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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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.

On the Lamb

I’m sure you’re all just as ready as I am for me to be settled in San Francisco, right? It seems to be a hot topic in my life these days, and the move essentially dominates every conversation I have lately. I guess I can understand that; in fact, in some ways I feel like all I’ve done is think about and prepare for the big move.

And now, step 2 of that big move is here: we close on our house and move the F out of it.

I mean that in the kindest way ever, really I do. This condo means a lot to us and I’m sure when tomorrow comes and all its’ contents are packed into boxes, I’m going to burst into tears, which is sorta common lately. Again, in a good way. I like to think that crying means we’ve really, and I mean really, lived here. Made friends here, made a life here, really lived here. But selling a home is hard and stressful, I tell ya, and I will be glad when Step 2 has come and gone.

Which brings me to this next minor detail. I will be a little homeless this month. And I do mean a little, because I have some really great friends who have offered to let me shack up with them, so while I won’t be in my home, I’ll be in theirs. I’ll also be heading to another one of those conferences that I love so much, and even making an unplanned trip to California in an effort to start this job-hunting quest that is entirely inevitable.

As if I need to say so, I’ll be busy, and I might, might, be MIA around here. You’ll understand, won’t you?

For now though, there is this simply divine lamb burger we have to talk about before I head back out into condo-packing-and-cleaning land. I made this a long time ago, well a couple of months ago, and it is certainly one of my very favorite home-cooked burgers. Do you ever look at a recipe and say to yourself, “man, there is no way whatsoever that this dish can be anything less than super”? That’s what I said with this recipe, and it’s true. A really pungent French-Indian spice/onion mixture, called vadouvan, is made and mixed into the lamb, creating an über flavorful burger that just gets better when topped with a yogurt-mint sauce. I couldn’t stop thinking about this burger while eating another burger leftover for lunch today, and took that as a hint to take a break to tell you about it.

But, alas, that break’s over, and there is trash to take out and clothes to pack. Aren’t you jealous?!

Oh! I should also say this, in an effort to appease you: I’ve updated the recipes (during another, er, break) so if you start to miss me, should I happen to disappear for a bit, there’s always a ton of recipes to fall back on..

Indian-Spiced Lamb Burgers with Yogurt-Mint Sauce
adapted from Cooking Light, July 2010; makes 4 burgers

time commitment: 1 hour or less, all active

printable version

ingredients
1  T  olive oil
3/4  c  finely chopped onion
1/4  c  finely chopped shallots
2  T  minced garlic, divided
3/4  t  ground cumin
3/4  t  ground coriander
1/4  t  ground cardamom
1/4  t  ground mustard
1/4  t  ground turmeric
1/8  t  ground red pepper
Dash of grated whole nutmeg
1  lb  ground lamb
2  T  finely chopped fresh mint, divided
3/4  t  kosher salt, divided
1  red bell pepper
1/2  c  2% low-fat Greek-style plain yogurt
1  T  fresh lemon juice
1/4  t  freshly ground black pepper, divided
Cooking spray
4  (1 1/2-ounce) hamburger buns
1 c thinly shredded red cabbage

instructions
Heat oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and shallots; cook 15 minutes or until onions are golden, stirring frequently. Stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, cumin, and next 6 ingredients (through nutmeg); cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, turn burner on high and place bell pepper directly onto flame. Turn with tongs until pepper is charred all over. Place in a zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel, remove core and seeds, and cut into 4 pieces.

Combine lamb, onion mixture, 1 T mint, and 1/4 t salt. Divide mixture into 4 equal portions, gently shaping each into a 1/2-inch-thick patty. Press a nickel-sized indentation in the center of each patty. Cover and chill until ready to grill.

Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Meanwhile, combine remaining 1 1/2 t garlic, remaining 1 T mint, yogurt, juice, 1/4 t salt, and 1/8 t black pepper in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Sprinkle patties evenly with remaining salt/pepper. Place patties on a grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 4 minutes or until grill marks appear. Carefully turn patties; grill 3 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Place 1 patty on bottom half of each bun; top each serving with 2 tablespoons yogurt mixture, 1/4 of cabbage, 1 piece of bell pepper, and top half of bun.

One Last Hoorah

Before you start reading today, think for a second. How many true friends do you have? Not how many friends you have on Facebook, or how many follow you on Twitter, but real, honest-to-goodness friends. Because that’s what we’re gonna talk about today. That, and zucchini fries, of course. But I’ll get to those.

I used to think I was loaded with friends. I suppose I am, really. I mean, I know a lot of people, and I like them; I figure they like me too. We talk here and there (or text or g-chat, is more like it), we eat and drink together, and sometimes we’re in each other’s weddings or taking trips together. That’s friendship, right?

The trouble, is that my own vision of friendship is so warped lately. Things happen, people drift apart, and as I’ve realized over this last year or so, people change and sometimes there’s just nothing you can do about it. It sucks, quite frankly. It sucks bad.

But in having those experiences, I’ve realized a thing or two. As a result, this is my advice to you: cherish the time you have with the ones you love, be a good friend to those who reciprocate your friendship, and don’t let something as silly as distance tear you apart. There is nothing more sad, more depressing, than looking back at a friendship that used to be rock solid, and realizing that in the blink of an eye it was ripped from one end to the other, and tossed out like a dirty rag. Don’t let that happen.

The difficulty in having friendships, is keeping them. Life happens – we grow up, we get married, we have children, we have busy jobs, we text instead of call, and sometimes we have to take opportunities that are offered to us. Leaving our friends in NC was so hard when we moved to Chicago 6 years (6 years!) ago, and now that we’re settled in here, we’re realizing that now, people will leave us. Being on that side of the coin feels so different, and not in a good way.

Our friends, Hope & James, are moving tomorrow. Apparently Hope (yes, the reigning Iron Chef) is interested in getting the letters M and D behind her name, and James is looking into a career in whittling (sorry James, I had to do it) unless he decides to work the valet at the VA once they’re settled into their larger-than-life apartment house in the “Deep South” state of Mississippi. I will miss them both, but I’ve learned over these last few years that distance doesn’t have to change a friendship and real friendships will make it, even if you can’t go to Irazu together every month or sit lakefront, drinking wine and watching the fireworks. All it takes is a little bit of effort, a long road trip here and there, and a flight when Southwest posts their specials (hmmm… does SW fly there? probably not.). Plus, I’ve never been to Mississippi, so there’s that, too.

Interestingly enough (or not so), this is where zucchini fries enter the story. With their move right around the corner, we were in need of one last hoorah. We had H+J over for dinner a couple of weeks ago, and if you can believe it, I repeated a dish. Gasp! Truth is, I’ve never met a fry I didn’t like, and having some zucchini lying around reminded me of this snack-type recipe I’d made almost 2 years ago (before my kitchen resembled a photo studio) – resulting in baked zucchini ‘fries’ with one of the best sauces since Ranch dressing – spicy, smoky, Spanish romesco.

If you’ve never made or eaten romesco sauce, you should certainly check this out. Smoky paprika, sweet roasted tomatoes and peppers, and nuttiness from, well, nuts (almonds, to be exact) make this an extra special mixture that will last well beyond these crunchy, cheesy fries; it plays nicely with seafood, but I like it best aside a big ol’ pork chop.

The rest of the night’s dinner, you ask? A simple salad with poppyseed dressing, mushroom-tomato lasagna (with smoked mozzarella), and a peach-almond galette. One tasty dinner, and a perfect excuse to hang out with two lovely people. You certainly don’t need good food to have good friends, but sometimes they just go hand in hand.

Zucchini Fries w/ Smoky Romesco Sauce
Adapted from Cooking Light, July 2008; serves 8

printable version

ingredients
romesco sauce
3  medium red bell peppers
2  plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/2″ thick slice of bread from a baguette, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 T almonds
1  T evoo
1  T  red wine vinegar
1/2  t Spanish smoked paprika
1/4  t  kosher salt
1/4  t  ground red pepper
1  large garlic clove

zucchini
3  large zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1  c  dry breadcrumbs
1/2  c coursely ground almonds
1/4  c  grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/2  t  salt
1/2  t  freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs
cooking spray

instructions
Preheat broiler.

To prepare sauce, cut bell peppers in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place bell pepper halves and tomatoes, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet; flatten bell peppers with hand. Broil 10 minutes or until blackened. Place in a zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand 15 minutes. Peel and coarsely chop, reserving any liquid.

Combine bell peppers, reserved liquid, tomatoes, and next 8 ingredients (through garlic) in a blender or food processor; process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if needed. Refrigerate until ready to use (can be made a couple of days in advance, if needed).

Preheat oven to 400 F.

To prepare zucchini, cut 1 zucchini in half crosswise; cut each half lengthwise into 8 wedges. Repeat procedure with remaining zucchini. Combine breadcrumbs, almond meal, cheese, salt, black pepper in a shallow dish. In another dish, whisk eggs until combined. Dip zucchini in eggs; dredge in breadcrumb mixture. Place zucchini on sheet pan coated with cooking spray. Lightly coat zucchini with cooking spray. Bake at 400 for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve immediately with sauce.