Did someone say heat wave? Can I get a witness sweatband?
Look, it's too hot to cook, but the good thing is, there's plenty of ripe fruit and veggies to gorge on. Take a simple caprese salad, for instance: tomatoes, basil, mozz, vinegar, and oil. I love it, you love it, we've all eaten plenty of them. But don't think a caprese has to stop there: use fruit, like peaches, nectarines, and avocados. Use other vegetables, like roasted eggplant, squash, and cukes. The caprese salad is one of the best Italian inventions ever, and I'm not going to let the traditional recipe stop me from going ca-ra-zay with it.
A few weeks ago, our neighbor Andy gifted us a huge chunk of fresh tuna right off the boat after one of his deep-sea fishing trips. I'm talking about 8 pounds worth. I don't remember what Paul and I had planned on eating that night, but whatever it was, it got DITCHED. We set to work on the tuna right away, because when you have a nice piece of fish that fresh, there's only one thing to do.
Eat it raw.
Do you love asparagus like I do? Cause I really, really love it. I also love that it's a harbinger of spring eating, and even though we can technically buy it at the store year-round, I try not to. Waiting until the spring for asparagus is one of the first seasonal-buying lessons I learned when I started learning to cook. Plus, I like the fact that I can get excited about a vegetable.
It's like the beauty pageant version of broccoli. The diva of the vegetable world. I scan the market for its stalks as if I were checking for grass shoots. It's tall and lean and might be usable as a paintbrush, in a pinch. Plus it's awesome in salads of all kinds, especially this yummy potato salad full of herbs and lemony, light flavors. All it needs is a quick steam and a plunge in some ice water to set the color, and you've got spring in a bowl!
Obviously, ladies love their salads: just check this out. I never look like that when I'm eating my solitary salads; usually I'm cross-legged on the bed or wherever, watching an old episode of United States of Tara or the Daily Show. But nothing makes me happier when I know I'm on my own for lunch or dinner than to indulge in a very simple, very vinegary toss of fancy lady-greens. A few years ago I started always pairing it with a goat cheese toast, and I still insist on that, but now I have to kick it up a notch and put an egg on it. Poach it! It's the best ever.
This gorgeous woman is my great-aunt Valentina Wilkinson Sanford Duckworth--or as we like to call her, Aunt Rudy. She's 99 and a half, and has spent most of her life in New Orleans. She's pictured here with her boyfriend Joe Minacapelli of Slidell. My grandmother, Frances, was Rudy's youngest sister; they had another sister, Florence, who passed away a number of years ago. Rudy is the oldest and the last surviving, and she recently moved back to the New Orleans area after a long stint in Cleveland, Oklahoma, where she moved to open a needlework business with Frances.
The needlework business was sort of a "retirement project" for the sisters, and they did well with it for about 10 years, but I don't mean to imply that once Rudy left New Orleans for a small town in Oklahoma, her life somehow quieted down. In fact, once she joined up with Frances, Rudy started to travel the world. My grandmother had taught foreign languages in high school, and had become the kind of French teacher who took a group of seniors to Europe each summer. She'd caught an insatiable travel bug, and when the needlework store started taking off, she and Rudy booked passage to Europe, Scandinavia, the U.S.S.R. (it still was, then), China, Australia, Israel, and places in between, with the dual itineraries of heavy-duty sightseeing and textile purchasing. But let me not forget eating--they loved to try the local specialties, no matter how unusual. So when Rudy talks about restaurants, she's speaking with a wealth of experience, from cooking during the Depression to 13-course meals in Moscow--but you can tell that her favorite memories are from times she had in the grand restaurants of New Orleans.
Tagged with: menu, Lunch, shrimp, salad, restaurant, garlic, potato, creole, new orleans, oklahoma, Rudy, Frances, french quarter, galatoire's, bouillabaisse
I've been thinking a lot about sustainable kitchen practices, by which I mean not just the foods we're eating and cooking, but how we're shopping, planning (or not), growing, and storing. For years, I've been a big believer in planning an entire week's meals as a way of saving money. But sometimes I think that holding too fast to a planned menu can actually cause food waste; if you purchase what you imagine to be a week's worth of food at one time, but you end up not needing that much, what do you do with the excess? And what happens if the meals you planned to make don't store well once prepared? I don't have easy solutions to these questions, other than trial and error, and an idea that's new to me: maybe a little less planning is a better way to go.
Tagged with: cucumber, sandwich, summer, salad, mint, salsa, pita, garden, fried, yogurt, wrap, tomato, vegetarian, herbs, parsley, cilantro, basil, tahini, falafel, tortilla, chickpea
I love little fried bits of things--shrimp, hushpuppies, onion rings, green tomatoes--but I've found a new favorite thing to satisfy that crunch-crunch, home-fried crispy urge. It's fried okra. Growing up, I never used to go for it, while the rest of my family inhaled it by the handful, especially when it came from my Southern-cooking grandma's kitchen. I think okra had too much of a deep, earthen, brown taste...it was bitter, like Brussels sprouts. It seemed, to my palate accustomed to raspberry Zingers and spaghettios, almost burnt. Of course now I can't seem to get enough, and I think it's the oddness of okra that I find so wonderful. There's really nothing else quite like it.
Tagged with: bacon, cucumber, summer, salad, dressing, garden, quick, fried, tomato, easy, oil, lettuce, okra, dip, Buttermilk, cornmeal, crouton
The past few weeks have been full of changes. The weather is a given, but also the pacing of the days, workloads and attitudes toward workloads, and self-designed ideas about life in general. Fall tends to have this effect on me regardless of what's going on in the world. This fall I'm busier than ever, but I'm choosing to regard the busyness as a gift instead of a headache. Living in this city is also still quite a challenge--almost too much of one at times--but I'm learning to be patient with it. Sometimes it feels unknowable. It throws so many parties for itself, how do you ever get a chance at some quiet one-on-one?
Tagged with: seafood, Tuna, sandwich, movie, salad, restaurant, american, Theater, steak, museum, oklahoma, To do, garcia, sector, besh, gusto, mufaletta
I wouldn't call myself a fan of green beans. There's something about them I just don't really care for--too much "green," too much "bean," too much of each of those combined. And green beans and potatoes? There seem to be many calls for these two items together, in curries, stews, or pasta dishes, and I just don't get excited. For whatever reason, though, I can abide them both in a good, solid niçoise. Perhaps it's the way, in a niçoise, they are two components among several others which are all considered important and equal. Perhaps it's the relentless individuality they retain when grouped this way, much like the way people on a team know, deep inside, that even though there's no "i" in "team," there's a "me."
A niçoise is a pretty forgiving square meal. It's meat (traditionally, tuna), veg (green beans), and potatoes, along with various accompaniments that kind of add up to a plate of hors d'oevres, and it's meant to be served at room temperature, which is always a comfort when you're not really up to finishing several different cooking times at once. There are some steps, but they're basic as basic can be: boiling, steaming, baking, and vinaigrette making. It can be served over greens or not, tossed or not, and made expensive or not (one of the perks of living in New Orleans is freshly caught catfish). It can even be seafoodless and still be very satisfying. There's hardly even a recipe to follow, once you've got the basic idea down.
A More Local Niçoise
- 4 portions of seafood (something inexpensive and local, if possible): shrimp, scallops, catfish, crawfish, tuna, salmon, bass, etc.)
- 12 small red boiling potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
- 2 big handfuls green beans, trimmed
- 1 large ripe tomato, or 1 pt. cherry tomatoes
- 3/4 cup pitted olives (preferably niçoise, but kalamata are fine too)
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 lemons
- 2 cloves garlic
- a few teaspoons of wine vinegar (white, red, or champagne)
- 1-2 teaspoons Dijon or grainy mustard
- salt & pepper
- salad greens (optional)
- Make the vinaigrette first, which is the unifier of this dish: Mince the garlic and place in a bowl or measuring cup large enough for a whisk to move around in. Juice the lemons and add the juice to the garlic. Shake in a little wine vinegar and plop in the mustard. Start whisking this mixture with one hand, and with the other hand, slowly pour in the olive oil. This doesn't need to be perfectly emulsified; you'll keep whisking it every time you use it. Taste it, and add salt and pepper and additional vinegar until it tastes like a strong salad dressing. I like it slightly overseasoned, because the potatoes and beans are going to break it down a little.
- Potatoes: Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and boil them whole until a knife will almost go into the center of one easily. Take them off the heat, drain, and return to the pot and add the lid. Let them steam in the pot (no fire underneath) for another 10 minutes to finish cooking. Let them cool for a bit, then quarter or halve them, depending on size. Toss them in a bowl with some of the vinaigrette and set aside.
- Green beans: Put about 1 cup water in a medium saucepan, salt it, and bring to a boil. Add the beans and cook them the way you like them: really crunchy, slightly crunchy, soft, or cafeteria-soft. Drain them, cool them for a long minute, then toss them in a separate bowl with some vinaigrette.
- Seafood: Decide how you want to cook it: bake, broil, grill, saute, poach, etc. Season it with salt, pepper, and anything else you like (I used catfish & some seafood grill seasoning I had on hand). Drizzle it with a bit of olive oil (or another kind of oil) and cook it the way you like it (I baked it at 400 for about 12 minutes) and let it rest for about five minutes for most of the heat to leave.
- Eggs: Hard-boil, cool, peel, and halve.
- Tomatoes: Cut into 8 wedges (if you have cherry tomatoes, you can halve them or leave them whole) (as you might notice in the photo, I forgot to buy tomatoes).
- Olives: Snack on a few and then just keep them at the ready.
- Greens (if using): Make these ready to use as a bed for the other ingredients: wash & tear the greens and toss them with some of the vinaigrette, as you would for any salad.
- Compose: On each plate, place greens, potatoes, green beans, two egg halves, two tomato wedges, several olives, and a portion of seafood. Drizzle a little more vinaigrette over the whole dish and serve.