Rinse and Repeat

Aside from having the occasional relentless sushi craving, at which time I could easily devour four maki rolls by my lonesome, seafood has not been a mainstay in my repertoire as of late. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve cooked plenty of seafood dishes, cephalopods included, but it’s been quite a while.

Does the oyster-shuckin’ day even count?! And if not, then it’s been almost a year since seafood has had a presence here – yikaroonies! Needless to say, that has got to be remedied.

Because here’s the deal – here’s my beef with seafood: you have to plan for it. Yeah, I know, that’s not normally a problem for me at all; I plan what days of the week my hair gets washed, for cryin’ out loud. But when I cook fish, I want it to be fresh as all get out. I want it to smell like the sea, and I want to buy it as close to when I hope to prepare it as possible – a day apart, tops. That’s where I run into an issue because I like to buy groceries on Sunday in the early afternoon, with hopes of eating any fish I’d purchase on Monday (don’t forget – Sundays are for the big time-consuming meals). Now, if anything goes awry on Monday, say a last minute plan with a friend, or a husband working late, or maybe I get a wild hair up my ass to finally go for a run after work (which, when the mood strikes, I must take advantage of said urge), the plans for fish-cooking are ruined.

You still with me? Because this is real life – I had to toss a couple of lovely halibut fillets into the freezer a few weeks ago because the Monday cooking didn’t happen, and cooking that same fish on Tuesday seemed like such a travesty. And yeah, it’s not like I wasted the fish and threw it away, but still – frozen halibut just isn’t the same.

You may be sensing some degree of stubbornness on my part, and that’s spot on. But this time around, I did bend the rules just a tad. I stuck to my regular method of purchasing fish on Sunday. When Monday rolled around, I stuck to my plans of cooking that night. Of course, Chris tried to throw a wrench into my plan and work late, but I just snacked and waited patiently, vowing not to ruin my fish this time. At the last minute, I decided to cook half of the fish (only 2 fillets), so that I could – get this – cook the other two on Tuesday night (because another issue I have with fish is that leftover fish tastes like poo, and that’s not good for anyone). Yeah, I know – crazy, huh?! But here’s where it gets even crazier – it was still just as good on Tuesday.

I’m sure the red pepper and harissa pesto that was nestled under those perfectly-cooked fillets helped in the taste area, but the point of my story is a point you’re not going to hear me make too often: I was wrong. (ps – you might want to do a screenshot of this page before I update this post and delete that sentence.)

With that point out of the way, maybe I can slowly work a weekly seafood dish back into my weekly cooking, like we used to do back in the day. We’ll see how it goes…

In the meantime though, take yourself to the grocery store on Sunday (or Monday, if you’re feeling frisky) and buy the prettiest pink wild Alaskan (sustainable) salmon you can find, as well as the remainder of the ingredients for the pesto. If you can’t find harissa, you can use tomato paste, which is what the original recipe used – I just wanted more spice in my life. Come straight home from work on Monday and cook half of the fish, one for you and one for your lucky guest. Whip up the pesto while the grill does the rest of the work. Eat said fish, and thank yourself for such a lovely dinner.

Rinse, and repeat on Tuesday.

Salmon with Red Pepper-Harissa Pesto
adapted from Cooking Light, October 2011; serves 4

time commitment: 15 minutes (enough time to toss some edamame into the microwave for steaming in which case you’d have a full freakin’ dinner!)

printable version

ingredients
4 6-oz wild Alaskan salmon fillets
3/4 t salt, divided
cooking spray
3 medium-sized bottled roasted red peppers, rinsed & drained
1-2 T bottled harissa
1 t olive oil
1/4 c blanched almonds
1 garlic clove

instructions
heat grill pan over med-hi heat. sprinkle fish with salt. coat pan with cooking spray. grilled fish for ~4 minutes on each side, until fish flakes easily (I like to leave some of the middle less cooked, as it cooks a little after it’s taken off the grill).

meanwhile, combine remaining salt and other ingredients in a small food processor or blender, and blend until smooth. serve pesto with fish.

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Waiting is Overrated

I have had a huge hankering for tomatoes lately. Huge. They’ve slowly been inching their way into our markets – every weekend I dash down the street (okay okay, I stroll; I couldn’t dash if I tried these days) to see if there’s a burgeoning table of wayward-shaped heirlooms in need of a handful of my cash-money. Instead, I see a corner of lonely tomatoes, the same corner that once housed a crate of greens, or maybe some stray box of strawberries.

Damnit, I want that big table of tomatoes already. I have a list of things I want to do with them, and I am growing impatient. Can you tell?

I want to make another panzanella salad, because I haven’t made one since I made this one two years ago! But this time, I want to load it with ‘maters. And sourdough bread, of course.

I want to can plenty of tomato sauce, and make barbeque sauce, and plenty of sriracha ketchup. I want to make buttermilk dressing and slather it all over sliced heirloom tomatoes. And myself. That’s not weird, is it?

I want to make my own harissa. Now let me be clear – the store-bought harissa is totally legit, but I’m sort of a fan of making condiments. Sort of.

I also wouldn’t mind some gazpacho right about now. That sounds like something I could definitely get behind. Or in front of. Or in my mouth. Whatevs.

I wanted to wait to stuff some ‘maters, like my old bosslady did a few months ago, but I really just couldn’t wait any longer. Plus, I’ve been cooking through Heidi Swanson’s new book like it’s goin’ outta style, and I decided that the Whole Foods tomatoes would just have to do because the earmark on the page was near ’bout worn off.

I also couldn’t help myself from throwing a slice of cheese on top, because when has mozzarella cheese and a tomato ever been a bad thing?

Sometimes waiting is so overrated, isn’t it?

Couscous Stuffed Tomatoes
Adapted from Super Natural Every Day, serves 4

time commitment: 1 hour, 15 minutes (15 minutes active time)

this is a relatively versatile recipe. except! don’t use millet in your tomatoes, as i accidentally did the first time i tried this recipe. you could use a grain of similar texture, more than likely. quinoa maybe? a pesto filling would work well in place of harissa and any other spices/seasonings to put a different twist on it sound fabulous too. if you want a meat-filled tomato, check out this ‘winning recipe‘.

printable version

ingredients
4 large, ripe, red tomatoes
1/3 c plain yogurt
2 T store-bought harissa (tomato-based)
1/4 c fresh basil, chopped into thin strips (chiffonade)
1 shallot, minced
salt and pepper
1/2 c couscous, uncooked
4 oz mozzarella cheese, cut into 4 slices
olive oil, for drizzling

instructions
Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cut the top 10% off of each tomato. Working over a large bowl (and using a grapefruit spoon if you have one, but if not a regular spoon works too), scoop the flesh out of each tomato, being careful not to puncture the sides. Let the pulp and juice fall into the bowl. Chop up any large pieces. Arrange shells of tomatoes in a small, glass baking dish.

In the same bowl, combine 1/2 c of the tomato pulp/juice (discard the rest, which shouldn’t be too much) with yogurt, harissa, basil (leave a little to garnish), shallots, and salt/pepper to taste. Add couscous and stir to combine. Stuff filling into each tomato shell, filling as much as possible.

Bake, uncovered, for 50 minutes. Add mozzarella strips to the top of each tomato and bake another 5-7 minutes, until melted and gooey. Remove from oven, drizzle with a little olive oil and pepper, and garnish with remaining basil.

What Barbeque Isn’t

It has become widely apparent to me that there are some key differences between the East and the West. And now, I don’t mean the World here, I just mean the wee ol’ United States. The red, the white, and the blue. Happy Belated Birthday, by the way, America. The San Francisco fireworks in your honor were just plain lovely, after I stopped thinking about the regretful act of not wearing socks that night.

There were a plethora of other lovelies this past holiday weekend too: grillin’ out with friends on Saturday, starting to walk through a great new book on Sunday, and a baseball game finished off by said fireworks on Monday. Why can’t all weekends be that awesome (minus the sunburn)?!

But let’s get back to the matter at hand. Throughout the course of the past week, I have without a doubt deduced one clear, glaring difference between East and West, and this isn’t to say that there aren’t quite a few, but alas. I have what may be the most important discrepancy: the definition of “barbeque” (aka barbecue).

I’d like to direct your attention to the following article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbecue. Yes, Wikipedia, the source of all sources.

You can read through the whole article, if you wish. It’s actually rather interesting. But what I’d like to call your attention to is the following paragraph:

“The word barbecue is also used to refer to a social gathering where food is served, usually outdoors in the late afternoon or evening. In the southern USA, outdoor gatherings are not typically called “barbecues” unless barbecue itself will actually be on the menu, instead generally favoring the word “cookouts”. The device used for cooking at a barbecue is commonly referred to as a “barbecue”, “barbecue grill”, or “grill”. In North Carolina, however, “barbecue” is a noun primarily referring to the food and never used by native North Carolinians to describe the act of cooking or the device on which the meat is cooked.”

Here’s the issue: I found myself eating around a grill 4 separate times this past week from Thursday through Monday. Not once did I partake in, or make use of a, barbeque. Often times, I had to confusingly ask for clarification. Here’s one example.

Co-worker: “Are you coming to the barbeque at lunch today? It’s free.”

Me: “Free? Yes! Where is the pig being cooked?”

Co-worker: (insert strange look on face) “Huh?”

Me: “Oh, yeah, right. What you mean to say is there are some meat items that have been grilled, and that is free, right?”

Co-worker: “Yeah. A barbeque.”

Either way, the grilled meat was good. But it ain’t barbeque.

And neither is this chicken, although a grill was most certainly part of the festivities. It doesn’t make it less good, I promise. But there is right and there is wrong in this world, and to say barbeque for something that has a pig nowhere in sight is just plain wrong. Although, I should be clear here, and state my one exception: you can called chicken ‘barbequed chicken’ IF there is a barbeque sauce involved, but that’s still a stretch, and in that sense it really is only referring to the fact that it’s chicken, with barbeque sauce, and not necessarily grilled, either.

Agree? Agree to disagree? Tell me more. Maybe one day I’ll learn to turn the other cheek at this craziness; probably not. And since I am out West, and unlikely to find any truly original REAL barbeque, I’ll settle for grilled meats instead. Because, really, what’s not to love about a grill, anyway?

Grilled Chicken with Za’atar
adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2011; serves 4

time commitment: ~3 hours, plus overnight marinating (most is inactive time; everything can be made in advance, leaving only grilling chicken for the day of)

i’m including the original recipe amounts here, but this is easily adaptable to a crowd, as we practically quadrupled the recipe with no problems, scaling back on the marinade just a tad. the chicken is great by itself, or with either/both of the dipping sauces below. also, I don’t tend to remove seeds from peppers, as we like things spicy in our house, and we like to torture our guests. feel free to remove them if you’re feeling sheepish.

printable version

ingredients
marinade
2 heads of garlic, top third cut off
5 T olive oil, divided
1 1/2 t lemon zest
3 T fresh lemon juice
1 T chopped fresh rosemary
1 small serrano chile, minced
2 t dried marjoram

za’atar
1 T chopped fresh marjoram
1 T sumac
1 T ground cumin
1 T roasted sesame seeds
1 t kosher salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper

1 whole chicken, cut into 6 pieces (breast, wing, thigh/leg)
salt/pepper
1 T olive oil

instructions
Preheat oven to 400 F. Put garlic on a large sheet of foil. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil and wrap tightly with foil. Roast until tender and golden brown, 45-50 minutes. Let cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the remainder of the marinade and the za’atar. In a medium bowl, add 4 tablespoons oil, lemon zest and juice, rosemary, chile, and marjoram; whisk to blend. When garlic is cooled, squeeze roasted cloves out of skins and into the same bowl; mash into a paste with the back of a fork and whisk all ingredients together.

For the za’atar, combine marjoram through black pepper in a small bowl.

Place chicken pieces in a glass baking dish or large bowl. Sprinkle 2 1/2 tablespoons za’atar over chicken. Pour marinade over chicken; turn to coat. Cover; chill overnight.

Season chicken with salt and pepper; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a gas grill to medium-high. Brush grill rack with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Grill chicken, turning occasionally, until skin is crisp and browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the deepest part of thigh without touching bone reads 160°, about 40 minutes, more or less for some pieces and depending on the size. Transfer chicken to a platter, sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoon za’atar, and let rest 10 minutes.

Serve by itself, or with cumin aioli and green harissa (recipes below).

 

Cumin Aioli
from Bon Appetit, July 2011; makes 1 cup

printable version

ingredients
1 t cumin seeds
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 c grapeseed oil
1/4 c evoo
Kosher salt

instructions
Stir cumin in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, 2 minutes; let cool. Coarsely grind in a spice mill. Whisk yolks, lemon juice, and garlic in a small bowl. While whisking, slowly pour in grapeseed oil drop by drop, then olive oil, whisking vigorously until emulsified. Whisk in cumin and 1/2 t water. Season with salt. Cover; chill.

 

Green Harissa
from Bon Appetit, July 2011; makes 1/2 cup

printable version

ingredients
1 c chopped fresh cilantro
1 c chopped spinach
1/4 c evoo
1 garlic clove, minced
1 serrano chile, minced
1/4 t ground coriander
1/4 t ground cumin
Kosher salt

instructions
Combine first 7 ingredients in a food processor and purée until smooth. Season harissa to taste with salt.