July 30, 2011

Funky Cold (Salad Plate) Medina

So I was browsing online and came across a recipe from Bon Appetit for Watermelon Granita. I made it. I didn't take a picture. I ate it all. I bought some more watermelon, made it again. Those Rice Krispie treats I mentioned? All mine. That's how the summer's been - some high points, some low points, and rather disjointed. Like riding a Runaway Train, err, something like that anyhow.

The granita reminded me of a "salad" in the Alinea cookbook. The wry and savvy Carol Blymire cooked this in November of 2008 on the Alinea at Home blog and struggled mightly with the four pounds of salad greens required. I truly enjoy Carol's writing, and her blogging influenced my decision to shake my cooking thing in public.

Anyway, browsing through Michigan Summers: Tales & Recipes, I came across two salads that I thought would make good plate companions for the frozen Salad, Red Wine Vinaigrette. Compared to Carol, though I took the easy route by using less greens, and my second hand juicer that takes up too much of my precious counter space. I started by juicing the greens. I had 3-4 cups mixed salad greens from my weekly Swier Family Farm CSA box...

No, hold on...

Scratch that.

This concoction connection actually started earlier with a recipe in Michigan Summers called "Chilled Chunky Tomato Soup." It's basically tomato juice, water, worcestershire, and unflavored gelatin topped with parsley. Think of a Bloody Mary jello shot without the vodka. That's what really got me thinking about the Alinea summer Salad, Red Wine Vinaigrette.

Chilled Chunky Tomato Soup

I did eventually juice the organic greens. My small amount of greens netted an even smaller amount of green juice - maybe 1 cup. I shook in some salt, stirred, poured into a plastic container, and placed it into the freezer. Red wine vinegar soon followed in a small container as well.

I used my food processor to quickly whirr a diced green kohlrabi from the Swier Family CSA into tiny bits. I added a classic dressing of mayonnaise, sugar, and apple cider vinegar for some Kohlrabi Koleslaw. Kohlrabi's in the cabbage family, so it works very well as a Klassic Koleslaw.


Then I worked on the Bacon and Egg Salad. I crisped up some bacon, hard-boiled some eggs, and mashed both with mayo, mustard, scallion, and goat cheese.

Bacon, Mayo, Mustard, Goat Cheese, Scallion, Eggs

Bacon & Egg Salad
By then the greens had frozen, so I used a fork to turn them into a slushy, mushy kind of thing. Did the same thing with the red wine vinaigrette. And then I attempted to "plate" the three salads on one humongous white square plate.

You know what "plating" refers to, right? It's what cooks do in kitchens to make the food look so utterly spectacular. Heck, persnickety chefs have been known to use TWEEZERS to get a plate just perfect for you and yours out there at the table. My cats don't care if the plate is perfect, and me? I just want it to look pretty.

Darn. Not so pretty.

The frozen salad crystals melted on contact with the plate. Perhaps I should have refrigerated the plate? I got out another humongous plate and a ramekin for the frozen salad.

Much better. Pretty. Could use some height, some wavy lines, some doo-dads here and there to make it even better. Oh, heck, it could a lot...but it looks nice. How did it all taste?

The frozen salad was disappointing; it was too sharp for my tastes. However, if you let the salad and vinaigrette melt a bit, it would work well. A different combination of greens and salad dressing would probaby have made a huge difference to me.

(Frozen) Salad, Red Wine Vinaigrette

The tomato needed vodka. I'm thinking that's the only way I would have liked this...anybody wanna try that? I added some Kohlrabi Koleslaw on top.

The hands down winner? Bacon and Egg Salad. Toasted. Home Style. With Nothing Too Fancy.

Like this:

Adapted from Michigan Summers: Tales and Recipes

Makes 2 servings

2 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 chopped hard boiled eggs
1/4 cup goat cheese crumbles
2 scallions, chopped
Mayonnaise and mustard to taste to add just enough moisture to hold the above together.
Salt and pepper
4 slices bread

Mix the bacon, eggs, goat cheese crumbles, scallions, mayonnaise, mustard, salt, and pepper together. Lightly butter one side of each bread slice. Spread mixture on unbuttered sides. Top with other slices, butter on the outside. Fry until golden brown on both sides.

July 25, 2011


Onomatopoeia is the term that an English major (me) uses for a word that imitates or suggests the source of the sound: think "hiccup" or "zoom" or even "quack." This Japanese street food is called Okonomiyaki, and onomatopoeiacally, I'd call it "yummy" as the basic meaning of the word is "what you like, grilled." And it reminds me of potato pancakes. Kind of.

I first learned of Okonomiyaki viewing the collection of Chow.com videos on YouTube. Then, being a fervent reseacher, I googled my brains off and found Okonomiyaki World - which told me everything I needed to know, and then some. I couldn't wait to try it out at home.

Unfortunately, it's been ridiculously hot since my return from Denver, and I haven't felt like being in the kitchen turning the heat up even higher. But we got a break in the heat wave recently, so I headed to the hottest room in the house: the kitchen. First I mixed up the okonomi sauce:

Catsup, Worcestershire, Soy
In another bowl, I mixed flour, water, and eggs to form a pancake-like batter.

Then I added veggies, meat, and stirred to combine. The very last addition was Rice Krispies for some crunchiness. Part of the reason I wanted to make this recipe was so I had a good excuse to buy a huge package of Rice Krispies and make a pan of Rice Krispie Treats - all for myself! (OK, perhaps I'll take them into work...maybe...or not.)

Veggies added to the batter
I prepared my pan with oil, and dropped a well-packed one cup measurement onto the heated pan. The batter started sizzling immediately. I shaped the pancake into a circular shape and pressed down until it was about 5" across - close to size of my palm. I've read that these are traditionally 12" across, but I don't have that big of a griddle.

Cooking before the first flip - bacon on top.
I placed bacon on top of the pancake and waited roughly three minutes, then flipped the pancake so the bacon was on the griddle. The sizzling continued.

After a few more minutes, I flipped the pancake back over to complete the cooking. I repeated these steps until I'd used all of the batter, which gave me three good size okonomiyaki's. I added Okonomi sauce and mayonnaise, and dug in.

I've got to say, these are really tasty. This was my first time making okonomiyaki, so I wasn't sure what to expect, perhaps a potato pancake thingie?

This was a lot better than potato pancakes, though, and far more filling. I used a little grated ginger in lieu of the pickled ginger; next time I'll definitely spring for authentic pickled ginger (love the stuff anyway.) I'll also add salt and pepper to the batter. I think these would freeze well, too.

I really like the potential for variation with Okonomiyaki. I can imagine using a wide variety of in season vegetables that are quick to cook: kale, carrot, parsnip, radish...anything that can be cut into long, thin strips or thinly diced. The next time I make these, I'll also experiment more with the meats, perhaps adding shrimp or another seafood.

Okonomiyaki are good for any meal of the day: breakfast, lunch, dinner, or an in-between snack. And do not omit the Okonomi sauce. Yummy!

Adapted from okonomiyakiworld.com

1 cup flour
2/3 cup water
2 eggs, beaten
3 cups cabbage, thinly sliced
2 scallions, diced
1/4 cup Rice Krispies
6 strips bacon
1/2 cup chicken, cooked
ginger shavings (or 1 oz pickled ginger)
1 ear corn, shucked
1/4 cup roasted red pepper
Salt and Pepper to taste

The sky's the limit here, but traditional toppings can be bonito flakes, seafood flakes, and a variety of sauces. I used a combination of mayonnaise and Okonomi Sauce.

3 T catsup
1 T Worcestershire
1 t soy
Mix and set aside. Try it with a drop or two of liquid smoke, too.

1. Mix the flour, water, and eggs into a batter.
2. Add cabbage, scallions, chicken, ginger, corn, red pepper and stir to combine.
3. Get the grill heated up, then -and only then- add the Rice Krispies and stir to combine.
4. Add oil to the griddle and drop about 1 cup of the okonmiyaki mixture onto the sizzling griddle. Shape into a circular pancake.
5. Add bacon to cover, and let cook three or more minutes.
6. Flip so that the bacon is on the griddle, and cook four minutes longer.
7. Flip the pancake again, and cook until firm and well browned.
8. Remove to plate, cover with sauces and toppings and devour.

Or, as the recipe at Okonmiyaki says, "Eat quickly before someone near you takes your portion."

July 12, 2011

Dining in Denver - Part 2 - That Beet Salad

I was in Denver recently and ate at the marvelous Rioja. Though I had only one bite of the roasted beet salad, I kept dreaming of it...and of recreating it in my kitchen.

Here's the description from the restaurant's menu: Roasted Candy Striped Beet Salad: cucumber mint vinaigrette, snow drop goat cheese, crispy beet chips, pickled red onion, micro beets, mint syrup. To create the salad at home, I began by deconstructing the ingredients.

1) Roasted Candy Striped Beets. There were none in my local supermarket, so I settled for three regular jewel toned beets and roasted them as I typically do.

2) Snow Drop Goat Cheese. Nothing exactly like this in my local store, so I used goat cheese sprinkles.

3) Pickled Red Onion: I headed over to Simply Recipes for a great pickled red onion recipe and adapted based on what was in my pantry...which I didn't write down. Pickling red onions involves sliced red onions, sugar, white vinegar and some combination of spices: cinnamon, allspice, cumin, garlic, and so on. I'm pretty sure I threw in some organic oregano, too.

  • In one pot, blanch onions in boiling water 2 minutes, drain.
  • In another pot, combine vinegar, sugar and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer five minutes.
  • Add onions, summer one minute.
  • Transfer to a glass jar, let cool, and keep in the fridge. I simply poured mine into a glass bowl, let cool on the stove, covered with plastic, and put into the fridge.

4) Cucumber Vinaigrette: I searched online for a cucumber salad dressing, but all I found was a lot of recipes for cucumbers in vinegar - and that's not what I was looking for. I ended up with something along these lines...

  • 2 cucumbers
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • red white vinegar
Pushing the cucumber vinaigrette through cheese cloth.
I peeled and seeded the cucumber, then chopped, and pureed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and red white vinegar. I pushed the pulverized mixture through two layers of cheese cloth and came up with a reasonable facsimile. Next time I won't use the olive oil as it's too pronounced. Still, not bad.

5) Micro Greens: Definitely nothing like these around here, so I used chopped organic charge from my weekly Swier Family Farm allotment.

6) Mint Syrup:  Mint syrup was a breeze to make. There are many variations available online, and I used this combination:

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 bunch mint

Mint and Sugar
Throw it all in a pot, boil until slightly thickened. Cool, remove the mint, and store in the fridge. Just try to not drink it all before you get to the salad. Save and use in various other things like mint juleps, tea, or drizzle over ice cream with chocolate syrup.

7) Crispy Beet Chips: I didn't get these made, and, in fact, completely forgot about them. They seem pretty easy, though - extremely thin sliced beets roasted in salt and olive oil until crispy.

The result? Satisfying.

Beet Salad with Mint Syrup, Pickled Onions, Cucumber Vinaigrette, Goat Cheese

I really wish I could have found a different type of beets as the jewel-toned beets have a stronger "beety" flavor than the more delicate candy-striped. I hope I can find candy-striped beets sometime this summer. The chard for the micro-beet greens worked, although I suppose their flavor is also more pronounced; maybe I'll try this again and use the beet tops as salad. Regardless, I'll call the re-creation a success. Taking the essence of beet mingling with cucumber and mint, along with the crunch of the chard has a decidedly summer twist and certainly echoes the one bite of salad I had in Denver.

July 8, 2011

Dining In Denver - Part 1

Occasionally I get out of the office and travel for business. Recently I was at the Grand Hyatt in downtown Denver for a couple of days. I can't say enough about the breathtaking views from the 38th floor Pinnacle Club. And while it was non-stop business during the day, after working hours ended, I found some beautiful architecture and excellent eats.

Smashing Salad
A few hours after arriving in Denver, I wondered the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall in a sleep-deprived and hungry state, then found MAD Greens, and was in salad heaven. MAD Greens specializes in custom-made salads, soups, panini's and wraps - most named after famous dead people: Dionysos, Ty Cobb, Edgar Allan Poe, and so on. Founders Marley Hodgson and Dan Long purport the salads were invented by the celebrities. I selected the MAD Molly Brown - a salad of spinach, green onions, mozzarella, tomatoes and grilled sweet onions with Citrus Grilled Chicken.

MAD Molly Brown Salad 
After a day of travel, I was refreshed and reinvigorated not only from the fresh food, but also from the pleasant atmosphere. You can also build your own salad by combining lettuce, protein and host of other ingredients: apples, black beans, jalapenos, sugar snap peas, toasted almonds, and so on. I was delighted to find a little bit of sanity amongst the mix of fast-food and stereotypical casual dining in the area. Can't wait to see a MAD Greens at my local mall.

Panzano is an award-winning Northern Italian restaurant and lounge on the corner of 17th and Champa Streets. There's an open air kitchen and pizza area. The motto of the restaurant is Chi mangia bene, viva bene - those who eat well, live well. I was definitely living a good life eating at Panzano.

Dinner started with an olive and sun-dried tomato tapenade and selection of breads. My entree was Cappaletti pasta filled with sweet pea, ricotta, parmesan, walnuts, and speck finished wtih chicken broth and chives. My dining companion had the Cabonara a la Panzano: tagliatelle with house-cured pancetta, Granda Padano, and cracked black pepper topped with a fried egg. We split creme brulee for dessert. The service was outstanding, atmosphere engaging, and food wonderful. Had we not eaten at Rioja the night before, this would have been the highlight of the trip.

Rioja Mania
Looking for a restaurant to titillate my taste buds online, Rioja in Larimer Square was the standout recommendation. I dare you to read the menu aloud and not drool.
Larimer Square street scene
Though my dining companions and I had to wait for an hour for a table, it was worth it. Between the three of us we had:
  • Goat Cheese Trio: Avalanche fresh chevre, goat gouda, Bleu de Bocage, red wine gelee, strawberry rhubarb jam, and almond granola crackers. 
  • Roasted Candy Striped Beet Salad: cucumber mint vinaigrette, snow drop goat cheese, crispy beet chips, pickled red onion, micro beets, mint syrup.
  • Rioja House Salad: baby arugula, Medjool dates, Gorgonzola, toasted almond vinaigrette.
  • Artichoke Tortelloni: goat cheese and artichoke mousse stuffed pasta, artichoke broth, truffle essence, queso de mano cheese, chervil.
  • Vegetarian Four Squares: a tasting of four seasonal dishes -
    • Sweet Corn Fritter
    • Spinach Goat Cheese Crepe
    • Artichoke Hearts stuffed with Artichoke Mousse
    • Zucchini-Radicchio Salad
The restaurant was dark, so getting a good picture without being obnoxious was a challenge. This is a blurry picture of the Artichoke Hearts stuffed with Artichoke Mouse. Just enough for a handful of bites and delectable taste!

Just typing the descriptions makes me hungry all over again - and makes me remember and savor the meal. Lively conversation, spectacular food...I've got the Rioja cookbook, too, and can't wait to dive in.
I would suspect that sister restaurants Bistro Vendome and Euclid Hall Bar and Kitchen offer similar experiences. And do not miss the lavender sourdough. If the roasted beet salad sounds intriguing to you, I'm pretty sure my next post will satisfy your curiosity.

July 1, 2011

Community Eats Green Eggs, Some Ham

This summer I'm taking a tour of the wild side of cooking. That's the place in cooking where you don't necessarily have a recipe or cookbook or, for that matter, much of a plan. For me that constitutes wild cooking because so much of what I prepare is strictly from a book. Sure, I throw in a personal flourish every now and then, but I rarely venture into recipe-creating territory. Why this sudden change?

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has forced me to change my cooking tune totally - at least for the next three or four months. Every week I'll get a bunch of vegetables, and I'll have to do something with them or they'll all rot in the bottom of my fridge; and I wouldn't want to do that to lovely, organic vegetables - ever.

Here's how a CSA works:
1. There's a farmer. He or she is ready and willing to work hard to produce vegetables for your table.
2. You buy a "share" or "half share" which allows the farmer to plant and nourture vegetables.
3. You get vegetables every week for however many weeks. Here in mid-Michigan, it's 18 weeks of organics from the Swier Family Farm.

I'll admit I balked at the hefty (for me) $200 price tag to split a share with a friend. I had all sorts of doubts and we'll see if any of them come to fruition through the summer. I wonder if I'll be so enthusiastic at the end of the summer? So often when I start a new venture, I'm enraptured; by the end of it, I'm ready to move on. As I trudged to the designated pickup location, I had big doubts.

Heavens, my initial fears and doubts turned to total veggie induced elation when I picked up my first share:

  • mixed salad greens (about a half pound)
  • arugula
  • spinach
  • swiss chard
  • garlic scapes
  • fresh oregano
  • 13 or 14 radishes of different sorts
  • three farm fresh eggs

Eggs and Radishes
All items are washed thoroughly at the farm and bagged, so all you really need to do is start chopping and cooking. I headed straight into the kitchen and made a fabulous frittata. And even using three-four cups of spinach, swiss chard, and arugula, I still have more than I typically eat in a week. Clearly, this CSA thing is worth it.

Garlic Scapes and Salad Mix
I got out my calculator and checked out the cost...something I'm not inclined to do very often. I paid $220 for 18 weeks of deliveries which works out to around $11 per week. I can safely say that I spend that much in vegetables and other foodstuffs every week. It's my hope that this CSA summer will reduce purchases from the local mega-store, and that I'll stop lugging heavy plastic bags into the house, and cease having newly purchased vegetables rotting practically overnight (due to being shipped across the country or around the globe) off of my list. These veggies come from just across the county line, and I can go visit the farm almost anytime. After all, it's my money that helps keep the farm afloat. Or a-planting...

Exactly what lucious vegetables I'll receive depends on the weather and the farmer's winter calculations. Given that farmer's are significantly knowledgeable about these things, I've got my fingers crossed for carrots, beets, sugar snap peas, zucchini, cucumbers, potatoes, garlic, tomatoes, winter squash and who knows what else. Here's what I did with those eggs:

Swier Frittata Number One

Swier Frittata Number One

2 cups assorted greens, chopped. I used arugula, swiss chard, spinach
1/4 cup oregano, chopped
ground cumin, a teaspoon or more
1 huge radish, diced
8 eggs, beaten
Milk (or water if you don't have milk)
Olive oil
Asiago Cheese

Oh, the frittata, so initially intimidating - actually nothing more than a fancy scrambled omelet. Be sure your pan is well-seasoned and use plenty of oil or butter: your goal is to deftly slide the frittata onto a serving platter.

Place the butter and olive oil in the pan; I like a mixture of both, going heavier on the olive oil, lighter on the butter. Saute the greens and radish until wilted. Throw in the spices, eggs and cheese. Stir it around until well combined and let sit on the burner until the sides are firm.

At this point, you have a choice. You can put the whole thing (pan included) into the oven and finish it off with a little browning from the broiler. You can leave it on the stove top until the center is firm. Either way is OK by me, and I doubt your tummy will notice a difference.

When firm -egg firm- slide onto the serving platter and devour. If you have leftovers, they're OK to serve cold. I'd also suggest a dippy or saucey accompanyment. Whimp-ola me likes catsup (or ketchup,) while fresh salsa could also be delightful.

The other great thing about frittata's is the flexibility: saute an onion, throw in more or less cheese or a different kind of cheese. Nummy!