Cooking for one? Play with the salad bar.

It is fun to reduce the servings in a given recipe and succeed.  We’ll be doing a lot of that in the new category “A New Season.” Still, there are those days when you just don’t want the bother of reducing, prepping and cooking. There are alternatives. A visit to Whole Foods turned up a chilled bar featuring different takes on ceviche, a cold salad in which seafood is “cooked” in acid such as a vinegar or citrus juice.  A ceviche of shrimp and scallops called my name and resulted in the creation of a cold salad supper just right for a triple digit temperature day.  A small container of the ceviche – enough for topping two tostadas,  a few large cooked shrimp for garnish, a mango for color and sweet balance to the ceviche,  and an avocado for a third tostada featuring guacamole tostada completed shopping for dinner. Since the ceviche is sold by the pound, getting just enough for two tostadas didn’t require a bank loan for shopping at Whole Foods.  There were enough other ingredients in the fridge at home to complete the meal.

Shrimp and scallops ceviche, guacamole and mango – a cool treat to beat the heat.

 

Ingredients (made without an actual recipe)

Three corn tortillas (or more if you want tortilla chips)

About four or five tablespoons of deli bar ceviche

One medium to large avocado

Five or six grape tomatoes

One or two scallions

One or two lettuce leaves

One ripe mango

Garlic powder, to taste, or one small finely minced garlic clove mushed into a paste with a sprinkle of salt and the side of a chef’s knife.

One lime, halved

Salt to taste

Olive oil or neutral oil cooking spray

Method

Tostadas, flat, crisp tortillas.  These may be bought in a package, fried in a quantity usually too big for one or two servings.  You can fry them at home or bake them in the oven for a “healthyish” version.  I’m stealing this term from Bon Appètit because they have been publish lighter recipes in the magazine and online. Sprinkle your chips lightly with salt to taste.

Preheat oven to 350°.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.  Place three tortillas on sheet, and spritz lightly with cooking spray.  If you want to make chips, cut a couple of tortillas into wedges and place on sheet with whole tortillas and spritz the, with cooking spray. Place in heated oven.  Check after 10 minutes, turn tortillas and chips over and spritz again.  After 10 minutes, check again and turn.  Return to oven.  Check every five minutes or so to make sure tortillas and chips are toasting crisp – no soft spots in middle or edges when done and not burned edges.  Rotate the sheet pan in the oven to help with even cooking. Remove from oven and let cool.

Guacamole, an avocado dip or spread that every cook swears that his/hers is best.  I assure you, mine is the absolute best!  This version is for a single guacamole tostada and slices of avocado for garnish.  If you want to use the whole avocado and sue some for dip on your tortilla chips, go right ahead.

Chop grape tomatoes into small pieces; slice scallion very thinly at an angle. Slice all the white and an inch or inch and a half of the gree.  Mince and mash garlic clove into a paste.  A pinch of salt helps to break up the garlic as you mash it.  If you wish, you may use a light sprinkle of garlic powder (not garlic salt) instead of the garlic clove paste.

One avocado, halved.  Lay one half cut side down to prevent oxidation (turning brown). Spoon the flesh from the other have into a small bowl. Cut it up with the side of a fork, then mash it.  I like to leave a little texture when I mash it with the fork.  When I’m by myself, I squish it between my fingers and then get to lick my fingers clean – chef’s bonus!  I don’t do that when making guacamole for guests – at least not where they can see me. Stir tomato, some of the scallion, garlic paste or powder and some of the juice of lime.  The lime will delay oxidation, but you don’t want to overdo the lime juice when making this small quality of guacamole. Scoop flesh from remaining half of avocado, cut into six slices for garnish and sprinkle lightly with lime juice.

Sliced mango, sweet, but not too sweet taste to balance the acidity of the ceviche.  Remove pit from mango, slice flesh and plate on a bed of lettuce leaf.  You might enjoy a couple of drops of lime juice on the mango. (The OXO mango slicer actually works and is well with a little drawer space in your kitchen.)

Serving, spread guacamole on one crips tostada, garnish with slices of avocado and a couple of large shrimp.  Place on plate.  Spoon ceviche on tostadas, place on either side of guacamole tostada and garnish with large shrimp and avocado slices.  Add lettuce leaf and mango carefully to the plate and enjoy your cool meal at the end of a hot day.

Update on what’s going on…

My old e-mail, jimhastings@elp.rr.com, is no longer working.  I had to close the Time Warner account that was in my partner’s name and also carried my e-mail.  I opened a new account with Spectrum (they had purchased Time Warner) with the assurance that my e-mail would migrate to my new account.  I have not had e-mail at that address since June 30.  The Spectrum engineers are “working” on it, but do not reply to queries to a named person about my account status.  I’m asking that if you have comments, you post them.  I trust WordPress will send me notices at eprjh1@gmail.com. You are welcome to contact me at that e-mail address.

Just an additional stress in serving as an estate executor; please be patient with me as I get posts going again.  And feel sorry for the account people at Spectrum when I appear in the office Monday with my inch-thick file of what are you doing for me since I’ve opened my account?   I will post a notice if I need help with posting bail.

Thank you,

Jim

A Detour on Memory Lane

Remember the wedge salad from the late 50′ and early 70’s? A wedge of iceberg lettuce, that must have been a quarter of a head, drenched in creamy chunky bleu cheese dressing, and if you were lucky enough to be in the right restaurant, heavily sprinkled with crumbled crispy bacon. It still appears on the occasional menu.  When it does, I look for beef carpaccio to be there, too.  Creamy bleu cheese and delicately thin sliced raw lean beef! Forget the rest of the menu, these two appetizers become my meal, and no, you cannot have a taste!

I am addicted to food magazines and websites.  When I saw a new take on a wedge salad in one, I was up and off the the grocery store.  Actually it turned out to be two stores were needed to find all the ingredients.

My excitement was a grilled bok choi wedge salad.  One small to medium bok choi, split in half and spritzed with olive oil, then grilled over low heat until the leaves wilt and get a little char and the stem is warmed through, but still retains it crunch. I topped the bok choi with halved yellow grape tomatoes, thinly sliced raw ripe shishito peppers and marinated Peruvian peppers.  Then I drenched the salad with creamy bleu cheese dressing and lots of extra crumbles.  The salad was served with a small sirloin steak, grilled to 145 and tented to rest for five minutes. It was a perfect medium rare.  I wish I had sliced and photographed it, but I couldn’t wait do dig into the plate.

My standard three baby potatoes halved and grilled provided a bit of starch for the meal.  Because I am still working on my bag of shishito peppers, I grilled a few of the ripe ones.  Their caramelized sweetness was a great foil for the slight saltiness of the bleu cheese!

I cooked this on the grill last night after the temperature dropped to 100.

Grilled bok choi wedge salad with “sides” of beef sirloin, baby potatoes and grilled ripe shishito peppers.

Something New on the Plate!

Last fall, the Master Gardeners were looking at some new ideas to enhance the varieties of produce at their market garden. They were looking at eliminating some that were not the best for us such as okra which does’t respect our work and market day schedules.  It  grows too fast and gets woody before we can harvest and market it. For something different, I suggested shishito peppers (enunciate the name carefully). They are a  mild wrinkled green Asian snacking pepper that is usually sautéed. I found them at a local grocery store last year, tried them and really enjoyed them as something good and different! About one in ten has a kick which adds to the excitement of eating them. I have been tossing a few on the grill until they are tender and pick up a hint of char.

Last weekend, one of the garden co-chairs brought me a bag if shishitos to try.  It had both green peppers and some that had ripened to a bright red.  On the drive home, I had to taste one of each – a green one, with the expected not quite raw bitter flavor, rather than pepper heat, and a red one which was surprisingly sweet!

I grilled a couple of chicken thighs and a few green peppers. I also made a salad of mache greens, yellow cherry tomato slices and slices of red shishitos with a light vinaigrette.  It was a wonderful salad!

Visit Ardovino’s Farmers Market on Saturdays and give the shishitos a try. You’ll enjoy them green or red.

Grilled chicken thighs with grilled green shishito peppers and a salad mache rosettes yellow grape tomatoes and sliced raw ripe shishito peppers in a light vinaigrette. Dinner cooked on an outdoor gas grill after the temperature dropped below 100.

A New Season Means New Experiments and New Favorites

Still making many adjustments to all the facets of a new season, but things are moving along…

It is fun to pare down a recipe, even when you know it might have been a little better at six or eight servings. Sometimes, it is great to whip up something from what you have on hand and enjoy the creativity.  And, at other times it is good to visit something from the past and reimagine it.

Being only slightly removed from generations of Texas and Arkansas farmers, I’m very fond of okra in many variations.

Back in May of 2014, I started grilling okra on skewers. I like that it retains some texture and that it loses the sticky secretion of boiled okra and doesn’t make the mess of fried okra.  I’ll love fried okra wherever I find it on a menu and am thrilled when I don’t have to clean up the mess of frying.

Grilling red okra in 2014. Heat changes the red chemical color and it turn out green. Threading on two skewers makes it easier to turn. Elevating the skewers on clean bricks get’s it off the grate and helps it cook more evenly.

I found okra at the grocery store the other night and, since I was grilling chicken thighs, thought it would be a good side.  I have a stainless steel thingy I put over my old grill grates and decided to try grilling okra on that  instead of on skewers. It occurred to me I should  grill some tomatoes and onion at the same time because I know that works!

I cut the stem ends off the okra, sliced some onion and washed some grape tomatoes.  If you feel you need a recipe here’s how I did it! I used a dozen pods of okra, two sliced of onion separated into ring and 10 grape tomatoes. I tossed it all with olive oil and a little salt and pepper. and put in on the grilling thingy over medium heat.  I kept an eye on it, tossed be veggies as the cooked and tested the okra’s doneness with a fork.  I wound up with a light char on tender vegetables. The tomatoes softened and wilted. When pierced with a fork, they yielded a hot delicious tomato juice to mix over the other vegetables. My chicken thighs cooked on another part of the grilling thingy at a higher temperature.

I like to have two or three very small potatoes as a side ( inch to inch and a half diameter). That satisfies my potato craving without a serving the size of a football.  I cheat with them. I microwave them for a few minutes (remember to pierce the skins or they will explode in your oven) then split them and finish them on the grill for a little color and extra flavor

Grilled chicken thighs, okra, onion and tomatoes with grill-finished potatoes. The okra was tender but with a little texture and now sticky secretion. Delicious with the onion and tomatoes and reminiscent of boiled tomatoes and okra without the slick texture.

The okra was so good, I decided to make it again the next evening.  The store where I bought my first batch, was out.  I went a sister store in the chain and found some.  It looked a little long and I was concerned about it being stringy and tough.  It was, but at least it photographed well.

I was a very hot evening. Still over 100 at 6:30 p.m.  Too hot to stand over a grill, so I decided to cook on a sheet pan in the oven.  That gave me a chance to try making a roasted onion flower I had been wanting to try.

Oven roasted onion flower, tomatoes and okra. Delicious and not sticky.

Pan roasting the getable at 425 until tender worked.  I cut a thin slice off the stem end of a smallish onion, then carefully removed the roots.  I sliced the onion almost to its base six times to make reasonably narrow petals. I drizzled the vegetables with olive oil before cooking and a couple of times while they cooked. The okra was done before the tomatoes and onion, so I removed it and set it aside until time to plate.  I want to find small red onions next time I have guests and make little onion flowers to put on top of something. My white flower was tender and delicious with the okra and tomatoes and a pork chop. Left from the other night. Part of this New Season is cooking enough of a protein to have a second serving a couple of days later. I warmed the cooked pork chop for a few minutes while, the vegetables finished cooking.  In the upper right corner, you see the tip of a roasted ear of corn.  At eight ears for $1, I had to buy one for this meal.

I will be doing more grilled okra this summer but only using smaller tender pods.

Paring Down Can Foster Indulgence, so Play with Your Food!

Some of us subscribe to cooking and recipe sites on the web.  Interesting things appear that tantalize the eye and the appetite.  Some arouse curiosity and other demand to be made. All those happened when I ran across Chile-Lime Clams with Tomatoes and Grilled Bread.  My curiosity was peaked by the inclusion of chick peas (garbanzo beans) in the recipe.  I’m most familiar with chickpeas as hummus and don’t have much experience with them as whole beans.  What the heck, give it a try!  And this recipe for four servings appeared easy to reduce per my goals in this New Season of reduced quantities. It also was flexible enough to allow for loose measuring of ingredients. For instance, it called for 24 clams. Six clams per serving? Pikers!  I ordered 12 clams to make one serving. I love clams and had no guilt over this indulgence. When cooking for one, or som times two, indulge and enjoy! I used the recipe below as a guideline for this dish.  I played with parts of it, hence inclusion in the Play with Your Food Category.

Chile-Lime Clams with Tomatoes. As good as it was hoped it would be! A keeper.

The original recipe suggested cooking in a cast iron pan on a grill outside. Think this over… acid foods (including tomatoes)  cooked in cast iron can acquire a metallic taste and cause the pans to lose their carefully built up seasoned finish. I read that acidic foods cooked in cast iron for no more than 15 minutes will not acquire a metallic taste, nor will the harm the finish.  Not worth the risk on my older than I am cast iron hand-me-downs from early in the last century!

It has been unseasonably hot so far this spring and summer.  I’m convinced hot air from the Capitol fanned by Tweet kindling is the cause, but that’s a different rant. I chose to cook on the stovetop in an anodized aluminum pan that has a non-teflon, dishwasher safe non-stick finish.  I had to forgo grilled toast, but was satisfied with torn chunks of bread with a schemear of butter for sopping up the pan sauce with the meal. This photo is of the pan on the stovetop.  I knew a dozen clams in my serving bowl, would be too crowded for a good picture.  Indulge me and imagine chopped cilantro sprinkled on top.

CHILE-LIME CLAMS WITH TOMATOES AND GRILLED BREAD

4 servings

INGREDIENTS

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, divided

2 large shallots, chopped

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 cup beer

1 cup cherry tomatoes

1 (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed

2 tablespoons (or more) sambal oelek

24 littleneck clams, scrubbed

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

4 thick slices country-style bread

2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt

1/2 cup cilantro leaves with tender stems

Lime wedges (for serving)

METHOD

Prepare a grill for medium, indirect heat (for a gas grill, leave one or two burners off; for a charcoal grill, bank coals on one side of grill). Place a large cast-iron skillet on grill over direct heat (move it around to cooler part of grill as you cook if needed) and melt 4 Tbsp. butter in skillet. Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 4 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until paste darkens to a rich brick-red color, about 1 minute. Add beer and tomatoes. Bring to a boil and cook until beer is reduced nearly by half and no longer smells boozy, about 4 minutes. Stir in chickpeas and sambal oelek, then add clams. Cover (if you don’t have a lid that fits, use a sheet of foil) and cook, stirring occasionally, until clams have opened; this could take from 5–10 minutes depending on size of clams and the heat level. Remove from heat; discard any clams that don’t open. Stir in lime juice and remaining 2 Tbsp. butter.

While the clams are cooking on the grill, drizzle bread with oil and season lightly with salt. Grill until golden brown and crisp, about 2 minutes per side.

Transfer toast to plates and spoon clam mixture over; top with cilantro. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing over.