Blessed with an abundance of fresh dill from Blue Heron Farm and huge prawns from the local fish market, I finally gave in and made Ina Garten’s shrimp salad. I used the excuse that I was making it for a food photo contest, but I wasn’t all that happy with my photos of the finished dish. Nevertheless, we cheerfully ate it all (to hide the evidence, don’t you know).
Last week there were rather a lot of things I was frantically trying to get done. One of them was to take some pictures to enter in the Leite’s Culinaria food photography contest, which involved making a recipe from their website and taking a photo of the finished dish. I am very bad at following recipes closely, so it was a little hard for me to find one that I thought I could remain mostly faithful to. I ended up choosing a salad of canned tuna and black-eyed peas, a traditional Portuguese dish with many possible variations.
The recipe is incredibly simple, just cooked black-eyed peas tossed with tuna, onion, garlic, olive oil and vinegar, with some parsley stirred in. I was a little dubious at the initial smell of the black-eyed peas (which I had never cooked before) – they seemed unpleasantly grassy and stunk up the house remarkably. But when I had mixed in the other ingredients and let the salad sit for a little while, it took on a whole new level of flavor that was compellingly good. We ate it plain for dinner the first night, then stuffed into pitas with lettuce for two more lunches. Delicious.
After a trip to the farmer’s market our first morning home, we found ourselves in possession of some fine beet greens and a bag of shiitake mushrooms. I thought of one of our regular “light” meals, buckwheat soba stirfried with beet greens, and reinvented it as a cold noodle salad with baked tofu. It worked so well, I might even like it better than the hot version. And it’s a perfect dish for this ridiculously hot weather we’re having right now, especially if you do all the cooking early in the day.
In the morning, I boiled the soba and tossed it with some soy sauce and plenty of rice vinegar, then put the noodles in the fridge to chill. Jon sliced up a block of firm tofu and got it marinating in a mixture of soy sauce and sesame oil. Later in the day he spread the tofu out on a sheet and baked it at 300° for about an hour and a half, turning the pieces once, until it gained a leathery texture with a slightly crisp edge (one of the easiest and best ways to cook tofu, in my opinion). He also stirfried the mushrooms and greens with some ginger, then let everything chill.
Shortly before dinnertime, we combined the noodles and vegetables, added a bunch of chopped scallion, sprinkled the tofu on top, and dripped a little sambal oelek over it all. It was earthy and spicy, but still deeply refreshing, and just what we wanted. Leftovers kept well for several days.
On Sunday we made sure to make it up to the Bastille open-air market on Boulevard Richard Lenoir. It begins at Place de la Bastille and stretches for several blocks, four aisles wide and teeming with people, dogs and little wheeled shopping carts.
You can buy everything from tomatoes to underwear. Not to mention foie gras. And wine.
Ever since I discovered the word “spatchcock” in a Nigella Lawson book, I’ve wanted to try it. And not just because it’s such a great word.
It’s a method of preparing a chicken for high heat cooking such as roasting or grilling, where you remove the backbone and flatten the bird so that it’s more or less an even thickness throughout. It has the effect of getting all the skin on one side, so you should be able to get lots of crispy chicken skin, plus the flesh side is all available for seasoning. This weekend we finally got around to trying it, and the result was sort of a Win-Fail-Win situation.
We threw our End of Summer party this weekend, and boy did we luck out – after weeks of rain and ridiculously cold dreary weather, the clouds parted and we had a perfect, mild, sunny evening. Guests could sit in the sun and not be too hot, or in the shade on the patio and not be too cold. I made Indonesian yellow rice, sesame noodle salad, peanut sauce and chopped cucumber salad, and Jon grilled pork satay, Japanese eggpant and fresh corn. I’m fairly sure nobody starved to death.
You never know what’s going to be left over from these parties. We ended up with a half gallon of my favorite IPA in the world, small quantities of rice and eggplant, and a large tub of sesame noodles. There was also a bag of thawed shrimp in the fridge which I had intended to put out at the party and, well, just decided not to. I got tired. But that meant we had some good lunch fixings today – I poached the shrimp in salted water and mixed them into the noodle salad with a good squirt of Sriracha sauce, all of which was excellent washed down with a glass of IPA.
This was a spur of the moment side dish that I threw together last week. I had originally intended to make a Turkish salad of chickpeas, cumin and lemon, but then I got sidetracked by pomegranate molasses and fresh garden tomatoes – one of those cooking moments that seem to happen to me so often, where I have two or three cookbooks open and end up ignoring all of them. Fortunately, this turned out delicious.
Impromptu Chickpea Salad
1 red onion, minced
a spoonful of pomegranate molasses
1 can chickpeas, drained
handful fresh spinach leaves
fresh mint, chopped
fresh parsley, chopped
several little red tomatoes, halved
Combine the chickpeas, spinach and herbs in a bowl large enough to hold the salad. Heat the olive oil in a skillet and saute the red onion until just softened. Stir in the pomegranate molasses, then add the hot onion mixture to the salad bowl. Toss to wilt the spinach. Add the fresh herbs and tomatoes, and extra olive oil if desired. Let sit at room temperature for half an hour or so before serving.
We had a pretty successful farmer’s market run on Saturday, so we’re trying to meal-plan our way through the week so everything gets used. This dinner was designed to use up a bag of truly splendid oyster mushrooms and a bunch of spinach from Frog’s Song Farm.
I wanted to do some sort of tart, to really feature the mushrooms’ flavor, so I took my usual approach of opening three or four different cookbooks and kind of combining ideas from all of them. Continue reading
Usually on the Fourth of July, we have company: neighbors who come and watch the show with us from our deck, so we can all keep an eye on our houses and make sure nothing burns down. This year it was just the two of us, which was fine…except that we decided to experiment with dinner instead of making something tried-and-true. Don’t get me wrong, we had some good food – but we did learn a few things, both positive and negative. Dinner was slow-barbecued beef back ribs, red coleslaw with orange and buttermilk, cornbread, and ice cream to follow. Sounds good, no?
1. I like red cabbage coleslaw, but I do not like coleslaw made with orange juice and buttermilk. Why did I think I would? At least I didn’t put in the hazelnuts the recipe called for.
2. I have an oral allergy to raw hazelnuts. I think. It’s hard to think logically when your mouth is itching (I had tried one to see if it went with the coleslaw – it didn’t). Continue reading
We had friends over to help celebrate the solstice, and after much deliberation we settled on North African-style food. I made a roasted chicken rubbed with pureed onion and sumac powder (from Claudia Roden’s Middle Eastern Food), chickpeas with pomegranate molasses, Lebanese couscous with apricots, and marinated olives. J made a green salad with strips of piquillo pepper and nuggets of fried garlic (from Casa Moro), and for dessert we just put out a big colander full of ripe strawberries and a bag of chocolate nib cookies from the Breadfarm. Oh, yum.
It was all fantastic, but I’d like to make special note of the olives. Continue reading