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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Coconut Lemongrass Braised Pork - French Fridays with Dorie

Because of the odd weather patterns in Minnesota, I wish the last two weeks' choices had been turned around. It was cold and rainy when it was time to have cold cantaloupe soup, so I put the soup (which had never seemed that appetizing in the first place) on hold. A week later, the menu called for braised pork, and we were in the first days of a blistering heat wave. All time record, folks!!! Three consecutive days of dew points above 80!!! (Who knows what that means--but our windows were fogging up on the outside when we cooled down the inside, so apparently it means that things are steamy). Anyway, I made them both on the same day just to balance things out.

I substituted some beautiful Farmers' Market vegetables for the wintry root vegetables in the recipe. I still used carrots and onions, but these were baby carrots and spring onions, as well as pea pods, not things that had been hanging around in the root cellar for months. Does anyone still have a root cellar?

I got a nice big hunk of fatty pork butt from my favorite meat market. I know from America's Test Kitchen that I should eschew the lean, pretty pork roasts in favor of the more gnarly, fatty ones. If I had any doubt whether this is sound advice, it was resolved by the delicious meaty flavor and the decidedly untough texture of this stew.

I've also learned by heart the browning mantra: use a hot pan and brown the meat in batches, keeping plenty of room between the pieces so they don't steam. Julia Child used to instruct me to do the same thing. It's at least one lesson that I've managed not to forget.

I cooked the stew on top of the stove instead of using the oven because I couldn't bear to heat it up when the thermometer was hovering around 100. (This is Minnesota, and that temperature is over 120 degrees hotter than in the deep midwinter).

Regardless of the weather, this was an extraordinarily good dish. My grocery store was out of lemon grass, and I was too sweaty to go in search of it, so I grated additional lemon rind and added it. I used hot curry powder, but used a little less than called for in the recipe and added some garam masala to make up the difference. Other than those changes, and the ones already noted, I followed the recipe. Even though I don't often repeat recipes, I hope that I'll remember to repeat this one.

While the stew was simmering, I made last week's recipe.

This has got to be the easiest recipe ever.

And, as it turns out, a perfect first course for the coconutty, lemony pork. I bought fresh ginger, but somehow it didn't make its way home from the grocery store. (I think those little pieces sometimes fall through the holes of the cart). I was out of powdered ginger, so I completely missed the oomph it would have provided. So the soup was fresh and delicious, but not gingery at all.

Also, sadly, it was missing its glug of wine. I even had the right kind, and I took it out of the refrigerator, lining it up right in front of the bowls. You'd think that with a bottle of wine staring you in the face, you'd remember to use it. But no such luck.

Now I'm a believer in cold fruit soups. And in spicy pork stews. And in how well they go together.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Salmon and Tomatoes en Papillote - French Fridays with Dorie

I'm late posting this week because I wasn't sure whether the staff at FFWD was on strike. No P&Q posts for a while; no recipe votes; no LYL last week. Of course, I could have made it just for fun. And because it was easy and good, which it was.

I started with wild Alaskan salmon. Just as a grumpy, I-miss-the-old-days aside, I remember when you didn't have to worry about the provenance of every ingredient you brought home. Fish? Probably frozen, but you didn't have to check the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch before you bought it. Eggs? We bought eggs from an Amish farmer who lived a few miles out of town--because they were good and cheap. We didn't know if they were free-range. Of course, choices were limited in the good old days: no fresh herbs, no goat cheese, no coffee beans, no homemade pasta (although my great-grandmother rolled out noodles, but she didn't call them pasta).
But the salmon looks pretty, doesn't it?

It took more time to drive to the grocery store for the salmon than it did to put this together. A pentagon of fresh basil leaves on the foil, topped with salmon.

A side of quickly sauteed grape tomatoes.

Toss on some chopped green onion and plenty of grated lemon peel. (Less, I suppose, if you don't like lemon).

And a few droplets of lemon juice. (Jim loves capturing moving objects in his photos).

Top with a few thin lemon slices, a sprig of rosemary, and a bit more olive oil. And that's it. I can't think of an excuse not to make this. If you don't want to turn on the oven, I would think the grill would do fine. If you don't like lemon, basil, and tomatoes, you could substitute almost anything else (although another vegetable might have to have a big more pre-cooking). If you don't like salmon, or don't want to pay the price, use something else. It's a recipe meant for playing around, which some of the other FFWD'ers did.

I stuck faithfully to the recipe, and was rewarded with a quick, easy, delicious, (and healthy) dinner. And now that the site is back in business, I hope to be on time with next week's cold melon-berry soup. I'm not a fan of cold fruit soups, but I can try anything once.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Chunky Beets with Icy Red Onions - French Fridays with Dorie

I'll admit to being a little cranky about this recipe. I like beet salad as well as the next person, but we just made a salad last week, and I wanted to try something different. Also, I was a little put off by the whole concept of the iced onions. Why couldn't I just slice a red onion and call it good? Obedient blogger that I am, I made the salad and iced the onions, and a very good salad it turned out to be.

I picked up some baby beets at the Farmer's Market last Sunday. After being roasted for a half-hour, they pierced easily with a knife. I put them back for another 5 minutes just to be on the safe side, but my first clue that something was wrong was when I tried to slip the skins off. They didn't slip off. I had to pare the skins off, and that wasn't easy. They turned out to be al dente, which turns out not to be my preferred mode for beets. But they were edible.

Meanwhile, I sliced the onion, put it in ice water, and stored it in the refrigerator. This step turned out not to be very onerous after all--easily done while the beets are roasting (or boiling, if you prefer, but I like a roasted beet myself).

The beets marinate in a simple vinaigrette--just a little honey distinguishes it from the classic French mixture--for about an hour. After that, it's just a matter of assembly. I arranged the beets on salad greens instead of the suggested arugula because I had greens and didn't have arugula. I sprinkled fresh thyme rather than fresh oregano over the plate for the same reason.

And the onions? I'll be the first to admit that I was wrong. Rinsing them and soaking them in ice water gives them an entirely different character: crispier and milder. I only wish that I'd scattered them more profusely on the beets.

The only thing that I'd do differently next time is cook the beets longer. Much as I liked this salad, though, I'm glad that we're not doing another salad next week. A woman can't live on greens alone.