Archive | July, 2011

Feeling Blue

29 Jul

Not really – things are great!  We’ve had beautiful sunny days on the Oregon Coast, Empire Café’s booth at the Farmer’s Market is selling out, and aside from Sig’s new obsession of sneakily stealing and chewing on wine corks, life is good.  But I do still have blueberries.  Lots of them.

During our spontaneous Costco visit the other day (spontaneous because Costco is two hours away, and we hadn’t planned on going), we picked up some beautiful flank steak.  Our Coos Bay butcher, while having some great, local, and sometimes hard to find cuts of meat, he is often lacking on the flank steak.  It’s a wonderful cut of meat – thin, flavorful while still on the lean side, and responds beautifully to marinades.  I don’t see much of it in restaurants, and I’m wondering if my naïveté is missing something in the steak world; like my affection for flank steak is similar to saying fake nacho cheese is good for you (isn’t it?).

Anywho, growing up, my mom used to make flank steak all the time.  She’d grill them on the rare side, a little more rare than my dad would prefer, and slice them construction paper-thin.  She usually served them with one of our favorite sides – sautéed mushrooms in butter and wine.  Those were usually gone within the first serving.  In my way younger days, I coined the term, “Red Juicy Meat,” in our house and would ask for said food almost every dinner.  And the leftovers were perfect for sandwiches – PB&Js were great (still are), but nothing beat a 3rd grader’s steak sandwich.

So our steak dinner the other night came together kind of haphazardly.  I’ll give you the Jill and Rob conversation (and yes, our kitchen conversations are like this.  Me, more so than him, which often leaves him with raised eyebrows and hands out waiting patiently for me to explain a complete thought.  Such a good man):

We have the steaks – ok, will marinate and grill.  But what else?  We have mushrooms – ok, but let’s try something different.  Inspiration?  Canal House’s Summer volume – yes, pg. 28.  Now, what else… let’s see… Blueberries.  Blueberries, blueberries, blueberries.  Grapes?  Ok, grapes.  “Jill, what…. do you want me to do?”

What?  You didn’t get all that?

So, our summer steak dinner came together beautifully and blue.  Rob had the inspiration to make Blueberry Mojitos (if you want the recipe let me know – I’ll have to ask him how they are made!), and they were the perfect start to our Flank Steak with Roasted Blueberries and Grapes.  And the mixture of the juices from the wine, garlic and herb sautéed mushrooms (I adapted and changed the Canal House Sautéed Mushrooms a bit) was a tangy fresh paring to the hearty meat.  The Roasted Blueberries and Grapes weren’t too sweet, masking the integrity of the steak, but rather gave a syrupy contrast to the salty marinade.  It was divine.

In true tradition, the mushrooms were gone within the dinner, but the leftover steak made for a great appetizer the next day – mini steak crostinis.  It was no lunchtime steak sandwich, but still great.

As I write, I’m finishing the last of the fresh blueberries, popping them in my mouth like bar mix at a pub.  But don’t worry; there are 5 more gallons in the freezer.

Flank Steak with Roasted Blueberries and Grapes (serves 4-6) 

  • 2, 1 lb. flank steak
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/2 c soy sauce
  • 2 c pomegranate juice
  • a few sprigs of thyme
  • cracked pepper
  • 1 small bunch of grapes
  • 2 c fresh blueberries
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 c balsamic vinegar
  • olive oil, for drizzling
  • s&p
  • chopped parsley (for garnish) 
  • crispy shallots (optional, for garnish)  – simply heat up about 2 c canola oil in a small pot, and drop in thinly sliced shallots in about three batches.  Take out of oil when golden and crispy, and place on paper towel to drain.  Sprinkle with a bit of fine sea salt while they are still warm.  

Preheat oven to 500 degrees, and preheat grill.

To make the marinade, combine the soy sauce, thyme, pom juice, garlic, and cracked pepper in a large lasagna pan.  Add the meat, turning a couple times to make sure it is covered.  Marinade for at least 1 hour (2 hours is the max outside of the fridge), up to 8 in the fridge.

Meanwhile, in a small cast iron pan, melt the butter (I just put the pan with the butter in the oven while it’s heating).  Once melted, but not browned, add the grapes and the blueberries, and a bit of s&p.  Mix together, making sure the fruit is coated with the butter.  Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the fruit is syrupy – blueberries have released their juices, but still have some integrity, and the grapes are swollen and look as if they are going to pop.  Take out of the oven, and immediately hit the fruit with the balsamic vinegar, mixing to combine.

Take the meat out of the marinade, and pat dry.  Drizzle steaks with olive oil, salt, and a generous amount of pepper.  Grill to your liking (I think medium rare is the best for flank steak).

After grilling, let meat rest for about 15 minutes tented with foil.  When ready to serve, place on a platter, slice thin strips against the grain of the meat, and pour the lovely roasted fruit on top.  Sprinkle some parsley and crispy shallots on top, and you’ve got a winner winner steak dinner.  

Enjoy! 

Not Bad for a Monday

26 Jul

Mondays are not usually the most desired day of the week.  It means waking up early, going back to work, and generally looking “forward” to the rest of the week ahead.  Right now, every Monday I tend to look forward to getting involved in the crazy unrealistic antics of the Bachelorette on Monday nights, but aside from that, it’s pretty much a dull day.  That is, unless you are a teacher (summer’s off), or a Coast Guard pilot (have random days off).

Rob and I had a huge Honey-Do list of tasks for Monday, all of which necessary, but nothing to write home about.  You know the things I’m talking about – the “Dos” that pile up – cleaning out the garage, go through the wardrobe, donate to Goodwill, etc.  But when Rob got home from work Monday morning (he had overnight duty the night before), we were in no mood for cleaning.

Last week, my mom was visiting us, and we had the best time.  We hiked, we ate, we shopped, we ate, we cooked, and yes, we ate some more.  There were memorable experiences with snakes, a questionable experience with Sasquatch, a terrifying chipmunk, and a Coast Guard C-130 to start off our time together with a bang.  Despite enduring the wonderful Pacific Northwest travel discrepancies, hopefully, my mom left here with a satiated, warm, and comfortable feeling that I hope all my guests feel when then they depart.  I know I had that feeling, and still do… I miss her.

Needless to say, after exploring Cape Cod, and then playing around Oregon with my mom, the last thing Rob and I wanted to do was pick up a sponge.

The SUN was out (it was a “Yay Oregon!” day), and we had planned to go blueberry picking at some point this summer.  So, agreeing that we would come home and be responsible adults right after picking blueberries, we put on our hats and sunscreen and drove inland to the warm, beautiful farming valley.

When it comes to blueberries, Rob and I differ in our gleaning ways, so to speak.  He is diligent, gentle, simply nudging blueberries with his knuckle and letting the ripe ones fall off into his bucket.  They make the softest little plop, plop, plop, a sound that is both exciting and humble simultaneously.  He finds the biggest berries (like a true man would), and bypasses the ones that aren’t on the verge of bursting.  He has a keen eye and being tall, gets the berries on the top of the bush, the ones gathering the most sun until their little juices are almost starting to bubble – those are the sweetest ones.

I, on the other hand, have my own way of gathering the blue loot.  Drawn to the clumps of berries hanging beneath the leaves and thin branches for dear life (similar to wine grapes hanging off the vine, which is probably why I’m drawn to them), I softly lift up the branch, find the hidden berries, take the bunch with one hand and carefully massage the berries.  The berries that are ripe easily fall out of the clump into my other open hand waiting to catch.  While lacking the delicacy that Rob displays leaves me with a few discarded berries, I find the dark hidden gems, and the efficiency leaves me with a full bucket.

We didn’t chat much during our picking.  We just stood side by side, tasting a berry off each new bush (each bush produces slightly different tasting berries), and every once in a while looked up and exchanged a simple smile.  We were in our own little blueberry world, feeling close to nature (such a clichéd, hippie phrase, but it does explain the feeling), and close to each other.  Blueberry picking was one of the first things Rob took me to experience when I first moved to Oregon, which made the experience that much more meaningful.

Twenty-three pounds of blueberries later, we piled back into the car, sweating, wiping off the occasional little spider or silverfish, and smiling from ear to ear.  But then, it was back home to be the responsible adults we said we would be.  Or so we thought.

By the end of the afternoon, we had walked through one of the most beautiful (and oldest) wineries in Oregon, joined their wine club (after all, who knows where the Coast Guard will send us in two years – we must enjoy as much as we can while we are still living here!), and ate the best house-made gardenburgers I’ve ever had in my life.  Stay tuned: I’m going to be experimenting to get this one down perfectly.

The butter on the bread (or the icing on the cake, whatever your taste may be) that ended our spontaneous outing was the nearly empty Costco we visited to pick up some household necessities, like paper towels and yogurt.  And a cookbook.  And gourmet mushrooms.  And a 5-pound bag of trail mix.  Se le vie.

We were home just in time to feed the cranky puppy (how dare we have fun without him!), and, you guessed it, watch the Bachelorette.

While Rob and I were picking the juicy berries and tasting the intricate wines, both our minds were flooding with ideas and recipes to make the most fabulous use out of our blueberries.  But, with Rob having to go back to the reality called a job, I figured I’d send him off with a comfortable classic, as well as one of his favorites: Blueberry Muffins.  With extra blueberries.  We ate one together this morning, still way too hot from the oven, and he took two more for the road.

Sig is watching me type… I think I’ll make him jealous and have two more now, as well.

Simply Blueberry Muffins (makes 12 muffins) 

  • 2 c fresh, organic blueberries
  • 1 3/4 c all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 c sugar (I use organic cane sugar) 
  • 8 oz. thick greek yogurt 
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • Raw sugar, for sprinkling on top 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and grease and lightly flour a standard muffin tin. 

In a stand mixer (or using a hand mixer), cream together the yogurt and sugar.  Once sugar starts to dissolve, add the vanilla extract, and mix until incorporated. 

In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients together, reserving the blueberries and lemon zest.  In thirds, add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing until just incorporated.  Add in the lemon zest, and mix until (once again) just incorporated.  Gently fold in the blueberries with a spatula, being careful not to break the berries.  

Evenly scoop the batter into the muffin tin, and top the batter with a sprinkle of raw sugar.  Bake until golden, and a toothpick comes out clean.  

Let cool (or not) and Enjoy!

Numerology

14 Jul

I haven’t been cooking a lot this summer, much to my dismay.  But here’s a bit of what’s been going on, as well as a couple easy, fast, summery, feel-good recipes that I’ve managed to sneak in.

Number of hours it took to move out of my classroom: 10 (I think it’s a new record)

The opportunity to experience a new job opportunity: taken (and got the job!)

Number of days of a relaxing summer before getting very sick: 1

Number of weeks on the couch with germy, residual horrible kiddie germs: 3

MPH of a wind gust that tried to blow over our Farmer’s Market Artisan Bread tent (and me): 30

Number of minutes wide-awake on a red-eye fight to Boston: 270

Remember to order this when getting a BLT in the North End of Boston: bread (or else you’ll just get a plate of B, and L, and T)

Number of inches of rain per minute in the worst thunderstorm Cape Cod has seen all season: 4

The amazing number of miles the tide goes out on the bay side of the Cape: 2

The number of crabs seen: hundreds

Number of crabs stepped on: 1 (and that was enough!)

Number of inflamed bug bites: 27

Pounds of Cape Cod Salt Water Taffy purchased: 5

Number of pieces of taffy I ate: 4

Number of disgusted looks from husband while eating said pieces of taffy: 4

Types of fish delivered from a commercial fishing boat off-load: 3 (skate, dogfish, and the largest lobster I’ve ever seen…. Seriously, this thing could have taken out Sig).

Number of trains needed to get to the Samuel Adams brewery: 2

Number of free beers given on a Samuel Adams brew tour: 3

Number of miles needed to walk after having 3 beers at the Sam Adams brew tour: 2

Number of hours sitting in Logan airport waiting for a broken plane: 6

Feeling of lungs when sprinting through the airport to make a 5-minute connection: burning

The look on a Father-In-Law’s face when surprised by his 4 children, their spouses, and the 5 grandkids for his 70th birthday: priceless.

Spicy Red Leaf Salad with Gouda Dressing (serves 2 realistically, but I ate the whole bowl; a great fresh comfort after traveling.  There is something about the super tender red leaf lettuce – especially when it comes right out of the ground – that makes this salad so satisfying to eat.)

  • 4 c red lettuce leaves, torn
  • 2 stalks of celery, sliced into very thin half-moons
  • 1 red chili, seeded and deveined (to remove the heat), and very finely diced
  • 8-10 toasted almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 oz gouda, diced
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
  • s&p 

Place the lettuce, celery, chili, and almonds in a serving bowl.  In a blender, add the gouda cheese, mustard, red wine vinegar and a bit of the extra virgin olive oil, and blend.  While the blender is on, add in the rest of the olive oil.  Blend until slightly chunky and a bit creamy, and taste for s&p.  

Pour the dressing on top of the salad, and serve.  

NOTE: by seeding and deveining the chili, it takes away a lot of the heat.  What you are left with is the flesh, which adds a great amount of flavor to the salad.  But, if you don’t like the taste of raw chilis, then leave out and add a few drops of red Tabasco to the dressing mixture.  

Enjoy!  

Honey and Sea Salt Popcorn (makes a large bowl which can serve many, but again, I ate the whole bowl) 

  • 1 c raw popcorn kernels 
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp good quality honey (I use local Meadowfoam) 
  • finely ground sea salt 

In a large, covered pot, heat the olive oil and the popcorn over medium heat until kernels are popped (the popping noise will subside, and after 5 seconds of no popping noises, immediately take off the heat).  Note: if you like burnt popcorn (like I do), heat the same way, only over high heat. 

In a saucepan, heat the butter and honey over med-high heat until melted.  The butter mixture will start to bubble; just lift off the heat and swirl – do not stir with a spoon.  

When popcorn is done, pour into a bowl and, while stirring, pour the honey and butter mixture over the popcorn.  While still sticky, sprinkle the sea salt (and mix) to taste.  

Warning: this popcorn is addictive.  ENJOY!  

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