Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Corn Som Tam with Rock Shrimp

Last June I saw this recipe on Serious Eats for Corn Som Tam and got all excited.  Then life got in the way and before I knew it corn season was over at the farmers' market so I never had the chance to make it.  It was very sad.  But as soon as I saw the fresh corn at the farmers' market this morning I knew we had to make this.  So I spent a little time on my iPhone figuring out exactly what ingredients we needed (the rock shrimp was an impulse buy yesterday afternoon) and we picked up cherry tomatoes, some beautiful haricots verts and corn.  Then I hit the grocery store for more limes and shredded carrots.  It has been a really long time since I have had the time to sit in the kitchen and take my time making a meal from scratch so this was something of a fun zen experience for me.  Most meals of late have been hurriedly thrown together (mostly by Alex, with some fly by assistance from yours truly) in brief breaks between doing work, but I had the whole afternoon to myself today to play in the kitchen.  I made a hell of a mess (and Brady helped by leaving green bean bits all over the floor), but I got to make lunch all by myself!  This might not sound exciting to most of you, but I really miss cooking when work becomes all-consuming.  Don't get me wrong, it's great when Alex cooks dinner because he is a pretty darn good cook, but I miss being able to cook and menu plan at my leisure.  

As far as som tams go, I might prefer the version with green papaya for the interplay of texture and sweetness, but this was a nice summery alternative.  I love Thai flavors, fresh corn salads and great summer produce so this recipe combined a number of things that I enjoy.  I think this would make a really nice component of a larger meal but it's pretty light to be the only dish.  If I had been cooking lunch or dinner for 4 (or more) people, I would have made a larb or maybe this Crying Tiger Grilled Steak to go with the som tam.

Recipe after the jump!

Charred Corn and Zucchini Tacos

Hurray tacos!  I love tacos.  And I love fresh corn.  So I knew this recipe was going to be good.  There are actually a ton of corn taco recipes out there so before fresh corn season ends I hope I have the chance to try out a few more.  This recipe was one of the easier ones out there and didn't require an additional trip to the grocery store.  It also included a number of ingredients that I love (corn, zucchini and cotija cheese) and that are at the peak of their season right now.  I thought these tacos were nice (and very summery), but I'm positive that the perfect corn taco is out there.  I just know it.  I tried the tacos with two different salsas and I thought the salsas added another level of flavor that I really appreciated.  I might try the corn-zucchini filling for quesadillas, enchiladas or tostadas.  And I wonder if some blackbeans would make a good addition?  So many thoughts, so little time left before fresh corn goes out of season...

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Tyler Florence's Peach, Mozzarella and Crispy Prosciutto Salad

Here's another salad for you courtesy of the farmers' market.  Work is busy enough that I only have the opportunity to cook/eat 1-2 meals per week at home so I really want to take advantage of the produce at the farmers' market and make great meals when I can.  This salad started with the peaches.  I love the smell of fresh peaches, but I just can't get into eating them solo.  It's the fuzz on the skin that really throws me.  But when you combine fresh peaches with other ingredients in a salad or crostini I really enjoy it.  Go figure.  I was going to make this Grilled Peach Panzanella Salad but I thought it would be fun to try something new.  Since I really liked the combination of prosciutto, peaches and dairy in the crostini I wanted to make a salad that used those ingredients.  This Tyler Florence recipe fit the bill perfectly.  It wasn't the most amazing salad we have made but it was fun and different.  I liked the crispy prosciutto and the fennel.  We don't use fennel a lot, but it is really growing on me.  The anise flavor and the crunch of the fennel works beautifully in a salad.  While the salad was nice, it didn't really come together for me.  If you had a bite with equivalent amounts of every single ingredient in it, it wasn't bad, but if you had a bite without the prosciutto it lacked seasoning/salt.  It was still yummy, but it wasn't quite as delicious as I had hoped for. 

I'm hoping that work will slow down enough for us to make a few more farmers' market-inspired meals.  At the very least I have a few more to post about, including the Corn Som Tam with Rock Shrimp we made this afternoon.

Recipe after the jump.

Watermelon-Feta-Arugula Salad with Serrano Chili Vinaigrette

I know I referenced this recipe weeks ago and promised to post about it.  And then I didn't.  This isn't going to be the longest post ever but I know myself and if I don't get something up about it now it's not going to happen.  So here goes.  This recipe was the first recipe we made from Hugh Achesons' cookbook and I loved it.  The serrano chili vinaigrette is not shy - it's spicy.  But it works really nicely with the sweet watermelon.  If you don't like spice, you should cut the number of chilis in half (or seed some of the chilis).  We like spice so we went whole hog, but I think it would be a little too spicy for a lot of people.  Anyway, I know we have made a number of watermelon salads on this blog (I have a thing for watermelon salad), but this might have been my favorite one ever.  It had a perfect balance of salty, sweet and spice.  Sometimes the cheese can throw off the sweetness and freshness of the watermelon (particularly if your watermelon isn't very sweet), but this salad retained all of the fresh and bright flavors that I love and added some kick.  We did cut back on the amount of cheese slightly, but that was due to the fact that we ran out (not because I made the strategic decision to do so).  I thought the amount of feta was fine as we made it so I will probably continue to use a little less cheese than the amount the recipe calls for in future watermelon salads.  But if you want a fun and funky take on a classic summertime treat, make this salad.  If your tastes are at all similar to mine, you will love it.

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Spicy Pickled Tomatoes

I have a new favorite cookbook.  I know it's a little ridiculous to call something my new favorite cookbook when I have only made a salad and a condiment from it, but I LOVED both of those dishes.  And the only reason I bought the cookbook is because it was on sale at Anthropologie.  I didn't even realize they sold cookbooks but it was on sale, the pictures inside were pretty and Hugh Acheson is perhaps my favorite Top Chef judge of all time.  So I bought it.  And I am genuinely (and thoroughly) excited by a number of recipes so it worked out really nicely.  Stay tuned.  If I had my way (instead of work having its way with me) I would have made at least 3-4 other recipes from the cookbook already.  I have 4-5 more recipes already bookmarked that I want to make as soon as possible.  I promise to make more as soon as I can.  I guess I should mention the name of the cookbook sooner or later - it's A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for your Kitchen by Hugh Acheson.  It helps that I am in a Southern phase recently - this weekend we had great meals at Maysville and Mighty Quinn's Barbeque.  I didn't take any pictures since we were at both restaurants with friends, but they were both totally yummy.  Every year summer hits and I start thinking about Mexican food and Southern food.  I want tacos, barbeque, buttermilk biscuits, cornbread and beer.  And tonight, Alex really wanted grilled cheese, which isn't exactly Southern, but it's not not Southern?  I had mentioned grilled cheese as a natural pairing for these pickled tomatoes when I asked Alex to make them last week, but I didn't know that Alex was going to get so fixated on the grilled cheese idea.  I went to the farmers' market this afternoon after the gym and was ready to make a peach, prosciutto and mozzarella salad for dinner but Alex was dead set on the grilled cheese with spicy pickled tomatoes idea.  I picked a rather labor-intensive grilled cheese recipe from Serious Eats that I saw a few months ago because I always feel like our grilled cheese sandwiches aren't as crispy as I want.  This grilled cheese took awhile, but it was perfect.  And I do mean PERFECT.  As far as methods go, I don't think it can be improved upon.  I might experiment with adding new ingredients in with the cheese (or try other cheeses or types of bread), but I have never had such a nicely cooked grilled cheese.  And the spicy pickled tomatoes were delicious.  It was such a fun play on grilled cheese with tomato soup (or ketchup).  The acidity and heat of the tomatoes really complimented and cut through the richness of the grilled cheese.  I can't wait to try these tomatoes in other dishes - I'm thinking cornmeal-crusted chicken breasts or sauteed chicken breasts.  I don't know, but I think these tomatoes are the perfect thing to keep in the fridge at all times to really jazz up a meal.

Recipes after the jump!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Europe 2013: Spring versus Volta

It seems a little odd to mention these two restaurants (and pit them against each other) in one post but the comparisons were inevitable.  For our Europe trip, I wanted to play things by ear for the most part, but I did want to try to plan two nice dinners - one in Paris (obviously) and one in Belgium.  I left Alex to make the plans for Belgium (picking the restaurant, making the reservations, etc.) and I took care of Paris.  I had the choice narrowed down to a few different restaurants in Paris (Spring and Septime were the frontrunners) and Alex found a trio of restaurants in Ghent that looked interesting (Volta, De Vitrine and Jef).  I ended up picking Spring and Alex went with Volta.  Both restaurants do a tasting menu and both are comparable in terms of price, so it was natural to compare the two, even if they serve very different food.  Both of these meals were incredibly memorable.  Both were delicious.  But the experiences couldn't have been more different for a number of reasons that I will go into in more detail below.  

If you held a gun to my head and made me choose which restaurant I had to go back to, I think I would pick Spring.  But if you made me pick which overall experience I preferred, I would pick Volta.  In a head-to-head taste off I thought the rankings were as follows:
  • Spring won the amuse-bouches.
  • Spring and Volta tied for the red mullet versus the eel - the eel at Volta was more interesting, but I would be more likely to order the red mullet from Spring again.  I might give a slight edge to Volta because it really was tasty and memorable (as well as interesting).
  • Volta won for the ham (and we can include the fish since there were an uneven number of courses, but it would have won on the ham alone) over the lobster and asparagus dish from Spring.
  • Spring won on the lamb versus the turkey leg.
  • Spring won on the desserts for me, although I much preferred the little cake at Volta to the chocolate tart at Spring.  In the spirit of full disclosure, Alex preferred his cheese plate and the cake at Volta to anything we had at Spring.
More details and pictures after the jump!