The Iron Chefettes Sneak Up On You a Week Early
Has desperation set in at Chez KnitThink? I mean, Eva Peron aprons? Dinner rolls dpn-ed to her head? Are we supposed to be distracted from the food?
I, for one, will not be thrown off by an apron (cool as it is). No, I shall fight the old-fashioned way, with good food and bad photography! Think about it folks, Amy is now out of dead celebrity aprons. Between now and the end of the CSA season, she’s going to have to face me on level ground, with spatulas, whisks and cookbooks. And I am not without a few secret weapons of my own…
This week’s raw materials: A Hungarian hot pepper, a Japanese eggplant, corn, a Jimmy Nardello pepper and an orange bell pepper, watermelon, onions, fennel, garlic, cucumbers, summer squash, tomatoes, red potatoes, salad mix, and cilantro. Whew!
One new ground rule: This week, and this week only (unless we change our minds), we’ll each be posting about only four recipes. Because time is short. There’s the State Fair to go to! We have to save some room for greasy fried things on sticks!
On to the food. First up, a way to use fennel that would make it sufficiently palatable to the M.E., who is not overly wild about its licorice flavor. Yes, I’m back to winging it. I sauteed the fennel and Mr. Jimmy Nardello the Pepper with lots of garlic. About five cloves. Added some thyme and a bit of dried fennel seed. Then I boiled red potatoes, drained them and tossed them with white wine while they were still steaming hot. Mixed them with the sneakily sauteed fennel, plus some Nicoise olives and a quick dressing of oil, white wine vinegar and grainy mustard, and got this:
Oh yes, I sprinkled it with grated Parmesan, too. (Good thing I take photos, or I’d never remember what I’ve done!) Big thumbs-up from the Not-Sure-About-Fennel Contingent. Well-disguised fennel, and the salad was quite nice with some spicy pork tenderloin. We’d both eat this again.
That was not my secret weapon. It was delicious, but not of secret weapon caliber. Read on.
I’ve been bummed about corn this year. We just haven’t had any that’s been really good, and although I hate to say it, the corn we got in this box was not an improvement. Very small ears, very pale kernels that didn’t have much flavor. There are ways around these things, however. Corn can be jazzed up.
I cut it off the cobs and fried it in a little butter and oil, with orange bell pepper and roasted poblanos. Spiced it up and added a bit of heavy cream, cilantro, and topped it off with some lovely brown-sugar cured trout.
‘Twas splendid, despite the corn.
That wasn’t the secret weapon, either.
As you may have noticed, there was summer squash again in this week’s box. I do love summer squash, and I’ve been trying to fix it in different ways so that, despite my affection for it, the dreaded Summer Squash Fatigue Syndrome (SSFS) doesn’t set in. This week, summer squash goes Japanese!
When I was a kid, my dad grew pattypan the size of Frisbees. My mom would slice them, dip them in egg and flour, fry them, and then we’d season them with soy sauce. Very tempura-like, and I love it that way. So I decided to take it one step further: tendon. No, not that stringy stuff inside your arms and legs. Tendon is a Japanese rice bowl dish, and if I ever find myself in a little Japanese joint around lunchtime, it’s my favorite thing to order.
We sort of used the recipe I linked above, but weren’t in the mood for dragging out the deep fryer, so the M.E. pan-fried the squash, as well as some chicken and green pepper. We piled that on top of rice, and sauced it with this, which is incredibly easy to make if you start with dashi no moto, which is basically a fish teabag.
Here’s the sauce:
I can’t say the word yum emphatically enough. Lordy, do I ever wish I could eat this every day. Alas, I cannot — it would be the death of both me and my kitchen. A girl can dream, though.
That still wasn’t my secret weapon.
I’m getting to it now, though. Four dishes, remember? My last creation for this week captures the essence of summer in a pure, yet unique way. I prepared for it weeks ahead of time by ordering special materials and tools on the internet. Any guesses? Didn’t you wonder why, instead of being tormented with a
vegetable he doesn’t want, the Chairman is sitting nicely in front of a piece of cheese?
See, the essence of summer is tomatoes, and there’s really no way to improve on a great summer tomato. The best thing you can do is set it off with a little salt and, say, some good bread and a slice or two of mozzarella.
So I made mozzarella. Yeah, even though I didn’t have an Evita apron to catch the splashing whey, I. Made. Cheese.
Super-secret cheesemaking supplies:
Those things, plus a gallon of organic milk and a microwave, will result in cheese. My photos aren’t the greatest, because the thing about making cheese is that you have to pay attention and you can’t stop to take pictures. But despite the sketchy documentation, this was one of the most fun things I’ve ever made.
You add citric acid and lipase to the milk, and heat it until it starts to curdle. That’s a special dairy thermometer, and it has to be watched very closely.
Then add rennet and stir, and let it sit until the curds break more or less cleanly when you stab them with a knife.
You pour off the whey. Boy, was there a lot of whey. Most of a gallon of milk is whey! Who knew? It was determined that the M.E. would be less of a hazard doing this step than I would, and he did do an excellent job of making sure that the entire kitchen floor was not covered in whey.
I, however, got to do the very best part. Wheeee! This was entirely too much fun. I could have kept doing it all day.
The reason for the rubber gloves is that the cheese is hot–see, after the whey removal, you microwave it. Then you knead the clay cheese and stretch it and smush it around until it’s whey-free and all nice and smooth and shiny. Microwave it again and repeat that process a couple of times, and voila:
That. From a gallon of milk.
Fresh mozzarella is best eaten right away, so we cut bread and sliced up an heirloom tomato and made a quick salad with our CSA’s fabulous greens and some bacon…
…and that was dinner. Truly one of the most delightful summer dinners ever, and it even came with its own show. (I may have been doing a little dancing while I kneaded the cheese. I told you it was fun.) The mozzarella had wonderful flavor, and was a great foil for the tomatoes. Simple, elegant and happy. No question, I’m making this again, and I can’t wait to try homemade mozzarella on a homemade pizza.
Well then. One secret weapon has been launched from each side. Bodies everywhere! Kitchens in flaming ruins! Neighbors running for cover! Dogs licking the floors! (Okay, so dogs are always licking the floors.)
We’ve each taken a hit….what will the next battle bring?
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