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FYI: At some point, I made this journal friends-only. I haven't bothered friends-locking old entries yet, though I might at some point.

Thing Seventy-One: Szecuan Sriracha Salmon

Serious Eats has a nice technique on their website for pan-frying skin-on salmon filets. I like doing this in a nonstick skillet with less oil, because it's easier to clean up, but I still use the same basic "cook it skin-side down until it's almost done, then flip and finish cooking" method. It works great.

This evening, I patted the salmon filet dry, seasoned it with kosher salt and ground Szechuan peppercorns, and slapped it in a hot oil-sprayed nonstick skillet, skin-side down. I turned the heat down and let it cook slowly through. When it was starting to get towards done, I used a pastry brush to brush on a blend of light mayo and sriracha sauce, like a glaze. I flipped the salmon over, and let it finish cooking. By the time the temperature read 125 in the middle, the glaze had started to caramelize nicely. I let the salmon rest for a few minutes before serving it with cilantro-lime quinoa and a salad. That was some damn good fish: just done enough, tender and melting in the middle with super-crispy skin. The blend of hot and numbing spice was really nice, though I feel like it could have used a little more of the Szechuan.


Thing Seventy: Corn

This isn't really much of a recipe so much as a technique. I haven't even done it in about a week, but I was inspired to write it down because I just saw a lovely picture of some grilled corn on a food blog.

I love grilled corn. I love the slightly-charred sweetness of it. I do not, however, love the pain-in-the-ass process of grilling. You have to wait for the charcoal to heat up, dump it into the grill, wait for the grill to get hot and the coals to get ashy, do your cooking, and then scrape off the grill and scoop out and dump the ashes. Way too much of a pain for a quick weeknight meal, in my book. I have, however, figured out a quick and lazy way of making corn that is almost as good as real grilled corn, for anyone with a gas stove.

First of all, leave the husks on. Cut off the top of the cornsilk, since that is dry and burns easily. Stick the corn in the microwave on high, still in the husk. I usually do about 5 minutes, turning halfway through, for 2-3 ears of corn. When it's done, take it out, peel down a little bit to let steam escape (careful!) and just set it aside for a while and do some other food prep. You want to leave it until it's cooled down a bit, unless you have Teflon hands.

When it's cool enough that you can hold it without burning yourself, peel off the husks. They actually come off the cooked corn much more easily than when it's raw. Same with the silk. Even if some silk clings, it shouldn't be a problem. Next, turn on a stove burner to about medium or so. Hold the corn with metal tongs, keeping it right above the flame, and moving and turning it periodically to make sure the fire's getting all parts of the ear. You'll hear popping as some of the kernels burst, and you'll see charred spots form. When it's done to your liking, remove it from the fire. At this point, you can eat it on the cob (maybe with lime, mayo, cilantro, and cotija?) or cut it off after it's cooled to use in another dish. The whole process takes minutes, and requires no cleanup besides washing the tongs, which don't get that dirty.


I've been so lax about posting in LJ lately. Sorry. Tonight's the first night of a long weekend, and I got out of work a little early tonight, so I had time to make something nice for dinner. From a list of options I gave him, my husband picked pork chops. I wanted to do something fruity with them, and thought of and dismissed both pineapple salsa and a watermelon side salad, before deciding on peach chutney.

I was able to find two nice ripe peaches at the grocery store, happily. I had everything else I needed for this dish at home, including some cilantro for a garnish. Around 5:15 or so, I took the pork chops out of the package, salted them well on both sides, and let them sit on a plate in the fridge. Around 6:15 or so, I started the chutney. I didn't bother peeling the peaches (I was lazy), though you certainly can if you like. I cut them in a large dice, and put them in a stainless steel saucepan with brown sugar, cider vinegar, raisins, whole cardamom and coriander seeds, and some ground cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. I started it on medium heat, but when it started to cook down a bit, I turned it down to low to avoid burning. When it was nice and thick and chutney-ish, I took it off the heat.

I took the pork chops out of the fridge after they had sat for about an hour and a half. By this time, you could see why I had salted them so far in advance. See, when you salt meat well in advance of cooking, that salt will first draw liquid out of the meat. Watch, and you'll see it pooled on top and on the plate. "But," you say, "doesn't that dry the meat out?" Well, sure, if you cook it with all that moisture still on the outside. BUT...if you let it continue past that stage, say at least 45 minutes to overnight, you will see that liquid disappear. Where does it go? Right back into the meat, believe it or not. This ensures three things: first, that the meat is nice and juicy with no loss of moisture; second, that the salt permeates and flavors the inside of the meat; and third, that the meat is tender.

I heated a cast iron skillet over high heat, with canola oil in it. When it was smoking, I patted the surface of the chops with a paper towel to remove any remaining moisture (there was very little left on the surface), and popped them into the skillet. The reason you want to make sure the surface of a piece of meat is dry before pan-searing it is that if there's moisture there, the meat won't brown: it'll steam, and turn an unappetizing grey. Blah. No one likes that. I cooked the meat on both sides so that the faces of the chop were nice and brown, and the meat was at about 135 degrees (I prefer my pork a nice medium). I let them rest for a while, and served them with the chutney on top. The pork was perfectly cooked: just a hint of rosiness in the middle, juicy, tender, and flavorful. The chutney was the perfect accompaniment. For sides, I served baked sweet potatoes and salad dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. It was a great start to the long weekend.


This subject line amuses me. "Slapdash Hand Pie" sounds like it should be the name of some kind of hipster band, or maybe a fast-paced card game that's fun for the whole family (TM). What it was, though, was something between dinner and a snack last night. After work, I met my husband and a couple of friends at a local Irish bar for beer and noshes. They'd been at it all day, unlike me, so they didn't really want to order dinner. Since I didn't want to keep them waiting there while I ate dinner, I assured my husband I'd find something to eat at home. I didn't really want to cook, but figured I'd probably make some of the Amy's tomato soup I had in the pantry. Well, as it turned out, I did feel like cooking after all, just nothing complicated. Fortunately, leftovers were helpful

The leftovers came from my cooking effort on Sunday. In search of something to bring to a St. Patrick's Day party that would provide us corned beef and cabbage haters (I know, heresy) with a substantial meal-like dish, I hit on the idea of making a French Canadian-style salmon pie, just like my dad used to make when I was a kid. It's an extremely simple dish, homey and comforting, and hitting those two marks of traditional peasant food: cheap and filling. The recipe is as follows:

2 pie crusts (use storebought like I did, or make your own)
1 tall can salmon
1 small onion, chopped
3-4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks (use enough that the potatoes plus the onion make up 3/4 of the filling when mixed with the salmon)
1/2-1 tsp. celery seed (optional, use as much or as little as you like, really)
salt and pepper to taste
Ketchup or chopped canned tomatoes with salt and pepper, for serving

Boil the potatoes and onions in salted water until the potatoes are fork tender. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Drain the potatoes and onions, and dump in the salmon along with all the juices in the can and any skin and bones that might be in there. It's all good, guys, and good for you! Mash everything together until it's all evenly distributed, but not so much that the potatoes get gluey. Put into the bottom pie crust and top with the other crust. Trim and crimp the edges, and cut vents for steam. If you're so inclined, use the trimmed-off crust to make little fish to decorate. (I also did some shamrocks for this one!) It's a good idea to put some foil around the edges of the crust to keep them from over-browning. Bake for about 45 minutes, taking the foil off after about half an hour, until the crust is golden brown. Allow to cool for a while before cutting. Serve with ketchup, as is my favorite, or with the tomatoes, as my father prefers.

Anyway, to make this pie, I had to buy two frozen-in-the-foil-pie-plate crusts instead of my preferred refrigerated Pillsbury crusts. I don't like these as much. I guess that's what happens when you try to buy pie crusts on Pi Day, though: the grocery store is severely depleted! I had a lot of trim left over from the top crust, probably since I had to form it into a ball and roll it out in order to get it to work for me, and I rolled it rather thin. I used some of the trim to decorate the top of the pie, but there was enough left over that I stuck it in a Ziploc in the fridge. Last night, I spied that when I came home, and decided I needed to make a little hand pie with it. Looking in the vegetable drawer, I saw part of a head of cabbage and a leek that were begging to be used. I sliced some of each, and sautéed them up in a little butter until tender and just starting to brown. I formed the pie dough into a circle using my hands (too lazy to get out the rolling pin), and filled it with the sautéed veggies and some cheddar cheese. I folded the dough in half, crimped the edges, slashed the top to vent, and stuck it in the toaster oven until it was golden brown. I probaby cooked it too quickly at too high a temperature, so the crust was sort of crumbly, but it was a really, really tasty little bite. The combination of the cabbage, leek, and cheddar was very flavorful and very comforting. I think I may need to do this on a larger scale sometime.


Thing Sixty-Seven: Lamb and Beef Ragu

When racking my brain for a main dish to make for a small potluck dinner, I opened my freezer and saw that I had a half pound each of ground beef and ground lamb in there. I figured that these could be the basis for a meat sauce to serve with pasta. The lamb was an unusual enough addition, though, that I decided I should do a different kind of riff on my usual tomato sauce.

There's a diner in Watertown that serves a really tasty Greek sausage that's seasoned with fennel and orange zest. I found myself thinking about this flavor combination, and also about how well mint goes with both of those flavors. I decided these needed to be flavor components in my lamb and beef ragu.

I started out pretty much like you might with any pasta sauce. I sauteed chopped onions and celery in olive oil, then added some minced garlic when they were mostly soft (to avoid burning the smaller pieces before the rest was cooked). I added the lamb and beef, and browned them. Then, I poured in a good glug of red wine, and cooked most of the liquid off. I put in a can of whole peeled tomatoes and their juice, squeezing each one to bits before dropping it into the pot. I also threw in a can of tomato paste (the lazy cook's shortcut to good thick sauce that tastes like it's been cooked down). I added a bay leaf and some fennel seeds and salt, and let it simmer for quite a while. Then I added some dried mint and some minced fresh orange zest. Later, when it was close to done, I chopped up some fresh marjoram and threw that in as well. The end result is fragrant, rich, and has that slight gaminess of lamb that I love so much. I can't wait to have it for dinner tomorrow night! It'll be easy to just microwave it and serve it over freshly cooked pasta at my friends' house.

Tonight is Dornish "Snake," a.k.a. chicken thighs, which I've made before, but never for my husband. I hope he likes the spicy sauce!


I got new toys!

Both last year and this year, when I went to Arisia, a science-fiction convention held here in Boston, I attended a panel on food science. To someone like me who is both a foodie and a geek, this was awesome. A lot of cool stuff came up in these panels. Sous vide cooking was a big topic. Yes, I want to get an immersion circulator and do this (probably the new Anova model). Of course, this means I will ALSO want to get a vacuum sealer (probably a FoodSaver), and perhaps eventually a blowtorch and a Searzall (which is the best way of searing stuff ever, apparently). We also talked a lot about molecular gastronomy, though. I will admit that there are times when I look at the dishes that use MG methods and think, "that looks pretty, but it doesn't look yummy." The more I hear about it, though, the more I realize that GOOD MG doesn't just transform things for the hell of it. Instead, it transforms them in ways that will either enhance the experience of them, or give you a new and exciting way to experience them. The more I hear about MG, the more interested I get. Shortly after the panel was over, I decided to buy a beginner MG kit from a vendor at the con. It has packets of chemicals and an assortment of tools, as well as a recipe DVD. I can't wait to start acting like a mad scientist in the kitchen. SCIENCE!

The other new toy I got is really a collection of new ingredients. My dad got me a collection of 12 different kinds of peppercorns for Christmas. The difference in the aromas of all of them is huge. I'm already thinking about what I'd like to do with them. I'm sure that many of them would make an excellent crust for a steak. Others might be good in cocktails, if I use them to infuse liquor. Some, I'd even use in desserts. I think I might need to buy a few cheap pepper mills so I can have several types going at once.

Now, I just want to record an idea for a gluten free pizza-ish thing I had. I love me some gluten, but not all my friends do.

Cook polenta, using parmesan, garlic, herbs, and salt to give it plenty of flavor. When it's done, pour it into a lightly oiled pie plate. Chill overnight. The next day, bring it out to come up to room temperature. Put another pie plate the same size and shape into the oven at a high temperature. Let it come up to temperature, preheating the pan along with the oven. When it's hot, remove the pan, hit it with some oil, and transfer the set polenta into the hot pie pan. Working quickly, top it pizza-style, and bang it back into the oven until everything looks done. I'm hoping this would enable the bottom of the polenta to get nice and crusty.


Thing Sixty-Five: Side Street Inn Fried Rice

pierceheart and I had our honeymoon in Hawaii, staying in Waikiki Beach on Oahu. Our first night there, we'd arrived and checked into our hotel after a LOOOOOONG flight, and we were beyond hungry. I'd heard about a little dive not too far from our hotel called Side Street Inn. It was recommended by both Anthony Bourdain and Saveur magazine as a great place to get tiki drinks and eat good food. We elected to walk there--it was about a half hour walk or so--because we wanted to be able to have those tiki drinks and not have to drive back. Walking in the Hawaiian heat after the crisp October weather in New England and then the climate-controlled planes and airports was a little surreal, especially since it was close to midnight according to our bodies and dinnertime according to the clocks.

When we got to Side Street Inn, we ordered mai tais, fried rice, a salad, and some kind of barbecued steak with an Asian marinade to share. The fried rice, from the first bite, absolutely blew me away. It was the most flavorful fried rice I'd ever eaten. It was rich with bits and pieces of meat, and it really satisfied the hunger that had only increased over the course of the walk to the restaurant.

I attempted a clone of it once at home without a recipe, and it came out quite good. Recently, though, I decided to make it for a tiki party at a science fiction convention, and actually found Side Street's recipe as printed in Saveur. I was thrilled. This time, it was just like the deliciously porky fried rice I remembered from my honeymoon.

1 1⁄4 cups medium-grain rice
3 strips bacon, chopped
1⁄2 link (about 3 oz.) hot linguiça
(Portuguese sausage), chopped
3 tbsp. oyster sauce
1 tbsp. instant dashi (Japanese
soup base) granules
1⁄2 cup (2 1⁄2 oz.) chopped char siu
(Chinese barbecued pork)
1⁄2 cup mixed frozen peas and carrots,
3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

1. Put rice into a medium bowl, cover with cold water, and swish around with your hand until water clouds. Drain. Repeat process until water remains clear, 4–5 more times. Put rice and 2 cups water into a medium pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover pot, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove pot from heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Spread rice out in a single layer on a sheet pan and let cool, uncovered, in refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight.

2. Put bacon and sausage into a large skillet (preferably nonstick) and cook over medium heat until the bacon is crisp, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high, add rice, and stir-fry vigorously to prevent sticking, until hot, about 2 minutes. Add oyster sauce and instant dashi and mix well. Add char siu, peas and carrots, and two-thirds of the scallions. Continue to stir-fry until all ingredients are hot, about 2 minutes more.

3. Transfer rice to a serving dish and garnish with remaining scallions.

Now, I didn't have any char siu pork, and was reluctant to order a dish from a restaurant and pay a delivery fee. I was also reluctant to buy a jar of that mostly-corn-syrup-and-food-coloring gunk that's so often used to make char siu. Instead, I mixed honey, sugar, water, soy sauce, and five spice powder until it tasted right, cooked it down to a syrupy consistency, and added just a few drops of red food coloring for verisimilitude. I marinated pork chops in this mixture overnight after it cooled, and then broiled them. The result was just right. I also didn't have instant dashi granules, but I DID have bonito flakes. I crushed them into a fine powder and used them instead. It worked fine, adding a savory, slightly smoky flavor.

A word of advice: if you want to make this, take the rice cooking instructions seriously. I cooked my rice a day in advance, but instead of putting it on a tray and leaving it open in the fridge, I put it in a container that I covered. The top of the rice was nice and dry, but the bottom was still wet where it had sat against the sides and bottom of the container. This meant the texture could have been better, but it was still very very good.


Thing Sixty-Four: Split Pea Soup With Ham

A while back, I decided I wanted to cook a ham. I've done the tiny little boneless ones before, but this time, I got a quarter bone-in ham to bake. It was delicious, with plenty of leftovers...and a ham bone!

Of course, I knew just what I wanted to do with that ham bone: make pea soup. I'd never actually made it before, but when I was a kid, I used to love pea soup (just from a can). I figured it was time I tried making my own. I froze the ham bone and the leftover ham, and today, I took them out and got cooking.

Some of the recipes that I saw called for pre-soaking the peas, but I figured that since they were so small, it probably wouldn't be necessary. Other recipes called for chicken stock, or just had you put the ham bone in with the peas and start cooking. I decided to simmer the ham bone with a couple of bay leaves in plenty of water for a while instead. I thought this was pretty clever, because if I put the peas in right away, they'd start absorbing liquid before the liquid was all that highly flavored. Putting them in after I'd gotten a good stock going sounded like a good idea. I also sweated a couple of small onions, a celery rib, and a carrot (all finely chopped) in a skillet, and added them to the stock along with the peas. Doing it in a separate pan was a little annoying, but it worked.

Here's the basic recipe I created:

1 leftover ham bone
1 pound split peas, picked over (I used yellow since that's what the store had)
8 cups water
2 bay leaves
2 small onions or one large, diced
1 rib of celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
About 2 tsp vegetable oil (I used safflower)
Leftover ham, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste


Put the ham bone in a pot with the bay leaves and water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn down to low and simmer covered until the broth starts to taste flavorful (I think mine went for about an hour and a half or more). When the broth gets to a good tasty state, heat the oil in a skillet over medium low heat, and gently sweat the onion, celery, and carrot until tender (the carrots and celery don't have to be completely soft, but the onions should be translucent and rather soft). Add the vegetables and the peas to the broth, and simmer for about two hours, until the peas are very soft. Remove the ham bone (pick off any meat on it and set aside) and the bay leaves, and puree the soup to your desired consistency with a stick blender. Add chopped leftover ham and whatever meat you reserved from the ham bone. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed. If it seems too thick, add a little water to thin it out. Serve hot.


Brussels sprouts are a fall and winter standby for me. I love them, and so does my husband. I didn't realize that I loved them until a few years ago. See, my father is an excellent cook, as I may have mentioned. Wonderful. That said...Brussels sprouts are not his strong suit. He boils them. To me, boiling sprouts makes them taste like nasty hunks of soggy bland cabbage. I can't stand them cooked that way. Roasting them, on the other hand...it transforms them into something sweet, complex, and sublime. This can be a simple technique: just wash and trim them, cut them in half (to increase the amount of surface area that gets nice and brown), toss them with a little olive oil and throw them in a hot oven on a cookie sheet until they're getting crispy. For this year's Yule feast, though, I decided to up the game a bit.

I started out with some good thick-cut bacon, which I cut into bits, and cooked up in a skillet. When the bacon was crispy and the fat was mostly rendered out, I set the bacon aside, and poured the fat onto my trimmed-and-halved sprouts. I tossed them to coat them in the lovely bacon fat, and put them in a hot oven until crispy. When I took them out, I added the bacon back in, along with some smoked sea salt, maple syrup, and cider vinegar. The smoke and bacon made it nice and savory, the syrup played up the sweetness of the roasted sprouts, and the cider vinegar added just enough tanginess. Seriously, the combination of acids and cruciferous vegetables is a brilliant one that you should try in many combinations.

The feast included not just my husband, our friends, and their kids, but also the parents of one of our friends, and the father's cousin. I made two whole pounds of sprouts, and they all got devoured. This was a great holiday side dish, and went over really well!