Friday, July 30, 2010

BBQ shrimp skewers with peppers and plums

Last month Eric's parents went on vacation, right around the time their fruit trees ripened. They left about a day or two before the first fruits came into their own. Actually, this happens every year, why vacations in this family have always happened around the time the fruit ripens we'll never know, but you can plan a harvest by his parents vacation calender. This year they went chasing an eclipse in the South Pacific, (something Eric's dad Pat has always dreamed of seeing with his own eyes and finally saw one this time, after getting rained on twice before) and we raided the back yard with buckets and fruit pickers. Later, when we were hearing all about the trip Pat mentioned that it was really peculiar that all the fruit was gone. We told them that it was delicious. Charisse ate some straight up, we tossed some into this dish or that dish, and the last of the plums we ran though with a stick. Why you ask? Simple, Grilled shrimp skewers!

Theres something about making any kind of skewered meet dish like Shish Kabob or Kakori that is just primordial in its creation. Something about running a piece of meat through with a pointy piece of wood and throwing it on a big fire makes Eric really excited. Maybe it draws him back to the caveman hunter roots of ancient humans or maybe he just likes having another reason to fire up the Weber. Actually, growing up Eric's parents had a square rust red grill, like the Meco 4100 which cooks differently than a normal Weber, thought it still makes a great grill. Growing up, the grilled skewer was always a good way to cook through some leftover meat and veggies or spread what you have across more people without making it look like your skimping on servings. It took Eric a while to really enjoy the flavors of a good grilled skewer, he was always a picky eater as a kid. Actually, that hasn't changed much, Eric is still a bit of a picky eater, but he's gotten over that when it comes to grilled food, which is a good thing because this is not a dish to skip. The plums and the marinade give the shrimp a nice sweet flavor and the peppers add just enough zing (without the seeds, its all flavor no heat). Try it out, let us know what you think!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Loquat Jam

Growing up, my favorite thing to do in the summer was head out back in the early morning and stay outside till it was time for dinner.  I had a magical world outside where I would play and pretend and I always had lots of company with my two dogs, five bunnies and fifteen chickens running around with me.  During these summer time adventures, I used the resources available to me so I wouldn't have to go back inside.  I drank from the hose and I picked and ate all the wonderful fruits and veggies that my mom was growing.  Two of my favorite things to munch on were the mulberries and loquats.  Unfortunately, many years later the mulberry tree had to be cut down due to a disease, but large loquat tree still stands.  You may ask, "what is a loquat?" Many people have never heard of this fruit and to tell you the truth I have never seen another tree anywhere else around here.  The best way I can describe this fruit is that it is kind of like an apricot only smaller with big seeds and not so much meat.  My dad thinks loquats are a useless food..."To much work for nothing" he says.  And it is true, pretty much the whole thing is seed.  But every year the tree is in full bloom with loquats and really you can only eat so many.  This year, my mom suggested that I should take a bunch and see what I could come up with.  I decided to make loquat jam with my harvest.  After a whole afternoon of pitting, peeling and cooking, I came up with a really beautifully jam.  It reminders me of an apricot jam only it is more ... well...loquaty! It turns out to be really great on toast and icecream and everyone seemed to want a jar that I only ended up with two jars out of eight.  For my jams, I use a traditional recipe although I always add extra pectin mostly because I like my jam a bit thicker than most recipes make.  One change I would make is that next year I am going to add two cups less sugar.  Loquats are really sweet to begin with so a little of this jam goes a long way sugar wise.  If you can find a loquat tree, please try a fruit! You will be surprised I promise! 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Red Beet Gnocchi with Mushrooms, Peas, and Frizzled Sage

Charisse is an artist by trade and by profession. She makes things pretty for a living. Vibrant complimentary colors with the occasional contrast thrown in for effect flow around pleasing shapes and enjoyable images. This is just the way she is. Eric on the other hand subscribes to the practical, doesn't-have-to-be-pretty-just-has-to-work school of doing things. You can even see this in our food, the prettier it is, the more Charisse had to do with it. These discussions have been the foundation of many of our disagreements, 99% of which end with "Eric your wrong because I said so". Every now and again, Eric does get to win, but that is usually regulated to picking between multiple pre-selected choices of the "which of these chairs do you like?" variety or futzing in the garage. Over the weekend, Eric got to actually win something on his own. We needed better lighting in the kitchen for our pictures, so Eric mounted some movable lights and flash-mounts to the ceiling to help even out our light sources. Not exactly pretty, but they do work, which just goes to show that sometimes the power drill is mightier than the paintbrush. Not often. But sometimes.

Our dinner Saturday night was very much Charisse's meal, the red beets became a vibrant red pasta topped with a very rustic sauce. Charisse has actually struggled with cooking Gnocchi, which was tough for her because it is one of her favorite foods. Gnocchi are very delicate to cook right, too long and they turn very mushy and you end up with more of a soup than a pasta. Trust us, we know. Pizza was good that night. Charisse played with it a few times and finally figured it out. These ones came out light and fluffy and bright red, but only carried a enough of a hint of beet flavor to add that extra something. We topped them with a sauce that tasted creamy, but actually had very little in it. With the frizzled sage on top, the dish came out very rustic looking, and tasted rustic too. Now if your not sure what rustic actually tastes like, try making this sauce, but be warned, theres a good chance you'll end up licking the plates clean like we did.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lemon Drop Scallops

Tuesday and Thursday nights are typically Eric's night to cook, which isn't a bad thing its just... time consuming. Lets just say that "multitasking" is not used in his vocabulary next to "I can" or "I'm good at" very often. So when Eric cooks, eating later in the evening (8:30 anyone?) tends to be more common than not. Such was the case last night when he got home all excited to start on a recipe he found, and realized halfway through that we were out of a great many things. This is actually okay as the phrase "lets just wing it" is a very common phrase in the Eric Lexicon. Halfway through, the dish was starting to sound more like a Martini than a dinner so a few of those got added to the meal too. In fact a cold martini is one of Eric's favorite meals.

The recipe here calls for fresh spinach, but sometimes its just not around, so we had to go for frozen. Charisse pulled out one of her little tricks to prepare frozen waterlogged spinach. Start by defrosting the spinach in the microwave (or let it sit out for a while) then put the spinach on a clean dishtowel (one that you don't mind making instantly dirty) and wring the towel out from both sides over the sink. Really twist it good and when your done, your greens are ready to cook with.

We served this one over a bed of cuscus with some sauted garlic and butter broccoli, but it would go equally well with the scallops served over the spinach.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Grilled Steak with Garlic Butter

It was about a month ago that Eric got home to find a backhoe digging a big hole in his front yard and our friends Dan and Jenn came to the rescue, inviting us over for dinner. Dan was going to fire up the grill and cook... something, but he wasn't sure what. Eric on the other hand had a great rub ready to go and really wanted to try out making some flavored butters. It was a match made in perfection. Eric brought the rub and the butter and Charisse and Jen handled the rest.

Using a fancy butter on a well seasoned steak is almost always going to be fantastic. The butter melts along the steak as you eat it, almost as an after thought to the flavors in the steak and the rub. The rub gives the steak a kick going down but doesn't hide the natural beef flavors and doesn't overwhelm the other courses. If it tastes like your shooting Tabasco sauce, your doing it wrong. Choosing the right flavored butter is key, and should be picked to be a counter point to the rub. The sweeter the rub, the more liberties you can take with the butter, without the butter becoming the main attraction.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Hostess "Cup" Cake

The Hostess Cupcake. Iconic. Nostalgic. Slightly Waxy. Some of the many descriptions that come to mind whenever someone mentions those little individually wrapped cream filled chocolate cakes. Forget the Twinkie, Hostess even alludes to it being the single most popular snake cake in history, something most people who were young up anytime in the 70's all they way through the 90's can probably attest. Packed in millions of school lunches and probably millions of adult lunches as well, the Hostess Cupcake with its squiggly swirl of vanilla icing on top was for many people a generational snack. Eric's dad loved the things and growing up, so did he. Charisse's mom also has a soft spot for the little chocolate cakes, and mentioned something to Charisse a few days before her birthday. So after some searching around, Charisse hit up the idea of making her own version of the little cake for Monica's birthday and our friend Susan brought the candle. It's a good thing that Charisse decided to make the cake... bigger, because it was a huge hit and darn tasty. 

Two home made cakes with a marshmallow icing in between. Charisse changed it up a little bit going with the marshmallow frosting on the outside as well, accented with a chocolate ganache. The little flip flop didn't seem to bother anyone as the cake disappeared almost before we could get pictures of it. Lesson for all the food photographers out there, when you make a cake for a party, make two. One to photograph, one to eat. If the cake turns out right and you try and telling everyone to wait while while you take pictures you may end up with a shortened life expectancy. I mentioned this candle earlier, but I figured I should tell you a little about it and why it was so neat. This candle, called a "Musical Birthday Cake Candle Sparkler Fountain Flower" is a big plastic lotus flower that when lit erupts into a shower of sparks and fizzlesticks (who knows what a fizzlestick actually is, but it seems to be an accurate description) then the flower opens up and has a candle on each spinning leaf while it plays Happy Birthday. Really was pretty spectacular. Hit the break for some pictures of it and the cake! 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Watermelon Salad

Exotic salads seem to be an obsession of Charisse's lately and this one definitely fits into the exotic salad category.  This was a very unexpected combination of flavors, from the sweetness of the watermelon, to the tart lemon juice we were a bit skeptical at first.  But Charisse thought it would be a "pretty" salad and we went ahead with our concoction.  A few tips for this salad that we discovered: use seedless watermelon, it makes the cleaning and cubing process quicker.  Also this salad NEEDS to be kept cold, although it still tastes great, when it starts warming up, the watermelon and cucumbers start giving up the water in them and your salad starts to look like soup.  So I would suggest keeping in the fridge until ready to serve or if you are having a buffet style, chilling it over ice.  

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fiesta Burger

In the spirit of summer, we've been trying to do as much "summertime" food as we can; burgers, BBQ, fruit and ice cream. Today we've got one of our own burger creations: the Fiesta Burger! We'd been hoping to have a taco night, but found that we were missing some key ingredients (taco shells? tortillas? Nope, didn't have any of those). So we had to think about what else we could do with ground beef and cheese and had one of those "duh" moments. Eric still wanted tacos though and Charisse said something along the line of "why don't we do a taco burger?" Taco Burger? Had we lost our minds? Probably, but the idea sounded so crazy it might work. Or we'd be ordering pizza. Thankfully the pizza guy stayed home and we dug into these burgers like... hungry sharks going after... fiesta burgers? Okay analogy fail.

These burgers are a great, unique summertime treat. Covered in Guacamole and a Cilantro Lime Sauce, theres a light almost tangy flavor that really helps the taco flavored meat patties. Best served with a strong Mexican Beer or our personal recommendation, a well made Margarita on the rocks. 

Hit the break for the how-to and of course more pictures...

Friday, July 9, 2010

American Flag Cake

Last weekend was the 4th of July, so we had some friends over for a BBQ potluck and Charisse prepared a nice cake, with a colorful surprise! The idea of a red white and blue cake is something Eric's sister Elaine discovered around memorial day, and Charisse applied her own cake recipe to produce this patriotic dessert. We tried to snap as many pictures as we could, but believe you me, this cake vanished faster than anyone could say "Mmmm, let me have another slice". Let us know what you think and hit the break for pictures and recipe!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Meatball Sub

Just about every day, Eric walks by the Subway in the train station in San Francisco. Every now and again, there is something cooking (okay, something being heated in the microwave) that smells so good it ruins Eric's commute, because he sits on the train, hungry. That something is the meatball sub. Now granted, Subway's try at it doesn't taste nearly as good as say the Amato's sandwich in Saratoga but a meatball sub smells like a meatball sub no matter who makes it. And it always makes Eric hungry.

So the other day he gets home from work and found his thought process going something along the lines of "meatball sub meatball sub meatball sub meatball sub say hi to wife meatball sub meatball sub meatball sub say hi to dog meatball sub meatball sub stop drolling meatball sub meatball sub". Needless to say convincing Charisse to whip up a batch of meatballs and some sauce was a pretty easy sell. We'd like to point out that you can also serve this sauce and meatball combo over noodles, it makes a dish called "Spaghetti and Meatballs".

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Skillet Cornbread

We hope everyone had a happy 4th of July weekend, we know we did! We've been busier than normal lately, so posts have been hard to put out on time, but things are back to normal, and have we got some great things for you. Later this week we'll show you how to make a good meatball and turn that into a meatball sub and we'll have a watermelon salad (we've done a lot of cooking lately). But today, we've got another One Pan Meal, Skillet Cornbread. Okay so it's not a whole meal, but it is pretty easy and tastes great. Just about everyone on or from the Western US  is familiar with Marie Calanders, home of many awesome pies and the 4PM early bird special. Marie Calanders is also famous for their cornbread. We both remember growing up on Marie Calanders cornbread and pie, which is a winning combination on its own! As everyone knows, we love our cast iron skillet, so we jump at the chance to cook with it anytime we get one, and firing cornbread in a skillet just adds that special something.

Hit the break for more pictures and recipe!