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Thai Shrimp Cakes

25 Jul

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Sometimes, when the sun is shining and the temperature is just right, I’ll notice that the hammock in our backyard is looking particularly lonely. If there happens to be a slight breeze, the hammock might even be swaying just a bit from side to side, like the arms of a new parent gently rocking a baby to sleep. Soon, as though being pulled by a magnetic force that guides people into relaxation, I am in the hammock, my eyes slowly beginning to close. But, wait—what’s that? Are there weeds in the vegetable patch? And what’s going on over there, by the gladiolas? Did a tree branch fall over and squash the flowers? I’d better pick up that branch and assess the damage. While I’m at it, I may as well pull those weeds. And those other weeds. And that clover that is growing into the strawberry bed. Goodbye, hammock. It was nice spending 90 seconds in your maternal embrace.

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If there is one thing I have, sadly, learned this summer, it’s that, the older I get, the more difficult it is for me to relax. Oh, believe me, I want to relax, but every time I set aside a cozy little meeting with a good book or that lonely little hammock, my mind automatically turns to thoughts of all the other things I could be doing that might be deemed a bit more productive. The one silver lining in all of my inadvertent refusal to sit down and take it easy is the fact that, while I am doing whatever it is that I should be doing, my mind usually begins to wander to thoughts of food. Sometimes, as in this most recent case, those food thoughts can produce something truly spectacular.

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While in the thick of yard work, I decided that I needed to use up some of our garden’s mint. Immediately, my thoughts turned to lemongrass, mint, ginger, and the spicy kick of chiles, all enveloping the mellow taste of prawns. Taking a cue from my favorite Indian kebabs, I decided to feature my creation in the form of small patties, browned until just crisp on the outside, but still tender in the middle. They were exactly what I hoped they’d be: spicy, fresh, and filled with complimentary flavors. I don’t know what it says about me that I do my best thinking while working, not relaxing, but if all my ideas end up being this good, I might just have to spend even yet more time weeding, and even less time in the hammock. Sigh. The sacrifices I make.

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Last Year: Best Food to Pack on a Roadtrip (this is particularly timely, since we’re living in San Francisco until the end of August, and our drive from Portland to San Francisco was a typical 12-hour affair) and Smoked Spatchcocked Chicken

Thai Shrimp Cakes 

¼ cup chopped lemongrass, outer stem peeled away

2 tablespoons grated ginger

½ cup chopped fresh mint

½ cup shopped cilantro leaves

½ chopped green onion

2 cloves garlic

½ to 1 small hot chile—birdseye or Serrano

2 large eggs

1 cup panko or dry, unseasoned bread crumbs

1 pound raw shrimp, deveined, tails and shells removed

½ teaspoon sea salt

vegetable oil

In the bowl of a food processor, combine lemongrass, ginger, mint, cilantro, green onion, garlic, chile, and eggs. Pulse until herbs are uniformly chopped, about 6 or 7 long pulses. Add panko, shrimp, and salt, and pulse until shrimp has become chopped somewhat fine, but not ground into a paste. You should still be able to see small to medium chunks of shrimp.

In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, heat enough vegetable oil to just cover the bottom of the pan. Using about ¼ cup of shrimp mixture at a time, form mixture into rough patties, then gently place them in the hot oil, cooking each patty for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until the shrimp has cooked through, but the patties remain tender. Cook 3 to 4 patties at a time, being careful not to overload the skillet. Add just a teaspoon so more vegetable oil in between cooking each batch of patties, allowing the oil to heat up heat time.

Depending on how generously you size your patties, you should end up with about 12 shrimp cakes total.

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Grilled Pineapple and Jalapeño Salsa

9 Jul

This recipe was sort of an accident.  Have you ever started thinking about something or doing something and then, the more you thought about or continued to do that thing, the more entrenched you became in the very specifics of that thing?  (I sincerely hope I am not the only person who possesses this particular trait…though I would not be at all surprised if I was).  Well, that’s what happened with this salsa.

It started out so innocently.  I found some lovely fresh pineapple at the market.  When I got the pineapple home, I decided that I would eat it with my lunch.  Then I decided that I would have some grilled fish for lunch.  Then I decided that I would put the pineapple on the grilled fish.  Wait, no.  I would make a pineapple salsa, because I also had an aging jalapeño on hand that I wanted to use up.  Hold on—if I am going to be grilling some fish, why not also grill the pineapple?  Grilled pineapple is wonderful.  I’ll do that.

I wonder what would happen if I also grilled the jalapeño?  And these onions?  Hey, look—I just spotted the bread on the counter and, man, doesn’t a sandwich sound great right about now?  I know, I’ll grill everything!  Fish, pineapple, jalapeño, onions, bread—everything!

And do you know that?  I don’t think I have ever benefitted so much from a thought process that was not so much a process as it was a series of linked ideas that, lucky for both you and me, totally worked out.  Obviously, this worked out for me because I had a phenomenal lunch that day.  It works out for all of you, because now you too can have the same phenomenal lunch that I did, only you’ll have a much better idea of how things are going to turn out.  They are going to turn out to be delicious, I promise you.

Last Year: Indian Spiced Smoked Spareribs

Grilled Pineapple and Jalapeño Salsa Recipe

1 or 2 fresh jalapeños (depending on how spicy you want your salsa, though I find that grilling the jalapeños greatly tempers their heat—I used 1 jalapeño, but I wished I had used 2), sliced in half lengthwise, seeds and ribs removed (or, for even more heat, set aside the seeds and add them in later when everything gets mixed in together)

¼ of a red onion, separated into layers

10 ounces fresh pineapple, sliced into long strips

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

juice of ½ a lime

salt to taste

Heat an outdoor grill or a stovetop grill pan over medium high heat.  Lightly oil grates.  When grill or grill pan is heated, place onion layers and sliced jalepano on grill.  Grill until the onions are soft and sweet and the jalapenos are just starting to turn dark at the edges, about 5 minutes, turning once.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Place pineapple strips on the grill, and grill until just starting to caramelize, about 3 minutes per side.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Allow all three ingredients to cool to room temperature.

When cooled, finely dice both onion and jalapeno.  Dice pineapple in to ½-inch chunks.  Combine in a medium bowl, along with cilantro, lime juice, and salt.  Toss everything to combine, and add more lime juice and salt as you see fit.

To make a grilled tuna steak sandwich to accompany your salsa, heat your grill over high heat.  Oil the grates.  Take 1 large tuna steak and cut it in half horizontally, making two thinner tuna steaks.  Season both sides of each steak with salt and pepper.  Place tuna steaks on oiled grill and grill until the very middle of each steak is still pink, about 1 minute per side.  As you cook your tuna steak, you will see the color change, becoming paler as it moves up the steak.  When you grill the first side, you will know to flip the steak over when the pale color has moved about halfway up the steak.  After you flip the steak it will only take another 60 seconds or so to finish cooking the steak.  The fish will continue to cook a bit after you remove it from the grill.

To assemble a sandwich, place a grilled tuna steak on a piece of grilled or toasted bread.  Top with slices of avocado, a large scoop of salsa, then place another piece of grilled or toasted bread on top.  Slice in half for easier eating.  So delicious.

Olive, Lemon, and Herb-Stuffed Sole

5 Jul

Like most people, I find it frustratingly easy to get stuck in a cooking rut.  While I still find appealing the meals I tend to cart out on a regular basis, I do get a bit tired looking at the same presentations.  I could blame this on my child, and the fact that he is not blessed with the most adventurous of palates, but the truth is, my child’s pickiness is only partly to blame.  The rest of the blame lies with all the usual suspects: time (or lack thereof), forgetfulness (I was supposed to buy what at the store?), and, occasionally, laziness (we just spent two hours biking around the city and now I have to make dinner? Watch me as I head to the cupboard that contains all the take out menus).

In order to alleviate this rather common problem of constantly repeating dinners, I have decided that, instead of reverting to the usual meals several times a month, I will instead lay out all my usual dinner suspects, then attempt to mix and match them as I see fit.  Essentially, I can use many of the same ingredients, but I will have to use them in a different fashion, and in a way that deems the meal to be a distant relation of the original meal, but in no way the same animal.  Well, unless, of course, it really is the same animal, as in the case of this stuffed sole.

My inspiration dish is this wonderful and simple panko-crusted sole dinner that is a summer staple for us.  Though I like it a great deal, I have definitely been feeling as though I could stand to see this fish presented in a different way.  Taking cues from the panko and lemon I normally use in the dish, I grabbed an onion, some herbs, and an almost empty jar of Kalamata olives, and, with no real end point in mind, started to fiddle around.  The end result, so varied in texture and flavors, with great zing from the herbs and lemon and a wonderful burst of fruitiness and saltiness from the olives, was a delight.  Though I am sure that most of my meal reformations will not go as smoothly as this one, I can at least squeeze a bit of comfort out of knowing that my experiment is not one of total lunacy.  I managed to make at least one standard meal into something new and appealing, which, if nothing else, managed to feed not only us, but also my creative confidence.

Last Year: Rhubarb Bread Pudding

Olive, Lemon, and Herb-Stuffed Sole Recipe

1 ¼ to 1 ½ pounds thin sole filets

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup finely diced onion

1 cup panko breadcrumbs

¼ cup finely chopped Kalamata olives

¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint

2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

1 small lemon, zested and then sliced into thin rounds

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lightly oil a small baking dish and set aside.

In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat, then add onions, reduce heat to low, and sauté gently for about 10 minutes, until onions are soft and just starting to turn golden at the edges.  Turn off the heat under the pan, and stir in panko bread crumbs, olives, pine nuts, mint, Italian parsley, and lemon zest.  Stir to combine thoroughly, then add salt and pepper to taste.

Season sole filets with salt and pepper.  Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of panko mixture on one end of a filet, then carefully roll up the filet, encasing the mixture inside.  It is all right if some of the filling escapes, as it inevitably will.  Place the rolled filet in the prepared baking dish.  Continue filling all the filets in this manner, placing each one in the baking dish.  When all the filets have been filled and rolled, place a slice of lemon on top of each roll, then sprinkle the remaining panko mixture on top of and around the rolled filets.

Bake the fish in the center of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until the fish is opaque and the middles of each roll have warmed through.  The panko on top of the fish should just be starting to turn golden.

Serves 4.

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