Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Thai-Style Ground Meat

Back in France, we're back to tightening the belt a bit again: all that homemade ice cream means that I need to watch what and when I eat; all that shopping (and not working) means that we need to work on making the most of our budget. This recipe was nice in both respects: it's a light dish that uses fairly inexpensive staple ingredients.

 Ground turkey isn't easy to come by in France, so I rescued some ground pork from the freezer and added it to the ground veal pictured. Otherwise, I followed the recipe fairly closely. It's super simple and fast to make: you make a quick sauce with soy sauce, fish sauce, lime zest and juice, and a bit of sugar. You then brown some ground turkey or your favorite ground meat and add some minced onion (the white part of a scallion), garlic, ginger, and chili. Add the sauce along with a large handful of chopped basil and a finely sliced scallion, and you're done. I would get your sides (we had rice and peas) ready first because this stir-fry really takes just a few minutes from start to finish. I saved a few of the aromatics and a bit of sauce for some scrambled eggs for Julia, and she seemed to enjoy it.

Agreed, it doesn't look like much, but it tastes really good. The chili I used was not very spicy, so we used a bit of siricha to spice it up. Otherwise, the flavors are balanced and clean, so that even though this is a hot meal, it's nice for summer. A great meal to come home to.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Fresh Peach Buttermilk Ice Cream

My California Cooking Adventure continued in Livermore, home of Dad and Sharmyn and a whole lot of delicious seasonal produce. I decided that July could be closed out with some ice cream, after all those salads. One problem with this plan, however, was that Dad and Sharmyn only had an old-fashioned hand-cranked ice cream maker, and I am rather a lazy ice cream maker.

Fortunately, that problem was solved in that Sharmyn and Dad do not object to doing some hand cranking. So I bought some buttermilk (why can you only buy half-gallons of buttermilk here??) and rock salt and got busy. First up: (barely) cook some peaches (here I used white nectarines) with a bit of sugar and lemon. That gets puréed and refrigerated for later.

Then you make a brown-sugar custard and add some buttermilk. And then, if you're me, you allow your daughter to convince you a half-recipe will not be enough (it would have been...), so you go through the whole darned process once again. Refrigerate.

Hours later, you dig out the old-fashioned ice cream maker and hand it to professional crankers to freeze the custard. A half-hour or so later, you swirl in the peach purée and get ready to enjoy the tart peachy creaminess.
I liked this a lot, but I believe the peach flavor could be more dominant. I think this is because I didn't have enough peaches for a full recipe, and they were the more mildly-flavored white nectarines. So the brown sugar and buttermilk flavors came through more strongly, though I don't see that as a bad thing, necessarily. To me it tasted like frozen yogurt. If you make this, I would use plenty of yellow peaches, preferably on the almost-shrivelled side. You won't regret it. 
In fact, Dad and Sharmyn so enjoyed their homemade ice cream that they bought an ice-cream insert for the Kitchenaid and have been cranking out quarts and quarts of delicious stuff.

Shrimp Scampi with (no) Pernod

This post begins my reports on my California Cooking Adventure: this one in San Diego at my sister Alicia's house. I gave her the choice between shrimp and blueberry tea cake, and we were all happy with her choice.

The afternoon I made this was a busy one: we went to La Jolla, looking at the sea lions, downtown, and the UCSD campus. It was already on the late side when we went to Whole Foods and picked up some key groceries for this dish. Since Melissa Clark allows for many different variations in the recipe, I decided to skip the fennel and Pernod and use the basil we already had and the white wine we bought (and would drink with the meal).

The scampi goes together in a flash: you make a quick butter-garlic-white wine sauce, cook it down a bit, and then add shrimp and herbs. That's it--and it's all that's necessary for a delicious dish. We devoured it with a somewhat spicy Israeli couscous dish and, I believe, a salad. It's an elegant meal that comes together in minutes, which makes it a great back-pocket recipe.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cucumber Salad with Almonds and Shiso

I made this salad out of what my grandmother would call "sheer cussedness". It wasn't necessary, it wasn't even wanted, and yet I made it. I made it during a week that was a blur of trips to Paris, miles walked, sights seen, crêpes eaten, family events caught up on. We cooked some fantastic and simple meals together, but this salad didn't really fit in to any of them. Still, I was not about to let the cucumber I had stubbornly bought go to waste. So one evening when the others were taking a bike trip around Paris, Claire and I stayed home and ate frittata (to use up leftovers) and cucumber salad. Now that's sheer cussedness (with some laziness thrown in for good measure...)

The salad is pretty simple; even so, I made a few adjustments. I didn't have any slivered almonds, so I sliced some of the roasted unsalted almonds in my freezer. I also wasn't willing to cross town to buy enough shiso to make one tablespoon, so I chopped up some arugula and also added a bit of cilantro and mint.

And the final salad? It's certainly not terrible: I ate a large helping that night and another one today at lunch (and once Julia discovered the rest, she powered through the lot). I like the almonds in it, and it has an interesting Asian flair. But I wouldn't make it again because 1) cucumbers aren't my favorite vegetable and 2) the rest of the family doesn't really go for sesame oil. But if you like those two ingredients, I would try this, maybe with a bit of chili paste or red pepper flakes to add even more interest. But don't force yourself: as my friend pointed out to me when I suggested making this to go with dinner, there are plenty of other good cucumber recipes out there.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Corn Salad with Avocados and Lime

When I first offered corn on the cob to my Franco-German husband Sami, he looked somewhat horrified. "What's this? We give this to pigs in Europe!" Sure, he was used to canned corn in everything from salad to pizza, but on the cob? Not so much. Now he'll eat good sweet corn, but he doesn't search it out.
All this to say that corn on the cob, and especially good corn, is not the easiest thing to find here in France. Fortunately, I live in a town with a lot of foreigners, and there are vendors at the market who cater to our strange tastes. Thus I was able to buy (kind of mediocre) corn at the "special price" of three for 3 Euros!

But that was the most difficult part about making this delicious salad. I began by marinating a couple of scallions and a clove of chopped garlic in the juice of two limes and some salt for about half an hour (while I briefly cooked the corn and fixed the main course: macaroni and cheese). This toned down the raw onion/garlic bite quite a bit.
I then chopped up a large handful of cherry tomatoes and cut the corn off the cob. Those went into the salad bowl to wait until dinner was almost ready.

  I then went to cut up what turned out to be the Avocados of My Discontent. It's a shame that avocados, as expensive as they are, can be such a crapshoot.

But I salvaged quite a bit from them, and added them to the salad along with a bit of olive oil and some chopped (frozen) cilantro. And there I had a delicious salad with sweetness and crunch along with the tart bite of lime offset by the creamy avocados. I think that if I made this again, I might add a good pinch of red pepper flakes or even chopped chipotle peppers. It's a great salad but might also make a great quesadilla topper or taco filling. If I had regular access to great (and affordable) corn, this salad would definitely become part of my regular lineup.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Lamb Merguez Burgers

I grew up eating lamb on the 4th of July: my grandmother and grandfather would serve grilled shish kebab at the party they always hosted on that day, also their wedding anniversary. This was invariably accompanied by my aunt's fabulous potato salad and my mother's surprisingly delicious green Jell-o salad, the only one I'll eat. The evening would finish with homemade red-white-and-blueberry ice cream and the setting off of fireworks.

But now I'm celebrating the Fourth of July in France, where it's just another day. Still, it's nice to celebrate our American-ness just a bit. So our meal was a good compromise. Claire made this cake and we watched the Tour de France, and then I made this lamb merguez "burgers" and we watched women's soccer. All-American, and yet not really. In fact, merguez is to France what pizza is to the United States: an immigrant food that has been embraced by the broader culture.

Most of the work of these burgers involves grinding: first spices (fennel and coriander), and then (at least for me) the meat. First the spices get toasted.

Then, after cooling down a bit, they go in the spice grinder. I used to think that toasting/grinding spices was a waste of time until I actually tried it. Now I'm hooked: the spices smell so great and taste really fresh and strong. I highly recommend picking up an extra coffee grinder at a garage sale and using it for spices.

 I had ground up my semi-frozen lamb with a small onion and some garlic. I then added the merguez-y stuff: the toasted/ground spices, some piment d'esplette (a paprika-like spice from the Basque country--it's a bit spicier than paprika, but it was fresh and my regular paprika was looking sad), salt, and--yes--butter. In Melissa's defense, the lamb I used (cut from the leg) was pretty lean, and merguez, which is the go-to sausage on the French grill, tends to be very fatty. And the meatballs I made turned out to be quite juicy and less gamy than some ground lamb dishes can be.

Why meatballs? Well, I knew I couldn't grill these and that my choices were the stovetop grill (I still haven't mastered that) or the oven (I had this article in mind). But then after a recent falafel experience, I decided that meatballs would be much more manageable in a pita than a large burger.

While the meatballs roasted (15 minutes in a 425 oven), I made my harissa mayonnaise (also a very French thing--it's awesome with fries!), grated some carrots, and sliced some cucumbers. I squeezed some lime over both and tossed them with a bit of salt. I thought these would make a good crunchy counterpart to the rich and spicy meatballs.

And voilà, my Franco-American 4th of July dinner. These vanished in no time flat. They were spicy, but just on this side of too spicy, with a great balance of flavors and textures. Claire, who generally dislikes lamb, devoured about 5 meatballs in her sandwich. So even though I had to wait an extra day for the traditional reading of the Declaration and the fireworks will come 10 days later, it was a good meal for a special day.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Honey-Roasted Carrot Salad

I am not a very good side dish person. I would like to be, but by the time I've done the main course, I don't want to do any more washing/chopping/dressing. I just want to sit down and eat. It's a shame, because I really enjoy vegetables and salads once they're cooked.

I'm glad I decided to make this salad, though, because it was really easy (I had the oven on for the main dish anyway) and super delicious. Most of the time when I think of carrot salad, I think of the ubiquitous grated carrot salad with a lemon vinaigrette that is available in most cafeterias and supermarkets here. This salad is nothing like that. The carrots are roasted until almost done and then brushed with a honey-olive oil sauce (I added a generous pinch of that Aleppo pepper that Melissa enjoys so much) and roasted some more. You also roast some nuts in that same sauce: the recipe called for almonds, but I decided to substitute pistachios so that I'd have an excuse to buy some, open the package, and snack on the remaining nuts.

All you do then is crack open a bag of greens (the recipe called for arugula, but no-one in our family really enjoys arugula salad), make a simple lemon-olive oil vinaigrette (I punched it up with whole-grain mustard, as Melissa suggests), toss in the carrots and nuts, and enjoy a delightful salad. There were 7 of us at dinner, and everyone seemed to enjoy the salad: several people commented on it, and Julia kept an anxious eye on the salad as it went around, hoping for seconds. I loved the nutty, sweet, tangy, spicy flavor combination and also the combination of room temperature vegetables and cold salad greens. I would certainly make this again. A couple of variations that would be nice: using cumin and coriander and/or raz el hanout (the Moroccan spice blend) in the honey blend (North Africans do a lot of cooked carrot salads, it seems), adding avocado to the salad, just eating the carrots and nuts as is (we love glazed carrots around here).