8.24.2012

Blind Melon


At a market, recently, I stumbled upon a basket of melons with identifying signage that read Sugar Queens. I’m not really a melon fanatic, but I snatched one up quicker than a bell clapper in a goose’s ass. Why? Because it said Sugar Queen. No, I had never heard of this variety of melon, nor did I have a clue what it was or what it would taste like. But the fact that it was called Sugar Queen made me all chirpy. I figured it must be a precious and exultant melon.

I don’t know much about melon selecting. I’ve seen people smell them and shake them, gently and/or hard. And I’ve seen folks hold them up by their ears - as if they had a conch shell and were listening for the ocean. But from this basket of Sugar Queens, I simply selected the one that spoke to me. It was not the largest or smallest or roundest or oblongest. But it felt confident and firm in my one hand and it had a little bit of a blemish on one side of its netted skin. It smelled so sweet, almost candy-like, almost too sweet. She was now my Sugar Queen.

When I got home and began to unload and put all my groceries away (which is one of my all-time favorite things to do) I put Sugar Queen on the counter and briefly wondered what I might do with her. After a day or so I very well could have forgotten about her but Sugar Queen would not let me. Her perfume was so strong and floral that each time I walked by I was reminded that I needed to find a special something or another to do with her. I totally get it. Us, women... we do like our attention. After a few days, and especially these crazy hot ones we’ve been having, I began to get nervous she would become too ripe to do much with, so, just in case, I put her in the refrigerator. There she continued to acost both Fred and myself with her eau de melon each time we opened the refrigerator door. And her scent even lingered in the kitchen for a few moments after closing the door.

It was time for me to figure it out. The only style in which I have eaten melons, historically, is the way my mom served them to me as a girl: a wedge, with the rind attached, scored in bite-sized cubes, with the cut going down to the rind, making it easy to eat with a spoon. It was a breakfast thing or a snack thing. I occasionally eat some honeydew melon with a sprinkle of salt, or cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto. I am quite fond of watermelon used in salads with heirloom tomatoes, red onion and feta cheese. But that is pretty much it for me and my melons. After all, it is fruit.

And then I realized - what do I always do when I don’t know where to turn with an ingredient? And, for crying out loud, what have I not made in far, far too long? Soup! Ah, but this one is a challenge. It’s Sugar Queen. 
 

When I googled Sugar Queen, not tons came up. Wikipedia didn’t even have a page for her, for godssake. But I did notice a promising recipe from 2010 from the Seattle Times. An heirloom melon gazpacho. And lo and behold, that heirloom melon called for in the recipe was my Sugar Queen. In total me form, I only glanced at the ingredients to make sure I had everything I needed. I did not, however, actually read through the entire recipe. It’s a terrible habit of mine that bites me in the arse more often than not. Had I read through the recipe I would have noticed that it was very poorly written with steps and ingredients missing in the directions. It even had an added ingredient that was not listed in the ingredients. So what ended up happening was some pretty awesome riffing and improvising. A lot of tasting and adding this and that and some of that over there and a little more of this. At one point I couldn’t figure out why the vinegar was so strong and recalled that white wine was listed in the ingredients but never mentioned in the directions. So I added the white wine and it completely balanced the acid of the vinegar - and without making the soup taste like white wine at all. Science, I tell you.

What I came up with is pretty great. It’s sweet, yes. But it’s nuanced and complex. It’s lovely and also smart. It has notes that dance around on the tip of your tongue that are simple yet unrecognizable. It’s seemingly obvious to describe but right when you try, the words float right out of your consciousness, rendering you into a stumped stutter. It smells really beautiful. Just like us women...


I think this soup is best served as a small portion, perhaps even as an amuse bouche.
 
Heirloom Melon & Tomato Gazpacho
Serves 6
Ingredients
2 cups cubed French baguette, all crusts removed, and cut into small cubes (about 1 baguette), divided
1/4 cup white wine
2 tbsp Champagne or sherry vinegar
4 cups cubed, peeled and seeded melons (preferably heirloom, such as Sugar Queen, butterscotch, Ogen, Ananas)
1 cup chopped, ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup diced shallot
1 tbsp chopped, fresh chives
2 tbsp purple basil
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra oil for frying the croutons
3 dried bay leaves, ground to a powder
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp celery salt
Sea salt & fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Walnut oil to garnish
1/2 cup ice cubes, or as needed


Directions
In a bowl, soak 1 1/2 cups cubed bread in the vinegar.
Meanwhile, using a blender or food processor, purée the melons, tomato, shallot, chives & basil. Add the soaked bread and vinegar to the food processor and purée until completely smooth.
With the motor running, slowly add the wine, one-fourth cup olive oil, then the ground bay leaves. Taste, and adjust the seasoning with sage, celery salt, sea salt & pepper.
If the soup is overly thick, add a few ice cubes and purée until the desired consistency is achieved. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and vinegar.
Transfer the soup to a nonreactive metal bowl and chill before serving. This makes about 4 cups soup.
While the soup is chilling, fry the garnish. Pan-fry the remaining cubes of bread in a hot skillet with a little olive oil until evenly toasted and golden brown. Season to taste with a light sprinkling of salt and.
Serve the soup, garnished with a few croutons and a drizzle of walnut oil.


One year ago: Beer Braised BBQ Pork Butt
Three years ago: Charred Hanover Tomato Soup with Lump Crab


8.18.2012

The Red Hot Chili Peoples


It’s been hot. It’s been the kind of hot we don’t get too often here in Southern California. But it’s August. The month when almost everyone in the country can experience the same thing: sweat. This particular heat wave has been a bit of a doozy. I know, compared to the heat coupled with that added bonus of humidity happening on the East Coast, we have been fortunate. But we really have had hundred degree days over the past couple of weeks.

This is the kind of hot I both loathe and love. While I am slightly miserable roaming around during the day, worrying about getting sunburned and, of course, my social curse: the sweat moustache - the cool, arid, balmy, breezy nights are just, well, sexy. Perhaps it’s even more so because of enduring the day part, but it’s so exhilarating to feel that sultry, lustful air on my skin and in my hair on these evenings. And no unsightly sweat moustache.

Since it is right at that time when the thermometer outside is stuck at the “hot and sticky” mark, Fred and I couldn’t have picked a better time to move in together.


So, to heighten the challenge of endurance, Fred and I have spent the last two months moving his stuff out of an apartment he has occupied for ten years and relocating said stuff into a house where I have been residing for four years - during weekends, right in the middle of the day. Barrels of joy and without any bickering. No-sir-ee.


Another super smart and obvious choice to make in the kitchen department would be to eat a lot of salads and make ultra use of the grill. So last night we decided to throw a pot of oil on the stove, get it up to about 350 degrees, and fry stuff. It was just about the worst idea ever: scorcher of a day, no air conditioning, tiny kitchen, bare skin, scaldingly hot oil, really messy cooking experiment.


But also really delicious.



Parts of it did make sense. We used produce from the garden. The dish felt fresh and summery. It would probably go great with a cold beer and did go really well with a crisp rosé. It was snacky.

It was zucchini fries with poblano cream. The zucchini and the poblanos came straight from my garden - which is so happy this year. I guess it was just going through puberty for the past couple of years and is finally growing up. The Meyer lemon we used to squeeze on top was from a neighbor' tree. It was all so precious. And it was very good. The zucchini kept it's textural integrity and had a light, crunchy shell. I thought the poblano cream was the most exciting part. It was cool, light, creamy with a subtle, warm, roasty heat. I plan on using it to top a chilled heirloom tomato soup this weekend, and I can only imagine it is delicious, and versatile, enough to have a myriad of other applications.

So yes, thank you Los Angeles, for pulling out all the stops where the sunshine and heat are concerned. It’s sweaty, dirty, nasty stuff, even before all the moving boxes and the bags and the dust. But last night, even though we picked a peculiar thing to get kitchen concoctery with, everything worked out. We set the table, turned on the fan, poured ourselves a couple of glasses of rosé, plated up our dish and sat down across from one another - and our burn blisters - to enjoy a peaceful evening of quiet, still, snackery. Together in our home together. 




Zucchini Fries with Poblano Cream

Serves 4

Poblano Cream

Ingredients

8 oz. creme fraiche
1 roasted and peeled poblano pepper
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
Chopped celery leaves, to garnish

Directions

Blend creme fraiche and pepper in food processor and pulse until pepper is broken down and mixed in. Pour into small mixing bowl and fold in vinegar, salt & pepper. Stir until flavors are well integrated.

Top with chopped celery leaves.



Zucchini Fries

Ingredients

  • Olive oil, for frying
  • 1 1/2 cups panko
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 medium zucchini, cut into 3-inch long by 1/2-inch wide strips

Directions



Pour enough oil into a large frying pan to reach a depth of 2 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350 degrees F.
Stir salt, pepper, paprika and panko together in a medium bowl to blend. Whisk the eggs in another medium bowl to blend. Working in batches, dip the zucchini in the eggs to coat completely and allow the excess egg to drip back into the bowl. Coat the zucchini in the panko mixture, patting to adhere and coat completely. Place the zucchini strips on a baking sheet.
When the oil is hot, working in batches, fry the zucchini sticks until they are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fried zucchini to paper towels and drain.
Serve with poblano cream for dipping.


Printable recipe.


One year ago: Bourbon-Vanilla Bean Banana Bread with Candied Walnuts
Two years ago: Classic Southern Deviled Eggs
Three years ago: The Lost Weekend

8.06.2012

I Just Can’t Get Enough


There are some foods, some dishes, that I feel I could eat to infinity - dishes where I lose all self control.  Or at least, I don’t want to stop eating, and making myself put on the brakes requires a great deal of discipline. Usually salty crunchy things fall into that category; for instance, I could eat Doritos until I turn orange, but the other foods that put me in a state of compulsive gorging followed by a state of gleeful shame are less obvious. These foods may include, but are not limited to, mashed potatoes, spaghetti carbonara, uni (Well, I’ve never actually had the opportunity to eat my body weight in uni. I’m guessing I’d get my fill faster than I think), chicken fricassee, sausage biscuits, my mom’s cream of mushroom soup (I could drink it like a milkshake), pimiento cheese, tomato sandwiches, burrata, buttermilk pie, Cadbury Creme Eggs (made myself sick eating four in a row) and vichyssoise (made myself sick on that one, too), and pan gravy. I can power down some gravy. And I don’t need it to be on anything, either.

Some of these foods come from my childhood, but just as many don’t at all. Some are sweet and some are salty, some are solid and some are liquid. I don’t see a particular profile or pattern in them at all. That’s what is so interesting about all of us. And what’s so fascinating about food.

Recently, like a bolt of lightning, a dish zapped into my head from my childhood. It was from the era of my mom’s ‘experimental and/or ethnic food phase’ - I’d say this was the late 1980s. We called it Anuradha Rice. I remember exactly what it tasted and looked like, but I couldn’t recall its story or what the recipe was at all. So I called Mom.

When she used to work at an art gallery back in Richmond, she had a co-worker that had recently moved, with her husband, from India. Her name was Anuradha. My mom, Harland and Leslie - all Anderson Gallery people - were all going through this ‘experimental and/or ethnic food phase’ together and thought it would be really great to learn about some of Anuradha’s favorite dishes from home and how to prepare them here. Or rather, how to prepare them in Richmond, Virginia.

I don’t know what, if any, other dishes came out of these cooking classes, but I do know that one in particular stuck in our kitchen. It was a rice dish with some sort of yogurty-ness on top. No one ever found out the actual name for this dish, if it had one, so it has always been Anuradha Rice. My mom, Harland and I ate it all the time, especially in the warm months. It seems like it would be a side dish but it was our meal. And I tell you what, I could have eaten a mountain of it.

After finding out about the dish, and a loose version of how to prepare it, I set to finding the ingredients so I could go about bringing Anuradha Rice into my house, here in LA. When I was searching for the mustard seeds, I was chatting on the phone with Heather. I told her I “was trying to make a rice dish that mom used to m...” At which point she cut me off and stated, “Anuradha Rice!” That shows you how much of a staple it was back then.

I’ve made it twice in the past few days, both versions came out perfectly. The main reason for that is it is a breeze to make. Not only is it a cinch, but the ingredients are easy to find and inexpensive. It’s a bright, fresh, clean, velvety and incredibly satisfying dish. The simplicity of the ingredients and the way they marry perfectly together is uncanny. The smooth, cool yogurt with little crunches of cucumber on top of the warm, soft rice with the teeny-tiiny pops of the mustard seeds make for an eye opening journey in temperatures and textures. My mom came over to visit today and is literally eating a bowl of it while I type this.



So, I recently noticed that I have a lot of new readers of late, and I would love to get to know y’all. I was thinking it would be fun to get some dialogue going between us. After going through my brain and digging up all of those edibles I just can’t get enough of, it made me exceedingly curious to find out what everyone else’s may be. So, please, leave me a list of yours in the comment section. And who knows I may have to try them out to see if they get tacked on to my list. Because, really, all I need is one more thing I just can’t stop eating!



Anuradha Rice

Serves 4 as an entree
Serves 6 as a side dish

Ingredients

For rice:
2 cups Basmati rice, cooked and cooled to room temperature
1 ½ tablespoon mustard seeds
1 ½ teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon oil or ghee

For yogurt:
2 1/2 cups plain yogurt
¾ cup red onion, diced
1 large (or 2 medium) ripe tomato, chopped
*1 cup cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
½ cup cilantro, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste

Directions

*Toss chopped cucumber in a small bowl with ½ teaspoon of kosher salt, and let sit 10 minutes. This is to remove excess water from cucumber.

Place all ingredients for yogurt mixture in bowl and mix well. Set aside in refrigerator.

Heat oil (or ghee) in wok or large cast iron skillet. Add mustard seeds and cook on medium-high until they begin to pop. Be careful not to get hit in the eyeball by hot, oily, popping mustard seeds. Cook until a few of the seeds have popped, but don’t worry about popping them all.

Add the cooked and cooled rice, add turmeric and stir well. Once rice is mixed well with the oil and mustard seeds, and heated through with the littlest bit of crisp remove from heat.

Portion rice on to plates and top with a generous amount of the yogurt mixture and serve.



Printable recipe.


One year ago: Yerp: Part 7 - The End
Two years ago: Great Balls on Tires
Three years ago: Baked Tomatoes with Goat Cheese, Fresh Herbs & Hazelnut Breadcrumbs