Saturday, August 16, 2014

Curry in a Hurry

Sometimes you just need to cheat a little. 

I was having such a relaxing afternoon reading "Cook's Illustrated" & "Vanity Fair"  that I didn't start dinner prep quite as early as I should have, so I turned to one of my reliable cheaters: Trader Joe's Thai Yellow Curry Sauce. I usually keep a bottle of it & the Red Thai Curry Sauce in the pantry. 

The technique is simple: steam or saute your ingredients until just tender & then put them together for a brief communal simmer in the sauce. My ingredients tonight: carrots, green beans, mushrooms, onions, and tofu. Don't pre-cook the mushrooms. 

I pressed the excess water out of the tofu by putting it between two layers of paper towels topped with my favorite "presser": a cast iron skillet.

The next step is "dry frying" slices of pressed tofu in the same skillet. 

Slice the browned tofu, & it's ready to go.

You can use chicken or other meat or shrimp--I just really like the veggie version, & I pretty much always have a package of extra firm tofu on hand.

Shortly before serving, I put the vegetables (except for the uncooked mushrooms) into a skillet with the curry sauce & simmered briefly. Then I added the tofu and mushrooms and simmered it bit longer.

With the curry on a low simmer, I decided to see how well zucchini noodles (this summer's obsession) paired with Indian spices. While the salted noodles rested in the colander (to remove moisture), I made a quick tomato sauce which I seasoned with a bit of chaat masala, an Indian spice blend & then tossed it with the zucchini noodles.

The zucchini noodles went great with the curry. 

Curry with French wine (a gift from my friend Marilyn Kallet)? 

Mais oui certainment! 

That's what we're having. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Quick, Fresh Friday Night Dinner

So, I met a friend for drinks & then skedaddled home to put out a quick, healthy, fresh dinner--in under an hour. Done!

Tomatoes & cucumbers in awesome lemon truffle vinaigrette I brought home from lunch at Chesapeake's the other day. How often do I request leftover salad dressing to bring home? Never! But this was amazing stuff-- served with grilled shrimp & chunks of watermelon over greens. Recommend! The leftovers have been great tossed with tomatoes & cucumbers.

Truth be told, I could probably just eat the vinaigrette by the spoonful. But I won't.

Next up: More zucchini noodles--the pale green kind--tossed with room temperature pesto made with our own container-grown basil.

And then, because I had some green beans in the fridge, I threw together an oldie but goodie: Green Beans Amandine. Recipe below because if you don't have this one in your arsenal, you really should. Quick, easy, delicious.

A fresh, healthy summer supper prepared in less than an hour. That's what we're having.

Green Beans Amandine

Green beans, trimmed
Chopped fresh thyme
Dijon mustard
Chopped garlic
Black pepper
Splash of lemon juice
Slivered or sliced almonds, lightly toasted

Cook the green beans in a large pot of boiling salted water until just crisp-tender, about 3-5 minutes. Drain the beans and transfer them to a large bowl of ice water, cooling them completely. (The ice water will shock the beans into a vibrant green color.) Drain the beans well. At this point you can make the beans a day ahead and store in refrigerator.

Alternatively you can steam the beans for 5 minutes and proceed directly to the skillet.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat. Whisk in some fresh thyme, Dijon mustard, and garlic into the butter. Add the beans, black pepper, and lemon juice to the skillet and toss until heated through, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with toasted almonds.  

Monday, August 11, 2014

More Zucchini Noodles--with Clam Sauce this time

Mostly what I'm having is a semi-miserable day...but that's not a positive starting point. What I assumed was an allergy attack may actually be a cold. I don't recall being around anyone with a cold, & even if I had been, I'm not usually one of those people who gets whatever's "going around." But here I am, sniffling, blowing my nose, etc. Ugh.

After slogging my way through today's To Do list, comfort food seemed called for. I decided to see how well zucchini noodles pair with one of my favorite really simple comfort foods--clam sauce (with linguini.)

The verdict? Not bad at all.

A colander full of zucchini noodles is becoming a familiar sight.

Here's the finished product. Recipe below,

Sliced Brandywines needed NO accompaniment. Just slice & serve.

We usually split an ear of corn. I like to put the tiniest bit of butter & some salt on a plate & use tongs to roll the ears in the salty butter.

Here's my plate: tomatoes corn, zucchini noodles with clam sauce, & just a bit of bread so none of those clam sauce juices go unsopped.

An aside: Not a gadget person, but I've started using my citrus juicer (a gift!) even for just one lemon as this recipe called for. You get so much more juice than with hands, & the juicer is so easy to clean. Nothing fancy, but it works great.

You can find clam sauce recipes all over the place, but this is the one my friend Judy McCarthy uses, which guarantees its goodness. Follow the recipe. Just use zucchini noodles instead of linguini. No pasta water or other liquid. needed.

Zucchini noodles yet another way. That's what we're having.

Clam Sauce & Linguini

8 ounces Dry Linguine
1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 whole Large Shallot, Minced
3 cans (6.5 Oz. Size) Clams, Drained With 1/2 Cup Juice Reserved
1 whole Lemon, Juiced
¼ teaspoons Red Pepper Flakes
½ cups Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese
Minced Parsley, For Garnish

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the minced shallots and saute for about 5 minutes, until very soft. Add the drained clams and continue cooking for another 4-5 minutes.

Add the 1/2 cup reserved clam juice, lemon juice and red pepper flakes to the skillet. Bring mixture to a boil, then simmer for 3 minutes.

Add hot cooked linguine to the pan and toss well with the sauce. Divide amongst plates and top each dish with Parmesan cheese and minced parsley (optional).

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fun, fun, fun at Margarita Night at Kendrick Place

I've noticed that in some ways, for us residents, downtown is like a college campus for grown-ups (all the fun & networking without the exams & adolescent angst) --and we all think we live in the coolest dorm.

I had wanted to live at Kendrick Place since the first time I was in Annie DeLisle's condo there (#611) in 1983. So, quite amazingly, 22 years later, Bill & I purchased #600 in 2005 and then moved to #607 (aka the one with the roof decks) in 2009.

It's a great neighborhood--14 units, 7 on each side of the courtyard that visionary developer Kristopher Kendrick christened "the mews"*. We have friendly, fun, responsible neighbors who pay their HOA fees, respect others' boundaries, and are unfailingly helpful.

We say hello when we see each other, we sometimes have impromptu gatherings, we exchange lots of group emails, & we see each other at the annual meeting + potluck in June and at the holiday potluck in December.

Last night we had our first in what may become quarterly planned neighborhood gatherings:

The Recipe:

2 gallons of margaritas + chips & salsa (both from Soccer Taco on Market Square) + a few appetizers made by Karen Kluge & me along with some subtle Mexican decor + acoustic music by our resident guitarists Tim Allen & Allen Halcomb = Margarita Night!

Check it out.

What's a margarita party without margaritas?

After playing "Margaritaville" and "Tequila Sunrise," Tim & Allen said they were out of tequila songs. Next up, the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood." Never a bad choice.

Here's an all-star line-up: Karen Kluge, Lorie Huff Matthews, honorary resident Sam Maynard, HOA president Mary Holbrook, & Allen & Sonia Brisson-Smith.

At the end of the evening, the neighborhood dogs, who are great pals, joined us.

The cats stayed at their respective homes, but we may need to arrange an indoor play date for them.

Now, all you residents of Crown Court, the Glencoe/Elliot, Cherokee Lofts, Gallery Lofts, Fire Street Lofts, the Phoenix, the Holston, the Burwell, the Emporium, the Jacksonian, and others...

What's going on at your place?

A fun Saturday night with the neighbors. That's what we're having.

* Mews: a narrow street lined with buildings that were originally private stables but have been remodeled as dwellings. If you knew Kristopher, this is but one of many of his inspired creations. This little narrow street will forever be known as the "mews." 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Farmers' Market Themed Progressive Dinner

Last night we had another of our progressive dinners with a small group of friends and neighbors.

We always have a theme--last night it was Farmers' Market. We ate a lot of tomatoes, but no one minded.

We always invite a couple of guests--last night it was Christi & Scott Branscom, who've just moved into a pied a terre downtown. We warned them that's how we started. Next thing you know, you're selling the big house along with most of what you've spent decades accumulating & the stuff the kids left behind when they moved out.

Last night we started at Monique & Bruce Anderson's place at the Glencoe, where we were served these beautiful appetizer plates--cheese, marcona almonds, peaches, berries, grapes, & tomato slices with basil & mozzarella--with a sparkling pinot grigio we all loved.

Having been told this pinot grigio is available only at one winery in California (which doesn't ship to Tennessee), someone proposed, "Road Trip!"

Tim Young, Jeff Cupp, & I left the Andersons' condo early to finish preparation of the main course at their place at Gallery Lofts. Lately we've struck a partnership where I prepare the food and the two of them come up with a signature cocktail, sometimes at their condo, sometimes at our condo at Kendrick Place. We have a bigger kitchen, but they have more living/dining space, so we most often opt for their place.

Check out last night's signature cocktail: Watermelon Moonshine Martinis, which involved strained watermelon, vodka, & watermelon moonshine...and who knows what else. They were beautiful...and powerful.

What's the green stuff around the rim? A mix of salt & sugar with green food coloring involved at some point in the preparation.

I prepared Stacked Tomato Salad (recipe at bottom)

And Salad Nicoise. I used Julia Child's recipe, which is widely available in her books & online.

I used the largest tray Tim & Jeff had--it was still overflowing with tuna, green beans, fingerling potatoes, tomatoes, boiled eggs, Nicoise olives, rolled anchovies, & capers drizzled with a mustardy vinaigrette.

We finished the evening at Cynthia Moxley and Alan Carmichael's place in Cherokee Lofts with peach cobbler served with vanilla ice cream & champagne cocktails.

It was the perfect way to end the evening. The cobbler was light & delicious...Recipe requested! And champagne cocktail is always welcome.

Another fun progressive with friends...That's what we're having.

Stacked Tomato Salad with Sweet Basil Dressing

Tomato slices, ½ inch thick
Buffalo mozzarella, thinly sliced
Basil leaves

Place a tomato slice on a plate and spread with some of the tapenade. Then place a slice of the mozzarella on top, add a few basil leaves, and finish with another tomato slice. Repeat. Top with another tomato slice and a small spoonful of the tapenade and then drizzle the Sweet Basil Dressing over the tomato and around the plate. Garnish with a sprig of fresh basil or with basil microgreeens.

Sweet Basil Dressing

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
3/4 cup pure olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 basil leaves, cut into chiffonade (or basil microgreens)

Whisk together vinegar, Dijon mustard, and honey in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and then stir in the basil.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Zucchini on Top of Zucchini

Welcome to my kitchen. Just don't make fun of my photography. If you want better photos, come take them yourself & stay for dinner. [BYOB.]

I've been on a squash noodle journey, turning every crookneck and zucchini that come my way into pasta substitutes. 

When I get back to my target weight, I'm not sure whether to celebrate with pasta or with pizza--maybe both.  And I think I'll throw in a tomato sandwich on white bread with mayo. If I can't have one of those per tomato season, then life's not worth living. Just one is all I need.  

Tonight's experiment: Zucchini & Walnut Sauce over Zucchini Noodles (instead of linguini). Plus--I'm trying out my Spirelli, a tool I'm hoping will be less dangerous than the serrated mandoline I've been using. I haven't injured myself yet, but I can see the potential for a scene reminiscent of the SNL skit with Dan Ackroyd impersonating Julia Child.

Here's my original tool. Effective, but somewhat scary.

Here's the new one, which my friend Deborah Franklin described as a pencil sharpener for vegetables. Ha!

It worked pretty well

Zucchini & Walnut Pasta

2-3 zucchini, peeled & trimmed, for noodles
3 small zucchini, untrimmed, for sauce
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, pressed
2 anchovy fillets, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon  dried crushed red pepper
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped
Grated parmesan

Step 1: Create zucchini noodles. Sprinkle with a bit of salt & let sit in colander for 10-20 minutes, no longer. Squeeze dry before using. It's best to use them quickly. They get soggy if they sit too long.

Step 2: Meanwhile, combine garlic, anchovy fillets, and crushed red pepper in a large serving bowl. Using pestle or wooden spoon, crush mixture until paste forms. Here's the paste with the wooden spoon in the background.

Warning: The paste was salty & garlicky. We happen to like that, but if you don't, then adjust accordingly. Tip: If you need a small amount of anchovies, as in this recipe, it's best to keep anchovy paste on hand. 

Step 3: Slice zucchini lengthwise and then again. Slice. Saute in a bit of olive oil until browned.

Step 4 Transfer zucchini noodles to bowl with garlic mixture. Add zucchini, walnuts, & parmesan cheese. Add a bit of olive oil to moisten if needed. Season with salt and pepper. [In the original recipe, you'd use cooked linguini and a bit of pasta water instead of zucchini noodles and olive oil.]


Add a side of tomato slices drizzled with freshly made pesto.

Need I say more?

Thanks for dropping in. I welcome your suggestions, tips, additional recipes. Just lay off the photography critiques. I'm a cook, not a photographer.