Sunday, June 27, 2010

Streets of Beirut

After ten days, two countries, four cities, one Ecuadorian Wedding, and a rather thorough drug search, compliments of airport security, we touched down in JFK; just in time for our first CSA delivery. And before I was able to upload photos from the trip, I was surrounded by radishes, apples, cherries, herbs, and more greens than I really knew what to do with. Not to mention purslane and dill, both of which are commonplace flavors in middle eastern cooking....count me excited.

Long before I knew it as a pseudonym for beer-pong, I had fallen in love with Beirut, and for that matter, the entirety of the Middle East. I'm not certain why, maybe because I was a nerdy little news junkie as a child in the 80s, or maybe because I have some sick fascination with hijabs, but I long to visit streets filled with hookahs and the smell of grilled lamb.

But while I wait for that dream trip to Beirut, I modeled the below with the sandy deserts of the fertile crescent in mind. Grilled chicken kabobs, rice, diced cucumber salad, and some dill yogurt, coupled with 93 degree temperatures, an oven heating pita, and an unplugged AC, it might as well have been the streets of Lebanon.

Chopped Cucumber Salad
Half a white onion; chopped
Two to three large radishes; chopped
One medium cucumber; seeded and chopped
One large tomato; diced
1C purslane; coarsely chopped
1C parsley; finely chopped
Juice of a large lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Combine the vegetables in a large bowl, cover with lemon juice and a few tbsp's of olive oil and toss, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Dill Yogurt
8 oz unflavored yogurt
2-3 tbsp chopped dill
pinch of salt

Served with some grilled chicken, warmed pita bread, and rice, it's kinda like street meat....without the indigestion.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Poussin in Every Pot.

Unlike the cheese eating surrender monkeys internationally known as the French, most of us sadly work more than 35 hours a week, and do not count eight weeks of vacation as a job perk. This I would imagine directly correlates to the fact that they are enjoying souffl├ęs, cassoulets and spicy bouillabaisse dishes on a random Tuesday evening, when most of us are sifting through take out menus. And while I do enjoy takeout, although probably far less often than most, there are some pretty good reasons to cut back on the habit, heart failure falling somewhere near the top of the list, and the contents of a chicken McNugget trailing shortly behind.
Yet there are a number of obstacles that make cooking a challenge, such as limited time, a strict budget, or a drinking habit that makes extensive use of knives an unwise decision. So the below is a recipe for a simple one pan roast chicken with root vegetables. I was home alone this night so I used a 20oz Poussin, but if feeding more than one person it makes sense to seek out a small three to four pound organic chicken. And if you are one of a large number of people intimidated by the concept of cooking a whole chicken, look yourself in the mirror and repeat "I am scared of a chicken" until you are thoroughly embarrassed enough to try the below.

Simple Roast Chicken
Small to medium sized bird
a handful of small white potatoes per person
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425. Rinse, pat dry, and proceed to truss the chicken, (the link is a great video on how to do this). Placing it in the middle of a frying pan, and seasoning with herbs, and S&P. Make sure to do this from high above, to assure that they are evenly spread. Slice the potatoes into halves or quarters, and lightly toss the potatoes in olive oil, herbs, and S&P, before spreading around the outside of the bird. Roast for 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the bird. The internal temperature should reach roughly 160 and the skin should be a golden brown. If the skin appears to be darkening quicker than desired, cover the bird in tin foil. When the bird is done, plate the potatoes and move the chicken to a cutting board to rest. In the meantime, using an oven mit, move the frying pan to the stove-top on medium heat, add some white wine, or water, scraping the bottom and reducing to form a sauce, adding sliced mushrooms if desired. Slice and plate the bird alongside the potatoes and cover in the thickened sauce. Serve.

This was a woman's out of town kinda night, so I ate it with scotch....lots of scotch.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Money, Mayhem, and Maine

I like fish, and not just fish, but crustaceans, mollusks, and cephalopods. In fact, with the exception of sea urchin roe, which yes, I have tried, I will eat just about any of the sea's many creatures, most times, raw. With our own national waters supplying numerous species including lobster from Maine, salmon from Alaska, sailfish from Florida, and a bevy of shrimp from the Louisiana bayou; the choices and the supply appear nearly limitless when harvested utilizing sustainable fishing practices. That is of course, as long as we don't cover the oceans in oil.

Forty seven days have passed since the April 20th BP oil well explosion, and numerous media centric questions still remain. Does fault lie with BP who pumped the oil, Transocean who owned the rig, Halliburton who performed the construction, or the questionably negligent regulatory authority of the MMS? Do we now, or will we ever accurately know how much oil is leaking daily? Did the White House respond in a timely and effective manner, and more importantly, can we rely upon the government to right such disasters, for which they appear so ill equipped?

But are these the questions that we should be asking and do the answers even matter? Yes, the cleanup process will be long and arduous, and in many cases irreversible damage has been done, but BP will be held accountable, regardless of where true fault may lie. And the Obama administration will survive, albeit stymied, and possibly even a little embarrassed, as attempts to increase the role of government, following numerous failures by both parties, will be further examined by supporters and detractors alike. Yet, the one question that has been pushed to the back burner, is the one that we can all personally influence; how do we avoid repeating such a catastrophe?

Well we can start by dipping our sushi in soy sauce, not light sweet crude. Limit driving, increase the use of mass transit, like the bolt bus currently carrying me to the still pristine shores of Maine, and seek out high mileage vehicles whenever possible. Support local and national efforts to pursue a cost effective, carbon neutral energy grid, and remind politicians that energy independence is a national , not republican or democratic concern. Buy local. Reducing the distance from farm to plate limits the need for heavy transport, and subsequently lessens the demand for oil. I'll say it again. Buy local, and buy organic. Visit a farmer's market, join a CSA, and get to know the man or woman who raises your food, preferably without the use of oil based chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. You won't regret it, hell, you might even make a new friend....a friend who actually has knowledge that could keep you alive, unlike the skills that help most of us excel in the modern work environment. Oil companies are convenient whipping boys, but weaning ourselves off the black gold that they so ferociously seek to mollify our own demand is the difficult but ultimate solution.

The fact that fish tastes good is indisputable, and oil, well anyone who may have unscrupulously siphoned gas a bit too aggressively knows it tastes like liquid fiery death. So the next time you walk a few blocks as opposed to driving, or pay thirty extra cents for organic carrots at the farmer's market, or even grab a reusable shopping bag think about how great some sockeye salmon, or soft shell crab would taste right about now. And when the inevitable time comes when your friends mock your environmentally conscious ways and brandish you a dirty hippie, invite a crowd over for a seafood fest. Start with the ceviche or sushi below and serve the naysayers their meal, covered in oil.

1/3 pound fillet of white fish, (good guide here)
juice from two large limes limes
juice from half a lemon
1/2 medium size tomato, chopped fine
1/3 medium red onion, chopped fine
1/2 jalapeno, seeds removed, and minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 c finely chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

Place the sliced fish in a nonreactive container. Mix the remaining ingredients and spread over the fish. Let it set for a few minutes and then shake the container to mix and ensure everything is well marinated. Refrigerate and mix several times over the next 8-12 hours. Serve.

Sushi Rice
1c rice
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt

Move the cooked rice to a nonreactive bowl, add the vinegar and begin to toss the rice, with a non metal spoon. Add the salt and sugar and continue to toss, cooling the rice as you season.

While making great sushi may require numerous years of proper training, technique and extensive knowledge to master the art, when making sushi at home, it pretty much comes down to the quality of your ingredients and how you season the rice. If you live in the middle of nowhere, Whole Foods may be your only choice, but I would highly recommend seeking out a local fish monger, The Lobster Place in Chelsea is excellent if you are in NYC.

I layered the rice, cucumbers, wild caught salmon, avocado, and hamachi tuna, in a small tower, with soy sauce to dip, and served it along side the ceviche, which pairs very well with a Long Island based Viognier, which has a very floral bouquet and complements the citrus flavors..