Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Breakfast with the eagles

We were lazily watching a tiny, transparent jellyfish float aimlessly through the water. Anyone for breakfast? I asked, even though I was not particularly hungry. It was, however, time for breakfast, having already had coffee/tea, read books and observed jellyfish this morning. The mountains rose from the bay wreathed in snow and bathed in sun. An eagle circled once, twice, then perched and watched us from a tall hemlock.

Hash browns, made from scratch, challenged the Captain, eggs and bacon. Well, I had seen a box of redskins below deck, and the remains of a packet of bacon in the fridge. Eggs and yogurt we kept on the back deck; it was cool enough out there, and saved room in the fridge.

I can do that, I retorted, heading for the galley.

I far prefer grated hash browns, and this is because they stay more moist than cubes of potato. I like the runny yolk to soak the golden potato chards, creating a sumptuous mess. We pinched a bit of rosemary from the on-deck herb window box as an afterthought, a glorious one at that.

Rosemary Hash Browns

4 redskin potatoes, grated
1 shallot, minced
bacon fat or butter
2 sprigs of rosemary, minced
coarse salt and pepper

If you are cooking bacon, do so, and pour off all but 2 Tablespoons of fat. Or, melt two tablespoons of butter in a stovetop skillet.

Saute the shallot in the butter until golden; add half a teaspoon of coarse salt and lightly toss to combine. The salt may sizzle, melting and coating the skillet and shallots.

Add the potatoes and cook, turning occasionally, until golden and fried through. I like to let them cook for a while -- they clump and turn golden almost like patties. When the potatoes are nearly done, add the rosemary and cook through.

Serve with runny eggs and bacon.

The Captain pronounced them excellent. Perhaps you'll concur.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Alaska, unplugged

We've just returned from Alaska, which is a greater undertaking than I thought it would be. First, there is the sheer distance between here and there, and (which I also underestimated) the effect of the time change, especially on a five-year-old boy. I seriously considered Benadryl.

Second, of which I also had no idea, there is an unbelievable mind space between here and there. I thought the big deal would be living on a boat that long, having an active boy on the water so far from civilization that one small mistake could turn fatal. And that was a constant thought.

But it wasn't the big deal at all. I'm still sorting it, but the soaring eagles, the space between the water and the mountains, the smallness of you -- it makes your heart change. The absence of connected-ness to the outside world, with no cell coverage, no WiFi, no Internet, takes away a level of busyness I wasn't even aware had crept in. As when you all the sudden notice your hair has grown, when they were unavailable I realized how increasingly tied I've become to my electronic devices. Constantly checking these external benchmarks becomes a part of life which hugely detracts from the business of really living. It is so liberating not to have to worry about reading the news, having an opinion about it, making an appointment or keeping one. I realized how much thought time I squander on petty annoyances, even just  wondering why someone hasn't yet called me back. Instead, I read books, looked for whales for hours on end, took the time to really mince the garlic, not just chop it. We sat at table for hours, no one having to go home, check their e-mail or the Yankee score.

And we ate. Boy did we. Salmon the color of Easter tulips. Halibut as thick as a brick. Crab we drew up by the line. The first night at anchor, in a cove called Coot (yes, really), a day's cruise from Juneau, we dropped a "two-beer" crab trap, so called because when my friend bought the trap, the fisherman told her to leave it in, drink two beers, and pull it out. An indeterminate time really, as everyone drinks their beer at a different pace. But after anchoring, we dropped the trap (with a few salmon heads for bait) into the water. The men popped beers; the ladies poured wine (my son now calls it a "half-a-glass-of-wine" crab trap, which would probably make that salty old fisherman roll his eyes).

On the first pull, up came a fine male Dungeness crab, and a baby halibut. We tossed the halibut back after admiring his eyes (both on one side of his head, as they are bottom feeders) and dipped the trap in again. Four pulls, two crab and two halibut later (probably the same halibut, guess he liked salmon), and we had a wonderful addition to our planned dinner. The chicken with lemon-caper sauce got stuffed with crab. And so did we.

Crabby Chicken with Lemon Caper Sauce

1 shallot, finely minced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1Tablespoon capers
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
zest of one lemon
coarse salt and pepper
1/4 cup sherry
1 cup Pinot Grigio
2 Tablespoons thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon cornstarch
4 chicken breasts
1 lb. crab meat

Saute shallot in oilve oil. Add rest of ingredients and simmer until reduced, about 10 minutes. Take out a few Tablespoons and mix into cornstarch; return to pan and simmer 5 minutes more, until thick and glossy.

Make two diagonal cuts in the chicken breasts to create a small cavity in the top of the meat. Saute crab picked fresh from a shell, or use canned, in butter until opaque. Saute the chicken breasts in olive oil until golden; make sure the internal temperature is adequate for your tastes, at least 165 degrees.

Place chicken on a plate and fill top cavities with crabmeat. Dress with sauce.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Trifecta Tomato Pie

This should have made it into the last post about the REDCOATS, as the coming of summer tomatoes is as Momentous as cherries, perhaps even more so to me as I do not have to pick them, yet -- mine are still green on the vine. But I go to the farmer's market and buy them from the far more advanced growers who have them in glass houses. In this case, I did not even do that. A friend of mine got up and got the early tomatoes (which you have to do this time of year, as tomatoes are not so plentiful as in August, when the farmers give away flats for sauce rather than trucking them home, but that is getting way ahead of myself).

Back to the pie. This recipe is not gluten-free, though I am going to work on a crust that looks this beautiful and is gluten-free. I ate it anyway, out of the crust, and didn't miss it the crust at all.

This recipe, a thing of beauty, hits the trifecta. First, the obvious:

Second, it is easy. If you do not have home-made pesto call me, as I still have jars of it in the freezer from last summer, which I want to consume before this year's batch so I can reuse the jars. Or, buy the Buitoni brand at the Safeway, which is what my friend did and it was gorgeous.

Third: it is quick. I turned away to listen to the chef's husband tell a funny story about getting old, (even though he is not very old, he is very funny), turned around and she was done.  That is one good party trick they've got going on.

Trifecta Tomato Pie

One pie crust
three or four ripe tomatos
2 balls fresh mozzerella
1 cup pesto
olive oil to drizzle

Put the crust in a 8 inch cake pan, pushing it into the corners and up the sides with your fingers. It does not need to be even, in fact, it is lovely if it is not. Bake at 400 degrees for 4 minutes. Let it cool and then take it out of the pan and set on a tray.

Slice the tomatoes and the mozzarella into 1/2 inch slices. Layer into the shell, brushing with pesto each layer. Spoon pesto on top and drizzle with olive oil. Serve.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Redcoats are here!

Memorial day holds different connotations for everyone. Servicemen and their families think about fallen soldiers. If you live in the DC area, it's hard not to miss Rolling Thunder, 400,000 motorcyclists converging on the Pentagon to demonstrate support for POWs.  My extended family in Indiana is consumed by the Indianapolis 500, and several high school graduations. Stores stock shelves with charcoal and franks for summer's first cookouts. Pools open, and America dives in.

Since we bought this place, Memorial Day has become labor day, because in come the cherries. When you see them, flush and red on the tree, it is time to get out the ladder before the birds notice. This year, there were so many that I drove the pickup under the laden boughs and we stood on its roof with bowls like ants at a picnic.

It is like this with live charges. When they call, or ripen, or fall sick, you must answer. I have been trying to talk to a farmer friend, and between her breeding pig, my sick child and picking the cherries, we missed each other for a whole week.

But it is worth it. We sit and talk and pit the cherries, some of us using actual metal cherry pitters, others using tent stakes or lobster scrapers. My 5-year-old counts the pits as they plop into the bowl, proving that he actually can count into the thousands (he quit at 1,229). We eat them until our tummies are sore, then we freeze them on cookie sheets overnight before their final freezer storage in plastic bags.

But first we make dessert. For me that means clafoutis, an eggy, gluten-free, cherry studded flan. Cherry pie, cherry jam, cherry almond sauce on vanilla ice cream. For my husband, it means marinating them in Luxardo for plopping into his perfect Manhattans.

Cherry Clafoutis
adapted from Nigella Lawson

2 teaspoons oil (I use avocado or grapeseed oil, both of which hold up well in high heat, but if you can tolerate vegetable it is a less expensive option)
2 cups cherries, pitted
4 eggs
1/2 cup rice flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 cup milk or sub 1/4 cup cherry juice or kirsch for 1/4 cup milk

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Put oil in a pie plate or copper tarte tatin dish and pop it in while the oven heats. Meanwhile, mix flour and sugar, then whisk in the eggs, one by one, then the milk and other liquid, if using. When the oven reaches 450 degrees, stir the drained cherries into the batter and pour into the hot pan. Return to oven and bake about 20 minutes, or until puffy and golden.

Make this at the last minute and bring it piping hot to the table with some fresh whip cream -- depending on how well you know your dinner guests, you may just need forks. Bet you won't have any leftovers.

Home Made Maraschino Cherries
from the New York Times

1 cup maraschino liqueur
1 pint sour cherries, stemmed and pitted (or substitute one 24-ounce jar sour cherries in light syrup, drained).
Bring maraschino liqueur to a simmer in a small pot. Turn off heat and add cherries. Let mixture cool, then store in a jar in refrigerator for at least 2 days before using, and up to several months, if you can keep them around that long.
Yield: About 1 pint.

Cherry Almond Sauce

3 Tablespoons brown sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup water
1 quart pitted cherries

Stir together in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook and stir until the cherries break down into a sauce, about 30 minutes. Spoon over ice cream, or serve as a side to ham or pork.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Got Parsley?

Only just June, and I am already swimming in parsley. Also in kale, Swiss chard, arugula and lemon balm (the last was a total mistake). Knowing I needed to cut it back lest it totally take over the garden in a month -- it's already lording over the spindly shoots of cilantro trying to reclaim their turf -- I race to my cookbooks, pouring over pages of recipes for wilted greens, mixed greens, green gratin. Done that.

Problem, is, I really hate to toss anything that might be remotely edible. A guilt thing, perhaps, left over from a childhood babysitter who castigated us for not being in the "clean plate club." How many therapists are rich from that chestnut?

She was probably referring to choking down a few peas before moving on to Jello, but I have a worse problem that that now. When I first moved to this town, I noticed that the local grocer (we have a privately held IGA in town that, while it is not fancy, stocks local meats and produce in season, procures organic items as well as Matchbox cars and Elmer's glue, has a pharmacy and an incredible wine selection, the keeper of which shares the same oenophilosophy as me, which is: find good stuff for cheap) offered a box in the produce aisle of "free parsley." I wondered about this "free parsley." I mean, anything free in a retail establishment is pretty suspect.

Now I know EXACTLY why people are giving away parsley. It grows like a weed no matter what. Without love, or water. It tenaciously bushes out, reaching for the heavens when it gets too wide for it's space, like parking lots in Manhattan.

I don't know if you have ever looked for a recipe for parsley the size of a Labrador retriever, but I am telling you, most cooks view parsley as a few sprigs on a lamb chop. Some go nuts and add a half cup to pesto (a chef at my mother's favorite Italian restaurant once told her that kept it green, but I am fairly certain he did not mean a bale of it). I am here to tell you that if one garnished hot dogs, my parsley could handle every frank sold at Yankee field this summer.

Out of desperation, I tried this recipe, mostly because it used the most parsley of any recipe I could find. But now, my parsley has become my friend. This recipe is so delicious, so nutritious, and so easy that I am going to use every last bit of this seemingly steroidal parsley plant, and make peace offerings to the gods to keep it growing. There won't even be a sprig left over for lamb chops. Sorry if I offered any to you, because it's not up for grabs anymore.

Parsley Saute

olive oil or butter
8-10 cups parsley, from 2 or three bunches
3/4 cup mint
2 shallots, minced, about 1/2 cup
1 tablespoon walnut oil
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, pounded
 2 Tablespoons lemon peel

Heat butter or olive oil in a medium sized skillet. Add shallots and saute over medium heat until soft. Add parsley and saute for three minutes, until wilted. Add lemon peel and mint and cook until mixture is wilted togther, about 5 minutes more. Off the heat and toss with walnuts and walnut oil. Serve hot.

If you find yourself in need of a couple of bunches of parsley, try the Marshall IGA.

And if you know what to do with lemon balm, please let me know.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Neighborly fish tacos

My friend John tells the story of how he decided to name his daughter Lucianna. It seems that he had a television for sale, and posted it on Craigslist. A woman with a lovely accent called to inquire, and they arranged to meet. When she came to see the TV not only was she Italian, but smoking hot and surrounded by a posse of like-bodied women, who toted the television right off in their pick-up.

Her name, as you might have guessed it by now, was Lucianna.

So when it came time to name his daughter, he thought of the beautiful Italian with the cool friends who had come, obviously, as backup in case he was some kind of Craigslist creep. His wife was conveniently out that afternoon, so it's no good to doubt the veracity of this account, but it is a fine story, albeit an unusual way to come up with a baby name. (Though I'm thinking it would make a fabulous advertisement for Craigslist, or maybe for Budweiser.)

Beautiful, though, and decisive, both admirable traits. Much like the night that their neighbors in Seattle brought over some fish tacos to try; John wrangled the recipe out of them on the spot. You'll see why. The batter is crunchy yet light, fried in oil heated on a grill that is so hot it hasn't time to get oily. It also makes clean up easier than frying in the kitchen, though I suppose it could be done that way. Likewise the sauce, mayo mixed with jalepenos, thinned with water. Use a fish that will hang together, like halibut -- the night they cooked it for me, he used some flounder, too, which didn't please the chef. I thought it was all good. Simple, and decisive.

John's Fish Tacos

1 egg
2-3 Tablespoons yellow mustard
2/3 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt

Mix egg, mustard and salt, add cornmeal slowly and beat to the consistency of pancake batter.

Heat about 2 cups of oil in a dutch oven on a hot grill. Cut fish into strips or squares, batter and fry until golden.

2 cups mayonaise
3 jalapenos
water to thin

chop jalapenos and add to mayo.
Perch the fish, sauce and whatever else you want, (we had shredded cabbage) on a corn tortilla,  or flour if you can and wish. They also made a sauce of avocado and tomatillo, which was just "a ton of avocados, in a blender, with tomatillos." 

Wrap and roll.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Peaches and Kites

It has been a million years since I windsurfed, so long that windsurfing is nearly obsolete. The new craze (at least from where I am sitting right now, which is on a porch overlooking the sound in Waves, NC) is kiteboarding, a sport that involves flying a kite bigger than my bathroom while riding a board the size of a bathmat. When the riders turn, at times, they cause the kite to launch them into the air so high that were there a house in the sound, they would jump it. This is handy if you find an old-school windsurfer, such as my husband, in your path -- one dude easily cleared him.

It is a beautiful site.

So was this cake, made with the last of our canned peaches from last year, though the first of South Carolina's summer peaches are already available here. All are gathered to celebrate a birthday, which I cannot do without cake, so I imported my own gluten free creation. The filling and the cake were made just days ahead and traveled perfectly; the frosting I whipped just before assembly.

I inadvertently grabbed coffee extract when making the peach filling (I initially intended vanilla) and will not ever do otherwise now. The confluence of it all was fabulous, the peaches just touched by coffee, melding into the softness of the Angel Food, making it dusky as twilight, with a light breeze of whipped cream. It was gone before the traditional cakes were even out of the refrigerator; no one seemingly the wiser.

Gluten Free Angel Food Cake

1 cup gluten free flour ( I used 1/4 cup millet flour, 1/4 cup tapioca starch and 1/2 cup white rice flour)
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
12 eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon vanilla
3/4 cups granulated sugar

Separate eggs and reserve yolks for another use (I made chocolate mousse, which was completely delicious but which I cannot blog as I used up all the leftover chocolate bits and bobs left from Christmas and Easter, which I hide and hoard so my son won't eat it all at once.)  Put cream of tartar and 1/4 cup sugar in mixing bowl with whites and whip until stiff peaks form.

In another bowl, sift flour, xanthan gum, salt and sugar. Fold into whites with vanilla. Pour into angel food cake pan and bake for 50 minutes at 350 degrees.

Invert on a glass bottle and let cool before untinning.

Peach filling

4 cups peaches, sliced
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon coffee extract

Simmer over low heat until peaches break down and filling is the consistency of jam.

Whipped cream frosting

1 1/4 cup whipping cream, preferably organic
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

Whip in a bowl until stiff peaks form.

To assemble: Cut cake in half lengthwise and fill with peach jam. Replace top of cake and frost. Serve with a Tiki God, if you wish.