Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Memorial Day Breakfast

Pupusas, Duck Eggs, Bloody Mary—Now That's Breakfast!
Pupusas are one of the world's great comfort foods; thank you El Salvador for your contribution to the world! Last week, we scored some at the market and had been planning to have them one morning for breakfast, not that these stuffed tortillas are really breakfast food, but I have always enjoyed them for brunch.

I miss the days when César at Sweet Sunset Bakery would serve pupusas on Sundays, pupusas that his wife would pat out by hand. Sadly, he closed shop and left town a couple years ago. There is a new Salvadoran store near us that offers pupusas, but we haven't been there yet. These pupusas, both bean-filled and cheese and loroco-filled, came from the freezer case. BTW, pupusas freeze just fine, in case you ever make any. Make way too many and freeze the rest.

After a couple of hours working out in the yard before the sun got too hot, I was starving. I starting browning the pupusas in a pan and then I scrambled some duck eggs and basil to go with them. What a great dish that is! Duck eggs are so much richer and even more eggy than chicken eggs. While I was dealing with the pupusas and eggs, Ann was making her signature bloody Marys.

The pupusas weren't as good as fresh (the bean-filled ones were better and I couldn't really find any loroco in the others) but any pupusa beats no pupusa hands down!


Cocktail Hour

We spent a lot of time working out in the back yard on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend trying to make some headway. You know how it is. In the spring, you have all the best intentions for the yard and some things get done, but once the heat of summer comes ablazing, all the intentions go by the wayside for the comfort of the air conditioning indoors. We know this cycle well and so we are trying to make good use of the reasonably comfortable (not that I take much comfort in the full sun at 90 degrees) weather to make some headway on the new beds we put in last year and to put in a little bit more this year, in the never ending quest to reduce the amount of grass that we have to mow.

By late afternoon, we were done for the day, mentally and physically, and after a shower, we decided to put up the big umbrella out back and reward ourselves for a good day's sweat and labor. In the shade with a nice southerly breeze, the heat and humidity was tolerable. A couple drinks helped.

Ann made herself another Ginger Grapefruit Cocktail while I had a beer. I don't drink much beer, but there is something magical and refreshing about a cold crisp lager when you are blazing hot after a long day of work. We snacked on a bit of a delightful young sheep's milk (brébis) cheese called P'tit Basque from Istara. A wickedly expensive cheese, it went well with our cocktails and white wine, but it is amazingly good with a big red wine.

After cocktails, we switched to a bottle of slightly effervescent, crisp, green apple Vinho Verde. I guess it is the natural rhythm of things to want white wine when it is hot. After a winter of drinking Syrah, Grenache, and  Bordeaux blends, our fridge is now stocked with Vinho Verde, Sauvignon Blanc, Orvieto, Chenin Blanc, and so forth. By August, we will be tired of whites, I guarantee, and craving that first chilly night by the fire pit with a glass of big red, of no-matter-what origin!

Here are some of the fruits of our labors.

Unusual Coloration for a Petunia
Shasta Daisy, Bigger Than our Wild Oxeyes
Achillea, a Far Cry from our Wild Yarrow
An Unusual Gaillardia
Because You Can Never Have Too Many Petunias!
An Unusual Coreopsis

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chow Mein

Snow Pea and Shrimp Chow Mein
Ann and I went all over town on Sunday running errands and doing things that I would normally do on Monday, which would not be possible because of the Memorial Day holiday. Needless to say, all those errands and food shopping on an empty stomach made for a couple of hungry people. Good thing Food Maxx was one stop on the way home! Ann wanted noodles, Asian, of some unspecified variety. I'm easy that way. All I need is an idea and I am off cooking.

We bought some udon, preserved vegetable, green onions, and snow peas and during the drive home, I was thinking soup with udon, but then it was 90+ degrees in the shade and I don't think either of us were feeling a hot bowl of soup, no matter  how good. So while I was prepping, I asked Ann about the udon, "stir-fried or in a broth?" "Stir-fried!" we both blurted out simultaneously. Jinx.

At that point I was thinking lo mein, noodles mixed with the vegetables, but then that all went out the door when I remembered how awesome good chow mein is, crispy pan-fried noodles topped with a garnish, not the gloppy crap that they used to (and I presume still do) serve in the 60's and 70's in bad American Chinese restaurants.

I put the udon into a large skillet and crisped them first on one side and then on the other, making a cake of crispy goodness that I transferred to a platter while I quickly stir-fried the garnish: snow peas, garlic, ginger, preserved vegetable, pre-cooked shrimp, and green onions. Once this was going, I added a large pinch (1/2 a teaspoon or more) of ground white pepper, a big splash of fish sauce, and a bit of water. I let this reduce for a minute or so and poured the whole over the noodles.

Mise en Place: It Makes Cooking so Much Simpler
 Our lunch, this mutt of a dish, classic Chinese preparation mixed with Japanese noodles and Thai spicing, was absolutely amazing, one of the best off-the-cuff dishes I've ever made. Paired with a delicious Riesling halbtrocken, it made for a memorable lunch.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Ersatz Paella

What do you make when you want a paella, but don't have all the ingredients you need and are in no mood to go get them? You make fake paella, of course. Or at least I do. This isn't that fake, except I have a big sautoir standing in for a paellera and achiote paste standing in for saffron. The sautoir didn't make too much difference, but the achiote, well, let's just call this arroz amarillo and say that I missed the saffron. The color and flavor are all wrong.

I started by cooking the chorizos in the sautoir and then dredging some chicken wings in pimentón and cooking them most of the way through after removing the chorizos. After removing the chorizos to a platter, I cooked yellow onion, orange bell pepper, and garlic in the pan, then I added the achiote paste and the rice. Once the rice was cooked in the oil, I added some tomatoes and their juice, the chicken, and the chorizos to the pan and added water to just cover.

Aren't these Salvadoran chorizos cute?
About 16 or 17 minutes later, I scattered green onions and mussels on top and turned the flame up high to create a crusty socarrat on the bottom of the pan. A thin paellera would have created a better crust than the big aluminum sautoir.

We started the afternoon with this Ginger Grapefruit Cocktail made with ginger simple syrup, pink grapefruit juice, and Absolut Citron. Ann made the simple syrup by putting two cups of warm simple syrup on about a cup of chopped ginger, blitzing everything in the blender, letting it stand overnight, and straining through a very fine chinois.

Ginger Grapefruit Cocktail

1 1/2 parts ginger syrup
1 1/2 parts Absolut citron
4 parts pink grapefruit juice

Shake with ice and strain; serve up.




Ann seemed to enjoy the cocktails, but they weren't my thing. I'm not a big cocktail or liquor guy. Hey, we can't agree on absolutely everything! So, I opened a bottle of Roessler Pinot Noir "Savoy" Anderson Valley 2006. I find that the only Pinots from California that I really like are those from the Sonoma Coast north like this one from Mendocino. Still, it was too ripe for my liking. Hey California, less ripe, more acid, please! More finesse, guys; less sledgehammer!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Simplicity

We worked hard yesterday on our garden, flowerbeds, and the little oasis that is our back yard. After all that, working hard on dinner was out of the question, but we needed to eat. As a reward to ourselves for our labors, we made a simple pasta dressed with shallots, sage, and butter. And we ate it outside on the patio under the pergola with a fantastic bottle of Orvieto amabile.

This pasta was amazing for its simplicity, far outshining any restaurant meal, and far, far more satisfying for being shared, outdoors, with a great glass of wine, at the end of a long, hard day of labor.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Now that our nominal frost date has past, we have got most of the garden planted. With only three tiny raised beds (less than 100 square feet), we have to be careful about what we plant: there has to be a good food return to real estate used ratio. So, potatoes, melons, and corn are all out. They take too much room for the food they supply us. Beth is happy to sell us all these things and more.

This year, so far, we have 3 types of tomatoes, yellow squash, green squash, sugar snaps, leeks, fennel, two kinds of peppers, and yellow haricots filets. For herbs, we have rosemary, sage, two kinds of thyme, chives, garlic chives, lovage, oregano, lemon balm, dill, basil, cilantro, and Italian parsley. Cucumbers will go on the trellis when the peas come out. Thai basil will go in whenever we get around to it.

Chives, a bit past their prime
Rosemary and Sage
Sugar snap peas, struggling for height this year

And finally a couple of shots from the back yard, our little oasis where we dine when the weather cooperates.

One of our many Rudbeckia plants
Trumpet vine, for our hummingbird friends

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mother's Day

Mimosa Girl!
After a late night at the restaurant on Saturday night, Mother's Day started way too early for me. I had to get up at oh-dark-thirty to deliver a catering job. While I was out, I stopped in the bagel shop for some warm bagels. Running on fumes, I came home and toasted bagels, scrambled duck eggs, and sliced strawberries for breakfast. A couple of mimosas later, I went back to bed and slept until the last second before we had to leave for McLean and dinner with Bob and Mary, Ann's parents. Happy Mother's Day, Ann! It was the best I could do under the circumstances.

Ann wanted to make dinner for her mother, so she had gathered everything she would need for pasta, salad, and appetizers. She even made a beautiful lemon cake with strawberries and strawberry filling. All I had to do was go along for the ride, which in my zombie state was about all I was fit to do.

Carter, hamming it up
Bob, out by the pool
Mary
Old Gouda and Olive Oil
Linden Claret '09, a great pasta wine
Spectacular baby lettuces from Beth
Strozzapreti with my meat sauce
Ann's beautiful cake




Monday, May 7, 2012

Seís de Mayo

This is the first posting of four on our recent party on Seís de Mayo.

I'm not one to celebrate made-up holidays like Cinco de Mayo, that mostly American creation fueled largely by the beer companies, but I don't need an excuse to have a party! Ann decided a few weeks back to have a small party on the 6th of May so she could show off her delicious quinoa salad and try out new recipes for tequila sangria and margarita cupcakes.

Pre-Game Huevos con Chorizo
After a week off from work, I hadn't really cooked anything in days, so I was ready to do a little work. I hit the kitchen at 8am and worked steadily until shower time at 2. Ann joined me around 10 and we prepped and talked and pre-gamed it a little bit. I just love it when the two of us are messing around in the kitchen! Define "messing around" however you see fit. ;) Many people would be daunted by this much work in the kitchen, but I love it and don't get to do enough of it at work.

With all the chorizo, peppers, and onions laying around, who can blame us for having a big plate of huevos con chorizo at noon with some beer chasers?

Pre-Game Beers
Here's the menu:

   Fried Asparagus with Cilantro-Pimentón Aïoli
   Oven-Baked Tortilla Chips
   Mango-Tomatillo Salsa
   Guacamole
   Quinoa Salad with Black Beans, Avocado, and Lime-Cumin Dressing
   Quesadillas with Chorizo, Bison Skirt Steak, Poblanos, and Onions
   Margarita Cupcakes
   Tequila Sangria
   Beer

Joining us for the festivities were Kelly and Marco Due plus Neil and Patty. Neil is home on a break from his tour in Iraq and I haven't seen him since he deployed last fall.


Kelly and Marco Due being entertained by....
The One and Only Ann!
It's Good to be Stateside, Beer in Hand!
Patty always tries to hide from the camera
Grayce trying to prove she is a lap dog
This post is huge, so I have broken it down into several smaller pieces. Three more to come.

Seís de Mayo: Appetizers

This is the second post of four on our Seís de Mayo party. We decided to start off our little party with chips, guacamole, and salsa. At the last minute, Ann ran out to the store and came back with a bundle of asparagus and asked me to fry them. Thanks honey!

Oven-Baked Tortilla Chips

Fried chips are awesome! But cranking up a big pot of oil at home, stinking up the house, and having to dispose of a lot of oil is not awesome. So these chips are a compromise. Ann tossed them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and pimentón before placing them in a hot oven on an icing grate so that they cooked on both sides evenly without having to turn them.

Guacamole

Avocados, lime juice, cilantro, green onions, minced green chile, diced tomatoes. Done.

Mango-Tomatillo Salsa

Salsa is a simple condiment theme on which you can make endless variations once you learn the mantra: fruit, onions, acid. Fruit, onions, acid. Easy. Tomatoes are the fruit that we most often associate with salsa, but tomatoes are not in season now. I found some ripe mangos and some tomatillos to counterbalance them. From the vanilla extract in the upper left corner, you see sambal oelek (crushed chile paste), mangos, a poblano, green onions, cilantro, salt, brown sugar, tomatillos, limes, and garlic.

Years ago, I hit on the trick of adding brown sugar and vanilla to my mango salsa quite by accident and I love the result. So does everyone  else. This salsa has it all going on: sweet, tart, spicy, salty, crunchy, smooth, fresh.


Fried Asparagus with Cilantro-Pimentón Aïoli

I really was trying to avoid frying things, but Ann brought these asparagus home for me to fry as an appetizer. It is so difficult to keep fried food hot and palatable for guests.

The double breading station is something that is best left to the professional kitchen. This whole dish is, really. Doing it without a deep fryer is a pain. The flour is seasoned with salt, pepper, and pimentón.

From left to right, cilantro-pimentón aïoli, olives, and melted jalapeño jelly. I crushed garlic and cilantro stems with salt to flavor the aïoli. The aïoli and the jalapeño jelly are for dipping the asparagus.

Stay tuned for two more posts about this feast.

Seís de Mayo: Quesadillas Etc.

This is the third post of four on our Seís de Mayo party.


Sangria

To warm everyone up when they arrived, I made two big pitchers of so-called sangria from Pinotage (a South African grape that is the scion of two French grapes, Pinot Noir and Cinsault). This is not really sangria so much as it is a berry wine punch, but I was under orders. ;) I mixed the wine with tequila and St. Germain and then added mixed berries, fresh pineapple, lemon slices, lime slices, and agave nectar.

Pinotage: Fruity and Inexpensive, Just Right for Sangria

Quinoa Salad with Black Beans, Avocados, and Lime-Cumin Vinaigrette

Ann makes a delicious salad of quinoa, black beans, red onions, avocados, tomatoes, garlic, cilantro and whatever else she feels like putting in it, all dressed with a simple vinaigrette flavored with lime juice and cumin. It's just a wonderful side dish (or even a great vegetarian summer main dish).

Quinoa Salad
Quesadillas with Chorizo, Bison Skirt Steak, Poblanos and Onions

Quesadillas are fun to make for a crowd, either on a grill or as I did it, in a pan on the stove. You can put just about anything you want in them, but I was in the mood for chorizo. The cheese we used was some generic pre-shredded white cheese from the grocery labeled "Queso para Pupusas," cheese for pupusas, that amazing Salvadoran stuffed tortilla. Any melting cheese will do.

And what better to go with sausage than peppers and onions? The five pounds of onions and peppers that I started with cooked down by at least half. I was planning for leftovers anyway, because how useful is it to have onions and peppers in the fridge?

We also had a tiny bit of bison skirt steak leftover, so I cooked that too.

Bison Skirt Steak, Nice and Rare
And I leave you with two parting shots.

I can feel your jealousy from here, dear reader.
Stay tuned for the final episode in which dessert gets made!