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Archive for July, 2009

It was bound to happen. Actually, it had happened many times already: a gorgeous meal presents itself to me and I am without a device with which to record its ephemeral beauty. Or, in this case, it was way too dark.

This weekend saw me taking full advantage of the grill so kindly installed by a beautiful, generous, ladybug-loving neighbor on the roof. The first meal was cobbled together as The Frenchman and I reunited for the first time in 3 weeks. (Yes, I know he brought the camera back with him; I was otherwise occupied.) At the local Kmart on a quest for– I don’t remember what, exactly– we decided we were going to have a barbecue and so bought the charcoal and the charcoal chimney, but kind of punked out on the actual grocery shopping.  So we got home and tried to put together a decent reunion meal with what was already languishing in the fridge.

Charcoal Chimney Magic

A little side trip to that charcoal chimney, so cavalierly mentioned in passing. It may be the greatest invention in the history of grilling. Seriously. A kind of giant stainless steel mug, one stuffs the bottom of the mug with a donut of rolled up newspapers, fills up the top with charcoal, lights the paper and, in ten minutes, blazingly hot coals are ready for the grilling.  I don’t know why anybody would bother with lighter fluid.  A great video on using the charcoal chimney is here.

Anyway, with a  6 month old frozen Costco steak, some vegetables and alcohol, we came up with a pretty good meal.  The steak was marinated in a mixture of bourbon, mustard, Worshurshurshurshur sauce, salt and pepper for the time it took for the coals to heat up.  I soaked some couscous in boiling water (fastest side dish ever) and took it up to the roof.

Once there, I placed a zucchini and a red onion, halved, on the edges of the grill where the heat isn’t quite as high. When they were tender and caramelized with lovely grill marks, I sliced them thinly and tossed them into the couscous. A leftover half an avocado, cubed, followed in after them as well as a generous glug of extra-virgin olive oil, salt and lots of pepper.

The steak went on the grill and immediately the booze sent up a mini nuclear explosion. Once beautifully charred to a medium-rare, about 10 minutes, the steak came off and onto our plates where it oozed a smoky, earthy juice from the bourbon, spiked by the vinegar and heat from the mustard.

We ate our Costco ribeye and drank our Two-Buck Chuck with our scavenger’s couscous in the quiet city that seemed to exist for us alone on a Saturday night, then danced to Ella until the rain sent us scurrying inside for warmth and shelter.

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Charcoal Chimney Magic

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My good friend and incredible cook Erin Crosby over at Brooklyn Cookin’ has a great Chickpea Salad Recipe that I first tasted on a beautiful summer day in her backyard as we celebrated the impending arrival of Bailey Elise Evans whose mother now apparently only makes Knife-Free Meals.

Chickpea Salad

Chickpea Salad

It’s the simplest recipe with the cleanest flavors:chickpeas, red onion, celery, salt, pepper and parsley.  Every time I make it, it’s a hit. Which is why, for 4th of July, I made a HUGE batch. I didn’t want it to run out. Long story short, I overcompensated and I ended up with about 2 lbs of leftover chickpea salad.

As good as it is, one simply cannot find the strength to consume 2 lbs of leftover chickpea salad…or two lbs of anything, really.  I had to find a way to use it all up.

Mark Bittman to the rescue! Just this morning, he published an article about how “if you substitute “thick purée” for “dip,” the options are limitless.  A friend takes last night’s vegetable dish, purées it with whatever it takes to get his food processor working — oil, lemon juice, water — adds other flavorings if necessary, and serves it to guests with crackers or crudités.”

EUREKA!  Puree the chickpea salad with some additional olive oil, some salt and pepper and a dash of paprika and, voila, salad reborn! Serve with pita chips, celery, carrots and cucumber sticks.  All gastrointestinal effects remain the same. But boy, is it yummy.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Chickpea Salad Three Ways!

Lazarus Dip

Lazarus Dip

Edit: The Frenchman, who, as you all know went to Indonesia without me and took the camera, looked at my blog for the first time in two weeks and said, “Ew, your pictures are so grainy”.  I wonder if I can turn him into a thick puree.

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The incredibly talented Erik Liberman who is on a Hawaiian break from Fiddling on the Roof with Topol can do no wrong…onstage. But on Facebook, when he said that he “thinks that, sometimes, East should not meet West… Case in point: Spam in Nori roll, just spotted at truck stop!” The resulting “Eeeeewwwwws” that followed got me up in arms…Ooooh, a girl gotta step up and defend! Or at the very least, console herself with said Spam in Nori Roll, known in elite circles that include Barack Obama and myself as Spam Musubi.

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Bawrap Ospama

Ok, I admit, I was wary at first of the big pink and green roll. But I had the guidance of a real Japanese-Filipino-Irish Hawaiian (as authentic as it gets) encouraging me to try one at the Huki-Lau in San Jose. I fell in love.  Eight cubic inches of umami, the recently identified fifth taste I can only describe as “nyumnyumnyumnyumnyum”.  It’s a very popular snack in Hawaii, cribbed from the Japanese rice balls called Onigiri, which are normally stuffed with salmon or tuna, shaped into triangles and wrapped with nori.  Hawaii loves its Spam and so naturally the Spam Musubi was born.

I was waiting for my Fourth of July guests to arrive. I’d finished roasting the 7-lb pork shoulder and preparing the chickpea salad way faster than I anticipated and sat in the kitchen twiddling my thumbs.  I realized I had just enough time to sop up the drooling Erik had incited in me with a bit of Spam.

The Frenchman took the camera with him to Indonesia on a surfing trip without me (not that I mind. No, really.) so the pictures accompanying this post are crappy, but I assure you the actual product was anything but.

First, prepare 3 cups of uncooked sushi rice.  You have a rice cooker, right? Everyone does! Pour it in there with 4 cups of water, flip the switch and go lug tables and folding chairs up the stairs to the roof of your 6 floor walkup.

When the rice is cooked, you can start with the Spam. Open up the can and cut the block of salty synthesis into 10 slices.

Spam, Glorious Spam

Spam, Glorious Spam

Mix up 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and 1 teaspoon of mirin (sweet rice wine). Set aside.

Heat up some oil in a frying pan. I used olive, but honestly, with all the tastes going on, the oil you use just won’t matter.  Lay down the slices of spam to fry. After a minute or two, when the spam has had the chance to get a little golden crust on it, pour the soy sauce mixture over the top. Flip the spam to coat and cook until the edges of the slices are crisp and caramelized.

Ooey-Gooey Salty Sweet

Ooey-Gooey Salty Sweet

And now, the fun part.  Take your musubi mold…well of COURSE you have one, don’t everybody? Ok fine, if you must, cut out the bottom of the can o’ spam. It does a fine job as a musubi mold as well. I, for one, have this handy-dandy one I got for $4 at Mitsuwa, Japanese Wonderland:

Your General All-Purpose Musubi Mold

Your General All-Purpose Musubi Mold

Moisten the mold with water to prevent sticking and place it on top of a nori sheet that you have cut in half to, oh my golly, is it..can it be..the exact width of a slice of Spam?? It’s as if they were MADE for each other!

Fill the mold with about 3 T of rice and press down with the, uh, rice presser.  Use a spoon if you are going the Spam can way.  At this point you can sprinkle in some sesame seeds, furikake, or maybe a smear of wasabi.  Layer in a slice of teriyaki’d Spam. Put 3 more T of rice in the mold and press down rather firmly. You want the rice to hold together.

With revolutionary cut-away view!

With revolutionary cut-away view!

Swaddle your bundle of rice with the nori and there you have it!  To appease the queasy yet adventurous, I cut them in half to serve.  They are great when warm and just wrapped with crispy nori, but just as good a couple of hours later cold on the roof!

Spam for the Taking

Spam for the Taking

You might be just as wary as I was the first time I tried it, but as I told Erik: put it in your mouth, then get back to me.

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