Wednesday, June 18, 2008

She's a keeper.

So, I realize that looks like a lot of dirt and a few sad, stringy plants. But, you're wrong. Well, sort of. It is a lot of dirt, and the plants are sort of stringy yet, but they are certainly not sad. My backyard is coming along beautifully, and quickly thanks to all the rain. I think lushness will ensue soon.

Anyhow, I came to tell you about orzo, everyone's favorite rice-shaped pasta. It is excellent for a fast tasty lunch or versatile side, particularly when its 95 degrees outside, and you don't even want to think about what the temperature is in the kitchen. Granted, I can't quite remember what that hot is like, because I've been wearing pants to combat the 65 and windy past two days. Oh Michigan, what will we do with you?

Orzo a la Alli-Mamma

2 cups chicken broth
1 cup orzo
half a lemon to juice
2-3 tbsp capers
handful shredded Parmesan or crumbled feta
other things you think sound delicious in here: most recently, steamed broccoli

Boil the chicken broth, and add the pasta. You're going to cook it like rice; its done when the liquid is absorbed. Make sure to turn the heat down enough that you don't scorch the bottom layer of orzo. No need for socarrat here.

while thats absorbing, sautee/steam whatever else you're adding.

When the liquid is gone, stir in remaining ingredients.

et voila. The lemon and the capers do something wonderful together, and the feta adds a very nice creamyness. Its even good cold, though, given that today's high is 65, maybe you should eat it warm.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The very best thing you could possibly do with sundried tomatoes.

So, an anonymous donor gifted me lamb chops. This, my friends, was exciting, as I am far to cheap to ever purchase them my self. Of course, all I could think to do with them was grill. Which seemed like it would be delicious. But, instead, I figured I should at least take a gander around epicurious and the cookbooks, just in case. It was, to say the least, an excellent call. This, I'm pretty sure is the best thing one could possibly do with sun-dried tomatoes. It was awesome spread over my over-cooked chops, and perhaps even better on crackers, bread, sandwiches and pretzels. I would have taken a picture but I ate it all. I kept it in an old tapenade jar which was perfect. so perfect, in fact, that it would make a pretty cool housewarming gift.

Sun-dried Tomato Butter

1 garlic clove
1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Mince and mash garlic to a paste with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Transfer paste to a food processor and pulse with sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts, coriander, cayenne, parsley, and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper until finely chopped. Blend in butter and lemon juice, then season with salt. Then swoon, and spread atop everything.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

An over-due update

I realize its been far far too long since my last post. I'm not quite ashamed to admit that this is because I have not been cooking. Or drinking wine. Instead, I have been gardening my butt off, and melting in to large glasses of beer afterwards. It's the season for it after all.
Even still, Sunday night is still go-to-the-parents night and Monday night is still make dinner with Cj night. So, I'd like to tell you about that. Oh, and about radishes.

Eons ago (like, a whole month), I found this recipe for plum and port tart lurking in the back of the cherry pie issue of Bon Appétit. I became very excited about it. So, I added plums to my dinner shopping list and vroomed away in my little red car dreaming of plum tart. Well, as it turned out, plums were not yet in season, and likely still aren't. But, I had a need. I even asked the whole foods produce guy for them twice in the same week. And he remembered, and gave me a look. Then, one day, I was passing through Meijers produce section, on my way to their super cheap arugula ($1.5o for a huge organic bunch!) when, lo and behold, there were plums. They were clearly still out of season, but I bought six of them anyhow, and took them to my parents with me on Sunday for dessert.
As it turned out, the plums really were out of season, and, thus, less delicious. The real winners here were the cheap, 10 year port, and the...sigh.... *frozen* pie crust. I would be very very ashamed to admit that I used pre-made crust, if , well, it wasn't just so damn good. Thats right, it was outstanding. Perhaps even better than my crust. (I know, I know). You can find it in the frozen section of your local Trader Joe's. It's honestly made with real butter. (aw geez, if I keep this up, I may end up with a job writing the fearless flier. sorry.)

The verdict here? cook the plums in the port-sauce. This may seem rather obvious, but my nervous habit of following recipes stopped me from doing it. But four out of four Bondies agree: cook the plums in the port first, then put the whole mess in the pie crust and bake.

Rustic Plum and Port Tart, as modified from Bon Appétit

2 cups tawny Port
1/2 cup (packed) plus 1 tablespoon golden brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 1/2 pounds plums (5 to 6 medium), halved, pitted, each half quartered
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 refrigerated pie crust (half of 15-ounce package)
Vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 375°F. Boil Port, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and allspice in large skillet until reduced to 2/3 cup, about 10 minutes. Add plums to port pot. Cook until softer, so that the plums take in some of that syrup-y goodness.

Unroll cold pie crust onto parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle the flour evenly on the crust to sop up extra liquid while baking. Spoon plums into center of crust, leaving 1 1/2-inch border;Reserve remaining syrup. Fold crust edges over plums. Brush crust with water; sprinkle crust and plums with remaining 1 tablespoon brown sugar.

Bake tart until crust is golden and syrup is bubbling, about 45 minutes. Cut warm or room-temperature tart into wedges. Serve with scoop of vanilla ice cream, drizzling additional syrup over.

And then there was Monday.
I bought some tuna steaks on a whim. It was a "oh-snap-there's-no-food-in-the-house" whim that occured at 9:05 during employee shopping. What do you do with tuna steaks?
Make Niçoise salad of course.

The French are genius. In case you hadn't figured that one out yet. The key to this dish is to A. grill everything, and B. Use the salad dressing. Moreover, what I'm getting at here is you MUST put the anchovies in the dressing. MUST. no substitutes, no middle-school qualms about small fish in a can, no looking for low-sodium alternatives.

Mamma's Niçoise Salad
Serves 4

2 large tuna steaks, cut in half
green beans
4 hard boiled eggs
Baby potatoes, halved
(other seasonal veggies, as you wish)
Niçoise olives
baby lettuce greens of your choice

1 clove garlic, pressed
2 tbsp Dijon Mustard
1/2-1 lemon, juiced
1/2 or so Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2-1 can anchovies
(put it all in a food processor or blender, and grind it up reeeal nice. c'est fin.)

First, start the charcoal. (gas will not cut it. As far as I'm concerned, if you're going to use a gas grill, you may as well go back inside and use the stove).
When fire is hot, start potatoes, as they will take the longest to cook. Brush them with olive oil and salt and pepper, and put them around the permiter of the grill so they get good heat but don't burn. Turn them occasionally, so that all the sides develop this wonderful crunchy crust.
When the potatoes are half way there, put on the fish, brushed with olive oil, and salt pepper and garlic too, if you like. While cooking fish, hard boil eggs. Prepare veggies by washing and trimming as needed. Dry. spray/drizzle/lightly coat with olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill, carefully, as to not sacrifice too many green beans to the coals. The veggies should only take a few minutes, and should still be relatively crunchy when you're done with them.
When everything is done grilling, assemble salads; sprinkling olives, capers and sliced eggs on top.
Serve with the dressing.

Cj pointed out that the real beauty of this dish is that every bite is different. I pointed out that grilling really changes the flavors of the veggies, and also that grilled potatoes are my favorite thing ever. We both sighed in to our glasses of rose, which, by the way, is the reccomened wine pairing-- a nice, French rose. We had Parallel 45.

As a note, if you somehow end up with extra dressing because you made a ton because its the tastiest stuff ever like I did, make sure you put the left overs in the fridge. It is most imperative-- raw garlic and olive oil, when combined and not refrigerated, breed botulism. ew.
BUT, left over dressing makes a great sandwich spread, and easily replaces both mustard and mayo.

Oh and radishes. I don't have a whole ton to say about them, except that I hated 'em when I was a kid and now, as of last week, I really really love them. If you are a doubter, as I once was, you must try this: you'll need of course, radishes ( trader Joe's has adorable little trimmed packages of them for 79¢ (!), but also butter (the nicest you got, at a spreadable temp) and nice sea salt and some sort of delivery carb-- vinta crackers or a chewy piece of baguette. Take said carb, spread with a little bit of butter, add a slice or two of radish, and sprinkle with sea salt. I dare you to tell me its not heaven. ( a bit of experimenting led me to radishes and brie.... *swoon*)