Thursday, May 26, 2011
You know when TV show writers go on vacation and as such your weekly episode ends up being a clip show? And the whole thing is kind of a rip off, because it’s not like it moves the narrative forward but at the same time, the familiarity is sort of just as enjoyable if not more as a regular episode? Welcome to my clip show.
Memorial Day weekend looms ahead and it’s officially meat eating season. Time to fill up the propane tank, dust off your jean cutoffs and pray to god you know someone with a deck (or even better a pool/ house within walking distance to the beach). We’re having a cookout on Sunday and as such I’ve been menu scheming oh, for the past two weeks.
So last year, I made some delicious slow cooker pulled pork, along with a spicy slaw and the only potato salad I will ever make. It was such a delicious and easy menu, that I’m basically doing it all again, but not the exact same way. I’m doing pulled pork again, but of a different breed. Instead of looking to the South of these United States, I’m going even further south to Me-HEE-co (said like Guillermo from Weeds). I’m going to make slow cooker carnitas, using this recipe found last summer. To accompany my carnitas, I’ll have another spicy slaw, maybe something like this, whip up a bunch of homemade guacamole because everyone loves guacamole (fact). IF I have time and am feeling ambitious, I might try to make a little fresh salsa. If time runs short, I will just buy some from the grocery store, keeping to my #1 stress free hostess rule: don’t be a hero. If I have time, I love to make stuff, so it doesn’t stress me out, per se, but if the last few hours before the party need to be running errands (read: icing down the hooch) than the salsa fresco will get the axe.
Oh, maybe I will get some pickled jalapenos going on.
I will once again have potato salad, because it seems sacrilege to have a cookout without it. And we’ll have grilled veggies, chicken and sausages from Dom’s in Malden (if you like to get your meat on- this place is THE place). There will be plenty of beer and wine and maybe a summery cocktail. I’m not decided just yet on what that will be but I’m thinking something citrus based, like blueberry vodka and fresh lemonade, bourbon lemonade on the rocks or the ever delicious Pimms cups.
Last year's wet bar spread:
Whatever you’re planning this weekend, I hope it’s fun and mostly sunny for you. If you’re attending or hosting a cookout/BBQ yourself, sprinkled throughout this post are some great summer dishes from the Porky archives. While compiling this list, I realized that a Recipe Index needs to happen on here, like yesterday. I promise I’ll get on that. And I’m not lying this time.
COOKOUT FOOD from Porky's Past:
If you're not into pickled jalapenos, maybe just straight up pickles?
Or these dynamite pickled cherry tomatoes?
Healthier side dishes are always welcome; like this pasta salad I made last July. This delicious, summery panzanella. Or either of these two whole grain salads. Which are both healthy alternatives to your typical pasta or potato based salad.
These veggie burgers are yummy. But probably not sturdy enough to stand up to the grill. Just bring your skillet out onto the grill top.
Or if you're only hosting a few people and you want to make something nice. What about lobster salad?
Whatever you decide to take to your cookout, I hope you have a blast.
Posted by Jess at 9:40 AM
Thursday, May 19, 2011
My friend asked me to make her pizza, so I made her three. I like variety.
The first had a base of caramelized onion jam (it’s to DIE for. My aunt made it for me), shredded cheddar and prosciutto. I topped the whole thing with a pile of arugula once it was done cooking. Yum.
The second kind was a sweet roasted/sun-dried tomato base topped with artichokes, mozzarella and parmesan. I had a half jar of roasted cherry tomatoes and a whole bag of sun-drieds, so what I did was dump the sun-drieds in the jar, add a little olive oil and pulsed it to a thick, deep red paste with my immersion blender. The inspiration for doing this was the base of Tomato Pie. Which, anyone who’s been to a good Little Italy worth its shakes knows has a thick, almost tomato paste-like base and is simply topped with basil, maybe dried oregano and garlic powder. It was delicious. Rich and sweet with a little salty tang from the artichokes and parmesan.
The third was a standard margarita. Tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and lots of basil. If it ain’t broke… my only issue with using fresh mozzarella on pies like this: is it purges so much liquid. I legitimately had to dip a paper towel on top to soak a bit of it up. This worked fine, but it leaves me to wonder, is there a better mozzarella that I should be using?
I decided to make the pizzas in a cast iron skillet because it’s quick and fun and something about cooking pizza crust this way makes it puffy and chewy, but not too heavy. Nobody likes a lead belly when there’s wine to be had (and dessert). If you want the directions on how to make skillet pies, the directions are here. Making three varieties of pizza that had to be put together relatively quickly gave me a good opportunity to do two things: use my cute new serving tray and create a boss looking mise en place.
Lord, I love me a mise en place. I think I get this from my mom, who has never met a ramekin or nesting bowl that she doesn’t like. While I was prepping dinner on this particular night, I thanked her for passing on this obsession to me. Because even with multiple stacks of tiny bowls used, I still had a stash in the cupboard.
I have to say, at the risk of sounding like the World’s Biggest Geek that I really like the urgency of grilling pizzas or making them in a skillet because I pretend a little tiny bit in my head that maybe I am on Top Chef.
Except the only difference is that I’m also wandering over to the table every few minutes to take a sip of wine and jam some cheese and crackers down my gullet. Also, I’m chatting non-stop with my friends the whole time. So I guess it’s not THAT urgent.
But you know what; these pizzas come out real nice. We quite enjoyed them all. I think my favorite was the prosciutto one, but the artichoke pie was a close second. This is such a simple cheap way to host your friends for dinner.
I think the only thing I had to purchase specifically was the dough, mozzarella and basil. In the future, I think I’ll experiment with a dough that is more cracker-like, I think that would be delicious.
I have to also mention dessert, because it was like, next level. My amiga Aja made a goat cheese cheesecake which she served with passion fruit sorbet and pistachio brittle. Take a minute and let that sink in. It was really amazing. I only have crummy photos of the finished pizzas and dessert because by that time it was really dark in my kitchen and we were on our third bottle of Rose.
Posted by Jess at 10:24 AM
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
"What did you eat?" This is what I ask people whenever they come back from a voyage. I'm sure it's not surprising since I'm, well, pretty into food. When we were in California last week we did eat. Nothing super fancy at all, just real, good food.
There is an In-N-Out Burger right next to LAX. It is usually our first stop when my sister picks me up from the airport. So much so that we joke no matter what time my flight gets in it's "Burger Thirty." We did eat In-N-Out, of course. But not until Saturday. It was delicious as usual. Although Paul, an In-N-Out first timer did confess privately that he thinks Five Guys might be better. I can't say, because I've never been to Five Guys (which my mother incorrectly calls the Brothers Five Hamburg Place, I should add) but in In-N-Out's defense I did point out that Five Guys is pretty pricey for burgers, whereas In-N-Out is very cheap for a full meal. We have tabled this debate to be completed after I have finally tried Five Guys or at some point at the Beachcomber, while we arm wrestle at the bar.
So what we did eat: lunch at the Brick House in Santa Monica, a snack at the hotel restaurant, Eric's, where we stayed. We had free drink tickets there, so we sat down for a drink and a pizza. Turns out the "free" drink tickets were only for "domestic beer" which, shockingly enough, Sierra Nevada- which is bottled in the State of California mind you- does not count as "domestic" I have also found this at Boston bars, where on $2.50 domestic draft night, they still charge full price for Sam Adams. When the brewery is LIT-rally down the street. Obviously, when it comes to drink specials, when they say "domestic" what they mean is "shitty."
We ate at Good Health in Ventura, which is a delicious health food restaurant. Salads and veggie burgers and hummus all around. Health food in California, truly an authentic experience, right? The salad was totally radical by the way as was the homemade, dense wheat bread that came along side it. Saturday night we grilled steaks along with some onions and mushrooms in my sister's backyard. And then we played baseball using a broken axe handle as a bat and a bucket full of over ripe oranges as the baseballs. They call that Ventura County Softball and regulations state you must wear a bikini and a welding helmet (I just made all of that up, obviously).
Sunday we had dinner at my semi-in-laws, (in that they are my sister's husband's sister and her husband- gosh, we need to come up with a term for that) Nicky and Jeremy's house. We had a great pasta with shredded chicken, kalamata olives, toasted pine nuts and spinach. I will definitely be introducing something like it to my repertoire.
There were other meals of course. Our hotel had a decent continental breakfast, where they actually had real eggs and breakfast meats and even a waffle station as opposed to the usual plastic wrapped pastries and boxes of cereal that usually comprise a continental breakfast. On the one morning we decided to make a frittata at my sister's I was enlisted to bring breakfast meats from said continental spread. I casually grabbed a large foam coffee cup, filled it with sausage links and bacon, snapped the cover on and walked out as though it was the most natural thing to do in the world. "Just grabbing my daily cup o' meat!" So far, I have not been questioned about my meat theft, so I think I'm in the clear.
So, all in all it was more of a high quality visit than a culinary tour de force. I did leave inspired by a couple things: 1. steak on the grill (which gets me excited for summer and reminds me that we need propane); 2. grapefruit (I finally ate and enjoyed grapefruit. This is a big step for me I'm a notorious fruit hater); 3. Nicky's pasta (simple and delicious); 4. avocados (this is no stretch for me I already love them. But whenever I get back from the West Coast I love them with a renewed passion) and burgers, I want to make a good homemade burger. Putting that on the list.
Other than that, I'm obviously using these lists and sun-drenched photographs to trick you into thinking I'm writing an actual post this week. But I know you know better. I will leave you with this: Mother's Day I took my mom to Blue Ginger for a luxe three course dinner. We scraped our plates clean. We also had the most delicious gimlet I've ever sipped and I'm making it my new mission to perfect the recipe and pass it on here. It seems very simple. Here's to hoping I don't do any permanent liver damage while I "taste test" the recipe. I'm headed out for the rest of the week to the Brimfield Fair with my college homies. I'm psyched to see my girls and get my flea market/ gawk at expensive antiques on.
Posted by Jess at 9:52 AM
Friday, May 6, 2011
I think I can now safely say without the Fear of Seasonal Jinx, that spring has arrived in full bloom. Had I said this two weeks ago, we would have woken up the very next day to a snowstorm and I can’t handle that kind of guilt on my shoulders. We were only in California for five days, but arriving home Tuesday morning, the landscape of our street had changed dramatically. Puffs of pink and white blooms adorned front yards; the brilliant green canopy that shadows our street, it seemed, was growing puffier and thicker by the hour. It was almost enough to stave off post vacation depression. Almost. Consider spring sprung.
I have lately been having major food cravings for anything and everything that is bright green (geek). I was asked to contribute an appetizer to Easter supper and I found a recipe for spring vegetable bruschetta on Food & Wine’s website that was pretty much exactly what I had in mind. All green all the time. A little healthy app. to whet our whistles without over stuffing us before the big Easter ham and scalloped potatoes throwdown.
The recipe itself was a bit too fussy for my sensibilities and having followed it, I can honestly say that all the extra steps and specifications, aren’t really worth it. I knew it could be easier and just as good. F&W directed me to steam the vegetables, one at a time in their own juices on low heat. The proper way to steam them, apparently, was to cut out a circle of parchment paper and press it down onto the vegetables, let them steam for three minutes, take the parchment off, add the next vegetable, steam for three, add the next and so on and so forth. Stupid, right? Right. But I did it nonetheless. Next time, I will stick with my first instincts. Also, I would definitely add cheese to the bruschetta toasts. I neglected to do this originally, but if I make this again I will most definitely incorporate some grated parmesan or crumbled goat cheese. Sure, it makes it slightly less healthy, but infinitely more awesome so…there’s your answer to that.
I was going to offer you the Food & Wine recipe here, in case everyone is more comfortable with following recipes to the letter; however, it’s just too fussy and specific. I mean, they tell you to remove the crusts from your toasts. What is this? Second grade? What's so wrong with crusts? I feel like the formula for bruschetta should be as simple as this: TOPPING+TOASTS=YUM. So, if you’re interested in a bunch of unnecessary extra steps, the original recipe can be found here. If you want to walk on the wild side, come along with Porky.
BRUSCHETTA of SPRING VEGETABLES
(from Food & Wine)
6 baby artichokes (about 1 pound)
1 cup shelled fresh fava beans (from 1 pound in the pod)
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
4 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 small shallot, minced
½ bunch medium asparagus cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch lengths
½ scallions, chopped
1 cup frozen petite peas
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
½ tablespoon finely chopped chives
½ teaspoon finely chopped tarragon
1 baguette sourdough bread, cut into ½ thick slices (I used a whole wheat sourdough)
Preheat your oven to 375 and set a large pot of water to boil. Remove the outer leaves from the artichokes until you reach the inner yellow leaves. Using a paring knife, trim off the stems and any dark spots from the artichoke bottoms. Rub with lemon, and then slice the artichokes lengthwise. Squeeze the lemon juice over and toss together.
Prepare an ice bath (ice and some water). Shell your fava beans, then blanch the inner pods in the boiling water for only about 15 seconds; remove the beans from the boiling water into the ice bath. At this point, I would also blanch your asparagus spears, just for a minute or two, until brilliant green, then transfer to ice bath as well to shock them into staying green. Drain and set aside the asparagus and the favas. At this point you will have to peel the outer shell (yes, there’s two)* off the favas and set them aside once done.
Once you are done blanching the favas and asparagi, I would make your toasts, especially if you are planning on serving the bruschetta right away. Brush both sides of toast with olive oil and bake until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes per side. Set aside toasts and turn on your broiler. When you are ready to serve, sprinkle grated parmesan, or goat cheese crumbles onto toast and broil for only a minute or so, keeping a close eye on them. You can do this after you have made your vegetable topping, because the veggies taste great warm, they don’t need to be hot.
Alright, back to the veg. (I’m realizing my “short” version of this recipe is still long but there’s no turning back now). Heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallots and cook until fragrant, about three minutes; add artichokes and cook until just tender, about 3-5 minutes more. Next, add the asparagus, peas, favas and scallions, sautéing everything together until bright green. This will not take long. It’s important that the vegetables be just cooked, so that they retain not only their nice bright color but also just a little bite, you just want to make sure the peas aren’t still frozen! Season with plenty of salt and pepper to taste, add the herbs and remove from heat.
Pour the vegetables and their juices over your prepared toasts. Serve immediately. To make ahead (which I did) I simply cooked the vegetables and transferred them to a container to take with me; the toasts commuted along side in a Ziploc bag, so when I got there, all I had to do was assemble. If I was adding cheese and broiling, I would have done it on site just before serving. The whole dish still tasted great at room temperature when I served it an hour later.
*this is why shelling fava beans is a big pain in the buns. What was Hannibal Lecter thinking?