Fennel-y-dee

One of the downsides to losing the Iron Chef battles, or rather the downside to losing, is that you don’t get to choose the ingredient next time around. Okay, I retract that statement; there is another downside – crushing of pride. Embarrassment. Resulting fear and anxiety about the next one, another losing battle for sure. Soul-stealing. Losing leftovers – who wants those?! I couldn’t even look at the sliders from last time.

Wow, that was intense. And maybe a little dramatic. Whatever.

But when you don’t get to pick the ingredient, you just never ever know how you’re gonna feel about it, until you do. Know, that is, which generally doesn’t happen until the Wednesday before the actual event. So you wait two months in anticipation, since you, er, lost. Remember?

And then someone announces that FENNEL is the god-forsaken theme ingredient. Fennel. Shitfire (yes, this is a word).

As it turns out, f-ing fennel is not my most favorite ingredient on the planet. I was hoping for, I dunno, cheese? Bacon? Crabs? Fire-breathing dragons? Rattlesnake? Durian? Definitely not fennel.

And dang, here I go being dramatic again. I really don’t hate fennel. Honest. I just, as my gramma would have said, I just don’t love it. And these secret ingredients – they need to be loved. You need to be excited about them. You need to want to slather them all over your body, and eat them till the cows come home.


dishes, left to right: fennel crackers with roasted fennel dip, fennel-lamb kebabs with fennel chutney, green salad with shaved fennel and parmesan, fennel ice cream sundae, random shot of food, homemade smoked salmon and pear crostini with fennel cream, porchetta-fennel pulled pork with pickled fennel, fennel ice cream with chocolate fennel tuile, fennel angel food cake with candied fennel

Or do you?

The top three:

  1. Heather’s Fennel Dessert Sundae (fennel ice cream, fennel-manchego shortbread, and orange-fennel caramel) AND Jeff’s house-made smoked salmon with fennel and fennel cream fraiche)
  2. Elizabeth’s fennel ice cream (which was better than mine) with chocolate fennel tuile
  3. Kevin’s lamb-fennel kebabs with fennel chutney

 

Four SF battles in, I finally made a dish worthy of a win, or at least a shared win. With fennel, of all things. But I sucked it up and I liked it, and I liked ALL of the dishes made. And my dish? I just stuck with things that I do LOVE – ice cream, caramel, and shortbread. I figured, even if I don’t LOVE fennel, I’d at least love the mediums that included it.

So here we are – at an Iron Chef first – a tie. Picking the next ingredient (or ingredients, depending on what we decide) should be fun. Plus, my pride will be intact – for once. ūüôā

ps – the shortbread recipe is coming soon. but it’s so dang good, I just had to give it it’s own post. had to.

Fennel Ice Cream
From Gourmet 2007 via Epicurious; makes ~1 quart

time commitment: variable. at least 3 hours (1 hour active time), or you can do this in steps and make the base the night before and freeze the ice cream the next day.

printable version

ingredients
1 2/3 c heavy cream (or 1/2 & 1/2)
1 T fennel seeds, crushed
1 c whole milk
3/4 c sugar, divided
4 large egg yolks

ice cream maker

instructions
Bring cream and fennel seeds just to a simmer in a small heavy saucepan, then cover and let steep about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring milk, 1/2 c sugar, and a pinch of salt to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring.

Whisk together yolks and remaining 1/4 c sugar in a large bowl, then add milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking. Return mixture to medium saucepan and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until mixture coats back of spoon and registers 175¬įF on an instant-read thermometer (do not let boil). Immediately strain custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a heat-proof bowl. Strain fennel cream into the same bowl, pressing on solids while straining to extract as much flavor as possible. Mix together.

Quick-chill by setting bowl in an ice bath and stirring occasionally until cool, about 15 minutes. You can also just chill the mixture in the fridge overnight, if you allow an extra day for this.

Once mixture is chilled, freeze in ice cream maker according to machine’s instructions (usually 15-20 minutes). Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden, about 1 hour.

 

Orange-Fennel Caramel Sauce
original recipe; makes ~1/2 c

time commitment: 30 minutes

printable version

ingredients
1 c sugar (+ more to thicken, if needed)
1/4 c water
zest of 1 orange
1/2 c fresh orange juice
1 T fennel seeds
1/4 c heavy cream
1 T butter
1 t sea salt

instructions
Combine sugar and water in heavy small saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil and DO NOT STIR. Also, DO NOT WALK AWAY. On occasion, pick the saucepan up and swirl the mixture, but don’t stir. Somewhere between 5-8 minutes the mixture will begin to turn from clear to a light golden color. Once the golden color is more noticeable, remove from heat more often and swirl the mixture. The caramel color will quickly change colors, and will continue to cook in the pan once removed from the heat, so don’t wait to remove the pan when it’s dark, or your sauce will burn. What you want to end up with is a nice, deep golden color that isn’t burnt, so if you don’t get the right color after removing from the heat and swirling, then add it back to the stove for a few seconds at a time. Make sure it’s spot-on before you continue to the next step – it’s better to toss out a little burnt sugar and start over than to have to start all over once you finish everything and realize your caramel tastes burnt and gross.

Once the sauce is the right color, carefully add zest, orange juice, fennel seed, and heavy cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir over low heat until smooth and any caramel bits dissolve. Strain the mixture (twice, if needed) through a fine mesh sieve and pour back into the saucepan.

Now, once I got to this point my sauce was a tad too “watery” for my liking, so I added about a teaspoon of sugar at a time, cooking on medium-low, until it thickened up. I adjusted the amount of sugar on the front end when I wrote this recipe, so yours should be thicker, but feel free to do this if you want to thicken up your sauce and just slowly cook it without a ton of heat until it gets where you want it. Once it does, finish the sauce with the butter and sea salt, and remove from heat to let cool completely. You can strain at the end if you want, but straining earlier was helpful for me to check the thickness.

The sauce will keep for a few days (weeks?) in the fridge. Zap it the microwave for ~30 seconds before serving.

Advertisements

After the Pie

Man, what a week. I feel like I need another juice cleanse to get back in the swing of eating non-crap. Of course, everything eaten over the past 7 days has been fantastic (and not literally crap..), but as we all know, it adds up pretty quickly.

But that’s what the Holidays are for, right?!

I don’t have many Thanksgiving pictures to share with you all this year, but imagine a smallish San Francisco condo packed with 14 hungry people, and empty bottles of beer, wine, and cava all over the place. Imagine plates of tasty food, from appetizers to the main feast to a table full of fresh made ice cream and 8 pies at the end of the night. And of course, a little bit of Rock Band (though not nearly enough, in my opinion) was certainly part of the fun.

It was a good day, and while there wasn’t nearly as much chillin‘ as we normally like, it was a nice long holiday week/weekend and we were, as Chris would say, √ľber happy to have our favorite people with us for so long. Next year, we’ll do it all over again, except we plan to make the trip to Minnesota this time around, giving up control of hosting duties for the first time in 7 years.

I can’t wait.

Like the two of us, perhaps you’re filling your dinner menu with light items for the next couple of weeks? Have you eaten so much pie, stuffing, and sweet potato casserole that you broke out your fat pants again? If so, another fish recipe will most definitely fit the bill. Surprisingly, I’ve actually done a decent job of keeping up with the early weekday fish tradition, so this is one made a few weeks back.

It’s pretty perfect for Fall, even though a fish dish isn’t normally something I think of during this time of the year. I think it’s the saffron, which seems to invoke all sorts of feelings of richness and decadence. Who knows.

Either way, it’s a pretty easy dish to toss together in under an hour, and it’s all sorts of good for you. It might make you feel better about all that pie, but I’m not making any promises there…

Cod with Tomato Sauce & Fregola
Adapted from Food & Wine, September 2011; serves 4

time commitment: ~50 minutes (30 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
4 T extra-virgin olive oil
5 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 t crushed red pepper
3 lbs tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/8 t saffron threads, crumbled
5 marjoram sprigs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Zest of 1 orange, in short, thin strips
5 bay leaves
3 whole cloves
2 c toasted fregola*
Four 4-oz skinless cod fillets
Chopped parsley, for garnish

*fregola is a toasted semolina pasta that looks like Israeli couscous. If you can’t find it, you can easily use arborio rice instead (which is what F&W uses). Also, the fregola isn’t gluten-free, so if you need that you’ll definitely have to sub the rice in.

instructions
In a large, deep skillet, heat olive oil. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook over moderate heat until the garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and saffron and cook over moderate heat until the tomatoes just begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the marjoram and season with salt and black pepper. Cook the sauce over moderately low heat, stirring and crushing the tomatoes with a spoon, until the sauce is thickened and the liquid is reduced, about 35 minutes. Discard marjoram.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, combine the orange zest strips, bay leaves, cloves, and fregola and cook until the fregola is al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain the fregola, discarding the zest, bay leaves and cloves. Return to pot and season with salt and pepper.

Nestle the cod in the tomato sauce and cook, turning the fillets once, until just opaque throughout, about 10 minutes.

Spoon the fregola into bowls or plates and top with the cod and sauce. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Simply Refreshing

Years go by pretty quickly if you aren’t careful. Before you know it, you’ve been married for 5 years, and while it doesn’t sound like an extra-long time, it probably is when measured against marriages these days that last a year or two or often times much less, if you’re counting those drunken Vegas ventures.

Anniversaries for us usually equate to spending a quiet night together, just the two of us: dinner, a movie (that I always fall asleep to), and a card. We aren’t big gifters, but we acknowledge the day and make sure we’re extra-nice to one another. You know – no screaming or food fights or whatnot.

Since 5 years seemed like a bigger “accomplishment” than the prior 4, we once had big plans of spending a couple of weeks back in Italy – a week in Florence¬†and perhaps another week north, somewhere a little more secluded than the moped-ridden streets of our favorite city. It seemed appropriate since we’d met there 10 years ago this summer, appropriate and we are¬†long overdue for an international trip. But stuff happened, ya know? We moved across the country, we got new jobs which means limited vacation, and I must admit – we live in a pretty cool new area, so we weren’t that crazy about a big trip right now anyways.

So the Italian countryside got, well, the boot. But never fear – we still have plans for the ‘big event’. Last night, we bought lightbulbs from Home Depot, and that started off our wild and crazy weekend. But for serious, I did get some gorgeous strawberry-colored flowers, which is always fun in an office full of girls. I think we’ll take it easy on today, our actual anniversary, but first thing Saturday we’re headed to Sonoma where we’ll do none other than one of our favorite things: drink wine. We also have reservations at a fancy restaurant, and for the second time, we’ll see just how easy it is to hop into the car and head to wine country.

But at the end of the day, I’m just thankful to be married to this guy. Yes, he stresses over lightbulbs and yes, he plays video games with headphones on, but aside from those minor details, he’s nothing short of awesome. And being married to someone like that, for 5 years and hopefully 5,000 more, is easy to explain: it’s just refreshing, plain and simple.

Strawberry Soda
makes just enough for 2

printable version

time commitment: 5 minutes

ingredients
8 strawberries
2 sprigs of fresh mint
juice from 1/2 of a small orange
2 T raw sugar (turbinado)
ice
1 can club soda

instructions
in a large glass or shaker, combine strawberries through sugar. using a muddler or wooden spoon, muddle the ingredients until they are thoroughly mixed together. add¬†a couple of ice cubes and the can of club soda (if you don’t have enough room for the whole can, just add what you can) and stir until drink is cold.

pour drink through a strainer into two tall glasses, and if you have more club soda, feel free to add the rest here, tossing in an ice cube if needed. voila!

Easy Does It

It seems that the month of February has begun to fly by much more quickly than I’d anticipated. Six weeks ago, we were finally talking openly about our big move, and at the time it was a bit surreal; there was certainly more talk than action those days. Shoot, the only action, per se, was putting our condo on the market, and when we did that we thought it may be the last of the pieces to fall into place, if ever – despite it being the first physical sign that we were, in fact, moving.

But miraculously, that so-called mountain of a task has turned out to be more of an ant hill, as the condo has (fingers crossed) been sold, pending some final paperwork and such. With that, an earlier-than-expected close date has ensued, and a couple more temporary moves have been added to the moving equation.

Chris starts his job tomorrow, and as I type he’s packing his suitcases to begin the journey we thought would never get here, but in contrast it snuck up on us and smacked us silly. This first week without him will be easy, because he’ll be back late Thursday night, at which time our condo, our home for a couple more weeks, will be filled with friends and we’ll party throughout the weekend, celebrating all the Chicago days we’ve loved and all the San Francisco days we’ve yet to encounter but will almost certainly love, in time, as well.

Needless to say, the past few weeknights have been spent in bars, in restaurants, at ‘one more’ wine class – a valiant effort to clear our Chicago bucket list, and the attempt was largely successful. But in doing so, the kitchen here has been barren, so much so that yesterday the dishwasher was full of coffee mugs rather than plates, spoons rather than forks and knives, and no tupperware symbolizing a hefty week of leftovers.

I usually relish the idea of a potluck party, an event I take advantage of fully by digging through my recipe clippings/ideas and whipping up something I’ve been eyeing for a while, like the arancini, but couldn’t find a reason to make at home. But on Thursday, I had no clue what I’d bring for the Friday event, and I quickly searched the recipe pages of a few blogs I read, easily tossing out any recipe that would take more than 30 minutes and involve any worrisome ingredients that might require special grocery store trips. I was even starting to wish I’d RSVP’d as maybe, so I’d have the opportunity to back out gracefully.

But I was reminded of our sort-of mottos for the past few weeks of craziness – take things one step at a time, don’t let the large details get to you; easy does it. It seems to work for lots of life’s issues – moving, house-selling, looking for new jobs, and even potlucks.

Citrus Salad w/ Feta and Mint
inspired by Smitten Kitchen; serves a party

time commitment: 30 minutes

this is a perfect winter salad, and it’s gorgeous for a dinner party, which is where mine was utilized. you can use any combo of citrus you want, really whatever looks pretty and isn’t full of seeds. adjust amounts based on number of guests – this will serve a large group or make for great leftovers.

printable version

ingredients
1/2 red onion, chopped into very thin slices
1 pink grapefruit
1 yellow grapefruit
2 blood oranges
2 cara cara oranges
2 T fresh mint, chopped into strips
4 oz goat’s milk feta cheese, cut into small cubes/chunks
1 T red wine vinegar
extra virgin olive oil (amount varies – see recipe)
1/8 t dijon mustard
fresh ground pepper
kosher salt

instructions
put onion strips in the bottom of a mesh strainer and position strainer over a medium-sized bowl. peel outer rind away from each citrus fruit, using a smallish knife, removing all the white pith from the fruit. cut each piece of fruit into 1/4″ thick wheels and layer citrus over onions in the mesh strainer (juice will slowly collect in the bowl and ‘pickle’ the onions slightly). let sit for a few minutes to drain a bit.

arrange citrus wheels neatly on a large platter, and top with onion slices. top with mint and feta. to the bowl of citrus juice, add red wine vinegar and enough olive oil to double the amount of liquid (probably ~2-3 T). add mustard, salt and pepper and whisk to create a citrus vinaigrette. pour over fruit prior to serving.

Getting Fresh

Now that the big secret’s out, we can get back to this backlog of recipes I’ve been wanting to talk about for ages but wasn’t able to since there’s been about ten thousand things on my mind.

And let there be no doubt, there are still at least 9,000 things on my mind, but nonetheless, enough space has been cleared in my brain where I can talk about food again. Cooking it is another thing, but fortunately I have a pretty big backlog.

I don’t know about you, but one of the first things that comes to my mind when I think of California (my future state of residence!!) is all the fresh food. The words fresh and local will be a little different in the Golden State than here in the Midwest – word on the street is that people grow oranges, and lemons, and maybe even avocados there! I’m hoping real hard to land a place with a lemon tree in the backyard, and if not, you best believe I might plant one myself, even with my horrible track record of growing things.

This is certainly a recipe that should fit well into any season, but it’s usually in January or so when I really crave something light and fresh in between all the stews and chili. Plus, with having a constant meat rotation with the CSA, I find that I need a good excuse to have some fresh fish that isn’t something coming from my freezer. This is a good, easy answer to all of those things.

And I never turn down a taco, or an avocado, or salmon for that matter. All things that make moving to the West Coast even more exciting, if truth be told.

Chipotle-Rubbed Salmon Tacos
Adapted from Food & Wine, March 2010; serves 4

time commitment: ~30 minutes

printable version

ingredients
salsa
1 Granny Smith apple‚ÄĒpeeled and small-diced
1/2 cucumber‚ÄĒpeeled, seeded, and small-diced
1/2 small red onion, small-diced
1/2 small red bell pepper, small-diced
1 1/2 T champagne vinegar
1 1/2 t sugar
salt

2 T mayonnaise
2 t fresh lime juice
2 t chipotle chile powder
2 t finely grated orange zest
2 t sugar
1 lb skinless wild Alaskan salmon fillet, cut into 4 pieces
1 T plus 1 t extra-virgin olive oil
8 corn tortillas
salt
1 Hass avocado, mashed
zest from 1 lime

instructions
cut up all ingredients for salsa. toss with vinegar, sugar, and salt. can be prepared in advance and refrigerated.

preheat the oven to 350 F. In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the lime juice. In another small bowl, combine the chipotle powder with the orange zest and sugar. Rub each piece of salmon with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and then with the chipotle‚Äďorange zest mixture. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Wrap the tortillas in foil and bake for about 8 minutes, until they are softened and heated through.

Meanwhile, heat a grill pan. Season the salmon with salt and grill over high heat until nicely browned and just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side.

Break salmon into small chunks. Spread the mashed avocado on the warm tortillas and top with the salmon, and salsa. Drizzle each taco with the lime mayonnaise and serve right away.

Smoked Out, Spiced Up

I made a routine trip over to The Spice House a few weeks ago to stock up on a few items that were running frighteningly low (seriously, what would I do if¬†I ran out of cumin? green cardamom pods?). Fortunately, I’d ditched outta work a little early that day, otherwise I would have been caught in the midst of one of Chicago’s final festivals of the summer had I waited and ventured over to Old Town on the weekend.

I love that place, and when explaining to those who are less, say, discriminating in their spice-buying, why I get my spices from there, and there only, I vacillate between a few equally valid reasons.

1) I like to keep my spices fresh, and as a result I buy in small quantities. No, I don’t put dates on the bottom of my spice jars, and I don’t throw every single bottle out and start over every 6 months, as other spice nazis do. Hell no, I’m not throwing out saffron – I don’t care how old it is! But since I can buy in small quantities (typically 1 oz at a time), I do, and this way I’m replacing many of them every 6 months anyway, or even less.

2) I swear I save money, even if I spend $10-20 bucks on spices each trip. I can’t help it that I am tempted by the cute container of smoked sea salt and the enticing aroma of Tahitian vanilla bean. But seriously – the spice jars at Whole Foods are ~4 bucks a pop, and the weekly grocery bills are already unruly. Maybe that’s just WF, but either way, I’m convinced it has to be cheaper to buy from bulk bins since I’m not throwing out money for the exact same glass jar I already have at home. Just sayin’.

3) The folks there are so dang nice. My blogger buddies, Alice & Jared, even got to hang out there one afternoon – so you can read an in-depth account of their trip here! I had a rather detailed convo with one of the “spiciers” (yes, using this word as a noun instead of an adjective here..) while she was bagging all my goods the other day: she was curious about the star anise I was buying, commenting on how pretty it is and asking, “what do you do with it?”.

Ahem. Well, aside from steeping it in beverages (hello, Thai¬†iced tea)¬†and other dishes, sorta like you would a cinnamon stick, and baking, the list goes on and on. But my focus this time, and my need for a refill, was because I was smokin’ with it. Yep, smokin’. I think she peed her pants when I said that. Okay, maybe not, but she did wrinkle her nose quite a bit.

I’d found a very intriguing recipe in a recent Food & Wine magazine from an interview with a chef in North Carolina, Andrea Reusing of Lantern, a place that’s now on my list of to-do’s over a future NC visit. Turns out, her husband co-founded Merge Records (Arcade Fire, aka one of¬†my favorite three bands of this year,¬†anyone?). NC-based and friends of Arcade Fire aside, I loved the idea of smoking with tea and spices – loved it. And while many of you (myself included) don’t have a home smoker, you can rig it up with no problem, as I did with a wok, a cooling rack, and tin foil.

The result, after a day in a soy-based, spiced brine (you know I heart brines!), a quick smoke over the stovetop, and some more time in the oven, is an extremely moist, mahogany-colored piece of chicken that tastes like you’ve stepped right into a house of spices and a chicken coop in¬†paradise¬†simultaneously. The outer skin crunches against your teeth, and the juices run carelessly into your mouth and down your chin. And while I didn’t bother too much with the accompanying sauce, I’m sure the sweet tang is a nice partner to this anise-loving chicken, if you can stop eating it long enough to spoon a little onto the next bite, that is.

Tea & Spice-Smoked Roasted Chicken
Adapted from Food & Wine via Lantern Restaurant, September 2010; serves 4

time commitment:¬†20 minutes the night before + 24 hours brining time + 1.75 hours the night you intend to eat it (pssttt – it’s worth it!).

printable version

ingredients
chicken brine
2 quarts water
6 garlic cloves, smashed
5 dried red chiles
4 star anise pods
3 T honey
one 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
zest of 1 small orange or tangerine, removed in strips with a vegetable peeler
one 1-inch piece of cinnamon stick
1 c soy sauce (gluten-free, if needed)
1 small yellow onion, quartered
1 T sugar
1 whole chicken, wing tips removed

smoking mixture
1/2 c jasmine rice
1/4 c plus 2 T sugar
1/4 c plus 2 T loose black tea
6 star anise pods, broken into pieces
4 dried red chiles, broken into pieces
vegetable oil, for rubbing
1 t Sichuan peppercorns, crushed
salt

scallion-ginger sauce
4 scallions, white and pale green parts only, minced 
2 T finely grated fresh ginger 
2 T canola oil
salt

special stuff: roasting pan or wok & a large pot or Dutch oven

instructions
brine the chicken
in a large pot (a Dutch oven large enough to hold the chicken), combine the water, garlic, chiles, star anise, honey, ginger, orange zest, cinnamon, soy sauce, onion and sugar. Simmer over moderate heat for 10 minutes. Let cool.

place chicken in pot of brine and turn the chicken to coat it completely with brine. Turn the chicken breast side down and place lid on pot. Refrigerate for 24 hours.

prepare the smoking mixture
preheat the oven to 375 F. In a bowl, combine the rice, sugar, tea, star anise and chiles. Line a wok or small roasting pan with a double layer of foil. Scatter the tea mixture on the foil and set a rack in the wok/pan. Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry. Transfer the chicken to the rack, breast side up; be sure¬†it doesn’t¬†touch the side of the pan. Tent heavy-duty foil over the chicken and seal all around the edge of the pan. Seal overlapping pieces of foil with tape.

set the roasting pan/wok over high heat and cook for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to moderately low and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand for 3 minutes. Uncover the chicken and let rest for 10 minutes.

transfer the chicken to a rimmed baking sheet, breast side up. Rub the chicken with canola oil, sprinkle with the Sichuan peppercorns and season lightly with salt. Roast in the upper third of the oven for 35 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 425 F and continue to roast for about 35 minutes longer, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the inner thigh registers 165. Transfer the chicken to a carving board and let rest for 10 minutes.

make the scallion-ginger sauce
In a bowl, combine the scallions, ginger and oil and season with salt. Carve the chicken and serve with the sauce.

Sweat Stain Season

Holy heck, June has whizzed through my life quicker than you can say chumbawamba. And while we initially thought we’d have a pretty lo-key summer this year, a quick glance at the calendar has proven otherwise. It seems to always be the case, and while it makes for busy times ahead, they’re always good busy times generally loaded with friends, food, beverages, music,¬†road trips, and even a boat or two. [Okay, just one boat, but two sounded fancier.]

It all coincides with the true start of summer, and unlike living in the South whereby summer feels as if it started back in April, the summer season really does seem to start in June around these (Midwestern) parts and therefore we’ve quickly gotten through part of the first month of it, even though it only “officially” started yesterday.

We kicked off our first true weekend of summer with a visit from the in-laws, and since they’ve been here multiple times and knocked out all the “touristy stuff”, we had loads of flexibility. After Friday’s crazy storm, which left me soaked to the bone thanks to a regretful trip to Starbucks when I should have instead gotten on the train, we chilled at home, tossed back some wine and al pastor tacos (wait for it…), and I crashed relatively early thanks to my morning speaking obligation.

As it was, Saturday was the best start to summer I could imagine: my aforementioned good deed, a 10-mile casual biking excursion up and down the lake (thus solidifying my desire to buy a bike once and for all instead of renting one), and another amazing dinner at Bonsoiree. Exactly perfect. Sunday wasn’t much worse, really, and consisted of a trip to Berrien County, Michigan for cherry-pickin’, a surprisingly-awesome lunch, and this perfect-for-summer dinner you see here. Let’s not forget getting to spend it with the World’s Best Father-in-Law on his special day, a treat in and of itself.

With that, let’s enjoy all the things that make summer in the midwest (and probably other parts of the country) so fascinating:

  • Spray tan season is over, which means the “orange” population will begin to decrease
  • “Beach” time on the lake, which means the beer bellies are out in full force, along with beach volleyballers and for me, hopefully lots more bike riding on¬†my bike
  • Economy-boosting road construction (yay!) which means it’s going to take me 40 minutes instead of 20 to drive 3 miles down the street to the grocery store; said new bike needs to have a basket, come to think of it
  • Seeing lots of sweat-stained t-shirts, including my own, and realizing that sleeveless shirts are the way to go
  • CSA season starts today for us, and so you’ll probably start seeing a lot more random recipes as I try to use all our new meat and produce
  • Berries, cherries, and pies, oh my! I gots to get to makin’ a cherry pie, friends
  • Last but certainly not least – tourist season – Michigan Avenue is packed tight, which makes the walk to the train oh so enjoyable. Reason number 531 why I need to get that bike.

And so, summer is certainly off to a rolling start in these parts, and we’ll be keeping busy for sure. This weekend we’ll road trip up to Minnesota for some more boat action (trip 1 of 2!) with Cheryl & Luke, next month we’ll visit Rachel & Andy in Milwaukee, and then August is vacation time,¬†and that’s a road trip I am most excited to begin, but more on that later. Interspersed among the road trips are concerts,¬†a wedding or two,¬†and foodie events and before we know it it’ll be apple pie season ;). Yikes.

 

Tamarind-Glazed Black Cod w/ Orange-Habanero Salsa
Adapted from Bon Appetit, June 2010; serves 4

I could probably get behind just about anything that uses tamarind. it’s tart and sweet, commonly used in lots of Thai dishes, including pad thai. as Hubs perfectly described, “the cool salsa is perfect with the warm fish, and the flavors go well together. are there leftovers?”. clearly, this dish is a winner, and perfect for the sweat-stained summer ahead :).

printable version

ingredients
salsa
4 large oranges
1/3 c coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 c very thinly sliced red onion
2 T evoo
2 t red wine vinegar
1 habanero chile, seeded, finely minced
salt and pepper

3 dried ancho chiles
1/2 c hot water
1/2 c fresh orange juice
1/4 c honey
2 garlic cloves
4 T tamarind concentrate*
2 T red wine vinegar
4 T evoo, divided
2 t dry mustard
4 6-ounce black cod fillets, with skin
salt and pepper

instructions
salsa: make supremes with oranges (remember our lesson? peel and trim the ends and peel from each orange. Using a paring knife, cut along the membrane on both sides of each segment. Free the segments and add them to a medium bowl. squeeze remainder of orange juice into bowl.). combine all ingredients in small bowl and refrigerate until ready to use (can be made in advance).

heat chiles over gas flame until softened, turning often with tongs to avoid burning, 1 to 2 minutes. Cool. Remove stems and seeds. Tear chiles into 2-3 pieces; place in small bowl. Add hot water. Let stand until softened, about 20 minutes. Place chiles with soaking liquid, orange juice, and next 6 ingredients (2T olive oil, save other 2) in blender. Puree until smooth. Strain into small saucepan; discard solids in strainer. Simmer uncovered over medium-low heat until slightly thickened and glaze measures 1 1/3 c, about 10 minutes. Season glaze with salt and pepper (this can also be made in advance; refrigerate and warm up in saucepan before using).

heat 1 or 2 medium to large sized skillets over med-hi heat; add 1-2 T olive oil. Sprinkle fillets with salt and pepper. when skillets are hot, add fillets, skin side down. sear on skin side 3-4 minutes to create crisp skin, brush with warmed glaze and flip to other side to finish cooking, brushing with glaze until all is used. total cooking time – ~5-6 minutes. serve with orange-habanero salsa.

*tamarind concentrate is available online, from Asian grocers, and even the Chopping Block.