Eats For One … or more



Aug
21

Rhythm of the EGG    3

Marcus

 

 

My Big Green Egg (EGG) can be seen from the walkway passing by our rear courtyard. When I’m out cooking, passersby often kibitz… “What’s for dinner? What kind of BBQ is that? Do you like it?” and so on. Some recognize it and it’s “I’ve been meaning to get one of those.” To that I say, “Well… go for it!”

 

 

 

I brought my little ol’ Webber Q gas grill from San Francisco. Didn’t get much kibitzing about that.

 

One of the many reasons for moving from San Francisco to Reno was the Big Green Egg. Carol’s brother Mark (and Jannie) cooked for us several times on their EGG at their home in Jackson, Ohio. They made us promise to get an EGG when we had room for one — not a hard promise to make… or realize.

The first few times cooking on the EGG I was not patient — Tim Carter, of Carter Bros. ACE Hardware warned me of this when he assembled my EGG. By now, I have developed a nice and easy routine, as I will demonstrate. It doesn’t matter if you’re cooking a steak for five or six minutes or a rack of ribs for three hours, the first steps are the same, and they take one hour. We usually eat dinner about 7pm, so for anything but a “low and slow” meal, that means I light the fire a little before 6pm.

this picture was taken after a “low and slow” fire, so there’s not much charcoal left

 

Sometime during the afternoon, I walk out and open up the EGG, remove the grate and stir the extinguished charcoal from the last meal. The ashes fall into the ash area under the fire pit and I form the charcoal around the edges, so the new charcoal will fill the center and top.

A note on charcoal. I was instructed to use only natural lump charcoal. This is made from 100% hardwood, burns hot and clean, and there are no by-products. At the end of cooking, the fire is extinguished by closing the dampers and cutting off the air supply. I’ve found the Big Green Egg brand of charcoal the best. I’ve tried other brands that are less expensive, but they’re not as good. Besides, we’re talking about 50 cents a pound difference, and I add about a pound per fire.

I light the fire with SAFE-LITE Fire Starter Squares, blocks of compressed sawdust coated with natural paraffin wax.

The fire will be ready in an hour, so now I’ll continue my prep.

today I’m grilling a yellow tomato, a peach, a leftover baked potato, a thick piece of halibut – skin on – and Romano beans

The halibut is marinating in equal parts of soy sauce, white wine and lime juice. The fruits and vegetables have been tossed with olive oil, the beans were steamed for 5 minutes beforehand.

Plenty of time to relax now, have a glass of Scotch, some cheese and crackers and watch some Giants on the TV.

The wait is over and the food is on the grill.

The temperature is holding at about 350. I set the timer for the halibut at six minutes a side. I’ll take off the vegetables when they are ready… they will hold.

meanwhile, this is what I’m looking at beyond the EGG

food cooks, about to be turned

vegetables are done, they’ll go into a warm oven

I mentioned the halibut is thick… took almost 15 minutes to reach 135°F, but it turned out nice and juicy. Too bad I wasn’t artful about cutting it for the plate.

halibut, potato, Romano beans, tomato… peach for dessert

The EGG and the live fire and the time and the outdoors bring a rhythm and pleasure to such a meal.

 

 

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Jul
10

Perfect Summer Supper    3

Marcus

It’s hot in Reno right now. Not unbearable, but the temperature on our car thermometer said 102°F when we went for our haircut and ran some errands around 3pm. At the same time the temperature on our shaded front porch never got above 86°F. But — good for us — the temps dip to the low 60s after the sun goes down.

“What’s for dinner?” meant something cool, not hot. We had pâté left from what we took to a party and plenty of fruits and vegetables, mostly from one or another of the farmers markets that we frequent — on our side of town, there is one on Wednesday evening, Thursday midday, Thursday evening, and the big one on Saturday Morning.

On this evening, I was charged with making up a salad. During Sunday as we watched some World Cup, Natasza made a fantastic salad… I learn from her as salads and small plates are practically the national foods of Kyiv and Ukraine as we experienced on our visit there in 2010.

a meal at the dacha outside Kyiv

the other end of the table

Assemble on the fly…

I took out the shallow wooden bowl and put in 3 Tbsp of XV Olive Oil, 1 Tbsp of Raspberry Vinegar and swirled them around with a fork.

Peeled a peach, cut around its equator then a few medium wedges, put those in the bowl.
Peeled and chopped half an avocado, put that in the bowl and tossed.
Halved and pitted six Bing Cherries, put those in the bowl and tossed.
Cut about 8 small cubes of fresh curd cheese,
Quartered and thin sliced one largish radish
Quartered and thin sliced one smallish turnip
Cut some watermelon into smallish dice
Thin sliced across one small head of endive

Put those vegetables in the bowl, seasoned with salt and pepper and folded all together.

ready to serve ourselves

The bowl of salad above center…

On the plate, left of the bowl:

“Country pâté” — Provencal pork from Wedge
“City pâté” — Goose and Duck Liver mousse from Wedge

accoutrement:
sliced cornichons
Raye’s Old World Gourmet Mustard
Raye’s Down East Schooner Mustard

my plates… oops, I already ate some Country Pate

On the next hot day when you don’t want to cook, just take what you have, assemble in some manner, and enjoy.

 

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Jun
18

GRILLED CHEESE SAND    4

Marcus

I recently saw the movie, Chef…

Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) suddenly quits his job at a prominent Los Angeles restaurant after refusing to compromise his creative integrity for its controlling owner (Dustin Hoffman), he is left to figure out what’s next. Finding himself in Miami, he teams up with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), his friend (John Leguizamo) and his son (Emjay Anthony) to launch a food truck. [rotten tomatoes]

the chef (El Jefe) and Percy on the road

MY TAKE: Nice to be entertained with a fun story about chefs, critics and food. The characters are well drawn — there are times of pathos and disappointment and times of great fun and accomplishment… hard work and passion win in the end. Food porn abounds — chopping, slicing, roasting, tasting, presenting of food food food… The chef beautifully does a step-by-step cooking of a perfect grilled cheese sandwich at home for his son.

On a Saturday with Carol at Mah Jongg, I was compelled to make my own grilled cheese sandwich. I remembered a three-cheese grilled cheese sandwich using Cowgirl Creamery cheeses from a sunny summer day at the Hog Island Oyster Bar in San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Marketplace hard on the bay.

I have three good cheeses right here at home — not the same ones used at Hog Island, but they will go well together — and I have bread — not a dense country bread, but Oroweat Whole Grain, 12 Grain Bread… bread nonetheless — and I have butter and a skillet.

I don’t make grilled cheese sandwiches often because I’m a little cloudy on the technique. Chef Carl in the movie starts by browning two half-sandwiches then eases them together with a deft spatula move. I had always built a whole sandwich, browned it on one side then turned it to finish on the other. The turning was not always excellently accomplished.

So, here is my illustrated adventure…

 

three cheeses: blue, brie and havarti’ pickles and olives on the side; the fabulous Oroweat bread

These ingredients are from Raley’s… I normally get my cheese — cut from wheels — from Wedge, Reno’s premier cheese shop.

bread and cheese browning in skillet

I buttered both slices of bread, placed the cheese on the un-buttered side, and transferred the bread to the hot skillet.

here’s my sandwich just about finished

My spatula move in easing the sandwich halves together was not as deft as that of the Chef.

my sandwich served by me to me…

Not so pretty, but oh my, it was goooood, and gracious plenty for lunch. YUM

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May
19

Every Grain Of Rice    3

Eric

My new favorite cookbook is Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop. After she has meticulously and faithfully researched and documented two historically significant cuisines in China (Sichuanese, and Hunanese) in previous books, and then researched deep into many other Chinese regional cuisines, Dunlop now brings together some of the best recipes from all of her work while at the same time modifying them (sometimes slightly, sometimes radically) to make them easier for Western cooks to approach and prepare, as well as to bend them further towards a vegetarian ideal while keeping them as delicious (if not more so!) as their origins.

This is really important because for our own health, as well as for the health of our planet, we cannot continue to get a majority of our protein from whole slabs of meat. Not only are we better off eating less meat per dish, but if we no longer demand quantity of meat from our meat growers, they will be able to focus on quality of both the meat’s life as well as it’s flavor. Because of the scarcity of meat across most of Chinese history, most Chinese cuisines use meat only for flavor — protein is provided for in many other ways, primarily through the soy bean.

As a meat grower, and a meat eater, I would never suggest that we stop eating meat altogether, because I believe that our biological make up benefits from digesting a wide spectrum of foods, animal flesh (and eggs and milk) included. But *wide spectrum* means that livestock products normally ought to contribute only a portion of our daily protein intake (the USDA recommends 46 grams for women, 56 for men — that’s about two ounces A DAY). Meat for flavor, or as one of many components of a dish, easily accomplishes this goal, and Fuchsia gives us tasty and easy ways to prepare dishes in which we can do follow this thoughtful path.

…Read the rest of this entry »

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Apr
16

Salmon Tartare too    3

Marcus

I wrote about a swell Salmon Tartare over Cauliflower Salad.
That was a result of chance and invention and trial and error.

This time, I bought a couple hunks of salmon to pointedly undercook on the grill and duplicate the Salmon Tartare as before.

grilled salmon dinner with the “thin end parts”

Meanwhile, we had Reno Little Theater tickets. The Gas Lamp Restaurant is only a half block away from the theater and is one of their sponsors so we are in the habit of dinner there before the theater (hey — they give 20% off to folks with tickets).

Tuna Tartare with Avocado was on their menu and I had to have it. Delicious, and just right for an early dinner.

tuna tartare with avocado and crispy won ton at the gas lamp

Why not do my Salmon Tartare over Avocado? Why indeed.

Take the same recipe and substitute dressed avocado for the cauliflower salad. Way different dish, equally delicious.

cube and dress your salmon and avacado

assemble the components

serve and enjoy

Salmon Tartare over Avocado
based on an idea from the Gas Lamp Restaurant, Reno and a preparation by Jacques Pepin, Fast Food My Way

For the Salmon Tartare:
12 ounces salmon flesh, thoroughly trimmed
[OR... Grilled salmon from the center of a fillet, see note below]

No more than 30 minutes before serving, cut the salmon flesh into 1/2 inch pieces and combine with 2 1/2 Tbsp chopped red onion, 1 Tbsp chopped fresh chives, 1 Tbsp drained capers, 2 tsp XV olive oil, 1 tsp rice wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Refrigerate.

For the Avocado:
One largish Haas Avocado, cubed.
Combine the avocado cubes in a bowl with 1 Tbsp XV olive oil, 1 Tbsp chopped red onion, 1 Tbsp Dijon style mustard, 1 tsp red wine vinegar, salt and pepper.

Place a 4-inch metal pastry ring on a plate and arrange a layer of dressed avocado inside. Cover with a layer of salmon tartare. Arrange garnish around the ring. Carefully remove the ring. Repeat.

NOTE on salmon… Grill two Verlasso Salmon fillets so they are very rare at the thickest part. Eat the thinner parts for dinner. Use the very rare thick parts for this salmon tartare.

 

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Apr
02

Another new toy    1

Marcus

I like poached eggs, but not the mess of poaching them, and while I do them pretty well, there are many opportunities to mess up.

Well, what do you know? I was looking on Epicurious.com for some recipe or something and saw an ad for a foolproof-five-fork-rated egg poacher reduced 25 percent for Epicurious readers.

Why debate? I just won many $$$ in the RectorFootball pool. A couple clicks and a few days later and that big boy was in my kitchen. There was even an empty spot in the pantry to store it.

First try…

My first beautiful poached eggs — served over leftover chili from the Sierra Canyon Great Balls of Fire Chili Cook-off — was not a disaster. Neither were the results perfect. This egg poacher has an inherent problem; it is not a poacher, it is a steamer. To poach something, one would immerse it in liquid. With this “poacher,” one places an egg in a cup, suspended over boiling or simmering water, so the egg cooks in steam. Big difference.

two eggs steaming

Thus, the whites don’t etherially wrap the yolks, but rather, wrap the yolks fairly firmly. Nevertheless, the result is a soft white with a runny yolk to seep into and flavor each bite of the chili. It’s simply a different eating experience.

On the other hand, this “poacher” does some things a simple pan of water cannot do. Here is a recipe from the instruction manual — printed in four languages — that comes with the poacher.

POACHED EGG WITH MILK OR CREAM
Fill the egg poacher pan one-third full of water.
Mix four eggs with some milk or cream. Season with pepper and salt. Pour the mixture into the cups.
Set the saucepan on the stove and bring the water to a boil. Put the cups in the tray and place the whole into the pan. Cover with the glass lid and leave to steam for about 4 minutes. The eggs might rise a bit during the steaming, but  do not worry, they will collapse as soon as you take the eggs out.
Take out the cups from the tray and turn them upside down on to a plate. Serve with toasted bread triangles.
VARIATIONS
Add chopped chives to the egg mixture.
Add small pieces of bacon or ham to the egg mixture.

I chose to chop a mushroom, saute it in butter and add those pieces to the cups. Pour the egg mixture over that and pop it into the “poacher.”

sauteed mushrooms in two poacher cups

add egg mixture to the cups

eggs plated alongside bacon strips

The eggs jiggled when I turned them out of the cups. I was surprised to find the outer layer soft like a scrambled egg and the center runny, as a poached egg would be. Now that’s a good egg. Yum.

There are other variations, which I have yet to try, so look back occasionally to see what’s up.

 

 

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Mar
13

La Strada 2009 ’10 ’14    4

Marcus

Nataliya after the wedding.

On one of my first visits to Reno — house hunting with Brian in June of 2009 — after a long day of scouting the town we needed a bite to eat, but not just any bite. He had done some research and declared La Strada in the El Dorado Hotel and Casino to be the best casino restaurant. Of course we went there to eat and ordered the four-course tasting menu with a few bucks extra for wine pairing. Excellent.

Neither of us knew at the time that the best restaurants in Reno are not necessarily in the casinos.

Fast forward to 2014. Brian and Nataliya have a home in Sparks and Nataliya is teaching a Biology course at Truckee Meadows Community College. Last week she got her first paycheck. WooHoo! Time for a celebration. Nataliya selected Sunday dinner. Brian checked out some of the best restaurants in Reno; Rapscallion Seafood House, Bricks, 4th Street Bistro… all are closed on Sunday. Why not go to La Strada? It’s a celebratory kind of place. We went there after their Reno wedding in June of 2010. OK then… dinner at seven.

As we ordered — I planned on the Rigatoni Fra Diavolo — Brian ordered the four-coarse tasting menu. Hey, that sounds good, I’ll have it too.

First course, a green salad featuring smoked salmon.

2014 First Course: Lovely salad featuring smoked salmon and fennel.

As we launched into the meal we talked about this being our third tasting menu including the one after their wedding in 2010. — And where could one get a four coarse tasting menu in San Francisco for $40? — I know I have pictures of the last one, but I didn’t take notes… in any case, maybe we can compare.

2010 First course — This salad appears to feature steak.

The courses seem to repeat themselves, but with different stars.

Second Course: white and red pasta.

2014 Second Course — the La Strada signature Wild Mushroom Stuffed Ravioli paired with Lasagna.

2010 Second Course — Lasagna and Ravioli, but with definitely different ingredients.

Third Course: surf and turf.

2014 Third Course — Osso Bucco on a bed of soft polenta, Salmon with a Crabmeat Glaze and Broccolini

2010 Third Course — Looks like a white fish, maybe Halibut and maybe a veal and mushroom companion. The carrot and asparagus are attractive.

And then — ta da… the Dessert Course

2014 Dessert Course — semifreddo, a semi-frozen ice cream cake

2010 The Wedding Cake — not from the kitchens of La Strada, but from an Austrian Bakery, Franz’s Backstube

As it turns out, we live quite near this bakery. Heads of the bride and groom previously eaten for good luck.

So… if you’re up for a celebration in Reno, we know a place.

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Feb
18

COOPERSTOWN    2

Marcus

Day 11 Friday October 18th
THE DAY to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame. But first, breakfast — complementary at the Holiday Inn Express. Pretty good; scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage gravy biscuits, fruit, and lots of stuff I don’t generally eat like hot and cold cereal. And coffee.

free parking

We got to downtown Cooperstown around 10am to find free parking everywhere in the winter. Crude signs grace all the meters on Main Street and in the big parking lots behind the storefronts. In the shade on Main Street, there was a chill in the air and a nasty breeze. We posed in the sun for pictures in front of the Hall of Fame. Admission for Seniors, $12.

Ready to soak up some baseball on a cold October day.

I love the idea of the Baseball Hall of Fame and enjoy the debate leading up to selection time. It’s too bad that the curmudgeons of the Baseball Writers Association of America is so up-tight and has seen fit to elect only a handful of non-oldtimey players over the past few years. Of course there is extreme controversy over the “steroid era” players such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. We’ll see how that plays out.

I loved KNBR promoting their broadcaster Jon Miller for the “Broadcast Wing” of the HOF and his subsequent selection.

Pitch and catch outside a window near the Broadcast Wing.

That said, I found the actual National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum a huge disappointment. The organization is sketchy. I guess it’s organized by era, but then, sometimes isn’t. The design and graphics for the exhibits is just horrible. Stuff is somewhat grouped in glass display cases… say 3 jerseys, 5 bats, a couple of gloves, some caps, some shoes… with no clear relationship, no title for the group and you have to get really close to read the “captions” for each item on gray business card type stock. They too are all one size letters with no emphasis. So an old guy like me is constantly stepping back to get the overview, then stepping up, glasses on to read the little cards, then stepping back, and so on.

They should take a cue from the touring exhibit I saw when the All Star Game was in San Francisco. That exhibit was of course smaller, but clear and organized and “Hall of Fame worthy.”
…Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb
13

Salmon Tartare    2

Marcus

Not to mention Salmon with a Hot Mustard Glaze

On this day, I stood in front of Scolari’s fish counter, a locally owned and operated supermarket with 10 locations, mostly in Reno and Sparks. They tend to have beautiful produce, a nice meat and fish counter and an extensive deli counter featuring local and regional brands.

How could I miss the Verlasso Salmon with its rich salmon color and plump fillets?

Verlasso is the first and only ocean raised, farmed, Atlantic Salmon to receive the “good alternative buy” ranking from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. Farmed off the coast of Patagonia Chile, it is filleted on location, packed in ice and shipped fresh.

I have never bought and cooked it before, but Carol has. This is my big chance. Two half-pound fillets, a little over an inch thick. Beautiful.

Verlasso Salmon fillets

It was still too cold and windy to grill, so I launched a recipe search for such a lovely fish. I settled on a NY Times recipe from February, 2006; Salmon With Hot Mustard Glaze adapted from David Kinch, then 44 and who remains the chef and a partner at Manresa, Los Gatos, California. Cooking Time: 30 minutes or less. Quick, EZ and lookin’ good.

While noodling around on the internet, I happened — by pure chance — onto a web site called thekitchn.com. I had never heard of it, but suddenly I was staring at a picture of a Hasselback Potato. It was striking in its purity and presentation.

from the web site: slice, slather with butter or bacon grease and bake at 425

Like the salmon recipe, the instructions couldn’t be simpler, but the potato took an hour or so to cook, so I started with that.
…Read the rest of this entry »

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Jan
30

grilling again    1

Marcus

There’s something special about a grilled meal. From the shopping to the eating there’s a protocol, choices and a routine. This meal started with me standing in front of the fish case at Raley’s. The weather in Reno has been beautiful; sunny, clear, a bit cool in the 40’s but occasionally easing up to 51 or 52. Makes a body think of breaking out the grill.

Thinking grill, I noticed some lovely Steelhead Trout fillets. This has become my favorite grilling fish ever since discovering it as a whole fish at Raley’s. I wrote about that guy, and have since grilled the fillets any chance I get.

Rainbow trout/steelhead are ray-finned fishes in the salmon family, and they are one of the top sport fish in North America. Rainbow trout and steelhead are the same species, but they have different lifestyles. Steelhead are anadromous, meaning they spend part of their lives in the sea, while rainbow trout spend their lives mostly or entirely in freshwater.

 

EGG moved to front courtyard

As soon as I could after our early December snow, I shoveled a path and moved the gas grill to the garage and the EGG to the front courtyard. And we bought an LED clip-on light — that makes winter (nighttime) grilling possible.

the light is clipped on the right “wing” and you can see its shadow on the wall

So on with the grilling. To eat at 7pm, I light the grill a little before six, and it is plenty dark at that time in January.

EGG Glows, but it doesn’t shake… I shake, it’s cold.

Tonight, I wanted to do everything on the grill. Trout, spinach and sliced potato. I boiled the potato until cooked through. Then slice it, oil and season it, and finish on the grill with the fish. The trout will cook in 6 to 8 minutes and I’ll hold that and the potato slices in a warm oven. The spinach cooks in about 3 minutes, is a bit messy, demands attention and cools quickly — especially outdoors in the winter — so I cook that last. Rinse the spinach and take it to the grill in a colander. Place it on my cast iron grill pan (the lid of my cast iron skillet), and toss while it cooks. That’s the attention demanding messy part. There’s way too much spinach to fit the grill pan, but it shrinks a lot as it cooks, so its put on as much spinach as possible, toss and shrink, put on more spinach, etcetera, all the while trying to keep it on the skillet and not scattering on the grill. [Harder to write than do...] And the fire is HOT.

trout over spinach with grilled potato slices

That went so well, I grilled again the very next day. We had three Maine lobster tails left from Christmas dinner. Excellent candidates for grilling. Those ‘tails plus grilled onion slice and baked potato. Not so fussy about doing everything on the grill this time. The onion slices take about 10 minutes to crisp tender, the lobster tails about six minutes. I timed so they both came off at once, figuring it’s no crime to cook the onion slices a few minutes longer.

Lobster tail, onion and baked potato. The M doesn’t Mean anything, just grill marks as a result of turning and rotating. Kinda cool, though.

A few days later, I had an appointment at my Dermatologist — near South Virginia and McCarran  — and not far from Whole Food. My must haves from Whole Food are Newman’s Own Organic Thin Sticks Pretzels, whatever fish looks good — and oh-by-the-way — they make the best Lamb Merguez Sausages. Another grill opportunity. They also had cippilini onions, so we got a few for grilling beside the sausages. We picked up some Brussels sprouts, as well. Those pretzels are just so crisp and crunchy and so good.

Merguez, Brussels sprouts, grilled cippilini and scraps of red bell pepper for color

Who ever heard of grilling Brussels sprouts? Not me. But I figured if I par-boiled them oiled them up and just threw them on the grill, what could go wrong? Turns out, nothing went wrong… delicious. Grilled cippilini onions are the best. Peel and slice in half… perfect thickness and caramelized a bit, they taste so sweet and good.

Altogether, three really good grilled meals. And just in time. This morning it snowed.

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