Simple Summer Meal and Readying for Post-Summer Meals

2155Recently I fired up my charcoal grill to roast a bunch of vegetables. Rather than waste the coals, I used them to roast some extra vegetables to be used to make other items. When I grill vegetables I rarely add a lot of extra flavors since the grilling itself lends a lovely smokiness to whatever you’re cooking. I will typically toss what I plan to grill with olive oil or vegetable oil and a bit of salt and pepper and then let the grill do the rest. Once in a while, I’ll also add in some dried herbs or chili flakes. It can depend on my mood or if I have another use in mind where I don’t want to narrow down my options by pre-seasoning the vegetables.

This time I had two things in mind.

Idea One: Carrot Soup

I wanted to use up some carrots that I had in my veggie bin in the refrigerator. I had forgotten them and didn’t want them to go to waste. Like other root vegetables, unless you slice them very thin, you can’t really cook them directly on a grill. My solution for times I want to grill root vegetables is to first cook them in foil packs in which they’ll mostly steam and then put them on the grill once they’re mostly tender to add the charring and flavor of the grill.

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129130For my small amount of carrots, I simply peeled them and put them into two small foil packs with olive oil, salt and pepper. While I was grilling other things, the two foil packs just hung out at the edges getting tender. After about 15 minutes or so, I checked on the carrots and they were pretty tender. At that point, I put them into my grill pan on the grill and cooked them until they were charred and tender. I was then able to just put them into a container for another day.

114In a separate batch of veggies, I had put some char on some red onions. I pulled off the outside layer of the onions (the smokiest part) and put that in with my carrots. I knew I was going to want a little bit of something else to go in with my carrots for a soup.

2153On a night after work where I was getting home later and couldn’t face cooking anything that would take a while, I decided to use my carrots and that small amount of onion. I had a bit of chicken stock left over from some other cooking so I used my small countertop blender to blend together the carrot, onion, and chicken broth. I put the blended mixture into a small soup pot to heat and added more broth to get the thickness I desired. I left it pretty thick. Because I had seasoned both the carrot and the onion with salt and pepper, there wasn’t any extra seasoning required and the smokiness of the grill added a very nice note to the sweetness of the carrots and onion. It took seconds to blend and minutes to heat. I served it in a large bowl with a dollop of sour cream. It was a lot of flavor for very little effort.

Idea Two: Poblano “flavor bombs” for later

101In our veggie delivery we received a fair number of poblana peppers and red “torpedo” onions.   I didn’t have anything particular in mind to make so I decided to make some “flavor bombs” to throw into dishes later once poblanos would no longer be in season.   Once you do the work to create a flavorful mixture, you simply freeze it in ice cube trays or muffin tins and then store them in the freezer for any time you need a little flavor. They can be good thrown into soups and sauces. If you get desperate, you could simply thaw them and use them as a salsa-like dip.

107While the grill was hot, I threw in the poblanos, a couple small jalapenos, and onions that had been tossed in olive oil and salt and pepper. I wanted the peppers to get really black and charred. For the onions, I was looking for tenderness and some grill flavor. I moved the onions to less hot areas of the grill once they were as tender as I wanted, but I let the peppers go until they were extra charred.

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Once blackened on all sides, I took off the peppers and put them into a covered bowl to steam. Once they were cool enough to handle, I peeled off the charred skin and removed the seeds from inside. I was left with tender poblano and jalapeno flesh without any toughness from the skin. 139I put the roasted peppers and onion into a container and put it in the fridge for another day. If I had thought of it, I would have grilled some garlic as well, but I didn’t think of it until later.

Like the carrot soup, I used my small counter top blender to mix the roasted poblanos, the cooked onion (the charred outsides went into my carrot soup), and just enough broth to make a smooth but still thick sauce. Years ago I bought some extra large silicone ice cube trays that work really well when making these frozen flavor blocks since you can push them out easily once frozen. I transferred my pureed pepper mixture to the tray into 6 evenly sized blocks and put it into the freezer to freeze.

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2145The next day, I popped them out into a freezer bag for use later this fall or winter. They’d be great in a crock pot pork dish. Tossed in with pasta or rice. In a nice vegetable soup. It’s nice having things like this in the freezer so you are always ready to add flavor or to make pantry items a bit more special.

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I made some “basil bombs” recently too. Just like making pesto, I mixed up fresh basil and olive oil in a food processor and then froze it in silicone muffin tins un100til solid. The silicone makes removing the discs easy since you can push from the bottom. Since I don’t know if pesto is what I’ll want to use them for, I left out the garlic, nuts and cheese. If you wanted pesto on demand, that would work too. Instead, I just wanted to have “bombs” of basil flavor at the ready later once the basil is all long gone for the season.

As someone who has issues with “losing” items in the freezer, these little flavor bombs never get lost. It’s easy to toss them into dishes whenever you need just a little more flavor.

 

 

Marinating vegetables in reverse

071I feel like this is the summer of “vinegar.”  Vinegar cooking methods.  Vinegar ‘shrubs’ (basically vinegar and fruit cooked with sugar) to make drinks and cocktails.  New or different ways to use vinegar.  Making your own flavored vinegars.   I seem to read something nearly every week with something related to vinegars.

A recent recipe caught my eye for the idea of marinating vegetables AFTER cooking rather than before.  It was genius to me and I felt silly for not thinking about it myself.  One of the good things about so many food blogs is that even when I don’t think I’d like a particular recipe, I often see a technique I might not be using or someone who is doing something just a little different and in a way that makes sense given what I know of cooking.  It’s cool to know that even when you have solid kitchen skills, there’s always going to be a new way to think about an ingredient.  Or a technique.  Like marinating in reverse.

Sometimes a dressing on vegetables before they cook can either be useless for flavor or the ingredients can actually burn in the roasting (oven) or grilling (bbq) process giving an off flavor to the end result.  In reversing the order of things — cooking the vegetables first and then tossing the warm vegetables in the dressing afterward — the flavors remain bright and clean and the tender vegetables or warm “tender” protein, like fish, absorb the flavors readily.  I don’t think this would be as successful on things like chicken, pork or beef where you need a thicker sauce (like bbq sauce) to cling to the meat or you have to marinate before cooking.  For vegetables and fish and tofu, they can take on a bit more flavor after cooking.128

I did some experimentation.  I grilled some eggplant recently with just olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Once done, I drizzled on a bit of Japanese salad dressing I bought recently.  The tender eggplant was smoky from the grill but it readily picked up the brightness from the dressing.  It was tasty and got me looking for other ideas.

I ran across a recipe using this technique on the Real Simple site.  The original recipe called for halibut and then used eggplant again.  Maybe eggplant is one of the better recipes for this technique because it absorbs flavors well and has a lovely base flavor of its own.   To begin with, I didn’t have halibut but I had some cooked shrimp in my fridge that I wanted to use up so I decided to make my dish a combination of eggplant and shrimp.  The dressing is quite simple:  vegetable oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, jalapeno, cilantro, salt and pepper.  My proportions varied a bit from the original:

  • 2 T. canola oil
  • 1 T. soy sauce
  •  2 T. rice vinegar
  • 2 t. ginger (I like ginger)
  • 1 small jalapeno (I don’t love things too spicy so I removed the stems and seeds)
  • half of a store-sized bunch of cilantro (I love cilantro)

First I followed the recipe by mixing the eggplant with some oil and one tablespoon of soy sauce.  After tossing quickly, I sauteed it in a hot pan but left the extra oil and soy sauce in the bowl.  To the bowl, I tossed in my cooked shrimp just to give it a little start on flavor building.

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The eggplant browned up nicely and quickly.  When it was ready, I added in my shrimp and cooked only long enough for the shrimp to get warmed.  I then took it off the heat, tossed in the dressing, and mixed it all together.  I ate it as a side to cold buckwheat soba with a cold dipping sauce.  The shrimp-eggplant mixture with this Asian-inspired dressing was bright and had a pleasing but also “forward” flavor that wasn’t diminished or altered by cooking.  075

The leftovers the next day were also delicious as “salad.”

 

 

Grill a peach, y’all!

138I’ve been trying to make the most of these “last” days of summer which sounds ridiculous to anybody who isn’t working at a university where school starts at the end of August.  After one and a half decades, I still can’t get used to it.  School shouldn’t legally be able to begin prior to Labor Day.  And I’d really like it if it didn’t start until late September like it does for state schools.

Here’s part of the problem.  We finish in early May which seems awesome but it also means that public schools are still in session until mid June.  I don’t have children, but it does change the energy even for non-parents in that you really don’t feel like it’s summer until the kids are out of school.  By the time that happens, if you have students arriving this weekend like I do, it feels like the summer is over!

I know.  My problems.  Not problems.

Still, determined to wring a little bit out of summer, I grilled up a bunch of veggies last night for dinner:  green beans, various summer squash, eggplant “steaks” (just eggplant cut large and thick), carrots, and small shishito peppers.    I ate a lot of veggies last night but some of them were for salads later or soup ideas I have brewing.  It was nice to fire up the grill and eat outside as a way to cap off the weekend.

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When I had everything grilled, I remembered that I still have a couple peaches in my kitchen.  I got bunches of peaches last weekend and I’d been eating a couple each day in various ways.  I decided to try grilling a peach to see how it tasted.

125Once cut in half and with the skin removed (it can be pulled off in strips pretty easily when they’re ripe), I dusted the cut side with a bit of white sugar and cinnamon.   I put the peach on the grill cut side up first for about 3-4 minutes.  Then I turned it over with the sugar side on the grill for another 3-4 minutes.  It smelled kind of like caramel as the sugar began to caramelize a bit and the aroma of cinnamon filled the air.  When I got it off the grill, it didn’t look too dark since my coals were pretty done at that point, but it was warm.  The first bite?  OMG!  For real.  It was warm and sweet and super delicious.

132OMG.  Go bbq a peach, y’all!