Monday, March 28, 2016

Turkey and Shrimp Lettuce Wraps

Monday was one of those days that I just couldn't get inspired about food. It happens. Ann and I were on the phone trying to plan dinner before I hit the grocery store and I could tell she was getting frustrated by my lack of input and lack of enthusiasm for her ideas. I just wasn't feeling anything. She started surfing through something on her computer when she came across and suggested lettuce wraps. And that finally struck a chord with me.

Turkey and Shrimp Lettuce Wraps with Thai Basil

Mise: Thai Basil, Mystery Vegetable, Green Onions, Sugar Snaps, Shrimp, Ginger
I started off by quickly cooking minced ginger, garlic, and cilantro stems in a very hot pan. Next went in the ground turkey and Ann stirred it until it was almost cooked. I then added about a tablespoon each of sambal oelek, sugar, and black pepper. Once this was stirred in well, I added a fair amount of fish sauce, liberally sprinkling it over the meat. Finally, in went the green vegetables (sliced sugar snaps, mystery vegetable aka preserved mustard stems, chiffonade of Thai basil, and green onions) along with the shrimp. I let this cook for another two or three minutes just to reduce the sauce to thick and sticky.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Sunday: Grilling Pork and Baking Orzo

Every year I forget how loud Easter sunrise services are behind our house at the Baptist church. Again this year, seemingly just after I had fallen asleep, the crowd under the shelter behind the church was making plenty of racket and had the dogs riled, dogs that would normally stay quiet for another hour. But that racket was nothing compared to when the preacher started railing at 7am. I can't imagine sitting through someone screaming at me like that, but I guess that's the show that these folks want. In any case, I was up far before I wanted to be and decided to put the day to good use.

After some pretty nice spring weather last week, Sunday dawned late, a bit grey and chilly, gusty with lots of intermittent clouds, but no rain. Because I was up early, I was able to get a bit of pergola painting done, go for a long walk with Ann in the afternoon, and come dinner time, grill our pork chops outside. Easter dinner was an impromptu affair this year: I kicked in some leftover pork chops from the restaurant and Ann made a delicious orzo casserole. Unlike other years, we had no company for Easter.

Cool and Overcast Does not Stop the Grill
With Easter being so early this year, our spring flowers are not as advanced as most years. I took a wander about the yard to see what I could see. Aside from daffodils and anemones, nothing doing unlike in years past when lots of things have been in bloom.

Tulips Making Their Annual Appearance

Anise Hyssop Just Starting 

Robin's Nest from the Pergola I was Painting

Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting
While I was out painting, Ann thought she would surprise Carter with some banana cupcakes with peanut butter frosting. We went for a walk after the cupcakes came out of the oven and while they were cooling enough to frost. Naturally, Carter, being the teenager he is, took exception to the frosting and was kind of a douche about it. He even called us while we were walking to request/demand that Ann not frost the cupcakes. Typical grateful teenager. I tried a small bite of a cupcake; it was delicious, but I don't really eat sweets. Ann's an awesome mom to do these things for a teenager who thinks she's the stupidest person on the planet. The good news is that he will grow up one of these days. Probably about the time his kids are rolling their eyes at him!

The Orzo Queen

Orzo with Tomatoes, Olives, Artichoke Hearts, and Fresh Mozzarella
Ann made a big casserole of tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts, and fresh mozzarella to go with the pork chops. It was delicious as is everything that she makes. I know she hates the photo above of her making the orzo but I love her smile! Thanks for the orzo girlfriend! It was great and so are you!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Margaritas and Nachos

Sunday, a date with junk food. It's been a year since Nachos and Margaritas. If you're going to be bad, be bad. We were bad!

Ann made the nachos while I juiced the limes and made the margaritas.

Ready for the Oven
The chips got a generous helping of black beans (refried in lard), nopalitos, pickled jalapeños, and cheese. And once out of the oven got a handful each of green onions and cilantro.

Ready to Eat

Squeezing Limes for Margaritas
Almost an emergency: no Cuervo to be found! Fortunately there was a bottle of no-name tequila plata in the far corner of the liquor cabinet. When I asked Ann what kind of tequila it is (it apparently predates my tenure at the house), she said, "It's hangover tequila!" Oh boy! We were bad.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Moqueca Baiana

Moqueca Baiana
We've been plagued with cancellations at the restaurant and last night was no exception. Moreover, it was St. Patrick's Day, a historically robust night for bars and an extremely slow one for restaurants, I decided to take the night off. Ann wanted something nice for dinner last night and I struggled with that. I hadn't planned to make dinner and retty much everything we have on the menu, I don't want to eat because I've seen too much of it. Moreover, I was really tired and didn't want to put a lot of effort into dinner. Finally, it dawned on me that I could put together a shellfish moqueca in no time at all.

At work, I diced some red, yellow, and orange peppers along with a bit of onion, sliced some green onions and fresh tomatoes, minced a bit of garlic, and chopped a bit of cilantro, about three cups in total for three portions.

This dish couldn't be any simpler to make. I heated a soup pan on high flame and sautéed the vegetable sofrito in palm oil, then added a can of coconut milk, juice of a key lime, and a bit of water. Next, in went the clams, followed a minute later by the mussels, and then all at once the scallops, shrimp, and cubes of rockfish. I stirred this and let everything cook another two minutes, then turned it off for two minutes for everything to carry over to doneness. And done.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Rockfish and Asparagus

Last weekend, a bunch of trophy-sized (15 pounds and up) rockfish from the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay were landed and I got a couple of them, one 18 pounds and the other 16 pounds. While all rockfish (what the rest of the world calls Striped Bass) is delicious, I love this size fish because I can take thick, meaty pieces out of it. Pieces this thick take longer to cook, but they look better on the plate and I like the texture better.

After breaking down these beautiful fish, I brought home three pieces, one for each of us, and decided to roast it with asparagus for dinner last evening, a quick dinner that could be put on the table in less than 15 minutes.

Roasted Rockfish and Asparagus
I preheated the oven to very hot with the convection fan on and then while a large pan was heating on high flame, I prepped the asparagus, tossed them in olive oil, salt, and pepper and put them on a sheet tray. Once my pan was very hot, I filmed it with oil, seasoned my fish and put it show-side down in the pan.

The tricks to crispy fish are simple: heavy pan, high flame, and leave it the f*ck alone. Once the fish goes in the pan, resist the urge to mess with it. Leave it be until you can see that beautiful crust forming before you flip it.

Rockfish Arrosé
I decided to go classic French in cooking this fish, basting it in butter while it was searing in the pan. Arroser is a very handy French verb meaning variously to water, to get wet, to toast/drink someone's health, to sprinkle, to drizzle, and if you are a chef, to baste. More particularly, it means to baste with the oil or butter in the pan while sautéing.

While the fish was browning on the show-side, I added several sprigs of fresh thyme and four whole cloves of garlic to the pan to start infusing in the oil. Once the fish had browned and I had flipped it, I added a bit more oil and a couple of tablespoons of butter to the pan and proceeded to baste the fish liberally while the bottom side browned.

After this, the fish went onto the sheet tray with the asparagus and I poured the butter, thyme, and garlic cloves over the top. Into the oven with the sheet tray for six minutes at which point the asparagus was perfect and the fish cooked through. I let everything rest for three minutes before serving.

First Local Mesclun of the Year
While I was cooking the fish, Ann made the salad from the first local greens of the year. This was a wonderful, simple dinner, ready for the table in under 15 minutes.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Fish Caramel Wings

I have this thing for fish sauce caramel, ever since I first tasted it 30-35 years ago. It's glorious on catfish, pork, and even chicken wings. We are currently serving it on scallops at the restaurant. Even Carter, who is fairly teenager picky about things, has really enjoyed the pork tenderloin that I have done in fish caramel.

When Ann told me on Sunday that we had some chicken wings in the freezer that she wanted for dinner, my mind immediately went to fish caramel wings, a dish that I first had at a Cambodian restaurant maybe 30 years ago. We have also fish caramel wings more recently, at Pok Pok in Portland, where I was impressed by the size of the wings, but not the caramel.

Fish Caramel Wings
I marinated the chicken for a couple of hours in a little oil, sriracha, fish sauce, garlic, salt, and black pepper. Then I tossed them in a bit more oil with a bit more salt and a lot more black pepper and put them on a sheet tray in a very hot convection oven with the fan on and turned them three times over the course of a half an hour until they were very crisp.

Meanwhile I made a caramel by slicing a couple of shallots and cooking them in a bit of oil, then adding sugar and caramelizing it. At this point, I added a lot of fish sauce and a lot more black pepper and let the sauce cook for a couple of minutes, thinning with water as necessary.

Out of the oven, the wings went into a big bowl and I tossed them in the sauce. A delicious sticky mess by all accounts!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Simple is Often Best

Sunday, with the weather improving and the days getting longer to the point where we are just about to spring forward in our annual screw-with-the-clock nonsense, just did not turn out to be an energetic day. Ann was off her game, feeling rather poorly. I knew this because we had planned to go to Delaplane Cellars and drink a bottle of wine in the afternoon and she didn't mention it at all. Wising up in my old age, I didn't bring it up either. I felt bad for her, sacked out like a lump on the couch with no energy for anything. And to be honest, I just came off of Restaurant Week at the restaurant with the whole restaurant booked for a private party on Monday night, and I was almost perfectly content to sit and do nothing with her.

Chicken Soup with Shells
Sunday mornings are our coffee drinking mornings, the only mornings when we are together all week (and I so look forward to retirement and drinking coffee with Ann every day, though it might lose some of its current specialness). I was in the kitchen for a second cup in the late morning when Ann called from the adjacent sun room, "There's a bit of a roast chicken in the fridge; could you make soup?" It seemed like the perfect metaphor for a lazy day when neither of us was feeling all that energetic. What's more comforting on a down day than a bowl of good soup?

Fresh Herbs, the Secret to a Good Pot of Soup
Before coming to sit back down with my cup of coffee, I pulled the chicken remains out of the fridge and put them in a pot of water with a half a dozen whole garlic cloves and walked out the back door to assemble a bouquet garni of thyme, sage, and rosemary from the garden. I would have included parsley too for the canonical herb foursome, but there aren't any soft herbs in the garden this time of year, though the chives are just peeking out of the ground. I let the soup stock simmer the barest amount on the lowest flame for about 30 minutes, then removed the chicken carcass to cool for picking and pitched both the garlic and bouquet.

Mirepoix, a Beautiful Sight
After my second cup of coffee, I spent five minutes prepping veg for the soup: onions, carrots, celery, and red skin potatoes. I wouldn't typically put both potatoes and pasta in my soup, but I had prepped the potatoes long before Ann mentioned that she had some mini-shells in the pantry, wife-speak for "Put pasta in the soup." I find that cutting vegetables is one of those mindless tasks that I can do for a very long time. Others find it tedious and loathsome; I find it relaxing and calming. Ann doesn't like it; I do; we make a good team.

Soup stock made and strained, chicken cooled and picked, mirepoix diced and staged, there really wasn't much to do to bring dinner to the table. Later Sunday evening, I brought the stock and mirepoix to a light boil for 20 minutes, seasoned it, then brought it to a rolling boil and cooked the pasta for five minutes. Off the heat, I added the cold chicken to warm it through, to cool the soup from a mad boil, and to ensure that the pre-cooked chicken would not fall apart. And there you have it: tasty and super simple.

Ann said it best just after we ate, "sometimes simple is often best."

Our 52-Hike Challenge 2017

On January 1, 2017 as Ann and I were headed to Harper's Ferry WV for our first hike of 2017, Ann told me of something she read about on ...