Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Oh my goodness. As I type this, I am sitting in a sweltering room, leaking sweat from the back of my chubby knees and wondering why the hell it hasn't rained in seven days. I know I moan and groan a lot during winter when it actually does rain, but it is really too bloody hot. Global warming, damn you.

When it's this hot out, I don't really enjoy being outside at all, so I usually just sit indoors and stare at the fan with a tall pitcher of iced tea and do nothing. But of course, my tummy gets all rumbly because I'm a greedy person, so I have to get up grudgingly and make some food.

Usually all I really crave in this weather is some lovely pinot grigio and prosciutto wrapped melon slices. But today I discovered I had some lovely wild king salmon fillets in the freezer and thought a Mediterranean style salad with some cooling cucumbers would make a lovely supper. The CSA also brought along some really beautiful heirloom cherry tomatoes that were just so cute and tasty (always seems wrong to put tasty and cute in the same sentence)!

This recipe is my take on the classic Mediterranean couscous salad, except that it uses quinoa and white wine vinegar. Quinoa is much better for you and works as a one dish meal in almost anything since it contains both carbs and protein. This recipe also makes about enough servings to last you through the week, so you can just be lazy and lie in a bath of ice cubes instead.

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad
Makes about 8 servings

1 cup quinoa, cooked according to package directions, cooled and fluffed *see note
2 medium English cucumbers, seeded and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1.5 pint cherry, grape or heirloom cherry tomatoes
10 large Italian basil leaves (or about 20 smaller ones), julienned
10 large mint leaves (or about 20 smaller ones), julienned

For the vinaigrette

1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small shallot, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine quinoa, vegetables, mint and basil in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the vinaigrette and add in to the quinoa salad. Toss well to combine. Serve with salmon fillets or tuna kebabs or sprinkle feta cheese over and eat as is!

*Note: To make perfect quinoa for a salad so that it doesn't turn out too mushy, always wash your quinoa well, strain and use 1 1/4 cup water to 1 cup quinoa. Once your quinoa is cooked, allow it to steam, covered for an additional 5 minutes.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Cultured Butter OMGOMGOMG

For some reason, I've never figured out why eating bread and butter in France always tastes better than eating it in any French Boulangerie in the United States (not to mention French cafes here are not really French cafes but silly pretentious frou frou ones). Butter here always tastes flat and greasy and kind of I don't know, bland? Call me ignorant or unfortunately unaware, but I recently discover the miracle of cultured butter - which I can make at home and it tastes like I bought it for $15 a pound at Whole Paythroughmyarse.

Anyway, cultured butter omgomgomg. Yes, it makes me that giddy. OMG! I found the method for making cultured butter on The Traveler's Lunchbox and well, OMG!

Cultured butter is a breeze to make, and costs half the price of something from Vermont Butter and Cheese Company or imported butter. All you need is a pint of the BEST heavy cream you can find, with the highest butterfat content and is not ultra-pasteurized, some creme fraiche and a lot of patience!

This butter goes absolutely FANTASTIC with crusty slices of baguette (as I'm typing, the roof of my mouth is bleeding from the whole loaf of baguette I just inhaled). I'm glad there are at least some decent baguettes here in Seattle, and with this cultured butter and a nice strong cup of cafe au lait, it's almost like I'm in Paris.

Cultured Butter (adapted from The Traveler's Lunchbox)

*Note: You can change the amount of cream used to yield more or less butter. One pint of cream will yield about 1 stick of butter and 1 cup of buttermilk. For each pint of heavy cream, use 2 tablespoons creme fraiche.

1 pint heavy cream (I used one with 40% butterfat, pasteurized)
2 tablespoons creme fraiche (see note above)
A big bowl of iced water
Fine mesh strainer

In a clean glass bowl, combine the heavy cream and creme fraiche. Stir lightly with a wooden spoon an cover with a clean dish towel. Place the covered bowl in a warm place, ideally the air temperature should be about 75°F (I put mine in the oven overnight). Leave it for 12 - to 24 hours.

After that period, the cream should look a little thicker and you can test with a clean spoon to see if has become tangier. If the cream is gassy and bubbly, you will want to toss it away and start over. It has always work for me within 12 - 14 hour period. Melissa from The Travelers Lunchbox suggests that the ideal temperature for churning is 60°F but I've discovered that at such a temperature, my butter takes forever to come together. So I take it straight from the oven and start churning using a handheld mixer on medium speed. It usually comes together within 20 minutes.

Churning may get a little messy, so you want to don an apron and use a really deep bowl. I used a handheld mixer on Speed-3. The first thing that will form when you beat the cream is whipped cream, which is thick and white. If you keep on beating, little yellow bits will start to curdle, and you know you have your butter. Bring the speed down to low and beat a while longer until the liquid is clear white (buttermilk) and your butterfat has come together.

Strain the buttermilk into a bowl and you can keep this for pancakes or muffins. Pour a cup of ice water over the butter and knead the butter with a fork. Discard the water when it becomes cloudy. Do this multiple times until your water is clear. Your butter will now be in a ball, and will be quite tough. At this point, you want may want to add a bit of sea salt to flavour your butter and give a final knead to release most of the water.

Put your butter on a piece of paper towel and squeeze to release any remaining water. You may want to do this a few times to ensure that your pat of butter is dry.

And voila! You now have salted, cultured butter! I wrapped mine in wax paper and put it in a Ziploc bag - if it is salted, it should last up to a month (if you don't finish it within two days with a loaf of baguette).

With the buttermilk, here's what I made: