Saturday, June 28, 2008

Clam digging and diggin clams!!

Fabulous night

I didn’t mean to invite myself on someone else’s boat, really. I felt kinda guilty. It started with a conversation about clam digging. I’ve never been, you see. When I was having thoughts about going and heard some others talking about it, I suggested all of us go together. What I didn’t know was that they were all going out on Brian’s boat. So, effectively, I invited myself boating. I thought that was a bit rude but Brian didn’t seem to mind.

So with some instructions, I headed out to Benny’s, the local five and dime, where I picked up a clam rake, a pair of water shoes, a clam knife and an out of state Clam license. I’m set. As the newbie, I grabbed the Sam Adams as well. Summer Ale seemed to be the consensus. It was off to the dock.

The ride down the Pawcatuck River out of Westerly, Rhode Island was quite awesome. There had been some thunderstorms earlier in the day but now the distant clouds over Watch Hill were quite tranquil in appearance. The sea was also invitingly calm making the ride enjoyable. Add the beer drinking camaraderie and this night was shaping up perfectly.

Clouds over Watch Hill, Rhode Island

I was so excited that I forgot to take a few things into consideration. Namely the water temperature and how deep the water was that we’d be in. Being a “non-clammer”, I had visions of ankle deep water and rolled up kakis. I was a bit off. We were in chest/shoulder deep water and for a Florida boy, it was damned cold. Now I know many of the folks out there think that 71 degrees is plenty warm but I am not one of them. And for a short time I contemplated allowing the other guys to enjoy the experience while I guarded the beers. Tim, however, was the 1st one in and in short order he tossed me the 1st clam of the night. It took about a minute for me to figure out how to get into this little guy. Now I’d brought a few things with me for just this moment. I picked up some Champagne and Pomegranate Vinegar that I chopped some fresh garlic into as well as some Chipotle Tabasco and lemon wedges. After a few drops of each of the aforementioned condiments, down he went. Any reservations I had about entering were now digested with my first ever fresh clam. I wish I could explain how deliciously sinful this was. Rake in hand, I immediately jumped in. EXPLITIVE OMMITED. This was cold. I figured I better start raking or get out so to work I went. The process of digging clams requires a bit of a touch. The guys explained it to me but it still took about 20 or so minutes to catch on. Once I had the process down, I spent the next hour cleaning the floor of them. If you’re a conservationist the next statement might be a bit troubling. I’m not sure if the waters off the Connecticut/Rhode Island border have any clams left; specifically Little Narraganset Bay. I feel personally responsible for potentially upsetting the delicate balance of New England’s ecosystem. Brian’s transom was quite full. I don’t want to get into trouble, but we may have pushed the envelope on any set limits (which I only learned about afterwards). I probably ate 10 or so myself on the boat and shucked a few for each of the other guys as well. I was only limited by my ability to effectively shuck fresh clams. We certainly had plenty.

I would have to eat this Quahog Clam underwater to have it any fresher

Once we all regrouped back on deck, it was more apparent that we’d spent an hour and a half in this cold water. Tim seemed the least effected and I feel like I was right behind him. Brian looked pretty cold on deck and Edgar’s lips stayed blue till we returned to the dock. The beer helped. So did the raw clams. The sunset was spectacular and I haven’t had such a great time in I don’t know how long. I told Brian I felt like I was on vacation.

Digging for Clams

We didn’t give proper thought on how to transport these heavy fellows from the boat to their final destination nor had we thought of who was taking what. I was in a hotel so I was out. Brian said he had a fridge full already. So Edgar and Tim split them and we made a loose plan to eat them together the following night. The next day it was decided that we’d go to Tim and Tina’s house to prepare them. If you’re an avid “Louis Loves Food” blog reader (God help you) then you’ll recall the evening of Meatloaf at Tim and Tina’s house a couple of months ago.

Tina and I talked about how to prepare these hearty bivalves and she suggested we go down the Portuguese road. So after perusing the recipe that she emailed me plus a few others, I was off to the store. Being a non-purist, I used the recipes I’d read as a suggestion. The only consistencies I saw were the Portuguese Chorizo sausage and the tomatoes. After that, artistic liberty abounded. I also needed a side dish. Since the clam and sausage preparation was promising to add a bit of a kick, I thought a cold pasta salad of sorts might be in order. So I looked up a few recipes for that as well but had a difficult time settling on one. I realized later that what I made was almost identical to one I saw in Bon Appetite. Subliminal messages abound. After a trip to the grocer, I was off to my friend’s house to prepare our feast.

My concerns about having a cooking vessel large enough for the amount of clams we were preparing disappeared when Tim pulled out a pot big enough to bath his two small sons in (I didn’t ask if he ever had). Well, off to work then. This recipe turned out better than I had imagined. Almost all of the clams were Quohogs (pronounced cohog). Those are the large meaty variety. Every one of them opened perfectly in the cooking process meaning they were genuinely fresh. A good crusty bread to sop up in the fantastic tomato-y wine broth that is left from the cooking process is also a must.

So on with the recipes. I have picked up great clams at my local fish market before so they are out there. One does not need to dig their own (although I highly recommend the experience). Also I scaled this recipe back a bit to feed a more normal size crowd.

Portuguese Clams

Portuguese Clams

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces fresh pork chorizo (Portuguese style) Sliced on a diagonal
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
I cup dry white wine
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) chopped tomatoes
1 Lemon sliced into wedges
24 large clams (any variety but we used the Quohogs), scrubbed
1/3 cup Flat leaf Italian Parsley
1/3 cup chopped green onions

In a large stock pot over medium high heat, add the oil and Chorizo. Stir sausage until it starts to brown, then add the onion. Cook, stirring, until sausage is browned and onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the wine and cook for an additional minute or so. Stir in the tomatoes. Let come to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.
Add the clams and lemon wedges. Shake pan to coat clams with sauce; increase heat to medium. Cover pan and cook until clams open, about 10 minutes (discard any that do not open). Stir in the parsley and green onion and serve.
Makes 6 servings.

Orzo Salad

Orzo, Green Bean and Fennel Salad with Dill Pesto and Feta Cheese

So I tried to avoid a couple of things in this recipe just to see if I could keep it a touch on the healthier side. I could not. It needed a tablespoon of Mayo and the Feta. Otherwise it was too bland. With the addition of these to magical ingredients, the frog was an instant prince. Give it a shot.

10 oz fresh green beans (stems removed)
10 oz orzo
2/3 cup chopped fresh dill
2 cloves garlic
¼ cup olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Juice from ½ lemon
1 large English cucumber peeled and chopped into ½ inch cubes
1 fennel bulb, diced
1 tbsp mayo
1 cup crumbled Feta Cheese
4-5 chopped green onion (also called spring onion or scallions)
Salt and pepper to season

Add the green beans to a pot of salted boiling water. Cook for about a minute and then place them in ice water to stop the cooking process. Once cool cut into bite size pieces (1/2 to 1 inch). In the same salted water used for the green beans, add the orzo. Cook until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to also stop the cooking. Mushy orzo would be yucky in any recipe. This can be done a couple of hours in advance if you want but place a tablespoon or so of the olive oil in the orzo before popping into the refrigerator to prevent the starch from sticking.

In a food processor or blender combine the dill, olive oil, garlic, vinegar, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Blend until smooth. Also can be done a couple of hours ahead and stored in the fridge. Just stir well again before adding to the salad.

Combine the beans, orzo and pesto with the rest of the ingredients and toss well. Salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Yummy Montreal Revisited

Janice, myself and Alex enjoying a glass of wine outside Maestro S.V.P.

Bonjour again.

I had a great meal for lunch and dinner every day this week without exception. That’s rare. Usually there is at least one meal in a cafeteria or fast food somewhere. But working and staying in the Rue St. Laurent district of Montreal means you could go somewhere different every day for some time before eating at the same place twice. Plus, our lovely Montreal colleague and un-official host, Caroline took us to Peel Street in Downtown Montreal one night for a very unique meal as well. I can’t describe everything but I’ll hit the highlights for sure.

OK… close your eyes and picture this business idea. We’re going to open a restaurant. Cool, huh? We’ll put it in a well traveled and pseudo-chic area of town so it’ll probably be a bit pricey from a real estate standpoint but this is a good idea, so it’ll pay off. We’ll upscale it a bit too. White linen. Small intimate setting. French name. Sounding good? Now for the menu… the make or break piece of every restaurant puzzle. A steak. Yep. That’s it. Oh OK, yeah maybe some good crusty bread to start, then a salad with a few walnuts. French fries on the side (but we’ll call them Pomme Frites since it’s a French restaurant) and the same French pastry dessert every night too. And the cut of steak doesn’t even have to be prime. Now, we could change the size of the stea… Hey wait. Come back!!!! This is a great idea!!!!!

L'Entrecôte St-Jean

Well, I’m not sure who had this absurd plan for a restaurant because it most certainly would fail, right? Wrong. L'Entrecôte St-Jean is set downtown on a busy street. Passers by might not give it a second look. It’s one of those rooms with a boxcar layout, long and narrow from front to back. The seating is a bit cramped too but most would call it cozy (what I like to call Euro-typical). The menu has one thing on it. I’m not sure why they hand you the printed menu but they do. You get to basically chose if you want the steak or the steak “meal” as described in my business pitch as above. The slight twist on the meal is even more simplistic. There is a fantastic French mustard pan sauce that is drizzled over your steak. It was spectacular (and amazing with the fries too). My plate looked as though it came out of the dishwasher when I had finished. The other bit of a hook is that they’ll give you more steak if you want it at no additional charge. They don’t advertise this “all-you-can-eat” feature but it is well known amongst the locals. No one at my table was audacious enough to request a second steak but I think Alex wanted to (I thought about it myself). It was a business dinner after all and besides, Caroline is a thin, health conscious aerobics instructor. No need to look glutinous. I enjoy my steak rare and this steak was cooked to the perfect rare doneness. Rare is supposed to have a “cool red center” and this one did. I find that so many restaurants (even good restaurants) define “cool” as quite cold. I define cool as that temperature just before warm. Lukewarm perhaps. Not cold. But L'Entrecôte St-Jean has it down. The desert was a quintessential French puff pastry filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with a chocolate sauce and sliced almonds. Another hit. The recipe for this “from scratch” prefect finish was up on their website when I checked. I guess if you’re only going to do one thing you should do it well and L'Entrecôte St-Jean does it even better than that. It is a popular Montreal landmark and a must for the Montreal visit list. By the way, dinner and a glass of wine will set you back about $30 Canadian. That’s a great price.

Amazingly simple and delicious dessert

Ok the next “must” has to be Schwartz's . Billed as a Hebrew Delicatessen, this hole in the wall on Rue St. Laurent has been a Montreal fixture for 80 years. No reservations accepted. Plan to wait in line. Another small room and while they serve more than one thing, they are famous for just one. Smoked Meat. I wasn’t sure what that meant although everyone talks about it. When I arrived at my hotel on the 1st day of my 1st trip here, I asked the concierge as I often do where the “must eat” places are. Without hesitation, stutter or pause, Schwartz’s fell from his lips. “Smoked meat”. He said nothing else. So for that visit and this week as well, I have mentioned this place every day. Unfortunately, our aerobics instructor colleague (who DOES have great taste in food) has a longstanding boycott going on with Schwartz’s for her health conscious reasons. Something to do with fat and artery clogging grease. Blah, blah, blah. So what was to be my last day in Montreal for the foreseeable future, I stated that I was going to this place whether anyone came with me or not. And purely by coincidence, it was the one day Caroline couldn’t join us for lunch. So, 5 of us went and it was worth the wait.

Smoked chicken and beef

Smoked meat is Brisket I believe. I did not ask but I’m pretty sure. If I had to guess, it is somehow cured (akin to a corned beef but without the strong flavor), covered in Montreal steak seasoning (more about that in a minute), then slowly smoked. When ordered, you are offered “lean, medium or fatty”. I went with medium. Caroline might have gotten ill at the question. It was like a meaty butter. Chewing is not required and teeth are optional. The coating of spices on the outside gave a peppery bite to this perfectly smoked and tender meat. I opted to skip the fries and had their cole slaw instead. I was pleased that the slaw had a vinegar only dressing and perfectly complimented the smoke. Terrific. Since Caroline was not around, I decided gluttony was less sinful that biblically described and I ordered a combo platter that came with half a smoked chicken as well. OK this was over the top. It was covered in the same spice rub and also smoked to a juicy perfection. What really pleased me was the flavor was somewhat similar to the flavor of the chicken I grilled and wrote about a few weeks ago. It made me feel a bit proud that I accidentally got it right. Caroline later told us she didn’t know they had chicken there. When I showed her the picture, she said she’d have to try it.

About the Montreal Steak Seasoning. This is just another spice blend but a perfect accompaniment for this type of cooking. I bought a bottle to bring home. Different versions can be found in any grocery store. McCormick has a version I’ve enjoyed before but it’s a bit tamer than the bold flavor I tasted at Schwartz’s. Here's an online recipe from one of my favorite websites just to give you an idea.

Ok the last night. We got lucky. There was a street festival on St. Laurent that began on Thursday and was to run through the weekend. Since I’m on the road only during the week, I am constantly being told by the locals wherever I am what a great time I will be missing in any given city for the weekend. Invariably there is a festival or concert or event that I miss by a day. Not this time. It began Thursday. Plus since it was a work night and a tad drizzley, I got the benefit of not a big crowd.

There are two highlights from this night. First, we stopped at a café, Maestro S.V.P.,that had put up little tent out front for a street bar (several cool places did this). We ordered a glass of wine each and I noticed some oysters on ice. I ordered half a dozen. When asked, the bartender told me they were from Nova Scotia. They were moderate in size but uncommonly sweet. Perfect with a drop of lemon juice and pepper sauce. I’ve noticed from previous oyster tastings that cold northern Atlantic oysters have this sweetness like no other. Their flavor is quite different from the Apalachicola and Louisiana oysters that I originally fell in love with many years ago. While the southern Oysters are meatier, I enjoy the sweetness of the Atlantic oysters a bit more (but I won’t be turning my original favorites down anytime soon). While we were chatting, the waiter brought out 2 mega oysters that were the size of a salad plate each. I’ve never seen anything like it. I commented that I couldn’t imagine that they would be very tasty. I figured as they got that big they had to lose their sweetness. Next thing I know Alex orders one of them. It took about 2-3 minutes of fairly solid work to get this thing open. And at the expense of one of the oyster shucking tools. Finally a tool box shows up and with a screw driver, the beast was opened. I love being wrong when I think something won’t taste good. It was just about as sweet as its smaller cousins (I only assume they were kin). Janice, our new and non-raw seafood eating colleague tasted this with me and she thought it was rather pleasant too. Still eating an oyster that requires a knife and fork is a touch bizarre. All in all, a yummy surprise. I think I’d like to eat at Maestro S.V.P. for dinner in the future but I didn’t want to end the night with dinner at the same place we stopped for a drink. If Montreal hits my Radar again, I’ll give it a go. Their menu looked great.

Big damed oyster but it tasted good

After leaving the empty oyster shell in the distance and perusing the offerings of the festival, we stumbled upon a Portuguese restaurant that Caroline had suggested we try on a couple of occasions. It had always been closed when we went by. This time, we got lucky. Through the street front window, the kitchen grill at Jano (no website but here’s a review) is in full view. Over a fire we see rabbit, squid, whole fish, quail and other beautiful meats being prepared and brushed with whatever buttery mixture the cook had in his metal bowl. Another unpretentious but appealing draw. In we went. With a pitcher of Sangria between the 3 of us, I enjoyed the Grilled Sardines. I’ve never had these oversized pizza toppings as an entrée before. Fantastic choice. Now, if you ever have the chance to order Sardines as an entrée, take some advice I didn’t get. The guts are not yummy. Bitter. Of the four that were on my plate, one mistake like this was the only one I made. Otherwise, they were better than I might have imagined. There may be some official way to eat these, but my advice would be to slide the fork between the bones and the meat from the tail and work back towards the head. This seemed to pull up the meat only. The tiny rib bones were not big deal but the vertebrae were too crunchy in these larger fish. These were a lot less salty than their canned counterpart and I notices a natural meaty sweetness found in your typical small fish fillet. I must go to Portugal someday. I would order these again. Also worth mentioning was the grilled rabbit that Alex ordered. After tasting it, I was a bit envious.

My sardines. They were more appetizing than they appear.

OK... I have rambled enough for now. Next week I’m back in New England on the Connecticut/Rhode Island border. I know the area and the restaurants I want to take you to. Also, in the coming weeks my travels will take me to some new cities and new countries so I look forward to some writing. I anticipate my kitchen being back in recipe producing order after the move and all. Lisa and I have many things put away with many things to go. We ordered a pizza tonight.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Life's Little Chapters

Warning: No Recipe, no picture and almost no food reference in the following post. Viewer discretion is advised.

Life is like a good book. It writes itself. We conveniently move through the chapters not even realizing when one ends and a new one begins. Here in our house, the Tarpon Springs chapter is coming to a close. We’re moving. We now enter Palm Harbor chapter. It’s not far. Maybe 5 miles. Lisa is really looking forward to living on the lake once again. That bug bit her when she 1st moved to Florida 15 years or so ago and she’s really wanted to get back there. Personally I like the Gulf waters better but we never took complete advantage of living there.

Surrounded by the chaos of the move, Lisa and I look back at all the events that happened in this house that we’ve lived in for 8 years. I mean, you would not recognize the place from when we moved in. While the previous owners (still friends of ours) worked really hard to get the house fixed up, it was still an old bungalow style Florida home. High maintenance. But through Lisa’s vision, there were many wonderful things done. The tile, the circular drive, the stucco finished exterior and the new windows throughout –all Lisa’s doing (I funded a little). We brought Olivia home from the hospital to a room here. We had an artist paint a perfect border based on the work of a local artist we admire. Well, the other day that room was painted over and her artwork is gone. Chapter closed.

The one room that we never tackled was the kitchen. It was in terrible need of an update. The cabinets, while quite solid, were original (circa 1950). The pressed wood doors and yucky matching countertop (which could be slid sideways if pushed) were just plain nasty. My range hood blew smoke into the kitchen and subsequently, the entire house (and that’s AFTER I fixed it). But the worse thing about my old kitchen was that it was a room all to itself. So if I had company and I was making dinner, I couldn’t visit and cook at the same time. I found that a bit frustrating and then someone always felt guilty and had to come stand in my cramped little kitchen with me. Chapter closed.

New Chapter. The new kitchen was updated a few years ago. Now there is a long story to this but to keep this smaller than a novel, I will just say that updating the kitchen in what was a rental property at the time was controversial in our household. I was against it. Fast forward to today and it’s a dream come true for anyone who likes to cook. I’m thrilled. The layout is open. I can see throughout the living and seating areas. Most of the work surfaces face that direction. There is at least double the counter and cabinet space. And thanks to two picky work supervisors (Lisa and her mother), the details are meticulous. From the molding to the perfect lighting, I cannot wait to begin my new culinary journey here.

Ah, but moving is never fun. In fact, it’s just plain work. I imagine that’s why the nomadic lifestyle never really took off. And while its been a bit of a struggle and Lisa has bore the greater burden. I packed a few boxes and broke down the computers and printers. I thinned out my wardrobe and put together some new shelving. But in the end, I’ve been traveling while Lisa gets the work done. I spent my last night in the old house a couple of days ago. Then I flew off to Montreal. When I get back to Florida later today, I’ll meet up with Lisa and Olivia in the new digs. I hear the furniture is in the garage.

Sorry for no food comments in today’s quick post but I wanted to get something up this morning. This trip to Montreal was filled with delicious stuff and I can’t wait to chat about it later.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

It Summer... Time for some Potato Salad -warm?

Summer yeah summer… Man is it hot. I was home in Florida the other day, got on a plane and landed in Buffalo and it’s still hot!!!! Then on the news, I see that there is snow in the northwest –IN JUNE!!!!! How do you plan a seasonal menu around that? Well I’ve been thinking about that folks, and to remove the burden from you, I have the answer. German Potato Salad. It can be served warm or cold and defies any seasonal stigma. Thank you Germans and thank you potatoes. So then I was wondering where German Potato Salad came from. A little research produced the answers. At the turn of the 20th century, potatoes were a major staple in the diet of most Americans. German Potato Salad was associated with German-American immigrants and hence the formal name was born.
Potatoes (a new world food) made their way to Europe thanks to the Spanish in the 1600’s. I would think that gave those vinegar loving Germans ample opportunity to hone their skills with these spuds producing something akin to what we love today. A bit Googling produced the following snippet from a larger article devoted to potato salad in general:
“There seems to be no dogma concerning the origins of potato salad, but Germany is a good place to begin. As a country with lots of potatoes and lots of recipes for potatoes, Germany almost certainly was among the first to look at cooked small new potatoes or cut chunks of larger spuds and imagine them blanketed with dressing. The dressing they came up with was a classic. Kin to the heated dressing used to wilt spinach salad, this one thrilled German taste buds, raised as they were on sauerkraut and sauerbraten with vinegar bite. Some versions featured a little coarse mustard, others cut the sour with a little sugar, and most added bacon and even its flavorful drippings.”
---"A world of potato salads; Labor Day tradition gets global makeover," John DeMers, The Houston Chronicle, August 29, 2001 (Food: p. 1)
The following recipe was adapted from an episode of “Boy Meets Grill” on the Food Network. I seem to enjoy just about everything Bobby Flay cooks. I made this recipe from memory after watching the show but when I went to look up the recipe from the show, I don’t recall it being the same prep. From the website, it looks like they made their own mustard, while on the TV program Bobby uses a jar of mustard. While I give Mr. Flay the credit for this inspiration, this adaptation is my simple version. I loved it. It’s more mustardy than vinegary so if that’s not appealing, I would shoot for a more traditional version. I also added some capers. Another tip is to use a high quality bacon. I tend to like thick cuts and bacon is one of those foods that I’ll pay a lot more for if the quality is right.
Lastly, cut the potatoes while they are hot. This can be tricky. Use a towel or potholder if necessary. Mixing the ingredients while they are hot gives the mustard mixture the opportunity to permeate the starchy little spuds and infuses the flavors throughout.
So with no further ado:
German Potato Salad ala Bobby and Louis (I gave him top billing –how generous)
3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
1 yellow onion, quartered
1/2 pound bacon, diced
1 large red onion, diced
2-3 tbsp Dijon Mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper
8 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp capers

Place potatoes in a large pot with the yellow onion and cover with cold water. Turn heat to high and cook until fork tender. Drain, discard the onion, and cut the potatoes into slices when cool enough to handle. Place the potatoes in a large bowl and cover to keep warm.
Heat a sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Add the red onions to the rendered bacon fat and cook until soft, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the mustard. Add the hot dressing to the potatoes and toss gently to coat. Fold in the green onions, capers and parsley. Drizzle olive oil. Gently mix thoroughly taking care not to damage the potatoes. Season again with salt and pepper, to taste.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Cold Soup

It’s been stuck in my craw. Irritating. Like an itch in that center part of your back that can’t be reached. Cold soup! –A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a cold soup I had at Zaytinya in Washington DC. Before that, I’d been thinking about a cold soup recipe and as summer approached there had been several articles about refreshing cold soups. Still, to me, the idea is a bit foreign. I don’t recall ever making one and I’ve only tasted a few.

My first experience with a cold soup dates back to my pre-foodie days. Rewind to 1989. I was a young guy working as a home health nurse in El Paso, TX. My agency sent me to cover the “regular” nurse for a wealthy oilman who was quite aged and lived alone, except for his house staff of about 8. At dinner time, the staff would all gather and dine with this gentleman. Everyone had to be dressed. So I had to change from my scrubs into proper dinner attire that included a jacket (most young nurses find it puzzling when their agency tells them to bring a dinner jacket to a client’s home). So there we sat. And we were served by the private chef and butler, who joined us at the table. It might have been less shocking if someone had mentioned that this beautiful bowl of liquid placed before me -that had lovely red and yellow floating throughout -that this broth was not hot. The first course was a cold corn and tortilla soup. While it was absolutely delicious, I found myself a bit embarrassed thinking that it had been sitting on the counter too long. As warmth of dinner often invites strangers to be friends, conversation quickly corrected my thoughts and I realized it was supposed to be cold. Ohhhhh…. OK. Now that makes sense. So as I gazed out on the mesa from the large dining room windows and watched the hummingbirds do their aerial dance around the hanging feeders, this soup was the perfect desert creation.

Returning to the present, I’ve had several cold soup tastings over the years. All have been really yummy but I don’t know if I’ve ever made one. But thanks to that aforementioned itch, I was drawn. Specifically, the cucumber-yogurt combination from Zaytinya. So onto the internet and a search for “Cucumber Yogurt Soup”. It returned a plethora of recipe hits. After perusing 10 or so, I realized there was a central few ingredients and the rest was preference. Obviously Yogurt and cucumber were mandatory but so was dill. From there, creative license seemed OK. I found the flavor to be perfectly luscious. The sweet cucumber and tangy yogurt were a perfect pairing. The simplicity of the dill and leek addition leaves your palate wanting more.

Leek was my own idea, at least I did not see leek in any of the recipes I reviewed. The yogurt makes this soup too rich for a large portion, so filling a martini glass about ¾ full would be about perfect. I’ve seen soups such as this served in shot glasses as well. I find this a novel solution since small portions are called for.

Cold Cucumber and Yogurt Soup

1 leek white and pale green parts only, coarsely chopped
2 large cucumbers peeled and seeded, chopped into cubes
2 cups plain or Greek style yogurt
2 cloves garlic
½ cup fresh dill
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil plus a bit more for a finishing drizzle
Salt and pepper
Fresh mint
Golden raisins

Sauté the leeks over medium heat in about a tablespoon olive oil just to soften and sweat them (about 6-7 minutes). Cool.

In a food processor combine the leeks, cucumber, yogurt, garlic, dill and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Blend until smooth, about 30 seconds. Season to taste and reblend. Refrigerate for a couple of hours so flavors can meld.

To serve, place a couple of golden raisins in the bottom of your serving vessel and pour a small amount of soup over top. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and sprig of mint.

Serves 6-8

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A new chicken recipe? Nope. Just Grilled

Even chicken sometimes deserves a close up

It’s just a chicken. The whole planet eats it. There are about a gazillion ways to cook it. None of them are wrong as long as it tastes good to you. So when I opened the freezer this morning during a typical perusing of what will end up being dinner, I noticed a whole chicken in the back. I bought it at Costco a couple of weeks ago in a pack of two. The first ended up being one of my famous (at least to my family it’s famous) chicken salad chickens. So there this frozen bird was and not looking particularly inviting. I mean, it’s just a chicken. For reasons not completely clear, I thought I should defrost it for later. Out it came. OK then. Fine. I’ll make a chicken.

Now how to prepare this bird. At first I thought I’d break it down and fry it southern style. That’s something I haven’t done in years and the challenge of not screwing that up was intriguing. In fact, I recently asked an old friend for her recipe. I should spend some time chatting about the Long family sometime. Great people. Judith Anna made the best fried chicken I had ever tasted and even though I haven’t tasted it in over 20 years, I vividly recall her perfectly crusted skin with moist, juicy chicken beneath. I recently caught up with Judith by phone after many years. She found me through the blog. When she returned my email asking for the recipe, I was shocked at the simplicity. It just goes to show that attention to detail in the cooking process is far more important than a long list of ingredients.

Unfortunately, during my kitchen tour, I realized I would need to go get some more flour. Combine that with the fact that Lisa has been pestering about healthier cooking, and I decided deep frying was out (although I made a goat cheese risotto that was NOT a low fat addition). Then I saw the grill through the kitchen window. Grilled chicken. Yum. Grilling chicken is just as challenging as frying especially on a charcoal grill because there is virtually no temperature control. There is a very fine line between perfectly cooked chicken skin with a moist center and a black, dry, barely recognizable chunk of bird. While I think I have this process down now, I have many a nasty tale in getting here.

Fast forward to the afternoon. Chicken is thawed. In barbarian but money saving fashion, I broke down my own chicken. I love my kitchen scissors when it comes to getting the backbone out of a bird. To the best of my knowledge, the only controversy in cutting up a chicken, if you could find a controversy in cutting up a chicken, is whether or not to leave the legs and thighs together or cut them apart. For me I like them together. Looks cooler. But, if I were feeding more folks I guess I’d break them down so that there were more pieces.

Now, I would love to tell you about my homemade rub but I didn’t make one. I used Rendezvous dry rub I picked up at their restaurant in Memphis a couple of months ago (you can order it form the link yourself). A generous coating all over then a bit of a rest on the counter. In the meantime, I fired up the grill. Part one of the trick to getting the perfect grilled chicken is to concentrate your coals to one side of the grill. That way you can put the bird on the other side so it doesn’t sit directly over the heat source. So after the coals had been sitting about 30 minutes it was time for the fowl. Bird on, lid down, walk away. 20 minutes later, flip and walk away again. 15 minutes later, done. Obviously, this timing can vary based on your grill. If you have a meat thermometer, you’re shooting for 165 degrees. I couldn’t find mine which did make me a touch nervous but what could I do. I got lucky because it turned out perfectly, I thought.

I used this risotto recipe from an earlier post to serve on the side except I didn’t have the almonds and I used goat cheese instead of blue cheese. What a huge change in taste with only a small ingredient change. I loved it, a lot -probably more than the blue cheese but its close.

I also roasted some lovely tiny tomatoes just to add color to the dish. A little salt, pepper and olive oil and they went on the grill just as the chicken was finished. Beware that the olive oil WILL cause a bit of a flame as it drips in the coals.

The finished product

Well I hope this message leaves my reading friends and family less fearful of grilling a chicken. There seems to be no fear in dropping a $30 steak on the grill but there is often some hesitancy in putting a $6 bird over the coals. I hate to see us miss out on the fabulous flavor. After all, its just a chicken.