Sunday, September 5, 2010

full steam ahead

With all of the Seattle trip blogging finally done, I can now get back to catching up on another project.  The 52 Weeks of Food thing has quietly continued despite the trips and busyness of the summer.  June feels like it was several months ago—oh wait, it was—and my recaps are way behind.  As minor consolation, however, Steve is still a couple weeks behind me in blogging these dishes.
Picking up with week 14 in late May, we have duck tacos.
duck tacos
The inspiration for these was something similar that we had at Loló, a Mexican-Turkish restaurant in the Mission.  They use duck confit and serve it with corn tortillas, cilantro, and grapefruit-jalapeno sauce.  For ours, Steve also used duck confit and cilantro on corn tortillas, but he made an avocado-tomatillo salsa from a Rick Bayless recipe and topped the whole thing with queso fresco.  The result was quite good, although I didn't like the salsa quite as much as the Frontera tomatillo salsa that we buy occasionally.  Steve had made this dish before, using the store-bought salsa, and I can imagine that being a little more flavorful.
Week 15 was one of my favorites: Minted English Pea Soup with Lobster and Orange.  It was one of those weekends when we didn't have anything specific planned, so I was looking through the recipes I had bookmarked in Firefox, trying to find ideas.  The very first one there was this soup on Martha Stewart's website from Patrick O'Connell of the Inn at Little Washington.  I didn't really know who this guy was at the time (he has since appeared as a guest judge on Top Chef), but I had obviously seen this segment of Martha Stewart's show a couple years ago and decided that this looked good enough to bookmark.  
And lucky for us, it was pea season.  Not only did Steve find fresh peas at our neighborhood store, he found fresh English peas—just what the recipe requested.  He also picked up a lobster from Sun Fat so that we could do the more substantial version of the dish with lobster and orange.
minted english pea soup
Steve followed the directions, but he finished the lobster in butter a la Thomas Keller.  We had had a lobster dish from the French Laundry Cookbook on Valentine's Day and decided that the butter was a good way to go here too.  The dish turned out really well, and the orange wasn't as jarring as Steve expected.  It provided a nice bit of sweetness and acid that contrasted with the creaminess of the soup and the butteriness of the lobster.  The peas, both in the soup and as garnish were lovely and fresh, sweet and green.  The one thing I would change: more mint.  Steve was conservative with the amount of time he left the bouquet of mint in the soup to steep, so it wasn't very noticeable in the end.  We will definitely be making this dish again next spring, though.
Once we got back from Seattle, we had to do a dish in the middle of the week to make up for missing it that weekend.  I was still in love with the fresh peas, so I picked out an easy, weekday-friendly dish from Mario Batali's most recent cookbook, Molto Gusto: Penne alla Papalina.
p pasta
I have dubbed this dish "P. Pasta" for its name (Penne alla Papalina) and its main ingredients (peas and prosciutto).  It's essentially a carbonara, but the combination of peas, prosciutto, parmesan, pepper, and pasta is a particularly pleasing one.  (Okay, done with the alliteration now.)
The recipe calls for frozen peas, which are way more likely to be found in most places year round.  Steve used fresh peas, however, since they were still available.  They did indeed taste very fresh.  Since that first time, he's made it once more with fresh peas and once with frozen.  It didn't come out very well with frozen, but I think he tried to blanch the frozen peas like he did the fresh ones.  Apparently, Steve had forgotten that the recipe was for frozen peas already, so he didn't think to just follow it.  Another attempt may be needed to judge properly.
Next on the list was octopus.  In one weekend, Steve made two dishes out of the one octopus that he had purchased and frozen a few weeks prior.  The second of the dishes was a re-creation of Tom's Big Breakfast from Lola in Seattle.  It was good, but it didn't quite measure up to its inspiration.  The first of the dishes was the one that we actually counted as our new dish of the week: warm spicy octopus with black olive and preserved lemon, sherry vinegar gelee, and extra virgin olive oil.  
This was a recipe from Eric Ripert's On the Line, which we had bookmarked after eating a different octopus dish at his restaurant in New York.  For the less adventurous eaters, it may sound disgusting, but octopus is really very good.  I won't lie, the texture of the tentacles takes a little getting used to, but it's not that much different from eating the squiggly bits of squid (calamari).  Flavorwise, the dish had a lot of brightness from the preserved lemon and the sherry vinegar gelee, which balanced the salt of the olives and the spiciness of the octopus (from cayenne and hot paprika).  It was meant to be just a small starter, so it wasn't terribly heavy.  We managed to fill up enough by each eating a salad-sized plate full, though.
It was starting to feel a little more like summer by now, so we settled on two gazpachos from Daniel Boulud's Cafe Boulud Cookbook for week 18.
gazpacho night
That Saturday, we went downtown and stopped at Crate & Barrel.  I got a few vodka shot glasses to use for pictures (see above), and then we went to Williams Sonoma to finally purchase the cereal bowls we had been wanting for a while.  The cereal bowl match our other dishes and replaced some similarly shaped Bed Bath & Beyond ones to which cling wrap always refused to stick.  I ended up using both shot glasses and cereal bowls in my pictures of the gazpachos, although we actually just used the cereal bowls to eat our dinner.
Unfortunately, the pictures turned out better than the soups themselves.  The white gazpacho (bread, almonds, pine nuts, garlic, grapes, vinegars, etc.) was pretty good, but it got really sweet after a while.  The shot glass full of it probably would have been enough, just as a starter.  The red gazpacho (tomatoes, bell peppers, red onion, garlic, cucumber, etc.) had way too much of that raw onion bite, and it just didn't work very well.  The anchovy toast that was suggested to go with it, however, was a winner.  It wasn't fishy—just salty and good.
That's about enough for now, but I will mention another non-52 weeks thing that I made.
rosemary olive oil cake
It was a recipe from Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain that I saw featured on 101 Cookbooks.  I finally got around to making it in late June, having tracked down some spelt flour at Whole Foods.  It turned out to be a good breakfast bread, especially since I made it in a bread pan.  But it was also good as a dessert cake.  The olive oil makes it really moist, the rosemary makes it feel kind of healthy and homey, and the chocolate is just plain delicious.  I made it again a few weeks after so that I'd have something to eat for breakfast before work, freezing about a third of it to pull out at a later date.  It worked great.  It also used up the Stonehouse olive oil that we hadn't been using at all.

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