more blue cheese dressing

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We have gone sort of gaga for blue cheese dressing ever since I learned how simple it was to make (I blame Hopworks in Portland for first really converting me to the idea, with their big delicious chunks of Rogue Blue). Last night’s dinner was our third meal using the steak from our anniversary (the second and fourth were sandwiches) – we just sliced the steak super thin and piled it on top of butter lettuce tossed with a buttermilk-white wine vinegar-stinky gorgonzola dressing. This time I got the quantity exactly right, and we heaped the salad into really big bowls and ate in front of the television. Perfect.

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black and blue

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A simple dinner, just grilled steak and salad, but both parts were experiments. Jon tried a new method for the steaks, first cooking them with indirect heat until they reached 115°, then setting them over a very hot flame for a final sear, and I made an attempt at a blue cheese dressing that would go with both meat and greens.

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We had moderate success – the steak was a tad overdone, although far from inedible. It had a nice crust on it. The technique’s definitely worth revisiting, but with a little less actual flame during the final sear.

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My dressing came out pretty great, in spite of not having buttermilk on hand – I mashed a nice soft and stinky gorgonzola with a splash of milk, some mayonnaise, a clove of garlic and some white wine vinegar. The only problem was that I went totally overboard with the quantity, so after eating nearly a whole head’s worth of fresh green lettuce (and the steak) we were rather gorgonzola’d out. I’ll do this again, but make maybe half as much. Or save some for leftovers.

Thai chicken

chicken basil stirfry

I’ve made this Thai chicken stirfry three times so far, and I still can’t believe how easy and wonderful it is. The base recipe is from Alford and Duguid’s Hot Sour Salty Sweet: chop a pound of chicken (I like boneless thigh meat) into small pieces, and mince five cloves of garlic and a couple of serrano or bird chiles. Heat peanut oil in a wok and toss in the garlic and chile, then add the chicken. Stirfry until not quite cooked through, then add a tablespoon of fish sauce, a bit of soy, a bit of sugar, and cook it all together until the chicken is done. Add a big handful of Thai basil leaves and turn off the heat so they wilt but don’t overcook. Add a lot of freshly ground black pepper. The flavors are much bigger and more exciting than you’d think from the small amount of seasoning, but definitely don’t skimp on the garlic!

I’ve adapted the recipe by throwing in green beans or other veg, which was good but diluted the seasoning on the chicken – I think I prefer cooking a vegetable separately with its own flavors. I’ve also tried substituting a mix of cilantro and fresh mint for the Thai basil, which is a suggestion we got from Cook’s Illustrated. The original recipe actually calls for holy basil, but I can’t get that around here – someday I’ll try it. I imagine regular European basil would work, too, in a pinch. The stirfry should be served with plenty of rice to soak up the fish sauce-y juices.

cucumber salad

When I made the chicken again earlier this week I threw together this cucumber salad to go alongside. I glanced at two recipes but didn’t quite follow either; I put a spoonful of sugar in a bowl along with a splash of rice vinegar, a splash of Chinese black vinegar, and a drizzle of homemade chili oil, then stirred it all up and added diced, seeded cucumber and a handful of fresh chopped cilantro. We had to restrain ourselves from eating the whole bowlful so there would be leftovers.

warm ricotta salad

autumn salad

Let me tell you about this salad that chef Casey Schanen of Nell Thorn made at the cooking school the other night. Not that everything else he made wasn’t amazing, but the salad was the real eye-opener for me. Here’s what was in it: fresh arugula, roasted squash, arugula pesto, and warm ricotta cheese. Yeah.

making ricotta

I’ve been hearing a lot about making ricotta at home, but for whatever reason I’ve never tried it. It really is astoundingly easy, and as much as I love cold ricotta, it turns out I love fresh, warm ricotta even more. In this salad it fills the same role as fried goat cheese – the warm creaminess adds to the dressing and enriches the greens – but without the crunch (and oil). And ricotta has a fantastic springy texture in the mouth that I find addictive.

making ricotta

So Casey heated milk, stirred in salt and fresh lemon juice, and scooped out the curds into cheesecloth. I tossed the arugula with good olive oil and salt, and we portioned it onto plates with a sprinkle of roasted orange squash. A scoop of ricotta went on top of that, then a drizzle of garlicky arugula pesto with pumpkin seeds. That was it. I would eat salad more often if it was like this.

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macaroni salad, very al fresco

northwest camping

This week we did our annual car camping trip to Washington Park on Fidalgo Island. It rained. Welcome to a Pacific Northwest summer.

Washington Park

campfire

Fortunately the firewood we brought burned well, and we were able to successfully cook our dinner. Hebrew National hot dogs, blistered over the fire and dressed with sweet relish and very hot Dijon mustard, macaroni salad, Bonny Doon grenache, and toasted marshmallows. I tend to think that, if you don’t cook it on a stick over the fire, it’s not real camping food. Except the macaroni salad, which can be scooped directly out of its tupperware in case you don’t feel like washing extra dishes. 

hot dog!

mac salad

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garden salads

dinner

It just goes to show how unsuccessful my attempts at vegetable gardening have been the last few years, that I’m this impressed about actually having fresh lettuce in my yard. For whatever reason (thirty straight days of rain, maybe), my lettuce starts have performed fabulously this spring, and we’ve had a number of gorgeously fresh salads. The one shown above (accompanying Jon’s deeply savory meatloaf) was sprinkled with tiny sliced radishes and dressed with mustard and balsamic vinegar, while others have had chive flowers shredded into them. A real taste of spring.

gearing up for the Fourth

dinner

‘Tis the weekend for barbecued ribs and potato salad. And it actually looks like the weather is going to be beautiful for the Fourth of July, can you believe it? Of course, the mosquitoes have been hellish this week. We’ll have to smoke them out with the grill.

warm potato salad

Or just plan on hunkering inside and eating lots of potato salad. We’ll see how it goes.

What’s on your Fourth of July menu?

fennel, oysters & wine

a glass of wine after work

After a rather tough week at work, I felt that I had earned a little blowout for our Friday night dinner. My husband aided and abetted by driving up to Taylor Shellfish after work and picking up a bag of fresh oysters, then compounding his wonderfulness by also stopping by Slough Food for manchego and sopressata. I came home on a sultry afternoon to a cold flute of muscadet and good cheese and salumi. The perfect antidote to a long, mostly booze-free week.

dinner prep

After soaking in the fragrance of the lilacs and daphnes on the porch, we moved inside and had a “counter dinner”. I laid out everything we needed on the kitchen island, we pulled up stools and poured fresh glasses of wine, and began. Continue reading

ouzo shrimp and bread salad

salad

When I decided to make two new recipes for dinner out of a brand new Malouf & Malouf  cookbook, I figured there was a chance it might be a complete flop, but at least it would look pretty. Fortunately for me, it was pretty and tasty: shrimp with ouzo and garlic, and a salad of watercress, red onion, radish and fried strips of pita bread. It was good enough to make again; a little tweaking is in order for next time, of course.

fried pita strips

The most exciting part was cutting a pita bread into thin strips and frying it in olive oil and butter until golden and crispy. That was really, really fun. The resulting croutons were almost like buttery potato chips. Continue reading

a quick lunch

lunch

It was midmorning on Saturday that we realized there was nothing in the house for lunch. Well, apart from peanut butter and sardines. So I volunteered to trot down the hill to the co-op and see what looked edible. It was snowing, but not too hard, and it’s not a bad walk as long as I don’t try to carry anything too heavy back up the hill.

So I peeked into the meat case and saw these gorgeous dry-pack sea scallops – they were enormous and very fresh, so I snagged a package. Then, on my way to cruise the cheese case, my eye was caught by a pack of prosciutto. Lunch seemed to be taking shape rapidly. When I checked out, the cashier commented that I was the second person that morning who was obviously going to be having prosciutto-wrapped scallops, based on the groceries that had passed down her belt. Great minds think alike? Continue reading