July 15, 2011

Of Grills and 'Guts

It's official.  We have a moving date.  Our last days of work are fast approaching and we've called our property management company to give them our 30 days notice.  I'd say things are getting real, except that's about as much planning that's been done.  Everything else is up in the air.  We still need to find an apartment in SF, figure out if we're taking both cars or just one, get registered for classes and you know, pack up our entire apartment and move it 500 miles away.  No biggie.

But for now, for next few weeks anyway, D and I are going to squeeze every bit of Southern California summer out of this place.  Beaches and pools will be frequented and as many meals as possible will be cooked on our BBQ.

Ah, our fickle, sputtering, flame throwing grill.  Our hand-me-down BBQ.  Though how such a crazed appliance belonged to D's grandma before us, I will never understand.  The only logical explanation I can give for its erratic behavior is that our BBQ is alive and it's a vegetarian.  You can grill all the veggies, sear all the tofu and toast all the bread you so desire on it, but the second a piece of meat is carefully laid across it's grate you better have an extinguisher handy.  It doesn't kid around.

With no meat allowed on the grill and still wanting to cook dinner outdoors, we compromise and make salads like this panzanella.    Asparagus and bread just barely charred (a controlled char over cooperative flames) to impart a nice smoky flavor to the salad.  The bright juicy cherry tomatoes and vinegary dressing tame and complement while the olives are salty briny nuggets tucked through out.  I like the kick of red onions, but if they're not your thing, try rinsing them in a bit of cold water after cutting them, or letting them soak in the dressing to mellow out their flavor.  It really is a perfect dish for an al fresco meal.

I will tell you however, even with a well behaved BBQ, I managed to set the neighbors smoke alarm off.  Oops!

Grilled Asparagus Panzanella
Adapted from Grill It, Bobby Flay

I cut out a lot of the olive oil from the original because I like my dressings more on the vinegary side, and I don't like my panzanella to be too soggy.  Croutons are a personal weakness of mine and it takes much control for me to stop snacking on them when they're around.  On the other hand, soggy bread really grosses me out.  So adjust the amount of dressing to your bread texture preference.  This is a simple quick salad to throw together and I like that best of all.

4 servings

6 slices country style bread 
1/4 cup red wine vinegar 
2 garlic cloves, minced 
Salt and black pepper 
1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large bunch asparagus, ends trimmed 
8 red cherry tomatoes, halved
8 yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced 
1/2 cup Niçoise olives, pitted 
2 tablespoons capers  

Heat the grill to high. Grill the bread slices until slightly charred on both sides. Cut into 1-inch cubes.  

Toss the asparagus with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill for 3 to 5 minutes, until tender crisp. Cut into 1-inch segments. 

Add the vinegar, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and the rest of the olive oil in a large bowl. Whisk together until combined. Add the tomatoes, onion, olives, capers, grilled bread, and the asparagus. Toss well and set aside for 30 minutes before serving.

July 5, 2011

On a Stick

I really don't know where it came from - these fantasies of popsicles I kept having - it just started one day and hasn't let go since.  It's summertime, and the weather was warm and perfect all weekend (!) so it would seem normal to want popsicles, but unless you live with me you have no idea how out of control this craving has been recently. 

There was the time where D humored my sick whining insistence for the perfect popsicle by driving to several stores in one trip, only to have me reject them all because they weren't "the one".  Then there's the world's cutest popsicle cart, Viva Pops, at the Little Italy Mercato on Saturdays that I always  manage to wait too long to grab their newest creative flavor (blackberry violet cream anyone?) and it's gone for the day.

I am a woman, obsessed.

So a few weeks ago I hopped over to Amazon and bought myself a brand new ice pop mold, wooden sticks and clear cellophane bags in anticipation of sharing my obsession with others.  Now I can make 10 pops at a time!  In my own freezer!  And did you see how perfect they look?  Those ridges that run up the broad sides and the slightly tapered rectangular shape?  I'm smitten.

The first round of flavors was strawberry basil and lavender honey cream; a half batch of each because a girl needs options.  One sweet and dripping with ripe strawberry flavor, slightly tinged with an herby basil note.  The other perfumed with flowers and milky sweetness.

I meant to get this out to all of you before the long holiday weekend started, but suffice it to say that I was busy making more of these concoctions and enjoying them instead.  No matter, there is an entire summer's worth of opportunity ahead of us.

Strawberry Basil Pops

The basil in these is just the barest hint, but I wouldn't leave it out.  If you want more basil flavor, I think it would be worth it to try them with very thin slivers of basil stirred in by hand after you're done pureeing the mixture.  Although strawberries are quite sweet on their own, the addition of the simple syrup, while also adding the flavor of basil, keeps the pop sfrom becoming too icy.

makes about 8 3-ounce pops 

2 pints ripe red strawberries, hulled and halved
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup lightly packed basil leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice

In a sauce pan heat sugar, water and basil leaves until the sugar dissolves and the syrup starts to bubble.  Using the back of a wooden spoon bruise the basil in the pan to release more of its oils.  Remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes or until it cools to room temperature.

Once the syrup has cooled strain into blender and add the strawberries and lemon juice.  Pulse until the mixture is mostly smooth, but with a few chunks still remaining.  Pour into popsicle molds, insert popsicle sticks and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Honey-Lavender-Cream Pops
recipe from Pleasant Pops via Washingtonian

You should love the flavor of lavender if you're going to make these.  To some lavender tastes like bath products or soap, to me it's like a bouquet of flowers that is at once floral and herbaceous.  Also, stick with the whole milk, otherwise your pops may turn out too icy. 

makes about 10 3-ounce pops

3 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon dried culinary lavender flowers
1/4 cup organic cane sugar or granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey

In a medium saucepan, bring all the ingredients to a boil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from heat as soon as it boils. Let the mixture steep, covered with the lid, for 30 minutes. Strain the mixture through a sieve to remove the flowers.

Pour the mixture into the molds, insert popsicle sticks and freeze overnight or according to manufacturer's instructions.