Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Heat Wave - 6/20/2012

On Wednesday, it was far too hot to do anything outdoors after work, and so I used the opportunity to have a cooking extravaganza. The previous Sunday, we’d bought some kale at the farmer’s market and relished the small portion that we sauteed along with our sausages, but a massive bunch remained. I tackled this first. With the help of a simple online recipe, I mixed up a cold “cooking” sauce - the liquid comprised of merely lemon juice, olive oil, salt and cayenne pepper, and it did a wonderful job of taking the bitter bite out of the raw kale. Moreover, I always revel in the “massaging” process; I enjoy squeezing the leafy greens with the dressing and marveling at the reaction that takes place. I garnished the deep green with raisins and sliced almonds, and eagerly anticipated the chomping that would soon take place.
In the meantime, I attempted to replicate my mom’s tunafish salad. A wealth of light ingredients really make this salad - diced red onion and crunchy celery, cut kalamata olives, capers, coarsely chopped fresh parsley and grainy mustard provide tantalizing base for the flavorful tuna. The rich heterogeneous mixture certainly satisfied our craving for something refreshing and satisfying, especially when perched atop a mountain of cool leftover cous cous. The heat and humidity may dull the appetite, but this meal hit the spot despite the blazing temperature outside.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Carbonara Pasta - 6/17/2012

Sunny Sunday afternoon and a walk on the Freedom Trail through the North End solidified our plans to make carbonara pasta that evening. I was delighted to walk through the Italian section on Father’s Day and see restaurants full well before before 4pm, couples and families dining alongside the open air window openings. The smell ultimately convinced us – how could we not make pasta after smelling the garlic, olive oil, and herbs for over an hour?
I was surprised by the recipe’s simplicity, yet I suppose with parmesan, eggs, and bacon, a dish doesn’t need much else. We’d purchased five thick slabs of smoked bacon from the deli the previous day, and I fried them up in olive oil, rendering the fat, which in turn coated and lightly fried the next addition, minced garlic. The pasta cooked simultaneously, and I drained it just as the bacon and garlic reached fragrant perfection. I retained a bit of the pasta water, and tossed the steaming al dente pasta into the bacon and garlic mixture – the noodles must be piping hot so that they cook the eggs even as the pot is removed from the heat, a precaution against the eggs scrambling. A delicate balance. Hence, I added the decadent egg and parmesan cheese mixture that Andrew had whisked together, mixing and adding pasta water for thickening purposes. The smell was absolutely heavenly, and only improved with the addition of coarsely chopped fresh parsley. Served immediately and garnished with ground pepper and the remaining grated parmesan, the dish was so satisfying that we exchanged few words throughout dinner. That is, beyond praising bacon, cheese, and all things Italian. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Quinoa and Cous Cous Have New Fans

Before these couple of meals, I must admit that I thought of quinoa and cous cous as bland health food that would always fall second to pasta. I won’t rehash the details of the orange and lemon cous cous, but I must mention that it provided an excellent Sunday lunch. The addition of crunchy radish rounds and sweet corn sliced off the cob freshened up the remaining portion. Further leftovers included the grilled asparagus, fully saturated with the garlicky olive oil after a couple of days sitting in the mixture.
Andrew's Sunday lunch
The following Saturday evening brought a couple of new things. First, Andrew and I tried our hand(s) at cooking chicken sausages, hot Italian and garlic herb. After some internet instruction, we fried them up with white onion slices, which eagerly absorbed the flavorful meat juice. A quinoa salad was my main contribution to the meal. My mom sent along a few tips on how to make quinoa more flavorful – she recommended tossing some “aromatics” such as rosemary, bay leaves, and fennel seeds into a bit of olive oil to release fragrance and flavor before tossing the quinoa in to toast with the infused oil for a bit before water’s timely addition. I dutifully followed her instructions, burning the quinoa a tiny bit on our finicky stove but accomplishing the toasting and simmering process nonetheless. As the quinoa sat cooling – an essential part of the operation – I added lemon juice, sweet corn cut off the cob, raw pistachios, and raisins. After a bit more sitting and flavor absorption, I added rich feta and coarsely cut fresh parsley. The result was heavenly, varied texture and a multitude of fresh flavors defined the dish.  An excellent complement to the tasty sausages and our simple green salad, which consisted of crisp romaine with halved green grapes and thin slices of celery. Never again will I call quinoa boring!
Sunday morning brought about a brunch of sorts. In preparation for our planned carbonara pasta endeavor, we’d bought some eggs and decided to use the extra for a scramble. Indeed, components from other meals formed the basis of our egg scramble. The onions saved from the previous evening’s sausage cooking were first in the pan, the greasy residue a perfect agent for frying the kale purchased that morning from the farmer’s market. Grated sharp cheddar from our cheese and cracker reserve joined the melee after the eggs had cooked a bit with the kale and onions. Decadent umami flavors were oh-so-satisfying after a long run, and the previous night’s quinoa and green salad provided easy and toothsome sides. An outstanding string of meals, components melding effortlessly into the next eating endeavor.

And one more – a new cous cous recipe. Called “Speedy Pesto Cous Cous with Chickpeas” this recipe called for both premade pesto and fresh basil leaves. After a preliminary simmer in chicken broth, I added the premade green mixture, chickpeas, and a bit of the coarsely chopped fresh leaves from our basil plant we bought at the farmer’s market and have affectionately dubbed Peggy. As these flavors continued to soak together, I added, once again, corn cut off the cob and pistachios in order to make a “richer” dish. Halved and pitted Kalamata olives and a garnish of further fresh basil finished off the dish. Served with the remaining sausages – the second time around yielded better cooking – and our new favorite arugula salad and oven-roasted eggplant made for another quintessential summer meal. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Penne with Tuna and Capers - 6/9/2012

Saturday evening seemed like the perfect time to try a new dish. After lying in the Cambridge Common for most of the late afternoon, I came in and browsed lazily through some pasta recipes online. I found one that satisfied my craving for both penne and tuna fish - aptly called “Penne with Tuna and Capers,” this dish also included dry white wine, fresh parsley and minced garlic. Although the recipe only called for ¾ pound of pasta and 6.5 oz. of canned tuna, I increased the pasta amount to the standard 1 lb., and added 10 oz. of flavorful fish. Indeed, it is essential that the tuna be packed in olive oil - this storage method enables the white meat to retain (and perhaps gain) rich flavor within the can.
I first coarsely minced quite a few cloves of garlic - a bit more than the recommended amount, of course - and sauteed the pieces in olive oil. Next came the tuna, drained appropriately, a fragrant fishy smell mingling enticingly with the garlicky wafts. The combination only got more tantalizing with the addition of the dry white wine, capers, and half of the coarsely chopped parsley. While these flavors infused together deliciously, I drained the pasta, retaining a bit of the water to act as a starchy thickening agent upon the pasta’s immediate addition to the rest of the ingredients. Tossing the al dente penne into the neighboring pan, I made sure to mix vigorously so that the “sauce” thickened with the bit of pasta water, ensuring that each tube was sufficiently coated with white wine residue, caper juice, and clumps of toothsome tuna. Immediately served in deep bowls and garnished with the remaining fresh parsley, we marveled at this newfound summer meal. Indeed, Andrew proclaimed this pasta to be one of his new favorites. Accompanied by a salad with lemon juice added into the standard mustard vinaigrette mixture, the flavors of our dinner where overwhelming fresh. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Full Friday - 6/8/2012

All day at work on Friday, I eagerly anticipated making the dinner I had mulled over for the past couple of days. I love going over the contents of the refrigerator and crafting a meal - fresh asparagus and arugula from the farmer's market jumped to mind. I got home and immediately started cooking - somehow, I correctly timed the different components. The menu included the asparagus, coated in olive oil with mashed garlic pieces, a light salt and pepper sprinkle before oven roasting. An "orange and lemon cous cous" that I'd tried while at home provided a light main dish - the juice and zest of both oranges and lemon makes the cous cous overwhelmingly citrusy, with chicken stock and olive oil to aid absorption. Chopped feta and parsley tossed in at the last second for flavor and garnish. 

My mom passed along this salad recipe, and we've been awestruck (and have been eating it every night) since the first try. A bed of fresh baby arugula topped with crisp, cold green grape halves, and dressed lightly with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a few grains of salt. Pickled onions for color and tangy flavor, and parmesan cheese grated coarsely on top. No tossing required - a healthy serving ensures that the lucky eater will get the full range of ingredients. We've reveled in the flavor combinations, and the pervasive freshness of the dish. A perfect summer meal, and most notably, one that I made entirely on my own!

Sandwich & Salad - 6/3/2012, 6/7/2012

Sunday lunch, June 3rd
I have fallen even more in love with sandwiches. So much variety, and with good ingredients and meticulous construction, the results are guaranteed. For the summer and beyond, I purchased a panini maker and thus am close to perfecting my sandwich making practice. After a time-consuming move-in the previous evening, Andrew and I explored a bit - our final destination, a farmer's market - and made this simple spread upon return. Fresh baked and panini grilled ciabatta bread encased melted jalapeno pepper jack and slices of cracked pepper turkey breast, both of which added satisfying kick to the melee. Pesto and the ever versatile Maille honey dijon added further flavor and acted as moistening agents, and after these ingredients grilled fragrantly together for some time, I pulled the panini off the griddle and added creamy avocado slices and tender pieces of roasted red pepper. Back on for some final toasting, then served with mixed greens and crunchy radishes, a product of our farmer's market excursion.
Lunch to work, June 7th
We've been having essentially the same sandwich every day this week, and have yet to tire of the exceptional flavor combination and panini preparation style. On Tuesday evening per my mom's suggestion, I pickled some red onion. Made through a process of utmost simplicity - merely slicing and submerging in Heinz vinegar - this additional component adds crunch and tangy flavor to the toothsome sandwich layers. Made purely from farmer's market ingredients, I constructed this salad the night before and dribbled some mustard vinaigrette on top in the morning before work. Buried beneath the exterior surface are crisp butter lettuce pieces and colorful radish rounds, a topping of parboiled broccoli florets and a crumbled slab of rich feta cheese. I especially relished the combination of dressing, feta, and broccoli - the former two ingredients fused with the uneven floret surfaces and provided bursts of savory flavor. I enjoy packing a lunch for work, as I get to construct - "play with food," as Andrew calls it - my meal far in advance and anticipate the fresh deliciousness that lunchtime brings.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Before Boston Begins...

Independent living has led to such intensive cooking endeavors that I haven't had any time to publish proof of my recent labor. I have, of course, been keeping careful record, but before I dive into my East Coast summer and my first stint with truly cooking for myself, I'll highlight my food week at home with a few more mouthwatering pictures. 

Mommy marinade
Citrus cous cous, verde bite
Dad grills perfection 
Base, salsa verde
Simple slice, red roasts with dough
Rich cheese and crispy crust 
We never tire of the thin lemon slices, capers; arugula tossed on for some last minute wilting. 

Avocado innovation. Delicate butteriness melds with hearty sauce and decadent prosciutto.

Of course, the standard composed salad plate. Takes on a new significance because this platter was constructed entirely by me!

Parsley pesto

My mom "throws together" lunch - delicate pizza crust topped with her classic tuna salad, arugula, and creamy lemon and yogurt dressing. 
Cedar plank salmon

Lemon rosemary parmesan, the first batch I can call my own
This first week in Boston has yielded some dishes of which I am quite proud, but I have certainly not produced the same volume of toothsome eats that always define my trips home. Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise: I'm looking forward to writing in-depth about my personal culinary adventures. The speed of my own delectable food production will be much more conducive to traditional blog updates, so be sure to check in every couple of days for a picture or two and a tantalizing description..