Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Summer Winds

It has been a whirlwind of a summer, as I'm trying to keep up on seasonal produce by visiting the Farmer's Market once a week.

We've been through the sweetest cherries I've ever had. So sweet, I went and bought a cherry pitter just so I could enjoy them a few seconds faster.

Then there were the sugar peas - almost as sweet as the cherries, but way more fun because they *SNAP* when you bite into them. I hated peas as a kid, but I can't get enough of these fresh-from-the-garden raw ones. (There's even some in the fridge right now, waiting for some room in my lunchbox later this week.

I bought a loaf of tasty chocolate sourdough with cherries, which I lost under the seat in the car and spent a couple of weeks wondering where exactly I'd put that yummy bread. By the time I found it and threw it out, the bakery had moved on to chocolate-orange sourdough, which was good, but not at the same caliber.

There's been lots of strawberries, of course, but I haven't had to buy any as our strawberry plants have been producing well enough to give us a small handful of berries each week.

Raspberries. Blueberries. Last time I went, there were peaches and apricots all over.

I don't have many peach recipes, aside from peach ice cream or peach smoothies. Help me out here - what's your favorite peach recipes? Leave me a comment with a link to 'em, and I'll pick out the best and give it a try!

Friday, August 13, 2010

6 Kitchen Tools I'd Want if I were Stranded on a Desert Island

... Assuming, of course, that my desert island had potable water, power, and a convenient supermarket for those obscure vegetables I can't grow myself.

1. Smoker - This being the Northwest, summer doesn't usually hit until July. Once the sun comes out and we start craving fire-cooked meals, it's time to rush out onto our small porch and investigate the grill. Given that we're only two people and don't entertain half as often as we'd like, we rarely invest heavily in a grill, choosing to buy small charcoal grills capable of cooking a couple of steaks. And most often, owing to the small size and replaceability of the grills, they rust away into rickety shadows of themselves during the winter months, and by July, are fit only as habitat for the several spiders which have taken up residence.

This year, we tried something different. In June, when patio ware went on sale, we tossed the old spider habitat and replaced it with a shiny new smoker. An electric one. No charcoal to light and re-light. No gas containers to refill. Just weave the cord through the window to the nearest outlet and wait.

This is arguably the best piece of patio-ware we've ever bought. Smoked chicken, pork chops, ribs, and fish, at our fingertips. It's taken a bit of research to get the recipes down - until we started smoking chicken, I'd never heard that grilled meats should be brined to make them juicier and faster-cooking. And with the smoker, it's almost critical - a pair of chicken breasts takes 5 hours to cook to the recommended 170. A salmon fillet, though, only takes about an hour, and comes out tasting like the fish from the gift baskets we got for Christmas when I was a child, even without the brine (which makes me wonder: should fish be brined? Would salt-water fish be pre-brined?)

A very short recipe for smoked salmon:
1 wooden grilling plank
several large hickory or mesquite wood chunks
1/4-1/2 pound of salmon fillet per person
2-3 Tbsp grilling rub (we've been using a cowboy-themed steak rub with barbeque and coffee flavors - but a basic brown sugar and paprika rub will work just fine as well)

Soak the plank and wood chunks at least 30 minutes before you intend to start cooking. If you have a charcoal smoker, follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding how soon to start the coals.

Pull the plank out of the water and center, as best as you can, the salmon on it, skin side down. Sprinkle the grilling rub over the top, and use your fingers to spread it about and rub it in.

Add the wood to your smoker, followed by the plank and the salmon. If your smoker has (like ours) a bowl for liquid, take it out. You do not want to steam the salmon. Close the lid and set a timer for about an hour. After the hour is up, the fish should flake easily with a fork, and you can turn the smoker off, bring the fish inside, and enjoy.

2. Immersion Blender - We bought this a couple of winters ago, frustrated with recipes that call for every bowl and pan in my small kitchen so that I can pour small batches of hot soup into the blender. Instead, I now pull out the immersion blender, plug it in and go right on with the soup in my big soup pot.

Here's a recipe we use from SoupSong
which is great for an immersion blender. We usually omit the sour cream and cilantro garnishes, and stir the cheese into the soup rather than garnishing with it.

3. Food Processor - Purchased in 2009, originally to make Black Bean Mini-Burgers for our bento lunches, there's not much this little standby can't do. We have the small, 3-cup version, which honestly holds and chops far less than 3-cups. It does, however, do a lovely job of chopping up onions for soup or tacos, without the tears. It makes black bean burgers, salsa, and chops onions - and takes up less counter space than the waffle iron.

4. Salad Bowl - Some years ago, my grandmother gave all of us kids a big aluminum mixing bowl filled with assorted travel size goodies for Christmas. A very grandma sort of gift, but the bowl has turned out to be priceless. It's just the right size for a dinner salad, mixing home-made Monkey Bars oatmeal, or stirring up quick bread dough.

5. iSi Whipped Cream Dispenser - Until the smoker, this was the newest addition to our kitchen, and has been used, at this point, exactly once. It made the list, though, because I've been yearning for one for so long, just on coolness factor alone, that it feels like it's been with us longer.

6. Large Saute Pan -Oh, saute pan, how I love you. What could I do without you? I cook eggs, pancakes, and yummy yummy smoked salmon hash in you. I can even use you for stir fried seitan if I don't feel like hauling out the wok.

Which kitchen tool could you not live without?