Monday, August 31, 2009

Italian Ring Bread with Hatch Chiles and Roasted Garlic

Every year at this time, we enjoy the arrival of hatch chiles from New Mexico. They appear in our grocery stores, and we look forward to using as many of them as we can before they’re gone for another year. Our nearby Central Market sets up big, rotating roasters, and the smell of chiles fills the parking lot. You can buy the chiles fresh or roasted and bagged, and they’re available in hot and mild. They’re also used in all kinds of products throughout the store such as hatch chile hamburger buns, hatch chile cheese, hatch chile sausages, etc. So, in honor of these chiles, and just because it had been too long, an Austin food blogger potluck was held on Sunday, and the dishes were to be hatch chile-themed. Now, the last time I attended a food blogger potluck, I decided I should only use tried and true recipes. This time I went another way, got a little experimental, and worried even more about what I made. My sourdough starter hadn’t been used for weeks, and I had never before shared any of my sourdough bread with anyone other than Kurt. So I chose to experiment with a hatch chile and garlic bread and let other people sample it for a change. I took inspiration from a roasted garlic bread by Dan Lepard and once again worked from the Breads from the La Brea Bakery book.

I followed the recipe for the Italian ring bread, but instead of folding chopped marjoram into the dough, I used chopped, roasted hot and mild hatch chiles and whole cloves of roasted garlic. This dough made use of both sourdough starter and fresh yeast, so I hoped it would have enough strength to rise with the vegetables I added. The recipe is written as a two-day bread, but there is a 12 hour waiting time on the second day. I timed it out to make it a three-day bread instead. Day one only required making a sponge from starter, bread flour, and water. On day two, the dough was made from the sponge, fresh yeast, bread flour, salt, olive oil, chiles, and roasted garlic. It started as what I thought was a slightly too dry dough, but after adding the vegetables, it seemed slightly too wet and sticky. I kneaded in a little more flour and crossed my fingers.

It went through the usual rituals of resting, kneading, fermenting, being divided, resting again, and then being formed into boules which were refrigerated overnight. On day three, the dough was brought up to room temperature and then turned out onto a board. A peel was floured so a boule could be loaded on it, and then a hole was cut in the center of the boule with a biscuit cutter. The hole was to be stretched to three times its original size, and the piece of dough removed was baked as a roll. Luckily, I baked one loaf at a time because the first one suffered from the hole not being made large enough. It closed in on itself like a giant bialy, but I got it right the second time. Of course, the oven was spritzed a couple of times during the first five minutes of baking, and that produced a crispy, crackly outer crust.

The interior was chewy and similar in texture to ciabatta although less open in structure. With the chiles and garlic, each piece of bread was almost a meal in itself, and I liked that about it. I think this bread with some cheese on the side would be great for a picnic. One loaf was taken to the potluck, and the other will be re-warmed and served with salad for dinner tonight. I survived presenting my homemade bread to a group of food bloggers, and they were even kind enough to say they liked it.

I’m submitting this to Yeastspotting where you’ll find some seriously well-made bread.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Pesto di Limone and Pesto ai due Pomodori

A pesto recipe is like a scone recipe for me in that every time I see one, I have to try it. In defense of my sanity though, pesto is a very versatile sauce. It goes well with pasta, smeared on a sandwich, drizzled over vegetables, and could even be a dip. Not only are there many uses, there are also many ways it can be made. In the July/August issue of La Cucina Italiana, there was article about pestos with several recipes which I could not resist. A lemony pesto made with olives was used as a dressing for sea bass crudo on a bed of baby lettuces. I stole the pesto part of that dish and used it instead on a layered salad of raw zucchini and yellow squash slices with fresh mozzarella. Then, I also tried the pesto with two tomatoes which was used as a sauce for spaghetti. That recipe isn’t available online, so I’ll include it below.

To make the pesto di limone, two wide strips of lemon zest were pureed with the juice of a lemon and some olive oil. Then, I was supposed to have used Taggiasche or Gaeta olives, and had I found some green Taggiasche olives the pesto would have been nice and green. Since I used black Gaeta olives, mine was a darker color. The pitted Gaeta olives and two big cups of basil leaves were added to the blender and pureed with the first three ingredients. This resulted in an intentionally thin pesto with a fresh, lemony flavor. The pesto with two tomatoes was just as simple to prepare. First, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, and rinsed and drained salt-packed capers were pureed in the blender. Then, cherry tomatoes, and I found the prettiest dark red, almost purple cherry tomatoes, were added, and it was pureed together until smooth. That pesto was transferred to a large bowl, and grated parmigiano reggiano and chopped chives were added.

The tomato pesto required one half cup of olive oil, and I know I’ve used a lot more oil than that in similar quantities of pesto. Yet, the smooth texture gave it a richness that made it seem more decadent than it was. Of course, the flavor was nicely layered with fresh, juicy tomatoes and the depth of sun-dried tomatoes, and the chives lent just enough bite from the allium family. Both pestos are keepers, and I’m sure I’ll think of different ways to use them each time they’re made.

Pesto ai due Pomodori
from La Cucina Italiana July/August 2009
1 c drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
½ c extra-virgin olive oil
1 t salt-packed capers, rinsed, soaked in cold water for 10 minutes, then rinsed again and drained
2 c cherry tomatoes
3 T freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
1 T chopped fresh chives

-using a blender, puree sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, and capers; add cherry tomatoes and puree until smooth
-add one to two tablespoons water to help blend if needed
-transfer mixture to a bowl and add grated parmiginao reggiano and chives and stir to combine

*Note: This quantity of pesto was used to sauce one pound of spaghetti.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Meringue Topped Banana Pudding

About a year ago, I baked the brown sugar pound cake from Sweets: Soul Food Desserts and Memories, and I mentioned that there were several other things I wanted to try from that book. One of those other things was the meringue topped banana pudding, and just a short eleven months and twenty-something days later, I did finally try it. I’ve made banana pudding several times before and it’s a favorite of mine and Kurt’s, but this one was different because of the meringue on top. I usually serve it with a topping of whipped cream, and that’s how we see it served at restaurants too. I’d never tasted banana pudding with meringue on top. The pudding itself, as usual, is just a basic, vanilla pudding. Every time I make a pudding or pastry cream, I wonder why I don’t do so more often. I taste it warm from the saucepan just after the vanilla has been added, and every time, I marvel at how good that is. The lovely pudding is layered with sliced bananas and vanilla wafers, and I did not bake homemade vanilla wafers for this. I followed the recipe which suggested using a twelve ounce box. However, I did seek out an organic brand.

The pudding was prepared with four egg yolks, and the four whites from those eggs were used for the meringue. Pudding was poured over a layer of vanilla wafers and sliced bananas in a one and a half quart casserole dish, and then the layers were repeated two more times. This filled the dish to the very top edge, and I should have been smart enough to realize it was a bit too full. The fluffy meringue was spread on top with lots of swirls and curls, and it went into a 350 F oven for about twelve minutes. Luckily, I had placed the casserole dish on a baking sheet, because the pudding bubbled up and spilled over a bit here and there. Next time, I’ll eat a little more pudding right after it’s cooked so as to keep it just below the top edge of the dish. I let it cool on a rack for an hour and then refrigerated it overnight.

I have to say, I didn’t miss the whipped cream. I like it that way too, but the meringue was different and light and just as nice. With meringue, you have the browned, near-crust on top and then the airy, pillowy texture underneath. In the book, there’s a warning that while you can refrigerate leftovers it doesn’t hold up well. I can tell you that’s true. After scooping out two servings for dessert, I placed the dish back in the refrigerator. The next day, it was a little runny and not so attractive. The side opposite of the runny stuff was still delicious, but serving this sooner rather than later is ideal. One thought for next time is to create individual servings which could remain refrigerated for a couple of days with no scooped-out areas for runniness.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sikil Pak

Trying a lot of new and different recipes can have its ups and downs. There are ones that are easy and lovely and cause no stress and turn out delicious. Others are a little more complicated and leave you wondering about the results until the very end. And, once in a while, there’s a recipe that ends up being a complete waste of time and ingredients. It doesn’t happen often, but I just experienced one of the latter recently, and it’s depressing. I had to move on, find something really good to try, and forget about it. The sikil pak from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson was a great recipe for dip and for forgetting about bad food. This is a Mayan dish that’s perfect for dipping tortilla chips. Ground pepitas form the base of the dip and an habanero gives it spice. I have no idea how I’d never encountered this before, but now that I know how to make it, I’ll be doing so frequently.

An habanero and some unpeeled garlic cloves were charred in a pan and then allowed to cool. Tomatoes received the same treatment. The pepitas were ground in a food processor and removed to a bowl. Then, the seeded and chopped habanero, the peeled garlic, and the cored tomatoes were roughly chopped in the food processor. The ground pumpkin seeds were returned to the food processor, and the goal was to puree this mixture to a mayonnaise-like consistency. Some vegetable stock was called for in the recipe, but there was enough juice in the tomatoes I used to achieve the desired texture without adding any other liquid. Finely chopped white onion, cilantro leaves, and a couple pinches of cinnamon were stirred into the dip to finish it.

It was noticeably fiery but not in a painful way. The pepitas smoothed out the heat, and the tomatoes freshened it up. Charring the vegetables added deeper flavor and earthiness, and the onion and cilantro added texture and spunk. The dip gets even better as it sits in the refrigerator overnight, and I’m certain about that because I nearly devoured the entire remaining quantity for lunch today. This was such a happy discovery; I think everyone should try making it. Or, just stop by my house because from now on I’ll be making some every few days.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Flatbreads with Winter Squash, Cremini, and Camembert

We’ve arrived at the end of our CSA’s summer season, and the fall season won’t begin until October. Our last pick-up included both summer and winter squash along with sweet potatoes, okra, edamame on the stem, cucumbers, chiles, green bell peppers, basil, and black-eyed peas. The winter squash threw me for a bit of a loop. I wasn’t ready to see that kind of vegetable. I had to think for a while about how I should use it because it’s too soon for a serious, heavy kind of squash dish. I had also just received some camembert from Ile de France, and I decided to put the two together. The winter squash was smallish and round and mostly orange with some green, and I have no idea what variety of squash it was. I cut it in half, removed the seeds, roasted it, then peeled away the skin, and chopped it into chunks. I got inspired by some long, oval flatbreads I saw in one book or another and thought the squash and cheese with some cremini mushrooms sauteed in olive oil with rosemary would make good toppings.

I used my quick, standard pizza dough recipe which starts with one packet of dry yeast mixed with one cup of warm water in a large mixing bowl. To that, three-quarters cup of whole wheat flour and a quarter cup of unbleached, AP flour are added. Once stirred together with a wooden spoon, two tablespoons of olive oil, half a teaspoon of salt, and a few turns-worth of cracked black pepper are added. Then, two more cups or so of AP flour are stirred in until the dough forms a ball. The ball of dough is turned out onto a floured board and kneaded with more flour as needed for about five minutes. It is then placed in a large, oiled bowl, covered with a towel, and left to rise for at least an hour. Once risen, it’s removed from the bowl, kneaded a few times, and left to rest on the board for 20 minutes while the oven pre-heats to 500 F with a baking stone on the bottom rack. The dough was rolled into thin, slipper shapes and topped with the sauteed mushrooms, rosemary, and the remaining oil in the saute pan. The squash chunks were scattered about, and the cheese was applied on top. The flat breads were slid onto the baking stone, one at a time, to bake for seven minutes each.

It was a simple combination of flavors that balanced the squash’s sweetness with the earthy mushrooms and herbal rosemary. The camembert was rich and smooth and couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong. These flatbreads tasted a little like fall but not too much. They were crunchy and fun enough to not be too serious about the winter squash, and camembert was the perfect choice for cheese.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dulce de Leche Brownies

I just finished reading The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz. While expounding on the inconveniences and curiosities associated with Parisian living, he also describes the wonders that are the chocolates, cheeses, and breads to be found in that city. I have to question his assertion that there's not a decent cup of espresso served anywhere in Paris, but I’m sure he’s checked every viable option. I reached the end of the book too soon, wanted to read more stories about the real Paris, but also couldn’t wait to get cooking. I started with the last recipe in the book which is dulce de leche brownies. Lebovitz used these brownies as bargaining chips and gained friends quickly with these in tow. They’re easy to make, and with dulce de leche involved, I couldn’t resist.

Bittersweet or semisweet chocolate is recommended, and I used a bittersweet Callebaut. That was melted with butter in a saucepan over low heat. Cocoa powder was whisked into that mixture, and then three eggs were incorporated one at a time. Sugar, vanilla, and flour were added, and I included the optional toasted, chopped pecans as well. Half the batter was placed in the baking pan, and then one third of the suggested quantity of dulce de leche was plopped on top. It was swirled into the batter, topped with more batter, and more dulce de leche was spooned on top and swirled. I can’t be sure that I used the correct amount of dulce de leche. It’s entirely possible that I used a little extra and then set about greedily swiping what remained in the jar into my mouth. You’re instructed to only slightly swirl the dulce de leche into the batter to avoid it baking into a bubbly mess. I don’t know if I achieved perfection in swirlation, but the resulting brownies did not seem bubbly or messy.

Despite the fact that these brownies included dulce de leche and pecans which are two of my favorite things, I really baked them for Kurt. He liked them when they were first cut, but true to form, he was even happier with them after they had been chilled in the refrigerator. I usually disagree with this cold cookie and dessert bar preference of his, but I have to admit these brownies were great either way. Even chilled, the dulce de leche was luscious as ever, the chocolate was rich-tasting, and I’m not even a brownie fan.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cucumber Salad with Roasted Peanut Dressing

With the grilled fish and shrimp with coconut and lime sauce, I wanted to serve a light, crunchy salad on the side. I grabbed a book I hadn’t used for a long time and found just the thing. The Vegetarian Table Thailand was published back in 1997, and it’s full of light and lovely dishes that pack a lot of flavor. I’ve made the salad rolls with a spicy dipping sauce with hoisin and sambal ulek and the Chinese cabbage with peanut sauce. Now that I’ve looked at the book again, I’m reminded that I need to try the vegetarian jungle curry and the eggs in sweet and spicy sauce. From the salads chapter, I could have chosen green papaya salad or roasted eggplant salad, but I went with the cucumber salad with roasted peanut dressing. It was a colorful combination of red bell pepper, green beans, and of course cucumbers.

Cucumber and red bell pepper were cut into matchsticks. Then, green beans and bean sprouts were blanched and added to the raw vegetables along with cilantro leaves, shredded basil leaves, chopped green onions, and chopped roasted peanuts. A quick dressing was made from lime juice, brown sugar, minced garlic, finely chopped red chiles, and more chopped roasted peanuts. As I mixed the dressing, I wondered if there should have been a little light vegetable oil included. With just lime juice as a liquid, I thought it might be too tart. However, the chopped peanuts rounded out the flavor perfectly without any added oil, and the bit of brown sugar took the edge off the lime juice’s acidity.

I prepared the salad and let it sit in the refrigerator as the rest of the meal was put together, and it emerged cool and crisp with well-distributed flavor. I wished I had some Thai basil to use in this, but the genovese variety worked perfectly fine. The salad was delightfully crunchy with a good variety of tastes and textures. The spice level was mild, but the chile added another dimension. It was a nice surprise to find out how satisfying this salad was given its lightness. With bright, fresh flavors, good crunch, and the nuttiness, it didn’t require anything else to make it great.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Redfish and Shrimp with Coconut and Lime Sauce

I think we skipped spring cleaning this year which may be why we’re now doing summer cleaning. And, really, re-organizing may be a better word for what is being done. Either way, it’s always interesting to find things that have been stored away for several years that make you wonder why on earth you bothered keeping them. It’s fun to get those things straight into the trash and start filling up the space with something else. What’s even more fun is finding something you forgot you had and then putting it to use. This recipe falls into that last category. It was included in a booklet that was mailed by our grocery store, Central Market, and that was a booklet mailed several years ago. I cut out the page, filed it away, and then finally re-discovered it over the weekend. The original recipe included a pan sauteed fish, but I used grilled fish and shrimp instead. I wanted to use a light, flaky, white-fleshed fish and chose Texas redfish, and the shrimp were from the Gulf.

While the fish and shrimp were on the grill, the sauce was prepared in a saute pan on the stove. I was able to use some of my own lemongrass which I’ve been watering constantly this summer, and the peeled white ends were combined with coconut milk, lime juice, lime zest , sliced ginger, sliced serrano chiles, and salt. That was brought to a boil and stirred while boiling for five minutes. I left the lemongrass and sliced ginger in the pan as the sauce was spooned over the fish and shrimp. Then, I added some sliced, fresh serrano and chopped cilantro as garnish.

I pushed the chile heat in the sauce to the high end of the scale, but that can easily be controlled by removing the seeds and membranes from the chiles before chopping them and by reducing the amount of chiles. When I tasted the sauce, I thought it would also be great for steaming mussels or clams, and I can’t wait to try that. It’s a very low-effort sauce that delivers big flavor for a light, summery dish. I kept the meal simple by serving this with a fresh and crunchy Thai salad. This was proof that being a pack rat isn’t all bad, but why do we always think we’ll someday need those random scraps of wood and all those extra tiles?

Coconut and Lime Sauce

2 stalks lemongrass
1 c coconut milk
3 T freshly squeezed lime juice
½ t grated lime zest
8 thin slices peeled ginger
2 serrano chiles, thinly sliced (or to taste, or remove seeds and membranes and chop)
1 t salt
additional sliced serrano and chopped cilantro leaves for garnish if desired

-peel the lemongrass and trim to the white part; bruise the white parts of the stalks with the back of a knife; in a saute pan, combine the lemongrass, coconut milk, lime juice, lime zest, ginger, chile, and salt; bring to a boil, stirring frequently; boil for five minutes to reduce sauce slightly;

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Irish Wholemeal Scones

It had actually been three and a half months since I last made scones, and that’s kind of a long time. Every scone recipe looks good to me, and I found five of them in Vegetarian Classics. The ginger cream and the double almond were very tempting, but I chose to make the Irish wholemeal scones first because they sounded kind of healthy. They look like healthy scones too, don’t you think? Of course, they’re not health food of the strictest variety given that they have a good dose of butter in them. The author, Jeanne Lemlin mentioned some scones she had in Skibbereen, County Cork that were like Irish brown bread. She set out to re-create them at home using whole wheat flour which is the closest we have to Irish wholemeal flour. Hopefully, my friends in Dublin can let me know if these look like authentic Irish scones or not.

They’re made with unbleached flour, whole wheat flour, oats, and wheat germ. A scant two tablespoons of sugar sweetens them just enough, and butter, buttermilk, and one egg give them rich flavor. I had a small handful of currants leftover from another recipe, so I added them to the scone dough. The dough was patted into a disk, and it was to be cut into 12 triangular scones. I may have left the disk a little thicker than I should have, and 12 cuts would have made rather slender scones, so I went with eight larger ones instead. The tops were brushed with milk, and I decided to sprinkle on some extra oats and a little turbinado sugar just for the added visual appeal. The oats on top give them that healthy look.

Scones and muffins are Kurt’s favorite things for breakfast because they’re very grab and go. He liked that these were only lightly sweetened, and the combined flours, wheat germ, and oats gave them an almost nutty taste. They were light and tender, and if you take the time to sit down with one of them, they go very nicely with strawberry preserves. It won’t be long before I try the other scones in this book or recipes from elsewhere, but I’ll definitely be making these again too.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yellow Squash Pickles

The southern vegetarian meal I’ve been going on about this week was inspired by the veggies in our CSA pick-up. What I haven’t mentioned until now is that in it we received a very generous pile of golden, yellow summer squash. After reading the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, I had mentally tucked away the notion of making zucchini pickles. When I saw all of those summer squashes from our CSA, I decided it was pickle time with a slight change to the main ingredient. The Zuni zucchini pickles are well-known for their fluorescent, green color, but my version resulted in very saturated, yellow pickles instead. They were a great addition to the meal. I actually doubled the recipe and filled a tall jar of them, so there are plenty more waiting in the refrigerator for future meals.

I don’t know if this is against the rules of southern-style vegetable pickling or not, but my preference is for tart, vinegary pickles rather than sweet ones. I may have just ruined the meal’s theme by throwing some non-sweet pickles on the table. And, while I’m confessing, I don’t like sugar in my tea either. So, I made the brine with less than half the suggested amount of sugar. First, two pounds of yellow squash were thinly sliced on a Benriner, and a couple of onions were cut into thin slices as well. Those were combined and tossed with salt in a large bowl. Ice cubes and cold water were added, and it was left to sit for an hour before being drained and patted dry. Cider vinegar, sugar, dry mustard, mustard seeds, and turmeric, the secret to the vivid color, were combined and simmered for a few minutes. The brine was allowed to cool before being poured over the prepared squash and onion. All of it was packed into a large glass jar and placed in the refrigerator where it will keep indefinitely.

I had one minor concern about the brine because the powdery dry mustard and turmeric made it appear a little cloudy. I worried that the pickles might come out of the jar with a slight grittiness from the spices. That was not the case, and I forgot all about it when I tasted the chilled pickles the next day. Any cloudiness or grit that was present on the first day had dissolved or settled in the jar. The flavor of the pickles was just where I’d hoped it would be. The reduced amount of sugar provided some balance, but the tartness was evident. They added a spunky, crunchy element to our main course of vegetable stew, and they’ll be delicious with burgers and salads to come. I thought I had made a ridiculously large batch, but the jar is getting emptier every day as I snack on a few pickles every time I open the refrigerator.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Shell Beans and Summer Vegetables Stew with Cornbread

Fresh, local vegetables inspired a southern vegetarian meal that started with watermelon margaritas and fried okra. For the main course, I turned once again to the book Local Flavors in which Deborah Madison creates a summer vegetable stew that combined all the local vegetables I had on hand. The stew also incorporates fresh shell beans which are beans that are too large to be eaten in their pods and not yet fully dried. Some typical shell beans are borlotti, white runner beans, and cranberry beans, and soybeans and purple-hull beans can be eaten this way too. Purple-hull beans are a common Texas crop, and they’re available right now in their fresh form. Shell beans do not require soaking and cook in about 30 to 40 minutes. With my CSA vegetables, locally grown beans, and homegrown herbs, I had what I needed for a summer stew.

Sticking with the southern theme, cornbread was a natural to go with the stew, and this was a great excuse to use my cast-iron corn stick mold. My Mom gave this pan to me a couple of years ago, and I hadn’t gotten around to using it, but I love it because it’s something I have in common with Jacques Pepin. In Chez Jacques, in the story about fried chicken and cornbread, he describes a cast-iron cornbread mold with seven corn-shaped indentations which is exactly like mine. So, he wrote a recipe for cornbread that makes just enough batter to fill that mold, but he admits he sometimes has extra that he bakes separately in a small pan. I followed his recipe which interestingly involved separating eggs, frothing egg whites, and then folding them into the batter. I ended up with a little more batter than I needed and baked a small square of cornbread in addition to the molded sticks.

Preparing the stew was a simple process of adding the vegetables in the correct order for cooking times and seasoning each layer as it was added. To begin, olive oil was warmed in a Dutch oven over low heat, and bay leaves from my struggling to survive tree were added. Then big chunks of onions and halved garlic cloves were added with thyme sprigs and sage leaves. That was covered and left to cook while the rest of the vegetables were cleaned and chopped. Then, carrots were added followed by potatoes and then green beans. Big strips of bell pepper and thick pieces of pattypan squash went on top of all of that, and last but not least were tomatoes with their juices. That was all left to simmer for about an hour while the purple-hull beans cooked with some garlic and thyme. When the shell beans were cooked, they were added with their cooking liquid to the stew. A quick basil pesto was made to garnish each serving of stew.

Given how little effort went into the layering and simmering of the stew, the resulting flavor was surprisingly good. The herbs had mingled their way through the sauce of the stew and gave it a richness I didn’t expect. The low heat allowed the vegetables to retain their shape and some texture, and the garlic had mellowed to a nice state. By stirring the basil pesto into the bowl of stew, a sharper, brighter herb and garlic flavor was added. It was a fresh, warm bowl of summer, and it couldn’t have asked for better company than the cornbread.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pink Margarita Slushes and Fried Okra

Because of the powerful heat and drought conditions we’ve had this summer, the farm with which we have a CSA share decided to let their plants rest for a couple of weeks. They postponed pick-ups and extended the time for this season. The schedule has now resumed, and I’m having a good time cooking with all the local, seasonal produce. Zucchini and yellow squash are in abundance, and right now, okra is ripe for the picking. There are some great southern dishes to be prepared with these vegetables, and I got to thinking about planning a meal highlighting as many of them as possible. My goal was to create an entirely vegetarian, southern feast, and it was easy to do. The meal began with frosty watermelon and tequila cocktails and fried okra. I left meat out of the menu, but I didn’t say it would be spa food, so yes, the okra was fried.

The recipe for the cocktail is from the Martha Stewart site. I noticed the photo of these pretty, icy beverages the other day, and when I received a little, round watermelon from the farm, this seemed like a perfect use of it. I cut the recipe in half to serve two, and that worked exactly right for the amount of cubed watermelon I had. Those cubes were placed in a blender with lime juice, sugar, and tequila, and the blender pitcher was filled with ice. That was blended until smooth and delicious. For the okra, I didn’t exactly follow a recipe, but this one from Emeril is pretty much how I prepared it. The okra was sliced and covered with buttermilk, and it was then dredged in a mixture of cornmeal, flour, salt, and pepper. Then, it was fried until golden. I made a mayonnaise dipping sauce to accompany it, and the recipe for that is below.

I’ve said before that okra may not be for everyone, but fried okra could be. The warm, crunchy goodness dipped into the spicy and tangy mayonnaise was a good fit with the margarita slushes. If you’re lucky enough to have access to fresh okra and watermelon, I highly recommend this combination.

Ancho Lime Mayonnaise

½ c prepared mayonnaise (Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise is my favorite)
4 or so dribbles Crystal hot sauce
½ t ancho powder
Zest of ½ lime
1 t fresh lime juice
pinch of cayenne (or more to taste)

-combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir until smooth

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken

I’m going to file this dish under couldn’t believe how good this was or how quickly it was made. This meal was on the table faster than ever even by weeknight meal standards, even with chicken that needed to be cut into cubes, even though I was reading and following a recipe instead of cooking from memory, and even with the time spent taking photos. Seriously, the rice took longer to simmer than the chicken and sauce to be made. This was one of the 30 Best, Fast Recipes Ever in Food and Wine last September, and it definitely qualifies. It’s from Charles Phan of San Francisco’s Slanted Door.

The dish is an easy combination of fairly common ingredients. The sauce is made with brown sugar, fish sauce, water, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, black pepper, and Thai chiles. As I almost always do in savory applications, I chose to reduce the amount of sugar by a tablespoon or so. I usually also increase the amount of chiles, but I played by the rules in that regard this time. The recipe suggests two, halved Thai chiles, but I could go for three or four next time I make this. Once the sauce ingredients were combined, it was set aside while minced shallots were sauteed. Then, the sauce was added to the pan followed by the cubed chicken. That was left to simmer until the chicken was cooked through which took less than 15 minutes. It was served with jasmine rice and was garnished with cilantro.

I used chicken breast instead of the suggested thigh meat because of Kurt’s preference, and it cooked into a lovely tender state in the sauce. The balance of sweetness and chile heat was just right even though I wouldn’t have minded more spiciness, and all the other savory flavors from garlic, ginger, and fish sauce rounded out the sauce nicely. Kurt noted that it was ‘actually’ good. He’s well aware of my track record with Asian cuisine and tasted cautiously at first but then happily. I served the chicken and rice with some sauteed spinach and shitakes, and the roaming sauce on the plate was a welcome taste with the vegetables too. I love finding dishes like this that can become a part of our mid-week routine instead of being saved only for occasions when there’s plenty of time.

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