Friday, June 25, 2010

Grilled Thai Salmon and Vegetables with Coconut Rice

My Mom found this recipe in Bon Appetite magazine years ago and its been a favorite ever since. This was Dad's request for Father's Day dinner (we did actually have a meal before we enjoyed the Coconut Cream Pie).
My earlier Father's Day Pie post was a little long winded so I'll keep this one short and sweet. I'll let you refer to the recipe at for the specifics. I found some beautiful Wild King Salmon at Fresh Market and had them cut into four pieces, approx 1/3 pound each. You make a spice rub and coat the salmon on all sides. (Mom removed the salmon skin to allow for more spice-coated surface.) We coated them and then set back in the fridge until we were ready to grill. The salmon is grilled no more than 3-4 minutes per side for medium. (You could pan sear it also.)
Meanwhile you prepare a mixture of vegetables, we used two bell peppers (sliced into strips), some cremini mushrooms (half a package), and one bunch of green onions sliced into one inch pieces on a bias. The vegetables are sauteed in sesame oil with ginger and garlic. We didn't have any Bok Choy handy but I absolutely love it and would definitely add it next time.
The Coconut Rice is AMAZING. Most think of Rice as a backdrop on the plate but it really adds great flavor to this dish. You can't have a Thai meal without an element of coconut milk. (I think Mom omits the oil.)
Lastly but most important, is the dressing/sauce served over top the dish. It is a heavenly yet simple combination of sesame oil, soy, rice vinegar, ginger, sugar and cilantro. (Mom doubles the cilantro.) You spoon this over the vegetables and the fish just before serving. Be sure to bring extra to the table.
The preparation is relatively quick yet the interesting flavors and the beautiful presentation makes for a great entertaining menu. I was so glad Dad suggested it because it's been years since I'd made it. It was the perfect refresher course preparing it with Mom this time. This might be a summer staple at the Lacy house this year.
With dinner we sampled two different white wines. It was opressively hot and humid last weekend. I would have loved a Pinot Noir with this dish however a cool, crisp white sounded most refreshing. We started with a Francis Coppola Diamond Pinot Grigio (a relatively new addition to the Coppola collection from Monterey) which was delicious though very very light. We also tried the Simi Savignon Blanc from Sonoma which I felt stood up a bit better to the food with stronger fruit flavors and a bit more acidity.

Coconut Cream Pie

When I asked my Dad what he'd like to see on the Father's Day dinner menu, I was not at all surprised that Coconut Cream Pie made the list. For as long as I can remember, it has been his favorite dessert. I've been working on my recipe for almost a decade now, unfortunately I haven't quite perfected the meringue yet. (The custard is pretty darn good though- if I do say so myself.) This last pie would have been close to perfect if I wasn't battling what feels like 80% humidity here in Lexington. Meringue and humidity are NOT friends, however I'm just not on board with substituting whipped cream like so many people do. A real custard pie-whether its chocolate, vanilla, banana cream, etc-requires a mile high meringue topping in my opinion. Dad's Favorite Coconut Cream Pie Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Custard Filling: 2 1/4 cups whole milk 3/4 cup sugar 1/4 cup cornstarch 3 eggs, separated 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste (I love this stuff but you could substitute seeds from one whole vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract) 3/4- 1 cup flaked, sweetened coconut (depending how much you love coconut) 1 tablespoon butter I always make the custard first because it needs lots of time to set up. I like to have at least 4 hours in the fridge before serving. If its not properly set, the custard oozes out into a puddle when you set the slice of pie on a plate. In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, I whisk together the sugar and corn starch before adding the milk. I then cook it over medium heat until the liquid comes to a simmer. (Stir constantly to avoid sticking- I like a whisk for this. If you get lumps from minor sticking on the bottom of the pan, you can quickly strain the mixture to remove any clumps and then return it to the pan and continue.) In the meantime, separate the eggs (set whites aside) and lightly beat the yolks with a fork in a small bowl. As the custard mixture reaches a simmer, spoon about a 1/4 cup of the hot mixture into the egg yolk bowl and mix together quickly. This process is called "tempering" the eggs. It essentially brings the yolks up to a hot temperature so that they can be incorporated into the custard versus being immediately cooked by the hot liquid. This would give you big, eggy chunks in your custard...not pleasant. Pour the eggs into the saucepan with the custard, stirring everything together immediately. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil over medium heat- whisking constantly- for 4-5 minutes or until the mixture has thickened to resemble pudding. (It will thicken much more as it cools.) Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla, coconut and butter. Transfer the custard mixture to a glass bowl and let cool for a few minutes. Then cover with plastic wrap so that the plastic is laying on top of the custard (this prevents a skin from forming on the top of the custard) and refrigerate while you prepare the crust and meringue. Pie Shell: [Insert your favorite pastry dough recipe here] -or- Use one store bought Pillsbury pie dough. The rolled up kind in the refrigerator section is my favorite. I set it out on the counter for 5 minutes to let it soften slightly and then I roll it out a bit with a rolling pin. I gently press it into a 9 inch glass pie plate, crimping the edges into a wave pattern with my fingers. Next I prick the crust all over with a fork, including up the sides before baking it at 400 degrees for 10-11 minutes or until just golden brown. (It will bake a few minutes more with the meringue so leave a little room for additional toasting.) (Use pie weights for this if you have them. I don't so I just try to secure the dough over the lip of the pie plate while crimping the edges. This keeps it from shrinking in too much while baking.)

Meringue: 5 egg whites (three were reserved from the custard, I add two extra)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

pinch of salt

Beat the egg whites together with the salt in a standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment- on high speed- for about 2-3 minutes or until they are foamy and nearly doubled in size. I then sprinkle the sugar lightly over the top and continue to beat on high speed for another 3 minutes or so until stiff peaks form. (Stopping once to gently spoon down the sides with a spatula.) The definition of stiff peaks is where I struggle a bit... When I've watched my Mom make it (hers is always perfect) the meringue looks shiny and holds a peak when you scoop the top with a spatula. I think I always stop a minute short for some reason.

Once the meringue is ready, I transfer the custard into the baked pie shell and then top with the meringue. You want to make sure the meringue is "connected to" or touching the pie shell around the edges. This prevents the it from shrinking back to form an island in the middle of the pie while baking.

Put the pie back into the 400 degree oven for 4-5 minutes or until the meringue is golden brown. I like to sprinkle the top with lightly toasted coconut before baking. You can also sprinkle with un-toasted coconut as it will get a little color on it when it bakes. As you can see, mine got a little too toasty this time so watch carefully!

I was anxious to continue the setting up process in the fridge so I threw it right in there on a wire rack... I would NOT do this again... I think the quick cooling of the meringue created some condensation which resulted in some extra liquid in the pie plate. My meringe also fell amost a whole inch between the baking and cooling which was disappointing. It was due partially to humidity for sure. Learn from my mistake and let cool completely before refrigerating.
Though the meringue wasn't exactly mile high as I like it, I think Dad (and the rest of us) enjoyed it nonetheless.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Oven Roasted Ratatouille

In the spirit of summer vegetables and as a thank you to my mom for her help as my gardening instructor, I made two dishes of Oven Roasted Ratatouille- one for John and I and one for my Mom to take home for she and my dad to enjoy. I used a recipe that I found on for a Ratatouille inspired baked veggie concoction. I've been looking for an excuse to use the mandolin that John got me for Christmas too so this was just perfect. I found that the zucchini squash (I used green and yellow) was easy to slice quickly with the mandolin but the eggplant and bell pepper aren't necessarily mandolin-able due to the toughness of the skin. I sliced those thinly with a sharp knife- to about 1/8 of an inch. For two medium-sized baking dishes of the Ratatouille I used: 2 red bell peppers 4 medium sized squashes 2 small eggplants I set my vegetables aside in three different dishes. After coating two dishes with non stick spray, I made a "sauce" mixture in the bottom by adding the following ingredients to each of the dishes: 1 cup tomato puree (from a can) 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced 1/2 cup finely chopped sweet onion (you'll use about one medium onion total) 1 tsp dried Herbs de Provence 1/2 tsp kosher salt 1/4 tsp cracked black pepper (NOTE: you'll need twice these proportions for both pans or for one large 9 x 13 pan.) I gently stirred everything together right in the dish and then spread it evenly to coat the bottom. I layered the vegetables into the dishes, alternating to nicely display the colors. I then drizzled the top with olive oil and dusted everything with kosher salt, black pepper and some more dried Herbs de Provence.

Per SmittenKitchen's suggestion, I cut a piece of parchment paper to sit atop the vegetables. They baked at 375 degrees for 50 minutes. (You don't want them to get brown or they will get mushy and mushy is what gives eggplant a bad name.) The smell as the ratatouille bakes is absolutely heavenly. When you spoon the vegetables out of the dish, you have a yummy sauce (cooked perfectly while baking) to spoon over the top. I could eat a plate full of the veggies alone for a meal but I served them alongside a piece of quickly seared yellowfin tuna, also dusted lightly with salt, pepper and Herbs de Provence and a big piece of toasted ciabatta bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. Summery and delicious!

The next night, I used my left over ratatouille as a bed for a fried egg and enjoyed it "hash" style alongside an arugula salad with fresh lemon juice, olive oil and shaved parmesan. Definitely a keeper recipe. Will have to try it again when I have some fresh squash of my own from the garden!

Farm Fresh from Our New Kentucky Home

No more apologizing, I've been doing it a lot lately... but I know its been ages since my last post. For those of you still tuning in at home, John and I moved to Lexington, KY just over one week ago and as you can imagine, things have been a bit hectic. As the dust begins to settle, I bring to you a brand new Accidental Syrup from our New Kentucky Home!
While the very first thing that I unpacked was my kitchen, I haven't really gotten into my cooking routine yet. I did find inspiration for this delicious summer vegetable dish one evening after my mom and I planted my garden. (See my next post for the recipe)That's right! My very own garden. My mom has the greenest thumb around and she has a bounty of fresh vegetables picked fresh from her garden all summer. When we found out we were moving up this way, I was immediately excited about the opportunity to learn all of her secrets.
Fortunately our new yard already had a nice garden frame (for lack of a better word), though we had to remove the luscious weed garden that occupied it in order to fill it with gardening soil. The garden is probably 8 x 14 feet or so and we filled it with mom's magical gardening soil mix:
  • Four large bags of Miracle Grow Gardening Soil
  • 20 bags of generic Top Soil
  • One large bag of Peat Moss

We "folded" it all together with shovels to ensure it was well mixed before gently leveling it out with the back of a rake. We then planted a variety of tomato plants -yellow cherry, red grape, Roma, Better Boy, and various heirlooms including two plants from my grandfather up in Pennsylvania. He's been cultivating heirloom tomato plants that trace back to his native land of Italy for as long as I've been alive, and longer I'm sure. We also planted cucumbers, peppers of all kinds and colors, squash, and okra. All of these plants require at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day so they can co-exist nicely together in a garden. I followed the instructions on the plant labels in terms of how far apart each should be planted.

Lastly we planted marigolds around the edges to deter critters from snacking the veggies and then I weaved a soaker hose between the plants. This makes watering easy as you can just hook the hose up for 30 mins or so on days without much rain to ensure everything stays watered. All in all it was actually a fairly easy project though now, I've found the waiting to be the hard part. I walk out to check on the garden each day and find myself staring suspiciously in hopes that I might catch a vegetable sprouting before my eyes. No such luck yet though I do look forward to sharing recipes featuring the fruits of my labor as we get into the summer months!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Orzo Pasta Salad with Roasted Shrimp

As most of you know, John and I are in the process of moving from Charleston, SC to Lexington, KY. We closed on the sale of our home here last week and we are enjoying a much needed week of vacation at the beach (Isle of Palms) with my family before we close on our new home on Friday. If you've ever moved, let alone orchestrated the sale and purchase of a home at the same time, surely you can understand the lack of blog posts as of late. As we get settled in next week, I assure you the pace will pick right back up! Two weeks ago now a group of us hosted a baby shower for our friend Luci. I volunteered to plan the menu for the Saturday brunch (approx 20 guests.) As much as I love to cook, when you're hosting, its important that you avoid putting in so much work on the front end of the event that you're frazzled by the time you get there. I'm a proponent of supplementing store bought or catered fare with a few fantastic homemade items to keep it manageable. I decided on the following:
Local Caterer:
Bite-sized Ham Biscuits
Assorted Tea Sandwiches (pimento cheese, chicken salad, and open faced cucumber and cream cheese)
Fruit Tray with Lemon Cream Dipping Sauce
Cheese Wafers
Tomato Pie
Orzo Pasta Salad with Roasted Shrimp
I was able to prepare all three items the day before the shower which was key. The pies were re-warmed just before serving (I'll save this recipe for another day soon) and the salad tasted even better the next day. I watched Ina Garten make this salad (recipe found here) years ago and I'd always wanted to try it. I made a larger portion (approx 1.5 times the recipe) to accommodate a group of 20 women as a side dish for the luncheon- however we had lots of left overs.
Orzo Pasta Salad with Roasted Shrimp adapted from Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa
1 and a half packages of Orzo Pasta
Medium/Large Shrimp (3 lbs peeled and de-veined)
Juice of 4-5 lemons (approx 3/4 cup juice)
A generous 2/3 cup good Olive Oil
1 bunch of Scallions- green and white parts, chopped
1 and a half Hothouse/English Cucumber- peeled and diced into cubes (not quite one inch)
One half of a medium/large Red Onion- diced
1 pound (generous) good quality Feta cheese- diced into cubes
1 cup chopped fresh Dill
3/4 cup chopped fresh Mint
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook the orzo pasta per package instructions. I always cut one minute from the cook time for al dente. While the pasta cooks, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of black pepper in the bottom of a large bowl. Drain the pasta well and then toss with the dressing in the bowl. Dressing the pasta while its warm allows the pasta to soak up the flavors and it keeps the pasta from clumping together as it cools.
Toss the shrimp with a generous drizzle of olive oil, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and black pepper directly on a large baking sheet. I actually moved half of the shrimp to a second baking sheet to ensure that I could spread them out well. I've found that you get the best caramelization if they aren't touching each other on the pan. Roast the shrimp in the oven for 5-6 minutes or until they are slightly firm to the touch. (I had one pan on the top rack and the other on the bottom rack in the oven so I switched them half way through the cook time.)
While the shrimp cool on the baking sheets (20 minutes or so), chop/dice/cube the remaining ingredients and toss into the bowl with the orzo. Finally add the shrimp and gently toss everything together. I transferred the salad to an extra large tupperware container and refrigerated overnight. I kept it refrigerated up until just before the guests were to arrive to ensure it was still cool and the shrimp stayed fresh.
It was a lovely Spring/Summer dish and it comes together fairly quickly. It would be a delicious for a picnic lunch all by itself or as an impressive side dish for a cook out. I think it worked perfectly with the menu. It dressed things up a bit from the standard tea or luncheon fare while saving all of the oogling for the mom-to-be and the darling baby clothes and gifts. For dessert we had an adorable AND delicious cake (topped with two little baby shoes made of fondant)courtesy of a friend of a friend and to sip on we had Prosecco and Pellegrino with assorted juices to mix in (orange, cramberry, etc). All in all I think it was a great event!