Thursday, April 29, 2010

Grilled Polenta

I have always liked Polenta, the pleasant texture when you first make it, soft and warm it works so well with so many dishes.  Put it along side meat or with sauteed fresh vegetables on top and it is comfort food personified.  Even better the next day, I like to grill it as a side dish, but really this could have been the center of the plate.   The Polenta was simple.

1 cup polenta
2 cloves fresh garlic
1 tsp fresh oregano minced
1 tsp fresh basil minced
2 green onions
2 cups boiling water

Once water is boiling add the herbs then slowly add the polenta stirring constantly (or you get lumps) have some additional water ready in case it gets too thick,  once it has cooked for a few minutes poor it into a baking pan lined with plastic wrap.  Cover loosely and refrigerate overnight...

I was going to top this with asparagus and tomatoes but the produce store that I go to didn't have asparagus so I served it with grilled tomatoes and baby bok choy.  I sliced a tomato and cut the bok choy in half, and brushed them with olive oil to get them ready.  This is topped with a balsamic reduction, this is the easy part, but it really makes the dish:

1 TBL brown sugar
2 TBL balsamic vinegar

More or less anyway, I didn't measure... depending on the balsamic that you get it could vary greatly... cook until it is reduced by about a third and slightly thickened.  While the vinegar is on the stove brush the polenta with olive oil and grill then add the veggies cook over a low heat for about 3-4 minutes on each side.  That is it absolutely wonderful with the sweet balsamic.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Banana Bread

Mr. Man has been a big fan of bananas for the past few weeks "yellow with a little green thanks... Not a touch of brown!"  He has been eating a couple of bananas a day for the past couple of weeks then, being a three year old, he stopped... "Banana!?! what's that?"  So there they sat...  How long? I am not sure, but these guys were green when I brought them home.

To make this recipe inevitable; this weekend  we all went to a church rummage sale and I found a silicone baking set that includes a muffin pan, a loaf pan a 9x9 casserole and a baking sheet.  I have been looking for the silicone set for a while and for $5.00 how could I go wrong?  Maybe I will talk about this personality idiosyncrasy of mine some time... I am a classic cheapskate.  So I was almost high from the purchase of a $5.00 set like this.

Well with a mess of rotting bananas and a brand new baking set what do you think I did?  Ok, not much a a stretch is it?  Banana Bread was on the menu for breakfast on Sunday... The ingredients:

5 Really Ripe Bananas
1/4 cup melted Butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups Flour
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup almonds (toasted)
3/4 cups chocolate chips

I put the bananas in a large mixing bowl and beat them with a wooden spoon then added the butter, sugar and egg and mixed them together pretty well. I put the flour and baking powder into a sifter and sifted that into the mixture then added the chocolate chips.  My children believe that all nuts are the work of the devil so I took a couple of scoops out now and put them in muffin cups then added the almonds and walnuts mixed. I pored this into a lightly sprayed silicone baking pan and popped that into an oven that I had heated to 350. It took a little more than an hour until until it was done. I know there are more subtle ways to tell but I still poke it with a knife and when it comes out clean I know it is done.
 Here it is pretty and blue... Looking all Star Trekie 
Maybe I will start a "Cooking with the Horta" series.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tumeric Cucumbers

As I was writing this entry I realized how similar this story is to my friend The Kitchen Witch's White Trash Motherload Series.  I can't say this is a ham handed attempt to copy her (way out of my league) but if I hadn't read that series I am not sure I would have been digging through my mom's old cookbooks during my last visit there and I found a real family treasure in my search.
When Mr. Man, Miss Lu and I took the trip to Grandma's house I was looking through her kitchen and found the Carlson Patterson Family Cook Book.  It seems that in the early 90s my mom's side of the family decided to put together a compilation of recipes that had been passed around our family for years.  It has been fun to read through and I have had time to (in a way) reconnect with family that I haven't seen in ages.  The quick memory of exploring a tractor with a second cousin that I've not seen in 30 years or my Great Great Aunt saying "Don't let that cat in the house I would rather have mice!"... well the book has been fun to go through.  My Grandmother's (Mayola's) relatives Kenneth and Fern, mostly Fern well her kids spearheaded the book.  Even though I have already made some of the recipes from the book  Fern gets the first recipe here.

Kenneth and Fern were farmers in Stratford Iowa, one of my earliest memories of visiting them was when I was about 10 years old in the final minutes of our 8 hour drive we were crossing their land, a few trees and acres of mixed crops some wheat, but mostly corn and beans a lot of that mixed in the same fields.  When we got there my mom asked Kenneth what exactly they were trying to grow that year, not missing a beat, his reply, "succotash."  We spent days there exploring barns and sheds, climbing the dog wood trees and a silo full of grain.  One of the few items that I remember being on the table for most of the meals were Fern's Cucumbers.  Being a ten year old boy I had no idea what to do with these things except dip my dirty fingers right into the Kerr jar and eat them after a round of climbing the hay in the barn or playing with the water pump, they actually had a well and a manual pump!   I am sure the vinegar did it's part to kill whatever was on my dirt covered digits before anyone else dug in.

When I picked this recipe to start with I thought "I think I remember the jar of this on the picnic table for lunch"  when I tasted them again for the first time in thirty something (never mind it has been a while) years I immediately flashed to the young boy that I was setting foot on a farm for the first time ready to explore.

So what are these?  The Cook Book calls them "Tumeric Cucumbers" the published recipe was written for someone that had a serious garden, you know like a farm, and calls for larger quantities than this suburban boy is willing to deal with like "a pail full of peeled and sliced cucumbers."  So I did take some liberties but here it is, Ingredients:

2 small onions sliced thin
1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 tsp Tumeric
2 tsp Mustard Seed
2 tsp Celery Seed
1 1/4 Cup Cider Vinegar
2 1/2 cucumbers peeled and sliced thin.

Soak the sliced  onions is salted Ice water for about an hour, this takes the edge off the onioniness of them drain then add the sugar, spices and vinegar and stir until the sugar is dissolved then add  the cucumbers and put in the refrigerator.  Overnight worked for me, I tasted the dish after an hour and it was OK but the next day ... Wow!  Works well as a side dish at a BBQ I served them with chicken in my BBQ Sauce.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Steamed Mahi Mahi

I am still trying to make nice with my scale after the Scotch Eggs episode from a few days ago.  Being the kind of person I am I have just been avoiding it.  You know like the friend that you said something stupid to a few days ago and just can't face them.  That is how I have been with the scale, I avoid the bathroom when the lights are on and will never make eye contact with it.  Just like that friend, the scale and I have a pretty good record of getting along fine so I plan on making up to it soon but haven't found the courage yet.  In an effort to do that I have been making more things like this.  

Mahi Mahi fillets (one per person)
Lemon slices 3-4 per
Fresh Ginger (actually frozen I'll tell you about that in a minute)
Salt and Pepper
Big leaf of Swiss Chard one per

Quick break here, on weekend mornings I am usually the first one up partly because I get up at 4:15 on most weekday mornings and partly because I have a terrible caffeine addiction.  Between 7:00 and 8:00 the headache starts, then the shakes I am pretty sure the hallucinations will come about 8:45.  That is really a round about way to say that I am usually up first and don't want to wake anybody else so I hang around in the kitchen  watching whatever goofy show is on Food Network and enjoying my precious cup of Joe.  One of those shows... Rachel Ray, her tip one morning was to keep peeled ginger in the freezer then when you need it pull it out and grate it with a micro plane.  Works like a charm!
Anyway back to it cut the giant woody stem out of the Swiss Chard and parboil, maybe for 2-3 minutes or so, then lay them out on the counter set a few slices of lemon on them then the Mahi Fillet.  Top that with grated ginger and garlic salt and pepper.  Wrap it up good and tight and put on a steamer tray and cover.  It took about 12-15 minutes to cook but the Chard held in all of those flavors so the Ginger and Garlic were able to just sing!  I use both ingredients often but this kept the flavor so pure and vibrant.  Plus the fresh greens make a nice addition to the dish.

These are pictured with a tomato cucumber and mint salad that surprisingly (to me anyway) played well with the fish.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Experiment

Last fall I bought a gas grill, I wanted to get it before another Chicago winter set in.  Kris, the kiddos and I packed up one afternoon to head across what seemed like a never ending trek of suburbs surrounded by corn fields to pick up the grill she found for me on craigslist.  I wanted it for the ease of cooking out in the winter, because I miss cooking out and the charcoal grill... well it isn't so much fun to light in a blizzard even if there isn't a blizzard it is hard to light in the dark, you know after the 3:45 sunset.  I do have to say that I was a little nervous about a couple of things.

1. Would I be able to get the same depth of flavor from propane as I did charcoal or charwood?

2. Would I be able to slow cook anything?

The answers are"pretty much" and "YES!"  I found that the flavors I get are just fine, maybe a little bit is lost from not cooking over actual burning wood but I think I have the ability to make up for that by seasoning and cooking food well.  As for slow cooking I was very happy!  this weekend I made a smoked beef brisket.  I started by going out a buying a "smoker box" which is a metal box with holes in it.  Imagine how much fun Mr. Man had while I was looking at metal boxes for all of 25 minutes.  Anyway I picked the $15.00 model  to put in my grill that I wouldn't pay more than $30.00 for.  Really this stuff all makes sense in my head, but looks funny written down.

I was lucky to find 2 pound Brisket at my normal store it had about a 1/4 inch thick layer of fat on it, you want about that much... if you can't find one with that you can add a few strips of bacon to the top,  yeah Bryan is back on the health food kick.  I did the simplest of rubs on the meat just Salt, Pepper and Garlic Powder and set it on the counter to temper for about half an hour.  While that was waiting I soaked cheery wood chips in water and Tequila for the same time. While those were resting and soaking I made my mop sauce, the ingredients

1/2 cup Tequila
1 TBS Worcestershire Sauce
1 TBS Stone Ground Mustard
Juice from one Lime
Salt, Pepper, Garlic Powder

Put the Brisket into a shallow pan (I used a disposable pie tin, because throwing that away is so much easier than washing it).  Fill the smoker box with wet wood chips and put under the grate on low heat.  Set the meat in your pan on top of the grate so it only gets indirect heat..  You want to spent about 3 hours cooking this 2 pounds of meat, cooked too quickly and brisket is UN-Chewable!  So give it time.  Every half hour go out and spread some of your Mop Sauce on top, after a while use mop sauce and pan drippings.

You can only tell if it is done by poking it
If it feels like you are trying to poke a hole in a monster truck tire with a fork,  it is going to take a while.
If it feels like you are trying to poke through the steaks that you ate in college, you are getting there
If the meet feels like it is about to fall apart on your fork... done!

You probability want some BBQ sauce for this you can use your favorite from the store, if you are feeling all fancy try this one:

1 cup Ketchup
1 Heavy TBS of Molasses
1/4  cup Bourbon
2 tsp Dijon Mustard
2 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 tsp Chili Powder
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Onion Powder

Heat over medium stirring occasionally until sauce starts to thicken, maybe 20 minutes or so.  you do have three hours so unless you are catching up on your soap you have the time.  In the picture I am serving with my Grandma's baked beans, (I came across a family cookbook a couple of weeks ago).

So how was it, well I am happy and sad to say it was wonderful, smokey and subtle with a depth that I didn't expect.  Happy because it worked so well, sad... well I really did like the old kettle grill but maybe it is time for the rusty old guy to go...
There it is, my new toy "smoker box" seems like
a fancy way to say metal box to me but it worked!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Scotch Eggs

Ok, I know that I shouldn't have done it, after all the last time I stepped on the scale (two weeks ago, I haven't been able take the embarrassment since) it actually yelled at me, "Jeez, get the hell off you fat jerk!"  Ok, that isn't exactly what happened but summer is coming around and my kids like to swim which means that I like to swim too.  I have a problem though, I am pasty white... in fact Sherwin Williams approached me last summer to ask if they could patent the color of the flesh on my stomach... they were going to call it "Blinding Parchment," and use it to paint airport runways just in case the lights went out.  Add to that any weight gain and that "color" starts border on translucent.  Yes I think that with another say 25 pounds or so I would be the "Visible Man" (remember that from 4th grade science?)  Let's just say that I am getting back to my proper weight before all this happens.

Yesterday, I couldn't stop the demons though, I was looking at the hard boiled eggs from Easter, good source of protein, eat one on the way to work and you are good until lunch or add one to a salad and there is a lunch that will stick to you for the rest of the day.  My mind kept turning to the dark side though and by dark side I don't mean buttered toast on the side or real cream in my coffee.  Yesterday I got up early, before anyone else got did, and made Scotch Eggs... for the love of God don't tell a dietitian!

For those of you unfamiliar with the dish; Scotch Eggs are hard boiled eggs lovingly wrapped in a blanket of sausage, rolled in bread crumbs and then (this is your last chance to stop because it does get worse) fried.  Ok, padwon I will tell you how they are made but know that it may tempt you to the dark side, with a pull like you have never felt before... the ingredients:
Put these into separate bowls, the eggs go through them in steps

Dish No. 1
1/3 pound sausage
2 TBS minced onion
2 TBS fresh Parsley chopped fine
Mixed together then patted flat

Dish No. 2 
2 TBS Flour

Dish No. 3
1 Egg
1 TBS good Mustard
beaten together with a fork

Dish No. 4
Bread crumbs

Wrap the eggs one at a time in the sausage, parsley mixture then roll in flour, egg wash. and bread crumbs.  When they are all done it is time for their bath in 325 degree oil.  They cook for about 5 minutes until golden brown and beautifully tempting.  If you want to you can tell yourself that the Parsley counts as a vegetable/green and makes this dish good for you but we both know that is a lie.  

Anyway, are they good? MY GOD YES! will I make them any time soon?  Probably not, I am still pretty riddled with guilt... but then again maybe just once more, after all I can quit anytime I want.
 Here they are sitting in the oven ready to go...
Scene from Cocoon?  No I think we all know 
Scene from Alien!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Strawberry Mango Salsa

Ooh does it get better than this?  The flavors and look of summer all together on a plate, just like eating a little bit of sunshine.  We had our first bit of good weather in a long time last week, for two days it was sunny and warm with a nice breeze.  We played the park and went to the zoo one day after I got off work early Of course the zoo trip ended with torrential rain followed by a hail storm, freezing rain and days of frosty mornings.  That is a Midwest spring for you.  Anyway, I realized how much I missed nice weather those couple of days and being me wanted... no needed to cook something different.

I know this will sound odd, fruit salsas really get me jazzed!  I love the fresh fruit flavors with just a touch of spice from chilies and the flavor of fresh cilantro and garlic running through.  Put it on a plate with chicken or fish (grilled of course) and you have a great summer meal.

This time Strawberry Mango Salsa, the ingredients:
3 fresh Mangoes diced
5 big Strawberries diced
2 cloves fresh Garlic minced
2 TBS minced fresh Cilantro
half a fresh Jalapeno diced up fine
drizzle of Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Let it sit on the counter while you make the rest of your meal or in the fridge overnight so the flavors all work together.  I like to use this as just a bright side dish here is how it looks.  I threw a little bit of the salsa into my rice when I cooked it.  Looks a little funny but really tasted good.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Green Tea Poached Salmon

I have to admit something here, something a little dark... I hate hot tea people.  Maybe "hate" is too strong of a word, if you and I were sitting on my back porch and you asked for a cup of herbal tea I wouldn't throw you out into the streets of the Chicago suburbs, in fact if you had some tea with you I would even make it for you.  I am sure the evening would turn out just fine, even if I were a bit distrustful.

However from a restaurant and even more so a catering perspective tea drinkers, especially herbal tea people are a lot of work.  Here is an example, when I was going through my divorce I would do some work with Chicago caterers most weekends for a little extra cash.  One weekend I was waiting tables at a wedding in the Field Museum... it was a dinner for 1500 people; yes 150 tables of 10 spread over the entire first floor complete a big T-Rex Skeleton in the middle.  There were a total of 85 people there as wait staff that night, I had just delivered a table full of food and was walking back to pick up another tray and a guy grabbed my elbow to stop me.

"Oh, Excuse me," he started, "could I get some herbal tea?  Maybe Chamomile or a Peppermint would be fine.  Oh, and bring me some raw sugar or honey for it and I can't use this half and half just bring me some milk, skim is best, 2% if you have to." 

Did he have any idea that there were about 1499 other people in the room waiting on dinner?  The guy still hadn't let go of my $30.00 tux jacket.

"Oh and this bread... well just find me some hard rolls or French bread, and some olive oil to dip it in, OK?"

I smiled at him and said I would take care of him immediately, then did the math, "85 waiters, more than half of us men about half of those with blond/light brown hair, every one of us in second hand tuxedos, I don't exactly stand out in fact I look exactly like 20 other people here tonight," I said "I will bring that right out for you sir"  I thought, "yeah, 15 minutes after Hell freezes over."

In my career in restaurants and catering my dealings with tea people has always been something like this one, maybe not as extreme but similar.  That being said when I decided to make Green Tea Poached Salmon I had some identity issues, "am I going to become a 'tea guy' now?" and "will I suddenly be too good for refined sugar? Maybe coffee poached salmon would be more appropriate... OK, maybe not"

The ingredients:
2 TBS Coarsely Chopped Fresh Ginger
3 Cloves Coarsely Chopped Garlic
small handful of Fresh Cilantro chopped
6 oz white wine
Salt and Pepper to taste
6 Green Tea Bags

Roasted Sesame Seeds
Salmon 1 fillet per person

Put the the first bunch of ingredients except the Tea Bags  into a saucepan with about 6 cups of water and simmer lightly for about half an hour maybe 45 minutes.  I wanted extra poaching liquid for the Couscous that I made and something else, upcoming post (maybe... if this one turns out) if you are just doing salmon cut it all in half.  After the poaching liquid had simmered for the half our I turned it off and added the teabags to steep for about 10 minutes.  Then I pulled the teabags out with a slotted spoon and brought it to a light simmer then added the salmon and poached for about 5 minutes.  

This is served over couscous made with some reserved poaching liquid and Chilean Mushrooms.  I splashed a little soy sauce on top and garnished with toasted sesame seeds. 
Oh and here is what the Easter Bunny brought!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Grilled Pears

I have probably mentioned a few times that I like to cook on the grill.  I like it a lot in fact I got this gas grill before winter came just for that reason.  I wanted to be cooking outside when in the middle of ice storms etc... I don't know why, I just did.  As it has started to thaw out here in Chicagoland I have been cooking on the grill even more... the kiddos have been re-discovering their bats, balls, skates swings and the trampoline.  It works well because I like to be able to keep an eye on them and I miss grilling.  Not just the food and the flavor it brings, but the standing outside and taking my time, enjoying a cocktail  and cooking out.  Instead of running out in the dark (winter sunset is about 4:30 in my area) and flipping food over then running back in.  I prefer the leisurely pace that a grilled meal should have.

One of the things I really like and haven't done in a while is grilled fruit, in this case pears.  I like grilling fruit for a quick summer dessert.  Grilling brings out the sweet flavors and most fruit caramelizes well when cooked on a grill.  This time Bosc Pears and a Blackberry Compote, one of the guys at work got a good deal on both so I brought a few home.  The Blackberry compote was simple enough and can be made a day ahead (in fact I encourage that) the ingredients:
1/2 cup Water
1/2 cup Triple Sec
3 TBS Sugar
1/2 Pound Fresh Blackberries
1/4 tsp (or less) Cinnamon

Put the water, triple sec and sugar into a sauce pan and cook for about15 minutes until reduced by about 1/3 when it is ready poor in the Blackberries and cook for just a couple of minutes then set aside.  Let that cool for a few hours until it is thick and syrupy.  The compote is really great the cinnamon adds a really nice depth to the sauce.

For the Pears slice them top to bottom and brush with melted butter.  I sprinkled mine with a little cinnamon sugar for good measure then place on the grill to cook 3-4 minutes on each side.  My middle slices were cut a bit thicker because I wanted cool pictures so they took a bit longer to cook.  When I arraigned the plates I propped the pears on top of some angel food cake the topped with the blackberry compote.  A little bit of a drizzle in the edges and here you have that dessert that will impress.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Fun

Ok this is a little different than most posts that I come up with, but it is a fun project with the kiddos...  and get this... no recipes involved, this one is just about having fun,  Last year after we finished coloring our Easter eggs I took what was left of the colored vinegar water and pored those into zip-lock snack bags.
"What are you doing dad?"
"It doesn't matter, just let me do this"
I have met my kids, if I had talked about what I was thinking I would have been nagged incessantly until we attempted a crummy job of this project.  I knew that this wouldn't work if the conditions weren't right.

I took the small zip-lock bags of colored water and put those into a 1 gallon freezer bag and put that into the freezer.  Then I left it alone for a few months...  I expect I have you lost here but keep with me for a minute.  On a warm sunny day in the middle of June Mr.Man, Miss Lu and I went to the Craft store and picked up a $4.00 sheet of water color paper.  We brought that home and put it on our picnic table in a sunny spot of our lawn.  Here is where it gets good, we pulled the frozen colored water out of the bags and put it on the watercolor paper and let it go.  OK, I have mentioned before that I tend to poke, prod and worry over things like this so I have to admit that all of us touched this some while it was melting. 
Here is step 1 just frozen chunks of colored water
A little bit later

.Here is the finished work... this one is hanging on 
our dining room wall.

Happy Easter everyone!