We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Linda's Layered Cosmopolitan

by Linda

A perfect late afternoon in the garden.
   I fell in love with Cosmopolitans years ago, mostly likely as I recall, having tried the cocktail after becoming a faithful follower of the adventures of the Sex In The City characters... Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha.
   In due time, I learned to make a Cosmo that I liked just about the best of any that have tried, and my "layered" Cosmopolitan has become one of the standards in my cocktail repertoire. My cocktail uses POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice, and when I am making the classic version of my Cosmo, I use POM blended with cranberry juice.
   Depending on the season and what I or my guests are in the mood for, I will also use Absolut vodka flavored with peach or mango, topped off with one of the other variations of POM Wonderful such as POM Cherry. The POM Wonderful in my recipe cannot be substituted with other brands of juice. Regular juice does not contain enough pigment to create the lovely layering effect that makes this cocktail such a show-stopper to serve to your guests.

Products We Love: La Tur

by Michelle
   To further support my claim that Italians have impeccable taste, not that you would disagree, I submit La Tur cheese for your consideration. Hailing from the Piemonte region, the creamy cheese is a blend of three milks: sheep, cow and goat. That fact alone makes it an interesting addition to a well planned cheese plate.
   The buttery consistency will lead the mind to free associate with brie, but La Tur's flavor is more complex, providing a hint of pleasant pungency. La Tur is aged briefly, about two to four weeks. The young cheese likes to play nicely with other foods across a broad range of flavors from cured meats to sweet or savory preserves to an array of pickles. Naturally, fresh or dried fruits and nuts - candied, spiced or plain - can be a first rate supporting cast to the star of the show.
   Faced with so many alluring options, you can feel confident serving La Tur as a component in just about any combination of appetizers, especially artfully stylized antipasti trays. Plus you'll get some well deserved adoration from your friends for introducing them to such a fantastic cheese. Smile sweetly and say thank you (or rather "grazie") and they'll wonder what other secrets you are keeping. 

Pouring a full-bodied Rombauer Vineyards Chardonnay to pair 
with La Tur, strawberries and roasted chicken.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Products We Love: Edmond Fallot Dijon Mustard from France

by Michelle

   Inspired by David Lebovitz's French vinaigrette post, I recently purchased a $15 imported Dijon Mustard from France. I couldn't believe I forked over hard earned money for it. My daughter couldn't believe it either.  
   Maddie had to bear with me during my two minutes of indecision while I weighed the pros and cons of expensive mustard. As my contemplation came to a close, I recall mumbling quietly as if Jay were standing only a few feet away, "This purchase is something you don't have to share with your Dad." Maddie just rolled her eyes to confirm just how lame I truly was in at that moment. I hope in the future those occasions stay at a miminum (but between you and me, I foresee another "incident" right around the corner directly related to blood orange concentrate.)
   I consoled myself post-purchase by rationalizing that a $15 bottle of Dijon mustard would last far longer in my house than a $15 bottle of wine (let's see, perhaps two months versus two or three days by myself or one day if shared with my sister Linda). I instantly felt better. Just like Linda will feel when she reads this paragraph.
   The fancy pants mustard is made by Edmond Fallot, which coincidentally is the same brand that David wrote that he likes best. That's just how it worked out. Williams-Sonoma only had one brand to choose from so I chose it.

  I agree with David. The mustard is fabulous. Since he lives in Paris, Monsieur David is fortunately not paying a premium for the condiment. Also lucky for David, the price of mustard is certainly not the only advantage to living in the City of Light.
   Edmond Fallot is more assertive than domestic brands, almost as if the imported mustard has a bit of horseradish in it for extra bite. All my salad dressings thus far taste noticeably better with the imported mustard. I swear that I'm not trying to make myself feel better. Believe me, it crossed my mind. My dressings really are definitely more flavorful. Let's just say the imported mustard is that little "je ne sais quoi" for making a salad, or a sauce for that matter, more vibrant.
  For two fantastic tried and true salad dressings, you can start here: my interpretation of Jamie Oliver's Proper French Salad dressed with his authentic French Vinaigrette (which looks very similar to David's, just different porportions) and Jay's Mother's Vinaigrette, which is more subtle than the French vinaigrette because the garlic is poached.  
  When you need an alternative to the ubiquitous gift of wine, this special mustard is a unique hostess gift for someone that likes to cook. For a personal touch, remember to include one or two of our recipes for vinaigrettes. To create a hang tag, punch a hole in the card stock and secure it to the top of the crock with a pretty ribbon. A referral to our blog is always appreciated.

P.S. Oh là là, this just in: Bouchon Bistro selected Edmond Fallot as their house mustard. There, that proves it. If chef Thomas Keller likes it, case closed!

Rockin' French Salad with French Vinaigrette

by Michelle

   "Shallots. You almost never see this item in a home kitchen but out in the world they're an essential ingredient. Shallots are one of the things - a basic prep item in every mise-en-place - which make restaurant food taste different from your food. In my kitchen we use 20 pounds a day. You should always have some around for sauces, dressing and sauté items." ~Anthony Bordain, Kitchen Confidential

   A few years back, about this same time of year, I was racking my brain on what dish to bring to a Cajun Potluck. Much to my chagrin, it seemed as if all the "fun" Cajun dishes were already spoken for and I was to be relegated to bring something "boring" like a salad. Or cornbread. Or both. And, that's exactly what happened.
   I accepted my salad and cornbread assignment with reluctance. Ho-hum, I thought. One of the things I like about myself is that I'm not one to mope for long periods of time. Leveraging philosophy learned in art classes, I  decided to look at salad and cornbread with renewed interest. How could I make these two dishes new and interesting? To see each in a whole new light?
   For inspiration, I began combing through my collection of cookbooks. Chef Jamie Oliver - the self-proclaimed "world's biggest lover of salads" - seemed pretty worked up over the demise of the proper French side salad. I liked the connection between a French salad and Cajun food, so that sealed the deal.

   After researching cornbread, I decided to stick with our family's favorite recipe, but instead of baking in a Pyrex dish, I made one and a half times the recipe and selected a large cast iron skillet. I baked the bread right before departing for the party, so the bread stayed nice and warm. Set on the buffet table next to all the Cajun specialties, the scene looked ripped from the pages of Saveur magazine. The new baking technique worked so well that I have continued to make cornbread in my iron skillet from that point on.
   As is my way, I kind of "over did" the salad. The volume increased in the bowl and I fretted about making too much. I doubled the dressing to serve on the side to match the double portion of salad. Good move. At the end of the evening the bowl was completely empty except for a random leaf. The dressing container looked as if it had been licked clean except for a few crusty ribbons clinging to the sides of the bowl. 

   I overhead a guy asking his friend if he had tried the excellent green salad. The dressing was awesome, he said with emphasis. When's the last time you've heard someone raving about a leafy green salad? Especially a dude! Mission accomplished. My salad kicked ass!
   Fortunately, you don't have to wait for a party to make this rockin' French salad, just scale the ingredients to fit the occasion. If you like green beans, I encourage you to take the time to prepare them and add to the salad. Which reminds me, if you swoon over Niçoise Salad like I do, simply sear sushi grade Ahi or Tuna steaks and serve over entrée size portions of this salad. You could go old school (or rather traditional) and serve with canned Albacore tuna. Garnish with sliced hard boiled eggs, boiled red potatoes, capers and briney black olives. Now, as the French would say, "Je crève de fain!"

Rockin' French Salad with French Vinaigrette

   For parties, I double or triple this recipe and serve the dressing on the side. For smaller affairs or family dinners, I dress the salad in the serving bowl. This salad is divine, I kid you not! Yes, I really can get "that excited" over a salad. Although butter lettuce is probably my favorite green, romaine works well in this salad, too.
   An equally great salad, but more mild is my mother-in-law, Joan's leafy green salad. A key difference in her recipe is that the garlic is poached resulting in a subtle and engaging flavor.
   This recipe is adapted from Jamie's Kitchen by Jamie Oliver (Hyperion 2002). For a fun read, check out David Lebovitz's blog post detailing how to make French Vinaigrette zee French way.

1/4 cup white wine vinegar, champagne vinegar or sherry vinegar
2 to 3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds, or minced: your call
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard, such as Edmond Fallot
9 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil
about 1/2 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 heads Butter or Boston lettuce, or a nice leafy green, such as Romaine, or a mix of both
1 head curly endive, if you can find it
1 bunch fresh chives, chopped
1 handful fresh parsley, minced
1 handful fresh chervil, if you can find it, leaves picked
a little taragon, chopped, is also nice

Additional Vegetables:
one pound green beans, shocked
peeled and grated carrots
sliced radishes
grape or cherry tomatoes, left whole or cut in half
leftover grilled corn, cut from the cob

Cheeses and Garnishes:
crumbled Gorgonzola or shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
homemade croutons

1. If using green beans, fill a large pot half way with water and bring to a boil. Cook the beans in salted water until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer the beans to an ice water bath for two minutes to preserve color. Then remove to a colander to drain. Set aside. Like Jamie, I prefer my beans at room temperature. 
2. Combine the vinegar and the sliced shallots in a small bowl. Let sit for 10-15 minutes or up to an hour.

3. When ready to make the dressing, remove 1/4 cup vinegar from the shallots. Gently squeeze excess vinegar from the shallots. Any extra shallot flavored vinegar can be reserved for another use. The pickled shallots are added to the salad for an extra flavor punch. In a bowl, combine the vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until the dressing emulsifies. Taste the dressing and add more salt and pepper, if needed.
4. Wash the salad greens and dry them with towels or in a salad spinner. Please note, if you are using curly endive, remove and discard the bitter dark green leaves. Add half the shallots to the green leaves, reserving half to garnish the top of the salad. Toss the greens and add-ins with the salad dressing. Plate servings if serving a salad course or pass the bowl and let each person serve themselves.

5. Sometimes I compose the salad and "add-ins" on a large platter or bowl and serve the dressing on the side. This works well for large parties. More often than not, I toss all the ingredients in a bowl and serve family-style. Whether dressed-up or dressed down, this salad is a winner!

Salad of Leafy Greens with Joan's Vinaigrette

by Michelle

   My dear mother-in-law, Joan passed away two years ago leaving a legacy of wonderful memories and a treasure trove of keepsake recipes. I always enjoyed sitting at her table and sharing meals. From my first introduction, my in-laws always made to feel as if I was part of their family. Joan was a gracious, beautiful and uniquely private person.
   Our common interest in cooking buoyed our relationship that spanned twenty years. Joan did not have secret recipes. She was always pleased to share her knowledge. Before I had a laptop, I patiently copied her special recipes by hand on to 3x5 note cards.

Joan dressed to the nines for an event at The Stevens Hotel, Chicago.
   Joan tossed this dressing with red leaf lettuce and garnished individual servings with homemade croutons and toasted pinenuts. Butter lettuce also works well as does any soft, mild green or field mix. The salad is lovely with candied pecans or toasted walnuts swapped for the pinenuts. In the right season, thinly sliced apples or pears are amazing flavor builders as is shaved fennel. Sweet grapefruit might be interesting or blood oranges peeled and sliced horizontally into gorgeous thin flowers.

   As far as cheese is concerned think Italian. Our family is pro gorgonzola. Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano is a nice alternative for those that don't care for the crumbly blue veined cheese. We never seem to tire of either option. Or for anything Italian, for that matter. 
   I'm not sure why, but we typically pass over tomatoes for this salad. Same with Caesar. Even though we adore tomatoes, they just don't always seem to be the right fit here. If I were to add tomatoes, I would likely choose a small tomato. A yellow pear tomato jumps to mind. Taken from the vine, and still warm from the late afternoon sun, I could be enticed to slice a few in half and throw into the mix at the last minute.

Salad of Leafy Greens with Joan's Vinaigrette

   When garlic is poached, as it is for this recipe, it loses its assertive bite and the result is a pleasing, mellow flavor that plays nicely with the other ingredients in this recipe. I typically serve this salad as a first course. It's delicate and palette pleasing. Perhaps it could even be described as gourmet. I think you will really love it.
   If you are looking for an equally delicious salad that is a little more assertive, try our Rockin' French salad with French Vinaigrette. Either way, you really cannot go wrong.

4 large cloves garlic or 5-6 medium cloves, peeled
3/4 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard, such as Edmond Fallot 
1/4 cup white wine or champagne vinegar
1/4 tsp white pepper
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

soft lettuces such as Red Leaf, Boston, Butter, or a mild field greens mix
store bought or homemade croutons

nuts, such as candied pecans, toasted walnuts and toasted pinenuts
cheese, such as crumbled Gorgonzola or shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
fruits, such as peeled and cored thinly sliced apples or pears, sweet grapefruit or blood oranges
vegetables, such as shaved fennel (use a mandoline), or halved yellow pear tomatoes
freshly ground black pepper

Mash the sea salt and boiled garlic to a fine paste.
1. In a small sauce pan, boil garlic for 10-12 minutes, drain and transfer to a medium bowl. While still warm, mash garlic and salt together with a fork or pestle to make a smooth paste. Add Dijon mustard and mix very well. Whisk in vinegar and white pepper and then slowly drizzle oil, whisking continuously until emulsified. The dressing keeps well for about a week in the refrigerator. Just let it sit on the counter for about 20 minutes to allow olive oil to soften. Shake or stir before using. Yield: 1 cup
A large head of delicate butter lettuce is perfect for this salad.
2. I usually compose this salad by tossing the greens and the dressing together then plating individual portions. Garnish each serving as desired.

The salad as a main course paired with roasted chicken and tomatoes. Yes, some self-imposed "tomato rules" are made to be broken.

Croutons for Salads

by Michelle

   Sure you can buy croutons if you want to feel like the victim of a pickpocket. I recently experienced sticker shock from a package of gourmet croutons at a local specialty grocer. Seven dollars for a tiny package of highly seasoned stale bread? Ridiculous. "This is the price for poor planning," I thought crabbily to myself as I contemplated other options. Sometimes a gourmet crouton is the best option. Even if it is expensive. I vowed to be better prepared in the future because I know this to be true: croutons are a breeze to make. No special equipment or skill required.
   Croutons can be prepared from fresh bread but more often than not whipping up a batch of croutons is a satisfying way to make use of stale bread. My favorite croutons are made from savory breads such as rosemary or asiago. French, sourdough or a hearty peasant bread are great choices, too.

 Croutons for Salads

Try these croutons on your favorite salad or on leafy greens tossed with Jay's Mom's Vinaigrette. Another great choice is Caesar Salad or Rockin' French Salad with French Vinaigrette.

3 cups fresh or stale bread cubes (about 1/3-inch thick)
about 4 Tbsps garlic oil
2-3 tsps Herbs de Provence or Italian Seasoning mix
3-4 Tbsps finely grated parmesan cheese

Cubes of La Brea Bakery's Rosemary and Olive Oil Bread.
1. Place the cubed bread on a cookie sheet and place on the middle rack in the oven. Set the temperature to about 275°F. Bake, tossing the cubes every so often with a spatula until crunchy and fragrant - about 30 minutes.
2. In a large skillet, heat the oil until very warm. Sometimes I add minced garlic from the garlic oil, sometimes I don't. The choice is yours. Add the croutons to the oil and quickly stir until the croutons are coated in the oil. Mix in the dried herbs. Turn off the heat and mix in the parmesan cheese.
3. Transfer the croutons to a bowl to cool. Store in an airtight container.

Garlic Oil

by Michelle

   This recipe is incredibly easy to prepare and provides both garlic oil and minced garlic to be used in recipes over the course of a week. Its a time-saving strategy that works for me when I'm cooking up a storm during the holidays or in the days leading up to a party. When the cooking load isn't so heavy, I scale down the porportions to fit my needs. 
    Measurement wise, a good rule of thumb is that 1 medium clove of garlic equals 1/2 teaspoon minced.

Garlic Oil

This recipe can easily be quartered or halved. It keeps well in the refrigerator for about a week.

1 large head fresh garlic
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Break the head of the garlic apart and remove the papery husks from each clove. Mince the garlic using your great knife skills, or even easier... in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, with the machine running drop the cloves through the feed tube. The machine will do the hard work for you in about 15 seconds. The garlic will yield a generous quarter-cup of minced garlic.
2. Transfer the minced garlic to a covered glass dish and add the oil. Stir and cover. Keeps well in the refrigerator for about a week. Use the oil and minced garlic as needed in recipes like salad dressings, marinades, sauces and for garlic bread and croutons.

Products We Love: Atlas Pepper Mill

by Michelle

  This mill grinds peppercorns. Why do I state the obvious, you might ask? Because most commercial pepper mills today actually mash the peppercorns which prohibits the spice from fully releasing its flavor potential. Oh dear, she exclaims, we wouldn't want that! Everything, afterall, should have the opportunity to live up to its full potential. On a more serious note...
 The mills have been made in Greece for the past 300 years. Some traditions are made to be broken, but I like this one. I appreciate that it works like a champ and has a history, but what I think I like most is how handsome it is. Thank goodness I don't have to feel shallow over choosing beauty over function; I get them both in one tool that is designed to last a lifetime or two.
   Beauty does come with a hefty price tag (by pepper mill standards.) I purchased mine many years ago from Amazon for $65.00 plus shipping. When I looked this morning, the price is still roughly the same. The mill is available in three colors: copper, brass and chrome. I am partial to anything made of copper, so for me the copper wins hands down. Linda owned hers first. As usual, Linda was and is quite the trailblazer in the gadget department. Juliette will probably find one gently used at a thrift shop for five dollars (remind me sometime to tell you about her Vitamix find).
   The company also makes salt mills in the same general design. One or both would make a wonderful gift for just about anyone including a bride and groom. You don't have to be a chef to appreciate the taste and eye appeal of freshly ground pepper or to have a beautiful and useful tool on display in your kitchen.

P.S. My pepper mill always stands in the little decorative dish as pictured to catch the stray pepper that would otherwise litter my countertop (which Linda also did first).  

Easily Grated Parmesan Cheese

by Michelle

The easiest way to grate a block of cheese is employing a food processor.

Using a large, sturdy knife, cut one block of parmesan cheese into smallish, fairly uniform cubes.

   Add the parmesan cubes to a food processor bowl fitted with a steel blade. Process for about 3 minutes, or longer, until the parmesan is finely grated. Transfer to a covered bowl and store in the refrigerator. Keeps well for about two to three weeks.
   Grating cheese at home tastes far better than anything out of a can which includes not only the cheese but cellulose as an anti-caking agent. Try the grated parmesan in Caesar salad, stirred into homemade croutons, sprinkled on your favorite pasta dish or as a garnish for garlic bread.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday Best Banana Bread

by Michelle

   You might be surprised to find out that I make all my quick breads and biscuits in a food processor. I have found that the food processor method makes a nice high loaf with a tender crumb.
   The first domestic use food processor was introduced to America in 1973 by Cuisinart. Since that time, I cannot think of another kitchen tool that has been as revolutionary and versatile as the food processor. It slices, dices, chops, kneads, blends and purées. If mine broke tomorrow, I would run, not walk, to replace it immediately.
    In 1980, Abbey Mandel authored the nationally best selling cookbook Cuisinart Classroom. In the cookbook, Abbey provides the formula for converting your favorite recipes to the food processor method. First you mix your dry ingredients in the workbowl, and add your nuts to chop, if using. Transfer the dry ingredients to a bowl and reserve. Should your recipe call for sifted flour, simply remove one tablespoon of flour from each measured cup.

Over-ripe bananas signal that it is time to make banana bread.
   The next step is to process the sugar and the eggs together, then you add the butter or oil and process again. The liquid is combined and quickly added to the wet ingredients through the feed tube. Finally, the dry ingredients are added to the workbowl, and very briefly - using on and off pulses - are blended until the flour just disappears. The food processor helps you not to overwork the batter.
   This batter lends itself to all sorts of shapes and sizes from muffins to traditional loaves. I prefer longer and narrower loaves with slices cut generously. Muffins make delicious mid morning snacks tucked into lunch boxes. Our household always seems happier when homemade bread is being pulled from the oven. Store bought will never compare to a homemade quick bread made with care and love in your kitchen.

Sunday Best Banana Bread

   It's just as easy to makes two loaves of bread as it is one (as long as you have enough bananas.) The best approach is to prepare the dry ingredients for each loaf of bread and transfer to individual bowls. The best part is that you do not have to wash the food processor's work bowl between batches of batter.
   The loaves freeze beautifully wrapped well in aluminum foil. Or if you want to be a hero, give the welcome gift of a homemade loaf of this beautiful and tasty bread to a friend.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp double-acting baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup walnut pieces, optional
2 to 3 large, ripe bananas (about 13 ounces)
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tsps vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1/2 cup chocolate chips or butterscotch chips, optional
Spray oil, such as Bak-Klene

Special Equipment
Food Processor
A standard 7-cup loaf pan or muffin pan
I prefer to use a loaf pan that I found at IKEA that measures 11.5"Lx4.25"Wx2.5"D

1. Position the rack to the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 350ºF.
2. In the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, add the first five ingredients and process until the nuts are chopped, about 10 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and set aside.
3. To the now empty workbowl, add chunks of peeled banana. Process the bananas for about one minute.

Starting the second loaf - no need to clean the bowl between batches.
4. Add the sugar and the eggs to the banans and process for one minute.
5. Add one stick of room temperature butter that has been cut into quarters and process for one minute.
6. With the machine running, pour the buttermmilk and vanilla through the feed tube.
7. Prepare your loaf pan by spraying with a non-stick oil spray and lighting coating with flour or use Bak-klene.
8. Add the reserved dry ingredients to the workbowl and blend with the wet ingredients by turning the food processor on and off 3 to 5 times until the flour just disappears. Do not overprocess the batter.

9. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. A regular loaf pan will need to bake about 1 hour. The long bread pan that I use takes about 45 minutes. Muffins need 20-25 minutes.
10. Remove the loaves from the oven to a rack to cool for 10 minutes, then turn the bread out and continue to cool.

Products We Love: Vanilla Bean Paste

by Michelle

   I confess. Vanilla Bean Paste was not on my radar until two weeks ago. Linda gave me this jar as part of a bag full of goodies that she surprised Juliette and me with during our "sistercation" in Las Vegas. 
   I packed it in my luggage and home it came with me. Unfortunately, Juliette put hers in her purse and the tasty concoction was confiscated by security at the airport because the jar was larger than 2.5 ounces and not in a quart size ziplock bag. Juliette was crushed. I felt bad because I know better with all the traveling I do, but didn't see Juliette packing her things due to my own haste to get ready to go home.
   As you can see from the photo, the paste is not quite a paste but a thick liquid. One tablespoon vanilla bean paste equals one vanilla bean or one tablespoon of extract. When added to recipes it tastes as if you went to the trouble of prepearing a vanilla bean. Try it, you'll like it!

P.S. For those folks that like to bake (like me), this would be a great gift. Thank you, Linda... you are the best!

Products We Love: Bak-Klene

by Michelle

   Baking usually requires coating a pan with butter or oil, sprinkling lightly with flour and then tapping out the excess. More than once I've had part of a bundt cake stick to the beveled side of the pan. Talk about heartbreaking. I wanted to find a better solution. 
   I stumbled upon Bak-Klene at my local Williams-Sonoma store. The staff oohed and aahed about it. The product is a blend of oil and wheat starch, basically combining the fat and flour together. At a whopping $7 per can, I wasn't so sure. The ladies promised I could return it for a full refund if I was not completely satisfied. Trying is believing.
   The downside to the product is that the oil is hydrogenated. The upside is that it has a long shelf life. I don't use it for everything, but when I've made something special and want to avoid potential disaster, I reach for the Bak-Klene to ensure a happy ending.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Super Special Spicy Pickled Shrimp

by Michelle

   If something can be overdone, I'll over do it. My husband will back me up on my confession without hesitation. I like spectacle. Grand gestures. Wow statements. Although I admire minimilism and can appreciate the simple things in life, I definitely lean towards the "more is more" compulsion. Throwing a party is an opportunity for me to pull out all the stops. 
   When I was single, I would spend days preparing an elaborate meal. I would treat my family to multiple courses with nearly everything on the menu made from scratch. Once I was married and had my daughter, I still found time to entertain and simplify where I could, but even then, my true nature would show itself by evidence of abundance on the table. 
   In the past decade as my life became increasingly hectic, I adopted a divide and conquer approach to planning get togethers with friends where everyone agreeably contributes to the meal. We all share the load and the laughs. We have exchanged some fantastic recipes along the way. Items that can be made a day or two ahead of time and travel well are highly desirable like this tantalizing recipe for shrimp.

Super Special Spicy Pickled Shrimp

   Shrimp is highly perishable. Once it has been out for 3 or 4 hours, it must be pitched and shall not be returned to the refrigerator to be eaten the next day. Fortunately, shrimp are always popular, and in my experience rarely are there any left over. Better to refill a bowl of pickled shrimp then to put out the entire batch unless you are serving a large crowd.
   Rifs on this appetizer would be to add diced red and yellow bell peppers. Some chopped celery might be nice as well as some capers thrown in for additional flavor. Crumbled feta could be interesting as well as a generous handful of pitted kalamata olives.
   This recipe can certainly be halved. Because the shrimp can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 72 hours, I like to reserve a portion that will be the center of a meal in a day or two whether it is to be the star of a main course salad or served as a topping on pesto pasta or homemade pizza. For this recipe, I think it is wise to remove the tails so the shrimp are easy to eat with a fork.

4 pounds uncooked shrimp, deveined with shells and tails removed
4  to 6 heads Belgium endive, red or green, or a mix of both - optional

3 Tbsps whole grain Dijon mustard
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup white wine vinegar or white vinegar
the zest and juice of 2 large lemons
1 cup vegetable oil, or 1/2 cup olive oil and 1/2 cup vegetable oil or avocado oil
3 Tbsps agave syrup or honey
1 head garlic (about 10-12 cloves), finely minced
1 yellow onion, minced, or 5 to 6 shallots sliced into thin rings
1 Tbsp sea salt
1 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp turmeric
2 tsps dried dill
1-1/2 tsps celery seed
1 heaping tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp ground black pepper
3-4 bay leaves

Special Equipment:
Mesh spoon

1. If you have time, brine the shrimp for a minimum of 30 minutes or up to 60.
2. In a mixing bowl, add the whole grain mustard, the vinegar, lemon zest and lemon juice. Slowly whisk in the oil(s) until emulsified. Whisk in the rest of the marinade ingredients. Set aside, or chill until ready to combine the marinade and the shrimp.
3. To boil shrimp: Bring 8 quarts of water to a boil. Near the stove, prepare a large bowl of ice water. Drain the shrimp and discard the brine. Add half the shrimp to the boiling water and stir frequently. The shrimp will cook quickly so keep an eye on them. As soon as the shrimp begin to curl and turn pink, about 1 minute, the little guys are done. Quickly transfer the shrimp, using a large mesh spoon, to the ice water bath. Let the shrimp cool 2 to 3 minutes and then transfer to a large container with a lid. When the water returns to a boil again, repeat the process with the remaining uncooked shrimp.

4. Pour the marinade over the cooled shrimp. Gently stir. Refrigerate for a minimum of 8 hours and up to 72 hours.

5. To prepare the endive, cut off the bottom core or the endive and separate the leaves. Rinse leaves and dry well. This can be done several hours in advance and chill until ready. Serve endive in a bowl alongside the shrimp. Guests can scoop up some of the shrimp into the endive leaves for a refreshing bite, without requiring a plate and a fork.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Firefighters of Greenville, CA and Fallin' Off The Bone Baby Back Ribs

My Traveling Tales by Linda

“A little bit of guitar
A little bit of truck
A little bit of hound dog
And a little bit of luck…”
   ~Craig Morgan, song "A Little Bit of Life"

Dearest Sisters,
   I am just back from my visit to see your nephew Jordan, aka Assistant Captain of the Plumas National Forest, Engine 22 United States Forest Service. Crikey…that is one long title. His other handle is Flash. Remember a few years back when he told Maddie that his middle name was Danger, and she believed him? Well, this time he told a woman who wanted his name for an award that his name was Flash, so he has a certificate awarded to Flash Townsend hanging over his desk. Too funny! I thought you all would be anxious for the updates about our Jordy, and how I fared on my weekend trip to see him in his mountain home of Greenville. So here's the lowdown on our firefightin' mountain man.

   The drive getting to Greenville is just beautiful...every mile is scenic. In the five hours that it took me to get there I never had to take a freeway. I drove the back roads headed to Calistoga and then on to Lake County. From Clearlake, I drove to Williams and then to Butte Valley, before I finally connected with Highway 70 going north. The rest of the drive up Highway 70 winds through the Feather River Canyon. The river runs fast through the canyon with all the snow melt this Spring, and as you gain elevation the landscape gets increasingly dramatic with myriad waterfalls cascading off the giant boulders and then running down the steep sides of the rocky hills, and finally pouring into the rapids on the river. Long tunnels were blasted through solid rock to allow not only for auto travel, but the trains that run alongside Highway 70 as well. 

Two views of the Feather River.
   The area is also accented with photogenic suspension and trestle bridges. I longed to stop and take photo after photo, but the road is narrow, and unfortunately doesn't provide for many safe places to pull over and shoot your heart out. Greenville is a historic and quaint town of 2,000 residents that is perched at about 4,000 feet in elevation. It is situated in the stunning Plumas County in a valley surrounded by snow covered mountains for most of the year. Lakes, conifers and logging roads abound. Jordan, as you both know, fell in love with the area when he became a Plumas Hotshot over ten years ago now. I was excited to see the house that he purchased and has spent the last year renovating.
   I found Jordan's house easy enough, it is on Main Street after all, but Señor Captain was nowhere to be found. However, his dogs, Emma and Jake were home, and I thought that they might bust through the large living room window trying to get at me. Having had to pee for several hours, I really would have liked to go into the house, but with the ferocious fangs flying inside I had no choice but to retreat to my car and watch little snow flurries start to come down. So much for being a little early. Jordan surprised me by walking up on foot about 30 minutes later, just when I was sure that I was starting to reabsorb my "water".

      Little did I know that he had been just a few steps down the street hanging at the local saloon called The Way Station. So much for neither of us having cell phones. Jordan introduced me to Emma and Jake. Emma is a beautiful lab and pit bull mixed breed that Jordan rescued from the Chico Humane Society about 3 years ago. She is a sweetie. Jake is Jordan's newest canine addition to the family. He is a Catahoula hound, and he is an adorable little terror. Still in the puppy phase, he has proved hard to house break, and he still likes to chew on everything.
   Jordan informed me that the firefighters had all been "furloughed" that day due to the budget crisis in Washington. His boss had told him to go home at noon until further notice. (The federal funding came through over the weekend, as we all know by now, a government shutdown was narrowly avoided, and he was back to work on Monday), but taking this turn of events in stride, Jordan had headed to the local saloon with friends to have some drinks, await the decision of the fates and the arrival of his mother.

   After showing me around his home sweet home, Jordan suggested that we go have cocktails at the bar just down the street (well I had a cocktail...he had a "man-drink") where he could introduce me to his friends. I think I was the first person in a very long while (perhaps ever), to order a Cosmo in The Way Station. My ordering of this cocktail caused Jordan no end of amusement. My furloughed firefighter had been sipping whiskey since the early hours of the afternoon, but as it turns out, Mary, the bartender makes a mean Cosmo, and all was well in my world.
   One of the great things about a very small town is that it is possible to walk everywhere. After my two Cosmo limit, we walked through the softly falling snow to have a delicious prime rib dinner at the Main Street Dinner House, where one of Jordan's friends is a chef. One of the nice things about small towns is that the tab for two delicious prime rib dinners including soup, salad, baked potato and a very modest corkage fee came to just $52... nice! Sharing a cozy dinner with my handsome son while gazing at snowflakes dancing in the air through the picture window behind him... priceless.

Emma and Jake are out in front of the truck for their morning constitutional.
   The next morning Jordan showed me how he runs his dogs... Greenville-style. While I, with some difficulty, hoisted myself into Jordan's very tall truck, he loaded Jake and Emma into the back seat. Then with Craig Morgan playing on the radio we took off on Highway 89 for a local logging road. At the base of Old Haun Road, Jordan let the dogs out to run free alongside the truck. They knew the drill, because they took off at breakneck speed up the road, stopping only to take a roll in the snow, drink from pools along the roadside or to cavort among the trees. It is certainly a dog's life in Greenville.

Grillmaster Steve working his magic on Tri Tip.
   On Saturday afternoon, Jordan and I hosted a group of his friends and work buddies over for a grilled tri-tip and sturgeon dinner. I had packed an ice chest full of goodies for Jordan from Whole Foods. I brought lots of meat for his freezer, and my co-worker William had given me a beautiful piece of sturgeon that he had caught earlier in the week in the Sacramento Delta which I had frozen for the occasion. Jordan assured me that my grilling skills (which I consider to be more than adequate, as you know) would not be needed because his friend Steve, aka Grillmaster, was coming over to take care of the playing-with-fire duties. Jordan built a huge blaze in his fireplace, again…Greenville-style, using a drip can with a mixture of diesel and gasoline. No kindling needed in this neck of the woods.

   When the fire was nice and hot, I placed foil-wrapped potatoes and loaves of garlic bread along the perimeter of the fire, so they could slowly cook while I put out appetizers and made a big batch of margaritas in a plastic bucket that had once contained cookies from the Solvang Bakery. Note to self...Jordan could use a pitcher. The herbed chèvre and flat breads were a big hit with his friends, but the olive tapenade that I brought was pronounced "too salty", and was barely touched. Once I had chili heating in the crock pot, all I had left to do was sip margaritas, and photograph Jordan and friends to my heart's content. Grillmaster Steve was indeed very adept, and the tri tip and sturgeon were cooked to perfection. What a feast we had!

   Sunday arrived, and Jordan and I were invited to watch the end of the Masters Golf Tournament at his friends' cabin at Indian Falls. This sounded like a great idea to me, because Nolan, Kevin and Grillmaster Steve were promising baby back ribs. Not a huge fan of golf, the guys helped the time fly by with their interesting perspective and commentary. They were all rooting for Tiger Woods, because he was the only American player. I have still not forgiven Tiger just yet, so I rooted for the Irish guy. In the end the guy from South Africa won. Kevin and Steve got my seal of approval for how to prepare and grill ribs. They began with a dry rub, braised the ribs in the oven on a low temp for a couple of hours, and then finished them on the grill with barbeque sauce. The guys ended the day by tossing a football around.

Tuck in to a hearty breakfast at Anna's Cafe.
   Monday morning came too soon, and it was time for me to head back to Guerneville and for Jordan to return to work. We took the dogs for a last “run”, before I kissed Jordan goodbye. I stopped at Anna’s Café for a hearty hot breakfast on my way out of town. Michelle, I am hoping that you and Maddie can come out for a trip to the mountains this summer. Of course it would be wonderful if we could tear Hoolietta away from the Guadalupe Baking Company for a few days, but I won’t hold my breath. Jordan sends his love to you both, as do I.
   Ever your Linda Lou

Braised Then Grilled Baby Back Ribs

   Baby back ribs are my favorite ribs for grilling. Michelle and I experimented with St. Louis Ribs when she was here, and we didn't like them nearly as much. Baby backs are more money, but if you are going to spend an entire afternoon braising and then grilling, you may as well spend a little extra and have rib perfection.
   I always use purchased BBQ Sauce because I can get great pre-made ones at Whole Foods. I really like Daddy Sam's or Everett and Jones, which is a local product for me. Feel free to make your own best sauce, or jazz up an average store-bought sauce, as I saw Grillmaster Steve do in Greenville, with hot sauce, honey, lime and herbs.
   This technique allows for great results without the use of a smoker, and the finished product are ribs that are literally "fallin' off the bone", something which I have found many folks claim about their ribs, but do not actually achieve (you know who you are).

2 racks or more of pork baby back ribs, figure 4 ribs per person

Fuego Rub from Chevys and RioBravo FreshMex Cookbook (10 Speed Press, 2000):
2 Tbsps paprika (sweet or smoked or half of each)
1 tsp cayenne
1 Tbsp sea salt
1 tsp ground white pepper
1 Tbsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp granulated garlic
1 Tbsp chile powder
1 Tbsp dried oregano

Barbecue Sauce:
Store-bought (see intro above for recommendations), or this family recipe from chef extraordinaire Rick Bayless is excellent and quite easy. Rick's folks owned a barbecue joint called the Hickory House in Oklahoma City that had a good run for nearly 40 years before closing its doors in 1986 under new management. The history of the restaurant and recipes were featured in Saveur magazine.

2 cups ketchup
3/4 cup water
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
2-3 Tbsps cider vinegar
1-2 tsps of the spice rub (above)
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
sea salt to taste

1. To make the spice mix: Combine first 8 ingredients together in a small bowl, mixing well. Makes about 1/2 cup. Leftover spice can be kept in a tightly sealed jar for a couple months.

2. To make the barbecue sauce: Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer over medium-low to low heat, as required to maintain a gentle simmer for 30 minutes. Cool, then store in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to one month. Makes about 3 cups.

3. To prep the ribs: Start with one large half sheet pan. Tear off two long pieces of foil and lay them on top of the sheet pan so that they overlap by several inches on the sides, and are long enough to wrap the ends back around to the top. Lay two racks of baby back ribs on the sheet with the meaty side up.
4. Sprinkle dry rub on each rack and rub well being careful not to tear the foil. Then seal up the foil around the racks in a loose envelope that is completely sealed (this allows the ribs to braise in the seasoned juice). Bake in a 280 degree oven for about 2.5 hours. No need to turn or do anything else. Easy!

5. Finishing the ribs on the grill: Steve's recommendation goes for me as well, when it comes to finally putting the ribs on the grill. The ribs should be very tender at the end of the cooking time in the oven. You will need to use care in transferring the ribs to the grill, so that the racks stay intact and do not pull apart. Do not uncover the ribs until they are ready to go on the grill (unless you are cooling and refrigerating overnight - see note below). I like to use my charcoal grill for this, because it adds flavor.
   When you are ready, pour the accumulated fat and juices off the sheet pan. I lightly brush the backside of the racks with sauce, and then place that side down on a hot grill first, but not directly over the fire. Indirect heat is best.Total cooking time will be roughly 10 minutes, just enough to apply two to three layers of sauce to each side, and to brown up the ribs and thicken the sauce. Remove from the grill when satisfied with the results.
   The ribs are delicious served with loaded baked potatoes or Our Family's Potato Salad, or Grandma's Best Macaroni Salad or Coleslaw - so many options. Ranch beans or baked beans and garlic bread are nice additions to the plate. To wash it all down, the standards work here: a hearty red wine, beer or our favorite margaritas.

P.S. The ribs can be braised the day before, cooled and stored in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, let the ribs sit out at room temperature for about 60 minutes until ready to throw on the grill.

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