Archive for July 2011

Summer Compositions

July 31st, 2011 — 9:13am
composed salads

Trio of Composed Salads

When summer comes around and lethargy sets in while the 100 degree days pile up, I try to adopt the lazy man’s approach to just about everything. Anything done outside must be completed by 9 in the morning at a pace reminiscent of the DMV or Post Office. Weeding in the garden is put off until the fall. Movement in general is reduced to only the most necessary functions. In the kitchen the only things that get cooked are recipes requiring ingredients in a “large dice.” And as you have discerned from my recent photographs, pretty plating techniques are left for the cool darkness of the winter months. If ever my plating techniques could be described as “pretty.”

caprese salad

Caprese Salad

In the salad days of summer slicing, dicing, and shredding is kept to a bare minimum. This leads us to my favorite kitchen work saver, the composed salad. The traditional salad greens are done away with (too much activity washing and drying) and you are left with large pieces of the main ingredients, generally tomatoes, cucumbers, and basil with cameo appearances of onions, olives, capers and the occasional pepper. With such a short list you would think the composed salad would lead to a bad case of ennui. Not so. With a bit of imagination you can take an international walk down salad lane. Looking for something Italian? Nothing could be simpler than a caprese salad of sliced tomatoes, sliced fresh mozzarella, and whole basil leaves drizzled with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Perhaps something more Greek would suit your fancy? A salad of sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, a bit of red onion, with some olives or capers or maybe both, sprinkled with fresh oregano (whole leaves, too much work to chop) along with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil. Even better add some feta cheese. Or maybe a refreshing orange and fennel salad.  I think you get the picture.

orange and fennel salad

Orange and Fennel Salad

I have found that imagination with this type of salad is proportional to the heat index. The less incentive I have to turn on the oven, the more outré the recipe. You may be wondering if this is really cooking. Technically nothing gets cooked; kind of the idea when it is hot. But these summer compositions are just as beautiful and tasty as anything fried, braised, grilled, sautéed, or baked. It is more like painting with vegetables. Except these require very little effort.

greek style tomato salad

Greek Style Tomato Salad

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No Beef with Beef

July 27th, 2011 — 8:00am
braised chuck steak

After the shocking revelation that only about 2% of my recipes include beef as the main ingredient I thought I had better develop some new recipe options to round things out a bit. I went out and bought what looked like two very nice steaks. Unfortunately I did not read the label very closely and when I got home I realized that they were chuck eye steaks. They were pretty, but previous encounters told me that treating them like a steak was going to be disappointing at best. They would be tough, chewy and not exceptionally flavorful.

At this point braising became the only option. I did want to get some smoky grill flavor on them. I seasoned them and put them on a very hot grill for about 2 minutes per side to get some good grill marks. I finished cooking them in a basic tomato sauce at a low temperature in the oven for about 2 1/2 hours.

The meat was tender enough to be falling apart where the areas of fat had turned to a nice gelatin. You could easily cut it with a fork. The meat had also been infused with the tomato sauce and spices. This gave it a nice flavor. I pureed the tomato sauce to use it as a topping for the steak. It turned out to be a rather tasty way to use an inexpensive cut of meat. Although there was some time involved in the braising process. The amount of prep time was about 15 minutes. Not a whole lot to invest in a braised chuck eye steak.

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Cool as a Cucumber

July 24th, 2011 — 8:00am
cucumber salad

Cool Cucumber Salad

Now that most of the country is experiencing our summer weather I thought it would be a good idea to share some of the recipes we use to beat the heat. The shrimp and couscous salad was a good start. One that appears on our tables with regularity is the cucumber salad. In this case a version that has a bit more interest than some cucumbers soaked in a vinaigrette.

The latest version we have been enjoying includes some fresh herbs from the garden, kalamata olives, and some almonds. The cucumber still shines through as the main attraction, but the additions make the dish decidedly more interesting and no less refreshing on a hot summer night.

As with most salad recipes I encourage you to switch out herbs (I think mint would be a good substitute), add some different savories (capers would work well), and perhaps go for something less sweet (maybe a honey mustard instead of sugar). With the cucumber acting much like a blank canvas, you can paint any salad picture you like.

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Pork Central

July 21st, 2011 — 8:00am
Marinated Grilled Pork Tenderloin

Marinated Grilled Pork Tenderloin

Now that ham week has ended you would think I would lay off the pork for awhile. That would be illogical, as Mr. Spok would say. I love pork in all of its forms. Of the 200 recipes now available on The Busy Gourmand about 5% have pork as the main ingredient dwarfed by the 12% about chicken with beef following in a distant third with 2%. If you add in recipes where pork plays a supporting role, well move over chicken, pork is included in about 14% of all recipes. This is something worthy of an award from Anthony Bourdain.

Much like roasted chicken, the pork tenderloin has developed into one of those culinary catch-alls. Everyone has their own way of cooking it including rubs, marinades and special sauces. I usually like mine marinated and grilled. Unfortunately my recipes call for throwing the marinade away after use. I decided to do some research on marinades that could be used as a sauce.

Borrowing from bits and pieces of several recipes I came up with a marinade that I used last night. While the pork was grilling I reduced the marinade on the cook top by about half, concentrating the flavors and killing any microbes from the raw meat. Not only did the marinade result in a nice crust on the outside of the pork, the sauce made a great accompaniment to the meat. It is a bit on the sweet side. But then again sweet and pork are not such a bad combination. While I still will enjoy my rubs and mustard sauces, I think this grilled marinated pork tenderloin is a keeper.

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A Cool Summer Salad

July 18th, 2011 — 8:00am
shrimp and couscous salad

Shrimp and Couscous Salad

With our high temperatures hovering over 100 degrees for the past 14 days, and the low temperatures at about 82 every morning, it has been a bit hard to stay cool. I usually follow my run in the morning with a dip in the pool. However, it is about as refreshing as bath water. The normal shock of cool water has given away to the shock of warm water. I think I will take the shock of cool water any day.

I am continuing my pantry clean out with some shrimp I found in the freezer and a bit of couscous that had been left over tucked away in the garage refrigerator. They turned out to offer perfect ingredients for a cool summer salad influenced with the flavors of the middle east. No mayonnaise for this salad, I used yogurt with lemon juice and a bit of cumin and mint along with a few other odds and ends to round out the dish.

Unfortunately it turned out a bit monochromatic. But the flavors were perfect for a really hot summer evening. And with the quick cooking time on both the shrimp and the couscous it comes together in about 15 to 20 minutes. I recommend letting it cool and rest in the refrigerator for an hour or so. It also held up well for lunch the next day with a bit of lemon juice as a refresher. I highly recommend this minty shrimp and couscous salad.

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Attuned to Tuna

July 15th, 2011 — 8:00am
tuna puttanesca

Bucatini with Tuna Puttanesca Sauce

I have been walking slowly down “let’s use up everything in the pantry and refrigerators” lane. Last night I was thrown into a bit of panic because I was drawing a blank on what to make with the ingredients at hand. I always have canned tomatoes of some sort. While looking for the canned tomatoes I came across cans of tuna, which were right next to a jar of kalamata olives. In a flash of creativity I ran to the refrigerator to see if we had any capers. We did. But my hopes were dashed when I saw that the containers we use for storing pasta were all empty. So a quick dash to the refrigerator in the garage revealed the box of bucatini I had hidden there. And at that moment dinner was set. It was to be tuna puttanesca.

I have to say I rarely cook with tuna. I will have it as the occasional tuna salad sandwich. But adding it as an ingredient to anything other than salad or a sandwich is pretty rare. It is really too bad because it is a pretty versatile and inexpensive ingredient that can add a great deal of richness to a meal.

The puttanesca can usually hold up on its own with the rich blend of red pepper flakes, olives, and capers. The tuna just added another dimension to the sauce, a bit of complexity, however subtle. In this case a little bit of tuna goes a long way. One can will suffice.

This is also a sauce that I think requires garlic. I know there are some who cannot eat the stuff or do not care for it. In this case the garlic is needed to stand up to the savory flavors. You could substitute onion or shallots. I just do not think it works quite as well.

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Everything Ham

July 12th, 2011 — 10:27am
Ham and Broccoli Casserole

Ham and Broccoli Casserole

Sometimes a sale leads to excess. In this case hams were on sale. Not the little bitty, plastic-wrapped, smoked, mystery variety. But the very large family-size variety that was spiral cut and coated with brown sugary goodness. The variety that would feed eight comfortably and leave enough to spare just in case someone stopped by at the last minute. With only two people available to eat this ham it was destined to be on our plates for awhile.

While some of us were preparing creative things for Bastille day (no doubt including a flyby by an Air France jet spewing blue, white and red colored exhaust), I was trying to dream up ways to eat this ham without having to freeze the leftovers. My experience with frozen ham is that it turns into a kind of jerky. While there is nothing wrong with jerky I prefer my ham a bit moister.

There was of course the original ham dinner which included the usual mashed potatoes and green beans. It was followed by pasta with ham and peas in a cream sauce, white beans cooked using the catalan method with the ham bone, and for a stretch a ham and broccoli, not sure what to call it, casserole. The depths to which I stooped to make the casserole will become legend. It included ricotta cheese, yogurt, and please do not laugh, “baking mix” (aka Bisquick). A substance I was not aware we even had until I did some “research” in the refrigerator in the garage. The place where you put things that you are “eventually going to use.” I would not report on this mishmash except that it tasted really great, a bit of sour and savory which contrasted with the smoky sweetness of the ham.

green eggs and ham recipe

Green Eggs and Ham

A list of everything ham would not be complete without consuming the last morsels along with some green eggs. In this case the green eggs and ham were concocted by adding a dollop of basil pesto to the eggs before scrambling and cooking. It brought me back to images of Dr. Seuss from my childhood and brought me forward to a very adult tasting scrambled egg. Not a bad end to ham week.

In honor of my friends celebrating Bastille Day, and to poorly paraphrase Charles de Gaulle: Vive la France! Vive le Jambon! Vive les Oeufs Verts!

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