July 30, 2006

Summer Salad

Summer is indisputably salad-time. Appetites are a little supressed from the heat, and an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs cry out for use. Not only are our appetites a little down - we still get hungry, but seem to fill up faster - but our desire to do much work in the kitchen (or out of it) also fades. Fortunately, the summer salad is a perfect opportunity for some easy, make-head, delicious dinner options.

You could serve this as a side dish, and I often have, or take it as a potluck item that will stand out beside other pasta salads, or indeed, hold its own against many a main course, or you can cram it into pita for a quick bite on the go. Sometimes, if I'm really feeling worn out, I'll just sit down to a bowl of this in front of the television and let my brain turn criticizing advertisements, or snarking at the shows on FoodTV.

It keeps really well in a sealed, tupperware-type container, for about a week. Doubtless, you will have eaten it all up long before then. As an added bonus, this dish has under 30% of its calories from fat, so it's fairly healthy, too. The use of low GI ingredients (chickpeas and lemon juice) mean that it's value on the glycemic index is probably quite low - which means that it will fill you up without wreaking havoc on your glucose levels.

Chickpea & Orzo Salad
(adapted from Cooking Light's Simple Summer Suppers)

1 cup uncooked orzo
3/4 cup sliced green onions
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1 19 oz. can Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) - drained
zest and juice of one lemon
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon cold water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 - 2 cloves minced fresh garlic

Cook orzo until done in lightly salted water - about five minutes. Take care not to overcook, as you don't want the pasta to become mushy. Al dente is the goal. Drain, and rinse with cold water. Drain thoroughly, and place in large bowl. Add drained chickpeas, green onions, dill, lemon zest and feta to the bowl of pasta, and toss gently to distribute evenly. Combine juice, water, garlic, salt, and olive oil, and stir well. Pour dressing over the salad, folding the ingredients gently so to coat everything thoroughly.

Try not to eat it all before it makes it into the fridge. You can serve it right away, but it's terrific very cold from the fridge - especially with a nice glass of crisp white wine.

July 25, 2006

Summer Lunch

Sometimes, it's too hot to cook. You know you should eat someting, and you're vaguely hungry, but it just seems like too much effort to bother with, when you'd really rather lie around fanning yourself and drinking mint juleps.

Sometimes, you don't want anything with more wattage than a toaster heating up your already humid kitchen. Sometimes, when tomatoes are ripe, all you really need for lunch is a fine old-style open-faced toasted sandwich, or overgrown bruschetta. Aaaannnnd if you also happen to have little bottles of basil oil and red pepper oil (Italian style), and a couple of plump balls of bocconcini lurking in the fridge, you can make yourself a pretty snazzy little lunch, without roasting the entire house.

July 22, 2006

Tasting Hot Sauce

July 8 was our second-ever Hot Sauce Party. A little earlier in the year than our previous one of three years ago, we were able to use the verandah later into the evening, but unfortunately our timing rather stunk as far as people's schedules. So, it was with smaller fanfare and lower attendance, but equally delicious hot sauces from around the world that we held our second tasting.

Naturally, there were to be no repeats of sauces from the last tasting, three years ago. Even though there were clear favourites in the previous line up, there are so many amazing and different sauces produced in far-flung corners of the world, we went with an entirely new roster. To be fair, we had tried some of the sauces ourselves, previous to the tasting, but some of them were purchased specifically with an eye to origin, pepper type, style, and heat.

The subjects were arranged in (arguably) order of mildest to hottest:
  1. Tequila Sunrise Cayenne Hot Sauce (Costa Rica)
  2. Bufalo Jalapeno Mexican Hot Sauce (Mexico)
  3. Cholula Hot Sauce (Mexico)
  4. Waha Wera Kiwifruit & Habanero Sauce (New Zealand)
  5. Amazon Hot Green Sauce (Columbia)
  6. Cooksville Black Heat (Canada)
  7. Marie Sharp's Habanero Pepper Sauce (Belize)
  8. Harissa du Cap Bon (Tunisia)
  9. El Yucateco Salsa Kutbil-ik de Chile Habanero XXXtra Kot Sauce (Mexico)
  10. Ebesse Zozo Hot Sauce (Canada, modelled on Togolese traditional style).
Most of our guests are at least somewhat familiar with spicy food, but the upper end of the tasting proved a little too feisty for real enjoyment for some people. In a curious turn, we actually placed the Ebesse Zozo last, not because it was the hottest (although it was very hot) but because it contained both oil and curry, and I thought it would irreparably alter the palate. It was pronounced delicious by just about everyone, though.

The most contentious hot sauce was #9. I'm very fond of it, in small doses, on an omelette or frittata at breakfast. It is fierce as anything, but for the first time I heard people describing it as flavourless and harsh. Not everyone was disparaging of it, though. Generally speaking, the tasters who were most accustomed to very hot food were able to look past the fiery habanero heat and groove on the fiery habanero flavour.

The most popular sauce, I think - I cannot remember if we did a poll - was #7. Hot, clean, and powerful, full of flavour, and with enough sweetness to cut the fire so that everyone could enjoy it. #5 did very well, also, being made from a little-known pepper (the Green Amazon pepper), and having a very pleasant blend of heat and flavour. It is the one we have used most since the tasting, since it boasts a broad application spectrum.

We finished the tasting with a little jerk chicken and a vegetarian 4-bean chili, and a fair bit of beer.

Next time around we'll have to pick our date a little better so that more people who wanted to attend will be able to make it.

July 10, 2006

Natural Match

Sometimes, I read a recipe that is very different than anything I've tried before, but while I am reading it, I find myself nodding and thinking to myself that this is such a natural match, these things go together so well, that I am surprised I've never thought of it myself. This happened immediately upon seeing this post by Michele at Oswego Tea, where some of the ideals of a Greek salad (long a favourite) have migrated into zucchiniville.

Fortunately, I do not really expect to come up with every brilliant food combination myself, but I'd be a sad sort of food enthusiast if I didn't recognise a good thing when I stumble across it. Still, it took a couple of weeks before the combined hot weather, hunger, and the presence of artisanal goat feta in my fridge prompted me to drag out the indoor grill for the season.

The salad is exactly what I hoped it to be: cool, tangy with feta and lemon juice, fragrant with mint, and slightly softened (but still crunchy) vegetables with lovely dark marks from the grill. It is a refreshing side dish for dinner, or even possibly a light meal by itself. It is the perfect thing to help beat the heat, especially in an old house that doesn't have great ventilation and needs all the help it can get to stay cool.

I will be making this many more times this summer...and in the summers to come.

July 03, 2006

Generosity of Family & the Kindness of Strangers

Yesterday, we went to Gibsons to have a family dinner at my sister's house. It was in part a belated Father's Day event, for which I made cookies, in part a very much belated Easter gathering, and all around a fine excuse to sit in the sun, drink beer and chat, and eventually fire up the grill for a little supper.

Well, I was too ill-prepared and, let's face it, downright greedy to take a picture of the fantastic grilled chicken that I had for dinner last night, but I am thrilled that I was given a jar of Pat's homemade spice rub that transported ordinary chicken breasts into a spicy, delicious, brag-worthy meal. Of course, the homemade foccacia, the freshly picked garden salad greens, and the nugget potatoes roasted with onions and garlic all contributed their fair share, but the chicken, with it's little bath of olive oil and quick rub with this fragrant, heady mixture, was undoubtedly the star of the show.

I'm not entirely sure what goes into it. I'm reasonably confident that garlic granules and cayenne pepper play a significant role, but I am told that there are upwards of 14 or 15 different spices required to make the spice rub. It's worth it.
We also managed to score a bag of the garden greens, which went into today's lunch of BLTs on sourdough bread. There's enough left over for a good dinner salad, so tomorrow's menu is well under construction.

Switching topics slightly, on a recent foray out of our usual dinner haunts, we found ourselves wandering down 4th Avenue on our way to get some tandoori chicken. En route, we paused outside a trendy little joint that has recently changed its name. We wondered if it had changed ownership, too, so we sidled over to look over the glassed-in menu posted outside. One of the few customers, an unhappy-looking woman sitting next to the open window, pursed her lips and shook her head slightly. We looked at the menu to see the same sort of ambitious combinations that had been so poorly executed in its last incarnation, and decided that the ownership was probably the same. I glanced back at the customer, sitting with a posture of regret and one hand on an empty wineglass, and she again shook her head. She made direct eye contact, shook her head, then closed her eyes and sighed, lifting her eyebrows slightly... a clear warning off. I gave her a little tight nod, and a thumbs-up, and she smiled, briefly. We continued on to our original destination.

I hope her evening improved - I hope it was a little bit improved by the fact that someone took her silent advice. We probably wouldn't have gone in, but it was nice to have our suspicions confirmed. Whoever you are, thank you.