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.

My Pad (Finally) has Good Thai

pad thai with tofu
If you can’t tell from the previous posts about red and green curry dishes, I am quite a fan of Thai cuisine. And if you like peanut sauce, you should most definitely check this out. But what I have yet to discuss, after almost 3 months of blogging, is one of my favorites, possibly everyone’s favorite Thai dish, Pad Thai.

I am no stranger to the neighborhood Thai joints that frequent the streets of Chicago. In graduate school, a friend of mine discovered this great little noodle shop just off the Diversey brown line called Satay. If my memory isn’t pullin’ my leg, I’d have to say this is the first place I ever tried Pad Thai. Despite trying this stir-fried dish at multiple eateries since, Satay’s version has sustained a hold of the top spot for Pad Thai for more reasons than taste alone: their tofu cooking method, price – 8 bucks, BYOB policy of the restaurant (and to boot – no charge), quantity of food being enough to feed a medium-sized country, proximity to public transportation, and the weird chatty waiter who serves it, David. And even with a lovely Thai eatery right near our house, I can’t bring myself to order their Pad Thai again. Because of Satay’s? Maybe. Because there are a thousand other good dishes there? Another maybe. But either way, Satay has undoubtedly left a mark and provided a meal that no other establishment could provide.

pad thai recipe
Until recently. After multiple iterations, I think I have finally concocted a satisfyingly awesome bowl of Pad Thai. Finally. Every time I changed something, there was something else to change. Ah, the fun of recipe tweaking. And unfortunately for you, the fact that I eyeball mostly everything these days (except when baking) suggests that even the recipe I’ve provided might not be perfect. Hence, that one bowl may be the best I’ll ever have at my place. But boy was it somethin’.

ingredients



Pad Thai facts: Key ingredients are rice noodles, eggs, fish sauce, tamarind, and chili pepper. It’s generally garnished with a lime slice, crushed peanuts and cilantro, with various forms of protein added. It’s a national dish of Thailand. There’s a couple of versions of Pad Thai: the traditional (as in the version below) is dry and light (non-greasy), and the “restaurant type” is heavier and tends to be covered in oil.

pad thai with tofu


Pad Thai w/ Tofu
Serves 4-6; depending on hunger & ability to stop eating


printable recipe

I think the key is the method of cooking the tofu. You really have to dry it out good, otherwise it gets all soggy. The sprinkling of cornstarch also helps to give it a little crunch without frying it.

ingredients
1 package (12.3oz) extra firm tofu
1 T cornstarch
8 oz flat uncooked rice noodles
2 T tamarind concentrate (or strained tamarind paste)**
2 T rice wine vinegar
3 T sugar
4 T reduced sodium soy sauce*
2 T fish sauce*
1-2 T Sriracha (or less, if you’re a wuss)
1 1/2 t fresh grated ginger
2 T peanut oil, divided (unrefined if you have it)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 cup fresh bean sprouts, optional
1/2 cup carrots, matchstick, optional
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 T chopped cilantro
2 T unsalted, dry roasted, peanuts, chopped
4 lime wedges


instructions
1. Drain tofu. I start this the night before by taking it out of the tray and sitting it on top of a dish towel in a round cake pan. I cover the tofu with another dish towel and put another cake pan upside down, and then i put something really heavy on top and put it in the fridge. If the towels are soaked, I do another round before cooking. You could easily do this for 30 min to 1 hour before cooking, but if it’s not drained it will lead to that soggy texture. After it’s drained, cut into 1/2 inch cubes and toss in bowl with cornstarch. Set aside.


2. Prepare noodles according to package directions, without salt. Drain and set aside. (If you make these first, I’d rinse them with cold water after cooking stop the cooking once you take them out of the boiling water – otherwise they will overcook while sitting in the strainer – you re-warm them in the skillet anyway)

3. Combine tamarind through ginger in small bowl. Heat 1 T oil in non-stick skillet over med-hi. Add tofu and saute for about 7 minutes, until golden. Remove from pan and set aside.

4. Heat 1 t oil in pan. Add eggs and egg white; cook for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Removed and add to bowl w/ tofu.

5. Heat remaining 2 t oil. Add noodles and cook for ~3 minutes. Stir in liquid mixture; cook ~30 seconds. Add egg and tofu back in along with bean threads and cook for about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat. Stir in onions and cilantro.

6. Divide among 4 plates, top with lemon wedge and crushed peanuts.

*If you need a gluten-free version, buy Thai Kitchen brand. The Tamari brand at Whole Foods also advertises a gluten-free soy sauce that can also be purchased low-sodium.

**Tamarind is hard to find. Sorry. I buy tamarind concentrate from The Chopping Block in Chicago or the Spice House. Even Amazon.com. You can instead buy a block of tamarind paste at asian markets. Put a chunk in boiling water and let it soak for a while, then drain and you’ll have concentrate.