A Total Moot Point

One of the things that I absolutely do not enjoy is replacing items I’ve already purchased. Especially items that aren’t exciting to purchase in the first place.

For instance, we are taking our first trip together since living in San Francisco (Chris has jet-set plenty on his own), and we remembered that we tossed out my old, bright orange suitcase. The one with the handle that got stuck nearly every time. The one that required frantic pushing on said handle in the aisle of the plane to get the dang thing to fit in the overhead bin. Yeah, that one. I haven’t missed it one bit – until we realized we needed 2 carry-ons for our trip down to Sedona next weekend. I suppose we could have paid a fee to check our bags, but after you pay that for a round-trip, you’ve almost bought yourself a new suitcase (in my case, you have bought yourself a new suitcase, because I was an Amazon.com rockstar and found the good ones on clearance – score!).

Also, an air mattress would fit into this category. We bought one of those a long time ago, probably 7 years ago when we moved to Chicago and lived in a 650 square foot high rise. I’m surprised we even had space on the floor for it… At some point, it managed to get punctured, and since then it’s had a slow, steady leak – meaning, the folks using it are sleeping on the ground when they wake up. Yeah, sucks for them. In addition, the battery-operated thing that blows up the mattresses was all sorts of corroded too, so the whole shebang got thrown out. No big deal, since we had an extra bedroom and pull-out couch at our last place. But now, we’re down to a pull-out couch, and have three guests coming in a couple of weeks. Needless to say, we get the pleasure of purchasing yet another air mattress. Fun times. Of course, it will come in handy plenty, especially with the Thanksgiving crew making their way out here in November (SO EXCITED!).

Of course, the routine replacement items qualify too – who likes buying toilet paper, sponges, and dish detergent?! The other day, we had to buy a batch of replacement brushes for our electric toothbrush – now that seems like a huge waste of 40 bucks. But, I guess we have clean teeth, and fresh breath, so there is that…

Last, but certainly not least, is my immersion blender. I’m not sure how, but the damn thing broke a month or so before I moved west. You’d think it could handle pureeing some soup every now and then, eh? But truthfully, who knows what I tried to puree – I could easily assume it was something best left to a blender. But blenders are so annoying when it comes to soup. You have to dirty up a blender, for one, and in addition, you have to dirty up an extra pot/bowl for the already-pureed soup, if you have to puree in batches, so as not to toss the pureed soup into the non-pureed soup. It’s annoying, at best. But as you can see, I’ve been a little stubborn on this one. It seems there are more fun things to buy than replacing something I’ve already paid for once (yea, cookbooks, hiking boots, new camera lenses, a juicer – you get the point, right?).

I am, however, willing to admit that some things are worth the trouble, even if I do grit my teeth the whole way through it, and even if I do miss my immersion blender to pieces. Sometimes, washing a few extra dishes is a total moot point altogether.

This soup is one of those things that’s worth the trouble. I mentioned it a few posts back, remember? It’s loaded with roasted tomatoes, a couple of fresh heirlooms for good measure, and a roasted red pepper, too. The red pepper adds that warm richness to the soup, and to top it all off, some roasted ham and chickpeas are used as garnish. You could easily make this a vegetarian soup if you wanted (although the roasted diced ham is sorta perfect) or you could sub in some bacon if that’s what you have on hand. The chickpeas add a nice little crunch to each bite, so do make sure they are roasted until they reach that slightly crunchy, but still chewy, point.

I promise you, if you don’t have an immersion blender, or if you did and can’t seem to bring yourself to buying another one, you’ll forget all about it in no time. Well, at least until it’s time to clean up.

Tomato Soup with Roasted Chickpeas
Adapted from Cooking Light, August 2011; serves 4

time commitment: ~45 minutes

printable version

ingredients
1 red bell pepper
2 T sliced almonds
3 T olive oil, divided
6 garlic cloves, divided
1/4 c heavy whipping cream
1 (28-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 fresh heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 t smoked paprika
1/2 t salt, divided
1/2 t red pepper flakes
2 oz thick-sliced deli style ham, finely chopped
1 (15.5-ounce) can organic chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/4 t ground cumin
1/4 c fresh flat-leaf parsley

instructions
Turn stovetop gas burner onto high heat and place bell pepper directly onto burner. Cook until black on all sides (2-3 minutes/side), place in a plastic bag, seal it, and let it sit for at least 10 minutes. (If you have electric burners, you can instead roast a pepper under a broiler in the oven until blackened, but cut it first and remove the membranes, then lay it flat in the baking sheet.) Remove from bag and peel, discarding seeds and membranes.

Preheat oven to 450 F. Place almonds in a saucepan over medium-high heat until toasted. Remove from saucepan, chop roughly, and set aside.

Heat 1 T oil in same saucepan over medium heat. Add 3 garlic cloves; cook 1 minute. Add cream and tomatoes; bring to a simmer. Add paprika, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and red pepper flakes; simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mince remaining 3 garlic cloves and combine garlic, ham, and chickpeas in a roasting pan; drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Toss. Roast at 450 for 15 minutes, stirring once.

Combine tomato mixture and bell pepper in a blender; puree. (If you have an immersion blender, this would work nicely; just chop the bell pepper roughly and toss it into the soup.)

Ladle the soup into each of 4 bowls; top evenly with chickpea mixture, parsley, and almonds.

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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.

 

Asian Things

Are you into Asian things? Okay, I’ll be more be more specific, because otherwise my friend, Todd, may pop up here with a comment about about how he’s always loved Asian girls, and that’s awkward. I’m moreso speaking about Asian cuisine, and it’s one of my very favorites.

Although when I really think about it, I can’t honestly come up with an ethnic cuisine that I don’t like. But I haven’t yet tried Ethiopian cuisine, or really, any other food that might be considered African. I should – any recommendations? I’m willing to bet I’d like that too, though. Man, loving food sure is hard, eh?!

Anyway, I find it appropriate to discuss Asian cuisine for two reasons:

  1. I had an Asian food conversation with my student yesterday, which essentially involved my annoyance with how generously the term ‘Asian’ is used in cooking. Like I told her, throwing snap peas in a dish doesn’t an Asian meal make. Agree?
  2. Last time I checked, most of us are off on Monday and probably pondering the merits of using that ginormous grill on the front porch, or maybe stealing a grill from the neighbors’ porch, or maybe just buying one. either way, using a grill is something you should certainly consider arranging for Monday.
  3. My vacation photos still aren’t ready to submit here for your voyeuristic viewing pleasure, and fortunately this recipe is in my backlog of ‘things I would like to share with you’.

Hrrmmm…. I now realize that this is in fact, three reasons. Consider yourself fairly warned that I am in no mood to make sense of that, or to care. A lady almost barfed on me during my bus ride this morning, and I’m still a little bothered by the fact that her puke was less than exactly one inch from my ultra-cute rain boot that my right foot was in. And that she had three bags to select from in order to contain her puking, but instead the bus floor was her choice.

Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to add that poison oak is a real bitch. Seriously – when does it go away? Are these blisters going to scar if I keep scratching them? Do people think that I have some contagious disease, and should I cover this crap up? This stuff is affecting my productivity at work, well, at life, really. It needs to stop.

Okay, and now I realize that I’ve talked about two things that are not appetizing. I’m sorry. Hopefully the pictures of yummy bbq chicken will keep your focus, even if it didn’t keep mine.

What you see here is in fact, a dish of barbecued chicken. But this isn’t my dad’s bbq chicken recipe (which I now have a hankerin’ for…), it’s an Asian-flavored barbecue sauce, and now you see the tie-in. Finally, right? I’m usually a little concerned when I see this much oyster sauce in a recipe, but you should know that those concerns were invalidated unvalidated super-duper-lame not true.

This is the type of recipe you wanna whip up for your friends. In other words, make this for your labor day partay. You could use any type of chicken (if I remember correctly, the original was a different part), or pork. The bbq sauce is sweet, but tangy, and though the original recipe didn’t call for the sesame seeds, I tend to enjoy the crunch of them. As for the roasted garlic, you can certainly tell that’s in there – and the smell of it withering itself away in the oven is what dreams are made of. Well, that and an arm free of blisters ;).

Twice-Glazed Asian Barbecued Chicken
Adapted from Food & Wine, July 2010 (from Blackbird in Chicago); serves 4

printable version

ingredients
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 1/2 t black peppercorns
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 T canola oil
1/2 c oyster sauce
3 T low sodium soy sauce
1/3 c water
1/4 c white wine vinegar
8 chicken drumsticks
cilantro or parsley for garnish
white sesame seeds, toasted, for garnish

special stuff: spice grinder & a grill

instructions
Preheat the oven to 350. Wrap the garlic cloves in foil and bake for about 30 minutes, until soft. Squeeze the garlic from the skins into a small bowl.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, cook the peppercorns over moderately high heat, shaking the skillet occasionally, until they are smoking and fragrant, 2 minutes. Transfer the peppercorns to a spice grinder and let cool completely, then grind to a coarse powder.

In the same skillet, cook the chopped onion in the canola oil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the roasted garlic, ground black pepper and oyster sauce and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the soy sauce and cook until reduced by half, about 1 minute. Add the water and white wine vinegar and simmer over moderate heat until the barbecue sauce is very thick, about 5 minutes. Transfer the barbecue sauce to a blender and puree until smooth.

Light a grill. Oil the grates and grill the chicken drumsticks over moderately high heat until the skin is crisp, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook over moderate heat until the chicken is almost white throughout, about 5 minutes. Generously brush the barbecue sauce onto the skin; turn and grill until glazed, about 30 seconds. Generously brush the other side with sauce, turn and grill the chicken until glazed. Repeat the glazing on both sides. Transfer the chicken to a work surface to rest for 5 minutes. Garnish with herb and sesame seeds.