Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer Stew

When I came home from residency on Saturday night, I had some good things waiting for me.  There was Matt, the cuddly baby kitties, and the newest issue of Bon Appetit.  I could have torn the whole thing up, it was so full of recipes I wanted to try.  There were the Korean-style short ribs, a buttermilk blackberry cake (that requires a springform pan... one of the few tools I haven't gotten yet!), green shawarma salmon, and a Summer Tomato Bouillabaisse with Basil Rouille.  I'm a big bouillabaisse groupie, after making Ina Garten's chicken version back in the apartment days.  It's such an elegant, fragrant, impressive dish that isn't all that difficult to put together.  It's the kind of thing that draws people in with its rustic charm without being pretentious.  It reminds me of the end of Ratatouille, when the snobby restaurant critic is so excited by the Provencal dish of his childhood.  Dishes like that let fresh, flavorful ingredients sing for themselves without fancy dressing.

Coincidentally, Matt mentioned that he was craving seafood.  It couldn't be anything too hardcore (like that crazy-good looking shawarma), but he does like anything of the shellfish variety:  shrimp, scallops, clams and mussels.  A perfect fit for the summery bouillabaisse.

The recipe called for those bright, blossoming flavors that are just starting to sprout and usher in this belated summer.  Tomatoes cooked until they burst, brightened up with fresh basil and parsley.  Walking out and plucking tonight's ingredients out from the dirt makes the mortgage worth it to me.  My parsley is finally starting to take off, alongside garlic and onions that are agonizing to watch (are they ready!?  What are they doing under there?  Could I take a peek and bury it again...?).  Tonight I got to pluck a whole mess of peas from their vines for a simple herb pasta, which when lightly boiled and blanched, should not legally be classified in the same species as those mushy things from a can.

Anyway, this was the first time I'd cooked clams on my own, although I came close with my ho-hum mussels from earlier this year.  Whenever I wash living shellfish, I get terrified that they're going to suddenly spring to violent life, open up and chomp down on my fingers.  I don't think they're physically capable of that, but still.  That and David Foster Wallace will keep me from graduating to lobsters anytime soon.

The colors in this dish are so vibrant, so bright, echoed in the flavors of light licorice fennel and lemon, and that rouille on warm, crusty bread?  I could literally eat a whole loaf of herbalicious spread on its own.  I served it up in these cute lidded ramekins I registered for back in the scan gun-happy wedding days, that remind me of New England clam bakes.  The salty, briny flavors made me feel like I was still shoreside at idyllic Cannon Beach, as if I could turn my head out to the sliding glass door and see sailboats gliding across the lawn.  Unlike my last foray into muscles, this recipe drove us to more bread to lap up the savory broth.  Stew may not normally be summery, but with the lightness of the seafood and sunny lemon notes, it somehow works. 

I'm so glad to be back to my very own kitchen, real ingredients, a blossoming garden and an exceptional batch of new recipes.  Oh, and it's nice to hug Matt too. 

Summer Tomato Bouillabaisse with Basil Rouille
from this month's Bon Appetit

4 garlic cloves, divided
1/2 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup mayonnaise
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
4 cups cherry tomatoes
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, halved and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 8oz bottle clam juice
3 lbs mixed shellfish (clams, cockles, mussels), scrubbed
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
Crusty bread for serving

Mince or finely grate 2 garlic cloves and transfer to a food processor.  Add basil, mayonnaise, 3 tbsp oil, anchovies, and lemon juice.  Puree until smooth.  Transfer basil rouille to a small bowl.  Cover and chill.

Heat remaining 2 tbsp oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat.  Add tomato and fennel; season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes burst, about 10 minutes.

Slice remaining 2 garlic cloves and add to pot.  Cook, stirring often, until garlic becomes fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add clam juice and 4 cups water and bring to a boil.  Add shellfish and cook, covered, until opened (discard any that do not open), about 3 minutes.  Stir in parsley.  Spread basil rouille on bread and serve alongside.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ode to a Dorm Stove

Oh woe is the Frigidaire FFEF3011LW electric range destined for college apartment-style dormitories.  Already a base model, free of the frills afforded its high-class brethren (infrared, convection, plasma), the doomed are destined for the basest of existences.  Never will it know the joys of coaxing the delicate chemistry of a child's birthday cake into life, or toasting the skin of a Thanksgiving turkey into the gilded packaging of a brined, moist inside that will set off a round of oohs and aahs at the table. 

There is scarcely a clue that the dorm stove has even been used, save for the scarred burners scalded by sputtering cauldrons of Top Ramen and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  The oven may be used for storage of textbooks, or a place to hide an illicit stash.  Perhaps, if occupants are particularly industrious, a frozen hockey puck of a burrito will be slipped into its hungry mouth.

What terrible past life has this poor stove lived to incur the karma this fate allots?  Did it have some bad wiring, sparking off a devastating house fire?  Allow the souffle to fall the night the boss was over for dinner, denying Daddy that promotion the family so desperately needed?  Is there a dorm truck that pulls up to the Frigidaire factory like a hearse, trucking off these units to this never-ending Hell?  All the Sears and Home Depot and strip mall apartment stoves watch with a mix of pity and relief, knowing it's not them.  Sure, they make take a few knocks in their lives:  leaky pies, spitting spaghetti sauce, forgotten roasts, but at least they'll be living. 

I'm sorry, Dorm Stove of Room 101, with your sad embroider-less towel and freakishly clean oven insides.  I hope you enjoyed a few moments roasting the stuffed peppers I put together with a set of supplies that makes my camping trip cooking look like the Iron Chef kitchen in terms of resources.  Even though you have the most crappy broil setting I've ever seen (about 20 minutes to bubbly cheese), I know your heart's in the right place.  I'll let Home Stove know that it better count its damn blessings, and to watch out.  Whoever moves in next might really love takeout. 

(I'll be back home to Eats of Eden on Sunday.  Writing residency is wonderful!)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Lemons and a Yoga Mat

When we were at Target this morning, I nearly crashed my cart when I saw this store-front endcap:


Matt, probably catching the freaked-out stares of stoic Wilsonvillians, urged me to keep walking.  "They're just bananas!"

But they're at Target.  And if you're anything like me, you've probably had an errand-getting list that looks like this:

- Fancifully-colored pens
- Cute Halloween decorations
- Wedding card
- Yoga mat
- 2 lemons

In which case I have to go to Target but duck into some other grocery store for the lemons.

(But Tabitha!  You could just go to Fred Meyer.)

Shut up.  It's not the same and you know it.  I love the aesthetics of Target.  I love their selection.  I love just going to see what I can see.  Incorporating groceries into that mix is so convenient, it brings tears to my eyes.  But judging from the crowd I saw, I'm just about the only person aside from the corporate marketing team that is as thrilled as I.

The selection is fairly basic, with standard produce, breads, dairy and such that will flesh out most everyday recipes you have planned.  They even have basic cheese!  Fresh mozzarella, Dubliner, chevre and kinda-aged Parmesan... I never thought I'd see a mini cheese case in a Target.

One product I was super-happy to see was ground pork.  Not every grocery store carries it, and it's the chief ingredient in our beloved banh mi sandwiches and Matt's favorite meatloaf.  Sure, if I'm planning ahead I'll go to New Seasons, but if we just want something quick and spontaneous it's nice to have an option so much closer to home. 

Today we picked up tomatoes, milk, zucchini and turkey.  At home I mixed the chopped-up tomato with leftover chimichurri and orzo for a quick pasta salad, and it was fresh and store-bought flavorful (as compared to garden-fresh exquisiteness that's still a few months off or close-to-it farmers marketness).  Now Matt looks over at me and rolls his eyes:  "you're really blogging about Target?"

Yes.  I am.  It is awesome. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Chim-chiminy, Chim-chiminy, Chim-i-churri!

Kinda sick of mango salsa and Yoshida's teriyaki sauce?  Branch out with something just as easy--chimichurri sauce! It's bright, slightly spicy, a murmur of sweet, and oh-so-refreshing. I first met chimichurri a few years ago at the Puyallup Farmer's Market from a homemade sauce, pesto and marinade vendor.  It's traditionally an Argentinian sauce that migrated eventually to Nicaragua and Mexico, and finally to the United States where it's becoming popular as a marinade for steaks and roasts, and a sauce for milder meats like chicken and fish. 

Last night I started having a craving.  White fish.  It's been so many years with such little seafood (due to one fish-hater husband), and when I do make fish it's always salmon.  Which, don't get me wrong, is fantastic.  Especially the Chinook salmon Matt and his dad reel out of the Columbia river.  I haven't actually bought a piece of fish in a similar stretch of time.  But what I was missing is light yet buttery white fishes:  trout, mahi mahi, tilapia, cod...  My mom used to make these little cod rolls with cheese and paprika baked in a shallow dish, served with simple rice pilaf.  I miss those!  I could almost taste them as I planned tonight's dinner, halibut with chimichurri sauce.  Not cheesy, but just right for a nice warm night.  I mixed up the super-easy chimichurri sauce in my Pampered Chef dressing mixer, which is awesome because it has a little built-in whisk.  It's great for storing the leftovers and mixing it back up when the oil separates.  I picked the halibut up on my lunch at Whole Foods, where they sell it in perfect little individual steaks and wrap it in adorable faux-newspaper that makes me smile.  Quality and whimsy?  Oh I love you Whole Foods and your impeccably-designed foodie brand!  I grabbed Matt a steak over at the butcher counter, just so he wouldn't miss out on the premium quality fun.

I used the grill basket for the fish, just in case it started to fall apart a bit.  Good call, because it did as I tried to remove it.  I'd hate to have lost it into the grill abyss.  It still cooked up perfectly, despite avoiding a direct grill.

I know it's not the blog "focus," but I just have to put a picture here of Matt's gorgeous steak sear.  It tasted better than it looked.  Hurray for good steak, which would ALSO be wonderful with chimichurri!  Sliced up and drizzled with the chim and served in corn tortillas, you'd have one hell of a twisted fajita.

Anyhow, I served the moist, buttery fish with Whole Foods' Broccoli Crunch salad.  One of my favorites that I haven't tried to duplicate (because they do such a damn good job), it's lightly dressed with the best chunks of bacon and nuggets of salty, crunchy cashews.  Such a fresh, summery treat had Matt volunteering to eat outside.  We watched our new bark dust, spotted the sprouting bulbs and marveled at how crazy the peas have gone in the past couple weeks.  It didn't quite satiate my craving for white fish, but intensified it.  I've got a taste for delicious fish, and I don't think I can stop until I make my way across the entire fish counter, from oysters to lobster tank.  Looks like I'll need more chimichurri sauce.  I hope that by midsummer I'll have enough parsley in the backyard to whip up batches on a whim.  But if I have to go to the store, that's okay too.  I can't grow a lemon tree out here, much to my heartbreak.

Grilled Halibut with Chimichurri Sauce from Epicurious
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced shallot
3/4 teaaspoon hot red-pepper flakes
3/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
4 (6- to 8-ounce) halibut steaks (3/4 to 1 inch thick)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, water, garlic, shallot, red-pepper flakes, and 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper until salt has dissolved. Stir in parsley. Let chimichurri stand 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare grill for direct-heat cooking over medium-hot charcoal (medium heat for gas).
Pat fish dry, then brush with vegetable oil and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper (total).
Oil grill rack, then grill fish, covered only if using a gas grill, turning once, until just cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes total.
Serve fish drizzled with some of chimichurri; serve remainder on the side.