"Those who forget the pasta are condemned to reheat it." ~Unknown

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hoisin Chicken -- Italian style

So Tucker is in Alaska fishing for Salmon and Halibut.... (think fish and chips). Reminds me of the quote he posted awhile back, "Cooking is three-quarters shopping." In this case, it is three quarters hunting-gathering. So for this weeks blog and next week, Cyrus is pointing out some general themes and high points and his Dad is writing the blog. Sorry, I don't think I can duplicate the style and voice of Tucker.
This week Cyrus had a last minute camping trip to the Wind River in SW Washington with his friend Jake. So Sunday dinner happened on Monday night, which fit well because our Aunt Paula and Uncle Ray had just arrived from Canada. We thought about making a special "Canadian dish" for them, perhaps a Poutine, french fries and cheese curds or a TourTierre, the traditional Christmas meat pie of the Quebecois. But since it was over 90 degrees, Cyrus decided we should fire up the grill and cook outside. Truth be told, if it wasn't for the deep fat fryer, I think Cyrus would cook every meal on the grill -- wouldn't matter if it was raining sideways.
When I arrived home from work the coals were just turning all white in the charcoal chimney. I dumped them into the grill and went inside to see the kitchen abuzz in activity. Cyrus had his Aunt washing lettuce, and his Grandma chopping Basil and garlic. He was getting ready to rub the chicken with a marinade of garlic, basil, olive oil and he sent me out to pick Nasturtiums for the salad. Earlier in the day, he had made a Balsamic-Molasses glaze that was to brush on the peaches on the grill.
All the very different ingredients came together at the last minute in a glorious plate. The grilled chicken breast had a wonderful roasted skin with bits of garlic and basil charred to it. The roasted peaches, caramelized with Balsamic vinegar and molasses, made a great sweet-tangy combination with the Chicken. It was a similar to the Hoisin Chicken from a few weeks ago. But it was a really simple recipe and was great choice for a busy Monday. We realized that we have a few familiar refrains to our Sunday dinners lately: grilled peaches and Nasturtiums in the salad, Family and friends, and dining outside on the patio. What a great way to experience summer -- through our tastebuds with friends and family.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Who Was The First Person To Eat Cactus?

A couple of weeks ago we went through a local grocery store to get supplies for our Fourth of July party. While we were walking through the produce department I noticed they sold cactus pads. This intrigued me and I kept thinking about those thick green spiny leaves. And when I was planning today's dinner they were sitting in the back of my head. Then when I noticed the recipe for grilled cactus pad salad, well, I just had to make that.
With the cactus pads in mind I found a recipe for Mexican strip steak and beans to go with our salad and we bought Jarritos, a Mexican fruit soda. To finish off a meal that would hopefully blow away our guests. Visiting us this week from Louisville, Kentucky are my cousins, Lily and Lucy and my aunt and uncle, Clark and Diane. This meal also has an additional bit of importance because not only are they family but they also follow this blog. We hope they're in for a real treat. The beans are nearly done and we have finished the salsa, the steaks are marinating and we have started the grill.
I just finished mashing the avocados in guacamole and the cactus is almost done grilling. There was no way I could have finished this meal tonight without the help of my father and uncle, I think that's probably the most understated part of these dinners, I couldn't do it alone.
This meal from the still-marinating-steaks, to the cactus pads and the guacamole and salsa, is already making my mouth water and we're far from finished as our steaks our still marinating in the refrigerator.
When I went outside to check on the cacti (they weren't ready) I could hear their juices sizzling and popping. I would have stayed out there slobbering and staring at the wonderful leaves but it was too hot, I'm not sure how hot it is, but I'm boiling alive.

The temp has cooled off a bit and our steaks are nearly done, we've finished the cactus pad salad and the beans are finished cooking all that we're waiting on is the steaks which are nearly done.

Oh wow that was an amazing meal, the steaks, the guac, the salsa, the nopales salad, the rice and beans, this was all an amazing meal from start to finish and I wish I had an excellent flavor memory, this was really good food. The beans were perfect and starchy with just a hint of the bacon, the salsa was light and explosive - a steep contrast to the dark flavors of the steak and the guacamole and rice tasted just the way they should. This was a wonderful meal I'll remember for a long time, the food, the family. It was a beautiful night in a beautiful garden with wonderful food.

Oh! I almost forget, the next two weeks I will be fishing in Alaska with my cousins. This means Mom will be covering the writing and Cyrus will cook both weeks. I can't wait till I get there on Wednesday! As Dad puts it I'll be procuring supplies for future meals.

Monday, July 12, 2010

All of These Dinners Have Been Good...

This weekend was a busy one, between a swim meet and a trip to the beach on Saturday and a pair of parties on Sunday we didn't have time for Cy to cook and prepare dinner. So he's cooking today, Monday. On our drive back from the beach we started talking about what Cy was going to cook for dinner. Eventually we got to reminiscing about our trip to the Big Easy and how everything was fried. "Well as they say 'if it ain't fried, it ain't cooked,'" Dad pointed out.
"At least," Cy added, "That's what the Praline Connection thinks." (The Praline Connection http://www.pralineconnection.com/index.html) Then he had the eureka moment. Fried chicken with a fried pickle side. Yum.
So here we are now, a wasp crawling on our windowsill, the wonderful smell of frying chicken wafting through the house and the dogs laying lazily on the porch all of us waiting on that chicken.
And the pickles. Fried pickles are not something particularly unique. But the pickles served at 542 Frenchmen street, New Orleans are sliced before frying instead of fried whole, which as my parents tell me is the norm. Right now Cyrus is chopping the pickles.
The sizzling sound that accompanies the scent of frying chicken is so horribly tantalizing that I can barely stand it. Must. Have. Food. So. Hungry. My mouth is watering. I can't wait till we eat. Literally.

The fried chicken and pickles were good but not especially memorable when compared to some of our other meals, when you look at the time we had ravioli or pirogi or the time the propane tank exploded, even the time Cy made that hoi sin chicken and the salad became the main course. All of the Sunday dinners are good but some are so memorable that others seem to be boring even when others are actually really good.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The World's Eyes Turn to South Africa

Sunday dinner at the Johnson house has become an international phenomenon. Friends family and strangers look at the blog from all over the world, everywhere from Zurich to London to New York, (Big Brother is watching you...). But this particular Sunday has a larger and more important international event. We're going to a friends house to watch the World Cup final, (11:30 a.m. local time) and then go to another friends house for dinner and, of course, some conversation about the game (and LeBron James going to Miami).
Everybody in our house except for Dad supports the Netherlands over Spain. He thinks the Dutch are arrogant and Paul (the genius, phenomenal, lucky, weird German octopus) thinks Spain will win, Paul's never been wrong before. Thanks to all these parties Cy doesn't have time to cook tonight and so will cook on Monday. Today the world's eyes will turn to South Africa. Come back tomorrow for this weeks post.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Friends Under The Red Rocket's Glare

The Fourth of July means different things to different people. For me Independence Day will always be about the fireworks. In Oregon the state government is in the middle ground on fireworks. It's not like Vermont were sparklers and pop-its are barely legal, but we are not in Washington either, where you can shoot off just about anything. Thing is, here in Portland it's only a short drive to Washington's plethora of fireworks stands. At the Fourth of July party we always go to, there are two dad's who didn't mature like our dad. On the weekend before the fourth they take there kids up to Vancouver and buy some fireworks. Then they light them off at the Craney's annual party (the Craney's have an awesome view of the city's sanctioned fireworks). But this year the Craney's are out of town. They're not having a party. So we are.
We invited twenty of our friends for a Sunday dinner. We got fifteen bratwurst and fifteen kielbasa from Otto's, a local "sausage kitchen". We enlisted our friends to bring dessert, a salad and drinks. We bought fireworks and asked everyone else to bring some too. We bought navy beans and soaked them, strained them and are currently simmering them to make baked beans. I'm looking forward to this party.

We've started cooking in earnest now. We're making bacon on one burner, simmering beans on another and making barbecue sauce on the third, the fourth burner is broken. I've only been cooking for about fifteen minutes and the kitchen is hectic. I should probably be cleaning. Oh yeah, Simon, (a good friend who will be at the party) you were wrong this dinner is probably going to take three hours not fifteen minutes.
I've been running around the kitchen chopping all sorts of things for the beans but the most important ingredient, the beans themselves, still aren't done. In the baked beans we'll have green bell peppers, garlic, onions, bacon fat and bacon, barbecue sauce and molasses. The cooking is at a stand still thanks to those beans.

Finally the beans are done. We crumbled in the bacon added the veggies and then as dad was putting away some spices he came across one that intrigued us both. Hickory smoke seasoning the label read. Dad and I both smelled it. It smelled like wonderful, kentucky style ham. Slowly cured and smoked over a hickory fire. We added about a tablespoon to the baked beans. "Do you think that over the millenia that humans cooked food over open fires our brains became hardwired to like this smell?" Dad asked. "Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm," I replied inhaling the wonderful scent. I can't wait for this dinner. We haven't even started the main course yet.

Mom walked into the house after watering our garden and said, "Wow, Tucker you should go outside and come back in after a couple minutes." So I went outside and stood in our wonderful green garden for a little while. Then as an ice cream truck went by I came back into the house. I'm not even going to try to describe the scents that hit me like a sucker punch.
I think I'll tell you about our guest list. We're having our grandma (of course) Rachel a friend of our parents, Shanta, Dave, Simon and Tate Calem (Dave was a friend of our parents in college and Simon and I have been fast friends since about the second day of kindergarten), Tonya, Tom and Eli Huckabee-Gray and Sherri, Mark and Nicholai who we just met and are friends of the Calems.

We've lit the grill and the guests are starting to arrive. Cyrus is going outside to shoot pop-its out of his slingshot as a plume of smoke rises from the grill.

The first set of dogs are off the grill and we're starting to load our plates.

That was a good meal from the sauerkraut to the fruit and macaroni salads, the coleslaw, and baked beans (one of the few dishes I actually made), I feel like it was a good meal all over, I'd like to describe each piece but there were just to many pieces. For desert we've got a "freedom" tart by Rachel and a pecan tart by Sherri alongside some vanilla ice cream. I think it will be good but I can't be sure yet.

It was good! The freedom tart was amazing, Rachel! And that chocolate sauce, how can we be sure it wasn't just melted candy bars. We've had a lot of good food today and I'm sure we're all looking forwards to some good fireworks. The sun is beginning to set and is texturing the clouds The adults murmur outside momentarily silenced by the boom of a massive (and illegal) "mortar" firework. This meal stood tall under all it's challenges. It stood tall under the red rockets glare. On this beautiful summers day 233 years ago the whole course of history was changed. I'm glad it happened. And it was nice to have friends over for a Sunday dinner. We shared something special with them.