Friday, September 21, 2012

indian summer

and now we've come to the weird interstitial time between summer and fall. here in texas, summer doesn't really give up the ghost until november sometimes, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to get out the scarves and start wearing boots again. this year, however, i'm trying to stop and enjoy whatever weather we actually have, since it's been a few years since i've experienced a texas fall.

the greatest thing about autumn in texas is cold fronts. the air will be still and sticky and you can't believe it's late september and then all of a sudden there's an electrical charge in the air and the wind starts blowing briskly from the north and the temperature drops 20 degrees in 20 minutes. it's very exciting.

this drink kind of reminds me of that, since it's full of summery gin and citrus and warming spicy ginger. it's refreshing, but not too light. the ginger and the use of the rinds of the citrus gives the whole thing some heft that's usually lacking in summer cocktails. thus it's perfect for this weird liminal time when you don't know what kind of weather the day will bring.

basically you probably need a food processor for this. all you do is cut the citrus into medium-sized chunks, cut the ginger into coins, and blend the whole thing up with some sugar. process it for a minute or so or until everything's well-blended.

then put the delicious sludgy mass into some cheesecloth to strain it. gather up the edges of the cloth and bring them together (if you don't have cheesecloth you could use a really fine strainer, probably).

then just squeeze the juices out as hard as you can. it's quite therapeutic. 

mix a little gin and some club soda and a few tablespoons of the citrus-ginger syrup (it's pretty thick and intense, so go with your tastes), and you have a friendly but assertive drink to keep by your side as we wave goodbye to summer and hello to fall.

*ingredients* (syrup for 6 - 8 drinks or so)
1 lime
1 lemon
1 small orange (i would spring for organic on all of these, since the rinds get included in the drink. no one wants a pesticide cocktail)
~3 inches of fresh ginger root
3/4 - 1 cup sugar

club soda or tonic

instead of what i'm listening to, here's something else i wrote:
it's about the many (many!) places i've lived over the last few years. also you should probably read the billfold and its friends the awl and the hairpin anyway, because they are good. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

creamy corn soup with zucchini & tomato

first off, please excuse the weird illustrations. i neglected to take any pictures of this delicious soup and so had to draw some things on my phone. this is not quite as easy as you'd think.

nevertheless, hopefully they won't put you off making this soup, because it's quick, easy, and remarkably delicious. mike said that i could make it every day and he wouldn't complain (the subtext of that being that generally he DOES complain. just kidding! he is very easygoing, though he will suffer neither mushrooms nor fools gladly).

the corn here is amazing right now, so it would be great to snap some up and make this asap. out of corn season, i think frozen corn would be okay, but fresh is the only way to go when it's as juicy and sweet as it is now. zucchini and tomatoes are also pretty terrific, making this the epitome of the seasonal! local! eating! thing that everyone's always yapping about.

i also added some leftover grilled salmon, but you could also use chicken or tofu to add protein and bulk it up a little. it's also great with just the vegetables. so adaptable!

first, cut the kernels off of 4 ears of corn. this post regarding a tasty corn salad has a thing about cutting up corn, in case this is foreign to you. then put the cobs in a large pan with about 4 cups of milk. i used 2%, since that's what we keep around for coffee, but whole milk would of course be more decadent and skim more ascetic, so go with your instincts. heat the cob-milk mess over medium-high heat until it starts edging towards boiling, then let the cobs sit in there while you do the rest of the things. i think this just gives the end result a deeper and more complex flavor, but obviously if you're using frozen corn it'll presumably not come with cobs and should still be fine, so if you don't want to mess with this step, just skip it! it's your corn soup party! do what you want!

it's not in the picture, but you should cut an onion into smallish dice. heat up a bit of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the onion. also chop some garlic into little bits. you can even cut the zucchini and tomato into bite-sized-or-a-little-smaller pieces at this point as well, if you're one of those fancy people with enough room on your cutting board to do so. 

so the onion starts getting translucent fairly quickly and then you can add the garlic and some herbs. i used a small bunch of lemon thyme stems that still had a few leaves on them. it was maybe like 1/2 the size of my thumb (i like to think that i have normal-sized thumbs, if that measurement was unclear) and i changed out the rubber band holding it together for one of those wire bread bag wrapper things from which i removed the paper. maybe you have some kitchen twine or something? just don't melt rubber into your soup and you'll be okay.

i also added a couple of big pinches of dried fines herbes, but pretty much anything not too weird would go well here - marjoram, chives, a little tarragon... (so, like, the things in fines herbes)

then throw the corn in, along with the milk in which the corn cobs have been steeping (sans cobs, obvs). probably some salt and pepper wouldn't be too out of place, either. bring it to a low boil and then turn the heat down to medium-low, so it keeps simmering. let it go for 20 minutes or so. 

at this point i like to blend some of it (like 2/3) up so that the soup has a thicker, creamier texture. you could blend the whole thing like crazy, but i prefer it with some whole kernels. an immersion blender would be best here (avoiding the thyme bundle), but i broke mine a few years ago in an ill-fated margarita disaster, so i made do with the food processor (a regular blender would be better than the processor, leakwise, but i don't have one). 

finally, brown the zucchini in a little olive oil, add some cumin and then the tomato, then add the whole thing to the now-blended soup. ta da! if you have some cooked fish or chicken you could flake/shred/chop it and add it so that it heats through.

don't eat the little bundle of thyme, if you used one.

somehow this ended up tasting almost kind of coconut-y - i guess maybe from the sweetness of the corn? i did use some really superlative corn, so that definitely helps the end result. 

4 ears corn
4 cups milk
1 small bunch thyme - lemon thyme is particularly good (or some dried thyme)
other herbs
1 onion
3 or 4 cloves garlic
1 zucchini
1 tomato
1/2 teaspoon cumin (optional)
cooked fish or chicken (optional)

listening to: my kind of dumb/kind of awesome spotify mix of 90s-ish hip hop/r&b, so like GZA's shadowboxin', 2pac's california love, destiny's child's say my name, and tlc's waterfalls.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

ratatouille cobbler with cheddar biscuit topping

did you know you can make savory cobblers? 

i mean, i am definitely on board with all kinds of sweet cobblers, slumps, grunts, and whatever other semi-icky name people come up with for fruit cooked under a sweet biscuity top layer. for instance, i am currently mourning the loss of the blackberry forest in our old backyard, since a blackberry-lime cobbler is never an unwelcome guest at the table.

but things change and we move on and deal with it. here in texas, late summer means tons of zucchini, tomatoes, and eggplant, so, inspired by memories of cobblers past, i decided to brave the oven and make a ratatouille-type dish with a fluffy, cheesy biscuit topping. 

aren't those eggplants darling? i think all eggplants are pretty lovely, as far as vegetables go, but the color variegation and petite size of these made them especially fetching. apparently they're called antigua eggplants, but i just call them presh. you could use a regular big old purple one, too, although make sure the skin isn't too thick (if it is, you could peel it).

other old friends in the cast of characters include zucchini, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and herbs. apparently traditional ratatouille also has bell peppers, but we didn't have any and i'm not hugely into cooked bell peppers anyway, so i didn't miss them. you could certainly add one or two to the mix if you like.

basically just chop everything into smallish bite-sized pieces (except the garlic. that should be more minced-y). mine were probably all less than 1/2" square. you don't have to be too methodical about it, though. first, heat up (over medium-high heat) a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large oven-proof pan. an enameled casserole pan is perfect for this (i used the rachael ray one that i got at goodwill and am somewhat embarrassed by, even though it's actually pretty great). 

you don't want to skimp too much on the oil because it adds a nice velvety mouthfeel (sorry, "mouthfeel" is kind of a gross word) to the finished dish. once it's shimmery, add the onion and let it cook for perhaps 5+ minutes, stirring occasionally, until it gets translucent and a little bit brown. then add the garlic and cook for about 30 - 45 seconds before adding the zucchini. once that's cooked down a bit (4 or 5 minutes, maybe), add the eggplant, then the tomatoes. at this point you can also add some salt, which will help the vegetables release some of their juices. 

you should also add some herbs now - i used fresh lemon thyme and italian parsley, along with a big pinch of dried fines herbes. herbes de provence are more traditional, and fresh basil would be more than welcome as well. a few chili flakes and some grindings of pepper aren't a bad idea, either.

at this point, the vegetables should be pretty tender, but not completely cooked to mush. take the pan off the burner and let it hang out while you make the biscuit topping. this is also a good point to start preheating the oven (450 degrees).

these biscuits are dead easy. i modified my normal biscuit recipe slightly, adding cheese and using milk alone, since we didn't have any yogurt. also, instead of rolling them out, i just dropped them in dollops across the top of the vegetables.

you can grate the cheese, but i like chopping it into little bits (as above) so that you get little tasty pockets of cheese in each bite. this is a great way to use up random bits of cheese that may be knocking around your refrigerator - i used a couple of kinds of sharp cheddar, but pretty much any not-too-soft, flavorful cheese would be good - gruyere or gouda, etc.

mix the dry topping ingredients, cut in the butter (with your fingers, a pastry cutter, or in a food processor), then add the cheese, then the milk. try not to mix it too much at this point so they don't get tough. then just dollop the biscuits over the vegetables as above. 

bake uncovered for about 20 minutes or until the biscuits are browned and cooked through. the vegetable mixture will bubble up while it's baking, so it's not a bad idea to place the dish on a ridged sheet pan to keep your oven from getting too messy.

be sure to let things cool down for at least 20 minutes or so before eating - it'll be super-hot. i actually liked it best at just a little warmer than room temperature - that way you can taste all of the flavors better. plus, who wants to eat a hot dish when it's 100 degrees out? no one, that's who.

1 large onion
lots of garlic (i used about 3 tablespoons, minced)
2 large zucchini
3 small eggplants (or 1 large)
3 medium tomatoes (or 2 large)
herbs (3+ tablespoons fresh +/or a couple of teaspoons dried)
(**if you like a thicker sauce around the vegetables, you could add a slurry of ~ 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water to the vegetable mix before putting the topping on. i thought it was fine with a thinner sauce)

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
~ 1/3 - 1/2 cup cheese, chopped or grated
1 cup milk (or buttermilk or milk/yogurt mixture)

listening to: bishop allen + the rosebuds