Tuesday, May 3, 2011

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Holy moly, it's warm enough to step outside and heat up the grill. Are you excited? I'm excited. To kick off the grilling season, I decided to throw together some great fresh veggies (Hurray, asparagus season's start coincides with grilling season!) and try out a technique for grilling sausage.

Spicy Sesame Asparagus
Fresh asparagus, the woody ends removed
Sesame oil
Shichimi togarashi, curry powder, Chinese five-spice, or anything else that suits you (I went with the togarashi)

Grilled Sweet Potato Slices
1/4 inch thick slices of sweet potato

Honey-Basted Sausage
A good, flavorful sausage (I used Hillshire Farms kielbasa)
Warm water

To cook:
Prep: Drizzle enough sesame oil onto asparagus to make sure that your chosen seasonings can be sprinkled on and not fall off during grilling. For the sausage, I used about 1/4 of a cup of honey. This was enough to baste a kielbasa repeatedly during cooking. Mix a little (maybe a 1 to 5 ratio) warm water into your honey so that it can be easily applied to the sausage with a brush. Get your grill nice and hot (very scientific measurement, right?).

1. Lay sweet potato slices down in a single layer. Any overlapping will increase their already lengthy cooking time. Add sausage to the grill and brush with honey.

2. Flip the sausage about once a minute, brushing with honey each time. When the potato slices look cooked on the bottom, flip them over. This is the time to add your asparagus to the grill.

3. Everything should be done at about the same time. The potatoes are really what matters most. Nobody likes biting into undercooked potato, sweet or otherwise. If anything really needs not to be overcooked, it's the asparagus. Once you get some good grill lines on it, don't be afraid to plate it. Drizzling tamari over the cooked asparagus is optional (and delicious).

4. Enjoy your meal with something cold and tasty, and feel great knowing that this is just the start of the grilling season's adventures!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Tastiest, Sloppiest Fish Sandwich I've Ever Made

Today was a huge success. I took some simple ingredients and made something delicious. I'd been thinking about how best to approach making this sandwich for about a week. What I came to was this:
  • Canned salmon is very hit or miss
  • Making salmon cakes is VERY hit or miss, and different people will have different experiences with their batter and frying the cakes
  • The salmon fillets were very affordable at Big Y, and looked fresh and delicious
 With a pound of fresh salmon and a bottle of remoulade sauce in hand, I headed back home. Here's what came of it:

Fresh Salmon Sandwiches with Balsamic Slaw
Your favorite sandwich bread (I used Kinnikinnick gluten-free burger buns, but my dad had his on some whole wheat bread)
Enough shredded cabbage and carrots, in whatever ratio you like, to give about 1/4 cup per sandwich
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
About 1/3 pound fresh salmon fillet per sandwich (You may need more or less, depending on the size and shape of your bread. Don't be afraid to eyeball it. Extra salmon is always welcome!), cleaned and patted dry
Remoulade sauce (It's a bit like a tartar sauce, but with some more ingredients thrown in. My favorites involve horseradish)

1. In a mixing bowl, give your shredded slaw-to-be a drizzling of balsamic vinegar. It doesn't need to be coated, unless you like your slaw wet and extra tangy. I probably used about two tablespoons for three sandwiches, and found that my slaw was a bit wetter than I'd have liked. Next, add just a bit more olive oil than vinegar (Or less, if you prefer. This is a recipe that is best served personalized to your tastes), grind in some salt and pepper, and stir it all up. Be sure to check the taste and correct it if needed. Better now than later. Once you like where your slaw stands, put it in the fridge to wait.
2. Add enough olive oil to a pan to coat half of it, then heat the oil until just smoking. Rub some salt and pepper onto the flesh side of your salmon fillet. I also added a sprinkling of paprika, but I didn't feel that it added anything. Add the salmon, flesh side down, to the hot pan.
3. If you like your bread toasted, now is the time to get it started.
4. Once the salmon has had a chance to sear and cook about half-way through, flip it onto the skin side, maintaining high heat.
5. Prepare the base of the sandwiches. Scoop a healthy pile of slaw onto the bottom bun/slice of bread, and spread (or slather, if you want a super sloppy, creamy sandwich) some remoulade sauce onto the inward face of the top slice.
6. Once your salmon is cooked through to your preference (Heck, you could probably do this with raw sashimi-grade salmon), gently lift each portion from its skin and onto its little hill of slaw. Finish each sandwich with the remoulade-bearing top slice and enjoy.

This was an all-around excellent sandwich. The crunch and tang of the slaw was a perfect companion for the creamy remoulade and fatty salmon. The remoulade sauce rounded out the flavors wonderfully, in a way that plain tartar sauce just can't compete with. We enjoyed our sandwiches with a side of baked sweet potato 'fries' that I lightly oiled and salted, spread out on a baking sheet and broiled, checking in until they were at the point I wanted them to reach.

So, what about you folks? Any favorite fish sandwiches, cole slaws or great sauces? It just might be that I need to try out some more sandwiches in a similar style to this one.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

An Apology and an Adventure!

Sorry for the period of silence! First, my computer broke down for a couple weeks. Then, there was a bit of a cooking dry spell. I just returned yesterday from a week-long trip across the country to the state of Washington. It was a very exciting adventure, and I was so happy to be back with miss Gluten-Free Girlfriend for that time. We didn't cook much, but we certainly had some interesting food adventures.

During my Washington trip, I made my single greatest restaurant expenditure to date. We went to Brooklyn, a steakhouse and oyster bar in the city of Seattle. We went for the oysters. The place was absolutely beautiful, and the staff was very friendly. We found out that they served 13 different kinds of oysters from up and down the west coast. We decided to go for the $32 baker's dozen - one of each type of oyster offered. We approached the oysters one pair at a time, each of us trying one type of oyster at a time as we worked our way down the list, discussing their flavors and textures. Casey approached them more purely than I, only squeezing lemon juice on them. I enjoyed each of mine with a bit of cocktail sauce with freshly grated horseradish (delicious!).

While all of the oysters were absolutely fantastic (some briny, some fruity, some buttery and sweet), the type that really stuck out to us was the Kumamoto oyster, which we learned was farmed in California. These oysters were fatty and buttery like good salmon. We decided to order four more in order to really appreciate them. We enjoyed all of this with spectacular service. At one point, one of the bartenders told us "I can tell that the two of you really enjoy the oysters, because whenever I look over here, you're both smiling". With tax and a tip of a bit over $20 figured in, the meal 17 oysters we ate cost $60. It was worth it in every way.

My other big adventure during my Washington visit was to try out something I've been interested in for a while - flavor tripping (It's legal, I swear! Don't let the name fool you!). There is something called miracle fruit. Miracle fruit contains miraculin, a glycoprotein that binds to your taste buds. It is used commercially as a sugar substitute. Miraculin shuts off your tongue's receptors for bitter flavors, and actually makes sour taste sweet! A single miracle fruit usually goes for about $2. However, you can order a set of 10 pills of miracle fruit concentrate mixed with corn starch, for $15 online. Half of one pill allows a person to trick their tongue for about half an hour. At 75 cents per half hour of fun, it's totally worth it.

We went out and got a selection of limes, lemons, strawberries, kiwis, grapefruit, orange, dark chocolate, cranberry juice, sauerkraut, kim chi, dill gherkin pickles, green olives with pimentos, and some stinky blue cheese. After we had dissolved half a pill each on our tongues, we got to trying things. The strawberries were syrupy sweet, the lemons, limes and grapefruit were citrus candy, the orange was delicious, the pickles tasted dilly without any briny vinegar taste, and the dark chocolate was amazing. Milk chocolate is one thing. Dark chocolate without its bitter taste is just pure, sweet chocolate, untouched by other flavors. None of the other foods impressed me much.

As a parting gift, Casey gave me one more pill. I will be splitting it with my brother, taking what I learned from my first experience to create a truly awesome flavor tripping platter. I also plan on buying a 10-pack for my birthday, totally appropriate for somebody born on April 1st. What better way to celebrate my 20th and a love of food than by playing with everyone's sense of taste?

So, what about all of you? What are some of your favorite food adventures? Guilty pleasures, big money sinks, the wacky and the wild?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Butternut Squash Wontons with Spicy Ginger Syrup - Take 1

Tonight was a learning experience. When I say this, I do not mean to say that it was a failure - I ate up every bit of what I cooked, with some help from a friend. Still, I know that I would like to do things differently next time.

I was inspired by a recipe for pumpkin wontons with a gorgonzola sauce. The idea of pumpkin wontons really struck me as excellent. I decided to go for a gluten-and-lactose-free version of my own. So, I found a neat and simple recipe for gluten-free wonton skins here: http://iamglutenfree.blogspot.com/2009/01/gluten-free-wontons-shu-mei.html

I skinned, cubed and boiled one large butternut squash. When it was soft, I mashed it and added in a bit of tamari (the wonderfully dark and flavorful gluten-free soy sauce, an indispensable member of any gluten-free fridge). I then used this as a filling for a batch of the wonton skins. For a sauce, I made a simple syrup containing about two pinky joints worth of grated fresh ginger root, and a liberal sprinkling of shichimi togarashi (Japanese 'seven flavor chili pepper' powder).

So, here's what I wish I hadn't done: Rather than getting the full recipe from Casey while I had her on the phone (I've been without a net connection for a few days, and am glad to have it back in time to write this up), I just got the instructions for making the wonton skins themselves. I didn't ask how to cook them. As it turns out, the author steamed hers, then pan fried them. I took the crab rangoon route, sadly (deep fried in a mixture of canola and vegetable oil). This resulted in a wonton skin that was more akin to a flour tortilla. It was very crisp and taco-like, and the flavor that it took on during cooking  really masked the subtle sweetness of the squash.

The good news: As soon as the wontons were paired with the ginger sauce, they were wonderful. The wontons skin's flavor was mellowed out, and the ginger mingled with bursts of squash. The friend I'd recruited to help me roll out wontons helped me devour each and every one. It was a very comfortably filling meal. I think that, if served with a bed of hot rice and a side of steamed greens, this could have easily been made into a meal for four.

The bottom line: Butternut squash wontons need to happen again, and I'm going to steam them as the author intended. The ginger syrup was absolutely excellent and I will most certainly be expanding its use. I do want to consider some options for making the butternut squash's flavor really pop out. I was thinking that steaming the wontons may help, but I'm not sure. I'm afraid to make the filling sweeter, because the ginger syrup was already pretty sweet. My friend suggested maybe adding salt. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Citrus Sriracha Chicken

My younger brother Jeremy made some very good buffalo chicken the other day. This inspired me to put a twist on a favorite of ours. What better way to change it up than by using some delicious Thai sriracha hot sauce? I did a Google search to see if sriracha wings had been done before, and yes, they have. Food & Wine magazine has what looks to be a very interesting recipe here. However, I decided that I would change it up a bit, and throw in some flavors that I really enjoy. The result was better than I could have hoped for.

Citrus Sriracha Chicken
For 4 lbs of chicken (I used drumsticks), you will need:
For the marinade
1/8 cup olive oil
A splash of sesame oil (optional)
1/8 cup madras curry powder
About a tablespoon of paprika

Mix the marinade ingredients together in a container (I used a ziplock freezer bag) and let the chicken marinate overnight. When you're ready to cook it up, set your oven to 375 degrees and bake the chicken for one hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. While the chicken cooks, prepare your sauce by whisking together the following in a large bowl:

1/2 cup of your favorite sriracha-style hot sauce
1/4 cup of your favorite orange juice (I used some extra-pulpy Florida's Natural)
4 tablespoons of butter or margarine (Less, if you'd like more heat)

Once the chicken is cooked through (if you're unsure, check that the juices unclear), toss it in the bowl of sauce until it is covered well. I plated mine up with some baked sweet potato fries, but I'm sure that it could be served with just about anything - a bed of jasmine rice, a nice chopped salad with a simple lime vinaigrette, or steamed or roasted veggies.

I found that the orange juice really helped to mellow out the sriracha beautifully. I was surprised to find that I didn't need anything to accompany the meal and balance out the heat. Not so much as a runny nose. My lips are just comfortably warm, rather than burning. The orange juice flavor was subtle, really blending well with the sriracha's garlicky, chili pepper-infused taste.

If you're looking for a break from typical buffalo wings, I would definitely recommend trying out this simple solution. It's also very easily modified. If you're not a curry fan, swap out the curry powder for some warm spices of your own choosing. Please share any ideas, comments or questions! I'd love to see what you think of the recipe.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Freaking Awesome Burger and Single-Serving Soda Bread

This was an excellent discovery that I am very happy about. When I started cooking gluten and lactose-free, I was feeling bummed out about being unable to bake bread. Thankfully, I found a really good gluten-free soda bread recipe. I found it to be wonderfully biscuit-like, and decided to make a smaller version to use as a burger bun. Here is the modified soda bread recipe, complete with a simple and delicious burger recipe.

Single-serving Soda Bread Bun:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit; lightly butter or oil a small baking sheet or pie tin
Mix together:
1 cup baking flour (I used Bob's Red Mill gluten-free all-purpose baking flour)
Sprinkle of salt
Teaspoon or so of baking soda
A sprinkle of buckwheat flour, if you want a really rich flavor
Cut one tablespoon of cold butter into this mixture, mixing it in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.
Whisk together an egg and a cup of milk (I used Rice Dream), then mix that in with the dry ingredients.
Knead on a floured surface for a little bit, shaping dough into a ball.
Set the ball on the prepared sheet or tin, then pop into the oven for half an hour.

Freaking Awesome Burger:
Chop up a clove of garlic as fine as you'd like it, or leave it chunky. Throw the garlic into a small bowl, along with a BIG splash of Pickapeppa sauce, or just plain Worcestershire if you're boring and haven't bought any Pickapeppa yet (Get on it! I mean it, it's really good!), maybe a tablespoon or so. Add in a quarter pound of ground beef or turkey and knead it together until thoroughly combined.

Shape your now-awesome meat into a ball and press to about half-inch thickness. Add delicious meat-puck to a lightly oiled frying pan and cook to your preferences. I was using turkey, so I made sure that it was cooked well on both sides, but I know that many people are more lenient with beef.

Really Easy Chili (Really)

I figured I'd kick off this blog with a favorite recipe of mine. It's very forgiving and easily adjusted to your personal tastes. All in all, it's more a set of guidelines than a hard set of rules. If you have any favorite tricks or ingredients of your own, throw them into a comment and share them!

Really Easy Chili (Really)
This recipe only uses one pot. Get a nice big one that will be able to hold everything that you will be adding.

3 cans of beans, drained (I suggest an assortment of light red kidney beans, pink, white, black, maybe chickpeas... Experiment until you find out what works best for you)
1 can of corn, drained (Gold, white or sweet)
1 can of diced tomato (Get a huge can if they're on sale), or, if diced is unavailable, canned tomatoes in tomato juice can be broken up in the can with a fork

Optional (and by no means an exhaustive list)
2 small or 1 medium/large potato, cut into small pieces (½ inch or so)
1 zucchini, chopped
1 bell pepper, cut small
1 chili pepper (any sort will do), diced
1 onion, diced
1 or more cloves of garlic, diced
1 package ground beef, turkey or chicken

Over medium-high heat, sauté veggies in a lightly oiled pot large enough to hold all of your ingredients. If using meat, cook the meat over high heat until browned before reducing the heat and adding the vegetables.

When lightly browned, add beans and corn and cook for another few minutes before adding the tomato. If the tomato doesn't add enough liquid, add enough water to almost cover the ingredients.

Boil for five minutes, then reduce to medium-low heat and simmer for ½ hour to however long you can wait, stirring whenever you feel like stirring. Just make sure to check in and add more liquid if need be. It's a pain to clean burnt stuff off of a pan.

Don't season it until you've tried it. Might need some salt, or a few grinds of a pepper mill, or it might be just fine as it is. Some chipotle seasoning is also a great addition.

This is delicious on its own, or on a bed of rice. An even chili-to-rice ratio is good. It's also great for dipping tortilla chips into.