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You’ve got to read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book –Take Me With You. What a story.  From Amazon’s description: August Shroeder, a burned-out teacher, has been sober since his nineteen-year-old son died. Every year he’s spent the summer on the road, but making it to Yellowstone this year means everything. The plan had been to travel there with his son, but now August is making the trip with Philip’s ashes instead. An unexpected twist of fate lands August with two extra passengers for his journey, two half-orphans with nowhere else to go. What none of them could have known was how transformative both the trip—and the bonds that develop between them—would prove, driving each to create a new destiny together. Have a tissue handy at the end. It’s such a charming, sweet story. You’ll fall in love with the young boys, and fall in love with them again 10 years later.

One of my book clubs occasionally reads a kind of edgy book. This is one of them. By Mohsin Hamid, Exit West: A Novel is a book set in an age not dissimilar to our own and in current time, but something bad has happened in the world. Something never divulged, although symptoms of a civil war are mentioned. A unmarried couple, Nadia and Saeed, are given the opportunity (as others are, as well) to go through a door (this is the exit part of the title) and to another place in the world – it takes but a second – to go through the special door. They go to England (London), to a palatial mansion. Sometimes the power grid is sketchy. Another door. And yet another. And finally to Marin County (north of San Francisco). You follow along with the ups and downs of the chaste relationship of the two, this couple from a house to living on the streets. And the eventual dissolution of the relationship too. I wasn’t enamored with the book, but after listening to the review of it and hearing others talk about it, I suppose there’s more to this story than it might appear. Hope is the word that comes to mind. The book is strange, but it won the Los Angeles Times book award in 2017. It’s received lots of press. It made for some very interesting discussion at our book club meeting.

The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes. Story: Jennifer Stirling wakes up in hospital, having had a traumatic car accident. She’s introduced to her husband, of whom she has no recollection, and is sent home with him eventually, to a life she neither remembers or embraces readily. But this is the life she was raised to have, so surely it must be worth living, underneath the strange, muted tones of her daily existence. Jennifer goes through the motions, accepts what she is told is her life and all seems to bob along well enough, except when she finds a letter that isn’t her husband’s handwriting, and is clearly a link to someone she has been involved with, but whom? London, France, Africa and America all come into play in this story of a woman piecing back together her life in effort to understand what she has lost, and what she threw away. There is a bit of a time-hop from 1964 to 2003. . . from a reviewer on amazon.  I loved this book from page one to the end. There’s some bit of mystery and you so get into the head of Jennifer Stirling. I could hardly put it down. Great read.

Francine Rivers, an author relatively new to me, but much admired, is most known for this: Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3) It’s a trilogy. The first 2 books are about Hadassah, a young woman in the time of the Roman Empire. When Jerusalem was overrun and destroyed, the Christians still alive were sent off and away, separated and derided and abused. Hadassah was one of them. She’s a slave to a wealthy family and it takes 2 of the books to read before the son of the family finally realizes that he’s in love with Hadassah. If  you’re a Christian, you’ll learn a whole lot more about the time following Christ’s crucifixion, about the lot of the struggling Christian community. The 3rd book in the trilogy is about a gladiator who is part of book 1 and 2, but not a main character. You’ll learn about his life too, after he regains his freedom from the fighting ring and the battle of his soul. These books are a fabulous read. Can’t say enough good things about them all. I’ve never been a huge fan of old-world Roman Empire reading, but this one was altogether different. Very worth reading.

Amy Belding Brown wrote this book: Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America, a true accounting in 1676, of Mary Rowlandson, a woman who was captured by Native Americans.  Even before she was captured on a winter day of violence and terror, she sometimes found herself in conflict with her rigid Puritan community. Now, her home destroyed, her children lost to her, she has been sold into the service of a powerful woman tribal leader, made a pawn in the ongoing bloody struggle between English settlers and native people. Battling cold, hunger, and exhaustion, Mary witnesses harrowing brutality but also unexpected kindness. To her confused surprise, she is drawn to her captors’ open and straightforward way of life, a feeling further complicated by her attraction to a generous, protective English-speaking native known as James Printer. The story is riveting, and perplexing once she is traded back to her home. You’ll see a different side to the Indian problem back then and find yourself conflicted. An excellent read.

Taylor Caldwell was a prolific writer, and one I read when I was younger. She died in 1980, and this book, her last, Answer As a Man certainly delivers as her others did. All his life, Jason Garrity has had to battle intolerance and injustice in his quest for power, money, and love. His new hotel will give him financial security, the means to support a loving family and become an upstanding citizen. When family secrets and financial greed combine to destroy his dreams, his rigid moral convictions are suddenly brought into question. . . from Goodreads. Caldwell believed the banking industry was way too powerful, and often took aim at it, as she did in this book. It chronicles the life of a very poor, impoverished Irish immigrant to the U.S. He was an upstanding citizen, God-fearing, but maybe naive in some respects. Good book if you enjoy very deep character study.

Another book by Diney Costeloe, Miss Mary’s Daughter. When a young women is suddenly left with no family and no job or income, she’s astounded to learn that she’s actually a granddaughter of a “grand” family in Ye Olde England. She’s very independent (at least I thought so, for the time period), but is willing to investigate this new family of hers. There are many twists and turns – is she going to inherit the family home – or is the man who has been caring for the home and his daughter the logical inheritors. There’s a villain who nearly sweeps her off her feet, much intrigue from many characters. Well developed plot with a happy ending. A good read.

Celeste Ng is a hot new author. I read another of her books (see below) but this time I read Little Fires Everywhere. There are so many various characters and plots in this book, as in her others. This book focuses on a Chinese baby abandoned at a fire station and the subsequent court battle when the single mother surfaces six months later to try to reclaim her daughter from the family in the process of adopting her. Emotions well up, waxing and waning on both sides of the issue. You may even find yourself changing your own mind about the right or wrong of a child raised with a natural-born mother (albeit late to the raising) or the mother the child has known since near birth. Ng likes to write books with lots of grit and thorny issues. Although a good read, I liked Everything I Never Told You better than this one.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

Recently finished C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Also finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. About a dysfunctional family, through and through. I picked this up from amazon from someone who read the book, named “McReader,” and she says: “Set in the 70s, the story follows a Chinese American blended family in Ohio. When Lydia [the daughter] is found floating in the lake, her family is forced to analyze what put her there. Was it pressure from her family to succeed? Was it pressure to fit in? Was it a crime of passion or convenience? I was spellbound reading the last half of this book. I loved each flawed family member, especially Hannah,. While the story went where I hoped it would go, I was not disappointed at all with the progression. It was also quite insightful on the prejudices that society had about Chinese Americans still during that timeframe and how careful parents have to be to put their dreams onto their children.” Such a good book and definitely worth reading. Would be a good book club read. You’ll be hearing more from this author. Am currently reading her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Beef, Grilling, Miscellaneous, on March 23rd, 2015.

bobby_flays_steak_rub

Just plain steaks are fine, but don’t you sometimes want to put something on them, to give them an added lift, or some different flavors?

Recently I invited my/our son Powell and his family over for dinner. (And the good news is that I was able to do enough walking and standing in the kitchen to pull it off.) I have meat in my freezer. Oh my, do I have meat in the garage freezer, and I can’t believe that it’s been nearly a year since my darling DH died, and I’ve hardly made a dent in the meat stash. I’ve purchased plenty of chicken breasts and thighs, and salmon steaks which crowd in there, and go in and out, but I have numerous cuts of beef, pork, whole chickens and fish fillets that are now more than a year old. I’ve GOT to do something with them.

The good news was that I WANTED to cook. Those of you reading this, who don’t know me very well yet, won’t understand. In the last year I’ve hardly wanted to cook at all. But I also had my darned foot injury that for 7 months has kept me from standing at my kitchen counter much at all. That’s completely healed now and I’m trying to push my limits a bit. Am walking some every day to flex those tight ligaments, tendons, the plantar fascia and the Achilles tendons too.

In coming days  you’ll see a couple of other new recipes I tried out for this dinner (a crostini appetizer using green peas, and a fennel vegetable side). I also made my favorite Crisp Apple Pudding, one of my signature, very homey desserts. My grandson Vaughan was salivating from the moment he heard Grandma had made the apple pudding, which he just loves. He could hardly eat hissteaks_with_steak_rub dinner because he wanted that dessert so much. Then he wanted seconds, but mom and dad said no.

Anyway, back to the steaks. They were ribeyes (USDA prime, from Costco). Powell grilled them for me, and I handed Powell this little bowl (above) to season them. He used the trusty Thermapen to make sure the steaks were cooked to perfection. The 4 of us shared these 2 big steaks. I have some leftover which I’ll use to make a nice steak salad, I think. Karen brought a lovely green salad (with the first of our spring strawberries) and left some greens with me which will make a nice start. Maybe I’ll have that for dinner tonight.

What’s GOOD: just something different. I liked the spice combination. It was easy enough to make. Just remember, spice blends should not be kept for more than a month, so use it up, or make a smaller batch to begin with.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. Same as above, a spice blend doesn’t keep more than a month, so use it up.

printer-friendly CutePDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Bobby Flay’s Steak Rub

Recipe By: Bobby Flay, online
Serving Size: 10

2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon Spanish paprika — (sweet paprika)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chile de arbol — (optional – I didn’t have any)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine ingredients and store in well-sealing jar. Sprinkle liberally on steaks before grilling.
Per Serving: 12 Calories; 1g Fat (37.3% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 16mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, Grilling, on September 8th, 2014.

grilled_shrimp_polenta_cakes_corn_salsa

Don’t be confused that this is shrimp and grits. It has similarities, but it isn’t. The polenta is made ahead and cut into squares (the big shrimp at the top center is sitting on a square polenta cake), but this is a very soft cake with corn in it. Then you make this great corn and green chile salsa to go with it, and with the grilled shrimp. Delish.

Another winner of a recipe from my recent Phillis Carey class that was all about corn. There is a bit of prep to this recipe – you do have to make the polenta ahead of time – an hour or so. It’s a soft, creamy polenta that’s poured into a flat pan and allowed to set. Sort of. It’s still soft, so when it comes time to grill the polenta squares,  you must be very gentle – use a nice thin spatula to pick up the squares then gently place them in a big skillet, or on a flat grill. Then there’s the corn and green chile salsa. Not hard to make, but you do want to grill the pasilla (poblano) pepper and chop it up. You do want to grill the corn, just barely, and mince up the red onion. The shrimp does get marinated briefly in a lime-juice mixture and grilled. So you do have to do some work with each of the three elements. But much of it can be done ahead. If you have someone to do the grilling (the corn first, early, then the shrimp at the last minute) that helps, while you gently brown the polenta cakes just before plating everything.

poblano_peppersPoblano chiles have a unique flavor. It’s a deep, earthy flavor that I love. As I’m writing this I just had lunch at California Pizza Kitchen and I ordered their stuffed poblano chile. Delicious. If you’re not used to buying them, it’s so worth it for this dish. Photo at right came from www.specialtyproduce.com

What’s GOOD: the combo of the corn salsa (and particularly the roasted poblano chile in it), polenta cake and the shrimp – a little bit of each in every bite. Well, just delicious. I think the lime juice contributes a lot to the flavor. It would make a beautiful company dinner – might be a bit much for a weeknight dinner unless you feel like doing a bit more work than usual. It’s all worth it, though. A great dish.

What’s NOT: only thing I can think of is the time it takes to make it all, but that’s it. Flavors are wonderful.

printer-friendly CutePDF

Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click on link to open recipe in MC)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Grilled Shrimp and Polenta Cakes with Grilled Corn and Green Chile Salsa

Recipe By: From a Phillis Carey cooking class, 8/2014
Serving Size: 4

SHRIMP:
12 extra large shrimp — cleaned, tails on
1/4 cup grapeseed oil — or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon cilantro — chopped
1 clove garlic — minced
POLENTA CAKES WITH CORN:
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil — or vegetable oil, plus a bit more for cooking the cakes
1 cup onion — finely diced
2 cloves garlic — minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup yellow cornmeal — or polenta Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 ears of corn — perfectly grilled (with grill marks) kernels removed
RELISH:
6 ears of corn — perfectly grilled (with grill marks) kernels removed
2 whole poblano peppers — roasted, peeled, seeded, diced
1 small red onion — finely diced
2 whole limes — juiced
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup grapeseed oil — or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cilantro — finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. SHRIMP: Place shrimp in a bowl and add remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes (MAXIMUM). Remove from marinade and thread shrimp on banboo skewers which have been soaked in water for 30 minutes. Grill shrimp 3-4 minutes per side. Remove shrimp from skewers and keep warm.
2. POLENTA CAKES: (Do this several hours ahead if possible.) Oil the bottom and sides of a 9×11 inch baking pan (if you have a nonstick pan, use it)
and set aside. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the wine and cook until completely reduced.
3. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal, stirring so it doesn’t clump and cook until it begins to thicken. Season with salt and pepper, reduce heat to medium, switch to a spatula or wooden spoon and continue cooking, stirring often, until the mixture is smooth and soft, about 8 minutes. If the mixture becomes too thick, stir in some water, but it should be a pourable consistency.
4. Stir in the grilled corn kernels and pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly (it will be thin). Cool to room temp, then cover and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours. May be made a day ahead. Cut the polenta cakes into 4-inch squares.
5. RELISH: Combine the grilled corn, diced chiles, onion, lime juice, honey, oil and cilantro in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper. Let the relish sit at room temp for at least 30 minutes before serving. It can be made up to 8 hours ahead and refrigerated. Bring to room temp before serving.
6. FINAL PREP: To cook the polenta cakes, heat a stove-top grill or griddle over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Brush the cakes on both sides with oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook the cakes until golden brown (still on medium heat) until they just barely get golden brown and very slightly charred on each side, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Remove to hot serving plates and top each cake with shrimp and some of the relish.
OPTIONS: Add some grated cheddar cheese to the polenta cakes, or Cotija cheese. You may also make the polenta soft, keeping it pourable as you make it and pour some onto each plate then add the shrimp and relish.
Per Serving: 747 Calories; 40g Fat (44.2% calories from fat); 26g Protein; 87g Carbohydrate; 10g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 109mg Sodium.

Posted in Beef, Grilling, on August 31st, 2014.

cajun_rubbed_steak_maque_choux

You know what “maque choux” is?  Kinda sounds like a sneeze, but no, that’s a French phrase that’s actually Cajun and Native American. Pronounced it’s “mackeh-choo,” sort of. Corn isn’t part of either word. Wikipedia doesn’t exactly define the French words, so I had to go look it up just cuz I’m curious. More literally translated it means “messy pairing,” but in common parlance it’s that corn mixture above. In the American South “everybody” knows what macque-choux means. Phillis Carey made hers with bacon and some heavy cream. I don’t know that those things are traditional. But hey, it absolutely works here and it’s SO good.

In the cooking class, Phillis prepared this with top sirloin steak. Not my most favorite cut. She mentioned that you could use ribeye or even flank steak (I’d marinate the flank a bit in something to tenderize it first – not anything very highly seasoned – then still use the Cajun rub on it too). But with a tender ribeye – oh yes, that’s what I’d use. If you decide to use top sirloin, do cut the slices thinly.

You can barely see that there’s a tiny bit of cream in the corn relish. Mostly I think the cream got boiled down, or maybe my serving just didn’t get all that much. But in any case, the maque-choux is just the best part of this dish. It’s made with fresh corn (if at all possible), bacon, onion, garlic, red bells, green onions and cream. Quite simple. And you can make it the day before if that helps you with timing.

The steaks must be at least 1 1/4 inches thick. That’s imperative for making this dish work. The rub on the steak was also really easy. Below is a recipe for making it, but you can also just buy it. I think Paul Prudhomme makes one, but Phillis recommended the one by Spice Hunter if you can find it at your local store. If you make up a small batch from the recipe, make double, but just use it within a month or two as it doesn’t keep all that long. Be sure to blot the steak well with paper towels before you start. Phillis talked to us about seasoning the steak – usually I would oil the meat then sprinkle on the seasonings. She said no, that’s the wrong way to do it – pat the spices on first, THEN gently spread on the oil. She says the seasonings stick better that way. Who knew?

The steaks are grilled – use whatever method you prefer – allowed to rest for 5 minutes then served with the macque-choux spooned over the center or at one end (i.e., don’t cover the steak with the corn). Phillis also said this dish is just fabulous served ON a bed of mashed potatoes. Hmmm. That sounds really good and I may do it that way next time.

What’s GOOD: the relish is the best part. Get fresh corn if possible, but frozen will work. The corn relish elevates this dish to something very special. The Cajun rub was also very good – I’d use that again on chicken perhaps.
What’s NOT: nothing at all – it’s a fabulous dish.

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Cajun-Rubbed Steak with Maque-Choux and Bacon

Recipe By: From a Phillis Carey cooking class, 8/2014
Serving Size: 5

MAQUE-CHOUX (Corn):
4 ounces applewood smoked bacon — finely diced
1 1/2 cups white corn — or yellow, freshly cut from about 2 ears
1/4 cup onions — chopped
1 tablespoon shallots — minced
1 tablespoon garlic — minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup red bell peppers — diced
1/4 cup green onions — chopped
STEAKS:
2 pounds steak — preferably ribeye, may also use top sirloin (cut 1 1/4″ thick at minimum), or flank steak
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil — or canola
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning — see recipe below, or buy Spice Hunter’s
Flaky salt to taste
2 tablespoons green onions — chopped (garnish)
2 tablespoons red bell peppers — chopped (garnish)
CAJUN/CREOLE SPICE MIX:
2 1/2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder (not granulated)
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoons black pepper

Notes: Phillis made this with top sirloin and served thin slices (1/4 inch) but I’d recommend using a ribeye instead. Do not make this with filet mignon.
1. MACQUE CHOUX: Cook bacon in medium skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until crisp. Remove bacon to paper towels to drain. Add corn to the skillet and saute for one minute. Add onions and continue cooking for one more minute. Add garlic and season with salt and pepper; cook one minute. Stir in the cream, red peppers and green onions and simmer until the mixture is heated through. (Sauce can be made ahead, even a full day – just reheat before serving.)
2. STEAKS: Preheat grill. Sprinkle each steak with the Cajun spice, season with salt and brush or dab on the oil. (Yes, season first, then dab on the oil.) Grill steak 4-7 minutes per side for medium-rare to medium. Let steaks rest 5 minutes, tented with foil. Cut steaks across the grain into 1/2-inch slices and set on a HEATED serving plate. Spoon the corn mixture over the steak slices (down the center or at one end); do not cover the steaks with the corn. Garnish with onions and red bell peppers. Can be served plain or on a bed or mashed potatoes.
Per Serving: 805 Calories; 67g Fat (74.3% calories from fat); 36g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 186mg Cholesterol; 719mg Sodium.

Posted in Grilling, Veggies/sides, on August 28th, 2014.

mexican_style_street_corn_cotija

Previously, I’ve posted a recipe for Mexican Street Corn, but oh gosh, this version is so much better. I really didn’t know how to make it prior to my other attempt at it – just got suggestions from the waitress at a restaurant and glanced at a few recipes online. But this, oh, I’ll be making it several times this summer. Just be sure to have Cotija cheese on hand, cilantro and limes.

Making this dish is actually very simple. You can make up the spice/herb mixture ahead of time (except for adding the cilantro). You can crumble up the Cotija ahead of time and have it chilling in the refrigerator in the pan you’ll use to roll the corn on it. Husk the corn and have that all ready to go too. Fire up the grill and slow-grill the corn. You DO want grill marks (see the photo) but you don’t want to burn it. Don’t put anything on the corn – just grill it, rotating it several times over the course of 15-20 minutes or so. Do watch it carefully.

If you search recipes on the internet for Mexican Street Corn, you’ll find several, but none that do all of the things Phillis Carey did with it in the corn-themed cooking class I went to recently. And Phillis absolutely NAILED it with flavor. Not only the spice mixture (cumin, oregano, garlic) but doing it in the order she did – grill first, lightly film the corn with mayo (so everything after that will stick to it), sprinkle on the spices and cilantro, then roll the corn in Cotija cheese. Serve and pause as you listen for all the “mmmm’s.” Fabulous. Of all the recipes in this particular cooking class, I think this one was the best, by far.

What’s GOOD: all the flavors in combo with the corn. The cheese, the spices, and of course, the delicious sweet corn. This recipe is a winner. Make it, okay?

What’s NOT: not a single thing except that if you’re making this with a dinner and having to do it all, you’ll want to have everything else about your dinner all ready, because you do need to stand over the corn and watch it and turn it, but then, you’ll need to assemble it while it’s still pretty hot.

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Mexican-Style Street Corn with Cotija Cheese

Recipe By: From a Phillis Carey cooking class, 8/2014
Serving Size: 4

4 large ears of corn — husked
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder — don’t use “granulated” powdered garlic (too strong)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 cup Cotija cheese — crumbled
2 tablespoons cilantro — minced
1 whole lime — cut in wedges

1. You may grill the corn on an outdoor barbecue or on a stovetop grill pan. Heat grill to medium-high. Grill corn until it’s lightly charred all over and heated through, about 20 minutes, turning the corn often so it doesn’t burn.
2. While the corn is grilling, in a small bowl combine the chili powder, cumin, oregano, garlic powder.
3. When the corn is ready (and still hot), brush each one with the mayonnaise, with a light covering over all sides. Sprinkle the spices all over the corn, then roll each in the crumbled cheese then sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Serve with lime wedges to drizzle over each one.
Per Serving: 192 Calories; 13g Fat (54.8% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 5mg Cholesterol; 106mg Sodium.

Posted in Grilling, Pork, on January 25th, 2014.

grilled_pork_chops_spanish_adobo

Years ago, when I was in the advertising biz, we had a very talented art director on our staff from the Philippines, named Dolf. He was an American, but so loved his native country’s cuisine. A couple of times he brought chicken adobo to our festive potluck lunches – his version from the Philippines, a wet braise kind of dish. But this post is NOT about the Filipino version, which is altogether different. Not just a little bit different, but a lot different.

SPANISH ADOBO is a spice mixture, and is meant to be liberally applied to pork chops (and allowed to sit there, so it becomes a marinade) and grilled – it’s cinchy easy to make. I saw a blog post from one of the varied ones I read, and it was called pork chops adobado. Since I’d not heard the adobado (rather than adobo) part before, I started sleuthing. Adobo is the spice mixture, but once you put it on some kind of meat and grill it, it becomes a food preparation, so it’s the adobado or adobada. I read what wikipedia had to say about it, then did a search and came to a recipe at epicurious that sounded just right.

In the explanation, wikipedia says of ancient cooking:

Animals were usually slaughtered in the coldest months of winter, but surplus meat had to be preserved in the warmer months. This was facilitated through the use of adobos (marinades) along with paprika (a substance with antibacterial properties). Paprika gives a reddish color to adobos and at the same time the capsaicins in paprika permit fats to dissolve to the point of allowing tissue penetration, going deeper than the surface.

spanish_adobo_pasteIf I interpret what that says, it means meat was marinated for long periods of time, like months – yikes. From winter to summer? So, by using a paprika-based marinade, they were able to preserve meat without refrigeration (obviously) and the capsaicins (that’s what gives heat to peppers) in it allowed for better absorption. Spanish (or Mexican) Adobo is a oil and spice paste that’s spread on the pork up to a couple of hours ahead of grilling. It’s a mixture of oil, paprika, dried oregano, fresh garlic, ground cumin, hot chili flakes, fresh lime zest, salt and pepper.

I slathered this mixture onto 2 pork chops and 2 steaks. It’s a heady mixture – not only with spices, but it has some heat. If you’re averse to hot spicy food, eliminate the chili flakes. I used half-sharp paprika (a mixture of mild and hot), so it was plenty hot for me. The recipe calls for mild paprika. The paste marinated on the chops for a couple of hours (in the refrigerator), then Dave grilled them. First they’re browned – and I mention this only because with the reddish paste on them, it may be hard to tell when the chops are truly browning as they’re already brownish red before you put them on the grill. After they’re grilled on both sides just to get grill marks (if you can see them), you move them over onto an indirect area of the grill, loosely cover them with an upside-down foil pan, or with foil itself to finish cooking. Use a meat thermometer and take them off when they’re just done!

You can vary the heat depending on what kind of paprika you use. Please don’t use grocery store paprika – it doesn’t cut the mustard. (Oh, ha! I made a joke . . . 🙂 Here is a link to Penzey’s page for Hungarian paprika. Many high end markets now carry premium Hungarian paprika – do seek it out. And do refrigerate it. Penzey’s also sells Spanish paprika, but that is the smoked variety. Perhaps cooks in Spain do use the smoked, but I’d try it without the first time. And if I tried it, I’d use half regular and half smoked. The smoked goes a long way.

Be SURE to use a meat thermometer – the chops took much less time than anticipated. Ours were about 3/4 inch thick, and only took about 10 minutes cooking time. And?

What’s GOOD: the adobo spices were a big hit. I loved it; so did Dave. We have found a new, local purveyor of pork, and this first try was great – the meat was tender and juicy. The paprika and other spices hit a great flavor note for both of us. It was a quick preparation – and some nights that’s exactly what’s needed. I’ll be making this again and again.
What’s NOT: I can’t think of a thing. We loved this, big time.

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Grilled Pork Chops with Adobo Paste

Recipe By: Adapted from Epicurious
Serving Size: 4

2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika — (can use half-sharp)
1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano — crumbled
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes — or more if desired
1 1/2 teaspoons lime zest — finely grated, from a fresh lime
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 pounds bone-in pork center rib chops — 3/4″ thick, or thicker

1. Heat grill to medium-high for direct-heat cooking.
2. Stir together all ingredients except pork chops in a bowl to form spice paste, then rub paste all over pork chops. Allow to rest for 20 minutes to 2 hours in refrigerator.
3. Oil grill rack, then grill chops, turning over occasionally and moving around if flare-ups occur, until browned, 2 to 3 minutes total.
4. Move chops to indirect heat, then cover loosely with heavy-duty foil, turning chops over once, until thermometer inserted horizontally into center of a chop (do not touch bone) registers 140°F, 6-10 minutes. Transfer to a platter and let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Per Serving: 405 Calories; 29g Fat (65.3% calories from fat); 31g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 89mg Cholesterol; 770mg Sodium.

Posted in easy, Fish, Grilling, on January 19th, 2014.

cedar_planked_salmon_mustard_brownsugar

Are you looking for a super-easy dinner with salmon? You’ve come to the right recipe – this one’s so simple – as long as you’re willing to do the cedar-plank thing on the grill.

Not taking a lot of time to hunt for a recipe this time, I just googled “cedar plank salmon.” The #1 recipe came from the Food Network. It’s a Steven Raichlen recipe, but from what I read, Bobbie Flay must have had him on his BBQ show and prepared this dish. What convinced me was the 5-star rating. I read through some of them – a few people didn’t like the quantity of mustard or thought it was bitter. My thought is that they used cheap Dijon. If you use the real stuff, particularly the Maille brand, there won’t be any bitterness. I did reduce the quantity of both mustard and brown sugar, and we were ooohing and aaahing as we ate it.

First we soaked a cedar plank (one worked for the portion we were grilling, but you might need 2) for about 2 hours in cold water. Then the plank itself went onto a medium-hot grill for about 4 minutes. That gave it time to steam-out most of the water, but got the plank super-hot. Then my DH salmon_mustard_sugarturned the plank over and carefully placed the lightly slathered and brown sugared salmon fillet (pictured at left with the slather and sugar ready for grilling) on top of the plank. The lid was closed, the heat reduced just slightly, and 10 minutes later the salmon had reached 135°F and it came off. When Dave lifted the lid the last time (he checked the temp of the fish twice) a big plume of smoke engulfed him and burned his sinuses a little. He had a honkin’ headache for the rest of the evening, poor guy. Beware of that, my friends! He said the plank was slightly in flames too, but it didn’t reach the fish. Obviously, you toss the plank once it’s used. You could also do this in the oven, I suppose, but not with the cedar plank – unless you do it at a lower temp. You don’t want that kind of smoke swirling around in your oven.

The salmon needed nothing else – perhaps I could have served it with a little wedge of lemon – but it truly didn’t need it. It was a tiny bit crispy along the edges (from the brown sugar) and the mustard added just a lovely character to the fish. It was perfectly done, juicy, flaky. Delicious.

What’s GOOD: rip-roaring easy and tasty. That’s about all I can say, it should be enough for you to try this super-simple recipe. Good enough for guests too. I haven’t tried oven roasting this, but it should be easy to do that if you don’t want to cedar plank it.
What’s NOT: nada, nothing!
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Cedar Planked Salmon with Dijon and Brown Sugar

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from a Steven Raichlen recipe, via the Food Network
Serving Size: 4

one cedar plank (6 by 14 inches)
1 1/2 pounds salmon fillets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons brown sugar

1. Soak the cedar plank(s) under water for 2 hours or more.
2. Preheat grill to medium-high. Place the cedar plank on the grill, cover and allow to pre-heat for about 4 minutes.
3. In the kitchen, spread the salmon fillets with a coating of Dijon, then sprinkle the brown sugar evenly on top. Do this just before you’re ready to grill – otherwise the sugar will begin to melt off the fish, even sitting at room temp.
4. When the cedar plank is super-hot, carefully turn the plank over with tongs and place the fish on top/center of the plank. Close lid, reduce heat just slightly (you don’t want the plank to burn, if at all possible). Depending on the thickness of the fish, cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 135° (use an instant-read thermometer). If the edges of the plank start to catch fire, have a spray bottle of water handy and carefully spray the wood (not the salmon) and perhaps lower the heat slightly. Remove from grill and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 231 Calories; 6g Fat (25.5% calories from fat); 34g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 89mg Cholesterol; 258mg Sodium.

Posted in Grilling, Miscellaneous, Pork, on September 6th, 2013.

pork_chop_spicy_pesto_finger_lime_caviar

As a food blogger, it’s so fun when a company contacts me – gee, little old me – asking if they can send me some food product to try. No charge. No strings attached. Actually, Freida’s contacted me about Hatch green chiles, but almost as an afterthought, they threw in a box of finger limes.

Prior to this, I’d only read about finger limes. Before our trip to Australia 2 years ago, I thought I’d scour the food markets there (if I could) to find some. I wanted to taste them. (Alas, it was the wrong time of year for finger limes, so no, I didn’t see a one.)  The whole idea of the finger limes is so bizarre, in a way. Let’s backtrack . . . finger limes were developed in Australia. The limes are small, some pink, yellow, green and off white. When you cut them in half and squeeze them, the little balls of encapsulated lime juice roll out, almost like a roll of fluff. But they’re not fluff, they’re these little sacs of lime juice. Here you can see what they’re like. finger_limes2

The average finger lime, uncut, is about an inch long. I cut several in half and gently squeezed. As I was working , I cut several of the limes more lengthwise and tried to extract the little juicy gems. Hard to do, actually, but once I cut them in half crosswise, and did the squeeze technique, they came right out. I have yet to try these on a piece of fish – that will be the ultimate test, I think, with a bunch of these adorable things scattered on top of a sizzling hot swordfish steak. Some marketing type came up with the “caviar” name, but it’s actually very apt as the sacs kind of pop in your mouth.

The origin of the relish came from Southern Living. It is called a Peanut-Basil Relish. The basil is chopped up finely, then you add green onion tops (only), some fish sauce, garlic, sesame oil (a tiny amount) and olive oil. Serrano pepper was in the mixture, but I didn’t have one, so I substituted some chipotle chile. And then I got the idea about using the finger limes. Peanuts have a role in this – I kept them separate until I was ready to serve (because they absorb liquid easily). It took about 5 minutes to make the relish.

Meanwhile, I sprinkled about a teaspoon of light soy sauce on the pork chops, then a bit of olive oil and some Montreal pepper seasoning. Those went on the grill until the meat reached 150° and they were perfectly done. I spread the relish on top and we chowed down. It was delicious. I happen to have a bumper crop of basil at the moment and this made good use of it. The relish recipe suggested if you have left overs, to mix into pasta.

What’s GOOD: the relish is ever-so easy to make, and the chops were simple to season and grill. Loved the Asian flavors – they’re not overwhelming at all (either the soy sauce on the meat or the fish sauce in the relish) but gave it a piquant taste altogether. The relish would be delish on other things – it does need to be used right away, I think. The little bit that was left in the bowl when I got done was turning black, which is what basil does when it’s bruised and wet. I could have whizzed it up in the food processor and made a paste (with more oil, probably) but I liked it as a kind of rough relish.
What’s NOT: really nothing at all. Liked everything about it.

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Grilled Pork Chops with Spicy Basil Relish and Lime Caviar

Recipe By: Partly my own ideas, part adapted from Southern Living.
Serving Size: 4

PORK CHOPS:
2 1/2 pounds bone-in pork sirloin chops — or any cut of pork chops
4 teaspoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
Montreal seasoning pepper to taste
BASIL-PEANUT RELISH:
4 tablespoons green onion tops — (green part only)
1 1/2 cups basil leaves
2 cloves garlic — crushed
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
4 teaspoons finger lime caviar — or fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted peanuts — chopped

1. Dry pork chops with paper towels. Spread soy sauce on pork, then olive oil, followed by a moderate amount of Montreal pepper seasoning.
2. Grill pork, searing both sides, until the interior temperature reaches 150°. Remove to a heated platter, tent with foil and set aside for just a few minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a bowl combine the green onion tops, chopped basil (use a ceramic knife if you have one, so it doesn’t bruise the basil), crushed garlic, fish sauce, sesame oil, olive oil, lime caviar (or lime juice) and add the peanuts last (or sprinkle them on top when serving). If you have left over relish, add a bit more oil and use it to season rice or pasta. Use it within a day, as the basil will turn black and look very unpalatable. Spread the relish on top of the grilled pork chops.
Per Serving: 476 Calories; 34g Fat (64.0% calories from fat); 39g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 1mg Cholesterol; 293mg Sodium.

Posted in Beef, Grilling, on September 2nd, 2013.

This is a post about the technical side of grilling steaks – the photo is from an earlier post – which happens to be our favorite steak preparation. Click this link to go to that recipe.

We do enjoy a steak with some regularity. My DH would probably eat a steak about every 3-4 days if I’d let him, but since I know we should limit how much beef we eat, we have a steak probably once every 2-4 weeks. And I cook beef in one or another form (ground, short ribs) maybe once a month too, although generally we’ll have more than one meal out of it, so technically we eat it more than once, twice or three times a month. If we go to a steakhouse, sometimes Dave will order a steak there as well. I almost never order a steak out because I’m pretty certain the steak we’ll eat at home is better tasting and more tender. I’m not sure about most beef purveyors, either – what do they feed the cattle? Fillers? And solely corn and grains at the end? – which is so awful for their digestive tracts. Lots of cattle are near death when they’re slaughtered because of what the feed lots force them to eat. All of that came from a book we read about steak: Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef. I have yet to write up an essay/post about that book. I’ve been meaning to, because I found the book absolutely fascinating.

In the last couple of years you may have read some of my posts about how and what we’ve done at home to improve the chances of a good, juicy tender steak.

(1) We now buy nearly all of our steaks from an organic grower who raises his stock about 50 miles from where we live, and he sells his beef (and lamb, chicken and pork) at a Saturday farmer’s market. He raises grass-fed beef (very, very chewy meat) and some he raises with just a short time of eating a special diet of legumes and grains (no corn) developed by a university. We buy the latter because it’s got the perfect combination of taste and texture. We can order ahead if we want, or just show up at the farmer’s market and decide on the spot from what he has available. Many people have standing orders. Some buy a whole steer and request part of the order to be delivered every thermapenmonth or so.

(2) We use a very expensive (for a thermometer) Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen to test the temp of the steaks. We like medium rare, and usually remove the steak from the grill at about 125° give or take a degree or two.

(3) We let it rest under a light tent of foil for 7-8 minutes.

(4) As for cooking the steaks – we were using a method developed by Hugh Carpenter to grill – mark the meat (grill marks) then move it over to the indirect heat area of the grill and wait until it reached the desired temp. And we thought those things were working well, although we had one complaint – by the time the steak got to our plate and on the table, it was not hot enough for my DH’s tastes – he wants a hotter, almost sizzling steak. We hadn’t experimented with that method.

We’ll likely be changing some of our grilling from now on after reading an article over at Serious Eats. It details 7 things that are myths about grilling, about meat, etc. I found the article quite fascinating. I’ll give you a quick synopsis here:

Myth #1: “You should let a thick steak rest at room temperature before you cook it.”

Apparently it’s  not necessary. It just means the steak spends less time on the grill if you do let it sit out. Otherwise, the author found no difference to taste or how it cooked.

Myth #2: “Sear your meat over high heat to lock in juices.”

Nope. Definitely a myth. The article says: “When cooking thick steaks, start them on the cooler side of the grill and cook with the lid on until they reach about ten degrees below final serving temperature. Finish them off on the hot side of the grill for a great crust. For thinner steaks (about an inch or less), just cook them over the hot side the entire time—they’ll be cooked to medium rare by the time a good crust has developed.” The analysis is that once the steak has cooked on the slow side for awhile, the flat surface is drier, therefore when you do put it on the hot side, it will give you a better crust and grill marks.

Myth #3: “Bone-in steak has more flavor than boneless.”

This is one that I certainly thought was true, but tests proved it made no difference. But, if you like to gnaw on bones, do cook bone-in.

Myth #4: “Only flip your steak once!”

Isn’t this one of those quintessential mental pictures of a guy at his grill, flipping those burgers or steaks? Here’s what the article says: “. . . multiple flipping will not only get your steak to cook faster—up to 30% faster!—but will actually cause it to cook more evenly, as well. This is because—as food scientist and writer Harold McGee has explained—by flipping frequently, the meat on any given side will neither heat up nor cool down significantly with each turn.”

Myth #5: “Don’t season your steak until after it’s cooked!”

The explanation for this one is kind of long (go to the article to read it in full), but the general theory is that we put steaks on the grill when they’re too wet. Steaks have got to have a dry, dry surface. The article’s “takeaway:” You can get away with salting just before cooking, but for best results, salt at least 45 minutes—and up to a couple of days—in advance, letting your steak rest on a rack in the fridge so that its surface can dry and the salt can be absorbed into the meat. Serve the steak with crunchy sea salt at the table.

Myth #6a: “Don’t use a fork to turn your steak.”

You know you’ve read about it – don’t puncture any piece of grilled meat (steak, pork chop, tenderloin, even chicken) because the juices will escape, resulting in a dry piece of finished meat. The truth:  muscles in steak are little tiny, miniscule water balloons, he explained, and indeed, if you puncture a steak you likely will break a few, but his tests showed it was such a finite amount to hardly matter.

Myth #6b: “If you cut it open to check doneness, it will lose all its juices.”

Certainly I’ve wondered about this, but I still have done it anyway – especially when Dave has brought a piece in from the grill about 20 minutes early and he says it’s done (per the thermometer). I never want to serve an undercooked chicken breast or steak, or pork chop. A few juices may be lost, but it doesn’t seem to affect the final result. He recommended using this method only if you don’t have a meat thermometer, or you don’t trust what it says.

Myth #7: “Use the “poke test” to check if your steak is done.”

You know this one – press your finger on the meat itself – if it’s fleshy like the inside of your palm, it’s really rare, closer to the thumb it’s medium-rare, etc. The writer says that not everyone’s hands are alike – some are more fleshy than others, so that makes this method a crap shoot. His answer: use a Thermapen.

Posted in Fish, Grilling, on August 1st, 2013.

salmon_lemon_piccata_sauce

Perfectly cooked salmon that’s pre-marinated in a lemon herb mixture, then served with a lemony beurre blanc (i.e. lots of butter) sauce with capers. Each serving gets just a little bit of sauce, so it’s not so awfully wicked.

Surely I have no shortage of salmon recipes here on my blog, but I’m always open for another new preparation, especially when it’s served with this delicious, butter and lemon caper pan sauce. The recipe came from a recent cooking class with my favorite instructor, Phillis Carey. It’s not difficult – in fact it’s quite easy – although the sauce can be a bit tricky.

The SALMON: First you’ll marinate the salmon for no more than an hour. 15 minutes is better than no time in the marinade, but 1 hour is ideal if you can make the time. Then you either grill the salmon (you could do it on a stovetop grill also), or you can do long, slow baking, or you can do a slow broil. Read the recipe for instructions on doing any of those methods. My favorite method is the slow broil. Even the phrase sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Broil means high-high heat. And yes, it does, but to do a slow broil you put the fish on a broiler pan and place it 8-10 inches below the broil element. That way you don’t have to turn the fish over – it cooks completely this way. It’s a Phillis technique, and I’ve used it numerous times since she first taught it at a cooking class I went to about a year ago.

Beurre Blanc Tip:

the trick to beurre blanc is to add the butter in small pieces and never allow the mixture to bubble or even simmer. That way it will stay slightly thickened.

The SAUCE:  Well, the sauce is really a buerre blanc and Phillis just makes it a little different with the addition of capers. You could also use dill or basil if you don’t like capers. I do, so I knew I’d love the sauce. The only thing to remember about making the sauce is to NOT allow the mixture bubble or boil or the sauce will separate and it’s ruined. Well, you could serve it, but it would just look like hot butter. When you add the butter gradually and keep the temp below a simmer, the sauce is slightly thickened. You need to serve it immediately, however.

The other trick to the sauce is to have EXACTLY 1/4 cup of liquid in the pan when you start to make it. If you have more, then you’ll have to add more butter. Less and the sauce will be too buttery. Once you remove all the shallots, pour out the liquid and measure it. If it’s a smidge over, put it back on the flame and reduce it to that perfect 1/4 cup. Beurre blanc isn’t a sauce that can easily be increased for a larger quantity – make it in 2 pans and ask someone else to help with the last-minute butter additions. If you’ve never made a beurre blanc, I might suggest you make it once – do it for a weeknight dinner so you understand how the chemistry works. Serve it over relatively plain chicken breasts or another kind of fish.

What’s GOOD: the fish, if cooked properly, is meltingly tender and tasty, and the sauce! Oh yes, the sauce is so darned good. Buttery. Rich. Understand, though, that you only eat a little tiny bit of it – it’s all you need!
What’s NOT: only the careful work needed to make the sauce – that’s why I suggest you make it once before you try it for guests. It’s not difficult.

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Grilled Lemon Herb Salmon with Lemon Piccata Caper Butter Sauce

Recipe By: From a Phillis Carey cooking class, 2013
Serving Size: 6

SALMON:
36 ounces salmon fillets — skinless, cut into 6 pieces
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Italian parsley — minced
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
LEMON CAPER BUTTER SAUCE:
3/4 cup dry white wine — not Chardonnay or vermouth
3 tablespoons shallots — chopped, not minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup unsalted butter — chilled, cut into 8 pieces
2 tablespoons capers — drained and rinsed

Notes: it is best to use a high-fat butter in this recipe. Grocery store butter contains more water and the sauce will not thicken as it should. Suggested brands: Plugra, Kerry Gold or Land O’Lakes. If doubling this recipe, make the sauce in 2 separate pans – it’s very difficult to make a beurre blanc sauce in a large quantity.
1. MARINADE: Place salmon fillets in a flat casserole dish. Combine the oil, lemon juice, parsley and thyme. Pour over the salmon, turning fillets to coat well. Cover and refrigerate at least 15 minutes, or an hour is preferable. Do not marinate more than 1 hour or the fish will begin to “cook” because of the lemon juice (acid).
2. SAUCE: Combine wine, shallots and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat and cook it to reduce it to 1/4 cup, about 5 minutes or so. It is VERY important that you measure the amount – pour it out into a glass or metal measuring cup to make sure it’s right on 1/4 cup. Pour mixture through a sieve to remove the shallots (discard them). Set the sauce mixture aside for up to 2 hours prior to serving (covered).
3. SALMON: If using an outdoor grill or stovetop grill, grill salmon for 4-6 minutes per side until JUST cooked. Internal temperature should be 135° if you have an instant read thermometer. You can also slow-roast the fish in a 250° oven for 25-30 minutes. Or use a slow-broil method: preheat broiler to high and move the oven rack to at least 8-10 inches below the broiler element. Place fish on a broiler rack and bake/broil the fish for 10-12 minutes total without turning over the fish. It will cook through perfectly.
4. FINISH: While salmon is grilling reheat the sauce mixture. Reduce heat to VERY low (just below a simmer) and add the butter, one piece at a time, taking great care NOT to allow the mixture to boil or bubble at all (if it does, the butter will separate and the sauce will never come together correctly). The sauce should thicken just slightly (because the butter is viscous) – if it is not thickened, add a bit more butter. Remove sauce from the heat and stir in capers. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place salmon on heated plates and spoon sauce over the salmon fillets to serve. This is best served on individual plates, not on a serving platter. If you must use a serving platter, pour sauce separately from a pitcher. The sauce is very rich and each fillet will get only 2 tablespoons or so of sauce total.
Per Serving: 440 Calories; 30g Fat (65.2% calories from fat); 34g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 130mg Cholesterol; 144mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, Grilling, on July 10th, 2013.

halibut_basalmico

Three separate things to make for this meal – marinate the fish (easy) – chop up the tomato salsa stuff (also easy) – and whisk the balsamic vinaigrette (nothing to it, really). It’s worthy of a company meal. Plus, except for cooking the fish, everything can be done ahead.

First thing, I grabbed the package of fish out of the freezer. It was vacuum sealed, so I put it in a large bowl, filled it with cold tap water and weighted it down for a couple of hours. That method doesn’t work quite as well with big roasts and things, but it sure is a simple defrosting method for anything flat. I’ve learned now that it’s very safe leaving that kind of defrosting package, in the bowl, in the kitchen sink, weighted, for several hours. Not all day – that wouldn’t work, I’m afraid – if you’re at work all day.

Defrosting Tip:

Did you know that the easiest way to defrost things is to plunge the vacuum sealed item in a bowl of cold water for a few hours? Be sure to weight it down so it stays under water.

Then I made the vinaigrette. I have a bunch of different balsamic vinegars – the one I used this time was tangerine, but you can also use just plain, ordinary types too. Even the cheap grocery store stuff will work on this recipe because the astringency of the balsamic is muted significantly by all the other stuff going on on top of this fish! Then I made the salsa – now, this isn’t an ordinary Mexican style salsa at all – it’s an Italian style. Except for the fresh chiles, it could be a Latin type. This one uses cayenne – I used the Mercken spice I have in my pantry – it’s a Chilean chile powder mixture that’s a regular condiment on the tables of most people in that country. But just use cayenne, since most people won’t have the Mercken. The salsa has parsley instead of cilantro and fresh oregano instead of any other seasoning. Taste it as you make it – to make sure it has balance (of sweet, sour, salt, etc.).

Meanwhile, the fish is marinated, sort of, in a little bit of olive oil, fresh chopped thyme, salt and pepper. You could do that several hours ahead, cover and keep in the refrigerator. I just let it sit for 30 minutes or so, out on my kitchen counter. I cut the fish into serving portions just to make it easier to cook it in a frying pan.

The original recipe for this came from an Italian cook and chef, Nadia Frigeri. Many years ago I took several cooking classes from her – and learned how to make her polenta, and a variety of other Italian dishes. And this was one of them, and I forget about making it!

The recipe indicates to grill the fish – which you can – but it was blisteringly hot the night I made this, and I didn’t want to make my hubby stand outside at all. I’d cranked our A/C down to 73° so I could stand to cook in the kitchen at all. First I browned the fish on both sides in olive oil, then added some water and a lid and let it steam/simmer for a few minutes. Nothing fancy about that. Just don’t over cook it!

To serve, you drizzle a bit of the vinaigrette on the plate or platter, place the hot-from-the-grill fish, then spoon the salsa on top, drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette and top with toasted pine nuts.

What’s GOOD: the lovely, white flaky fish is foremost, of course. I loved the salsa and the balsamic sauce – it was just a wonderful combination. And the little bit of crunch from the pine nuts too. There’s enough of the salsa for each bite to contain some.
What’s NOT: there is nothing not to like about this. As I mentioned, it would make a great company meal. Easy too.

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Halibut Balsamico

Recipe By:Nadia Frigeri, www.nadiafrigeri.com, from a cooking class
Serving Size: 6

2 pounds halibut — thick cut, in 1 piece
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme — minced salt and pepper
VINAIGRETTE:
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons pine nuts — toasted
SALSA:
3 medium yellow tomatoes — seeded and chopped (or red, or combo)
1/3 cup green onion — chopped
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — minced
1 tablespoon fresh oregano — minced (or 1 tsp dried)
1 pinch cayenne
3 medium garlic cloves — peeled and crushed
salt — to taste

Note: If the fish is more than an inch thick, you can bake it in a 400° oven for about 16-20 minutes until cooked through.
1. Arrange halibut filets in a large glass dish; season with salt, pepper and thyme, then add olive oil. Turn fish over in this marinade. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours, if possible.
2. Combine tomatoes, green onions, parsley, oregano, cayenne, salt and garlic in a bowl. Toss well, cover and chill until ready to serve, or allow to marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.
3. Combine in a small bowl or jar the salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar. Whisk or shake mixture and add the oil as you whisk. Add pine nuts.
4. Grill fish on outdoor grill on both sides until almost cooked through. (Alternately, brown the fish on each side briefly in individual pieces in a little olive oil, add a T. or two of water and steam for just a few minutes too cook through. Do not over cook.) Remove fish from the grill. To plate the meal, pour a small amount of vinaigrette on the plate, and place a single fish serving on top. Add a scoop of the salsa, then sprinkle with more toasted pine nuts and drizzle more vinaigrette on top.
Per Serving: 364 Calories; 23g Fat (57.6% calories from fat); 33g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 48mg Cholesterol; 108mg Sodium.

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