for a bouquet)
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
3 Tbl olive oil
1 cup prosecco
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
3 Tbl flour
pinch of crushed red pepper
Salt n' pepper

Preheat oven to 450.

Slice onions, fennel, and three lemons into halves, then thirds. Place a majority of the veggies in the bottom of a roasting pan.  The rest will be used to stuff the cavity of the bird. Drizzle with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss to coat.  Slice garlic bulb in half horizontally.  No need to peel it.  Rinse off bird, inside and out, and pat dry. Season the cavity with salt and pepper and place in the roasting pan on top of the vegetables.  Stuff bird with remaining onions, fennel, lemons, garlic, and rosemary/tarragon bouquet.  Tie legs together with kitchen twine.

In a small bowl, combine mustard, anchovy paste, lemon juice, zest, herbs, and red pepper. Drizzle in oil while whisking.  Slather that mixture all over the bird.  Cover with foil and place in oven.  After 45 minutes, remove foil and cook for another 30 minutes or until bird is done (165 degrees).  Remove chicken from pan, allowing it to rest for 15 minutes under a foil tent.

Place roasting pan over two burners on a medium high heat.  De glaze the pan with the prosecco, using a wooden spoon to get up those yummy brown bits.  Reduce wine by at least half.  Add flour and cook for 3 minutes stirring constantly.  Add stock and simmer, whisking to remove any lumps.

Carve up the bird, and spoon the lemony, oniony, fennely goodness all over that sucker!

A Morning Stroll Through Fairy Land

Clearly, as evident by the lack of postings, yours truly has not been doing much cooking since his arrival in San Fran.  Instead, as promised, J and I have been steadily eating our way through this amazing culinary city paying little to no attention to cost or calorie intake.  A fool's paradise.  And my a$$ is getting fat.

So, until I wake up from this dream, allow me to paint you a picture of my fairy tale existence in the City by the Bay.

Please read in the most delightfully overly dramatic, British fey voice.

Our modest repose.
Once upon a time, in a magical kingdom called San Francisco, there lived a handsome foodie prince named Scott who was visiting from out of town.  Each morning, a flight of animated birds emerged from the kitchen drawing back the curtains heralding the beginning of a new day as a tiny fawn gently pulls back the covers, nudging him awake with his cool snout.  Springing out of the bed, young Scott dons his gay apparel and follows the birds back to the kitchen to enjoy the freshly brewed coffee awaiting him.

Stepping out of the house, he blithely passes through the park greeting the pups and their people with a lighthearted smile. (Note:  survey says that there are more dogs in San Francisco than children...and I miss the Buster dog).  Oh, look!  Is that a fancy ice cream store churning out deliciousness for the neighborhood?  It is! ('Nother note:  Bi-Rite Creamery makes a Salted Caramel ice cream that will make you slap your pappy.)  There's a beautiful bunch of tulips...I must buy some upon my return home.  Good morning locally owned and operated organic food store!  My taste buds and ecologically conscious mind thank you.

And there it is.  At the end of the block, shining in the morning light, is the most magical place on earth: Tartine.  One step inside this holy shrine and you realize you are not in Kansas anymore.  Glass cases are filled to the brim with freshly baked cakes and breads while atop these glittering vessels of baked love sit cookies and French macaroons, silent and tasty prisoners longing to be liberated from their glass domed cells. Decadent pastries known as Morning Buns, close cousins to the cinnamon bun but on orange infused sugar steroids, call out your name.  Croque monsieur beckon to take them home like the wanton Frenchmen they are.  How does one make up one's mind?

Gourge, double pain aut chocolat, croissant, morning buns, tea cakes, and quiche!
You don't and you order half the store.  

So move along, princess, and get your fat butt back up that hill, you've got some eating to do!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dopey Strikes Again

It's chilly in San Fran today.  Hmmm....Soup.  Pea soup.

First time I'd used fresh lemongrass.

First time I'd used a blender to puree.

First time I'd covered the kitchen in green goop.

J was right.  I do cook like one of the Seven Dwarfs.  But what I scraped up was absolutely delicious!

San Fran Pea Soup with Lemongrass and Ginger

This soup is simple to make, super tasty, and leaves a nice scald on your hand if you don't move quick enough.  My recommendation: use an immersion blender or let the sucker cool before using a regular blender.

1 cup onion, chopped
2 stalks lemongrass
1 Tbl fresh ginger, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic
2 cups frozen peas
3 cups chicken stock
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt 'n pepper

In a large saucepan, heat up 2 Tbl olive oil and get those onions sweatin'.  While that starts, trim up the lemongrass removing the long ends and the butts.  With the back of a large knife, whack the crap out of the stalks to help release the oils.  Add to the onions along with the ginger, garlic, and red pepper.  Season with a little salt and pepper, and saute those babies for about 5 minutes.  Add stock and peas.  Bring to a boil.  Remove lemongrass stalks.  Their work is done.

Using an immersion blender (OR LETTING IT COOL DOWN A BIT), puree soup until smooth.  Give a little squeeze o' lemon and you have a warming soup that leaves a mark!  Enjoy!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Feeling Famous on the Roof

Last year I was in NYC and all I wanted to do was "feel famous".  Feeling famous is that delicious spiritual state where in your mind everyone knows you, everyone wants to be you, and you look damn cute bein' you (usually in an imagined metallic neon pink bubble skirt circa 1987).

That is feeling famous in New York.

However, in San Francisco that famous feeling is a bit more subdued. 

And it involves khakis.

Last night, J and I had our good friend K over for dinner at Barbary Lane and the evening was all about simple pleasures in a true San Fran kinda way.  While J and K, friends with such a deep connection and history they may as well be kin, watched old videos and perused a few historical snap shots, I donned my gay apparel (i.e. salmon sweater), grabbed my reusable, planet sustaining bag and skipped down the hill to the corner market to buy local ingredients for our feast, passing guitar playing lesbians, slightly chemically altered skateboarders, and pierced people walking theirs pets.  I was in heaven.

When I returned, a simple supper enjoyed on the rooftop with good wine, fabulous bread, and even better company.

Jason's Carbonara

I first encountered this dish while working at Bari Ristorante in Memphis prepared by Jason Severs.  For the real deal, be sure to check his out! I had never made it before, and the results were pretty outstanding.  The real deal calls for pancetta in lieu of the bacon and there are no peas in the original, but you gotta work with what ya got, no?

1 medium onion
12 oz Applewood smoked bacon
4 egg yolks
1 lb linguine
1 1/2 cup frozen peas
2 Tbl chopped parsley
a couple of pinches of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup grated reggiano parmigiano
1 Tbl butter/oil

In a small saucepan, heat butter or oil over medium low heat.  Halve onion, slicing into thin rings and add to butter. Caramelize the onions, stirring occasionally (about 25 minutes).  Remove from heat and place in a large mixing bowl.

Slice bacon into 1 1/2 inch strips and crisp up those suckers.  Drain excess fat on a paper towel, allowing to cool slightly.  Add to bowl with onions.

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, liberally salt water, and cook pasta per box directions.  While the pasta cooks, add yolks, red pepper, parsley and cheese to the bowl.  With about one minute remaining to the pasta cooking time, add the frozen peas to the water.  Drain pasta and peas and immediately add to the bowl.  Using tongs, twirl pasta to combine the ingredients thoroughly.  Serve immediately.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I Ate a Heart in San Francisco

San Francisco's Black Sweet Heart

So it's been a while.

Lots to catch up on.  The short version:  Heading towards mid-life crisis, loved ones dying, and Oprah was going off the air.  I needed a change.  Not a maudlin change, just an "It's Now of Never" sort of moment that makes one temporarily insane and utterly convinced one has achieved a nearly euphoric state of clarity, vision, and purpose. So I gave my notice, squashed the hearts of some very amazing young Thespians, and currently find myself a free agent in need of a job.

Make that a free agent in need of a job who now finds himself in San Francisco.  For now.

From the moment we landed, J and I had a singular eat our way through the city.  After hoofing it across most of Everybody's Favorite City, we landed at J's favorite spot in the world for Thai food - Suriya.

You would have to travel to Siam in order to find more authentic and delicious Thai cuisine.  The menu is fresh and seasonal featuring tasty delights for the carnivore as well as the veggiesaur. We enjoyed 13 Spice Lamb chops with spiced potatoes and a curiously, fiery little dish known as Crazy Jungle curry...or Kooky Pants Psycho Jungle curry...or some kind of name suggesting that there is a madman loose in the jungle and he is preparing really spicy, pumpkiny goodness.

The highlights, however, were at the beginning and end of the meal.  To start, we had the most divine stuffed eggplant, a simple dish featuring those little aubergines crammed full with a chicken and shrimp combo (think almost sausage-like) accompanied by the loveliest,  most verdant, herbaceous sauce I have ever tasted.  Spinach, oyster sauce, basil, cilantro, and a host of other ingredients dancing around the plate highlighting the unctuous flavor of the eggplant and the sweetly savory quality of the meat. J had to forcefully prevent me from licking the plate.  Fortunately, we got the skinny from our server, and I will be playing around with creating my own version (stay tuned for that one).

The real kicker came for dessert:  sweet, sticky black rice with mango.  I know.  Sounds odd.  But the rice had been combined with what tasted like a combination of coconut and condensed milks then placed in the center of slices of fresh mango arranged into the shape of a heart.  Cheesy?  Yes.  Delicious?  Absolutely.  So get yo' @$$ on over to the Bay City and eat yo' heart out.

What's your favorite "crazy" dessert?