Sunday, July 8, 2012

Lavender Lemon Sugar Cookies

Over a month ago I had drinks with two of my coworkers, Rebecca and Beth. As we headed to Single Brothers, a little bar on Trade Street that specializes in specialty cocktails, Rebecca was absolutely giddy over the prospect of ordering a Lavender Lemon Martini. Single Brothers grows its own lavender and uses it to infuse vodka to make their well-known cocktail.

Much to her chagrin, when she stepped up to the bar and ordered her much anticipated drink, the cute bartender informed her that it was no longer on the menu. Out of season, apparently. And no, he couldn't just whip one up since they infuse the vodka for over a month. Her face fell about a hundred floors as she realized there was nothing to be done but order another perfectly good but not craved cocktail.

Never having had the famed Lavender Lemon Martini and knowing I wouldn't be able to have one for quite some time, I got to wondering what other foods I could make with those two flavors. The only time I'd had anything with lavender to eat was when Jason and I went out to an Asian fusion restaurant and ordered both a lemongrass and a lavender creme brûlée. Both were amazing, but I'd never tried to replicate either.

I decided I'd start simple and adapted a sugar cookie recipe to include both. I've eaten a few!

Lavender Lemon Sugar Cookies
Kelley Gondring

Makes 32 cookies.

Preheat oven 375º

Add to a food processor:
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon dried lavender flowers
zest from one medium lemon

Process one minute so that there are no large pieces of either lavender or lemon.

In a large electric mixing bowl, cream together:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened (but not melted)
and the sugar for 45 seconds.

Add in:
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons whole milk

Mix until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Mix in:
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Scrape down the sides of the bowl and use a spatula to create ball of dough in the bowl. Refrigerate for 30-45 minutes.

Using your hands, roll tablespoons of dough into balls. Place on cookie sheet and sprinkle with purple and yellow sugar.

Bake for 10-12 minutes being careful not to let cookie get too brown.

Remove from oven. Let sit on cookie sheet for 2-3 minute before transferring to wire cooling rack.

Eat up!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Grilled Fish Soft Tacos

This year for the 4th of July, we had friends over and made grilled soft tacos. Now, I know this may sound like an "un-American" food choice to celebrate the day, but hear me out!

Jason and I returned from Alaska on Sunday with more than twenty (20!) pounds of halibut and cod. [If you're interested, you can read more about that adventure here.] We had an amazing time in Alaska; it was big and wild and beautiful. What it wasn't was the culinary capital of the United States. We ate lots and lots of burgers, plates of fish and chips, and at least one steak accompanied by mashed potatoes from the box.

As you are probably aware, there aren't a whole lot of people in Alaska. There also isn't a lot of diversity amongst the population. In fact, I was actually struck by the lack of diversity, not just in the people but the foods we encountered.

But then that makes sense. Once I thought about it, I realized that one tends to follow the other. Where there is diversity of people, there is diversity of food. While Alaska itself isn't particularly diverse, when I think of America as a whole, it is a country of diversity. Further, to be American is to celebrate diversity. We are a country filled with individuals from all over the world - India and Pakistan, Mexico and Guatemala, England, France, and Greece, China, Japan, and Thailand, and on and on and on. Nowhere do I see this diversity exemplified more than in the foods we eat. Just in the smallish city of Winston-Salem, you can find restaurants influenced by the cuisine from every country I've listed above.

So, on Independence Day 2012, I choose to celebrate diversity. Diversity in citizenry and diversity in cuisine. Instead of the all-American burger or hot dog, we opted for our freshly caught American cod marinated in ingredients I found at the hispanic market just down the road. And boy was it good.

"This is America ... a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky." -President George H.W. Bush

"There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. -President Barack Obama

Grilled Fish Soft Tacos
Kelley Gondring

Serves 8-10

In a large bowl, add:
4 cups finely shredded green cabbage

In a small bowl, combine:
Juice from one large lime (about 3 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup red onion red onion, minced
3/4 of one large jalapeño, finely diced
2 tablespoons cilantro, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt

Pour over cabbage. Use spatula to evenly mix.

Green Tomatillo Salsa
In a food processor, add:
4 tomatillos, husked, de-stemmed, and divided
3 garlic cloves
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
1/4 cup red onion
1/2 of one jalapeño
1 tablespoon lime
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Pulse until evenly minced.

Grilled Fish
In a large casserole dish, place:
4 cod filets (about 4 pounds)

Sprinkle each filet with salt.

In a medium bowl, combine:
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon adobo
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, minced
3/4 of one large jalapeño, finely diced

Pour evenly over fish. Let marinate for at least an hour.

Turn grill on high heat. Once hot, reduce to low heat. Place fish skin side down and cook for about 15 minutes with the grill lid closed. You'll know its done with fish becomes flaky.

20-24 corn or flour tortillas
In batches of 5-6, heat for 20 seconds in microwave (cover with damp paper towel) just prior to assembling tacos.

1 cup crema mexicana
Heat for 20-25 seconds in microwave just prior to assembling tacos.

To assemble, place several pieces of fish in each taco, top with a generous spoonful of slaw, a dollop of salsa, and drizzle of crema mexicana. Garnish with lime wedges and cilantro.

Serve with Mexican rice and refried beans topped with the extra crema mexicana.

Eat up!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Alaska: Homer's Halibut

On our last full day in Alaska, we again headed out into the water, this time on Bob's charter fishing boat to catch halibut. A ninety minute ride into the open ocean ended with Tino anchoring us to the ocean floor, and Richard showing us how to use our pre-baited rods. On the way out to the fishing grounds, both Tino and Richard chopped up the frozen herring we would use to bait our hooks. I had imagined little cubes of white fish - no scales, no fins, no guts. Certainly no eyes.

I was wrong. No, our bait was either the head half of a herring or the tail half of a herring. And if you were lucky, as you tossed your weighted hook over the side of the boat, lovely little pieces of fish guts would slide from the inside of the fish onto the boat, into the water, or, best of all, onto your shoe.

Now, I've never been a big fisher. I remember going as a kid with my Dad and kid brother in the pond behind our house. Live worms were the bait, so clearly it was Dad's job to take care of that step. We mostly caught brim, which were small, spiny little suckers that we always threw back. Except, of course, when that dumb little fish would get greedy and swallow the bait, hook and all. Mostly for my sake, I think, Dad would try to save the fish. In the event he actually was able to remove the hook and we threw it back in the water, our not-so-lucky catch was likely to float on the water. Sometimes resuscitation was just not to be. It was then the cats got a tasty treat, though to be honest, I think they turned their kitty noses up at brim, too.

Anyway...I've digressed, as I am apt to do. Me = not a big fisher. I love to eat fish, but killing them just seems so sad! But Jason and Dad were enthusiastic, and Mom and I were eager to eat fresh halibut. As it turns out, Mom was the best at it! She caught lots of halibut, but because we were each only allowed to keep two of our halibut catches, she had to throw quite a few back. And, unlike me, she reeled all of hers in by herself (to be clear, Jason and Dad did, too). You wouldn't believe how tough it was to pull up a 12 pound fish attached to a 3 pound sinker from the bottom of the ocean! I guess all that swimming over the years has really paid off.

At the end of the day, we ended up with 46 pounds of fish, most of which was halibut (we also caught two cod and kept both of them). It was a great day.

Conclusion? There will be lots of halibut and cod blogging over the next several months! Here are a couple of recipes so far:

Blackened Halibut with Peach Avocado Salsa

Grilled Fish Soft Tacos

Tino [right] and Richard [left] chopping up herring.
Frozen herring
Not a bad view as we left Homer and headed into the open waters.

Sea gulls followed us out to the fishing grounds and then back into the harbor.
On the way back from fishing, Tino and Richard filleted the halibut. They were amazingly deft at hand, as they used very sharp knifes to accurately filet a fish while the boat was bumping along. They had it down to a science!
Dinner at last.
Richard filleting cod.
Awww...poor little cod! Is Richard just playing at this point? No, by slicing open the fish's head, he's is able to remove the ear bones from the cod. Why? Because they sell the bones for $20 each to craftsmen who make them into earrings.
Ear bones

Back in the harbor.
What do you call a group of cute sea otters? A raft.
On our drive back to the house, we spotted this Bald Eagle starring down waiting for dinner.