Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pad Thai, with or without ketchup

This was our lunch, leftovers. Looks good, doesn't it? It's Pim's pad Thai, old, old news but so, so good. This one with tofu and no bean sprouts (just poor excuses for noodles as far as I'm concerned). We have garlic chives in the herb garden and eggs from the farmers market. And it was just awesome.

That said, I think it's strange that bloggers all over are apologizing for approximating a pad Thai with ketchup before trying this recipe. Sure, that's just not the same. Sure, it's not authentic. But for fuck's sake, sometimes you just want some rice noodles and sauce--salty and sweet and grocery-store easy. I don't see why we all feel compelled to wallow in our previous inadequacy for--gasp!--making something that isn't perfect.

It's fun and satisfying (for some of us) and more often than not very, very tasty to do things the "right" way. I cure my own olives, make my own pasta from scratch, boil chicken carcasses for a full day to produce a rich broth that makes soups jump off the spoon...sometimes. I just as often open a can, shop at only one store, buy things in packets and jars. Because sometimes I just don't want to spend time pressing tamarind concentrate through a sieve, or driving all over town for the tiny Asian market that occasionally stocks the ready-to-use paste. (And we're one of the few rural-ish towns lucky enough to have an Asian market.)

Sometimes I want to throw four servings of noodles in the wok at once and call it good enough.

I love my Nina Simonds recipe for rice noodles with ketchup-and-fish-sauce-based sauce. I've made it a zillion times, and I'll do it again. And I'll even call it pad Thai. Without apology.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sunday dinner

Have you ever seen turnips like these? I didn't know they came in shades of red other than the slightest blush of pink. They were so beautiful I took about a zillion photos of them: radish on cutting board, radish in hand, radish outside, radish on rock... I'll spare you the visual evidence, but I will add that I don't know what I'd do without Al at the Saturday farmer's market.

He's a retired biology teacher turned to farming, and he grows for people who cook. Fava beans, dried chiles for making enchilada sauce, a sweet and mild summer squash as long as my arm, escarole, figs, every herb you can imagine. (Not all at once.)

And these gorgeous turnips. They were less beautiful but very tasty in a gratin with cream and butter and Parmesan cheese. I used sage instead of the called-for savory because that's what I have in my herb beds. I also cooked it half the time called for on the stove early in the afternoon and let it just sit around until our roast chicken came out of the oven. Then I popped the gratin in to brown while the chicken rested.

W., who has a love-hate relationship with bitter vegetables (mostly hate) decided he loves turnips after trying this. I didn't tell him it's likely that it is butter, cream, and cheese he likes. The baby—who is a little weird, I'll admit—gobbled up the crispy, slightly sweet, spicy bits, in spite of the turnip tang.

Here's the chaos of our roast chicken Sunday dinner, guest starring turnip gratin, green beans with tomatoes, and a tiny baby hand waving through my wine glass.

We made our standby easy, foolproof roast chicken this week because we got a fresh little one in our CSA box. No turning, no basting, no adjustments of the oven temp, no fuss.

Easy Roast Chicken

Remove chicken from fridge an hour in advance of cooking. Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Pat your chicken dry and trim of extra fat. I don't need to do this with the local free-range birds we get here (worth every cent), but for a store chicken, it is essential. Stuff the fatty bits, with a generous amount of salt and pepper, under the skin of the bird and inside the cavity. If you have a lemon, stick it with a knife a couple times and stuff it into the chicken. If your lemon isn't organic, scrub well with a coarse sponge or brush and soap.

Put chicken, breast side up, in a roasting pan. For an easy side, set the chicken on a layer of chunks of potatoes and onions and unpeeled garlic cloves tossed with a little salt, pepper, and chopped rosemary. Roast for about 1 hour for a 3.5-pound bird.

(Until 170ºF in thigh supposedly, but we don't have a meat thermometer that works. We just stick a knife into the hip joint area and make sure the juices run clear and the meat is cooked.)

Let rest 10 minutes before carving.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lamb rib chops with potatoes

I used to make, occasionally, lamb loin chops in a red wine sauce thickened with the meaty umami of a demiglace and the sweetness of butter and shallots. I’d roll long strings of potato dough and cut them into gnocchi, to toss with roasted butternut squash and a brown butter, to soak up the dark sauce pooling under the lamb. It was good on cold nights, on special occasions like birthdays and Valentine’s Day, when the plate served only as a prelude to another more naked intimacy by candlelight.

But that was in the era BC, before child.

Now my lamb chops are quicker, less romantic, less rich, but equally satisfying in their own way—a prelude to a fall walk, bath time, flannel PJs, some serious face time with a book, some Scotch, and an insistent cat. The chops dash into the broiler studded with garlic, the potatoes are roasted wedges, and everything is liberally topped with the Mediterranean standbys of salty olives, sweet tomatoes, and sharp cheese.

And later, if the planets are aligned, if the baby stays asleep, if the candles are still burning on the dinner table long into the evening…

This recipe is a mashup of one from an ancient (1998) Bon Appétit magazine and my Grassfed Gourmet cookbook. I made it this week with lamb rib chops. But lamb loin chops would be just as good. I broiled them, but a turn on the grill over hardwood charcoal or real wood would be even better.

(Have I mentioned how much I love my CSA? It’s getting serious. Honestly, when I opened my packet of lamb chops, it smelled fresh, herbal, almost cooked. I can be squeamish about meat, after nearly a decade as a 99%-of-the-time vegetarian, but this? This is just straight-up lovely.)

Lamb Chops with Potatoes, Tomatoes, Olives, and Feta (for 2, easily doubled)

The Potatoes

potatoes, as many as as you think you can eat, cut into wedges (2 large russet, a bag of fingerling or Yukon Gold, whatever you like)
olive oil, a couple tablespoons
chopped fresh rosemary
salt, pepper

Preheat oven to 450°F. Toss potatoes on a sheet tray with olive oil, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Roast in the oven until tender and browned, 30–40 minutes. Ten minutes before the potatoes are done, start broiling the lamb.

The Lamb

4 thick lamb chops
2 cloves garlic, cut into slivers or tiny matchsticks
olive oil, salt, and pepper

Use a paring knife to cut a couple narrow, deep incisions into each side of your chops, stuffing them with garlic slivers as you go. Rub the chops on all sides with olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper. Cook under a hot broiler, about 5 minutes a side for medium rare. (Less for rare—well done is NOT an option here.)

The Rest

scant 1/2 c. halved cherry tomatoes (or chopped tomatoes)
1/3 c. feta cheese, broken into large-ish chunks
1/4 c. chopped black olives (not the Libby kind--Kalamata or other brine-cured. I used our home–salt-cured black olives that mellow in olive oil for months.)

Pile potatoes onto serving platter. Top with broiled lamb chops. Scatter the rest on top.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Moroccan lamb koftas

Another easy meal, this one served with store-bought flatbread, simply dressed arugula, and a sauce made with yogurt, salt, pepper, and a little crushed garlic. My mom made a Turkish version occasionally when I was growing up--kofte.

I made the meat mixture the night before, so all that was left to do when we came home on a busy weekday was to throw the kofta under the broiler, heating the flatbread in the oven in foil with a little garlic olive oil and making the sauce while the meatballs browned.

Ground lamb releases a lot of fat when cooked and spatters like nobody's business, so don't put these on a rimless sheet tray super close to the broiler element. Because that might start a fire in your oven. Fun for toddlers, but not so much so for adults in a hurry to get dinner on the table. Not that we would know anything about that. Ahem.

I based this recipe on one from The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook. I'd recommend this to anyone new to cooking grassfed--the cooking times and temperatures can be different enough to make traditional recipes a total failure, especially beef. But everything we've made from this book has been really good.

Moroccan Lamb Koftas (for 4—or 2 and a baby, with leftovers for lunch)

1 T. water
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 T. cilantro, finely chopped
1 T. paprika
1 t. ground cumin
3/4 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
3/4 t. salt
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
1 pound lamb, or about that

Preheat broiler. Mix all the ingredients and shape into 8 oval patties. Put on a rimmed sheet pan and broil about six inches from the element until browned and cooked through, about 3–4 minutes a side.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tired, grouchy, and hungry

I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, but as soon as I told a certain company (cough, AT&T, cough) that my cheap-o Internet plan was plenty fast for streaming music and checking my email, thank you, the connectivity problems began. Now, not only is my cheap-o Internet plan not always fast enough to listen to NPR in the mornings, it also just up and quits on us periodically.

So call me occasionally online or occasionally annoyed or something…

When we get home at 6 and the spouse is at school and the baby is starving and I’m tired and we need to get the bath-time routine rolling, like, now, I freak out a little: Why didn’t I make batches of soup and line individual servings up in Mason jars on my freezer shelf for just these occasions? Why didn’t I steam vegetables on Sunday for snacking and sides all week? Why don’t I have fruit cut into baby-friendly bite-size pieces and neatly tucked into the fridge?

Last night, the Turkey Tail CSA and the veggie peeler made me feel totally together, even when dinner was a warmed-up can of lentil soup and bread dipped into a packaged red pepper-white bean dip. Arugula with curls of Parmigiano-Reggiano,* splashed quickly with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, kosher salt and pepper—it feels fancy and grown-up and healthy, even if your dinner companion is trying out the soup-on-head thing.

The salty cheese balances the sharpness of the greens, and it’s totally not the same grated finely. You must drag a carrot peeler slowly against the edge of your block of cheese, letting the curls drop onto your salad with a bit of drama. Then hurry, hurry, eat—fuzzy pajamas and a lullaby await.

Easiest Arugula Salad

a handful of arugula, bigger stems discarded
extra-virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
kosher or sea salt
freshly ground pepper

Put your arugula in a bowl. Drizzle on a little olive oil and vinegar. (If you need to cut costs, do it with the vinegar. I buy a mid-range balsamic at Trader Joe's, and it works just fine. Although I really don't know what I'm missing: I've never been able to spend $30 on a couple ounces of vinegar. Maybe the heavens would open up, and my world would turn upside down. Better not to know, I say.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss a bit. Shave curls of cheese onto your greens with a vegetable peeler. Ahhh, see? You really do have it all together.

*I’ve had friends call me out on spending $15 on a block of real parm at Costco, but I consider it a budget item. We use it sparingly, going so far as to throw the rind in minestrone. And without it, we’d never eat our arugula. Shaking green can grains onto my salad would completely obliterate the joy. (Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the wonders of fake cheese in context. I salivate just remembering the childhood joy licking Cheeto residue off my fingers. But with this simple salad? Just don’t go there.)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Meat and mushrooms

I think I'm in love. We got our first week's half share from the CSA we joined: dried oyster mushrooms, arugula, blossoming basil, flowers, a pound of ground lamb, and over a pound of pork chops. In the future, squash, dark leafys, more lamb and pork, chicken, duck, turkey, and goat. The animals eat the byproducts of local tofu and biodynamic bread, and the mushrooms growing on the farm.

The farmer? Young, cute (not that that matters, of course), and completely passionate about food, especially, our favorite, lamb. Recipes in the first newsletter include lamb and spinach meatballs baked in cream of mushroom soup made from the dried mushrooms above. It sounds good, but I'm thinking kofte. We'll see.

The pork chops, however, are destined for the garlic lemongrass marinade we have in the freezer and a quick turn on the grill. The picture below is the same, eaten last weekend, made with some Niman Ranch pork from Trader Joe's and served with udon noodles, carrots, and red peppers with peanut sauce. (Did you know you can get fresh udon from Costco? I didn't. We refreshed it in boiling water for a couple seconds and had nearly instant udon.) We cut thick chops in half horizontally to make thinner cuts--it was easy to do after popping the chops in the freezer about a half hour.

The peanut sauce and marinade for this meal were made ahead, so it came together in about 10 minutes, not counting the family time in the backyard around the grill. And that doesn't count really--just an excuse to be outside drinking gin and tonics and eating watermelon just one more time before the rain descends on Northern California and our thoughts turn towards stews and braises and next week's meats...