Saturday, May 22, 2010

Big Shrimp

Onward blazing through our fridge of fish. I have to say, I rarely cook shrimp. I don't quite know why - it's easy and good and can really swing any way.

Take that back -- I kind of do know why. First off, I really don't love to peel it. The little shrimp legs get stuck under your fingernails. And then there's the procurement of the stuff. When we lived in Georgetown, bC, I used to walk down the canal to Cannon's Seafood, on 31th Street, where the shrimp tastes like it just jumped the net. All those shrimp needed was a swirl of melted butter in the skillet, toss in and cook until they turned pink. Now those were some shrimp.

But these shrimp, even though they were and plump and moist looking, were from the grocery. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) The sign read "wild caught" but didn't specify when. Good enough for a stir-fry, my 5-year-old declared, "Chinese!"

This is a clean out the fridge kind of dish, that can be personalized with whatever you have lying around. It's generally good to put in garlic and onion, but as I was trying to appeal to kids I left them out (I put them in the greens, which I ate with the stir fry instead of rice). You can also add those cute mini corns -- kids love them -- or bamboo shoots or water chestnuts, but I had none in the larder.

Shrimp Stir Fry

1 lb. shrimp, peeled
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 red pepper, cut into strips
1 cup baby carrots, cut into quarters lengthwise
1 head of broccoli, cut up
Soy sauce (if gluten is an issue, choose wheat-free)

Heat large skillet or wok. Add oil, then saute ginger and garlic if desired. Add vegetables and stir, adding soy sauce to thin sauce to desired consistency. Cook about five minutes, until vegetables are tender or soft. depending on your taste. Add shrimp last, toss and cover. Steam until shrimp are pink and opaque.

Serve over rice (Basmati or Jasmine are especially nice). If you are catering to little ones (or big folks with food phobias), put whatever they won't love in a separate skillet. That way the veggie-vores (like me) can toss it all together.

Wilted Mixed Greens with Garlic

8 cups kale, shredded
8 cups swiss chard, shredded
1 head of garlic, separated and slivered
olive oil

Heat oil in a large heavy skillet. Add slivered garlic and stir. Cook until garlic is browned, about 3 minutes. Turn down heat and add greens, cover. Greens will steam and wilt; toss with oil and garlic and serve.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fish Story

We've been through it all in Northern Virginia this year -- 36-foot snow drifts, hail the size of strawberries, 45 mile an hour wind -- that I would not be at all surprised if we went up in a tornado straight to the Emerald City itself. In fact, up until last week, Oz might have been preferable to the saw-humming, hammer-banging hoosegow I formerly called home.

But now it is done -- aside from a little landscaping and outdoor painting, we are generally back in working order. No excuse not to cook, except weather more fickle than Jude Law. One day fine, a throw-a-chicken-on-the-barby kind of night, where we go from day to night in our swimsuits and pull asparagus from the garden, to a night fit for nothing but a fire and a stew.

Appetites, however, are confused by this 40-degree swing. Our palates crave something light, a duet of spring vegetables and herbs, but our bodies need sustenance against cold that seems even more abrasive with bathing suits still drying in the mud room. It's like coming home from the tropics after Spring Break; we'd much rather still be noshing pineapple.

As I have gotten older I have become the kind of person that checks the gas pump in the rear view mirror before I pull out, because I did forget to replace the hose once. I make mistakes, but try not to repeat them too often, at least the ones that matter, like leaving the kettle to burn black (sorry, mom) or getting caught in the latest local speed trap ($400 -- yikes -- that is a lot of landscaping!). If I miss your birthday I will send a note anyway.

So being flummoxed by weather is barely tolerable.

And yet, as a friend put it yesterday, it's as if we are all Rip Van Winkle this week.  We went to bed Sunday with the lilacs blooming and woke up to sweater weather.  Did we skip summer? I think I am not alone in stating: I certainly hope not. But back to dinner. What to feed my family in this wishy-washy weather?

Fish. Not a revolutionary answer, but an answer nonetheless. Many people eat fish on Friday, the origin of which I am unclear but will Google as soon as I finish here. But I think it the perfect answer for a Monday, when your tummies are a little hungover from the weekend's excess, in need of fare light enough to honor that and yet sturdy enough to amp up for the week's routine. I went to the local fish counter and there were no less than eight wild-caught options -- pretty good for this little hamlet. My son, who loves to operate the self-scanner at the grocery, wanted them all so he could flash the bar code, and I came close to obliging. Cod, firm and flaky and moist. Wild salmon flushed dark red by a flirtatious upstream swim. And shrimp the size of a laborador's  paw, plump to bursting out of the shell.

Paired with a head of cauliflower near to languishing in my fridge, a big fat leek and a plastic clamshell of the most perfect organic Brussels sprouts I have seen since leaving Manhattan, I had the perfect gang to start a riot.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

1 lb. Brussels sprouts
Olive oil
Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Grease or spray a cookie sheet with olive oil.

Trim Brussels sprouts: cut nub from bottom, trim any brown leaves and cut in half lengthwise.

Lay on sheet cut side down, sprinkle liberally with sea salt. Bake 10-15 minutes, or until bottoms are lightly browned.

Puree of Cauliflower

1 head cauliflower
sea salt and white pepper
Bring water to boil in a 2 quart pot. Trim cauliflower and cut into small pieces -- I cut the florets off and chop the stalks off into about 2 inch segments.

Boil until tender, about 15-20 minutes. When a knife sticks in easily, off the heat.

Pour cauliflower into colander, reserving cooking water.

Puree in batches in food processor, using cooking water  until desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

Cod Braised with Leeks
Adapted from Mark Bittman's "The Minimalist Cooks Dinner"

Makes 2 generous servings, or 3 if you are feeding a small child as well

12 ounces cod
1 large leek
1 cup chicken stock
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Slice leek thinly and scatter over the bottom of a heavy dutch oven.

Place fish on top, pour on chicken broth and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until fish is white and flakes.

Serve with puree and spoon leeks and pan juices over top. 


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fate in chicken

When I first met my husband we were both flying around for work. One evening we met at National Airport, having come from different planes, and he very sweetly asked what I would like to do for dinner. I was tired and wanted to stay in. I know it was a Wednesday, because I had read a recipe I thought would be fun in the New York Times food section. But before I could tell him that, he reached in his briefcase and pulled out a NYT folded to that very recipe: Beer Can Chicken.

No surprise, that is what we made for dinner. It did peg my then boyfriend as a beer snob, as he only had Heineken (in glass bottles, which wouldn't at all do) in his fridge, and he actually had kind of a problem with buying Budweiser.

I married him anyway.

Nearly a dozen years later, we still make it. If you can't guess from the recipe's title, it involves a beer can and a chicken, some spices and a grill. The kids love it -- the way the chicken hunches over the can like a Wisconsin ice fisherman waiting for a bite. It makes for poultry moist on the inside, with a coating of crunchy skin floating on the outside, kissed with cumin and paprika, which falls off the bone with a delicate steam like a woman fainting.

This method is reminiscent of a rotisserie chicken, but spiking the beer with herbs really ups the intensity of the flavor. On the rotisserie, we stuff the chicken with whatever herb is running away with the garden, in this case lemon balm and parsley, and always a ton of garlic.

Either way, it's a winner. While it sits on the can you have time to sit and catch up on the week, or you can leave it with a magazine and go do laundry. It is truly easy and delicious. Procure an organic chicken (thank you Elaine Boland at Fields of Athenry, AGAIN!) and you've got a home run.

Beer Can Chicken
(from the NYT food section, original recipe, Wednesday, July 7, 1999. I don't know whose copy this is, mine or his, but no matter. It's all ours now:)

1 cup wood chips, soaked in beer or water to cover for one hour then drained
1 can beer
1/3 cup barbeque rub ( this can be varied depending on your tastes. I like the cumin/paprika combo, as mentioned above, but you can easily use a store bought jar. Herbs will work for a more elegant bird, and it is lovely with just sea salt as well. I kind of go by what I want for sides)
1 3-4 lb. chicken

Set the  grill up for indirect grilling. On a charcoal grill, this means lighting the charcoal, and when it is burning separate it into two piles with a foil drip pan in the middle the size of a pie plate. Position the grill above the coals and set the chicken on its pedestal on the grill. Toss the soaked chips on the charcoal to generate smoke. Cover the grill and cook for about an hour. If needed, toss more briquets on and keep the cover off until they ignite. On a gas grill, if it has two burners light one side and cook chicken on the other. If there are three burners light outer two and cook chicken in the middle. Wrap the chips in foil and poke holes on the top; put in on one of the burners. If you do use the rotisserie,  lose the can.

Open beer can and pour half on the chips. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the spice in the can. Sprinkle half of the rest in the cavity of the bird, and the other half rub on its exterior.

Stand beer can on counter and lower each chicken on the can so it covers the main cavity. Pull the legs forward to form a tripod so the chicken will sit up over the can. Carefully put chickens on grill, over the indirect heat.

Throw chips on coals or slip into burners as mentioned above. No matter your cook method, roast chicken until browned and meatiest point of the thigh registers 165 degrees; juices will run clear. Take off grill and discard can, carve and serve.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Too Hot to Chew

It's been 90 degrees the past few days. The horses were knackered before we even set off this morning. They couldn't even get it up to canter the last hill back to the barn. When my mom asked what I was making for dinner I said, "It's too hot to chew." True, but we had ice cream for lunch (check out the homemade soft serve at My Deli and Cafe in Purcellville, Va., tangy like yogurt, airy and smooth, perfect for a summer lunch) and though I would have it for dinner as well (it's Sunday, after all), that would not make me Mother of the Year. Not that I am in the running anyway, but.

So when my mother (who doesn't even have a working kitchen just now, so really has a reason not to cook) said she had made gazpacho, I readily copied her. I already had the ingredients: pepper, onion, cucumber, tomato. Well, not good tomatoes, we're not quite there yet, but I always have San Marzano's finest canned in the pantry. So check it out. NO cooking, NO chewing. Mom and I both rang off to go to the pool. Done and done.

1 28-ounce can San Marzano diced tomatoes
1/2 large white onion
1 yellow pepper
1/2 large English cucumber
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1 Tablespoon  balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
dash Thai chile-garlic sauce or Tobasco

In a food processor, grate the onion, pepper, and cucumber. Switch to the blade, add tomatoes, salt, pepper, cumin, vinegar, cilantro and Tobasco sauce. Whiz once more to combine. Put in the refrigerator with ice cubes to chill. Serve cold with chilled shrimp or leftover grilled chicken for a meal.