Wednesday, September 29, 2010

that was then...

Nick played bass guitar.  He was handsomely dark and wore long, loose, white gauze shirts.  I thought he was groovy. 

Fixing a Hole was my favorite of the songs they played, so much that I still think of their band, not the Beatles, whenever I hear it. 

I was a groupie.

Every weekend, I'd be at the Jolly Ox, a Nashville steak house, testing my newly acquired, legal-drinking-status, until last call and Nick's last set. Three of us would pile into his MG, me sitting on the lap of the drummer.  Young and carefree, unaware I was on a ride I'd remember for decades.

Here I am, a groupie again.  I've recently discovered Andrea Dawson and Lucky Peterson. 

(Yeah, let's talk about who's lucky.....)

I'm following them to Zander's Thursday night for more R and B favorites.  I hear they've a sax player joining them.   Far out!

Hope to see you there....


Thursday, September 23, 2010

in a salsa state of mind

Bobby Flay told me I like cilantro; I just don't know it yet.

I said no, really I don't, but I kept giving it go. UGH!

I cursed at him. I called him insane. I tried it again. Hmm...... not too bad.

What I discovered in my quest to appreciate cilantro is that I don't like the stems. The revelation came one rainy afternoon in a favorite Thai hideaway.

The aging restaurant, seemingly too authentic for its strip mall setting, provides an enticing escape for corner table romance, the two-martini power lunch, or those just ducking in from a storm as Kevin and I did.

I've ordered #65 Thai Style Fried Rice with Shrimp a kazillion times but that day something was different. Without realizing it, I had been scouting out the normally scarce stems and stockpiling them on the edge of my plate. Like my sister used to do with green peas.

Armed with this new knowledge, I began, in my own kitchen, trimming the herb carefully and in doing so, my cilantro world exploded. Just like Bobby said it would.

Cilantro has no alter-ego. It is what it is and so many (oh so many) dishes aren't the same without it. Even a simple salsa like this one.

You'll like it. Trust me; I have it on good authority.

Now Bobby........... please, can you help me out with the raw oyster bar?

Fresh Tomato Salsa

1 Serrano pepper
4 ripe tomatoes
1 medium sweet onion
1 lime
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 sprigs cilantro

Wash and dry the Serrano pepper.  Wearing gloves, slice the pepper in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Keep most of the membrane since heat is stored there. Chop very finely and set aside. Discard the gloves.

Wash, core, and seed about 4 tomatoes, over a strainer to save the juice. Coarsely chop, you'll have about 2 1/2 cups.  Place the tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor, fitted with the chopping blade.

Peel and roughly chop no more than half of the onion. Add it to the processor bowl.

Squeeze the juice of half a lime over the tomato mixture and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Add the reserved juice from the tomatoes. Pulse a few times until the texture is like you want. Transfer the salsa to a bowl.

Finely chop the leaves from a couple of sprigs of cilantro. Add them to the salsa along with half or all of the chopped, Serrano pepper. Stir and chill until ready to serve.

Friday, September 17, 2010

from the mouths of blind babes

He came rushing in that morning, nearly out of breath, his plump cheeks red from the cold. He couldn't wait to tell me what had happened on the way to school that morning!

Rodney was six. He lived in the country.

Rodney was blind.

I worked for a regional center which provided braille services to small, rural, school districts. With youthful energy and a Perkins Braille Writer in the trunk, I drove to those little towns to teach braille to students like Rodney.

I drove a lot but it suited my night owl lifestyle. To have a quiet, hourly drive to work every morning was a gift. A typical day would find me driving north to Bonham, then down to Quinlan, and on to Forney before heading north again at the end of the day. For five years, Joni, Phoebe, Mick, Fleetwood Mac.... and I, drove five hundred miles a week to see the kids who made each mile worth it.

I asked Rodney if his news involved an animal. Rural life was hard on pets, strays, and wildlife, and I'd heard one story more than my city heart could take.

Obviously another animal had suffered, so ignoring his attempt to tell me about it, I instructed him to get out his book and turn to a designated page. I watched his little face squish up as he considered his options. His fierce need to tell me what I knew would be lengthy and gory details won, and when he began his story again, I harshly reminded him of our ground rules. I told him I was stepping out for a few minutes and when I returned, he was to be ready to read.

The classroom door was typical of time and place; old, blond-stained, solid wood with a cut-out window. I watched Rodney oblige, pulling out the grosgrain ribbon, a standard page marker in braille books. His fingers checked the numerals in the top corner, making sure he was on the right page. Then he waited.

I watched through the window for quite a long time, letting his excitement wane and then I entered as though nothing had happened. We began to read.........

It's moments like the next that built bonds between me and my students. Caught off guard, unable not to laugh, ground rules became inconsequential and those shared moments were priceless.

Well into our chapter, at a natural pause between lines, Rodney said in a monotone but unbelievably-lightening-fast voice, "Thebirdhitthewindshield."

Friday, September 10, 2010

feels like ...

Don't get out the sweaters just yet.

The summer heat has broken, strands of chile pepper lights have been taken down, the Hatch festival is history, and Labor Day has come and gone...

It feels like THE LAST HURRAH.

It feels sad.

Suspended we are, between what was and what is to come.

Like the feeling I get those few days before the moon is full.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

down the hatch

The Hatch Chile Festival at Central Market is over.

It's been All-Things-Hatch around here and I'm going to miss it. I went several times during the festival's two weeks. I bought peppers and I took pictures. Went to taste too; samples such as Hatch Ravioli and Hatch Jelly. But mostly I went just to stand in front of those big roasters and....inhale! Hot as hell it was, but smelling heavenly.

It didn't matter that it was 100 degrees out. It's Hatch time!

This occurs only once a year when the green chiles arrive from Hatch, New Mexico. They have a short shelf life so they are used creatively in I'll bet, hundreds of dishes. Did you know that one medium, fresh green chile has as much Vitamin C as six oranges?

Yep, I learned a lot about the green chiles. Apparently, in New Mexico, you are likely to be deported (as in back to Texas) if you spell chile with an i and not an e. Oops.

My apologies. I will correct my error (in the post about hanging the chile pepper lights in the kitchen) before they deport me to Dall..... Oh, but wait.....

Anyway, I'll be respecting the Hatch from now on.....

Central Market came to Dallas in 2002. It is not your neighborhood grocery store. There's produce galore, and a seafood counter that goes on and on and on. Eerie maybe, but I like the whole fish which are always on display. They seem to stare at me whichever way I turn.

There's a salad bar, a sandwich counter, sushi and gelato. There's a wall and more of cheese from all over the world. Can't cook tonight? Just head to the circle of prepared food.

And I counted---just for you---thirty-seven kinds of olives at the olive and condiment bar. Thirty-seven!

A wine & beer bar is tucked away upstairs. You can sip before you shop or enjoy a drink at events like the Saturday Night Shrimp Boil as you listen to live music. This upper level also houses the Cooking School which brings in revered chefs for classes year-round.

It's fun to have a glass of wine up there and study the store from above. It looks like the creepy husband in the film Sleeping with the Enemy, must sneak in at night. Every item on every shelf is meticulously stacked and aligned and there's never any clutter of any kind on any aisle. It's an amazing view.

What a market! But back to the chile festival....

Mild and hot peppers are sold fresh or roasted. You can buy Hatch Crab Cakes, Hatch Ice Cream, Hatch Popcorn, Hatch Scones, house-made Hatch Tortillas (great stuffed with scrambled eggs, by the way), Hatch Granola, Hatch Risotto Cakes, Hatch Apple Pie and even plain ole Hatch Butter.

Can you hear me sigh? Next August is a long way off. Even though I've stocked the freezer, I am really going to miss the fresh peppers and all they've brought with them. Guess Central Market expected that we would; they gave out these scented disks which I've already hung in the pantry to remind me of the festival.

{I recently entered a contest for a Zojirushi Rice Cooker, at Sadly, I didn't win but here's the recipe for my entry. I think you could easily substitute other peppers, like Anaheim, in place of the Hatch chiles.}

Down The Hatch Rice

1/2 to 3/4 cups bechamel sauce (see recipe below-can be made a day ahead)
3 cups cooked, long-grain rice
1 large ear of fresh corn
a pat of butter
salt & pepper
1 small, fresh Hatch chile pepper from which you will dice 2 tablespoons
5 or 6 fresh Hatch chile peppers for stuffing
(Choose peppers which are straight and appear hollow, therefore easier to stuff. Use the mild or the hot version but if you choose the hot, don't say you haven't been warned.)shrimp for topping
a touch of butter and olive oil

Cook the rice by whatever method you prefer. Transfer to a large bowl.

Shuck and clean the corn. Cut the kernels off the cob. Melt a little butter in a fry pan over medium low heat. Add the corn, a pinch of salt & pepper, and saute for about five minutes. Add the corn to the cooked rice.

Wash and dry the chile peppers. Wear disposable gloves if your skin is sensitive to peppers. Chop two tablespoons from the small pepper and add to the rice. While your gloves are still on, cut off the tops of the whole peppers, remove any membrane you can and tap out the seeds. Set aside and remove your gloves.

Add 1/2 cup of the bechamel sauce to the rice. Gently combine all of the ingredients, adding more sauce if the rice seems too dry. Season with salt & pepper.

Use a table knife and push the rice mixture into each pepper as well as you can. You won't be able to completely reach the tip end of the pepper.

Place them on a flat pan, on top of a sheet of parchment paper. Bake 20 to 30 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven, until the pepper has softened and begins to barely brown at the edges.

Just before the peppers are ready, prepare the shrimp. Pat them dry and season well with salt & pepper. Get a small fry pan hot, add a touch of butter and a touch of olive oil, swirling the pan to distribute. Add the shrimp and cook, depending on their size, only a minute or two on one side. Turn, remove the pan from the heat and let them sit while you plate the peppers.

Remove the peppers from the oven. With a sharp knife, carefully slit each pepper down the center, from stem to tip and spread open to reveal the rice. Top each pepper with a few grilled shrimp and serve.

(Any remaining rice can be put in a buttered gratin and baked until it begins to brown on the top. If held a day, add additional bechamel to moisten before baking.)

Bechamel Sauce

In a small saucepan, heat 2 3/4 cups whole milk with a big sprig of thyme, 2 large bay leaves, 8 to 10 peppercorns, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Keep the milk hot but don't let it boil.

In a medium sauce pan, melt 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Add 1/2 cup chopped onion. Cook over medium low heat until the onion is soft.

Add 1/4 cup flour. Whisk for a couple of minutes, over low heat. Add the warm milk a little at a time, stirring for about 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium and cook for another 5 minutes or until the sauce comes to a boil. Cook another minute, then remove from the heat.

Once it has cooled a bit, strain it through a sieve, discarding the onion and the herbs. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.