Dinner for One: King Crab and Avocado Tian with Antipasto

Clayton’s working tonight, so it’s all Lolita time.  Although he’s a great consumer – as in he eats what I make without (much) complaining – there are dishes I prepare for myself that I don’t seem to ever make for him.  I don’t know why; there’s no real reason or rhyme, frankly – it’s just the way it is.  Tonight’s meal began with the leftovers from some huge-ass king crab legs we enjoyed for last night’s dinner, and a couple of odds and ends I picked up today at Trader Joe’s.  The result? An elegant but simple salad of nutty avocado and tender sweet crab meat, accompanied by an easy antipasti: a light but rich supper as delicious as it is beautiful.

King Crab and Avocado Tian with Antipasto

1 ripe avocado
1/3 lb fresh picked cooked crab meat
juice from 1 lemon
1 tbs mayonnaise
1 handful maché (lamb’s lettuce)
1 boll burrata cheese
2 slices prosciutto di parma, split and rolled into 4 tiny cigars
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper, balsamic vinegar

Whole Foods had a special on King crab legs this weekend – something I’ve had a hankering for for a while now.  We bought 2 pounds, not realizing just how much meat these bad boys were going to yield.  I think we’ve established that we’ve never actually had King crab legs prior to these — likely only snow crab clusters — since neither of us can remember ever seeing such huge unbroken chunks of leg and knuckle meat before.  And it was so dense and packed that the discarded shells weighed next to nothing; we easily ‘harvested’ 30 oz of succulent pink deliciousness.  After gorging ourselves on not much more than crab and butter, we had about 1/2 lb leftover.

I pull my crab meat into nice sized hunks, and mix it with a little mayo and several teaspoons of lemon juice, along with some salt and pepper.  I just want the mayo to bind the crab – not make it gooey; I also just want the lemon juice to cancel out the egginess (eggyiness? eggyness?)  of the mayo – not make it lemony; and I just want the salt and pepper to brighten the salad – not overpower it.  The idea is crab and nothing but that which is needed to ‘hold it together’ for the sake of shaping the tian.

Speaking of which — here is how I’m shaping this “tian” – my stacked, formed salad of crab meat and avocado.  I’m not sure why it’s called a tian — in fact, although I see several examples of this term being used in this context online, traditionally a tian in French cooking is something completely different – either more like a vegetable tart, or an earthenware cooking device.  But when I envisioned this dish, it was as a perfectly shaped cylindrical layered salad.  And when I order a perfectly shaped cylindrical layered dish in a restaurant, it’s usually called a tian on the menu.  Hence my usage of the term.  Anyway, using my kitchen shears, I cut the ends off of a beer can to make a perfect form.  It would have been better to use a soup can, but all the cans I have in the house are designed to stack, so my can opener won’t work on their bottom sides.  (I figured this out only after dumping the contents of several cans of soup.)  Using a beer can just meant I had to be careful not to cut my fingers on the sharp edges.

I start by pressing my avocado, which I’ve blended with a dash of lemon juice, some salt, pepper, and EVOO, into a more-or-less flat 1″ thick layer on the bottom of my can.

Then I layer in the crab meat salad.

I vary carefully slide the can up and off the filling so it maintains its shape, pressing down on the crab meat to keep the filling on the plate.  Oiling the can a bit beforehand helped.

A basic antipasto of rolled prosciutto di parma, burrata cheese, capers, EVOO, and balsamic vinegar, along with some EVOO and lemon juice dressed maché, add extra dimensions to this already sophisticated presentation.  Crab and avocado, although not meant to co-exist in nature, seem destined for each other’s company on the plate: the sweet, tender sinews of crab absorb the buttery texture of the stone fruit’s green goodness, creating a harmonious marriage on the palate unrivaled in the realm of simple pleasures.  Along with a cold glass of sparkling rosé, this delectable dinner is truly a treat – tonight, for one, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it for your sweetie whenever the mood strikes you…

Kale and Avocado Salad with Pan-Seared Steaks

Just because Lolita hasn’t been posting doesn’t mean Lisa hasn’t been cooking — or, at least, feeding people — this past week.  In point of fact, I’ve been responsible for almost 1000  covers in the last 8 days; in restaurant vernacular, that’s a pretty decent week.  Apparently, I’m a good event planner, and after catering my first real life full gig for 60 people last Thursday, it would appear I’m a great caterer, too.  I’m not sure this is what I want to do when I grow up, but I do know I had fun and that I was fully gratified by having satisfied some mighty worthy folks.

But tonight’s post is motivated by a different prompt: kale.  It’s fresh in season this spring, and Clayton is currently harvesting seven different varieties on the F. Busa Farm out on the Lexington Road in Concord.  We love kale chips, and I’ve sauteed it, or wilted it in soups and stews, but I wanted to try something different tonight.  Plus, I’ve promised the members of our C.S.A. recipe ideas, and, anticipating the heat-wave heading towards Boston, I thought something raw and fresh would do the trick.  Add a simple pan-seared steak (vegetarians: try searing a cauliflower steak instead of beef!) with shitake mushrooms and you’ve got one elegant – and super good-for-you – dinner for a sweet late spring evening’s supper.

Kale and Avocado Salad with Pan-Seared Steaks

1 small bunch fresh kale
1 ripe avocado
1 small red onion
shaved ParmigianoReggiano cheese
Ginger oil
White balsamic vinegar
sea salt, cracked black pepper
2 8oz strip steaks
8oz shitake mushrooms
1 cup red wine
1 tbs butter

Out of the many varieties of kale growing on the farm right now, Clayton picked me a few stalks of a couple different types: these are red russian and toscano.  Kale is a “super-food” – it’s good for your skin, your digestion, and some say it’s a cancer preventative.  Combining it with avocado brings it up to Justice League uber-super status, and the EVOO doesn’t hurt either.

So here’s how you destem kale: wrap your pointer finger and thumb around the base of the stem, and hold onto the very end with your other hand while dragging the “o” made by your fingers down the shaft until the tender sweet leaf is completely separated from the bitter spine.  Easy peasy.

After removing all the stems to the compost bin, I wash, dry, then roughly chop all my kale before tossing it into a bowl.

This fantastic EVOO was recently half off at Whole Foods, and I purchased a few bottles.  Doesn’t it look lovely in the sun, especially with my picturator and picturoven in the background?  A few healthy glugs of this gets added to the bowl.

Kale has to be coaxed into absorbing EVOO, which I do by gently massaging the oil into each leaf.  The kale needs to marinate in oil for a while to soften somewhat, so I do this well before I worry about the rest of my meal.

I love avocado.  It’s so pretty.  And the ginger oil in the background was a last minute addition —  a tablespoon gave the EVOO just the right, fresh zing.

I set my well tossed salad of onion, avocado, kale, salt, pepper, and oils in the fridge to chill and wilt for 45 minutes.

The strip steaks at Whole Foods were HUGE, so I had my tattooed butcher dude slice the thickest one in half width-wise to make two half pound slabs o’ beef.

A healthy sprinkling of mystery salt and cracked black pepper gets rubbed into the meat…

…. before it gets draped into a sizzling hot pan with a tbsp of EVOO.

I use the flip-once-a-minute technique, which allows the meat to sear nicely without getting too grey/charred/overcooked on the outside.  Since these steaks are pretty slender, it only takes about 4 minutes on each side – so 8 flips all together – before they’re perfectly medium rare.

These are my shitake mushrooms, which I’ve trimmed and washed.  When the steaks are just ready, I remove them to the plates to rest…

… before adding the ‘shrooms, some red wine, and a pat of butter to the pan to create a nice quick gravy.

The final ingredient is for the kale salad: some lovely, aged pamigiano reggiano cheese.

I shave the cheese over my plated salad.

Quick and easy steaks with a fast and simple pan gravy, served with a super-nutritious raw kale and avocado salad — an ideal summer dinner for those of us who like fresh, hearty and delicious.  And who of us doesn’t love that?

Homemade Hard Tacos with Popcorn Shrimp and Poblano Queso Cream

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now: I LOVE MEXICAN FOOD.  I guess I should specify it as “Mexican-inspired”, since I’ve never been to Mexico and can’t say with authority that any food identified as South of the Border I’ve ever eaten has been particularly authentic — but my homage still remains.  I just can’t get enough of the warm/cool, meaty/vegetable, cheesy/healthy, crunchy/chewy, soul-satisfying stuff that I think of as Mexican – like tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, guacamole, salsa… the list goes on.  Now I am completely aware of the fact that hard tacos like the ones pictured above are in no way authentic, but one shouldn’t trample on Speedy Gonzales just because he’s a caricature, right?   Or let me put it this way: remember the “You think this has nothing to do with you” monologue Meryl so scathingly purrs in The Devil Wears Prada?  Where she points out to the still frumpy Anne Hathaway that the ‘blue’ sweater she wears is actually a distant low-rent cousin of a cerulean gown Oscar De La Renta debuted years earlier, that had been re-imagined and re-designed and re-marketed so often that it barely resembled its lofty parentage?  So – what has this to do with my tacos?  They’re the Casual Corner clearance bin progeny of the haute cuisine belonging to the same country that produced Freida Kahlo, Carlos Fuentes, and Diego Rivera.  But some of my favorite clothes come from the clearance bin, and I betcha a shiny nickel Freida, Carlos, and Diego would dig these fried popcorn shrimp hard tacos with fresh pico, marinated avocado slices, and homemade queso blanco sauce.  And so would Meryl – just ‘cuz she’s classy that way…

Homemade Hard Tacos with Popcorn Shrimp and Poblano Queso Cream

1 medium poblano pepper
1 ripe avocado
2 ripe roma tomatoes
1 small red onion
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch scallions
1 lime
3/4 lb small Maine shrimp (about 50 count)
2 eggs
Panko breadcrumbs (about 2 cups)
1/2 lb white american cheese
1 tbs butter
1 cup milk (divided)
1 can black beans
1/2 cup cooked, smoked meat (bacon will work, or some BBQ leftovers like I used)
12 small corn tortillas
oil for frying (about 1 quart )
sea salt, cracked black pepper, onion and garlic powder, paprika, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, ground chili, EVOO
sour cream

I didn’t take a set up shot for this meal because, well, I sort of threw it together at random, so I didn’t know exactly what was going into it until I started making it.  But I did buy this poblano pepper — the least spicy variety of hot pepper usually available on the market — with the vague thought of roasting it for some reason.  To do so, I rolled it in some EVOO, dusted it with some some salt and pepper, and threw it into a 400 degree oven (turning it every so often) until all the skin is blackened, more or less.  If I had a gas stove, I’d just burn it directly with the flames, but alas – I ain’t got nothin’ fancy like that.

See?  It took about 12-15 minutes total.  Now I throw it into a paper bag for a few minutes, which will loosen the tough, papery outer skin, and make it easier to remove.

Like so.  Sometimes I have to scrape off the skin with the dull edge of my chef’s knife, but today my fingers did the trick.  I pull the seeds out, chop up this baby, and set it aside to use it later.  (At this point, I had not yet decided where….)

Oh, and I decide to save the oil it cooked in, too — since it’s so redolent of spicy roasted pepper.  I figure I could use it later — like bacon drippings.

Next up – my avocado.  I have several friends who don’t like this blissful, buttery, bastion of vegetal delight.  You know who you are, people — yes, I’m looking at you.  It’s my mission to change their minds, as I did El Claytonioushusbandman, who initially thought of it only in terms of guacamole, which to him looked like baby sh!t.  Since he didn’t like baby sh!t, he didn’t like avocados.  That sort of free-association has always irked me, so I quashed it like the bug up my a$$ it was by adding avocado so regularly, and so prominently, to so many dinners that he finally had to try it.  Now, he LOVES it.  I aim to convert my other friends, too, so BE. WARE.  Anyway, instead of making a guac today, I merely sliced this perfect specimen of gradated greenness and marinated it in some very fine EVOO, sea salt, black pepper, mined red onion, and leaves of cilantro.  My thought was that I’d add a slice, instead of a dollop, of avo to each taco.

By the way, I got those minced onions and cilantro leaves from the batch of veggies I prepped: they, along with my diced scallion, diced salted and peppered tomatos, and a rolled-till-softer-and-juicier lime would be the rest of the fresh on my plate.

Black beans are my favorite, even though it took a while for me to get back into the bean swing of things.  My grandmother, rest her soul, lived with us while I was growing up, and she made pinto beans ALL THE TIME.  Like, daily.  I kid you not. After eating them dutifully as a child and tween and teenager, I began to fear that that if you peeled back my skin, you’d see mashed brown, sofrito flavored beanstuff instead of human tissue, so I patently rejected them for years and years after I started cooking for myself, in an effort to purge them from my being. Clayton loved beans, so – as it should be in a good marriage – he did for me and beans what I did for him and avocados: he made me try them again.  Of course, I had to cook them myself, but his incessant request for a nice rice and bean dish guilted me into making them for us one night, which I did with black beans and absolutely no sofrito whatsoever.  Since then, I’ve found I do like beans if I prepare them with the flavors I like, which, in this case, means MEAT.  This sexy nub of smoked pork belly hails from Chef Tiffany Faison’s new Boston joint Sweet Cheeks Q, a rocking new BBQ  dive in the Fenway area.  I went several weeks ago with some fantastic friends (you know who you are, you crazy kids!), and after stuffing as much deliciousness into my gullet as possible, I froze the leftover meat for just this reason.  I fished out the bag when I knew I was making beans, defrosted this tidbit in warm water in my sick (it was fully cooked, and I was going to cook it again, so I wasn’t worried about this usually unsafe shortcut), and brought it into play.

And here comes that leftover poblano roasting oil — it served as a flavored EVOO which, along with chunks of the pork belly and some of my chopped onions and scallions, formed the base of this dish.  Once the onions are softened and the fat fragrant…

… in went the beans and about a half bottle of my beer.  I set this on medium, and let it simmer and reduce for about 10-15 minutes.

The special ingredient for this meal are these super-sweet, perfectly pink, quiveringly fresh tender Maine shrimp.  I fear the season for these baby beauties is already over (and it’s so short — only about a month!), but I’m happy to say I’ve enjoyed them a’plenty this year.  I’ve made garlic scampi, shrimp waldorf salad, shrimp chowder, seafood alfredo… well, several things with ma petite crevette since they appeared at Whole Foods’ fish counter, and I am happy.  But I’ve never fried them before, so this would be something new.  I had to peel them first, which was easy peasy – their little heads fall right off, and you can coax their naked bodies out of their shells with barely a come-hither.

In a medium bowl, I whisked together my eggs, half my milk, garlic powder, onion powder, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, and paprika.

Using the same dry spices as the egg batter, I made some seasoned Panko breadcrumbs, too.

At this point, 1/2 of the liquid in my beans has evaporated, so I add about 1/2 cup short grain rice to the pot, stir once well, then cover so the rice can plump in the beery beany juice.

Right before I fry up my shrimp, I make my taco shells.  I’ve found that the coarser, thicker, and subsequently cheaper small corn tortillas work better than some of the more expensive varieties, and that – unlike previous posts – a deep fry pan isn’t really needed.  Instead, I added an inch or so of oil to my deep wok, and heated it until superhot.  Using tongs and a large flat metal fork, I dipped half each tortilla into the oil, holding it submerged with the fork, then folded the other half into the sizzle quickly catching the already fried half in the clutch the the tongs to finish the shell off.  Each only took about a minute or so.

… yielding me 6 taco shells, which I held on a paper plate and sprinkled liberally with salt.  I cut the other six tortillas into 8ths, and fried them into chips.

My tiny tiny shrimp are marinated for a few minutes in the egg wash, and then tossed with the breadcrumbs before I shake off all the excess breading through a colander onto a paper plate.
After all my shells are fried. I cook my shrimp in batches (about 1/3 at a time, so the oil doesn’t bubble over) — it takes about 5 minutes per batch.
And what, pray tell, ever happened to that roasted poblano pepper? Well, it became the star ingredient in my queso blanco sauce – my absolute favorite guilty pleasure.  Down in Georgia, there was no shortage of Mexican(ish) restaurants that all featured this white cheese dip I could drain out of a straight gallon with a straw.  And I can’t find it ANYWHERE here.  The closest thing is Bukowski’s White Trash Cheese Dip, but even that’s not quite right.  I finally broke down and recreated it for myself, finally succeeding in making it once I realized that simpler was better.  It doesn’t need Monterey Jack cheese, or cheddar, or anything fancy pants – it just needs, at its most basic, white american cheese and milk.  Before I figured this out, you would never have found american cheese in my fridge, mostly because it’s not really cheese but rather a processed amalgamation of ingredients a cook like I usually eschew, but one can’t be a snob all the time.  Besides, I’ve already thrown authenticity out the window, so why not add a little processed deliciousness if it works on the plate?  Here’s how it’s done: melt butter in pan, add some milk, whisk until incorporated and milk starts to boil, add shredded cheese, whisk until blended and smooth, and either add more milk if too thick, or more cheese if too thin.  When the texture is just right, I add my diced green chiles, and try not to break out my suck-up-all-that-cheese straw…

A slice of buttery marinated avocado. A handful of hot, crispy, tender, sweet fried popcorn shrimp. A smattering of snappy tomatoes and fresh herbs.  A healthy drizzle of fragrant and milky cheese sauce.  All layered into a crispy taco shell and served alongside a nest of meaty black beans and rice.  It might not be really Mexican, but that doesn’t stop me from facing southwesterly and making a little bow – because these are delicious!  There is very little heat (you can add some jalapenos to make that happen), but the flavors come together as a perfect synthesis of crunchy and tender and chilled and warm, with the cheese acting as the glue holding the whole mouthful together.  The tacos are light and refreshing, and the beans and rice add substance and just the right amount of stick-to-your-ribness.  ¡Gracias, amigos!  This meal was muy delicioso!

Homemade Hard Taco Night with Carnitas and Pinto Beans

It might be midnight dark at 3pm and windy rainy thundering stormy in New England right now, but yesterday was paradise.  It was hot, only slightly muggy, and the skies were a brilliant azure with dramatic high-blown cumulus clouds lazily shifting forms overhead.  It was also my last summer Friday; the kids are back in town, and the ivy covered halls of Harvard will be teeming with life again come Monday, meaning I’m back to a 5-day work week.  No matter – I love the work, and these spectacular students keep me young.  Warm as it was, I didn’t really want to be trapped indoors for the cooking (nor the eating), and although I did have to get some things done on the range, Little Red stepped up again and provided the perfect cook surface for the vittles.  Slow stewed, citrus punched, shredded pork shoulder – a variation on Lolita’s carnitas – packed into fresh fried corn taco shells with guacamole, pico de gallo, and jack cheese, served with pinto beans on the side.  Crunchy, meaty, garden-fresh, and stick-to-your ribs delicious – a ideal deck-side dinner, which fortifes me for two impending maelstroms: Hurricane Irene and the Harvard undergrads.

Hard Corn Tacos with Carnitas and Pinto Beans

2 – 2.5 lbs boneless pork shoulder or butt
1 navel orange
1 lime
4 cloves garlic
1 large red onion, diced, divided (about 2 cups)
2 cups chicken stock
1 bunch cilantro
some fresh tomatoes
2 ripe avocados
1 small jalapeno (optional)
12 10″ corn tortillas
oil for frying
sea salt, cracked black pepper, ground cumin
shredded monterey jack cheese

Pork shoulder and pork butt are two lovely, richly marbled cuts off the pig, which cook several ways into delicious, tender, easy to shred meat.  My mother roasted it for Christmas, John Stage smokes it for bar-b-que, and today I braised it in chicken stock and citrus juices.  I first remove the lacing and cut  my meat into large cubes, which I seasoned with salt and pepper.

Into a hot pan sizzling with a glug or two of EVOO these meat wads go, and I sear them evenly, using tongs to turn them over …

… until each side of each cube is nicely browned.

Meanwhile, I get about 1 cup of my diced red onion, peel and crush my garlic cloves…

… juice my orange, and juice 1/2 of my lime.  Carnitas call for the citrus flavor of orange, but you don’t want it to be too sweet, so cutting it with lime works perfectly.  Using some pieces of orange work too, but someone had a little accident in the kitchen with the product of her 1st orange, and didn’t have any leftover to peel and use. :-(  No matter!  It was delicious anyway — as you’ll see.

I add my onion, garlic, and a healthy handful of chopped cilantro (about a cup) to my sizzling pork pieces, and toss well.  I cook this until the onion softens… about 4 minutes.

Then I add my citrus juices, which I stir in well.   I bring them just to a boil…

… before I add my chicken stock, which covers about 3/4 of my meat.  I set the heat to medium, and bring this to a slow simmer.

Out on the deck, the sky is lapis lazuli, sapphire, and turquoise, studded with the softest cotton clouds, and Little Red has been heating his coils in preparation of his part in tonight’s culinary adventure.  The forecast promises us a whole weekend of rain, so tonight is our one chance to enjoy the outdoors before the weather sets in.

My pan, full of pork and citrus and chickeny goodness, goes – covered – out onto Little Red’s hot cook surface, where it will braise for the next three hours.

At one hour, the meat has shrunk a bit but is still tough, and about one third of the liquid has been absorbed.

At two hours, the meat has begun to slacken a bit, and is starting to shred slightly, and the liquid has half absorbed.

And at three hours, the liquid has reduced to just the pork fats, the remaining EVOO, and the citrus oils from the orange and lime.  The meat shreds like Slash, and it is savory, tender, and rich.  But I get ahead of myself — there’s lots that needs to be done while the meat is cooking.

My understanding is that hard tacos are a strictly American, Old El Paso sort of convention, and that they are not culinarily indigenous to Mexico at all.  I’ve never been south of the border, so I have yet to validate that for myself.  Regardless, the husbandman *loves* him some hard tacos.  But I just can’t bring myself to buy a kit from the supermarket, no offence to those who do.  I thought – how hard can it be to make  my own hard taco shells?  The answer  – not very hard at all!  With a dozen to work with, it took me the first four to figure out the following technique: I added a few inches of vegetable oil to a deep fry pan and set it to high heat.  When sizzling, using tongs, I floated 1/2 of a 10″ corn tortilla on the surface of the blistering oil – about 5 seconds did the trick, or until it set.

Moving quickly but carefully, I flipped the tortilla over, rolling it in the oil, releasing the tongs from one edge and immediately catching the other edge in their grip.

Holding the other edge under the hot oil, I fried it until crunchy, then dipped the center fold into the pot to crisp it up last.   Like I wrote, it took me four tries to get this right, but once I caught the rhythm, it totally worked.

I noticed that when I lifted these from the hot oil, their folds acted like reservoirs, and held a good deal of grease; be careful to pour all that out when lifting them from the fry oil.  I sprinkled them immediately, while still hot and glistening, with sea salt – and they were like the best freaking taco shells I ever ate.  Now that I’ve perfected the technique, next time I’ll make 6 shells, and cut the rest of the tortillas into quarters and fry them into chips.  Oh, and there will be a next time… very very soon.

Now that my meat is almost ready, it’s time to start my beans – also out on Little Red.  I put my small deep pan, with a few glugs of EVOO, over the heat for about 10 minutes to get nice and sizzling.

About 1/2 a cup of my diced onion and some minced garlic gets added, and stirred into, that hot oil.  I cook this until just softened and fragrant.  Then I add about a teaspoon of black pepper, a healthy sprinkling of cumin, and a dash of sea salt.

Finally, I add my can of pinto beans, liquid and all.  Some folks say drain it, some folks don’t.  Tonight – I didn’t.  I lower the lid and let Little Red bring this to a simmer, heating all the beans through.

In a large bowl, I add my peeled and pitted avocados, which I mash, and to which I add fresh cilantro, a dash of minced garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice, sea salt, cracked black pepper, 1/2 of the rest of my diced red onion, and ground cumin.

It becomes part of my taco fixin’s.

My guac I dress with a broken taco shell and some of the monterey jack cheese I shredded, right before service.

In another bowl, I’ve mixed my diced tomatoes, some diced red onion, minced garlic, fresh cilantro, the juice of 1/2 a lime, a glug of EVOO, and a dash of white vinegar together (along with some diced jalapeno, if you want heat), to make a quick fresh delicious pico de gallo.

My carnitas are perfect: their edges are caramelized and crunchy, their interiors tender and falling apart at the tiniest touch of a fork.  I scoop about 4 tablespoons of that uber-rich pork/citrus/chicken/EVOOfat up and dump it into my beans for flavor.

After about 15 minutes, and some squishing of beans with my fork, they are thick and syrupy and ready for another shot of pepper and some fresh cilantro.  If you like things hot, some jalapeno could be added to this mix, or a dash or two of hot pepper oil.

Finally, as the sun sets in the west, my tacos are ready to be eaten.  We each make our own: mine has an underlayer of soft shredded cheese, a heaping helping of tender, citrus-spiced pork, some pico, some guacamole, some sour cream and a sprinkling of cilantro on top, along with some cheese and cream on my beans, too.

Each delightful bite is a mouthful of fresh, heady flavors, bright with herbs and orange/lime, deep with cumin and pepper spice.  The cooling avocado and tangy tomatoes compliment the richness of the stewed meat, and the crispy, salty corn shells hold their shape, perfectly encasing each fantastic nibble.  Clayton and I relinquish all our civilized notions as we dive head first into our steaming plates, tearing into our tacos with much satisfied beating of chests, grunting with pleasure, and slopping of drinks.  I wish for anyone braving the onslaught of Irene the same happy hunger-fulfillment we enjoyed on Friday; warm insides make light work of wet weather.  Good luck, fellow New Englanders, as you batten down your hatches as we have ours.  See you on the other side of the storm!

Rosemary and Cherry Pork Shoulder with Lemon Green Beans, Emmenthaler Cauliflower, and Rhubarb Compote

Sunday night – and it’s chilly, windy, and rainy outside.  Spring has come to Cambridge, but as of yet warmth still eludes us.  But at least that means I can still use my oven, and use it I did, inspired to cook tonight’s meal by the bottle of Velenosi Querci’Antica Visciole given to me by my excellent comrade, Bill (thanks, dear man — from the bottom of my heart, imagination, and stomach), along with the suggestion that it might pair nicely with something porcine and cherry riddled.  Y’see, a visciole is a sour cherry wine — a rich, deep, complex, sweet and fruity dessert delight, something he’d tried at L’Espalier, an experience I just luckily enjoyed myself (thanks again!)  So – given this lovely bottle and that bit of culinary advice, I set upon tonight’s meal: a roasted pork shoulder wrapped around sour cherries and rosemary, served with a compote stewed with our garden’s first rhubarb of the season; a nest of fresh French sliced haricot vert sauteed with butter and lemon zest; and finally, a baked confetti cauliflower in an Emmenthaler cheese sauce, which perfectly rounds out this light, sweet, and (relatively) healthy dinner.

Rosemary and Cherry Pork Shoulder with Lemon Green Beans, Emmenthaler Cauliflower, and Rhubarb Compote

3lb boneless pork shoulder (enough for leftovers!  This one has a nice fatcap)
4 cups fresh diced rhubarb
1 cup honey
1/2 cup sugar
5oz dried sweet cherries
3oz fresh rosemary
1 small white onion
1 lb fresh green beans
zest of one lemon
3 tbs butter (divided)
4oz Emmenthaler cheese
heavy cream
1/2 tbs flour
sea salt
cracked black pepper

Clayton’s been bugging me to use his rhubarb, and he brought up these lovely stalks for me to incorporate into today’s dinner.  I chop these babies into 1″ pieces.

I dump them into a large saucepan with my honey, sugar, and about a half cup of water — and a dash of salt for good measure.  I set this to boil.

The sugars start to melt, the stalks to break down, and the flavors to blend.  I drop the heat to its lowest setting…

… add 1/2 of my dried cherries, mixing well to submerge them in the simmering liquids…

After a few more moments, I add a few sprigs of rosemary to impart an earthy richness to the tart sweetness, and I let this whole mess simmer for 20 minutes until most of the liquids have boiled off.

I transfer the compote to a small bowl, and set into my fridge to chill until service.  I could have done this yesterday, too, and it will hold for a week or so.   Clayton’s gonna try it as the jelly component of his PB&Js this week.

While my compote is stewing, I prep my pork.  This lovely shoulder will be stuffed with onion, rosemary, and chopped cherries — which will pick up the flavors in the compote compliment later.

I dice 1/2 my white onion, peel some more sprigs of rosemary off the stem, and gather the rest of my chopped cherries.  After sprinkling the underside of my shoulder (into which I ended up cutting another pocket, to stuff more stuff) with salt and pepper (generously), I pack as much of my onions, rosemary, and cherries into the fold as I can …

… before I roll up my shoulder and tie it off tightly into a bundle with butcher’s twine.  Lots of my stuffing falls out.  But just enough stays in, too.

I sprinkle the outside of my roast with salt and pepper before laying my bundle on a rack set over a foiled over cookie sheet.  This yummy pig packet goes into a 350 degree oven for the next 2.5 hours, and it fills the house with the most amazing aroma – sweet and succulent and meaty and fruity, oh my.

See?  My pork is temping at 180 degrees (fully cooked), and my skin is browned and just beginning to crisp.  To make it crisp even more, and to finish off the roast, I raise the temp to 425 degrees, poke the surface all over with a fork (to release the underlayer of fat), and I stick this back in the oven.  Here comes the cracklin’!

Next up is my hericot vert.  I have two of these bean slicers, and they are wonderful.  I’ve used them before, here, here, and here, for starters.  I wanted to buy a few of these tools the other day, one each for my mom, my sister, my friend Tom, but the only place in town I know to get them — this lovely little kitchen store in Concord, MA, The Concord Shop — was sold out.  On the other hand, I went to a Williams and Sonoma, thinking of course they’d have them, only to be rather superciliously put down by the clerk there (really? you’re a retail salesman in Tampa, Florida dude — you’re not in Paris), saying that he’d never heard of them.  Humph.  His loss — my table’s gain.  You snip off the twig tip with the little blade at the end (which I sort of cut off in this picture, sorry), and then run the beans through — shaving the strings off — the vertical slicer to split each pod lengthwise.

See?  Each bean slices into four long, thin strips.  I drop them into boiling salted water to cook through to just tender, drain them, and…

… for a few minutes, right before service, I sautee them with 1tbs butter and lemon zest in my hot wok.

But before that, I prep my confetti cauliflower.  I love this blend: white, purple, green, and orange florets.  I just don’t want their colors to bleed,…

… so I decide to segregate the white bits from the multi-colored bits.  This I reject as a way of life among people — but for cauliflower, which will happily comingle later, both on my plate and in my belly, this initial separation is OK.  I set my bamboo steamers over hot water and cook my florets through to easily pierced with a long-tined fork.

As it steams, I get together its cheese sauce – a simple combination of finely diced onion, shredded Emmenthaler cheese, butter and cream.

Starting with 2tbs butter, which I melt in my large skillet…

… I add my diced onions …

… and sautee them until just softened and fragrant.

I add about a 1/2 tbs of flour to the just-slightly-turning-golden-brown butter and simmering onions, and mix well to form a scented roux.  I then add my heavy cream (about 1 cup), whisk well over high heat to just foaming, before I add my…

… shredded Emmenthaler cheese.

I whisk this vigorously so that it all melts together and it comes to a thickening boil.   I toss my white cauliflower florets with this sauce, then press them into buttered ramekins which I place in my hot oven for about 10 minutes, reserving 1/4 of the melted cheese, with which I toss my colored cauliflower.  At the last moment, once my cheese sauce has baked and browned, I’ll stud the tops of my casseroles with the purple, green, and orange florets to set the whole dish awash with color.

My roast is tender and perfectly cooked, with the skin nicely charred and crispy from the last few minutes of heat.  I carve into it, reveling in the thick veins of cherry rosemary running through its center.

Sweetly savory tender roasted pork dressed with cherry rhubarb compote and sprigs of rosemary, served alongside of nest of fresh citrusy green beans and an ethereal Emmenthaler baked cauliflower.  The colors compete for my glances, and the flavors compete for my tastes; the cherries are rich in the center of the pork and tart in the crush of rhubarb; the haricot vert are light and green while the Brassica oleracea is sensuous and steaming.  This is a dinner of complicated delights – supper and sweet all packed onto one plate.  Delicious!

Rosemary and Cherry Pork Shoulder with Lemon Green Beans, Emmenthaler Cauliflower, and Rhubarb Compote

Crunchy Sweet Shrimp Tacos with BBQ Refried Beans

We’ve been doing some *good* eating this weekend — starting with some of my famous primavera meatloaf (yes — meatloaf!  I’ll have to blog about that dish one of these days) on Friday, then a swanky lunch of carved hams and imported cheeses at The Met Back Bay on Saturday, followed by a fine plate of spaghettone con cacio e pepe for dinner, inspired by a recent trip to eataly (I’ll have to blog about that one, too — the meal I made and the Molto Mario experience), and another great lunch with a pair of wood-fired pizzas today at Davis Square’s new Posto.  So I had to finish the weekend off right.  But the abundance of rich food consumed in the past 48 hours compelled me to make something light, and Clayton’s had a hankering for hard tacos lately – a craving I don’t normally suffer from, but I was intrigued by the concept of taco night done Lolita-style.  I’ve done soft tacos tons, and the last time I did hard tacos was, like, junior high and some Old El Paso box set mix — could I make my own hard taco shells?  Turns out that it’s pretty easy.  I also had in mind a seafood filling, and little pink Maine shrimp are in season.  With that, came this:

Crunchy Sweet Shrimp Tacos with BBQ Refried Beans

1 lb unpeeled sweet Maine shrimp
1 can beer, divided
cumin — ground, and whole seeds
chili powder
1 bay leaf
1 3oz can diced green chiles
1/2 cup heavy cream, divided
1 small red onion, minced
1 large tomato, diced
1 1/2  cup chopped cilantro, divided
1 lime
4 scallions
8-10 corn 10″ tortillas
1 cup vegetable oil
sour cream
1 can refried beans
3/4 cup shredded Oaxaca cheese
some leftover BBQ beef brisket from Soulfire BBQ
sea salt, cracked black pepper

I start by peeling my raw shrimp, and adding all the shells to a large saucepan, setting the tender pinkies of seaflesh aside for later.  I want to make a quick spicy seafood broth, in which I’ll poach my shrimp later with my green chiles and some cream.  I have no idea where this recipe came from; I’m just shooting from the hip here.

I cover my shells with 1/2 a beer and some water, a teaspoon of cumin seeds, 1/2 teaspoon each red chili powder, ground cumin, and paprika, and one bay leaf.  I bring the whole mixture to a roiling boil…

… cover, and walk away for about 20 minutes.

I don’t have a great set of strainers, so I improvise with my finest mesh colander layered with my finest mesh spatula.  I set this over a large bowl, then strain my smooth, shrimp and spice flavored broth of all its solids.

I am amazed by its flavor; it is almost as rich as a vichyssoise. (Wow.  I actually spelled that right the first time around!) I set this aside to cool slightly, while I prepare the rest of my taco fixin’s.


Although we have never physically been to Soulfire, we’ve had their meals delivered maybe 50 times – I kid you not.  They. Are. AWESOME.  And their 2 meat Soulfire Platter — something I crave at least once a month, when my latent werewolf must have MEAT and much MEAT before some carnal need is satisfied — is so big (I can’t imagine their 3 meat option) I *always* have something left over.  When I do, I freeze it, in the hopes I can use it later for just this reason: a quick bean fixup. I take a couple of slices of fatty-edged beef brisket straight from the freezer, chop it with my Chinese cleaver, and drop it directly into a small saucepan set over medium high heat.  In few moments, the fat is rendering and my pan has a sizzling coating of something for me to cook with.

I add 1/2 of my minced red onion to the simmering smoked beef fat, throw in a dash of black pepper to bloom, and then stir it all up real good.  I let this all blend and fry together for a few moments…

… before cracking a can of refried beans and the remaining 1/2 can of beer into the pan.  Some more vigorous stirring, and then I cover this and let it simmer on low heat for 10 minutes or so (basically, while I finish off everything else).

While my beans are stewing, I set a large saucepan over my back burner on high heat, and start to reduce my shrimp broth to an even more concentrated stock.

Meanwhile, I also set up my wok with about 1 cup (or 1″ deep) clean vegetable oil over high heat.  I’m making me a tortilla fry-station, to give Clayton-husband the crunchy tacos he’s been wanting.

During the 10 minutes or so that it takes for my oil to reach temp, I prep my simple pico.  Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I’m cursed with an inability to ingest spicy foods — like jalapeños — so you’ll see that my idea of Mexican relies on fresh flavors and not heat.  If you are lucky enough to be able to handle the heat – by all means, add yourself some peppers in whatever quantity your taste buds demand.  But the basics remain the same: onion, tomato, and cilantro.  The scallions I plan to use in place of lettuce — you’ll see.

Here’s the other half of my minced onion, my whole diced tomato (with all its juice), and over it I squeeze the juice of 1/2 my lime.  I add 3/4 cup of my chopped cilantro, some sea salt, cracked black pepper, and ground cumin (and jalapeño – if you want) to taste.  I set this aside to marinate while I start making my taco shells.

My oil is nice and hot — 375 degrees — and into it I slide the first of my corn tortillas.  It immediately starts to sizzle and bubble, so I quickly grab my metal tongs…

… and use them to fold my tortillas into the best shells I can.  Sometimes they blow-up into balls, and I have to compress the air out (oil’s too hot), but on the whole they form very nicely and fry quickly.  I turn them from moment to moment, to fry all the surfaces evenly, and then when I lift them out of the oil I tilt them in all directions to pour any and all hot fat completely back into the pan.

I lay my shells out on paper towels, and sprinkle them with sea salt.  I fry about 8 of them, leaving a few leftover for breaking into chips and dipping into my fresh pico.

The last bit is my filling, and this only takes a few moments – since those shrimp are so tiny and tender.  My shrimp broth has reduced to barely 1/2 cup of liquid, and to it I add the contents of my small can of diced green chilis, my heavy cream, and my shrimp, and I stir well.  Once my shrimp are opaque, they’re ready to spoon into my shells.

Finally, I shred my scallions with my chef’s knife lengthwise, so I can make a nest of its mild snap to rest on top of my filling.

Whole Foods disappointed me with their under-ripe avocados, so I had to purchase their in-store made stuff instead.  (I can’t help but think that if they didn’t make so much of it in the store, and charge me $6 for more than I need, they wouldn’t run out of fresh avocados to sell.)  I start with a bed of shredded oaxaca cheese, onto which I layer my hot, creamy chili shrimp, over which I spread some guacamole, on top of which I dot some sour cream (thinned with a bit of heavy cream and blended with chopped cilantro) and a dollop of my quick-made pico de gallo.  A heavy serving of my refried beans slathered with sour cream, shredded cheese, and sliced scallions rounds out the plate.  My tacos are crispy on the outside, with a gentle hot shrimp cream blend in the center, topped with the fresh cool green flavors of onion shoots, avocado mash, and lime-scented salsa fresca.  Each bite is a mouthful of gastronomic joy – milky and tangy and briny and beautiful.  A last meal (of the weekend) worth waiting until Sunday for…



Shrimp & Salsa Tacos

Mako Shark, Roasted Garlic Purple Potatoes, and Fresh Mozzarella Salad

I have to admit it — I’ve shot this webcipe before.  I don’t know which evil gremlin snuck into my house to screw with my camera settings that time, but my delicious and beautiful meal came out in tinted red tones, utterly unsuitable for posting.  And I’d been all on Facebook, bragging to my friends about how I was eating that night — it being Shark Week and everything — and they were all impressed and stuff.  And then… nothing.  Nada.  Sorry, friends.

So tonight’s meal is my reparation to those waiting compadres (and co-madres); I even had to pay $1 more a pound, but still an excellent deal at Savenor’s, the only place I’ve found shark so far in Cambridge.  But with some lovely avocados, some of Clayton’s handsome heirloom tomatoes, and a few perfect purple potatoes, I think (hope) you’ll agree that it was worth the wait.  We certainly enjoyed Jaws II.  (Hell — we even liked Jaws 3D!)

Said perfect purple potatoes.  They’ll need about 30-40 minutes to cook — twice as long as the fish — so I break them out first.

After washing my perfect purple potatoes, I prepare their partners — white onion, large cloves of garlic (still in their papers!), and two sprigs of rosemary.

Everything gets tossed in a large bowl with EVOO, sea salt, and cracked black pepper.  Mix well, dump into a foil packet, and set on medium hot grill for 20 minutes.

Ahhhh… the grill under our night sky.  After 10 minutes have elapsed, my potato packet it puffed up and ready to shake about.  Close the cover for another 5 minutes, while you prepare…

… the shark.  This is mako shark; I don’t know if I’ve ever had another variety.  It is the steakiest of fish — truly a seameat which tastes like something that eats lots of other blubbery and fatty seameats – like seal.  Its skin fascinates me; it has an eerie uniform wet slate blackness, the perfect camouflage for a water-gliding ocean predator.  It’s like damp sable… wrapped around strong  slabs of muscles studded with sharp striated teeth.

All this bad boy needs is Lolita’s favorite fish marinade: mayonnaise.  What can I say?  The Cape Codders know what they’re doing, and why should I argue with a tried and true traditional recipe?   Tonight, I’m adding a few tablespoons of Clayton’s garden’s chives…

… some cracked black pepper, sea salt, and fresh lemon zest.  Mix very well.

Clayton lovingly slathers this simple savory sauce over both sides of the shark steak when applying it to the hot grill.  See how lovely?  Set to cook for 10 minutes, flip your spuds, close the cover.  After those 10 minutes elapse, flip your fish, shake your spuds, and close the cover for another 10 minutes.

Tonight’s Clayton’s garden’s tomatoes and fresh mozzarella salad had avocado and cilantro for their compliments — an abstraction of the traditional basil.  This particular cheese was very soft and lactic…  it delighted in my EVOO bath, a supple studding with sea salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

As the sun sets, we plate.  My salad is alternating slices of Clayton’s heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and smooth avocado, with a relish of Sundrops, diced avocado, and a healthy amount of minced cilantro leaves.  My shark steaks are grill-marked and sumptuous — the marinade has soaked in, leaving a thin meringue and a splatter of chives and zest.  My potatoes…

… are perfectly cooked, slightly seared in places, with my cloves of garlic roasted to buttery softness.

Twilight.  As we set into dinner, the sun sets deeply in the sky.  We bring up our lights, sit back in our seats with our wine and a wholesome sense of satisfaction, and we eat our way into the soft sweet night.