Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Too hot!

It's been too hot to light the grill, so it was time to clean out the fridge. Last week's CSA lettuce was history, and we'd just gotten another pile. There was some leftover meat and smoked fish from the other night, fresh artisan bread from the Arlington Farmers market, so there was no need to heat up anything.

I rubbed the wooden salad bowl with a clove of garlic, and piled in the new lettuce leaves, old tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, new cucumber, leftover corn on the cob (now off the cob), and chiffonaded basil (from last week's share) and a couple of scallions cut on the bias. Dressing? Simply a few splashes of olive oil, salt, pepper (Susan's suggestion, and a good one!)

It was just the right amount of effort and just the right taste, texture and temperature. I'd never done the garlic clove trick, and was surprised that you really could taste a hint of garlic. And the chiffonaded basil worked nicely with the scallions.

Being at the farmers market was tough today. We're heading on vacation in a few days and are trying to eat down the inventory. And we hadn't yet picked up the farm share. So, we passed on everything but two loaves of bread, one from the Danish Pastry House, the other from Mamadou in Winchester. Susan and I polished off half the Mamadou multigrain loaf with no problem. I suspect Eleanor will take care of the other one.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Eggplant, up a notch

There are some subtle things creeping into the blog posts that you may have noticed. One, that I moved recently. And that's taking up a lot of time, though I am still cooking a lot, I'm not writing much about it. And sometimes I cook, take photos, and do something dumb, like use the wrong white balance. So that's why you haven't seen some of my great slaw experiments. Coming soon, as soon as I get the camera kinks worked out.

The other subtle thing with big impact is that I joined a CSA a few weeks ago. CSA -- Community Supported Agriculture. Where I buy a share of the farmers crop and get a surprise box every Wednesday. It's been almost 10 years since I've been in a CSA, but since Susan likes vegetables and likes when I experiment, the time was ripe again.

There's a certain amount of stress that goes along with the CSA. That is to find something to do with everything before it goes bad. So there's a bit of triage that's needed when I open the box. Fortunately, Enterprise Farm, in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts gives me a day or two head start by sending out a newsletter at least warning me of what's coming. I know I need to deal with the softer leafy greens pretty quickly, and build my cooking routine around what needs to be eaten, tempered by what I feel like eating and what I think other people will feel like eating. There was a lot of basil and parsley the first few weeks, and since I grow those in pots, that was a challenge.

And arugula. Lots of it one week. And lots again this past week. That's a lot of peppery greens, but Susan's got a plan for those. Lots of dark leafy greens, which is great by me, but they take up a lot of room in the fridge. And beets, which fortunately keep for awhile (the bulbs, not the greens), since I ODed on those earlier in the season and over the winter with the beet and carrot salad.

In any case, I knew there was eggplant coming, and I've only recently started to like eggplant. It's been blazing hot lately too, so doing anything in the house with the stove was out. I did some web investigating for grilled eggplant recipes, which I've never done, and found that one in Kalyn's Kitchen provided the best inspiration -- Spicy Grilled Eggplant with Red Pepper, Parsley and Mint

I found Kalyn's Kitchen through a couple of routes. It turns out that Kalyn is a friend of Bobbi, an old friend of Susan who just came to visit. And she mentioned Kalyn when I mentioned that I food-blogged. So I was even more inclined to look closely when one of her recipes popped up on by Google search for grilled eggplant.

I followed the basic directions for working with eggplant, including sprinkling with salt and letting drain. I did find that the end product may have been a bit too salty, even though I rinsed the salt off and squeezed out excess water -- I may have to use less salt next time. So, look at Kalyn's recipe for the basic technique.

What made this concept fabulous was pouring the marinade of the hot, freshly grilled eggplant. It was made up of olive oil, lime, garlic, and I used Chimayo Chili powder (Kalyn had aleppo pepper)and some red wine vinegar. I loved it. Susan thought it was a bit too spicy. So next time, I think I might try some pimenton, smoked paprika, instead. Looking forward to next time. When I hope to remember the parsley and mint (it was great without, but I'm sure it will be great with!)

I have a feeling this technique will work well with some other things, but the spongy eggplant seems particularly perfect to soak up a post-cooking marinade. I'm using a variation on that theme tomorrow to pre-marinate some steaks.

What made this meal work so well was that it was blazing hot out, so all the cooking was outside. We started with a board of meat, fish and cheese. It started with the smoked mackerel from Whole Foods, which had an assertive, but not overwhelming flavor. And a very tasty Roth's Private Reserve, raw milk cheese, obtained from Whole Foods to impress our recent French visitors with American cheeses. This is also assertive, but was a good complement to the fish. There was a goat cheese which was good, and some pepperoni, which was almost overwhelming, but had a nice kick to it. And a raw milk cheddar, which was pretty nondescript among all the stars, and could have been skipped. All with a fresh baguette.

And some fresh corn and green pepper, both on the grill rounded out the meal. I tried the corn two ways -- lightly rubbed with olive oil and set on low-medium heat, and wrapped in foil with a tiny bit of water leftover from rinsing the ears. I had the naked version (which I loved) and Susan had the clothed version (which she loved). When it's too hot to steam corn inside, you know it's hot.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tribute to one of a kind

I opened my e-mail this morning to a wonderful story by Kim of her last visit to Phoenicia, telling of the delightful experience that we had always come to expect. Direct from Kim:

I've been wanting to relate the tale of my last visit to Phoenecia. It happened while my SF friends Rebecca and Phill were visiting. Of the half dozen or so times I've been, each visit seems to contain just a bit more magic, and this time did not disappoint.

I had to hype it, Phoenicia that is, quite a bit this time. Friends from out of town's, "Where should we go?" is sometimes not the open-ended question it at first appears, especially if, like me, you live in the downtown core and the restaurant you're proposing is a car trip away to far-flung sounding "West" Seattle. Wouldn't the prime restaurateurs be just steps away from my door? What about these touted rockstar chefs?

I whipped out your "Interpreter of Food Desires" phrase for my marketing angle, made a quick call, and a half-hour later we snagged parking on a very sunny, very busy Saturday eve, not far off the cruisey strip plied by motorcycles and convertibles. And, only half a block away from the restaurant. On entering, we were met by Hussein's wife. Her eyes darted among our faces, as though she was hoping to recognize us, to find a familiar look or gesture among us. It was an entrancing moment, her standing there in front of that low table loaded with wine, probing us with her curious eyes as I began to speak, and at that very moment, under his breath, my friend Phill, who was standing behind me, says, "oh, yes," quite convinced now apparently, that this, indeed, was the place to be.

At the table, a window table—a table with a view of a particularly beautiful Seattle sunset over the dusky islands and mountains at the far end of the Sound—Phill says, "I wonder what 'bread salad' is?" As I was explaining this peculiarity, a dish I've only had in Seattle, as "a normal salad, heavily dressed, heavy on the croutons, but the croutons aren't toasted," bread appears on the table, and, of course, as you would imagine, a little dish of Hussein's curious dip.

This time as last, the dip is the same but different, and therefore 'how?' becomes the question (but only in my mind). 'Perhaps it has more oil and less pomegranate,' I wonder, 'or more of that lemony herb?' but in any configuration, as you know, it is unfathomably delicious. We were each clutching the menus with one hand and dipping wildly with the other, when suddenly a salad arrived. Hussein himself brought it, saying, "Very special balsamic, very very special," and then he was gone. Phill's eyebrows went up, Rebecca said, "Wow," and the three of us speculated aloud as to how he knew we wanted—needed—bread and salad. Then we attacked the salad.

"This is always how it is," I say and recommended the creamy fish stew, the pink one that goes over the rice and grain dish that's sweet and nutty; Jewel of the Sea I think it's called. Do you remember it? The first dish we had there? Phill says, "I'm thinking 'lamb'" and Hussein abruptly returns, takes Phill's menu, and says, "You like lamb." Rebecca laughs. Phill orders the lamb. Hussein says, “I make you a curry, a lamb curry, very special.” Phil nods. What else can you do? Rebecca and I order the fish stew. Hussein leaves and the three of us discuss whether it's likely that the table is itself bugged.

We drink wine. Hussein buzzes through the room, charmingly unsettling the other diners, while we eat our bread and salad. He has adopted table-flaming, with a blow-torch, what appears to be a creme brulee. I keep hearing behind me the unsettling sound of pressurized butane, on fire, and directed at food.

You know the rest. The food's brilliant. Hussein continues to arrive suddenly, always as if on queue, asking his accusatory questions with a friendly smile. The wine he recommends is inexpensive and balanced to the table's needs: light enough for the fish, substantial enough for the lamb. As diners, we are relaxed, delighted, lost in time.

Perhaps his only failing that eve was to not push the creme brulee, which one imagines must have been delicately scented with orange and roses, as was that first desert he insisted we had, the one with the ice creams and the delicate, rolled and filled cookie. Sadly, Hussein died this past weekend. A note appeared in the West Seattle Blog from his daughter.

Stories and condolences are piling up. Hussein was greatly loved. As one person put it, “I’m sure the shockwaves are traveling round this globe today, for the loss of our beloved Hussein is just such a shattering blow."

Phoenicia was my favorite restaurant in the world. I would tell people this, and they wouldn't believe me, but I believed. The meals were always magical, and Hussein was always gracious, humble and charming. I looked forward to my business trips to Seattle with the hope I would have the time to be able to go. Each time I went, he asked where I was from, and when I said "Boston", he would say, "you must be a doctor!" And when I brought my daughter with me last time, he gave her the advice to not marry the first man that came along. He was always willing to share some (but not all!) of his culinary secrets with me when I asked.

I blogged about my experience last October. I did find out on my last visit a few months ago that rather than coconut milk, he used cream with very ripe banana for his special seafood bowl -- something I will have to try!

I will miss him, his food, and his spirit.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

In lieu of words

It's been a busy month, what with moving and all. I haven't had much time to write, but have had some time to cook and take pictures. I'll never catch up with the food stories, but here are some of the pictures, with as much as I can remember.

Raspberries from Tyler Ave, courtesy of Christie and Brian. And the mint courtesy of my porch plants. How much simpler can you get?

The first meal cooked at "the Park". Sausages, with some grilled veggies.

What was this?! Quinoa. With grilled veggies. Some olive oil and tomato paste in there as well, and some seasonings I can't remember.

I think this was an early attempt from the first farm share. Cilantro and cukes from the share, with some lettuce. And some leftover brown rice from the very wonderful Chinese restaurant here in Medford.

This was good! And it was today, so I remember! A can of white kidney beans, cucumber, tomato, basil, mint, olive oil, lemon juice, a little tahini. And a Ak Mak cracker.