Grilled BLTs

Saturday, July 26, 2014

BLT

I made bibimbap for my cousin, Tippy, today and it fully, totally, perfectly sucked. The rice was undercooked to a waterlogged chew. The kale was sauteed to a soggy limp, and even the kimchi to end all kimchi was off. If the rice is right, bibimbap is hard to get wrong, and since it was Tippy’s first time trying bibimbap, I wanted it to be fucking great. When it wasn’t, I was depressed. Still, she ate it with the kind of appreciation reserved for breakfast in bed, for coffee first thing in the morning from anyone. For her, it was the gesture of someone else cooking that made it special, and when she told me this exactly, I thought of sandwiches. Nothing but a sandwich is as delicious when made by someone else, but in case there are any skeptics out there, I’d be willing to put this to the test. We’ll need four slices of bread, some bacon, a tomato, and you. You’ll make a sandwich, I’ll make a sandwich, then we’ll swap and prove this theory like reasonable adults. What say you?

(say yes)

Tippy’s daughter Laurel and I picked blueberries yesterday, and we spent the rest of today baking two very different pies. They turned out much better than the bibimbap, thank Christ. One or both of those recipes is coming up next, I promise, but until then, go and make yourself (or someone else) a sandwich. Make it a BLT, the quintessential food of summer while tomatoes and basil are peak fresh. You don’t need a recipe for a good BLT, but if you’re looking to put a spin on things, try grilling it. Right up there with a sandwich from another, I bet you’ll find it tastes better than ever.

Grilled BLTs (makes 4)

8 slices pumpernickel or whole wheat bread
9-12 slices bacon
8 slices of mixed heirloom tomatoes (or the tastiest tomatoes you can find)
Green lettuce
1/4 cup creme fraiche or mayonnaise
Handful of basil leaves, torn into small pieces
1 Lemon (1 tablespoon zest + 1 tablespoon juice)
1/4 cup or more olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
Salt and pepper to taste

While your grill is preheating, make a BLT sauce. This is essential, like a good sauce for any good sandwich. Season your creme fraiche or mayo by adding it to a bowl with the lemon parts, torn basil, and salt and pepper. Set aside.

Place slices of bacon on the grill, but away from any direct flames. Cook until crispy.

Brush thick slices of tomato with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until both sides have broken down and shriveled slightly.

Grill slices of bread on both sides, and while they’re still warm, rub garlic over one side of each slice. Then slather same side of each slice with BLT sauce. Layer the tomato, bacon, and lettuce, and top with another slice of grilled bread.

“I believe in love like a flower bud might believe in Buddha. But, then, I’m a romantic, and you know that because in the last presidential election I voted for Grilled Cheese Sandwich.
” – Jarod Kintz

Bloody Mary Hummus

Friday, July 11, 2014

Bloody Mary Hummus

Hummus is one of those foods that’s hard to improve upon, when it’s perfect. When hummus is right, it is feather-light and smooth as silk, vanilla blonde in color. My hummus often comes out dense, chalky, and mottled with chickpea bits, but this never stops me from finishing the batch, often in one sitting, because it usually still tastes good. Not perfect, but good enough to eat.

So far as I can tell, great hummus needs chickpeas with their skins removed, whether dried or canned, enough liquid to thin it out, and a machine strong enough to blend it smooth, which sounds obvious, but still took me awhile to land upon. The perfect Bloody Mary is another favorite thing, and that’s how this recipe came to be. Two favorite foods, combined. Can you mess with the classics? Or better yet, should you? The same reason to do so could be the same for why not to: Life’s short.

Let’s get to it. Happy weekend.

Bloody Mary Hummus

1 15 oz can chickpeas or 1.5 cups cooked dried chickpeas (skins removed)*
1 large clove garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
¼ packed cup sundried tomatoes in oil, chopped
½ tomato, peeled and cut into chunks**
2 tablespoons tahini
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1½ tablespoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Tobasco
dash olive brine***
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil + extra for serving

In a food processor, pulse all ingredients except olive oil until incorporated. With speed on high, pour in a steady stream the olive oil and continue to blend for a few minutes until smooth.

Garnish: more olive oil, crushed red pepper, radish, olives. Serve with celery, shrimp, or any other of your favorite additions.

*Whether using dried or canned chickpeas, if you take off their skins, your hummus will be smoother. I’d never done this before now, but it makes a gigantic difference. Squeeze each bean between your fingers, and the skin pops off easily. A tedious task, but very much worth it.

**Used to get a headier tomato flavor, and also to add liquid.

***If using dried chickpeas, save some of the cooking liquid and use it to thin out your hummus. This would be a good way to cut down on some of the sodium, too, because you could use less Tobasco, olive brine, and Worcestershire.

Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream

Friday, July 4, 2014

If I ever revisit these posts a year from now, I hope I won’t be taken aback by how simple I made everything sound, or how I qualified every not-so-shiny experience. But can we be totally candid for a second? Lately, keeping things simple helps to keep me moving forward. If I allowed myself unlimited space to think, I’d have a tough time getting out of bed everyday. As long as we’re being candid, I might as well bare it all and tell you that earlier today while checking out automatic garage door openers at Home Depot, I caught myself having fun and humming along to whatever country song was playing overhead. I didn’t know whether to be horrified or secretly relieved, so I set the table for both.

Rhubars

There are a few things that are making this transition easier. Books are a good reminder of the big picture, small victories, a larger world. Read The Immortal Life first, then Some Assembly Required, now Mother Daughter Me and Quiet. Music, like this song by Jim James. Movement. Yoga, biking, walking, mowing the lawn, whatever. Movement’s good. So are rhubars! Rhubars are the delectable beauties in the photo up there. They are the invention of my friend Niki’s grandma, Lou. I bet they could both tell you the recipe by heart.

I’ve mentioned Niki here before over the years. Her name is sprinkled throughout several posts, and I guess because she’s been such a large presence in my life for so long, I haven’t thought to give her a formal introduction. I always assumed anyone who’d be reading would also know her. Besides being a great person to know, she’s also a terrific co-cook and eating buddy with a blossoming talent for getting her people to relocate to Minneapolis. So far, she’s two for two.

Niki was born in the middle of July. If you believe in zodiac signs and all of that, you’ll know that Cancers are the keepers of the home. This is true of Niki. Her presence feels like home. She is sturdy, consistent, and loyal to the people she loves. She doesn’t ask for much, but she’ll give you the shirt off her back, and probably her pants, too. Not to say that she’s an exhibitionist, although she certainly knows how to have a good time. In fact, she can go into any situation and find a way to enjoy herself. It’s one of her best qualities.

Niki

We’ve been friends officially since the seventh grade. We’ve been to the Rockies, Lake Superior, the Gulf of Mexico, Calgary, The Brooklyn Bridge, and the southern part of Korea together. We’ve trick-or-treated and skipped school and marched in parades together. She could tell you much more than that. Her memory is wickedly sharp, and the facets she can recall bring all kinds of color to the past. It’s unbelievable, really, and also potentially mortifying, since she’s got the dirt of our youth filed away, but still very much within reach. So, you know, if you haven’t figured out why I keep her around by now…

Last week, Niki invited me to pick strawberries in her garden. We got about two pints and 53 mosquito bites between us, and even though she got the majority of the bites, she still sent me home with all the berries. A few days later, she came over to hang out, mix us whiskey gingers, and listen. Then we walked to her house and made this ice cream. We ate it standing in the kitchen, with her husband Tony, her mom, and her dad. Even the cat came.

Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream

When I was in Seoul and Niki was here, we started a private cooking blog together. We’d post recipes or nerdy food moments, anytime we felt like it. We thought it’d be a good way for us to keep record and stay connected until we were in the same city and could cook in the same kitchen again. Even if we were still thousands of miles apart, this is exactly the type of recipe I’d imagine her choosing.

Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream (adapted from the Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book)
If you’ve got an ice cream spinner, ice cream is beautifully simple. If you make this and eat it immediately, it’ll be like soft serve: barely firm, almost drippy, luxurious. Or set it aside to fully freeze. It’s just as nice.

1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
4 tablespoons strawberry balsamic vinegar*

*The book’s original recipe for strawberry ice cream calls for 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar and a LOT more sugar. Niki and Tony received a luxe bottle of strawberry balsamic vinegar as a wedding present a few years back, and it’s been kicking around in one of their cupboards ever since. Niki says they use it in salads, mostly, and since there was enough left to try it in this recipe, we did. But we would’ve happily used regular balsamic, too. We’d probably have added more sugar in that case, and perhaps even decreased the amount of vinegar to 3 tablespoons. Go conservative at first, taste, and adjust.

Blend strawberries to a smooth purée. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the seeds, or don’t. It’s up to you. We don’t mind the seeds, so we didn’t. Transfer the purée to a large bowl and add the cream, condensed milk, sugar, salt, and vinegar. Whisk together until the sugar is incorporated. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and spin according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Eat immediately, or transfer to an airtight container, cover, and freeze for up to one week.

Rhubarb Gochujang Jam

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

We’re into the third week now, and things are starting to settle in, as they always do right around week three or four. The initial elation of being back in the States has worn off, and reality has struck that, for real, I live in Minnesota. For the first time in thirteen years, all of my possessions are in the same city. I have a car, and it runs, hollaa! I’m getting used to driving again, above the speed limit (barely), because everyone’s got places to go, and I’m the Road Tortoise with her hands at ten and two. I have one piece of furniture, my grandma’s old piano, that hasn’t been touched in years. My harmonicas, cookbooks, and spices are all within reach. In the odd in-betweenness of my old life and new, these details are keeping me sane.

It is not easy to move abroad, but so far it’s been harder to move back home. The sensation is closest to grief–like losing a cherished thing, except this thing is more than you can hold, and therefore, difficult to let go. In order to walk one way, you must leave something behind, and the more you’ve invested, the harder this is to do. Risky business, this going all in, but so far I can’t tell if there’s any other way. Sometimes I am resentful to be starting over again. It reminds me of being uprooted as a kid. No place like home to dredge up old insecurities, no matter how much you think you’ve grown. But if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making something from nothing, and here there’s already much more than that.

So here we go.

When I made this jam last week, I burned my wrist, melted a plastic container on the stove, covered Mary Ellen’s counters with stick, swore, cleaned up the mess, cooled the jam, and breathed. All in.

Rhubarb Gochujang Jam (makes about 2 1/2 to 3 pints)

6 cups chopped rhubarb
2 cups sugar (increase if you like a jam that’s sweeter than tart)
1/2–1 tablespoon gochujang*
1 lemon, washed well

You might be bone-tired of talking about rhubarb by now, but let’s think of how we’re going to feel in a few months’ time. If you’ve got room for one more rhubarb recipe this season, let it be this one. You’ll have it for months, if you do decide to can it. Or, you could skip the canning process and put the jars straight into the fridge (and then, perhaps, halve the recipe). A spoonful would be dynamite over a piece of grilled pork, though it’s also delicious on a piece of plain toast.

*Gochujang is a thick, sweet, and spicy chili paste from Korea, and it’s become an essential condiment in my fridge. Dong Yang and United Noodles both stock it here in town. You could leave it out if you want, but then you’d have to call this Rhubarb Jam, and there are already enough good recipes around for that, don’t you think?

Add chopped rhubarb to a big non-metallic bowl. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze juice over rhubarb, letting the seeds drop in, too (they’ll add pectin, and help your jam set–you can either fish them out or tie them up in cheesecloth). Add  lemon halves to the bowl, too, then sprinkle with sugar and mix well. Set aside for an hour or more (could go as long as overnight–in that case, store in the fridge).

Pour rhubarb, sugar, and lemon into a pot big enough to contain them, and heat to boiling. Then, turn down the heat so that the sauce simmers, and let it do so for 15-20 minutes. Ladle hot jam into hot, sterilized jars and cover with hot, sterilized lids. Screw the rings on, but not too tightly. Then process in a tall pot of boiling water (water should cover the jars by an inch or more) for ten minutes. Remove from hot pot with tongs and let sit at room temperature until lids pop inward to seal.

A Spring Salad

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Spring Salad

Yesterday, Niki and I visited the St Paul Farmers’ Market in Lowertown, chosen mainly for its coverage from the rain. Everywhere, it was pink and green–stalks of flushed rhubarb stacked in pyramids, scarlet globe and French breakfast radishes, baskets of sugar snap peas, and spring onions bundled next to bunches of pea shoots, their tendrils finely contained. We met some friends in Uptown later in the day, a part of the city we used to frequent as high schoolers, where my youngest brother now lives in his own apartment, and where, for the first time in history (in Minnesota, that is), the bartender did not ask for our i.ds.

Whenever I return to Minnesota after time away, I am struck by how visible I am, both by stepping into the family domain where regular attention is expected (of which is more refreshing than annoying until it is not anymore new), and by stepping into the street. In a bigger city, you’ve often got to knock into someone for him or her to look up, and in Seoul, even that won’t do it most of the time. Here, people will wave from fifty yards away, say hello and smile first if you catch eyes. More than once I’ve been startled enough to stop and look behind me before returning the greeting, realizing it was actually for me. I grew up here, where the social niceties have not changed since then, but being away longterm for nearly thirteen years is enough to make the once-familiar look and feel foreign. At least for now, until I become that person across the street, waving to passersby, just because. Do you think?

We ate this salad for dinner last night before seeing Chef, the movie. (Watching movies! Something else I didn’t realize I missed. Obviously possible in Seoul, but for some reason, was just not a part of the regular. A small discovery, but still good). I’m a big believer that salads, especially green salads, are better written as guidelines than precise recipes, since the fun lies in selecting what you’ve got on hand, what’s in season, and what you like. Swap out any spring vegetables for those that are available where you are, and vary the quantities of each to suit you.

A Spring Salad

Pea shoots (one big bunch, washed, dried, and cut to manageable pieces)
Asparagus (blanched and chopped)
Sugar snap peas (trimmed and chopped)
Radishes (sliced thinly)
Spring onion (green parts chopped)
Basil leaves (torn in pieces)
Feta (or another salty cheese that crumbles, like ricotta salata)

Combine all ingredients but the feta and gently toss with any dressing you like. Add feta to the top of each salad.

Easy dressing:
White wine vinegar
Dijon mustard
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Measure a 1:3 ratio of vinegar to oil. Whisk oil with a dash of dijon mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle in oil, and whisk again to emulsify.