Monday, May 30, 2011

Cushing Pasta Salad (aka Macaroni, Tunafish and Peas) with Blueberry Vodka Lemonade

summer pasta perfection...

surf's up !
Ah, summer. (Or just about, anyway !)

We start the summer foodie season with a post about a sometimes mundane item : Macaroni Salad . I have a very strained relationship with both macaroni and potato salads...for one thing, I can't eat store bought versions, no matter how hard I try, no matter how upscale the store. There's always some sort of off flavor that I can only describe as "bad refrigerator". I do, however, love most homemade versions of these summer staples. My personal theory with the mayonnaise-based versions is that they have to be mixed while the pasta and/or potatoes are both somewhat warm, then the whole thing has to be chilled. Takes longer, I know...but if that step is skipped the flavor is just not the same.

The versions of these salads I grew up with are both very different from the standard - but both very, very good. The potato salad we had as kids was German, from my mother's mother and grandmother...and German potato salad doesn't involve mayonnaise at all. (At some point, I'll cover Oma's Potato Salad in this blog - it deserves its own entry for sure ! ) The macaroni salad my dad's family made at the house in Maine as kids, though - macaroni, tunafish and peas, how I love you so. This was made in huge vats to feed the stream of hungry family members that were at the house all summer long. Breakfast, lunch or could always count on a bowl waiting for you in the fridge. So simple, and so so much Maine food, just perfect and something I've always aspired to be able to do. I think I have a pretty good version here (though we'll see what my Aunt Alice and Uncle Skip have to say ;) ) - at least, my friends and family seem to love it. And if it doesn't seem "foodie" enough for you, think of it almost like a veal tonnato - except mixed with pasta instead of veal, and peas taking the place of capers. Either way, it's some damn fine food.

I threw the Blueberry Vodka Lemonade in this post, because blueberries always make me think of Maine (my Sinclair cousins nicknamed me "Blueberry Eyes" because I ate so many of the damn things :) ). Rest assured, we were not allowed to drink anything like this in Cushing as kids - even once we discovered the "secret" liquor cabinet in the pantry... not that *I* ever knew anything about that !!

Macaroni, Tunafish and Peas

1 pound pasta (I used bow ties here - use your favorite; elbows or small shells work great too), cooked, drained and lightly rinsed (do not chill)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (use Hellmans or similar - not salad dressing aka Miracle Whip), or to taste
1 large (12 oz) can tuna, drained
1 tsp dijon mustard
2 tblsp sweet pickle relish
1 15 oz can peas (tiny sweets are best), drained

While pasta is cooking, mix mayonnaise, tuna, mustard and relish in a large bowl. Drain the pasta well, and add to the mayonnaise mixture, stirring well to combine and adding more mayonnase if it seems to need it. Add the peas, and stir lightly to distribute. Chill until pasta is cold before serving.

Blueberry Vodka Lemonade

Deceptively not attempt to drive after consuming, especially if you make them in keg cups as shown above ;) 

Fill glass about 1/3 full with ice. Add blueberry vodka to cover ice and come about halfway up cup. Top off glass with a good prepared lemonade and a handful of fresh blueberries. Stir well before serving.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Wild Turkey Liver Pate with Caramelized Shallots and Smoked Mexican Sea Salt...a.k.a Chopped Liver

Why ? Because it was there...
I am a very lucky girl, for a lot of reasons...

First, I am lucky enough to have grown up in (and still live in) a city with a large, thriving, and inclusive Jewish community. This Catholic girl had the honor of attending many a Shabbat meal and Passover Seder in her helped, probably, that I was insatiably curious (and very respectful)  when it came to other religions. I wanted to know everything - why certain rituals were performed, why other things were forbidden, and most importantly what people ate and why. I grew up behind a  kosher deli, and my first real job was at a kosher bakery (Diamond Bakery, how I miss you so...blueberry babka like you wouldn't believe !). I'm fairly fluent in Yiddish, I know the difference between, say, a minyan and a mitzvah, and most importantly, I know good bagels from bad (and there's barely any good ones to be found even here anymore, but that's a blog for a different day.)

Second, I'm also lucky enough to have married in to a family of serious sportsmen (as well as raising one myself), who keep me well stocked with all sorts of interesting items for my larder. They also like to eat, and are fairly tolerant with all of my experiments with their bounty...which is how I came to be in possession of a fresh wild turkey this week. And, to quote my idol Julia, I told them to "save the liver !"...because third and last (well, for this blog anyway) - I absolutely love liver. Thanks to my German heritage I grew up eating things like blood sausages and liverwurst (spread thickly on pumpernickel with a good mustard...still one of my favorite sandwiches ever).

All of this combined has led to a serious addiction...chopped liver.  Back at the agency I worked at for most of the 90's I was unofficially adopted by three different bubbes - wonderful women, and seriously good cooks all. Passover was definitely the high point of the culinary year, because that's when they'd start bringing in the chopped liver. All of them wanted me to like theirs the best, and of course I told them all that theirs really was...more for me, that way. (And in case they're still reading, I won't tell you whose really was ;) ). One of my coworkers from the Midwest used to always call it "liver pate", which cracked me's chopped liver ! The title of this post is a nod to her ;) . In any event, I picked up some great pointers from all three dear ladies, and combined with my own experience in the kitchen I think I've really come up with a winner here.

This recipe works with any kind of poultry liver (beef is too strong)...chicken, turkey, duck...whatever you have. And by all means, substitute regular salt for smoked, or onions for will still be delicious. Just try it ! This is one of our favorite noshes...a true Culinary Orgasm.

Makes about a cup...easily doubled

Chopped Liver

1/2 lb livers (as fresh as possible)
1 egg, hard boiled
1 large shallot or 1/2 onion, chopped
6 tablespoons margarine, chicken fat (schmaltz), or unsalted butter (only use butter if you don't need it to be kosher)
1 tsp smoked sea salt (or kosher salt), or to taste
pinch of fresh ground pepper

In a small pan, melt half the margarine over medium-low heat. Add shallots, and cook over low heat until caramelized, about 10-15 minutes. Set aside.

Melt the rest of the margarine in the pan and add the livers. Saute over medium heat until livers are no longer pink in the center, about 5 minutes or so.

Put the livers and the egg in a food processor, and pulse just until coarsely chopped (do not over process). Add the shallots, and pulse a few more times to distribute. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crackers, toast points, or of course matzo :) .

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Jamaican Jerk Chicken, Coconut Rice, and Aunt Ruth's Sauteed Squash

mmm...chicken :)

I've been making Jamaican Jerk Chicken for almost 20 years now...since well before it was trendy. My method is a little odd - hey, back in the early 90's you couldn't exactly buy jerk seasoning at the corner store or anything, so cut me some slack :). Odd though my method might be (really, does that surprise anyone ? I think not !), it's an absolutely delicious way of cooking chicken...even boring old boneless skinless chicken breasts. Ive been known to walk around neighborhood block parties handing out skewers of this stuff to very happy neighbors. (At least, no one's egged my house yet or anything....)

First, a little background.  The term "jerk" is thought to derive from the Spanish term charqui, which means dried meat. Jerk can refer to the method of cooking (traditionally, smoke cooking over charcoal) the spice blend used to season the meat, and/or the meat itself. Spices and smoking have both been used for centuries to preserve meat, and the original inhabitants of Jamaica (the Arawak Indians) developed a particularly tasty method of doing it...lucky for us !

Jerk seasoning mixes vary from cook to cook (as so many things do :) , but the two absolute musts are plenty of allspice and hot peppers. Scotch bonnet are the most traditional form of heat (and are seriously, seriously hot - handle with care !), but if you're feeding the not quite so daring (or the neighbors),  jalapenos or serranos work very well. Take it from me, keep a package of disposable gloves in your kitchen, and use them every time you work with hot peppers...keep them on until you wash everything they come in contact with. Your eyeballs, privates, and significant other will thank you !

There are two main methods of spicing your jerk : dry rub, and wet marinade. My method is definitely of the wet variety...very wet. The original recipe I based this on came out of an old issue of Food &Wine, and called for a most unusual quick method of "setting" the marinade : pour the marinade over the chicken in a covered, microwave-safe dish, cook on High for 90 seconds, and let sit for 10 minutes. Believe it or not, this does actually work...though nowadays we prefer to just throw the whole works in a bag and let it get happy in the fridge for a few hours, sans zapping. The original also called for boiling the leftover marinade in the microwave for one minute to make the sauce (necessary whenever reusing marinade to make sure there's no bacteria), but I kind of like letting it boil on the stovetop for 5 instead - easier to correct the seasonings, etc. Either method works.

Rice is the perfect accompaniment to this dish - especially Coconut Rice, which really brings out the Caribbean flavors. Add something green, and you are ready to rock and let's get jerkin' !

the whole shebang

Jamaican Jerk Chicken
(adapted from Food + Wine)

1 medium onion, halved (or 2 shallots)
1 Scotch Bonnet pepper OR 1 or 2 serranos OR 1-4 jalapenos (depending on how much heat you want), seeds and ribs removed
2 cloves garlic
1/4 c soy sauce
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tblsp brown sugar (I prefer dark here)
1 tblsp vegetable oil
2 tsp fresh ground allspice (if using pre-ground, up to a tablespoon or so)
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 2 pounds), pounded to a uniform thickness

Combine the onion (or shallots), garlic and peppers in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped . Add everything else but the chicken, and process to a sort of coarse puree (like applesauce). Place marinade and chicken into a large ziplock bag or bowl, and let marinade in fridge a few hours. (Alternatively, you can use the "quick set" method above.)

Prepare your grill - using wood chips for delicious smokiness, if you have that option - or preheat your broiler if you are grill-less. Grill or broil the chicken on both sides until done - it takes about 5 minutes a side on a normal grill or broiler, more if you are smoke-cooking (anywhere from 30-60 minutes total, depending on how high the temperature is). While the chicken cooks, boil the remaining marinade for 5 minutes (or microwave, as above) to make a lovely sauce to serve with the chicken. And rice. And whatever else you'd like it on :)

shallots and peppers ready to whirl (jalapeno option)

all chopped up
completed marinade

Coconut Rice

I mentioned this dish in my entry about dishes with two ingredients , but here's the actual method I use. I also will often tweak it a bit by throwing in a handful of coconut flakes to up the flavor, depending on how coconutty I feel. This is the perfect, perfect rice to have with anything spicy.

1 cup uncooked rice (Jasmati or jasmine preferred)
1 can coconut milk (light or regular both work fine), plus water to equal 2 1/2 cups
pinch of salt
1/4 cup coconut flakes (optional)
2 chopped scallions for garnish (optional)

Combine everything except scallions in saucepan. Bring to a boil, stir, then cover tightly and let simmer on lowest heat for 20 minutes. Take off heat, stir again, and let sit 5-10 minutes to absorb rest of liquid. Garnish with scallions.

Aunt Ruth's Sauteed Summer Squash

This dish is something my cousin Linda taught me to make many, many, MANY years ago...well before I was a semi-famous foodie :). She told me it was the way her mother always cooked it, and it's still one of the very best ways I know. Simple and soooo good.

2 smallish zucchini, sliced
2 yellow summer squashes, sliced
1/2 stick butter
your choice of green herb (I just used chopped fresh parsley this time, but be creative...basil, oregano, marjoram, a little tarragon, chives, dill...whatever you have around and/or are in the mood for !)

Melt butter in heavy saucepan over medium - medium-low heat. Add squash in one layer, and add salt and pepper (and dried herbs if using). Let slowly cook and slightly brown on one side, then turn over and let cook on the other side until done to your liking. Add fresh herbs towards the end of cooking. 

a bunch of smoke-cooked meat...just because :)