lunch/dinner

keep it summer, stupid

fish with parmesan and tomatoes

In the midst of summer, you want to spend more time outside, more time with people you love, and more time with foods that are light and energizing. A recipe for your success: keep it simple, let the freshness of summer produce and the transformative powers of the smoky grill do most of the work – and you can spend more time with your friends, your drink, and your loaded up fork. Super easy, minutes-to-the-table panko crusted flounder with ripe tomatoes and herbs can easily be adapted to the grill in a foil packet.

grilled veggiesFind your most appealing summer veggies and load ’em on skewers. Nothing more than some olive oil is needed.

avocado and romaine saladTake this virtuous avocado and romaine salad and add a sprinkle of cotija, feta or goat cheese for a piquant punch.

grilled shrimpPlump shrimp loves a bit of oregano and lemon to bring out its best and brightest flavors on the grill.

grilled zucchini with chili and mintLoad up your plates with grilled zucchini dressed with mint and chili, close the grill and open up the cooler – your night is just getting started.

lunch/dinner

that’s a morel

When I received dried morels as a gift, I set them aside for some time and consideration. I adore mushrooms and these fungi, with their clean-dirt aroma and nutty flavor, deserved proper celebration. On a winter night during a particularly damp weather week, we found ourselves craving these jewels of the wet earth and I brought them out from hibernation.

Daniel Boulud's cod with morels and asparagus

Morels go particularly well with the richness of butter or cream, so this cod recipe from Daniel Boulud was an obvious choice. Paired with fresh asparagus and sweet pearl onions, the delicate cod is not overpowered by any one flavor and the result is elegant and harmonious.

mise en place at B's (with beer)

Initially, I was nervous that a recipe from the renowned chef would require intricate technique and specialty ingredients that would be too overwhelming for me on a weeknight, but this delightful recipe was not too challenging and in fact was a joy to make. A good sign of fun in the kitchen: the enjoyment of an Anchor Steam while preparing the mise en place.

Using dried morels in place of fresh is quite easy (and just as flavorful), and I just reconstituted them in the cream called for in the recipe. From Wild About Mushrooms, The Cookbook of the Mycological Society of San Francisco by Louise Freedman:

“The intensity and character of the morel flavor is not lost in drying. We have used them after three years of storage and found them to be just as aromatic, if not more so, as when fresh.

Reconstitute them in hot water for 5 minutes or simmer them in cream until soft, about 15 minutes, not allowing the cream to boil. Always add the rehydrating liquid to the dish for which your morels are intended. A great deal of the flavor remains in the liquid.

When incorporating dried morels in a recipe calling for fresh specimens, use 3 ounces as the equivalent of 1 pound of mushrooms. Once reconstituted, they should be equal in volume.”

IMAroasted cauliflower with lemon-parsley dressing

To round out the meal, roasted cauliflower with lemon-parsley dressing  added some sweetness and zest to offset the creaminess of the cod’s sauce. This side would be a bold compliment to any other fish dish or Mediterranean style meal, or even the holiday table.

baking, lunch/dinner

what i had for dinner: comfort

Sometimes you seek comfort in a meal with friends to get over a break-up, sometimes to seek refuge from stress, and sometimes to celebrate something wonderful. Or, as a recent get together proved, for all three. In such a setting, the only suitable meal to accompany copious glasses of wine and frenzied let’s-just-getaway-from-it-all planning is comfort food. Comfort food that is heart- and tummy-warming, a suitable base for self-medicating/rewarding with alcohol, and makes you feel indulgent and pampered. Our meal fit the bill on all accounts and even got us pumped for that getaway adventure.

This gratin made with creamy polenta and Gruyere, hides an earthy layer of wild mushrooms and spinach underneath. It’s a great accompaniment to fish or meat and would be great on a holiday table as well.

 

I paired it with my go-to recipe for ridiculously easy salmon that also looks and tastes impressive: Ted Allen’s pan-roasted salmon. It makes a gorgeous plate and is great on its own or over a bed of arugula (which I lightly dressed with red wine vinegar and olive oil, salt and pepper).

The pan sauce is simply tomatoes, shallots, cumin, red wine vinegar and olive oil – bright and fresh and colorful.

Don’t think I forgot about dessert. This soul-hugging pumpkin bread pudding is  a scrumptious end to a comforting meal. I used Challah bread for its eggy sweetness, and made the recipe even easier by just using half-and-half for the dairy parts and 2 full teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice for the spices. For that extra squeeze of love, I topped it with a caramel whiskey sauce: just melt down brown sugar in butter and add a good splash of Jameson’s.

burgers & sandwiches, lunch/dinner

what i had for dinner: condiment cleanout edition

My fridge is usually empty (gasp!) – but the door shelves are always full. I got capers for something and used only a teaspoon, then found a great recipe for miso poached cod and have a big container of miso languishing, and hit up another specialty store for authentic Indian pickle and then forgot to use it in anything else…and so it goes. Recently, I procured a jar of zesty harissa paste full of acidic and subtly spicy red chile as well as a pricey bottle of aromatic tangy preserved lemon for a Moroccan night. I really, really (really?) enjoyed the flavors of these new-to-me condiments so I’d been looking for an excuse to use them again (and use them up) in a less conventional format.

B’s Adam (not to be confused with my Adam, of Polish pierogi and pie proclivities) was dropping by for a doctoral candidate study break so the guy could use a good meal and some comforting convo. I imagined harissa, much like a tomato relish or tapenade, would be a perfect contrast to some creamy, buttery, melty cheese and a grilled cheese is always welcome on a comfort food menu. I was going to do a bright, tangy preserved lemon soup for the grilled cheese, but decided that their zing would go rather well with a juicy salad to balance the richness of the gooey sandwich. To bring it back full circle, I used up both harissa and preserved lemon to make an elegant yet easy-peasy sauce for shrimp – served over yesterday’s leftover rice and you’ve got yourself a balanced meal for fueling your dissertation-addled brain. I muddled together a bunch of different recipes and found the right balance for my tastebuds somewhere in between them, and ended up leaving the fridge door shelf just a bit lighter.

Harissa and Pear Grilled Cheese (aka Best Grilled Cheese Ever)

(inspired by Thierry Rautureau’s Top Chef Masters recipe)

– cut 4 slices of good quality white bread or French bread, about 1/4 inch thick (I used the sublime Acme sweetdough loaf, which is crusty and bubbly, salty and sweet like a delicious French baguette)

– butter each slice on one side (softened butter works best)

– in a small bowl, mix together 2 ounces of fresh goat cheese (chèvre) with 2 teaspoons harissa

– spread the cheese mixture on the non-buttered side of the bread

– fry the slices of bread (buttered side down) on medium low, go low and slow for that perfectly melty crunch

– while frying, top each slice of bread with a thin slices of a good melting cheese (I used Spring Brook Farm Reading Raclette which is buttery smooth and made for melting. A similar cheese would be Gruyère or Jarlsberg)

– fry up the bread until crisp golden brown and the cheese is melty, then remove from pan

– add some thin slices of pear to 2 slices of bread (I used crisp Bosc, but a greener Bartlett would also add that snappy crunch)

– top the pear with another slice of gooey melted cheesy buttery crisp bread

– slice up and serve (I cut into quarters for an appetizer)

makes 2 sandwiches

Avocado and Tomato Salad with Preserved Lemon

(a mashup of Cooking Light’s recipe with one of Ghillie Basan’s)

– add to a bowl: 2 diced roma tomatoes, 1/2 rinsed minced preserved lemon rind, 1/2 thinly sliced red onion, fresh squeezed juice of 1 lemon,  and 5-6 tablespoons good fruity olive oil (more or less based on how sharp you want your vinaigrette). mix it up.

– add salt and pepper to taste

– add 1 diced avocado and stir together gently

– serve with chopped fresh parsley and cilantro, a teaspoon of rinsed capers, and a good sprinkling of paprika

serves 4

Harissa and Goat Cheese One-Pan Shrimp

(inspired by this recipe by Carr Valley Cheese Company)

– heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat, add 2 minced cloves of garlic, 1/2 thinly sliced red onion, and/or  1 minced shallot

– when soft, add 1lb deveined, peeled shrimp

– when shrimp starts to become opaque add 2 diced roma tomatoes

– add 2 tablespoons harissa and 1 cup white wine, mix to incorporate and simmer until shrimp are cooked through and tomatoes start to soften

– add 2 ounces of fresh goat cheese (chèvre), mix well

– add 1/2 chopped preserved lemon rind (rinsed)

– add salt and pepper to taste

– just before serving add chopped fresh parsley and cilantro

– serve with rice or crusty bread

serves 4

lunch/dinner

crab, you say?

Ok, I know the last post was a highly opinionated manifesto on the crab cake, so I will keep this crab post short. One other way (of the millions) that we enjoy crab is in this decadent, fragrant, creamy, elegant crab and pumpkin soup. I serve it with some yogurt (+/- chives, lemon) for that creamy tanginess that offsets the aromatics of curry spices so well. This has made it to the Thanksgiving table for the past few years but it’s also great with crusty bread and salad for a casual dinner. This curried crab and pumpkin soup is easy to make, but tastes like you have been working all day from a secret recipe on a handwritten scroll squirreled away in a trinket box you hide from prying eyes. By which I mean, it’s fantastic and people love it and you will look like a culinary genius.

lunch/dinner

behold! the crab.

Look, I’m from Maryland and I know crab cakes. I remember my first crab boil as a kid and thinking these adults were crazy for all of this work and mess just for a morsel of – ohhhh….this is amazing! I could never be a full vegetarian mostly because I love crab. I’m convinced that crab cakes are appropriate for all special events, and have made it a part of our Thanksgiving tradition in place of turkey. And now that I am living on the west coast, I have learned to love the Dungeness crab. Learn, I say, because it’s definitely a bit different from the Maryland blue crabs with which I grew up. Blue crab is just a but sweeter, a bit more delicate. I am not trying to be inflammatory when I say: I have yet to taste a good crab cake on the west coast. I wasn’t sure if its from the crab or from the technique, so I was skeptical. So I make them myself, and the first time I made a crab cake with Dungeness, I was horrified to watch them crumble apart in the pan. But I’m now a convert, and in the fall I’d been frantically keeping tabs on the news and hoping that Dungeness season will be a good harvest. But on to the perfect crab cake – you can use blue crab or Dungeness, and you’ll be pleased to know how simple they are to make. But be forewarned, on this subject I have many opinions.

The first thing to know is that good crab needs nothing, nothing, to taste good. Not sauce, not butter, not lemon, not even salt and pepper. Truly fresh, wonderful crab is perfect on its own, so a crab cake is really just gilding that lily – be judicious. Second, crab cakes do not have filler, they have binder – that is, just enough extraneous non-crab ingredients to hold together the pieces of crab and if that ratio is wrong you have a cake with crab in it and not a crab cake. Third, there is no wrong direction to take the seasoning of a crab cake. I am partial to the Maryland standard of Old Bay seasoning myself, but just using salt and pepper, or a curry powder, or southeast Asian flavors, or tropical flavors is not wrong. Wherever there is an ocean, people on the coast eat crab, so who’s to say what’s correct or authentic? Fourth, form the cakes and let them rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour, then add some more bread crumbs before frying. This really helps the cakes keep their shape when you fry them. Fifth, use panko bread crumbs. They are light and keep crispy, I really feel that they make a difference. Lastly, if you fry them, you should use a combination of butter and oil. The sweet, salty butter coats the bread crumbs making a golden grilled cheese sandwich-type crust that is a perfect shell for the tender sweet crab inside.

So, what do you put in them? Well I usually eyeball some mayo, Dijon mustard, an egg, fresh herbs (chives or parsley) and Old Bay with panko – again, just enough to hold the crab together. This is a close recipe to how I make my crab cakes and (according to my years as a self-appointed expert, for whatever that’s worth! [not much]) how they should taste. I’ve been known to add some sriracha, Greek yogurt, capers,  or curry powder. I do not add any diced, shredded or chopped veggies of any kind to my crab cakes. I’m partial to pairing the rich, creamy cakes with a bright, peppery side of arugula with a crisp, astringent dressing for balance (like this champagne vinaigrette). You could also serve them on a (soft, slightly sweet) bun with lettuce and tomato or a slaw. Use whatever sauce you want, but no ketchup! What’s wrong with you? Any other sauce will do, really. Creamy? Tangy? Spicy? Vinegary? Even just a squeeze of lemon for that acid contrast is a delicious finish. In the picture above I used a yogurt sauce with some lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper, capers and fresh chives.

There you have it, my missive on crab cakes (I won’t say the perfect crab cake, because that is subjective, but let’s just say really really essential, standard-bearing, you-can’t-go-wrong crab cakes). And if ever you are on the appropriate coast for crab season, get to cracking those meaty claws and try your first bite without a single additional ingredient – then, give thanks for that good harvest.

breakfast, lunch/dinner

the most magical time of year

I love this time of the year. I love the sparkling Christmas lights, the air infused with cinnamon and peppermint, the slivers of shiny gift wrap leftovers, the secretly good embarrassingly bad holiday movies and the bejeweled Christmas tree welcoming you home every evening with its warm glow. I love all of these things but certainly the best part of Christmas is spending it with loved ones (and finding your fingers visiting the cookie bowl…again). Last year was my first time ever hosting and it was ridiculously fun – I can’t wait to do it again.

Festive tins with holiday  cookies for munching absentmindedly while watching Love Actually for the 32nd time? Check.

Easy peasy Christmas breakfast with custardy Challah baked French toast and a sweet-tart berry compote that takes a handful of minutes to make? Check.

A fluffy egg frittata with a mixture of Gruyere and goat cheese, fresh herbs, and juicy tomatoes that you can whip up the night before and stick into the oven for a lazy breakfast? Check.

Fresh flowers for Christmas dinner? Check.

A classic side dish made elegant like savory crisp roasted Brussels sprouts with browned butter (and made even better with fresh sage)? Check.

A new favorite addition like creamy crunchy cauliflower gratin bubbling hot from the oven? Check.

And, of course, a perfectly roasted glorious bird (thanks Anna…and for the stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes and pillowy soft dinner rolls!) ready for carving as we sit down to dinner with jokes and stories (and red wine)? Check.

We made a Christmas, let’s do it again!

lunch/dinner

rockin moroccan night

My big brother came to town to absorb some Cali culture and I had to have a flawless welcome plan. My brother lives in Singapore and has all of the amazing flavors of SE Asia at his doorstep, so I decided to draw from a cuisine that he probably doesn’t get too much of at home but is as bold, flavorful and complex as the cuisine of SE Asia to appeal to his palate: Moroccan. This grilled fish and veggie kebabs recipe allowed me to finally break into one of my favorite cookbooks, the gorgeous Modern Moroccan, and also to practice some more on the grill. The only specialty non-substitutable ingredients you need are preserved lemons and harissa, a spice mixture. You can easily make your own preserved lemons, but you’d have to do it months in advance.  Like me, you can buy the stuff at a specialty grocer (Whole Foods had some) or a Middle Eastern store.

The original recipe is for an appetizer serving of whole red mullet, but this recipe makes plenty (like, a lot!) for a dinner serving. I had originally wanted to use a firm white fish like halibut but salmon seemed like an easy way to grill fish without too much worry and the flavors worked amazingly well with this richer fish.

The chermoula is bright and fresh, and the stew of veggies with preserved lemons is a complex layering of acidic, umami-savory, briny, and tart. The salmon grilled in its skin turned out really moist and perfectly done to a flaky medium rare. I know there are skin-down and skin-up controversies, but I found leaving the salmon skin down and shutting the lid of the grill made a really moist fish that was not overcooked even despite varying thicknesses of fillets. It was simple to slide the salmon off the skins and then ladle the stew with veggies over the fish to serve family-style. You can serve this over fluffed up garlic infused couscous for a complete Moroccan meal. For my stew i added purple potatoes, rainbow carrots, and vibrant heirloom tomatoes off the vine for even more color.

The veggies have the Moroccan inflected flavor of tart lemon and aromatic cinnamon which is simply fresh and slightly subtle. The yogurt dip is perfect for dipping the grilled veggies in, or as we did, mixed into the couscous and salmon stew. Its a simple dip with a nice peppery kick from the harissa that would be great for other uses – pita chip dip, topping a baked potato – that makes it certainly worth hunting down a jar or tube of harissa.

summer vegetable kebabs with harissa and yogurt dip

instructions slightly adapted from a recipe in Modern Moroccan, 2008, Ghillie Basan

equal sized pieces of any or all of the following vegetables:

eggplant

zucchini

bell peppers

red onion

cherry tomatoes

vegetable marinade:

4 Tbsp olive oil

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp clear honey

1 tsp salt

harissa and yogurt dip:

2 cups Greek yogurt

2-4 Tbsp harissa

small bunch of fresh cilantro, finely chopped

small bunch of mint, finely chopped

salt and ground pepper

Preheat the grill on the hottest setting. Put all the vegetables in a bowl. Mix the ingredients for the vegetable marinade together and pour the mixture over the vegetables. Using your hands, turn the vegetables gently in the marinade, then thread them onto metal or water-soaked wooden skewers. Cook the kebabs on the grill, turning them occasionally until the vegetables are nicely browned over.

To make the dip, put the yogurt in a bowl and beat in a tablespoon of harissa, making it as fiery as you like by adding more harissa. Add most of the cilantro and mint, reserving a little to garnish, and season well with salt and pepper.

serves 4

salmon with chermoula and preserved lemons

slightly adapted from a recipe in Modern Moroccan, 2008, Ghillie Basan

2-3 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra for brushing

1 onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1/2 preserved lemon, finely chopped

4 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped

2 1/2 cups fish stock or water

3-4 new potatoes, peeled and cubed

4 six-oz salmon filets

handful of black olives, pitted and halved or sliced

small bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped

small bunch of mint, chopped

salt and ground black pepper

chermoula:

small bunch of fresh cilantro, finely chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, chopped

1-2 tsp ground cumin

pinch of saffron threads

4 Tbsp olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

1 Tbsp crushed red pepper

1 tsp salt

To make the chermoula, process the ingredients together in a food processor then set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the onion and carrot and cook until softened but not browned. Stir in half the preserved lemon, along with 2 Tbsp of the chermoula, the tomatoes and the fish stock or water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the potatoes and simmer for a further 10 minutes, until they are tender.

Preheat the grill on the hottest setting and brush a grill pan with oil. Brush the fish fillets with olive oil and a little of the chermoula. Season with salt and pepper, then place the fillets, skin side down, on the pan and cook with lid closed for 10 minutes per 1 inch thickness.

Meanwhile, stir the olives, the remaining chermoula and preserved lemon into the sauce and check the seasoning. Slide a spatula to separate the fish from the skin and serve the fish fillets in wide bowls, spoon the sauce over and sprinkle liberally with chopped cilantro and mint.

serves 4

lunch/dinner

what i had for dinner: girl and the grill

Ever since I bought a grill I have had grill fever. I’ve never grilled stuff before so this technique of cooking is a complete mystery to me, thus I try to keep finding excuses to slap something onto the grill and practicing, practicing, practicing. Recently it was a good stretch of stunning weather so I found this awesome recipe for Korean barbecue-style grilled halibut, eggplant, and baby bok choy that looked easy and delightful. Of course, the evening of said grilling experiment was the foggiest, coldest, most miserable night in all of San Francisco summers and I was outside cursing the grill and the price of halibut and the sideways rain – but in the end, I’d have to say it turned out pretty great.

First off, I really don’t recommend grilling bok choy or baby bok choy as it became bitter and dry. However, I love eggplant and nothing is better than a the smokiness and smooth texture of grilled japanese eggplant. I also added some zucchini and they turned out quite moist and nicely charred. Halibut is kind of pricey so I’m pretty sure that any kind of firm white fish would work great, and I suspect even salmon would as well. The fish and veggies were perfectly complemented by the wicked delicious sauce/marinade. The marinade is ridiculously easy and just so umami-ful.  Because I had it on hand, I substituted gochujang for the fresh chili which probably made it more Korean but added that great sour layer to the flavor profile.  I served everything with sesame rice (rice, sesame oil, sesame seed, green onion and soy sauce) and we were quite stuffed – this recipe makes a ton of food!

For dessert, (I sent B out in the rain to the grill for this…..yeah, I punked out) we grilled stone fruit topped with a dollop of mascarpone and drizzled with butter rum sauce. Simply grease the grill grates and the peaches/plums with butter or canola oil or Pam. If the fruit isn’t ripe enough you can sprinkle the cut sides with brown sugar but be sure to monitor them even more carefully on the grill as they can burn. Then, grill the fruit cut side down for a few minutes and turn over for 2 minutes.

To make the butter rum sauce, melt equal parts butter and brown sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add a bit of dark rum and a splash of vanilla. The sauce will bubble up and smell freaking amazing – let it simmer for a few minutes, stirring, until its slightly thickened. Let it cool (unless you enjoy a burned tongue) and it will form a luxurious caramel.

Place the grilled stone fruit to a bowl, add a spoonful of mascarpone and drizzle with warm butter-rum sauce. Each spoonful is sweet, creamy, tart, warm and guaranteed to make you want to give your grill another go – even in the dampest, chilliest of nights.

lunch/dinner

growed up mac n cheese n ketchup

Sometimes you just want comfort food. Sometimes, you unwittingly wander into an awesome indie music festival and end up spending the whole day laying in the grass listening to some of your favorite bands play music all day with your amazing friend Niti and by nightfall you realize you’re starving and you don’t want to eat any festival food because you both have a sudden and relentless craving for mac and cheese and only the kind from a blue box will do and so you leave the concert to drive to Kroger and pick up blue box mac and cheese and Heinz ketchup (no other brand is acceptable) and rush home and make a pot of it and eat it straight from the pot with a spoon while Niti’s then-fiance-now-husband watches with amusement because y’all are crazy. I mean, this happens sometimes and that is OK. Other times you have this exact same scenario occur but you also want to pretend that you have reached adulthood and this is a story of one those other times.

You can class up your plate of cheesy mac by splurging on some decadent crab and brie macaroni and cheese.  I made a big dish of this recently to celebrate a weekend of No Plans Whatsoever and to have a great excuse to get Dungeness crab.  Making a bechamel of brie is super easy and really, you can sub in camembert or any other soft cheese (goat cheese may be a great tangy alternative) that you like. I am always worried about over salting and was especially so in this case with the inherent saltiness of brie – however, even after adding some traditional Maryland Old Bay seasoning I found I needed to add more salt so make sure to salt to your taste. Also, I always use panko for that perfect bread crumb topping – its super light and crunchy.

I further classed up this plate with some simple roasted tomatoes as a play on a side of ketchup. This makes OK out-of-season tomatoes great and wonderful height-of-summer tomatoes glorious. Their ripeness are the perfect acidic complement to the creamy richness of the pasta. Simply drizzle cherry or grape tomatoes with a flavorful olive oil, add fresh ground salt and pepper and roast for 15 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Pour some of your favorite wine, light some candles, and revel in an elegant grown-up meal that satisfies your secret childhood comfort food cravings.