Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Birthday Boy and the Protracted Celebration

For the first time, Nick was not with any of his family on his birthday.  Last year, I spent it with him in Boston, taking him and several friends out for dinner.  This year he was on his own apart from birthday wishes via mail and e-mail and phone.

To make up for that, when he came home last week for a few days, I did a lot of cooking with him in mind.  His plane was scheduled to land about midnight on Wednesday.  It turned into Thursday before it actually arrived, but no matter.  When we got home, I welcomed him with cookies and cow - chocolate chunk cookies and a big glass of milk.

Thursday morning when he finally got up, he had freshly baked cinnamon rolls, which I had made on Wednesday and put in the refrigerator overnight to rise.  They were gooey with walnut caramel and he managed to eat a couple while adjusting to the time zone.  That night was his official birthday dinner:  ribs (which of course take a long time - overnight brine, one rub and then 2 hours of roasting, another rub and a 30 minute trip to the grill).  I cut up watermelon and cantaloupe, had corn on the cob and topped it off with cherry pie, which I made on Thursday before I started the ribs.

I also made pizza dough on Thursday, which I divided into 4 separate balls and refrigerated overnight.  But before our pizza dinner, Nick had his "special request" breakfast:  over-easy fried egg sandwich on buttered toast with tomato and cheddar, accompanied by a fruit salad (watermelon, cantaloupe, blueberries, raspberries, pineapple and orange - all fresh, all tasty!).

Pizzas were made to order.  I assembled a variety of toppings:  figs, goat cheese, prosciutto, salami, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, parmesan, Kalamata olives, tomatoes, sausage.  We don't usually use sauce on our pizzas, since we all like a lavish pour of olive oil instead.  Bob likes figs, goat cheese and prosciutto, with maybe a few olives.  Nick likes fresh tomatoes, basil, olives and prosciutto, but also had a second pizza which was split into the garden-side (all veg and cheese) and the main course side (some Salumi Salami and a little sausage with cheese and other additions).  The pizzas take only minutes to cook in a hot oven on a pizza stone (I actually make them on parchment paper, slide the paper and the pizza on the stone - easy-peasy and no sticking or mess to clean up).  These are definitely not kitchen-sink pizzas - just a few select ingredients placed sparingly around the dough.

Last night we had pasta using a recipe I had found recently - it was OK, but not memorable.  Tonight Nick is attending a wedding, so no dinner needed for him.  I did make him the traditional Dutch baby for "brunch" this afternoon when he finally woke up.

Tomorrow night he heads back to Boston, but will be here for chicken enchiladas before I take him to the airport.  It's been a fun several days - he is so appreciative of the meals I make for him.  He'll get to take some cookies and cinnamon rolls with him, if he has room in his bag.  And then it is back to what passes for normal around here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Little Nutty

The July 2010 Daring Cooks' Challenge was hosted by Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies.  They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make their own nut butter from scratch, and use the nut butter in a recipe.  Their sources include Better with Nut Butter and by Cooking Light Magazine, Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds, and Food Network online.

The requirement was to use the nut butter in a savory dish - not sweet.  Bob suggested a Northwest theme when I said I was thinking about doing something with fish - hazelnuts and salmon.  I had been thinking pistachios with salmon because I thought the colors would be striking, but I decided his idea was just fine.

Finding hazelnuts or filberts was a bit of a challenge in itself, as was preparing them for the butter-making process.  My local store had nothing, but my favorite store, where I also bought my salmon, had a good supply.  Making the butter takes only minutes, but with hazelnuts, some skin removal is suggested.  I roasted the hazelnuts for 5 minutes and then rubbed them vigorously in a dishtowel.  That worked for some, but others were very stubborn.  After trying several other techniques, I gave up.  Some of the nuts had skins on when they went into the food processor.  It really didn't seem to affect the color or flavor too much.

The nuts were pretty dry, so I added a small amount of hazelnut oil (who knows why I bought that at some point in the past, but I was glad to have it).  The consistency, after a few minutes of pulsing, was like a natural peanut butter.  Soft, not stiff, and a dark tan color.

I sliced the salmon into narrow pieces, about 6 ounces each.  I salted and peppered them, put some nut butter across the top and wrapped them in two layers of phyllo which had been buttered and decorated with parsely sprigs.  NOTE:  I used Safeway brand phyllo and once again, I found the product inferior to the national brand I sometimes buy.  The phyllo was very sticky in places and already split when I unwrapped it.  Go with the national brand (which, of course, Safeway doesn't carry).  Phyllo is tricky enough without trying to cope with basic product flaws.

After doing a light egg wash, I baked the salmon wraps for about 15 minutes in a hot oven.  I also made stuffed mushrooms - sauteed onions, mushrooms stems, panko, parsley, some of the nut butter, and seasonings, drizzled with olive oil.  These baked for about 5 minutes, so easy to coordinate with the salmon.  A few steamed local green beans and dinner is on the table!

Bob decided his idea wasn't so great after all.  Now one must remember that Bob likes spicy food - this was not spicy despite the addition of some pepper to the dish.  He found the hazelnuts too sweet.  Not a fan.  I, on the other hand, could taste the nutty flavor and thought it did complement the salmon.  I also liked the stuffed mushrooms, although I think a saute of sliced mushrooms with all the same ingredients would also have tasted good and might have worked really well if stuffed into the phyllo with the salmon.  Maybe a roulade?  Something to think about for next time.