Saturday night – 08/27/2016

As August wanes summer weather remains firmly in place over Central Massachusetts. This week’s Saturday Night menu features an aversion to heating up the kitchen anymore than necessary and an opportunity to make sure of the bounty of summer produce. Plus we celebrated G’s 8th birthday with cake.

Menu
Grilled Chicken Thighs with Romesco
Tabouleh
Cucumber and Bean Salad with a citrus dressing

Chocolate Chip Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Notes under the cut

Zucchini Pancakes

[Zucchini Pancakes]In my ongoing quest to find ways to use zucchini I decided to make some zucchini pancakes this past week. My dad used to make something like these during the summer when I was growing up. They were particularly good with a little Romesco.

Zucchini Pancakes
Servings: 4
Prep time: 10 minutes (plus 30 minutes wait)
Total time: 1 hour

Ingredients:

  • 2 zucchini, about 1 pound each
  • 1 shallot
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. ground sumac
  • 1/2 tsp. ground Aleppo pepper
  • 1 egg
  • kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided

Directions:

  1. Rinse zucchini, halve across the middle and grate on the large holes of a box grater. Sprinkle with kosher salt (maybe a 1/2 tsp.) and place in a strainer set over a bowl. Allow liquid to drain for at least 30 minutes. Transfer drained zucchini to a double layer of paper towels, blot dry and move to a fresh bowl.
  2. While the zucchini rests you can also grate the shallot on the small holes of a box grater and add to the strainer with the zucchini. Then combine the flour and spices in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Finally lightly beat the egg to combine the yolk and white.
  3. When ready to continue mix the zucchini/shallot with the flour/spices and egg until it comes together as a batter. There’s still plenty of liquid in the zucchini to supplant the egg.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a non-stick skillet over medium heat until it no longer bubbles. Add 4 pancakes to the skillet (I used a disher), flattening each so they are about 3″ in diameter. Cook for 2-3 minutes on the first side, flip and cook for 2-3 minutes on the second side. Both sides should end up golden brown.
  5. Transfer pancakes to a platter and sprinkle with a bit more salt. Repeat the pancake cooking process with the remaining butter and batter. Serve warm.

Notes:
These could also make a tasty appetizer. Just make smaller pancakes, say 1 1/2″ diameter, and top them with a dollop of sour cream plus some finely chopped chive or caviar.

Saturday night – 08/13/2016

How do you plan a summer menu when you don’t know whether you’ll have access to the grill? First, you always have access to the grill if you are willing to ignore the water falling from the sky. Second, you can always use an indoor cooking method if water is your nemesis.

Menu
Grilled Pork Kebabs with Romesco
Sauteed Corn with Leeks (and Bacon!)
Zucchini Pancakes

Notes under the cut

Basic Polenta (or Grits)

Cooked coarse-ground corn meal, whether you call it polenta or grits, is tasty stuff. It is can be served just after cooking or allowed gel into a flavorful brick that can be grilled, pan seared or deep fried. It is infinitely alterable just be swapping out an ingredient or two.

Polenta does require supervision and a fair bit of stirring. The results are worth the effort.

Basic Polenta
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup coarse-ground cornmeal (often called corn grits or polenta)
  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 Tbsp. cubes
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan. Crush the dried thyme between your finger tips and it, along with the salt, to the water. Allow the salt to dissolve then sprinkle the cornmeal over the water, stirring frequently.
  2. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. I stir for about 10-15 seconds out of every minute for the first 15 minutes and then constantly for the last 5.
  3. Turn off the heat and add the butter, cheese, and pepper. Stir until the butter has melted and incorporated.
  4. Taste, adjust salt and pepper as desired. Serve with the savory topping of your choice (mine is often shrimp).

Notes:
Polenta solidifies fairly quickly, creating a solid that can be sliced. It can be served cold or pan-seared before serving. Coat the inside of a loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray and transfer the hot, cooked polenta into the pan. Press plastic wrap onto the top of the polenta to keep it from drying out and allow it to cool for at least 1 hour, or overnight.

To prep it for cooking just remove the plastic wrap, slide a knife around the edges of the polenta loaf and upturn it onto a cutting board. Slice into 1/2″-3/4″ rounds and fry in a non-stick skillet for 2-3 minutes per side.

Hard-boiled Eggs, revisited

Aside

For decades I have made hard-boiled eggs the same way. Eggs in cold water, place on burner, bring to a boil, turn off burner, set timer to 20, no, 15, no, 13 minutes, cool quickly with running water, try to remove shells. Some eggs came out fine, most were a bit pock-marked where shell stuck. Often an egg was mangled badly enough that I couldn’t use it for deviled eggs. So often that I regularly cooked an extra egg.

I read/heard/saw a test of hard-boiled egg cooking methods and steam followed by an ice bath was deemed to provide the easiest removed shells. I gave it a try and I’m a convert. 9 eggs cooked; 9 eggs easily shelled.

Hard-boiled Eggs, revisited
Servings: 8-10
Prep time: none
Total time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 3 cups ice

Special equipment:

Directions:

  1. Place the steamer basket in a large saucepan. Add water so that the bottom of the steamer basket is just above the water. Cover and place over high heat.
  2. When the water comes to a boil carefully add the eggs and recover. Reduce the heat to medium-low; you want to maintain steam but you don’t need a vigorous boil for that. Set a timer for 13 minutes and walk away.
  3. About a minute before the timer goes off place the ice in a large bowl and add 3 cups of cold water to create an ice bath.
  4. When the timer goes off use a pot holder or tongs to lift the steamer basket. Slide the eggs into the ice bath. Set the timer for 15 minutes and walk away.
  5. Crack the eggs against a hard surface and peel away the shell. Enjoy with a little sea salt or use for deviled eggs. You could even get fancy by making Beet Pickled Deviled Eggs.

Notes:
I think the credit goes to America’s Test Kitchen though whether it was in a magazine, one of their TV shows or on the radio I don’t know.

Farro with Mushroom and Thyme

This recipe hails from a 2013 issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. I made it shortly after first buying a bag of farro. In the Cook’s recipe they cook the farro as part of the recipe, in only 20 minutes. Ha! I found it took twice that time to get to an al dente texture. I now prepare my farro in advance, store it in the fridge for a day or two and have it ready to go.

Farro with Mushrooms and Thyme
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 20-25 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 10 oz. cremini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced evenly
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh thyme
  • 2 Tbsp. dry sherry
  • 2 cups prepared farro
  • 2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp. cider vinegar
  • kosher salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat until the oil is shimmering. Add the mushrooms, shallot, and thyme; sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt and 10 grinds of black pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the liquid released by the mushrooms has evaporated and the vegetables have started to brown. This will take 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Add the sherry to the pan and scrap up any browned bits (aka fond). Cook until the pan is almost dry, about 1 minute.
  3. Add the farro and toss until the ingredients are well combined. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring a few times, until the farro is heated through.
  4. Stir in the parsley and vinegar. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if desired.

Notes:
I’ve had good success by microwaving mushrooms in a covered bowl for 2-3 minutes on high. Drain the liquid, add to the hot fat and saute until browned, another 2 minutes. It can save 10 minutes or so on the dish.