Soba and Squash

soba and squash

This quickly assembled union of soba noodles and summer squash is one of those meals that is ready even before you've set the table. The whole dish can be prepared before the water has even come to a boil. Having only four main ingredients to gather up doesn't hurt either! It's a simple summer noodle dish of cool soba noodles and summer squash lightly coated with some fresh dill infused crème fraîche. The only thing left to do is lightly season with salt and pepper and you are all set. My personal best "fridge-to-table" time" is 7 minutes. Think you can beat that?

4 oz. soba noodles
1 medium summer squash
3 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
3 tbsp crème fraîche
salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, bring 3 qts. of water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, finely slice the summer squash with a chef's knife, or on a mandoline, and place in a large heatproof bowl. Place the bowl in the sink. When the water is boiling, add the soba noodles and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until tender. Place a colander over the bowl containing the squash. Pour noodles and boiling water into the colander, so the bowl collects all of the hot liquid. (This boiling water will briefly blanch the thinly sliced squash.) Separate the colander from the bowl and move the bowl to the counter. Rinse noodles under cold water until they are nice and cool, about 1 minute. Place the colander back into the sink and poor the squash over the noodles. Gently rinse again to cool the squash down. Move both ingredients to a bowl and fold in the dill and crème fraîche (you can substitute sour cream in a pinch). Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Maybe add a little crushed red pepper, if you like....) Serves two.



Sockeye Salmon with Cilantro, Grapefruit, Green Beans, and Sweet Corn


In addition to death and taxes, I'd like to add unbearable summer heat to the list of guaranteed certainties. I made it through June and July remarkably well, but August? That's a different beast altogether. Hot and sticky are two things I don't like to be (as well as rude and homicidal while we're at it), but I can take solace in two other 'sure things': that fall is on the horizon, and that our blasted sun I've been silently cursing is largely responsible for a plethora of great summer vegetables. And for that, I am grateful.

This is the time of the year when I rarely fire up the stove so I like to take advantage of really good ingredients and try not to mess with them too much. For example, only two of the ingredients in this dish ever come in contact with heat, and when they do it is not for very long. In fact, most of this dish can be prepared between runs through the sprinkler. Which would be a good thing if only I had a sprinkler to run through. Oh, well.

1/2 lbs wild caught Sockeye salmon
1 grapefruit, sectioned
1 bunch cilantro, thoroughly washed
1/2 lbs fresh green beans, trimmed
2 cups sweet corn
1 cup white wine
1/4 small red onion
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

In a blender or food processor, blend sweet corn into a smooth puree. Move to a small saucepan and gently cook over low heat, adding the white wine. Feel free to add some cilantro stalks at this point as they have great flavor and are easy to remove before plating. Let this gently cook for about five minutes and then remove form heat. Season with salt and pepper.

With a mandoline (or some good knife skills) slice green beans lengthwise into four or five slices each. Chop in half when done and reserve. Slice a little red onion this way as well. Have your cilantro cleaned and finely chopped and with grapefruit sectioned and free of any pith.

In a saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Prepare salmon by running the back of your knife blade against the skin. Go with the direction of the scales with firm pressure to try to press out as much moisture as possible. This well help to develop crisp skin. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Sear salmon skin side down until nice and crisp. This should not take long. When skin is a healthy golden brown, gently flip the fish over to cook the flesh. Reduce heat and cook until the salmon is cooked medium to medium rare. (Time will depend on thickness of the fish.) remove from heat when done.

To assemble, ladle sweet corn/white wine broth into a wide and shallow bowl. Top with green beans, grapefruit, red onion, cilantro, and finally the salmon. Sprinkle with a little extra salt and pepper and serve. Makes two servings.



Sourdough Starter

sourdough starter

The above photo contains three things that alone are not that spectacular, but when they get together: magic happens. Flour. Water. Grapes. Done. Thats all. Well, plus a little time. Behold: my first sourdough starter.

Since the weather is still too warm to do much serious cooking, I've taken to starting up a more long term project. Making my own sourdough starter seemed to fit the bill. With the recent acquisition of a digital kitchen scale, I figured bread baking season is open for business. Unless you have worked in a carnival and/or understand how humidity affects flour, using a scale (digital or otherwise) is the only way to accurately know how much flour you are using. Conclusion: if you are baking, you should have a scale. End of story. Back to the starter:

1 lbs flour
1 pint water
1 lbs crushed organic grapes
a large bowl
a clean dish towel

In a large clean bowl, mix flour and water (measured by weight). Crush grapes and wrap in cheesecloth. Reserve any grape juice and add to mixture. Add packet of grapes. Cover with a clean dish towel and store at 70-80F. After the mixture has started to ferment (anywhere from 1 to 5 days, remove grapes and add 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water. Do this once or twice a day for 3-4 days, then transfer to a clean container and refrigerate until ready to use. You will have to feed the starter periodically.



Roast Pork with Rosemary and Blueberries

roast pork with rosemary and blueberries

So far, summer here has been rather bearable. It's been hot here and there, but overall I haven't been forced to sit in a certain chain bookstore for hours on end just to enjoy the air conditioning. I like when it is not too hot. Give me spring, fall, and winter any day of the week. I could easily skip the summer heat and be completely content. So, in the spirit of our relatively cool summer (only 80F today), I decided it was okay to fire up the oven: but only for a few minutes. In my mind, the oven is reserved for only cooler weather. So I decided to make something that easily could work in both warmer and cooler weather. The use of blueberries gives the pork a nice and juicy partner and the rosemary adds a certain brightness. Summer food? Winter food? Who cares! Good food is for every season!

1 lbs. pork tenderloin
5 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 oz. dried blueberries
1 cup dry red wine
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425F. In a large (ovenproof) saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add 2 sprigs of rosemary and heat for one minute. Meanwhile, season pork with salt and pepper. After the oil has taken on the flavor of the rosemary, remove the sprigs and add the pork, browning on all sides. When well browned, move pan to the oven for 10-15 minutes (depending on circumference of the loin) and roast. Remove loin from the pan and let rest (under a loose piece of aluminum foil) for 5 minutes. Turn off the oven.

In the same pan, add the chopped onion and gently cook until translucent. Add the blue berries and the remaining sprigs of rosemary. Add wine and reduce heat. Reduce wine until about 1/4 cup. Remove rosemary. Stir in the butter and let the sauce cool for a few minutes. Taste and salt and pepper appropriately. Slice the pork on the bias and dress with some blueberries and wine and a little chopped rosemary.



Zucchini Pasta with Basil and Scallions

zucchini pasta

Call it pasta. Call it salad. Just don't call it pasta salad. Using a vegetable as a "noodle" is a great way to keep your kitchen cool in the summer. There is no heat applied and every ingredient can come straight from the fridge. All you need are a few good knife skills (and maybe a mandoline) to create very thin noodle-like strands from vegetables. My noodles ended up about a 1/16th of an inch thick: perfect for a noodle. Add a little bit of extra flavorings and you are ready for dinner.

5 zucchini
2 large bunches of fresh basil
6 scallions
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Take the zucchini and slice into very thin slices with a sharp chef's knife or on a mandoline. Stack the slices to recreate the original shape of the zucchini. With your knife, slice into 1/16th of an inch strips. Place all zucchini noodles into a colander and lightly salt. Let sit for 30 minutes to pull excess moisture out of the vegetables. Move to a large bowl. Chop basil into very thin pieces, like a chiffonade. Add to zucchini. Slice the greens of the scallions and add to the noodles. Season with salt and pepper, and add olive oil and vinegar. Toss well to coat each noodle with the dressing.

Feel free to add any of these ingredients to make the dish even better: lemon juice, crushed red pepper, thinly sliced garlic, goat cheese, pine nuts, mustard......