Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Vacation Inspiration...Mango, Avocado & Corn Salad…with or without Steak

During almost every summer in recent memory I have been able to spend a week with my best friend from college.   It is a lovely break for both of us.  We let go of most of our commitments for a week…and spend our time doing whatever we like.  Most of our time is spent talking.  And of course, we cook too.


Since I am constantly behind on my cooking reading, I always take a stack of current and recent magazines, as well as a cookbook or two.  We often prepare our meals from the inspiration I find in my reading materials.  This gives me a chance to try new things….and she gets a break from planning meals for her family (and her family is the happy recipient of our efforts).

This year was a little bit different in that I didn’t spend too much time in my reading materials.  I’m not sure why.  But we still cooked almost every day.  For the most part we just cooked things that were familiar to me…but new for my friend:  A pizza with garlic cream (topped with roasted zucchini & potatoes—and olives—instead of asparagus and mushrooms)   The  BLAT salad with torn croutons from earlier this month  And a Beef, Mango & Soba Noodle Salad that I hadn’t thought about in a few years (I had forgotten how delicious it is!).   

Because we don’t want to spend all our time cooking, lunch is leftovers of whatever we have been cooking up during the evenings.  This year (for reasons that are still a mystery to me) we kept eating everything we prepared for the evening meal and there were rarely leftovers.  This made it so we had to get a little more creative with our lunches—which was just fine with me.    

One day I opened the fridge and spotted a mango and some limes (left from our purchases for the Soba noodle salad), an avocado, a bowl full of roasted corn and a little arugula (from the BLAT salad) and a wedge of Ricotta Salata.   I thought this looked like the makings of a pretty delicious salad.  And it was delicious.  Tangy, sweet, and salty…refreshing and not too filling…  Basically an ideal summer lunch. 


When I got home from my vacation I was still thinking about it.  Because I was also thinking about how delicious the steak had been with the mango (in the soba noodle salad), I decided to make the salad again—only this time I served it with steak…and we had it for dinner.  I am happy to report that it was equally delicious with the steak…thus making an ideal summer dinner too.  However you choose to serve it, I think you will find it to be perfect summer food.


Mango, Avocado & Roasted Corn Salad

1/4 c. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 t. ground cumin
6 T. Olive oil
2 ears of corn, in the husk
2 strip steaks, about 12 oz. each and 1 1/4- to 1 1/2-inch thick
Kosher salt
1 T. olive oil
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/8 t. ground chili powder (ancho, chipotle, or a favorite blend)
4 or 5 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves picked
2 small to medium ripe mangoes
2 ripe (but firm) avocados
2 or 3 scallions—white and a few inches of green, washed, trimmed and thinly sliced on a long diagonal (you should have about 1/3 to a scant 1/2 cup)
2 handfuls of arugula
2 oz. (more or less) ricotta salata, crumbled


 Place the lime juice and garlic in a small bowl; whisk to break up the garlic.  Let sit for five to ten minutes.  Add the cumin and a generous 1/4 t. of kosher salt.  Add the olive oil in a thin stream while whisking constantly.  Taste for salt, adding more if necessary.  Season with freshly ground pepper.  Set aside.

Place the corn, in the husk, in a preheated 400
° oven.  Remove after 20 minutes.  When the corn is cool enough to handle, remove the husks and silks.  Slice the kernels away from the cobs.  Use the back of the knife, or a spoon, to scrape the cobs.  Add the scrapings to the kernels.  You should have about 2 cups of kernels.  Set aside.

If time permits, salt the steaks ahead of time (earlier in the day or the day before).  About an hour before you are ready to cook the steaks, remove them from the fridge. Combine the oil with the cumin and chili powder.  Rub the seasoned oil and the oregano leaves all over the steaks.  Let sit at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes. 

You may cook the steaks on the grill or in a cast iron pan.

For Grilling:
Heat grill to high (you will only be able to hold your hand 2 to 4 inches above the grate for a count of 2 or 3 seconds). Place the steaks on the grill.  After 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, rotate the steaks a quarter turn (this will create attractive “crosshatch” grill marks). After another 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, turn the steaks over and cook for a total of 3 to 4 minutes, rotating the steak one quarter turn half-way through the cooking time.  Finally, using a tongs, sear the edges of the steaks—about a minute for each long edge. This steak should be more or less medium rare. For a slightly more well done steak, increase the grilling time slightly. For a substantially more well done steak, it may be necessary to reduce the temperature in addition to increasing the time over the flame. When the steaks are done to your liking, transfer them to a plate and allow them to rest for about 10 minutes.

In a Cast Iron pan:
Heat the pan over high heat until smoking hot.  Make sure your exhaust fan is on…and perhaps open a window.  If your smoke detector is near the kitchen, you might want to disable it (make sure you reconnect it when you are done).  Add the steaks to the pan.  You don’t need to add any oil to the pan—you have already put the oil on the steaks.  Turn the steaks occasionally, aiming for a nice char/sear on all the surfaces, including the narrower edges.  If the char is too dark, reduce the temperature slightly.  Total cooking time will be about the same as on the grill….about 8 minutes total for medium rare…another minute or two for medium, and etc..  (If you don’t have an exhaust fan that works well, I have found that if I start the sear on the stove and then transfer the pan to a 425° to 450° oven that I can contain the smoke a bit (don’t forget to turn the steaks occasionally so they will cook evenly).  When the steaks are done to your liking, transfer them to a plate and allow them to rest for about 10 minutes.
.
While the steaks are resting, peel the mangoes and cut the flesh away from the pit in thick slabs on all sides.  Cut the slabs into rough, 1/2-inch pieces.  Place in a large bowl.  Halve and pit the avocados.  Cut the flesh of each of the halves before removing the skin.  Holding an avocado half in your non-working hand and your knife in your other hand, slice the flesh length-wise at half inch intervals, cutting all the way to, but not through, the skin.  Repeat this slicing action cross-wise.  Then, using a large spoon, scoop out the flesh in one motion while holding the half over the bowl of mangoes.  The avocado should fall into the bowl in a rough dice.  Repeat with all four halves.  Add the scallions and the corn.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.

Slice the steaks thinly and fan on one side of a large platter…or divide among four dinner plates.  Place the arugula in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle with a small amount of the vinaigrette and toss to coat.  Scatter the arugula over the platter…or plates.  Mound the salad over the arugula and on part of the sliced steak.  Drizzle any remaining vinaigrette over all.  Scatter the ricotta salata over all and serve right away.

Serves 4 generously

Temperature Guidelines for determining “Doneness”:

Rare (cool red center)  —  120°
Medium Rare (warm red center)  —  125°
Medium (rosy center)  —  130°
Medium well (pink center)  —  135°
Well done (no pink)  —  140°

Remember to remove the meat from the grill/pan/oven when the temperature in the center is about 5° lower than the desired final temperature—the meat will continue to cook as it rests

Notes & Variations:
  • Omit the steaks for a light lunch…or a vegetarian meal. 
  • Replace the strip steaks with flank steak. 
  • Substitute Feta for the Ricotta Salata
  • If you want a super quick version of the salad, you can skip the vinaigrette and simply dress the avocado, corn and mango with a generous squeeze of lime and a drizzle of olive oil. Don’t forget the salt & pepper! 
  • For tips (including pictures) of how to cut a mango, check out the post for the Soba noodle salad
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It's delicious with cold, leftover steak too!

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Pleasure of the Annual Tomato Glut...and a Recipe for Tomato Fondue



It happens every year about this time.   Whether you shop at a Farmers' market or have your own garden, beautiful, ripe tomatoes start piling up on the kitchen counter faster than you can consume them.  I always eat as many of them as I can raw...sprinkled with salt, drizzled with olive oil...sometimes enhanced with a bit of vinegar.  But inevitably there are just too many to eat.  Even though I regularly cook with them too, I almost always have so many that they decay faster than I am able to use them up.  

When it reaches this point of overabundance I begin to consider ways to preserve the harvest.  I almost always try to make tomato sauce for the freezer (in fact, I often purchase extra tomatoes for just this purpose...summer tomato sauce is a wonderful thing to have on hand during the fall and winter months).  And some years I make slow-roasted tomatoes (which turns them into concentrated flavor bombs for pastas, pizzas, pilafs, etc.).

Last week as I was considering the mountain of tomatoes on my counter, I remembered something we used to make way back in the early days of my cooking career at The American Restaurant: a delicious preparation called "Tomato Fondue."  



Contrary to what you might think, there is no cheese involved in this fondue.  This fondue is all about the tomatoes...tomatoes that have been cooked in an abundance of olive oil until the juices and pulp have melted (hence the term "fondue") into a jam-like substance of tangy tomato deliciousness.   There is also a bit of onion and garlic...  and a sprinkling of fresh herbs (thyme, oregano, and/or winter savory).  But not too much of any of these things.  Tomato fondue should be all about the tangy and sweet flavor of summer tomatoes.

Tomato fondue has a myriad of uses.  It can of course be used to finish a soup (stirred in, or served as a drizzle or dolloped garnish)...or to enhance a pasta sauce.  But my favorite way to use it is as a condiment—dolloped onto a piece of baked or sautéed fish


As a topping for pan-seared halibut..with a bulgur pilaf with corn and zucchini....

...mixed with a little more olive oil and drizzled over a grain bowl


The leftover pilaf from the previous photo...topped with an egg...

...extended with stock or water (and/or more oil) and used to dress vegetables.  




Romano beans...dressed with tomato fondue, kalamata olives, toasted pine nuts and parsley....

You could also use it for oeufs en cocotte (just use a small spoonful of the tomato fondue in place of the cooked leeks).  It would also make a delicious instant appetizer—on a crostini smeared with fresh cheese or bean purée, or spooned over a round of baked goat cheese and served with crackers or crisp toasts.  





And it could be used to enhance a spread/dressing of some kind (like mayonnaise, for example).  Once you make it (and taste it!)...and have it on hand...I'm certain it will catch your eye every time you open the refrigerator to gather inspiration for what to make for dinner. It is amazingly versatile.

Since I mentioned preserving the harvest at the beginning of this post, I hope it goes without saying that tomato fondue can be frozen.  The flavor is so concentrated that you can freeze it in small portions (rather than the larger quantities that you might opt for when freezing a less concentrated tomato sauce).  I think ice cube trays would probably be perfect.  Either line the trays with plastic wrap...or purchase trays designated for your tomatoes (the oil in the fondue will color and imbue every plastic surface it touches with its orange-y gold color).

I have to admit though, that I haven't frozen any yet this year.  Part of the beauty of tomato fondue is that it reduces a mountain of tomatoes down to a very manageable...and consumable...amount.  I have made two 1 pound batches so far and have managed to eat it all.  I'm so glad that it popped into my mind after all these years. After having it around for a couple of weeks and finding so many ways to use it, it is on its way to becoming a summer staple in my pantry. 

Tomato Fondue

1 lb. Vine Ripened Tomatoes
1/2 c. finely diced summer onions
1 t. (heaped, if you like) minced garlic
3 to 4 T. olive oil
1 bay leaf
Several sprigs of fresh thyme, oregano and/or winter savory—leaves picked and minced
salt

Halve the tomatoes horizontally (vertically if using Romas).  Holding the tomato halves over a sieve set over a bowl, scoop out the seeds (using your fingers).  Set the de-seeded tomato halves aside for a second while you stir and press the seedy juice around in the sieve (with a rubber spatula) until all the juices have gone through the sieve.  Discard the seeds.  Using a large-holed grater set on a plate or pie pan, grate the tomatoes by holding the cut side of the tomatoes against the grater and grating until just the skin remains in your palm.  Add the grated tomato pulp to the tomato juices.  (See note.)



Warm the oil in a medium sized sauté pan or shallow sauce pan set over moderately low heat and add the onions, along with a pinch of salt.  Cook gently until the onions are softabout 10 minutes for juicy, summer onions.  Add the garlic and cook another 3 or 4 minutes.  



Add the tomatoes and herbs to the pan 




and bring to a gentle simmer.  Cook, stirring occasionally and regularly (carefully scraping down the edges of the pan as the fondue reduces) until the mixture is thick.  If you draw a spatula through the fondue, a path will remain (see picture at top of post).  You will also be able to mound the fondue on a spoon.  


(This will take about 20 minutes or so.). Taste and season with salt to bring out the brightest tangy flavor.

You will have 2/3 to 3/4 of a cup of tomato fondue.  Store in a Tupperware or covered jar in the refrigerator.

Notes:

  • The original recipe called for the tomatoes to be peeled, seeded and cut into a fine dice.  Since the tomato flesh breaks down as it cooks, it seems easiest to me to simply grate the flesh as I have done.  You may of course peel, seed and dice if you like.
  • We made the fondue in very large quantities at the restaurant—a batch made with four pounds of tomatoes would have been typical.  You may multiply this into any sized batch you like, just remember to use a wide (as opposed to deep) pan.  A large surface area will encourage the tomatoes to reduce and concentrate more quickly.  Large batches will still take longer, but the fondue will cook better in a wide pan.  When I make this in large batches, I multiply everything but the bay leaf. I find bay to be quite strong and even if I were making a four pound batch would still use just one leaf.

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Monday, August 6, 2018

Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado & Tomato Salad…with Judy Rodgers' Torn Croutons… and Roasted Corn



Last fall…towards the end of tomato season…I made a Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado & Tomato (BLAT) Salad.  It was so good.  I had already shared several salads over the course of the latter part of the summer…and tomato season was winding down…so I decided not to post the recipe.  Then, a couple of weeks ago when tomato season really hit its stride (as in—they are so beautiful and abundant that I buy way too many at the market…), I remembered that salad.  I ate it twice this past week.  I’m sure I will make it a few more times before the end of tomato season.  Now seemed like a good time to share the “recipe.”

The “recipe” is truly simple…little more than a deconstructed BLT with avocado.  It is actually a bit like Panzanella in that there is much more bread than one finds in a typical salad.  I wanted to keep the ratios of the ingredients like what one would find in the classic sandwich.  Besides lots of toasty bread, this translates into loads of bacon and tomato…and just a little bit of lettuce.  The result is sort of like a BLAT sandwich that exploded artfully on your plate…and since eating a good BLT/BLAT sandwich involves dripping juices and a stack of napkins, the salad is frankly much easier to eat. 


I am particularly enamored with the croutons in this salad.  Rather than uniform cubes of crunchy bread, these croutons are randomly sized and present the eater with a variety of textures—from crunchy to chewy...with even a few soft bits.  I have borrowed the method for making them from Judy Rodgers’ famous Roast Chicken Salad.  I don’t think she calls them anything in the recipe, so I’m calling them “Torn Croutons.”  To make them, remove the crusts from a chunk of day-old baguette or peasant bread.  Cut the crust-less bread into largish chunks, brush them all over with olive oil, 


place them on a sheet pan and run them under the broiler.  Watch the bread carefully and turn it as it colors until all the surfaces are by and large a light golden brown.  There will probably be a few charred bits which may be scraped off—or left on, if that’s how you like it.  


Tear the now golden and toasty bread into bite-sized chunks.  You may have some larger pieces…and some “fat crumbs” (to quote Rodgers)…but this will just add more texture and variety to your salad.  A half pound chunk of bread (weighed before removing the crusts) should produce about 4 cups of croutons.


I have never made these ahead, but Rodgers mentions that they may be made a few hours ahead.  (If I made them too far ahead there probably wouldn’t be any left by the time dinner rolled around…they are quite snackable…).   I think they will be delicious anyplace you like to use croutons (salads, soups, pilafs, pastas, etc).  In a salad they are particularly delicious when dressed with some of your vinaigrette—which not only adds flavor, but will soften them slightly. 

One note:  You can control the ratio of crunchy bits to softer/chewier bits by altering the size of the chunks of bread to be broiled.  If the chunks you begin with are large, you will have lots of softer/chewy interior.  If they are smaller, you will have mostly crunch…with just a bit of chew.  For this salad, I like them somewhere in the middle.  (In her chicken salad, Rodgers leaves them larger…and softens them further by adding pan drippings from the roast chicken.)  After you make them a time or two, you will get the hang of it and find how you like them best.



The only addition to my BLAT salad that might seem surprising is the roasted corn.  Corn is—to me at least—an obvious partner for tomatoes…  and bacon…  and avocado….   (If you follow me on Instagram, you will know I eat corn, tomato and avocado salads all summer long.)  I have made this salad without it, but much prefer it with.  Good, fresh, summer corn adds texture, pops of sweetness and moisture…and turns this salad into something out of the ordinary. 

As I said, you don’t really need a recipe for this salad.  In fact, I hope you will just gather your ingredients they way you would if you were making a sandwich:  in quantities to suit your taste.  But since I know many people like to have a recipe for a starting point, I’m including a recipe for the vinaigrette and crouton… as well as estimates of how much of each ingredient I used for each person.  Enjoy!



Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado & Tomato Salad with Sweet Corn

For two salads you will need:
1 medium ear of corn, roasted in the husk
3/4 lb. mixed tomatoes (vine ripes, multi-colored heirlooms, cherry, etc.—anything you like as long as they are deliciously ripe)
Salt & Pepper
1 ripe avocado
A handful (about an ounce) of arugula (or any favorite salad green—tear large leaves into bite-sized pieces)
3 or 4 T. Red wine-shallot vinaigrette
2 to 2 1/2 cups Torn Croutons
6 to 8 slices of bacon, cooked until crisp and each slice broken into 2 or 3 pieces

Cut the corn away from the cob.  You can put as much as you like on each salad, but I think a third cup per person is about right.  Most local corn in my region yields at least a cup of kernels per ear during the height of corn season.  Any corn you don’t use in your salad may be stored in the fridge for several days (for salads, pilafs, etc.).  Place the corn to be used in the salad in a small bowl

Cut the tomatoes:  Halve any cherry tomatoes.  Large tomatoes should be cored and then cut in a variety of shapes—fat slices (half moon or round) and wedges.  Spread the tomatoes on a platter, the cutting board or a sheet pan and season with salt and pepper.

Halve and pit the avocado (but don’t peel).  Season the cut surfaces with salt & pepper

Place the greens in a small bowl (if you want to use fewer bowls, add the arugula to the bowl with the corn).  Season and dress the corn and the arugula with a small amount of vinaigrette (don’t use too much—you can always drizzle more over the salad at the end).

Dress the croutons with some of the vinaigrette (a tablespoon of vinaigrette for a cup of croutons is about right).  Taste and season with salt & pepper if necessary.

Build the salad in layers:
Arrange half of each of the tomatoes, bacon, croutons and corn on a platter or two individual plates.  Take an avocado half and using a spoon, scoop bite-sized portions of avocado, arranging them in and among the ingredients already on the plate(s) as you scoop.



Scatter all but a few leaves of the greens over all (see note).  Repeat the first layer with the remaining ingredients and top with any remaining greens.  Drizzle with more vinaigrette (and/or pass more separately).  Finish the salad with a good grinding of black pepper and serve.

Note:  If you dress the corn and arugula together, you will obviously be adding the corn to the salad in one layer…when you add the majority of the greens.   


Red Wine-Shallot Vinaigrette:
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 medium shallot (about an ounce), peeled and finely diced
1/4 t. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil

Place the vinegar, shallot and salt in a small bowl and let macerate for 5 or 10 minutes.   Add a few grindings of pepper.  Add the olive oil in a thin stream while whisking constantly.   Taste and correct the seasoning.  Set aside.  Store covered, in the refrigerator.  Bring to room temperature and rewhisk before using.  Makes a half cup of vinaigrette

Torn Croutons:
Cut the crusts away from a chunk of day old baguette (or peasant bread...but nothing too grainy or hearty).  Cut the bread into large chunks.  Brush the chunks of bread all over with olive oil and place on a small sheet pan.  Place the pan under the broiler.  Watch carefully, turning the bread as it browns.  Your goal is surfaces that are crisp and as uniformly golden as possible.  When done, scrape away any bits that are too charred for your taste.  Tear the toasted chunks of bread into bite-sized pieces—you will have larger pieces as well as big crumbs.  Set aside until ready to use.

A half pound of bread (weighed prior to trimming away the crusts) should produce about 4 cups of torn croutons.


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