Monday, May 21, 2007

Greek salad and mixed grill

I don't know how authentically greek this actually is, but it is at least greek-esque, what with all the feta and olives. My friend Krista made this salad at her house a couple weeks ago and it was so delicious that I tried to duplicate it at home. She didn't put any chickpeas in hers but I thought it would be an acceptable deviation. Your best bet is just to get her to make it for you, but this one I made last night worked out pretty well.

I got a bag of mixed baby greens from the DeKalb Market and dumped them in a big salad bowl. I sliced grape tomatoes in half, using about 1/2 of a pint container. Cut half a hothouse cucumber into quarters lengthwise and then sliced the quarters into 1/2" chunks. Sliced in half a small red onion, then cut paper thin slices from the halves. Crumbled up about 1/2 a block of feta cheese--I'm not sure how much it actually was. Couldn't have been more than 1/3 cup. Pitted and sliced 10 Kalamata olives. Drained and rinsed very well a can of chickpeas and set aside about 3/4 of the can to use on the salad. I guess you could just use all of it if you really liked chickpeas. Put all these vegetables and other ingredients on top of the greens in the salad bowl, not bothering to toss yet, just letting them chill there until it was time to eat. Juiced one lemon and poured it into a glass jar with a lid. Added about 4 tablespoons good olive oil and a liberal grinding of pepper and salt. Closed the lid tightly and shook it up in the jar until it was emulsified. I waited to dress the salad until the rest of our dinner was ready, then right before we ate I poured the dressing over everything and tossed it all up until it all ingredients were mixed up and the dressing covered everything.

Jeremy and Melanie brought up chicken and delicious spicy chicken sausages so we marinated the chicken in teriyaki and boiled up the sausages like brats before slapping them on the grill. I sliced one small eggplant into rounds and marinated them in salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. I cut 4 very small, yellow crookneck squash in half lengthwise (they were so tiny! little baby squash--no longer than 5 or 6 inches, adorable!), and 2 red peppers into strips. These I marinated separately from the eggplant in olive oil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, minced garlic, 1 teaspoon dried thyme and a little bit of minced red onion left over from preparing the salad. First up I grilled the chicken breasts, then the eggplant, then peppers and squash (grill cut side down on the squash to get attractive char marks), then sausages. As always, checking with instant, digital meat thermometer for safe temperatures. Please tell me you have one of these. They are wonderful things and have many applications, only one of which is grilling. You can also use them to annoy your spouse, by jabbing the pointy end into their stomachs and saying "I'll take your temperature!" I'm not saying any of us were doing that but if anyone was, it was Jeremy.

Also, we had boiled peanuts before dinner. I made them like I usually do, which is to cover fresh, green peanuts with water, add about 3 tablespoons pickling spices, 2 crumbled bay leaves, 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes and an assload of kosher salt, probably about 4 tablespoons, depending on how many peanuts and how much water. You want it to be briny. Boil them until they get soft, drain and drizzle olive oil over them and sprinkle with a little vinegar. They are better with chile oil, but I didn't have any on hand.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Cheddar biscuits with ham & chives

I am going to tell you how to make these biscuits except I am going to tell you how to make them with MUCH LESS SALT! I made these for a Mother's Day party that a friend from the dog park hosted. She has a really gorgeous house and let a bunch of us childless dog park people come over with our grubby pets and mess it up on Sunday. I think it was a really cute idea to have a Mother's Day brunch for us dog mothers...even my mother who is an actual, real, human mother who doesn't normally go in for "whimsy" or "fun of any sort" thought it was funny. Anyway, I made these biscuits to take over which was actually a good idea but they were far too salty as I had underestimated the power of ham. So, learn from my mistake and don't bother putting any salt in the dough at all if you'll be using ham. If omitting the ham, you'll need a smidge of salt but not much because the cheese flavors it a bit as well.

I had the guy at the DeKalb Farmer's Market deli counter slice me two big pieces of (incredibly salty! learn from mistakes!) smoked ham. He adjusted the slicer to get them about 1/2" thick each. I only ended up using one of them--cut the 1/2" thick piece of ham into teeny tiny little cubes and fried them up to get a bit crispy in a pan, then set aside. Probably was not even a 1/4 cup of teeny ham cubes all total. Finely grated about 1/2 cup of sharp cheddar cheese and set that aside as well, along with about 1/3 cup of minced fresh chives. Began preheating the oven at 450 degrees and greased up a couple of baking sheets. In a big bowl, mixed very well 2 cups of flour with 3 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Cut up about 4 tablespoons of cold butter (you can use less, but should use at least 2) into tiny, ham bit-size chunks and integrated them into the flour mixture. You can use a food processor if you have one. I don't, so I cut it in with my hands by picking up butter chunks and rubbing it into the flour. It's tedious, but whatever. Your biscuits will thank you. Get all the butter really well integrated--it turns the flour grainy and piecey, but there should not be any butter left visible. Then added 1 cup buttermilk, 1 teaspoon cayenne, and the cheese, chives and ham bits. Mixed until it just barely stuck together in a ball. As with the lemon pancakes we made at Easter time, this is the thing with foods in the quick bread family--you do not overmix them or push them around or harrass them or they become tough and don't rise up in the oven or go to college and make a decent living. So just stir the wet and dry ingredients until they are barely incorporated and starting to cling together, then turn out on a floured surface and knead super lightly a few times. I was making these in drop biscuit form, rather than cutting them out with a biscuit cutter, so maybe I didn't actually need to knead at all. Not sure about that. If you wanted to cut out these biscuits instead, you would add less liquid--maybe 3/4 cup. Anyway, I dropped the biscuits in little spoonfuls onto my greasy baking sheets--they made about 18 or 20 total. Popped them in the super hot oven for just shy of ten minutes, then hauled them out. They were puffed up nicely and looked really pretty. Then I stupidly put them into a container and walked them over to the dog mother's day brunch and they got all squished because they were still hot. But they tasted good, if unattractive. Oh, and salty. You may have noticed that I left that out--seriously, I was nibbling on a leftover one just now and I think I have instant hypertension.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Chicken tortellini soup

Oh, I have covered chicken soup TO DEATH! I know it, you know it, all five people who read this know it. But wait! This time I put tortellini pasta in it! Mm-hmm, it's true! Also, I took a "less is more", precision soup-making approach...and I think the end result was a different soup than ones I have made in the past. Refine refine refine.

I don't know how you would make soup without a chicken. We roasted it on Monday night, so I had a nice looking leftover chicken carcass to boil up. If you are not a chicken eater or a chicken roaster, I suppose you could skip this whole first step and use vegetable stock or chicken stock. There are some good brands out there, I imagine. I have seen some good looking organic, aseptically packaged ones on the shelves at the grocery store. Anyway, I first stripped down my left over chicken and reserved the meat from the thighs and breast and stuck it in the fridge and forgot about it. Then I covered the leftover chicken bones and meat with water in my big cast iron dutch oven pot and let it heat up while I chopped up the rest of the ingredients for the stock. Tossed in 2 bay leaves, then about 6 garlic cloves. I didn't really peel or chop them very carefully because I knew I would be straining the stock anyway. Then a 1" piece of ginger, cut up into chunks, and 3 carrots (left unpeeled) and 4 stalks of celery, both also poorly chopped. Can you sense a theme? Stock making is the easy-going step--no need to carefully trim the veggies! It all boiled happily together for about an hour, whereupon I strained it through a fine-mesh colander into a container and set it aside to wait.

To make the soup: Back in the same dutch oven, I melted 2 tablespoons of butter and added 1/2 of a sad-looking onion. It was from Jeremy & Melanie's house and was looking a little bit tired but I trimmed it up and carefully sliced it into small, attractive bits, then added to the hot butter. I also carefully diced 2 stalks of celery and 2 carrots and added those to the pot after the onion had become soft and fragrant. Stirred this mirepoix over medium heat until it was soft, then added in 2 yukon gold potatoes, diced. Poured back in my stock and added some salt. When everything had been boiling together for about 10 minutes, I added 1/2 a package of mixed cheese tortellini, let it go for another 5 minutes and added about 1/4 cup of green peas. Cooked until the tortellini were done through, then removed the soup from heat and stirred in 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar and the diced chicken meat from earlier. I actually forgot about the chicken until the last minute--I was dishing up the soup and Brian was poking around in the fridge, and he says "hey, what's the chicken for?" and I said, "oh shit, that's right!" We know how to have fun around here.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Grilled red potatoes

Yesterday was really nice. I got out of work at least an hour earlier than usual. Brian is in his "no work, no school" temporary state, so he was hanging around, and both Jeremy and Melanie were home early for some reason too. This is why we could all be found drinking beers on the porch by 5 pm on a Monday. We got very loungey and nibbled on edamame and pretzels as our cocktail hour stretched on, but eventually figured we'd eat something that could be considered real dinner. Of course once you've been drinking on a sunny porch while the rest of the city battles rush hour, the last thing you want to do is go anywhere to get specific dinner, you'd much rather just grill whatever happens to be lying around the house. Melanie had a bag of small red potatoes languishing in her apartment and so we thought we'd try grilling them, and it worked really well:

Took most of a 3 pound sack of small red potatoes and scrubbed them well. Sliced them in half, except that we left one whole as an experiment. Jeremy took them down to their apartment to microwave (we have limited technology in our house), which I believe took 3 minutes. They have a very powerful microwave though, so maybe on a conventional one it would be more like 5 minutes. Anyway, the goal was to cook them a bit so they would not be too long on the grill. They offered just a little resistance when I jabbed one with a knife. Covered them with a 1/3 cup mixture of olive oil and canola oil, then added 1 tablespoon each vindaloo powder and chile powder, and 2 teaspoons each of paprika, red pepper flakes and salt. Mixed it all up really well with the potatoes and let them sit until the grill was hot. Realized I had an orange pepper hanging around in the fridge, so I sliced that into 8 thick pieces and stuck that in with the potatoes as well.

When the grill was hot we tossed on veggie burgers and a bit of flank steak that had been marinating in teriyaki sauce (by the way? the Soy Vey brand called "veri veri teriyaki" is sort of awesomely delicious). When those were done, I hauled them off and put all the potatoes on, lying them cut-side down, along with the pepper strips. The pepper strips were done much faster, so I just pulled them off as they got browned and soft. The potatoes grilled very well--they don't burn easily but get lovely char marks on the skin parts. I think they took about 10 minutes of grilling, with frequent turning and moving around to make sure they got evenly done. And the flavor of grilled potatoes is excellent--a little bit smoky and spicy from all the marinade ingredients. I usually find potaotes insipid, so this was a nice surprise.