Sunday, July 31, 2011

Steak Frites with Curried Eggplant Fries in the Dog Days of Summer

It has been hot in North Carolina. I mean really hot. We have regularly been having high temperatures over 100 degrees. This past week I was in Charleston, South Carolina working on project and it was even hotter. You don't know hot until you have spent a day soaking wet from your own sweat.

Sorry is that imagery gross? Archaeology is so glamourous...

Let's talk about some good stuff. I did have several really delicious meals in the little downtown area of North Charleston, near where we were staying. I should point out right now that, while I am sure there are really spectacular high end dining experiences to be had in downtown Charleston and I am sure there are good middle and low range options, I think that the downtown restaurants are a bit too expensive and touristy for my taste. When I am traveling for work, I try to eat (and drink) for under $30 a day and Charleston downtown is not the place to do that. However, we had excellent burgers and really modestly priced beers at Sesame Burgers and Beer and we had some great pizza at Park Pizza Co. Both great local businesses that seem to be really dedicated to their craft. I believe the Sesame folks grind their own beef and make all of their own condiments and those folks at Park Pizza were just really friendly and had about 100 different pizzas on offer.

By the time I got home I was wilting from the heat and humidity. This is also coinciding with the time we have been trying to get a little bit more creative with summer vegetables. You know, at the beginning of the summer you are so excited to have fresh tomatoes you could basically eat them like apples. Why get creative you have not had fresh corn since last September? By the end of July it is time to look for some variety... Last night we did just that with a variation on steak frites with a caprese salad that seemed made for those hot summer summer days when you need just a bit of something different.

Steak Frites with Curried Eggplant Fries
modified from nowhere! a Sarah and Derek original

Serves 2

Curried Eggplant Fries
1 Chinese Eggplant (the long skinny kind)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon Curry Powder (see note below)
Olive Oil (preferably in a spray bottle)

1. Peel the eggplant and slice it into french fry sized rectangles approximately 1/4 inch squared. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Salt the "fries" and let them sit for about 5 to 10 minutes to draw out moisture. Then use a paper towel to dry off the eggplant pieces.

3. On a plate or a shallow bowl mix the curry powder with the flour.

4. Spritz the eggplant pieces with olive oil and dredge them in the flavored flour. Place them on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes flipping at 15 minutes. When you flip the eggplant pieces you might want to give them another spritz with the olive oil to help them crisp up.

Note on curry powder: We make our own curry powder so it is really potent stuff. If you buy curry powder pre-made I might use 2 tablespoons. It is really easy to make though and it is delicious, I will include a recipe at the end of this post.

approximately 0.6 pounds skirt steak or flank steak (the amount depends on how carnivorous you are)
freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tablespoons olive oil (or canola oil)

1. Take your steak out of the refrigerator and let them warm to room temperature.

2. Get a heavy frying pan (cast iron is really best) heating to medium/medium high. You want this pan to be really hot so let it heat up for a good 8 to 10 minutes depending on your stove.

3. Pat the steak dry with paper towels and sprinkle it with salt and pepper to taste on both sides. You may have to cut it at this point so it will fit in the pan.

4. Add oil to the pan. Some people say that olive oil should not be heated past its smoking point, which this pan will certainly do, I am not one of those people. I fry things in olive oil all the time. I do not mind a little smoke. If you do mind the smoke or are one of those people, use a high smoke point oil like canola or peanut.

5. Add steak to pan. It cooks fast, for medium rare probably 3 minutes a side for a thick piece or 2 minutes a side for a thinner. In order to get a good sear put the meat on the pan and let it sit with out disturbing it until it is time to flip it. Please do not cook this meat to death, these low-fat steaks will get really really tough if they are over cooked.

6. Cover the steak with foil and let it rest for at least 5 minutes. Then thinly slice it diagonally against the grain and serve with your eggplant frites.

Caprese Salad

You really don't need a recipe for caprese, there really is no wrong way to make it. The key is really good fresh mozzarella, good tomatoes, and fresh basil. Don't forget to use high quality balsalmic vinegar and olive oil, I can really taste the difference.

Good fresh tomatoes
Mozzarella (use the fresh kind in liquid)
Fresh Basil
Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil

1. Thinly slice tomatoes mozzarella with a really sharp knife. Rip the basil into bit sized shreds, I say rip because I think the knife can be kind of harsh and the edges of the basil will turn brown.

2. Layer the tomatoes, mozzarella and basil on a plate. Salt this to taste. Sprinkle desired amount of balsamic vinegar and olive oil on top.

Way Better Curry Powder
modified very slightly from Cooking in the Moment by Andrea Reusing

This recipe make about 1/2 cup of powder, which keeps for about a month

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2-3 tablespoons red chile powder from New Mexico*
2 tablespoons ground turmeric

1. In a small pan over medium heat toast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, and peppercorns. Do not burn these (I burn them all the time and it is not tasty). One the spices start to get really fragrant they are toasted. Stir them constantly, it should take about 2 minutes.

2. Let them cool completely

3. Finely grind the spices in a spice mill or clean coffee grinder. Or if you coffee grinder is broken, make your husband grind them with your mortar and pestle. This will take forever.

4. Once the spices are ground add the chili powder and turmeric in a small bowl.

5. Store in an airtight container away from sunlight. Use on everything.

*This is chile powder, not chili powder. Chile powder is made by grinding up dried pepper. Chili powder is some weird blend of spices that currently does not have a home in my kitchen. We use this stuff you buy by the ziploc bag full in New Mexico. Check out your local tienda, they probably have something similar. The key is freshness.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Happy New Year to Me!

I was trying to decide what to write about in this post and then I realized I had a birthday last week. To celebrate this birthday we hosted a fiesta!

I take theme parties very seriously. Just ask the attendees of last years "party like you used to do in undergrad"... The theme for my birthday was FIESTA! Naturally, we had a make your own burrito bar, margaritas, Mexican beer, chips and salsa, and a rousing game of pin the tail on the burro.

Did I mention I take themes very seriously?

The star of the evening festivities (other than the burro Juan, of course) was the giant pot of homemade carnitas.

Now, story time.

We just bought ourselves Andrea Reusing's new cookbook, Cooking in the Moment, because she is a Chapel Hill chef, a bunch of the farmers we enjoy patronizing are featured prominently in the book, and it was getting tons of buzz. I wanted to see what the big deal was. Reusing's restaurant Lantern, is just up the street from our house and she just won a regional James Beard award. Now this is all awesome and stuff, but we went to her restaurant last year and we were less than impressed. I mean, the food was good, I guess. Derek's dinner seemed a little salty and it was so dark in the restaurant I do not even remember what my dinner looked like. If I am going to pay some inordinate amount of money for a nice dinner out I want to see it! This restaurant is supposed to be amazing. Why go to all that trouble then turn off the lights? Don't we eat with our eyes? Plus, the table right next to us (I mean, I felt like we were rude for not introducing ourselves) was getting comped all sorts of delicious appetizers and I felt gypped. We could not really see the food, but they sounded like they liked it. How come they get free food? Anyway, I hear she is great from lots of people and I was willing to give her cookbook a chance. See, I have a forgiving soul...

End story time.

In the new cookbook, there are lots of pretty pictures and almost too simple recipes... it is local and seasonal and very inspiring. I was instantly drawn to one of her Mexican chef's carnitas recipes. Not exactly a Reusing original or something she would serve at her restaurant, but perfect for a fiesta. See the recipe at the end of this post.

We also made a tequila peach galette. You know, instead of birthday cake. Because it has tequila in it, it is Mexican. Don't try and tell me galette is a French word.

Margaritas were drunk. The amount of margarita drinking is probably why I have very few party pictures. I am not allowed to play with the pretty camera when I am drinking margaritas. Mistakes were made.

I made a burro (that is donkey in Spanish, hehe) with construction paper and poster board and we were going to play pin the tail on the donkey. Then I started to get really grumpy at the United States congress. If you do not live under a rock, you know what I mean. I was so angry at them, particularly John Boehner. I do not want to make to overt a political statement on this blog, but really... what a jerk. So the game became pin the Boehner on the burro. I am sure you all get the references here. If you don't, bless you.

In all of the pictures Boehner was crying.

Derek's little brother and my cousin were there, which was incredibly fun. Yay for family! That is really why I like this picture. Look at the smiles on Derek's and his little brothers face, then look at my cousin (white shirt in the background) smiling too. I love it.

Ok, enough rambling. I had a great birthday. It was nice to have many people I care about all in one place. To those of you who could not make it because you were in a different state, a different country, or a different mental plane, I missed you. I have always been a summer birthday kid, so normally as a working archaeologist, I miss my birthday too!

Miguel Torres's Carnitas
modified very slightly from Andrea Reusing's Cooking in the Moment

Note: We definitely halved the original recipe and comfortably served 10 people with leftovers. The carnitas are very rich and you do not need a lot of meat per person. I am going to record the ratios we used.

4-5 pounds boneless pork shoulder
scant 1 cup lard (I know, I know ewww)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 dried bay leaves
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup cola
1/2 orange, split in half again
burrito or taco condiments (salsa, tortillas, rice, cheese, cabbage salad, we made a jalepeno and red onion escabeche)

1. Cut pork shoulder into 3 inch cubes, trimming off any gristle and leaving all of the fat. Because you probably will not be able to find a boneless cut, use this opportunity to cut it off the bone.

2. Heat a large heavy pot over high heat and add meat and lard. As soon as lard has melted, add enough cold water to barely cover the pork. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium. Add salt, pepper, and bay leaves.

3. This is where the magic happens. Stir this regularly and simmer briskly for about an hour and a half or until the water has evaporated (it has taken up to 2.5 hours for us). While you are stirring and monitoring the pork, do not worry that the pork seems tough and do not try to spilt apart hunks of pork. It will get tender as the water evaporates and you do not want it shredded.

4. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the milk. Simmer for 5 minute or until the milk is almost completely reduced. Add the cola. Squeeze the two orange quarters over the meat and add the oranges to the pot too. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes and stir this pretty often. The meat should get kind of crispy and turn a deep carmel brown. Now take out the oranges and adjust the seasonings.

5. Use as meat filling for Mexican dish of your choice.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Anniversary Weekend Spectacular! Pizza!

Derek and I are celebrating our one year anniversary this weekend. Our actual wedding anniversary is on Sunday (July 10th). To celebrate this wonderful year, we are spending the whole weekend at home, eating and relaxing.

To kick off this celebration weekend we started with pizza and beer, Derek and Sarah style...

Blue Cheese, Shitake Mushroom and Pepper Pizza

It all starts with the dough... This can be done ahead of time. Please don't buy pizza dough, this is so easy. Buying dough is a giant waste of money.

The Dough
From My Bread by Jim Lahey

10 grams ( Active Dry Yeast
5 grams Table Salt
3 grams Sugar
500 grams Bread Flour
1 1/3 cup water (may need another tablespoon or so depending on the moisture content of dough)

1. Mix the dry ingredients (yeast, salt, sugar, and flour).

2. Heat the water in a microwave until it is warm to touch, but not hot (approximately 100 degrees).

3. Add water to dry ingredients and stir until all of the flour is incorporated into the dough (you may need more water at this point) using a spoon and your hands. The dough will be stiff and slightly sticky.

4. Cover and let sit in a warm place for about 2 hours, the dough should more than double in size.

5. On a clean, well floured surface turn out the dough and form it into a rough ball. Divide that ball in half using a knife or dough cutting thing. Gently form each half into a ball. Cover the balls of dough (spaced about 4 inches apart) with a non-linty towel and let them rest for 30 minutes.

6. At this point, you can either make pizza or store your dough. If you are storing the dough put a generous amount of olive oil (2-4 tablespoons) in a gallon size zip top bag and place the dough ball inside (1 ball per bag). Now it can be refrigerated for 1-2 days or frozen for a month. We usually use one dough ball and freeze the other for later. When you are ready to use the frozen or refrigerated dough allow it to come to room temperature before you make pizza.

The Pizza

1 pound Shitake Mushrooms (stems removed and sliced)
Sea Salt
1 tablespoon Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup plus 2-4 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (with more for oiling the pan)
10 cloves of Garlic (chopped)
2 jalapeño (thinly sliced, seeds removed if you are wus)
2 tablespoons Cream Sherry
1/2 pound Blue Cheese (crumbled)
1/2 pound Mozzarella (sliced)
1/2 Onion (thinly sliced)

1. Mix about 1/4 cup of olive oil with 5 cloves and sliced jalapeño. Add a heavy pinch of salt and allow it to marinate for about 30 minutes. Longer is better...

2. Heat a large saute pan at medium low heat with 2-4 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Add the sliced shitake mushrooms and another pinch of salt and saute until they are beginning to caramelize (5 to 10 minutes).

3. Add the cream sherry and cook off the liquid (5 minutes).

4. Sprinkle the half sheet pan with a generous drizzle of olive oil. Using your hands, spread the the room temperature dough out in the pan to evenly cover most of the pan.

5. Brush the infused oil on the stretched out dough make sure to spread out the garlic and peppers evenly. Spread the onion out evenly across the pizza.

6. Next, spread the cheese and the mushrooms across the dough.

7. Bake the pizza at 500 degrees for about 20 minutes, rotating the pizza half way through. Now slice and enjoy.

Then we feasted. We also made a tomato salad (remember all of those tomatoes?), poured a delicious Belgian farmhouse ale, and began feasting. Pizza with no tomatoes, and then we serve them on the side... strange people that we are...

This was pretty delicious. Yum, pizza and beer.

For some people it is tomato salad and pizza, for some cats it is kibble. Everyone is happy.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Fresh Garlic and Tomato Toast

Hello! Did you miss me? I have been busy.

Because just saying I have been busy is not enough, I will outline all of the things I have done in the past few weeks (not necessarily in order):

1.) One of the many bug bites on my person from Florida became infected, it got huge and painful, I broke out in hives and had to visit the doctor three(!) times to finally figure out what was wrong. More importantly, I had to go the pharmacy three times to find the correct drug to ease the itching and allow me to sleep through the night. Do not worry I have no pictures of my spotted hiving self.

2.) We went to Florida to watch Derek's baby brother get married.

This is Derek at the rehearsal, not his baby brother...

3.) I had to go shopping to obtain proper wardrobe for said Florida wedding (for me the shopping was a major, awful event).

4.) I went to South Carolina for an incredibly awesome wonderful ground-penetrating radar project where we mapped a beautiful early 19th century kiln. I was able to see the chimney, kiln floor and an auxiliary building by the kiln that had been previously unknown. I had so much fun nerding out with the other archaeologists there and learning about the pottery manufacturing industry in the pre-industrial southeast. Now I am fascinated and reading two books on the area and I want to go back.

While we were away gadding about the country (or the doctors office waiting room) our garden was growing and ripening. We are officially in the season of vegetables and fruit. The season of eating tomatoes at every meal so they do not rot on our counter top. It is a time of planning meals around our garden and CSA (community supported agriculture) box. Trust me I am not complaining. I love tomatoes. I truly miss the July produce the moment the season ends.

We harvested our garden this weekend.

It turns out the garlic can go from this...

To this.
Then you have delicious garlic. In fact, we have more delicious garlic than we could possibly eat. It keeps though.

I made this with some of the garlic.

Pretty! My Italian grandmother would be proud... oh wait, I am not even remotely Italian, I only know how to french braid because of my unruly curly hair. It was the only way to get it under my skiing helmet.

After harvesting garlic, we picked some tomatoes. Then we realized the tomatoes were over ripe and had to be consumed immediately.

I rose to the occasion and invented this dish. I call it "snack for when your tomatoes need to be eaten and you have too much garlic." That seemed like too much so I hope you like my new title. This is pretty ridiculously simple, maybe not warranting a recipe. This is kind of how we are eating these warm summer days.

Fresh Garlic and Tomato Toast

Several slices of fresh artisan bread (we make a whole wheat Italian style loaf)
olive oil
2-4 cloves of fresh garlic (or just any old garlic)
1 small ball (about 4 ounces) fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
1 ripe tomato, sliced
sea salt

1. Toast the sliced bread in a toaster or under the broiler until it is crispy on the outside but not hard.

2. While the bread is toasting finely chop the garlic. Then mix the garlic with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.

3. Brush the bread with the olive oil and garlic mixture. Place a slice of mozzarella on each slice of bread.

4. Sprinkle the slices of tomato with sea salt and place a tomato on each bread slice.