Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Fish Tale

It's that magical time of year when the King Salmon are running and the prices are starting drop from the early season highs. While never inexpensive, salmon is at its most affordable price of the year and so I bought a whole one.
Just over 10 Pounds of Salmon
I like working with whole fish. Although I'm not quite as proficient at it as the guys at the seafood distributor who do it every day, I think I turn out a better quality product because I am not in as much of a hurry as are they. At the restaurant where I have the room, the knives, and the refrigeration to handle whole fish, I took the filets off this salmon, the belly flaps off the filets, and the head off the backbone.

Chef Snacks
The best moment of breaking down any salmon for me is the moment when I brush the backbone with oil, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and put it on the grill just to color. Then I whack the backbone into chunks and we pass them around the kitchen with a bowl of white soy sauce and green onions, while the head and collar is in the oven roasting for a later snack. And often, I make chips out of the skin. The goal is to waste nothing of this delicious fish.

Barely Seared Salmon Belly with Pesto
While I am breaking down the salmon, I skin out both sides of the belly flaps, leaving a few delicious morsels for sushi, sashimi, tartare, or crudo. This time, I cut the flaps into small pieces and barely seared them, then served them out on the patio with a touch of pesto as an appetizer. Ann contented herself with these small bites and a glass of Côtes de Gascogne Blanc while I finished up the main course.

King Salmon on Pesto Squash Noodles, Tomatoes, and Olives
I turned a couple of summer squash (yellow and green Zephyr squash) into noodles on my vegetable turner and then blanched them for maybe 90 seconds. Into a bowl they went for a toss with a little pesto, fresh tomato, and pitted green olives. Meanwhile, I seared the salmon hard on one side and finished it in a hot oven for another 2 minutes, so that it was still pink in the middle, just the way I like it.

Another Delicious Sandwich

Ann told me on Saturday that we were having roasted red pepper and eggplant sandwiches on Sunday and asked if I could please bring home some local goat cheese for the sandwich.

Tomato, Eggplant, Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Sandwich

Sandwich in the Making
Ann bought a whole wheat loaf that I split and toasted. Then I slabbed a couple small eggplants and put them in the oven to roast under the broiler, meanwhile spreading the toasted loaf with local goat cheese and laying on fresh basil leaves. The next layer was the still warm eggplant and that was topped with roasted red peppers. And here is where we differ. Ann wanted provolone on the sandwich, but I don't deal well with some cow's milk cheese. Provolone isn't generally a problem, but I opted for fresh tomato on my half anyway. This delicious sandwich was both lunch and dinner: we snacked on it over several hours on Sunday.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Carter's Birthday

Sunday, Carter's Birthday, is one that we will probably never forget. His 15th birthday was a day that he chose to show his true teenage colors in front of friends and family. By way of extreme contrast, it was a beautiful day outside, our gardens are in full summer bloom, and we had great food and a good visit with Ann's parent's Mary and Bob.


A Rare Smile
Despite his being the rear end of a horse for 99% of Sunday, I actually caught Carter with a smile on his face.




Baba Ganoush
For an appetizer, Ann asked me to make baba ganoush from three small eggplants that we had in the cooler, so I did. I haven't made baba ganoush in so long that I had almost forgotten how simple and delicious it is!

Ann Assembling BLTs
When Ann asked Carter what he wanted to eat for his birthday, I don't think either of us were expecting the answer to be BLTs. Steak, perhaps, or pizza, more likely, but a BLT? Never! How good is a great BLT like the one below?

Glorious Eats!

Carter Asked for This Cake
And now, so that we can finish on a happy note, here are some photos from my stroll around the gardens on Sunday morning.

Echinacea

Volunteer Sunflowers

Volunteer Butterfly Bush

It's Finally Hibiscus Season

Bumblebees and Hummingbirds Love Anise Hyssop

Dinner Plate Sized (see how tiny the bumblebee looks?)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Polenta with Grilled Vegetables

Well, we certainly can't complain that we don't have summer weather now. The heat and the cloying humidity are just right for July here in Virginia. But the positive aspect of summer is that our summer flowers and avian friends are here as well. We got outside a little in the morning before retreating from the heat of the day. And we got to see that our sunflowers (not planted by us, of course) are starting to bloom as are the grass pinks, the hibiscus, the anise hyssop, and the bee balm, these last two favorites of the hummingbird that we watched working around the patio. We picked our first cucumber and the fig bush is loaded with tiny baby figs. At the market, squash, peppers, and eggplants have finally arrived and so I brought some of each home for dinner.

Polenta with Grilled Vegetables and Chorizo
After much discussion, we decided to do grilled vegetables with a little chorizo over polenta. Ann minded the polenta while I watched the World Cup final and then I grilled the vegetables and cooked up a little chorizo with a bunch of garlic. I chopped the veg and mixed them with the chorizo and a lot of fresh basil from the garden and over the polenta it went. Delicious summer eats!

Ready for Grilling

Ann's Favorite

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pad Woon Sen: Thai Mash Up

Pad Woon Sen

Ann left dinner up to me yesterday. I knew immediately that we needed to do a krapow dish because the Thai basil in the garden is coming in fast and furious now. So I texted her: shrimp and Thai basil or squid and Thai basil. Squid was her choice (and I knew it would be, but I wanted to ask). That girl loves squid; so do I. And that settled it: Squid Krapow for dinner.

Because I am trying to watch my carbs, I decided to forgo the rice with the squid. To complement the spicy squid, I wanted to do Som Tum, green papaya slaw. And so at the market, I grabbed everything I would need that I don't have at home: squid, green papaya, bird chiles, and green beans. I bought green beans because they are fresh and seasonal. I could have bought the traditional long beans, but they looked like hell. Always choose quality over authenticity.

In the afternoon, I prepped both dishes but assembled neither and then went to watch a movie with Ann. After the movie, she insisted that she wanted Pad Thai. I don't keep rice noodles at home because I can buy them fresh at the market when I need them. And I wasn't in the mood for Pad Thai, having just prepped Som Tum and Squid Krapow. But I find it very hard to not please her, so I found a couple bundles of woon sen, cellophane noodles, in the pantry.

From there, I made Pad Woon Sen with the traditional Krapow sauce of oyster sauce, soy sauce, and lots of fish sauce and tossed in all the ingredients for Som Tum: grated papaya, peanuts, green beans, tomatoes, lime juice, and brown sugar. I made this dish grudgingly and probably with a few grumbles, but do you know what? It turned out to be a fantastic dish!

What to Drink with Thai Food? Yep, a Big Bordeaux Blend
I think my restaurant customers might freak out if they saw what I drank with my spicy Thai food, a big Bordeaux blend from nearby Delaplane Cellars. People put way too much emphasis on what goes with what. I always tell people to drink what they like and don't worry about it. At least I practice what I preach.


Monday, July 7, 2014

Vegetarian Sunday

Let's just start with the disclaimer that we are not vegetarians. Anything but, actually. We love our charcuterie, for example: we are those people that keep a drawer full of salame and cheese in our refrigerator. Though Ann is by nature quite a bigger carnivore than am I. I'm always having to fend off her requests for a big hunk of meat on the grill, which interests me not at all. But now it is summertime and the weather is hot and we naturally gravitate towards eating lighter food. Plus we have all these glorious vegetables at our disposal now. So it shouldn't be terribly surprising that we eat a fair amount of vegetarian meals in the summer. And yesterday was one of those days. We didn't plan it that way purposefully. It just evolved that way from what we really wanted to eat.

Lunch al Fresco
This last week at the restaurant kept me really busy, especially executing a wonderful 50th anniversary menu on Saturday. It meant extra long hours for me and 100% of my focus, leaving no time for Ann or thinking about the weekend. She hates these weeks when she really feels the true chef widow. So Sunday morning dawned without any plan. After I spent a couple hours in the back yard working, Ann finally joined me and we got to thinking about what to eat. Lunch was easy: she wanted a reprise of last weekend's Mediterranean mezes plate that I did when Karen dropped by.

A few chickpeas in the food processor, slicing a few roasted red peppers, and a little baguette in the oven and instant lunch.

Roasted Red Pepper Salad
Some days ago, Ann had brought up the idea of a grilled vegetable sandwich but we never got around to it for some reason or other. I brought it back up Sunday and it stuck. So when I made the roasted red pepper salad for lunch, I made extra for our dinner panini. Slice roasted red peppers, chiffonade fresh basil, mince garlic, add salt, pepper, Sherry vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil. Toss. Done.

Grilled Vegetable Panino
This is one of the very best sandwiches that I have ever had. I split a loaf of focaccia, brushed the cut faces with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled it with salt and pepper, and grilled to a crispy golden brown. Then, while the zucchini, yellow squash, and red onions were grilling, I spread the grilled faces of the bread with pesto. From there, it was a simple matter to layer the sandwich: zucchini, red onion, yellow squash, roasted red pepper salad, and provolone cheese. I left the top off and put it under the broiler to melt the cheese and then put the top back on and cut it into small panini.

Ever the expert on all matters, teenager Carter argued with us (but still ate the sandwich) that these are not panini because they have not been pressed. We had to school him a bit in the Italian language. At almost 15 years of age, he still knows that parents are dumber than dirt!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Thai Vegetable Chow Mein

The usual Monday morning conversation centered around what to make for dinner. No surprise there for a couple of hardcore foodies. We had hung up with a baseline consensus around pho or other rice noodle soup. A few minutes later I get a text from Ann: "Can you do those noodles in a pancake?"

Of course, I thought, but didn't really get to thinking about what to do other than a basic chow mein until much later in the afternoon when I remembered that when I had been weeding in the garden very early in the morning and that I had noticed that we have lots and lots of Thai basil that needed to be used.

From there, it wasn't a big stretch to combine Thai flavors with Chinese technique.

Thai Chow Mein
I decided as long as was mixing metaphors that it wouldn't hurt too bad if the vegetables were a mish-mash too. After work as I was heading home, from the market I collected sugar snaps (ours got pulled out of the garden this past weekend, sadly), an orange pepper, grape tomatoes, a pineapple, a knob of galangal, cilantro, bamboo shoots, and a pound of fresh noodles. From the pantry, I got fish sauce, ground white pepper, and dry roasted peanuts. And from the garden, I got lots of fresh Thai basil and garlic (Chinese) chives.

Flavoring Paste Basics
I made a seasoning paste to flavor the dish with from cilantro stems, galangal (aka kha or Thai ginger), shallots, white pepper, and fish sauce. Fresh galangal is very assertive, much more so than ginger, so I only used a few slices, finely minced, in my seasoning paste.

I fried the noodle cake and removed it to a platter, then I fried the seasoning paste and added the vegetables. After everything was warmed through, I added a few more splashes of fish sauce and tossed in the basil and chives.

A bit of prep work, but easy to execute and delicious!

Keeping it Local

It hit me when I woke up two Sunday mornings ago in Auburn AL. Or rather it felt like several people and a baseball bat hit me. I wasn't...