Saturday, July 19, 2008

For a Good Time, Call . . . (pt. 4)

Failblog! I can't remember the last time I laughed this hard. 

Self-Promotion & Cross-Pollination

Who doesn't need a good word-a-day site? This one is unpretentious and fun, plus the July 18 word was submitted by yours truly. Have at it!

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Last night I discovered Ben & Jerry's creme brulee ice cream—to the tune of better than half a pint. Chasing the brulee riffle is a particularly tantalizing addiction. I guess I owe it to myself to finish the rest of the container today, and get that particular temptation out of the house.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

For a Good Time, Call . . . (pt. 3)

Desmond Dekker. I woke up in the middle of the night once this winter with the words "Desmond Dekker" and the refrain "The Israelites" running through my head. I hadn't heard the song for maybe twenty years. I hadn't talked about it recently or read anything about him. I don't know why I woke up, or what these things were doing running through my subconscious, but when daylight came around I went to YouTube, and there it was—every bit as good (or better) than I remembered.

On a somewhat related note, I recently had another odd experience with my dream mind. For no good reason I can think of I had been trying for a few days to recall the name of my middle school science teacher. I could picture his face and physique and certain mannerisms, but no matter what I did, I couldn't bring back his name. I even remembered that he had a son who played basketball and ran the hurdles, but for names . . . nothing. Then a few nights ago, I woke up in the early hours of the morning, interrupting a dream he was in, and there was his name—first and last!—and his son's name as well.

Further Adventures with Twice-Cooked Foods

Today’s lunch had its roots back in three different meals from the long weekend with the boys. At their request, I grilled burgers for dinner on the fourth, but one of my grilling rules (maybe my only one) is never to grill just one item, so I also threw on some marinated chicken breasts that I planned to include in Saturday’s panini. As it turned out, we didn’t eat all of the chicken during that meal, so I had some leftovers. Then Sunday night, we had spaghetti at R’s request, traditional American red sauce over pasta, but again there was plenty of leftover pasta.

Going through the fridge, I came across these items, as well as a few others, and started to envision a dish made in part of leftovers that would also be elegant and flavorful enough to serve to guests. I first read about fried pasta in John Thorne’s Outlaw Cook a number of years ago, and his enthusiasm, the simplicity of the meal, and the ingredients (olive oil, garlic, and leftover spaghetti) appealed to me immediately. My plan here was to use that modest combination as a base, and try something a little more complex.

I started by dicing and frying some pancetta. After setting that aside, I sautéed onions and then garlic in olive oil. Once those were lightly browned, I added more olive oil, and placed the leftover pasta—angel hair in this case—in the pan, turning it every so often, so that the edges became golden and crispy. When this was about halfway done, I added the chopped chicken from the fridge, the pancetta, and some capers. Once everything was cooked, the dish was topped with parmesan, toasted slivered almonds, fresh parsley, and a touch of lemon.

See Also: Previous Adventures with Twice-Cooked Food

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Shrimp Tacos with (More Than) a Little Help From a Friend, or Further Adventures in Marinating

Former professional cook, ongoing gourmand, mild-mannered bon vivant, and all-around good guy Hubcap was coming in to town, and I had no idea what to feed him, when all of a sudden I had a vision.

I was sitting outside at Sea Salt, a local seafood eatery near Minnehaha Falls that everyone raves about. Alas, both times I have been there, the food has been, well . . . fine, pleasant. Let me be clear, I have no real complaints, but when it comes to seafood and everyone raving, well . . . it seems like things should be pretty transcendent. So, I’m sitting there mildly enjoying my shrimp taco when the thought plops down on top of me: I could make a better one, and I should do so for my good friend, Hubcap.

The only problem with my vision was that it was a partial one. I saw tender pink shrimp with a touch of lime, Monterey jack, and either avocados or guacamole, a little shredded lettuce and tomatoes, but I was drawing a blank on the salsa front. A traditional red salsa would have been adequate, but this was seafood and Hubcap and my own little ego; adequate wouldn’t suffice. So, I emailed my friend, C, another former professional cook, ongoing gourmand, less mild-mannered bon vivant (or perhaps bonne vivante, je ne sais pas) and all around good guy (er, gal).

She didn’t hesitate (at least as far as one can suss out hesitation or its lack thereof in an email) to lay out some guidelines that made me second and third-guess her self-editor, before following them (for the most part) to what I considered raving success. I thought I was inquiring about salsa, but the technique C introduced me to, one I had never heard of—and neither have any of the friends I’ve mentioned it to since then—was a post-cooking marinade. I hope I am not revealing any family or trade secrets, but for you, dear reader, it’s a risk I’m willing to run.

She directed me to cut the shrimp in half lengthwise, another step that was new to me, but which proved a fine move on the texture front, and a nice way of ensuring shrimp in every bite, something that doesn’t always happen with shrimp dishes. After quickly sautéing then removing them from the pan, I sautéed finely chopped onions and garlic, then poured lime juice over them, and let that cook for another minute or two. At this point, I combined the garlic-onion-lime concoction with the shrimp and placed it all in the fridge for an hour or two.

C’s other excellent suggestion was to put the flour tortilla on the skillet in a touch of oil, and sprinkle the Monterey jack on top of it. There was a trade-off with this step—the tortillas weren’t as malleable as they usually are—but it’s one I would make again for the sake of the crispy shell and melted cheese surrounding the rest of the ingredients. The only place I veered from C’s directions was in my choice of a tomatillo salsa over pico de gallo.

See also: Previous Adventures in Marinating