Friday, October 24, 2008

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

This week at the church I work at we had a pumpkin fun night. A bunch of pumpkins were carved, and three people carved their first pumpkin ever. I made roasted pumpkin seeds with kids. First of all, this is great extra project for kids when pumpkin carving is going on. Especially with younger ones that don't have the eye-hand coordination yet for carving.

First, turn on the oven to 375, and get a few bowls, a couple baking sheets and some towels (kitchen towels are best, paper works too).

The only hard part of roasting pumpkin seeds is the first half of the prep. Getting all of the pumpkin off of the all of the seeds. The best way to start is while you are removing the pumpkin guts...the more seeds you can extract from the stringy orange sticky insides at this point, the better. I suggest having two bowls. One for pumpkin innards and the other for seeds. Once you have all of your seeds in the bowl, next step is the kitchen sink. If you fill the seed bowl with cold water, it the sticky stuff becomes less sticky and it is easier to get the remaining little bits and pieces clinging to the seeds.

Next, pour the seeds into a colander to drain water. Depending on how the water step went, you may have to do some additional picking over the ensure clean seeds. Spread the seeds out on a towel that is on a baking sheet or platter, and using a second towel, blot the seeds dry. Put seeds into a dry bowl.

Seasoning time! Sky is the limit here, and the answer of seasoning comes down to what you like and how intense you like it. Regardless of your impending choice, you need oil. I use regular olive oil. Not fancy expensive, gloriously fruity extra virgin olive oil. Regular olive oil. You want the oil to be somewhat neutral.

Proportions....If you had one big pumpkin, you'll have enough seeds to spread in a layer on a baking sheet (I'll call this a batch). In this case add a couple TBS of olive oil per batch to the seeds still in the bowl. The seasoning becomes a little tricky. If you want simple salt-only seeds, use a couple rounded teaspoons of kosher salt to a batch. With kids this week I made two "flavors", using Penzey's Pizza Seasoning and Penzey's Southwest Seasoning. Use about a TBS to 2 TBS (depending on desired intensity) per batch. I used the blends with the kids this week for ease, but one of my personal favorites for pumpkin seeds is to use equal parts smoked paprika and ground cumin.

One of the reasons this is fun to do with kids is that for almost the whole time, they can be involved with every task. The second to last task is usually one of the more fun ones. Now that the oil and seasoning has been added to the seeds in the bowl, you get to squish your hands around to coat all of the seeds with oil and seasoning. This is super fun. Spread out the seasoned seeds onto a baking sheet.

The last step is of course where the kids must return to their pumpkins. Put the seeds into the oven. Every five minutes, take seeds out, toss around a little, redistributing them, and checking on their progress (this is especially important if you are doing this in an archaic church oven with hot spots and no way of determining an actual temperature and you are guessing it is at 375). Total roasting time can be anywhere from 15-30 minutes. Why? Depends on a couple things, such as how much moisture you blotted off with the towels and how big the seeds are (bigger pumpkins give you bigger seeds). Seeds are done roasting when they turn a light brown color. Remove from oven, remove from baking sheet and put onto a plate to cool or into a bowl, and stir a little bit to dissipate heat. You can eat them immediately!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Howard's Birthday with Spicy Shrimp Pasta and Bosc Pear and Gorgonzola Salad

Yesterday we enjoyed a visit from Howard and Jan for the occasion of Howard's birthday. Howard and Jan like the spicy as much as Matt I decided that Spicy Shrimp Pasta was a good main meal. After Black Olive Trempherbe for an appetizer, a refreshing simple salad beforehand was the first course. Jan brought a gorgeous marble pound cake for dessert.

Spicy Shrimp Pasta is a very easy dish that tastes as though it were much harder. I use store-made fettuccine for I do not have a pasta machine ( birthday is next month...hint hint Mom). However, the sauce is so intense, you almost forget that you aren't eating it with perfect pasta (almost). This dish is my variation on what my mother always made on Christmas Eve. Italians are supposed to eat 7 fishes on Christmas Eve, but my father really preferred just shrimp, and Mom needed a quick nice dinner to make around church and other festivities. Mom would boil the shrimp beforehand and use significantly tamer chiles. In addition to pan searing the shrimp, I also use Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes (these aren't cheap, but frequently I find printable coupons online which make them cheaper than the regular storebrand non-fire roasted sort).

To make the Spicy Shrimp Pasta for four people:
Put a big pot of water on to boil. While it comes to a boil you'll be prepping and cooking the shrimp and sauce. Take out a large skillet and pour in a couple TBS of olive oil. Place four peeled and crushed garlic cloves and four Tien Tsin peppers in the oil and cook over medium-high heat until peppers darken and garlic cloves are golden brown. Discard peppers and garlic. While peppers and garlic were toasting, this is when you prep the shrimp. You want to remove the entire shell and tail and also devein. For each person you want about 12 medium shrimp.

Over medium high heat, throw the shrimp into the skillet with the seasoned oil in a single layer. Cook for a couple minutes, turn, cook for another couple minutes until curled, pink and tender. Remove shrimp from pan and set aside in a bowl. Pour in one 28 oz. can of Crushed Fire Roasted Tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.

The water should have come to a boil by now. If not, no problem, the sauce can cook a little longer. If it came to a boil earlier, you can drop the heat on it and now raise the heat back up and it will come back to a boil quickly. If you haven't done so already, generously salt the water (a couple palmfuls for a big pot). Dump in one pound of fettuccine or other long flat pasta and cook the pasta as instructed. When buying dry, I prefer Colavita. Pastene is OK, it is not gummy and has a nice taste, but the pasta has a tendency to stick to each other while cooking, no matter how much stirring, and that creates the occasional hard bite where the pasta didn't cook through properly.

Drain pasta, place back into big pot. Add shrimp and accumulated juices to tomato sauce. Toss sauce with pasta. Serve. Breath deeply and enjoy your cleared sinuses from the pepper and garlic.

We preceded the pasta with a simple salad that is a scaled down and autumnal version of my Grilled Peach Salad. Same mixed baby greens dressed with balsamic vinaigrette, and same toasted pecans and gorgonzola. Leave out the dried cranberries, and substitute peeled, cored, and sliced Bosc pear for the grilled peaches. This salad could also be made into a entree-size salad, with some white bean bruschetta on the side to round out the meal.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Modern Apizza, Dong Bang Grill, Blind Tiger

So once again, too much time has passed since my last post. This weekend I was at Ferry Beach on retreat with the congregation I work with. Lots of fun, and so no time for blogging.

However, last weekend, Matt and visited our friends Huy and Saewon down in Edgewater, NJ. Enroute, we stopped at Modern Apizza in New Haven, CT. How I wish this place was in Boston. The crust was as thin as a penny. Thanks to a gentle light saucing and judicious layer of cheese, the crust retains its structure and did not become soggy. The pizza is cooked in a brick oven at over 700 degrees. This insane level of heat causes the pepperoni to became crispy and succulent, and the crust has an entirely different flavor at the edges where the sauce and cheese end and the crust gets puffy, crusty, and blackened. Less than a half mile off o 91 makes Modern Apizza also the perfect pit stop.

Our first night down there included a Mario Kart Wii contest and dinner out at a most phenomenal restaurant. As we learned, the Fort Lee/Edgewater area is Korea-town. Huy and Saewon generously took us out to the Dong Bang Grill. Korean barbecue is done here, but we opted for a non-barbecue night (barbecue would have caused us to eat our body weight in food...we didn't feel up to the task).

The day before leaving for the weekend, I had come down with a cold. Thanks to dinner at Dong Bang Grill, my sinuses were given a respite from congestion and pain. Before the meal started, we were assailed lovingly with a dozen and a half small plates. Wonderfully spicy kimchee, pickled celery, daikon salad, raw garlic, exquisitely finely julienned scallions wih hot pepper, and so many other wonderful delights to both kick digestion into gear and tease the taste buds to the point of mindlessness. We shared three dishes family-style- Bulgogi (thinly sliced sirloin marinated in a rice-wine base marinade and then sauteed), a dish of crackling, succulent ribs, and this amazing soup which I credit the magic ability to keep me feeling slightly human for the duration of the weekend. The soup was spicy, with a complex broth based on alliums, with perfectly tender pieces of beef and just the right balance of green onions and vegetables. I asked Saewon where in Boston there was a Korean restaurant of similar quality and selection. She looked at me with pity, and said that one does not exist. I see more trips to Jersey in my and Matt's future.

Saturday we went into Manhattan. We walked through a street fair up 8th avenue. We had a huge breakfast so we weren't hungry, but we ate with our eyes. Saewon snapped this beautiful shot of grilling sweet corn. After a short stroll through Central Park, and a wander around the Central Park Zoo (they have some feisty penguins there!), we made our way done to the Village, specifically Bleeker and 6th, to the Blind Tiger Ale House.

After some research on the Beer Advocate, I had settled on the Blind Tiger as our destination of choice for Beer and Food in Manhattan. When we first arrived, we weren't certain this was the best spot for dinner and a few beers. The place was packed shoulder to shoulder, with not a lot of places for sitting, not tables to eat upon. After some confusion, we finally ordered a round of beers, and attempted to land at a table. With great luck, we found a cozy corner, near enough to the bar to order, and a dark wood table to eat and drink off of. The Beer excitement of the night was the opportunity to drink a lot of Bear Republic Beer. The Red Rocket Ale was sweet, malty, and had a nice caramel punch. Matt was crazy for the Black Mamba, which was dark as night, rich and a creamy with roastiest flavor I've tasted in awhile.

To start we ordered the cheese plate to split between the four of us. A little dried fruit and nuts and a basket of toasted bread accompanied the three cheeses. Blind Tiger gets their cheeses from the infamous Murray's Cheese, which is across the street. In addition to their cheese plate, they also have daily cheese and beer pairings. For dinner, Matt and I shared two dishes: a cheddar, bacon, apple, and roasted onion panini, and a chipotle chicken quesadilla. The panini was exquisite. A perfect balance of stuff to cheese to bread. Pressed perfectly and very filling. The quesadilla was massive, with tender chicken and just enough kick of chipotle. The tortilla was grilled, with crunchy blackened spots which enhanced the smokiness of the chipotle.

And once again, the food and drink Gods looked kindly upon us.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sundried Tomato aka Pizza Panini

New panini! It has been awhile since I put together a new panini, and that is just wrong. Luckily...I'm going to make it right again.

Yesterday I was poking around in the fridge for something to use up in a panini of sourdough and munster. Found an open jar of halved sundried tomatoes in olive oil. First, I blotted the excess oil off of the sundried tomatoes with a paper towel. After a rough chop, I arranged them in a generous layer over the thick slices of munster cheese. A finishing touch of Northwoods Fire Seasoning, a brush of olive oil to both sides of the panini and a quick grill and press makes a hearty lunch with a side salad.

Matt called this a "pizza panini". Due to the herbal components of the seasoning blend, and some garlic, oregano, and basil packed with the sundried tomatoes, the flavor profile is quite similar to that of a classic cheese pizza. Definitely a new addition to the panini repertoire.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Southwest Seasoned Shrimp Caesar Salad with Mom's Homemade Garlic Croutons

In addition to anything spicy, Matt is a huge caesar salad fan. I've done regular caesars, grilled chicken caesars, and shrimp caesars. I think I have landed on my favorite caesar variation with this salad.

First, as it must be known, I am not usually a fan of pre-blended spices. I most often find them to be dominant of a single ingredient, with no depth, and overly salty. However, I order most of my spices from Penzey's. In addition to the solo ingredients' awesome quality, they do a lot of their business with blends. Some of their blends include salt, but at a level I would normally use to season something, and it is not the dominant taste, just there to do its job as a booster.

A glorious thing about Penzey's is that when you receive an order, they throw in a freebie sample of something. Usually it is one of their spice blends. I'm a little skeptical of their Pizza Seasoning (not sure if I like the balance yet), but was very intrigued by the freebie of Southwest Seasoning. Due to its depth of flavor and slight touch of heat I thought applying it to shrimp would be a good bet in trying it out, but still tasting the shrimp. The blend has three different hot peppers in it (ancho, cayenne, and chipotle), a nice herbal flavor thanks to oregano and cilantro, a touch of cumin, sweet paprika, black pepper and alliums round out the blend. I also had some bread going stale so I thought I would make croutons. So, croutons, shrimp...Salad!

The croutons are how I remember watching my mom make them from when I was little. On a day she made croutons, I had one mission...steal as many from the plate as possible for snacking before she notices. These croutons are perfect and no store-bought crouton can hold a candle. I did however have to call her to check on her method, because I thought, "no, it can't be that simple". But it is. Put a little olive oil in a skillet. Throw in a few garlic cloves, turn a couple times while cooking over medium heat until golden. Meanwhile, cut old bread into cubes of desired size. Discard garlic cloves. Throw bread cubes into pan, turn over when first side is browned. When second side is browned, remove to drain on a couple paper towels on a plate. Ecco, Croutons.

For the shrimp, I sauteed them as I usually do. First, take raw, shelled shrimp and put into a bowl. Then add a few shakes of the Southwest Seasoning, use a spoon to move shrimp around until an even coating of the seasoning is on all shrimp. Heat a little oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Toss in shrimp, cook for a couple of minutes, turn, cook another couple of minutes. When shrimp are curled, pink, and tender, remove from pan.

For salad: split a head of romaine between two plates. Using a vegetable peeler, make shards of parmigiano and distribute over lettuce. Pour on some Caesar Dressing (we like the Whole Foods 365 Organic one). Arrange shrimp and croutons over plate. Pair with a robust and malty ale or a creamy root beer.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fire and Ice

Matt and his parents introduced me to Fire and Ice last spring. An interesting restaurant to say the least. If you like your dining experience to involve no effort nor energy on your part, this place is not for you. However, if you are feeling over-selective about your meal, like stir fry in general, and like a fun experience, then Fire and Ice is a good choice.

The place is set up like a gigantic salad bar, except that half of the salad bar is raw meat, poultry, fish, and seafood, and various veggies, fruits, and noodles to choose from. Pile up a bowl, then go over to the sauce station (there's about a dozen options), and select a sauce. You bring your loaded bowl and ramekin of sauce to the massive round grill, and then get to watch as your meal is stirfried in front of you. At lunch you get one trip to the salad bar and one trip to the grill. At dinner, you have unlimited trips to both. At dinner, this is fun, because you can have two small plates of divergent dishes and feel even more creative.

Because of my bivalve allergy, I don't get to watch my food stirfried on the giant grill like everyone else. Instead, my meal is cooked in the back kitchen on a grill that won't kill me. However, what I enjoy about Fire and Ice is how you can have exactly what you want to eat (within the limits of stir fry of course).

Yesterday I filled my bowl with slices of andouille sausage, chunks of aged sirloin, bell peppers, red onions, scallions, and some minced roasted garlic. A lot of the sauces are very sugary, but the spicier sauces can be more savory. This time I chose to fill the ramekin with half sweet chili sauce and half szechuan sauce. My sinuses got a wonderful clearing, and I had exactly the meal I wanted, without any ingredients I wasn't in the mood for.

With your stir fry comes rice and tortillas. I usually have just the rice, and it is white rice, brown is not an option. Yesterday I think the rice I had was warmed in a microwave due to its gummy texture. So that was a bummer. I ate at the bar yesterday and found myself in conversation with another diner about the inanity of Palin when we were interrupted by the bartender (we were also speculating as to why Fox News was the news channel of choice at a restaurant in Harvard Square, hotbed of liberalism). The bartender wanted to tell me that she didn't think Palin is stupid (my argument being that whether you agree with her policies or not, she cannot be any measure by consider an intellectual person). I still gave her a full tip, but that is because I didn't want her to think liberals are stingy. But she did not deserve a good tip. As I have pointed out before, waiters and the such have no business engaging in political discussions with patrons. Especially when uninvited to do so.

Overall as a restaurant I give Fire and Ice (both Boston locations) a low B. Most of the meats and veggies are of average to above average quality, although some of the fish looks a little suspect to me and their starches could definitely be of higher quality. Best to go when it is very busy and there is a lot of turnover, or first thing when they open. However, service at the grill can be excruciatingly slow when busy. In terms of service, although friendly, a previous beer order error and yesterday's political faux pas bumps them down in that department. A good place for a group of people with different eating habits and appetites or when on your own and desiring of a very specific something.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Box Wine and Beer Brat Updates and Tully's

In two previous posts, I promised a couple updates on the longevity of a wine and the modification of a recipe.

In August's Box Wine post I said I would see if the 4-week claim of freshness for Black Box wine would hold up. The answer is yes, but you have to be aware of how low you have drained that bag in the box. When it starts to get low, you need to tip it forward as you depress the spigot or it sputters. If it sputters, this allows air in, which will speed oxidation. Colder weather is coming, so I'm going to try one of the reds once I drain my current box of pinot grigio. I'm thinking to put it to a big test, such as braising a huge hunk of inexpensive meat in red wine.

And now the update on Beer Brats with Bar Harbor Real Ale.

First I must mention the location at which I purchased the Bar Harbor Real Ale, for I didn't go up to Bar Harbor. Last weekend I was going through Wells, ME and stopped in at Tully's. This is a beer heaven. The selection alone makes the mind reel. Luckily, Tully's is owned and operated by Donna Tully, who is exceptionally hospitable, enthusiastic about her inventory and immensely knowledgeable. In addition to a great selection of Maine brews, she has a wide variety of Belgians and and other micro- and craft-brews from around the country. Matt was especially excited that I was able to bring home Lakefront Brewery's IPA, which is a Milwaukee beer he has fondness for (especially accompanied by bacon and the company of his brother). Much appreciated is that Donna willing splits up six-packs and will sell singles. This is great for trying out something new or different, but not committing financially to a whole six-pack, just in case you're not crazy about it. The rest of the haul included some Dogfish Head, a handful of various Maine porters, and a couple bottles of Peak Organic Maple Oat Ale. Tully's certainly is not in our neighborhood, but will now become a must stop whenever we are in the area.

OK, so NOW, the Bar Harbor Real Ale Beer Brats made exclusively and accompanied by the Real Ale. Same method as before of steaming the brats in beer (about 8 ounces), then pan-grilling. Also, the same beer-melizing of onions. And then onto a roll slathered with Bar Harbor Real Ale Mustard. As expected, this beat the last batch of Beer Brats made and paired with a mix of different beers. This meal is beyond amazing to begin with (beer and pork are a divine union), but to pair brats with a malty ale with aromas of pear and apple makes for a great meal on a cool fall evening.