Monday, June 28, 2010

Everything's Better With Bacon

Even salad. The New York Times Magazine food column had an article by its food critic on how he manages his "work" schedule and how he incorporates salad into his "diet." Here is the recipe for salad that he makes and three dressing choices to put on top.

Big Country Salad
  • 1/4 pound slab bacon, cut into 1-inch-long lardons
  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup good-quality blue cheese, crumbled
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 head romaine lettuce.
  1. Fry the bacon over medium heat until almost crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Reserve a splash of bacon fat.
  2. Return bacon pan to heat and add the bread crumbs, tossing until just golden. Remove from pan and reserve.
  3. 3. Combine the lemon juice, vinegar, garlic and mustard in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil and reserved bacon fat until dressing emulsifies. Add a tablespoon of blue cheese and whisk again. Season to taste.
  4. Roughly chop the lettuce and put in a salad bowl. Add bread crumbs and remaining cheese, then the dressing. Toss to mix. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
Basic Sunday-Salad Dressing
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon red-wine vinegar
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Combine the lemon juice, vinegar, shallot and mustard in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until the dressing emulsifies. Add salt and pepper to taste. Whisk again before dressing salad. Serves 4.

Slightly Creamier Sunday-Salad Dressing
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Combine the vinegar, mayonnaise, mustard and shallot in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until the dressing emulsifies. Season to taste. Whisk again before dressing salad. Serves 4.

Italianate Sunday-Salad Dressing
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons good-quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Scant handful basil leaves, chopped
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Combine the lemon juice, vinegar and garlic in a small bowl. Add the basil and stir to combine. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until the dressing emulsifies. Add the cheese and whisk again. Season to taste. Whisk again before dressing salad. Serves 4.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Grilled Italian BLTs

Ask LBA what happens when we have overnight visitors and the response will usually be, "we have pancakes . . . and bacon." It's possible that he has been indoctrinated into the Royal Order of Pork Fat Rules.

In the Washington Post Food section on May 12, there were a number of good recipes, including this one for a BLT variety, which uses Pancetta instead of regular bacon. It's worth a try.

Grilled Italian BLTs
The Washington Post, May 12, 2010

Traditional BLTs can be delicious, but sometimes they're lacking. Apart from the usual caloric overload, there doesn't seem to be enough acidity in the sandwich to balance the fat.

My alternative offers a dose of vinegar to achieve that balance. To be sure the sandwich has enough bite, I use baby arugula, a wonderfully bitter green that is readily available this time of year. Instead of regular, fatty bacon, I use pancetta, an unsmoked Italian bacon that is meaty and mild-tasting.

This open-faced sandwich is built with care. Slices of Italian or country bread are grilled, then topped with a lightly dressed salad. Grilling the pancetta instead of placing it under the broiler will keep it from shrinking. To seal the deal, a thin slice of fresh mozzarella melts from the heat of the grill or a hot oven. For me, it's lunch.

4 servings
  • 2 ounces (about 4 cups) baby arugula, washed and spun dry
  • 4 ounces vine-ripened tomato, peeled and seeded if desired, cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces (1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 slices Italian or country bread (about 3/4 ounces each)
  • 8 thin slices pancetta (3 to 4 ounces total)
  • 4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 8 thin slices
Prepare the grill for direct heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high (450 degrees). If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them evenly under the cooking area. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for about 4 or 5 seconds. Lightly coat a grill rack with oil and place it on the grill.

(Alternatively, position an oven rack 4 to 6 inches from the top broiler element; preheat the broiler.)

Toss together the arugula, tomato, oil, vinegar, salt and the pepper to taste in a medium bowl.

Grill or broil the bread for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until it is lightly browned or has good grill marks. Transfer the bread to a large piece of aluminum foil.

Top each slice with one-quarter of the arugula-tomato salad; distribute the pancetta and then the mozzarella evenly to form open-faced sandwiches.

Return, with the foil, to the grill or broiler and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the cheese melts. Serve hot.

Recipe Source:
From Nourish columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Clarification Needed?

Mrs. BA pointed out to me last night that my most recent post was a little too whiny and that perhaps I was leaving people with the impression that I don't like the way my life is. Quite the contrary. I am very happy with my life, I just would like some more time to do things.

Mrs. BA and I celebrated eight years of marriage in May and I have never been happier than I am when I am with her. Tomorrow is of course, Father's Day and I am blessed to have two wonderful boys.

Part 2 of yesterday's post will likely come next week and it will layout all that I am involved in and hopefully explain why I am so tired. Unfortunately, being tired, leads to being cranky, which sometimes expresses itself in whiny blog posts and I apologize, specifically to Mrs. BA, if she was upset by last night's post [which she was].

Friday, June 18, 2010

So What's Your Day Look Like

Okay, so I'm going to complain here a little bit. Now I know we are all busy and much of this is my own fault. But perhaps you can see something here and have an idea for me . . .

The normal weekday starts at the Brave Astronaut launchpad between 6:00am and 7:00am. The time varies because (a) the alarm clock(s) go off at 6:00, but the snooze button gets punched by both Mrs. BA and I (for a better understanding of why - see the end of the post - when we actually get to bed) a few times and (b) if LBA and SoBA are still asleep, there is less of an impetus for us to get up. Hey, if they're not calling for us, we don't have to get up, right? LBA has possibly already entered his teenage years as he often needs to be awakened, but SoBA is usually up in the 6:00 hour (and why is it that they can all sleep late on weekdays but not on weekends?).

Mrs. BA gets the shower first and I head downstairs for breakfast time. Breakfast time involves, well, breakfast, getting car snacks together, and if feeling particularly productive, lunch for Mrs. BA and the Brave Astronaut to take to work. The boys head upstairs a few minutes ahead of me and I quickly cleanup the kitchen and then head upstairs to shower and dress. I have managed to hone my morning routine to the point of once I get upstairs, I can be ready to walk out the door in about 15 minutes. Mrs. BA works on corralling the boys through the final steps of their morning routines.

Of late, the Brave Astronaut clan has been all leaving the house together, with me driving the boys to school and Mrs. BA to work and then I head to my office. Somehow, as long as we leave before 8:00am, that entire process takes about one hour and fifteen minutes from house to my office. If it is after 8:00, add about another half hour to the trip. SoBA gets dropped off first (by Mrs. BA), then I take LBA to his center. I come back and pick up Mrs. BA and take her to her office. Then its the hike back out to Maryland to my office. I don't mind this as I like us all being together and come the fall, it's all going to change anyway (LBA will start Kindergarten in town, while SoBA will still be going downtown with Mrs. BA).

Once at work, (currently) my day starts between 9:00 and 9:30. This means that I will not leave until between 5:30 and 6:00pm and I'll address in a moment why that's a problem. My current workload has plenty to keep me busy and unfortunately, I spend much of my days keeping the smoldering embers of things I need to get done from roaring into uncontrolled conflagrations. There's meetings, administrative functions, and other responsibilities that pushes me into making a series of lists (a To-Do list for the week, a daily To-Do list, long range goal lists, timetables and schedules). I would likely benefit from a time management course.

Leaving the office, if it's a day like it has been of late, I am going to head to the Metro station to pick up Mrs. BA and the boys from the train, as they have taken the Metro home. Ideally, I would have (and have in the past) gone home first to get dinner started for the boys (and if there's plenty of time - for Mrs. BA and me). With the summer months upon us, it's OK for the boys to play outside in the yard while I get dinner together. I would like to be more diligent about menu planning and making use of "timed cooking" (i.e., a crockpot or using the timer in our oven), but that hasn't happened yet.

Once dinner finishes up, it is usually coming up on 8:00 and that means bath time and bed for the boys. Mrs. BA graciously takes on that task (baths) and then the boys will usually settle in for a show (current favorites: Arthur and Cyberchase, and the occasional Thomas). Then the boys will get a few books read to them and it is off to bed. SoBA is a very good sleeper and goes to bed very easily. LBA still needs a little encouragement but both boys are usually down and out by 9:30 at the latest.

So finally, it's grown-up time. Mrs. BA and I are both TV addicts and we would certainly like to just veg out in front of the tube and watch something (we have an extensive list of shows of our own on the DVR list). We both usually wind up working on our computers, although it's possible that I might spend a fair amount of time on Facebook, playing CafeWorld or Lexulous. I can't tell you why, but CafeWorld is mindless entertainment and it relaxes me. Mrs. BA is usually dealing with laundry, as that task never ends, with two small boys in the house. Some nights, I or Mrs. BA will announce we are "up," which means we are heading to be, sometimes with the computer, sometimes not. Now because we are not smart people, there is a TV in the bedroom and it will most of the time get switched on. We will often get sucked into some bad "B" movie, the occasional "A" movie, or a rerun of an old sitcom. What that results in is lights out usually around midnight. And then it starts all over again just six short hours later.

Next week, I'll talk more about some of the specific things I am involved in and discuss the things I would like to be doing and things I really should be doing. Feel free to comment away.

Monday, June 14, 2010

It's Flag Day!

Here at the Brave Astronaut launchpad, Memorial Day is in the rear view mirror and today is Flag Day - so summer must be in full swing. We have been poolside as much as possible as the Washington heat is really starting to be in full swing.

I am rapidly coming to the realization that I am overextended (that I might, might, be doing too many things), I have a blog post (likely several posts) in my head that will illustrate this point, as well as several items in my Google Reader that I want to share with you, my dear readers. I have been absent from here, so all you have been getting are recipes that are easy to write and stock the blog with.

But anyway, I'm still here and hope that you are as well. I will try to be better, yes, I know, I've said this before, but I really mean it. Don't leave me. Don't make me beg :)

As mentioned, today is Flag Day. It is my mother-in-law's birthday so happy birthday to her. It would have also been my parents 58th wedding anniversary, so I am thinking of my mother today - as I do every day.

The recipe for tonight is pointedly for those fine ChvChicks, who featured a number of cocktails on the run-up to ChvProm a few weeks ago and just wrapped up a ChvChick weekend in the Big Easy. But I am sure they won't mind if you make a batch for yourself. It is, of course, a cocktail that uses champagne and comes from the June 2010 issue of Bon Appetit.

Raspberry Smash
makes 2
[smashing (called muddling in the bartending biz) the raspberries with the vodka, sugar, and lime wedges brings out the berry flavor.]
  • 2 lime wedges
  • sugar (for dipping)
  • 1/2 cup fresh raspberries
  • 6 tbsp. vodka
  • 4 tsp. sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups ice cubes
  • 1/4 cup chilled Champagne
Run 1 lime wedge around rims of 2 old fashioned glasses. Dip rims in sugar. Place both lime wedges, raspberries, vodka, and sugar in cocktail shaker; using muddler or wooden spoon handle, smash fruit mixture. Add ice, shake 10 seconds. Divide between glasses (do not strain), top with Champagne, and serve.

[the recipe that appeared in the magazine is adapted from a recipe that is featured at Bella Vista, a restaurant at the Four Seasons Resort in Santa Barbara, CA.]

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Summer Cocktail

With the arrival of June (and the warm weather), it is necessary (some places, even required) to enjoy a nice summery cocktail in the evening. Here's one that can be made in quantity and kept in the fridge and / or served in large pitchers. Whether or not you want to share is up to you.

Thieves' Punch
The Washington Post, May 12, 2010

The original recipe calls for white rum, but Spirits columnist Jason Wilson says cachaca gives this punch much richer flavor and more complexity. [Cachaca is the same Brazilian spirit used in the caipirinha.] Don't omit the bitters: They balance the lime juice.

8 servings

  • Ice
  • 16 ounces cachaca
  • 5 ounces ruby or tawny port
  • 10 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 4 limes)
  • 5 ounces simple syrup (see NOTE)
  • 20 dashes Angostura bitters
Fill 8 old-fashioned or rocks glasses with ice. Combine the cachaca, port, lime juice, simple syrup and bitters in a pitcher. Add ice, then stir. Strain into the old-fashioned or rocks glasses.

NOTE: To make simple syrup, combine 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a slow rolling boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof container and let cool to room temperature.

Recipe Source:
Adapted from a recipe by Duggan McDonnell of Cantina in San Francisco that was published in Food & Wine magazine's "Cocktails '09."