Sunday, July 21, 2013

Baby, it's hot outside!

I live in Virginia, where the summers are hot and humid.  Both of those conditions were in full force this week, which made me not want to use the stove AT ALL.  Actually, I didn't do much of anything, because the heat just drains all the energy out of me.  It doesn't matter that I spent much of the time either in my air-conditioned home or my air-conditioned car. Oh no.  It is still an excuse, because I had to take one son to his swim practice every morning and swelter on the pool deck, and take my other son to his week-long camp, so the car sits out just long enough to get oven-baking hot, yet the A/C doesn't really cool things down before we're home.

Yes, yes. I know you're saying, "Boo hoo, whine, whine. What does this have to do with food?" Whatever, peeps.  My blog, my whining. But I promise to get to the food.

My kids love it when we do a smorgasbord of random things that they get to put together themselves and call it a meal.  Cheese, crackers, lunch meats, veggies, dips and fruit.  Or whatever. This week, I did a little more prep than I usually do for something like this, and I did actually turn on the stove (and oven). These recipes are not my own, but they were delicious, so I'll provide the links for you to try them as well.

I had been thinking about chilled soups which, generally, are not my favorites (gazpacho tastes like I'm eating runny salsa, IMHO), but I do like vichyssoise (potato and leek soup).  Surprisingly, none of my cookbooks actually had a vichyssoise recipe, but I did have one that had a recipe for "Potage Parmentier", which had leeks and potato and cream in it, so I figured it had to be pretty much the same thing. [And yes, I realize I could have just looked up a recipe online, but I was stubborn enough to think I had to have an acceptable recipe in my cookbook collection]  Williams-Sonoma's blog recently provided a long list of chilled soups that I am eager to try out.

The rest of the meal consisted of White BeanTapenade and Marinated Summer Vegetables, both from the June 2013 issue of Bon Appetit magazine, antipasto peppers, a cured Italian sausage, some deli meats and cheeses, mustards, sweet gherkins, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella balls (perline) and a variety of crackers.

Here's what the spread looked like:

I apologize that I didn't get a good shot of the soup.  I took the picture after the boys started eating. :-)

Now, as I mentioned before, I did have to actually turn on the stove to make the soup and the oven to cook the veggies for the marinated salad, so if you're really sweltering, this particular line-up won't help you.  BUT: I did both in the morning before it got really hot and I got too tired to do anything but make sandwiches.  You could also grill the veggies, so at least you're not heating up the house, or if you are grilling a meal earlier in the week, you could grill up extra vegetables to use for the salad later.  Lots of possibilities there. There's also the option of just buying a variety of salads, dips, spreads, meats and cheeses from the prepared food section of the grocery store and setting it out for everyone to taste.  I get that it's hot, people are tired and cranky and food needs to get on the table. I'm not judging.

For the marinated vegetables, I used a lemon olive oil, which gave it a nice citrus punch. If you don't happen to have that, you could add a little lemon zest instead (or leave it out -- the original recipe doesn't call for any sort of lemon).  I also didn't have oregano, so I used fresh thyme (I have a nice patch growing just outside my back door). You know me; I make do with what I've got, and I hope it gives you ideas how you can play with your food, too.

What are your favorite meals to fix when it's too hot to cook?

Here's the recipe I used for our chilled soup:

Potage Parmentier

Adapted from Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells (I highly recommend this book for delicious, yet simple, French bistro basic recipes)

3 large potatoes (I used Russet), peeled and quartered
2 leeks, just the white and pale green parts, sliced
1 quart of water
1 cup beef stock (you could also use chicken stock, but beef is what I had)
3/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons chopped chives, for garnish (optional) - the original recipe suggested chervil or tarragon

Combine the potatoes, leeks, water and broth in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to simmer and cook until vegetables are meltingly soft, 35-40 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, blend vegetables in the pot until smooth. Add cream and heat through.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  If you don't have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender, in batches (be sure to keep the small hope at the top of your blender cover open to let heat escape) or a food mill

Serve either warm or cold (it's delicious either way), garnished with fresh herbs, if you like. Note: It took a while for the soup to chill (about 4 hours in the fridge, and it still was more lukewarm than chilly), so be sure to factor that in, time-wise.

Serves 6 to 8

Tip: To get all the sand out of leeks, I fill my sink with water, then put the leeks, already sliced into rings, in the water.  I then separate all of the rings, swishing them around and then letting the sand fall to the bottom of the sink. Then I scoop up the leeks either with my hands or a medium-mesh (not fine) sieve.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Another PINTESTER Challenge

So again, Sonja Foust, the intrepid Pintester, has issued a call to other bloggers.  This time, she's invited us to try out one of her previously-tested pins.  I had, like, 3 weeks to figure out what I was going to do, but here I am, scrambling because I haven't figured out what I wanted to do.  Here were my two criteria: 1) It had to be on the first page of one of her categories, because I don't have time for messing around with the "back" and "refresh" buttons; and 2) I had to have the ingredients or supplies at home (or at least close substitutions), because it's hot out and I don't want to leave the house.

Given those criteria, I picked her Apple Cinnamon Slow Cooker Pork.  Here's the original pin/recipe. And here is the Pintester version. True to the Pintester tradition, I did not have exactly the right ingredients, and I was a little leery of trying it because it didn't taste that great, but what the heck, here's to livin' on the edge.  Am I right? Plus, slow cooking in the summer is awesome, because you have a hot meal, but didn't heat up the kitchen.  Win, win. I'm all for salads and sandwiches in the summer to keep things cool, but sometimes you need a hot meal for it to feel like an actual dinner.

I kinda screwed my husband (make your own joke, here), 'cause I used the last two (expensive) apples on this recipe, which he usually takes an apple with his lunch each day. It calls for 3, but, whatever.  Those expensive apples ($2.99/lb for freak's sake) better be delicious, 'cause I'm already mad at myself for buying those stupid thing. I also didn't have honey, but I had maple syrup, which is actually better, IMHO.  Plus, since there was a little issue with flavor, the maple will boost that, hopefully.  Plus I added salt.  Salt boosts flavor, people.  Remember that. With the pork, apple, maple flavors going on, it's more of a fall-ish feel, so that's going to be strange, seasonally speaking, but we'll survive.

The other thing I like about this recipe is that you just dump everything in (ingredients prep aside).  No browning of the meat beforehand or any of that nonsense (side rant: what's up with that, anyway?  Browning meat before you put it in a crock pot is stupid and totally defeats the convenience of the crock pot in the first place.  If I wanted to actually use the stove, I'd just braise the fucker). Unfortunately, my crock pot is round, rather than oblong, so when I put the pork in it, I had to sort of coil it around.  It means it doesn't look quite like either of the other two tries.  Just keep that in mind when you look at my crappy and completely unappetizing picture.  :-)

It also uses a boatload of cinnamon. Two tablespoons is crazy, but I did it.  If this thing turns out well, I'm sending my version over to Penzey's, because that's the brand of cinnamon I used. If you are not already acquainted with that store, I beg you, for all that is good and tasty, to get there and order your spices.  They rock, and it really does make a difference. But then again, I'll probably have to make the recipe again and actually measure everything out...

Anyway, so here's my version (amounts are approximate, because, well, I don't have time for actual measuring and stuff, plus it's just more I have to clean up):

Slow Cooker Maple Pork Tenderloin with Apples and Onions:

3 lb. pork tenderloin
2 onions, sliced in 1/4 inch slices
2 apples (they do not need to be the expensive, fancy Koru apples I had, but something more flavorful than Red Delicious, if you have access to it), cored and sliced into approximately 1/2-inch slices
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (I used Grade B)
2 Tablespoons (yes, Tablespoons) of cinnamon

Put the onions in the bottom of the crock pot.  Sprinkle with a little salt.  Make slices in the tenderloin -- do not cut all the way through.  Layer the pork in the crock pot, then put an apple slice in each of the slices you made in the pork.  Put any extra slices on top of the meat.  Sprinkle a little more salt over the meat, then sprinkle the cinnamon over everything.

Turn on low and cook about 7 hours until tender.


The pork turned out really well!  For a less sweet taste, you might want to knock the maple syrup back to 2 - 2 1/2 tablespoons.  The meat was really tender, too tender to actually slice, because it just fell apart when I tried to pull it out of the crock pot, thus the not-so-appetizing "after" picture.  Also, the apples got really mushy, so they didn't have nice-looking slices by the time I took everything out of the pot.  If I made it again, I might try it with Granny Smith apples that might hold its shape more (and be less sweet).  In my final version picture, I served it with polenta, but in the fall or winter, it would taste really good with mashed potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts (nice call, Sonja).  :-)

So, to re-cap, here's the original pin:

Here's the Pintester version:


And here's my attempt:

Monday, July 1, 2013

Brussels Sprouts Slaw with Maple Mustard Dressing (and lessons learned...again!)

Sometimes, in the interest of saving time, you end up not saving much time at all in the end.  Case in point: I saw shaved Brussels sprouts at the grocery store the other day and thought, "I hate shaving those darn things!  This will save me so much time and effort!" Friends, I was wrong.  Here's why.

I bought those pre-shredded things at the store, thinking they would be good for an easy slaw as a side dish with salmon.  When I tasted them before I got started making the slaw, they were really bitter (who knows how long they've been sitting in transit and such before they got to the store shelf?). So, to make them a little less bitter and bring out some sweetness, I ended up roasting them for a few minutes. I also added some carrots to offset the bitterness some more.  While the final product was still really tasty, the lesson to be learned here is to use the freshest ingredients you can.  Sometimes it takes a few missteps (mistakes??) to set us back on the right path...

Brussels Sprouts Slaw with Maple Mustard Dressing

1 package (14 oz) shaved Brussels sprouts
2/3 cup julienned carrots
olive oil, salt, pepper
1/2 cup Maple Mustard Dressing

Preheat oven to 425 degrees (F).  Toss sprouts and carrots with a little olive oil to coat, and salt and pepper.  I did this in a bowl, but if you're careful, you could do it directly on the baking pan you'll be using.  NOTE: If you are using fresh Brussels sprouts (like, from the garden or farmer's market), you can skip the whole roasting step and use them raw.

Put the prepared veggies on a large baking sheet and spread them out to an even layer.  Roast in the oven for just a few minutes -- about 10.  After the first 5 minutes, stir the veggies around a little.  The roasting will bring out a little more of the sweetness and decrease any bitterness the sprouts might have.

Pull the veggies out of the oven and let cool for a couple of minutes, then transfer to a large bowl.  While still a little warm, toss with about half of the dressing (1/4 cup) and let the veggies soak up some of the flavors of the dressing.  Once cooled to room temperature, you may add more dressing, to your taste.  This dish can be served at room temp or cold.

Serves 4