Refreshed, Rested, Revived

blue hawaiian


Let me begin by saying there is nothing, nothing at all, like vacation. Whether you go touring the sites in Europe, on an African safari, a remote island in the Caribbean, or simply in the confines of your own home, everyone deserves some time off from life. Time off from being responsible and any issues going on in your life. And yes, time away from the internet.


We chose door number three this year, and landed ourselves on the remote island of Antigua for a week of pure relaxation. We didn’t even plan on having access to the internet, but upon arrival we immediately saw the dreaded hut equipped with wires, a monitor, and a keyboard providing unlimited, free access to the world beyond. Bleh. You think you get away, you think you’re “off the map”, but that world wide web follows you everywhere. We immediately made a promise to only go in that room for brief, very brief, periods of time. For me, I used it to clean the junk outta my inbox.

I responded to one email. I had to, because it made me chuckle. It was from my mother-in-law, and this is what it said:


Hope you are enjoying Antigua. What are you doing spending your time on your blog? I know you love it but now I know you really must love it!!! Love, Susan

You see, she thought I was in that little ol’ hut bloggin’ away. I wasn’t, I swear. I did those posts on jerk chicken and baklava before leaving. I went to my blog once to make sure the formatting didn’t screw up, which blogger sometimes does. In case you were wondering. Just in case.

caribbean


The rest of the time we did just what we intended. We awoke each morning to the wind and the smell of the Caribbean, suited-up and headed down to eat a lackluster breakfast, usually involving an attempt at an egg dish and unripened tomatoes. Or french toast with plain white bread. Thank goodness for the juice of the day and for a new fruit in my vocab, soursop. Afterwards, we plopped down on some lounge chairs and watched the little bitty waves come and go across the turquoise sea that pictures only try to depict. We marinated our bodies with sunscreen and baked in the sun, day after day while drinking blended tropical concoctions. We broke only for lunch – different fish specials, burgers, jerk chicken, and different desserts every day, generally featuring a local fruit.


caribbean sunset


At night, we loaded up with bug spray, ate varied, tasty three course meals, and proceeded to drink wine on the balcony – just us, the mosquitoes, and music from the iPhone. For the life of me, I could not figure out why I got so many bites while Chris got 1. I have stopped three times already, just while typing this, to itch another one and no joke, have at least 100 tiny little bites on places like the side of my hand, my fingers, my armpits, and my heels. According to WebMD, I either get to thank my parents or my body’s ability to quickly process cholesterol. I prefer being the 1 in 10 people writing with the left hand rather than the 1 in 10 who are highly susceptible to mosquito bites. At first I thought the mosquito netting on the bed was for prettiness – I was (obviously) quickly informed otherwise.


cottage


Other than frequent trips to the beach, or to the bar on the beach, or into the Caribbean to cool off, we were fairly stationary. Our hike up to our cottage was our exercise, and that hike stole our breath every time. We mustered up enough energy to jetski and I finally tried my hand, or rather my mind, at scuba. Until next time, let’s just say there is something to be said for ‘overcoming’ a trifecta of fears in one moment and then finding enough courage to live through 45 minutes of that same torture, just hoping an ounce of it fades into the sand below.


cool clouds


Not unlike any other vacation, I choose based on locale but also on cuisine. The resort boasted about their food, their fresh seasonal ingredients, and their variety. Other than breakfast, we were more than satisfied. Don’t get me wrong, I could rattle off dozens of places with better food in the states, but if given the choice of eating good food in the middle of nowhere or excellent food in civilization, I would have a tough time choosing without forming a large column listing pros and cons of each.


Nonetheless, I managed to arrive back in Chicago with tighter jeans and no desire to wear a swimsuit in at least a few months. For that reason, I welcome Fall, sort of. I also arrived with an uncanny craving for breakfast fare. I attribute that to the above-mentioned less-than-ideal breakfasts.


frisee salad

So to kick off “salad week”, I started with a variation of bacon and eggs. I’d found this recipe in one of my go-to’s, Cooking Light, and have toyed with making it on a number of occasions but for various reasons never did. It quickly became a recipe I kicked myself for not making sooner – light but rich in flavor, the tarragon vinaigrette is perfect with a small spoonful of bacon fat that coats every little featherlike piece of frisee. The bacon flavor continues with pieces of crunchy crispy bacon and in the same bite, slightly softened bits of rye crouton. The poached egg on top is like icing on the cake.


frisee salad with poached egg


Frisee Salad w/ Bacon & Poached Eggs
Adapted from Cooking Light, July 2009; Serves 4


printable version

ingredients
4 slices (1 oz ea) rye bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
6 slices applewood-smoked bacon, but into 1/2 inch thick pieces
1/3 c white wine vinegar
1 T chopped fresh tarragon
3 T olive oil
1/4 t kosher salt
1/4 t black pepper
1 head frisee, torn (8 oz; two small heads)
1 T white vinegar
4 large eggs
Cracked black pepper

instructions
Preheat oven to 400 F

Arrange bread on baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, turning once. Cool.

Cook bacon in large skillet over med-hi until crisp, stirring occasionally. Remove from pain and set on plate lined with paper towel to drain. Save 1 T drippings. Combine that with white wine vinegar, and next 4 ingredients (through black pepper) in a large bowl, whisking. Add croutons, bacon, frisee, tossing to coat. If saving for leftovers, do not add dressing to entire mix; put dressing (~3 T each serving) in smaller container. Otherwise, divide among 4 plates.

Add water to large skillet, filling 2/3, bring to boil. Reduce heat, simmer. Add white vinegar. Break eggs into pan and cook 3 minutes. Carefully remove with slotted spoon and place atop salads; top each with cracked pepper.

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Truly, Madly, Deeply in Love with Ramps

ramps

Ever heard of ramps? Me neither. Well, that’s a fib. Until last month though, I thought the only use of the word ramp was to describe an incline, possibly for a skateboard. But use of the word ramp in culinary terms? huh? A recent magazine article had me pretty excited though. I knew they came into season sometime in March and were only around for a short time, so I’ve been on the lookout at the local Whole Foods. The excitement when I finally saw them yesterday was, well, hard to describe. Something similar to listening to a new album from one of your favorite bands that’s received fantastic reviews from Rolling Stone – you know they’re reputable, but you don’t always agree with them, so you’re excited – but you still wanna listen for yourself. That’s exactly how I felt about ramps.


From what I’d read about these little green delights, there wasn’t much not to like. Unless you’re strange and don’t like garlic. or green onions. Having been described as a combo of green onions and strong garlic, I was pretty much sold on the sheer idea of them. They are most popular in, get this, West Virginia and Quebec! (picture furrowed brow of confused blondie here) And furthermore, in Quebec they are considered a delicacy. In WVa, they hold annual celebrations for them: “Ramp Feed” and the “International (yes, international) Ramp Festival”, which is the last weekend in April. Oh crikey – I just missed it…. maybe next year.


pesto ingredients

If you’re wandering aimlessly (or with aim, rather) in the g-store trying to find them, they easily stand out among their green, frumpy counterparts. They’re sexy – rounded white bulbs that look like shoes of a ballerina, long slender stems, purplish in hue, transitioning once again in color to soft green delicate leaves. And their smell? Not nearly as dreamy but rather pungent, as if you stuck your entire snout into a bottle of minced garlic – and then it got stuck. Yeah, strong is right, buster. But hold up cowboy/girl – you won’t find them in your local Kroger, Piggly Wiggly, or Dominicks. Only the specialty g-stores or farmers’ markets. If possible – go to a local farmers’ market and support the local growers – consider it your good deed of the day.


Others to get while the gettin’s good: asparagus, fava beans, strawberries, rhubarb, fennel


ramp pesto

I bought 2 bunches of ramps yesterday. On looking back at my receipt, I suppose they were gratis (I now recall the ringer not being able to find the code for them) so I can’t tell you what they’re going for. But nonetheless, I would concur with the previous assumptions about them – onion-y, garlic-y, gorgeous, and downright de-licious. I had a recipe from the April Bon Appetit in mind, which also called for Marcona almonds. These little buggers are also something to write home about. Spanish, heart-shaped, milky & nutty, (did I mention fried in olive oil, lightly salted, and stored in sunflower oil?) they are without a doubt my new favorite almond. But given their price (~12 buckaroos for 12 oz) I won’t be buying them often and will settle for their roasted unsalted version given their healthfulness and better price. If I can keep Chris away from them long enough, there’s enough for another recipe in my stack. Keep your fingers crossed that he doesn’t find the hiding spot. 😉


salmon and ramp pesto

I’ll have to say – this recipe tops the charts when compared to some others I’ve made lately. The salmon, simply seared and seasoned with salt & pepper, goes perfectly with the robustness of the pesto; and the little dollop on top brings it all together. Perfect with a glass of sauvignon blanc. Plus, pesto is one of my favorite sauces, and I love the multiple iterations (except for the tarragon pesto I made Thursday… not a fan.). And now that I’ve tried them, I am head over heels in love with ramps and will for sure be gettin’ my hands on some more before they’re out. I’m sure it would go great in biscuits, spaghetti, in a casserole… what else? Send some ideas people!


salmon and ramp pesto


Seared Salmon w/ Linguine & Ramp Pesto
Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2009; serves 6*




ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
  • 2/3 cup thinly sliced trimmed ramp bulbs and slender stems
  • 1 cup freshly grated Asiago cheese
  • 1/3 cup Marcona almonds (available at Whole Foods or online)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
  • 12 ounces linguine
  • salt & pepper
  • 6 6-ounce salmon fillets

instructions

Pesto: Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2/3 cup ramp bulbs and stems to skillet and sauté just until soft but not browned, reducing heat if necessary to prevent browning, about 5 minutes. Transfer sautéed ramps to processor (do not clean skillet). Add green tops, cheese, almonds, and tarragon to processor; process until finely chopped. With machine running, gradually add 1/2 cup oil and puree until almost smooth. Transfer pesto to bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in same large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper. Add salmon to skillet and cook just until opaque in center, about 4 minutes per side.

Drain pasta, reserving 3/4 cup pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot; add all but 1/4 cup pesto and toss to coat, adding enough pasta cooking liquid by tablespoonfuls to moisten. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide pasta among plates. Top with salmon. Spread remaining 1/4 cup pesto over fish and serve

*Note: I made this w/ 4 fillets and cut the pasta by 1/3 and made the same amount of pesto. I’m sure it’s great with tons of other things, like on bread or on other pastas with some tomatoes or something 😉 oohh… maybe even in scrambled eggs? yummers