Monday, September 26, 2011

Fall-time Fricassees: Autumn & Chanterelles

Fricassee of Chanterelles with Egg Tagliatelle

There are so many things to love about this time of year.  September and October in the middle latitudes are bountiful - not only in that late-summer, early-autumn-harvest kind of way either.  The climate changes in a pretty marked manner, not entirely for the worse.  As sad as I always am to say goodbye to summer, the Autumn is the earth's way of saying, "Come on, it's not all bad!"

In Autumn I start craving all sorts of fall-y things like sweet and savory pies of every sort, squashes and pumpkins, and mushrooms galore.  Ah, my crazy love affair with mushrooms.  It never ends, nor does it vaguely begin to wain.  It's like a hopeless addiction.  Proof of which is the fact that despite the painful $19.99/lb price tag, I cannot help myself from going for a small bag of Chanterelles at Whole Foods these days.  It's almost too much to ask myself - like I'm doing my family an active disservice by NOT buying them these meaty, yellow-y, most-definitely-autumnal mushrooms right now

I've had Chanterelles on the brain for a while now.  A couple of weeks ago we went to a fantastic dinner double-date at Bresca in downtown Portland.  One of their starter choices was a wild mushroom (locally foraged, btw) souffle.  That night was a classic example of my tendency to overthink my menu choices.  It was obvous that I should have gotten it from the moment I saw the menu but instead I opted for the "Braised Tuscan Black Kale with a 6 minute egg, crispy pancetta, kombu butter, and charred multi grain bread."  It was delicious.  But it was no Chanterelle souffle.  Maybe that's why I'm still obsessing over the mushrooms.

Either way, in my latest Bon Appetit magazine was a recipe for Fricassee of Chanterelles, and it looked good enough (even better than that, actually) to eat based solely on the picture.  I was enticed all the more once I read the recipe.  So I broke down and indulged my grubby little hands in some Whole Foods foraging.  It was absolutely worthwhile.  I highly recommend it.  Even Roman ate it!  Autumnal indulgence #1: check.  If you can find fresh papardelle I would say go for those over tagliatelle (it's all I could get last-minute).

Now for my top five other Fall-time Fricassees - things that make this time of year worth living for, not just just living in.

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My Top 5 Favorite Fall-time Fricassees!
 take that as you will

All done!
5. The Fairs / Festivals are coming.
It seems like literally every single day we find out about a new festival or carnival going on in the next town over.  This week is the apparently infamous Cumberland Fair which we will hopefully be hitting up tomorrow evening for some rides and good Fall food.  The Fryburg Fair is coming up and this past weekend was some kind of Gardner's fair where all they have is Maine-produced food.  Apparently they didn't serve coffee for a couple of years because there isn't any native Maine coffee!  Kinda neat.

4. The Foliage (already!)
There is one tree on our street that is painfully beautiful already with its bright red and orange leaves.  Having taken a drive through the countryside this weekend I can say it is the exception at this point in time, but yes, the foliage is coming!  The foliage is coming!  Don't you want to come visit me? :)

3. Fantastic Apples & Orchard
This past weekend we went apple picking with Roman and his nursery school.  It is one of those things I've wanted to do since I first heard about Johnny Appleseed when I was in elementary school.  If there are apple orchards in Texas we never went.  I had so much fun seeing Roman run around eating about as many apples as he could hold.  And the orchard was just beautiful.  Pictures to come.

2. The Freakish Pumpkins
We were going out for a "family dinner" the other night at the Longhorn Steakhouse (yes, it has come to that) in South Portland when a small pick-up truck drove by with the largest pumpkin I've seen in my entire life.  Roman and I jumped off the car and ran after him.  He happily allowed Roman to jump up on the bed and pose with the pumpkin.  He'd just come from one of the many fairs where he'd won 1st place for largest pumpkin in Maine: 950lbs my friends!  Crazy freakishness. :)
1. Halloween!
Ahhhhhh!  I LOVE Halloween!  It is one of the many reasons I am particularly happy to be back in the US after our 5 year hiatus.  Let me tell you, Halloween in Abu Dhabi sucked.  Especially because some Sheikh died the day before and our neighborhood promptly "postponed" trick-or-treating until the first weekend in November due to a week of national mourning.  What the hell is that?!  Anyway, I've been diligently slaving away on my Viking Sewing Machine making Roman his first-ever homemade Halloween costume.  It's super cute.  No, actually, it's so much more than that.  But we'll save that juicy tidbit for another post. :)

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And on a tangentially related note, Matt and I are heading to Prague this coming week for our first-ever Roman-less vacation (thank you In-Laws!).  I have a lot to update on when we get back so hopefully that means my posts will be a little more frequent.  Until then, go buy some mushrooms and make me proud!

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Scallop, Citrus & Avocado Ceviche: Stay-at-Home Fishing

Scallop, Citrus & Avocado Ceviche - almost Carpaccio-style.
I assume it's obvious by now that one of my favorite parts about getting together with family (and people in general) is what we eat.  I especially enjoy going to Matt's parents' house for this reason because his family loves food and makes very different dishes than the ones I grew up with.  We inevitably have large pieces of meat every single day paired with American-bounty-esque side dishes like homemade mashed potatoes or potato salad.  It's all always delicious and in that regard I feel very spoiled by my in-laws.  But inevitably, by the end of the weekend I am seriously (ravenously) craving Mexican food.  Rice... Beans...Limes...Tortillas...Avocados...Please!

On that note, I haven't had many chances to cook for my in-laws, so when I do have the opportunity I try to make something they don't usually eat at home themselves but that is also representative of me as a person and the way Matt and I love to eat at home.  While our style of eating could theoretically, to the outside observer, seem like a haphazard, borderline-schizophrenic jumble of random ethnic dishes I've picked up here and there, there is some method to my madness.  I cook dishes from places I've been and love.  Not just places I've been.  Places I've been and love.  And I don't cook things that I just kind of like.  I only cook the foods that had me at hello.

Growing up, one of those "had me at hello" dishes was ceviche.  When Matt announced to me that July day that he and his brother would be going fishing with his dad - no-girls-allowed-style - aside from being slightly bitter about the whole thing (because I love to fish!), I decided it was time to stage a stay-at-home-fishing experience by making ceviche with fresh scallops for all the girls.  My recipe is below.  But first, the list for this post:

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Ceviche: The Who, What, Where, Why & How
because raw fish & citrus go together like a wink and a smile

5. The WHO:
It is a highly debated topic - who invented ceviche.  Lots of people say it was the Peruvians.  There are those who would say some place in Southeast Asia, or even the Moors in Spain.  All I know is that it was my dad that first made ceviche for me, his seafood-addict-child.  I can remember constantly sneaking to the fridge to watch it marinate and impatiently waiting until the lime juice had cooked the shrimp just long enough for me to clandestinely steal a chunk.  It was a love-affair, I tell you.

4. The WHAT:
Mexican ceviche, or at least the one I've always seen and eaten, is predominantly made with octopus, white fish and/or shrimp in a tomato, cilantro, and lime-based marinade, usually with avocadoes added and garnished with tortilla chips or crackers.  But ceviche can be any raw-fish and citrus combination and can be as elaborate or simple as you wish to make it.  Some people love to pair sweet with sour by adding fruits such as oranges and jicamas to the mix.  The great thing is that ceviche, by definition, is a dish that celebrates the delicious flavor of fresh fish cooked by the acids in citrus juices.  The possibilities are endless.

3. The WHERE:
Ceviche is most popular in South and Central America, where there is a culture of both good, fresh seafood and a great use of citrus as a condiment.  I once had a student from Ecuador who told me it was their national food.  You can find it served on beaches everywhere in Mexico, usually cocktail-style.  I find it's great to serve at dinner parties either as a group appetizer or light individual starter.

2. The WHY:
For me, the why of ceviche is simple: it's a technically easy dish to prepare.  It requires very little work up front and then no further work until you serve it.  And if done correctly, it offers a variety of delicious flavors that nobody can argue with (unless they hate seafood, in which case you are SOL).  And even if you have someone in the party who is picky or squeamish about raw fish, you can sear the fish or cook it and serve it with the marinade over it (though it wouldn't be true ceviche anymore).

1. The HOW:
It's easy.  Check out the recipe below. :)

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Scallop, Citrus & Avocado Ceviche

Serves 4-6

You can make ceviche in many ways.  I prefer to do it carpaccio-style, slicing the fish extremely thinly and layering it on a large platter.  It makes for a pretty dish and is also less sloppy-looking.  This is ideal with scallops since they are already a pretty round shape.

10-12 Large King Scallops (not those tiny little ones)
2 large Hass Avocados
3-4 juicy limes
2 navel oranges
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 medium onion sliced into half-rings
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
1/2 - 1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (optional)
1 tbsp olive oil
2-3 tbsps red wine vinegar
pinch of sugar
salt & pepper to taste

1. Make sure the scallops smell and look fresh and clean.  Slice them lengthwise into thin rounds.  You should get 3-4 slices out of each king scallop.  Set aside.

2. Slice your onions, chop your cilantro, jalapeno (if you're not a wuss) and mince the garlic.  Set aside.

3. Take out your large, flat platter (make sure it has a high enough edge that the marinade will not run off).  Cut the avocados in half, then into thin slices - enough to cover the bottom of the platter.  Arrange evenly.

4. Next, using your knife, peel the oranges and delicately cut the wedges out of the orange, leaving any peel and pith behind.  Arrange the thin orange slices all over the platter with the avocado.  Save the orange juice and pith on the cutting board.

5. Next, arrange the scallops and onion slices on top of the avocado and orange, making sure the surface level is even and attractive.

5. In a separate bowl, squeeze the orange remains to get any juice out.  If you have 1/4 cup already doing that, don't add extra orange juice.  Otherwise, add the 1/4 cup in the recipe.  Then squeeze the juice of all the limes into the bowl.  Add the garlic, cilantro, jalapeno, sugar, vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  Whisk the dressing until emulsified.  Then pour over the scallop platter, making sure that the scallops are covered with enough dressing to be under it (otherwise they won't cook).  If there is not enough dressing, push the scallops down into it and rearrange the avocados / oranges so that the fish is covered.

6. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6-8 hours.  Serve with tortilla chips or saltine crackers (my favorite).  You will know the scallops are cooked once they turn an opaque white, but they will probably still be rare on the inside.  Delicious. :)

Mental Note: I have to say I think this would be delicious with some fennel thrown in as well.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Goodbye Summer: Garlic Scapes & Grilled Lobsters

Sauteed Garlic Scapes & Mushrooms with Garlic

It hit exactly on September 1st: That first gust of dryish, coldish air that tells you unequivocally that Summer has breathed its last warm breath upon your face and that Autumn is ushering itself in with no qualms at all.  Matt is certain it always happens on Labor Day Weekend in New England.  I can't say one way or the other about the past, but it definitely did this year.  And now some of the trees are turning!  I can't think of one good reason to mow the lawn one last time (maybe the glares from the neighbors should matter more...but they don't :)), and I've started pulling out the pants and sweaters again.  *sigh*

This summer has been filled with so many hectic but beautiful moments.  So much travel around Maine that has already left us nostalgic for what will forever be remembered as "that first summer in Maine," that time when everything was new and exciting and wonderfully beautiful.  Don't you just hate that and yet love it all at the same time?  

Matt felt cruel doing this; I find it infinitely better than the boiling water.
Beaches, lighthouses, moments on the Eastern Promenade, and on our screened-in porch, smoking the sheesha, eating dinner or laughing over a bottle of good wine.  Life is so comfortable here!  I feel so lucky to be back in the US again and to be so happy with my husband and son here in our new home.  Portland.  The land of Ports.  Where people, and moments, and memories come and go.  And come and go.

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Garlic Scape-ing :)
One of my favorite places in Portland, ME is Deering Oaks Park.  Back in 1689 it was the site of a battle between the British, French and Native Americans (who else, right?), but today it's a beautiful wooded park with an amazing splash area, formidable playground, and idyllic pond. Each Saturday morning the Portland Farmer's Market takes place there and in the handful of times I've been, I've always left with an interesting new culinary find and a heart full of hope for America, the family, and warm fuzziness all around.

The last time I went, several months ago back in July - I am ashamed to say -, my mom was visiting and we picked up  an ingredient I'd been hearing about for years but never actually found at a supermarket before: Garlic Scapes.** 
I didn't use them until after she left a day or two later when Matt and I picked up some fresh soft-shell Lobsters from the funny, seasonal little privately-run Lobster shop in a shut-down  gas station on Forest Ave.  
We grilled the lobsters and then I proceeded to cook the scapes two ways: 1) grilled with olive oil and sald and 2) chopped, steamed, then sauteed like green beans with garlic, mushrooms and crushed red pepper.  The latter was definitely the way to go and paired nicely with the grilled lobster.
If you've never had Garlic Scapes, they have the texture of a slightly stringier green bean when chopped.  They are the curly green stem / flower at the top of a garlic bulb.  They have a faintly garlicky flavor and are a wonderful way to use the "whole plant" when growing your own garlic.  Look out for them next summer!  Hopefully it won't take me until next Autumn to post about them again :)

The Lobster Sitter

Making a "Lobster Claw"

**We also tried sunflower sprouts, a microgreen which is essentially a baby sunflower.  It has the crunch of baby watercress but tastes just like a sunflower seed!  What a great addition to a salad those would be :)
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