Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sesame Udon with Chile Oil, Shrimp, and Lop Cheung

Here's a dead simple and utterly delicious meal from the weekend. Ann spied a dish in a cooking magazine, a dish called something like Sesame Noodles with Chile Oil and Scallions, and she asked me to make that dish, adding lop cheung and shrimp.

Sesame Udon with Chile Oil, Shrimp, and Lop Cheung
I have just turned Ann on to lop cheung in the last few years and she loves it. What's not to love about a bit of porky sweetness in a dish, though? And I know that she likes big thick udon in preference to thinner noodles (and so do I) so I made the dish with Japanese udon rather than thinner Chinese mien.

Ten Ingredients, Ten Minutes!
What I love about this dish, besides the awesome flavor, is that it has 10 ingredients and takes no more than 10 minutes to put on the table. You see the ingredients above. The garnishes are slivered garlic, sliced green onions, peeled shrimp, and sliced lop cheung. The sauce ingredients from left to right: roasted sesame oil, rice vinegar, agave (use any kind of sweetener you like), and tamari (again, use your favorite soy sauce).

The star of the show for me and the tenth ingredient is the chile oil, below, made by pouring some oil into a pan and adding a few tablespoons of chile flakes and heating to just the boil, then turning it off and letting the oil flavor while prepping the rest of the dinner.

Chile Oil

For the dressing for a pound (500g) of noodles, start with 3 tablespoons rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sweetener, 1 tablespoon chile oil, and 1 tablespoon sesame oil.

The assembly of this dish couldn't be simpler: mix the dressing in a big bowl; cook the garlic, shrimp, and lop cheung; refresh the udon in boiling water; mix all the ingredients in the bowl with the dressing and the green onions. Toss and let it stand for a minute. Adjust seasonings to your taste. I wanted more soy and chile oil; Ann wanted more sweetener in hers. We each adjusted our own bowls.

Awesome, easy, ten ingredients and ten minutes!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Eiffel Tower Cafe, Leesburg VA

Sunday, we didn't have any plans until the theater at Shenandoah University at 7pm and Ann wanted to go to brunch, so she looked into a bunch of places and decided she'd like to visit the Eiffel Tower Café in Leesburg, a place that we've never been to together before.

Owner Madeleine Sosnitsky was working the floor while we were there and in between her rounds at other tables, we got to chat with her a little about the business, about exactly how unglamorous and how demanding that it really is, and about how hard it is to find good employees. That was a little more shop talk than I wanted, but when two restaurant owners get together, shop talk will ensue.

Barreyres Always Makes a Good Value Red
We were seated at a table for two in the very comfortable dining room, with its many pictures of the namesake tower and light peach walls, and had to ask for the wine list. Apparently, so few people order off the wine list as to make the list a special request. The wine list is extremely small, so it took no time to narrow down to one of the handful of red wines on offer, a 2010 Haut-Médoc from Château Barreyres, well known for producing typical wines at good prices.

Calmar Provençale
Ann ordered first courses for us: squid provençale and mousseline of duck liver. Both were well done though I wonder if the duck mousseline was made in house.

Mousseline of Duck Liver
Ann surprised me by ordering the bavette (flank steak) and ordering it rare. She's a medium rare kind of girl generally, but she fessed up later that she was worried it would be overcooked. Not to worry, the steak was cooked perfectly as ordered. The fries were decent, but I prefer honest, house-cut potatoes to the coated commercial fries that we were served. That's just me: I want to know that my fries were once potatoes.

Bavette Frites
Me, I wasn't intrigued by any of the main dishes on the menu, so I just ordered merguez frites because I have a soft spot for merguez. This merguez didn't do it for me though: it was cooked to the point where it was tough and dry. And laying in a pool of demiglace didn't help either. Lamb sausage and veal demi: that's a mixed metaphor if I ever tasted one.

Merguez Frites
Our server brought around a dessert tray of desserts that looked industrially made and though I don't usually order dessert, I did want an excuse to linger over coffee, so I ordered a slice of the pear tart, forgetting that my wife doesn't like pears. Sorry, baby!

Tarte aux Poires
I like the well-appointed restaurant, the food is decent, Madeleine is charming, and the prices are extremely reasonable.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Brochetas de Camarones, Mango-Habanero Salsa

I was looking for something easy for the grill yesterday when it struck me on seeing some beautiful shrimp at the market that I should do skewers/kebabs/brochettes/brochetas. I am usually philosophically opposed to skewers of mixed foods because the foods generally have different cooking rates and to get everything cooked, naturally something else must be overcooked.

Here's a tip for you for doing skewers. Put each different item on a separate skewer so that you can take it off the grill when it is done. Then you can take a little bit from each skewer to make up each plate.

Shrimp, Tomato, Pineapple, and Pepper on Sugar Cane Skewers
In this case, I wasn't worried because the tomatoes, pineapple, and sweet peppers are all ready to eat in their raw state, so all I had to worry about was cooking the shrimp, which took about three minutes on the blazing hot grill. The marinade you see is minced garlic and cilantro stems, panela (unrefined sugar cane sugar), dark rum, olive oil, black pepper, and a touch of fish sauce.

While I was at the market, I grabbed a six-foot length of sugar cane and split it into skewers. Ann and Carter seemed to enjoy nibbling on the scraps.

Don't Let the Beauty Fool You: Habaneros are Wicked Hot!
Aren't these habaneros gorgeous? Ann kept wanting to taste one in her bull-in-the-china-shop way and I kept telling her to leave them alone. I think it was Carter's Jamaican friend who finally convinced her, "You don't want to do that!" I'm not a big fan of habaneros because I find them too fruity for most applications, but the one place that I like them is in fruit salsa.

And, where did the fake énye from? It's habanero, after Habana, not habañero. Oh, and quoting Ann later, "You put in just ONE?" "Yes, without the seeds." I told her. Don't mess around with them!

Mango Salsa with Habanero, Black Beans, and Pineapple
And lo! Fruit salsa. Mango, slightly on the green side as I like it best for salsa, black beans, pineapple scraps from the skewers, cilantro, red onion, red pepper from the garden, lime juice, and panela.


You might know panela by a different name or shape. From Mexico, it generally comes in small truncated cones and is called piloncillo, after the truncated cone shape into which the sugar cane syrup is molded. You also find it in blocks, bars, and big squares. In Mexico, the term panela most often refers to a cheese, formally called queso de panela (cheese molded in a basket), and abbreviated simply to panela. Panela is identical to the jaggery that you will find in Indian groceries; jaggery I see most often as hemispherical lumps or broader, relatively squatter cones than piloncillo. No matter what it is called; it is all the same stuff. If you had to substitute something for it, dark brown sugar would kind of work, but it would be better to use a splash of molasses with some other sweetener for panela has a great molasses undertone to it.

Monday, July 15, 2013


What to do when you are too exhausted from a hard week of work to cook? When it is too hot to heat up the kitchen? When you have summer's bounty at your disposal? And when your wife just heated up the kitchen anyway to bake a loaf of her amazing Parmesan-Olive rustic bread? [You can bitch about a lot of things in life, but not when your wife hooks you up with fantastic bread!]

You make bruschetta!

Look at This Bread! My Girl Sure Can Bake Bread!

I Know You Are *Insanely* Jealous
Fresh corn, black tomatoes, basil, garlic, and olive oil. We threw in some olives because we were both craving the salt. Awesome. Simply awesome. It gets no finer than this.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Trofie "al Pesto"

It's that time of year! Yes, it is hot. Yes, it is humid (or the word I thought of on the way to work this morning: stewmid). But equally and even more emphatically yes, there is basil! Genovese, lemon, purple, and Thai: all are growing by leaps and bounds and I am cutting them heavily this year to force them to grow young tender shoots all summer.

Given all this basil, Ann wanted me to make a pasta with all the ingredients of pesto just roughly chopped and so I did using the Genovese pasta called trofie, a medium length twisted pasta, the traditional pasta for pesto.

Glorious Ingredients
You know dinner is going to be good just by looking at the ingredients: baby yellow haricots filets and basils from the garden, pine nuts from the pantry, cherry tomatoes from the farmers market, and garlic from the refrigerator.

Pine Nuts, Slivered Garlic, and Red Pepper Flakes Stewing in Olive Oil
While the pasta was cooking, I slivered the garlic and set it over a very low flame in some olive oil with the pine nuts and some red pepper flakes. At the end, I added a half a cup of pasta water to this, swirled it together, and poured it over the hot pasta.

All the Flavors of Pesto
I sliced the tomatoes and added them to a big pasta bowl with a huge mound of chopped basil. In the last 30 seconds before the pasta was done, I put the haricots in with the pasta. After draining, the pasta and beans went into the bowl with the tomatoes and basil and over went the garlic-pine nut sauce. Yum!

Friday, July 5, 2013

An Al Fresco Fourth

As Fourths of July go, this one wasn't overbearingly hot. Though it got fairly miserable during the height of the day, morning and evening were pleasant enough and found us outside working in the yard and relaxing over dinner, respectively.

Our local plant nursery has its big sale the week of the Fourth and looking forward to this sale all year, we save our pennies and our ideas about what we'd like to do to the yard. Inevitably, we come home with flowers and shrubs that need to get planted. I have a rule: no more than about a dozen plants. Not only is that about our budget, but you try busting holes in pure shale with a pickaxe some time. See if you aren't ready to quit somewhere long before a dozen!

Knowing that I was going to spend a lot of time busting rock in the morning on a potentially very hot and humid day, I planned dinner really carefully, doing the majority of work on Wednesday and planning something that could be executed in 15 minutes.

I asked Ann earlier in the week what she wanted for dinner on the Fourth and she replied "lamb burgers!" I was able to get a pound of ground local lamb from Merrymoon Farm and season it with lots of garlic, fresh oregano, feta, fresh dill, hot pepper flakes, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, a splash each of heavy cream and water, and a touch of pimentón. Little if any salt is necessary because of the feta cheese. I just love the crunch that the pine nuts add to the burgers.

Lamb Burgers
The cream and olive oil are to add fat to the burger. The key to any good burger is fat. Burger is not a low-fat, low-calorie affair. I only eat one or two burgers a year and I rarely eat red meat, so I am not worried about fat content. I prefer to eat fewer, more awesome burgers to more, less good ones. The water is to add fluidity to the meat so that you can mix and shape it without mauling and compressing it. A compressed burger is a bad burger. I have been known to use red wine instead of water.

Fluidity of the meat is something you have to get a feel for. It's not rocket science but it does take a little practice to feel it. This burger was particularly stiff, so I added a fair amount of oil, cream, and water. Your mileage will vary.

I also wanted some simple summer garnishes for the burgers, so I scored squash, black cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers at the farmers market.

Grilled Squash, Tomato Salad, and Cucumber Salad
The squash I sliced and tossed in olive oil with salt and pepper, then grilled, just before grilling the burgers. The tomatoes, I ended up slicing and tossing with olive oil, salt, pepper, minced garlic, and fresh basil from the garden. The cucumber salad I made Wednesday, it needing a day to come together.

The basic idea for the cucumber salad was to slice a cucumber and a little bit of red onion very thinly, then sprinkle them with a little bit of salt and sugar and let that extract the water from the vegetables. After a couple of hours of draining at room temperature, I added fresh dill, Greek yoghurt, a tiny bit of rice vinegar, and re-seasoned with salt and sugar. It couldn't be a simpler salad and I don't know a better condiment for a lamb burger.

This is the Way a Burger Should be Cooked
Lamb burger, just like hamburger, should not be cooked all the way through, FDA and the Health Department be damned. The one you see above is perfect.

Noisy Goldfinches Amused Us
And during our time dining on the back patio, we had continual visits from our bird friends, two of which you see here. At one point, a robin strafed the table and the mockingbirds were making regular visits to the trumpet vine on the pergola, no doubt getting ready to raise brood number two. The first set of babies left the nest about three weeks ago, a nest that was built on the roof of the nesting platform that I put in one of the wisteria! Perfectly good nesting box and they use the roof!

Silent Hummingbird Loves the Monarda

Monday, July 1, 2013

Clams on the Grill

Clams on the brain. I have had clams on the brain for a couple of weeks now and I couldn't figure out why until I just noticed a bowl of steamed clams staring back at me from the cover of the latest edition of La Cucina Italiana. That magazine, which I haven't had have time to read, is sitting on top of a stack of other culinary magazines that likewise haven't been read and nor will they, more than likely ending up in the recycle bin, unappreciated, all for want of time. But those clams have been sending me subliminal signals for a couple weeks now I suppose, sitting there atop the pile on the chair next to my desk. And so to calm the visions of clams dancing around in my brain, I finally ordered a bag from the seafood company.

When the first squash of the year arrived on Friday, I knew I wanted to eat them and the clams too, so I devised a very simple dish cooked all on the grill outside to keep the kitchen cool. Simplicity is always good on my day off.

All Prepped and Waiting for the Grill to Warm
While prepping this very first squash of the year and the other things for the grill, I also quartered a pint of local cherry tomatoes and put them in a large bowl with some extra virgin olive oil and two huge handsful of herbs from the garden: basil, purple basil, fennel fronds, garlic chives, and rosemary.

Clams, Zucchini, Kuta and Yellow Squash, Fennel, Torpedo Onion, Garlic, Chorizo
Clams roast very well on the top shelf of the grill while the rest of dinner is cooking on the grates down below.

Ready for Assembly
As each item cooked, I removed it from the grill. Once all was cooked, I chopped the chorizo and vegetables, making sure to remove the cores from the fennel, and mixed the vegetables with the tomato-herb mixture and the clams.

Grilled Clams and Vegetables

More Garden and Flowers

Yeah, yeah, yeah. This is a food blog, so what's with the flowers? A lot of food that we eat comes from the garden and we eat out in the back yard whenever the weather permits and we're building a little haven in which we can do just that. Besides, they look great. Here's a snapshot from the last day of June.

Borage, Just Flowering for a Couple Days

Echinacea purpurea 'alba' not E. pallida

Peas! Late Because of March Rains

Rudbeckia spp.

Asclepias tuberosa and Variegated Sage

Anise Hyssop; Yarrow; Ox-Eye Daisies

Unusual Echinacea

Really Neat Coreopsis

This Buddleia Grew Randomly; We Didn't Plant It

Another Unusual Coreopsis

Linguini with Clam Sauce

It felt good to get back in the kitchen yesterday, if only for a few minutes to make a late afternoon lunch of linguini with white clam sauc...