Saturday, June 11, 2011

Double Take

{Author's Note: I am lame. I started this post on June 11th. It's now July 2nd and a gloriously 85+ degrees with sunny skies in Santa Barbara, with more normalized weather elsewhere, so now this entry sounds ludicrous. But it's a delicious recipe which would be perfect to make this holiday weekend, so I'm going to go ahead and finish this post. I hope you enjoy it and Happy Independence Day!}

It's summertime! Doesn't that seem to be the case as much of the country is wilting under record-breaking temps? Yet Santa Barbara remains all about June Gloom. I'm sick of waking up every day to temperatures in the mid-50s, drizzle and gray skies. It does make for good magazine reading, a favorite pastime, but I'd much prefer to do it by the pool or on the beach than wrapped in a blanket on my sofa.

I'm an admitted magazine junkie and have been having a hard time keeping up with my new inventory. It's getting a little out of hand now as the July publications are arriving in my mailbox and I'm still trying to get through my May issues.

I was absorbing each page of the June Food & Wine issue with the intensity of an X-ray technician scanning patient films in search of anything awry, reading each recipe word for word and studying each photograph as if I was committing it to memory for a test. It can be painful to watch but it's my equivalent of a kid in a candy store. This is how I read cooking magazines. That is until I came to an article called "The Virtues of Vegan Grilling." Literally, I was like, "Yawn. . . . Who wants to read that?" and my eyes glazed over. Truthfully, I've often thought vegans were missing out. You can't expect a Southern girl to understand someone who doesn't have a love affair with pork. And as a pizza and pasta fan(atic), well, it just seems nearly criminal to eschew eggs and cheese. So I mindlessly and hurriedly flipped the pages in anticipation of something of real value when my turning halted and I did a double take. . . .

There in front of my eyes was this vibrant plate filled with grilled broccoli and chunks of bread that made my mouth water. Seriously, you could almost taste the smokiness and crunchiness of the charred ingredients with just a hint of sweetness; a plate which would only be enhanced by the perfectly poured Pilsner photographed next to it while sitting at a picnic table with friends and laughing in between bites of food as the sun warmed your skin.

Instead I was alone in my house under very unfriendly grilling weather. But there was something about that photo I couldn't let go of. So much for my utter disregard for vegan cooking. . . . We may not see eye to eye on everything but they clearly had something here. So, I ran to the grocery store to gather the required provisions. Well, let's just say that I did take some liberties with the recipe because let's be honest, who, besides a vegan, wants to eat vegan ciabatta? Firstly, I've never even heard of such a thing. And secondly, where does one even find it for that matter? I know I shouldn't knock it until I try it, but do you know how awesome pillowy, chewy "real" ciabatta is?

I knew I also needed some protein to make this a meal. I opted for U.S. wild-caught shrimp, which I thought would seem less offensive to the vegans. I know that is ridiculous but I think I was hoping that picking something endorsed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Guide would somehow help me gain their approval after butchering their recipe.

Since the weather was not cooperating, I had to resort to ye old grill pan. While not as good as the real thing, it still creates some beautiful grill marks and some smokiness which makes it seem almost plausible that you're eating something fresh off the Weber.

When you think about it, this dish is really just a refreshing rift on a traditional panzenella salad with tomatoes and Italian bread. It comes together quickly as there is really no marinating or prep for the ingredients. It's pretty much peel or cut and get it on the grill. I do think it will be a winning dish this summer, regardless of whether June Gloom spills into July or Fogust returns like last year.

Grilled Broccoli and Bread Salad with Pickled Shallots
Adapted from Food & Wine

2 large shallots, thinly sliced
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup sherry
1/8 cup sherry vinegar
1/8 cup agave syrup
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
Kosher salt
Grated zest and juice from 1 Meyers lemon (which are sweeter and juicier than traditional lemons)
1/2 cup olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp crushed red pepper
2 tsp chopped rosemary
1 1/2 lbs broccoli, cut into long spears, stems peeled
1 1/2 - 2 lbs shrimp, peeled and deveined (depending on what you want your protein to vegetable ratio to be and how filling you want this salad to be)
1/2 lb ciabatta, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
2 Tbsp toasted pine nuts

1. Put the shallots and the raisins in two separate, small, heat-proof bowls. In a small sauce pan, combine the sherry, sherry vinegar, and agave syrup and bring to a boil. Pour 2 Tbsp of hot mixture over raisins; pour the rest over the shallots and add the thyme and 1 tsp of salt. Cover both bowls.
2. Light a grill or grill pan. Combine the lemon zest and juice with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Set aside 4 Tbsp of the dressing. Add garlic, crushed red pepper and rosemary to the remaining dressing in the bowl.
3. On a rimmed baking sheet, place the broccoli on one side and the shrimp on the other (so they're segregated on the sheet). Drizzle half the dressing over each side and toss well, with just a Tbsp reserve to drizzle over the cubed bread. Grill the broccoli over moderate heat, turning, until lightly chard and just tender, about 8-10 minutes. Transfer broccoli to a bowl, cover with foil and let steam for an additional 5 minutes. Add the shrimp to the grill and grill each side approximately 2 minutes, until opaque and cooked through. Remove and place in a large serving bowl. Don't overcook--the shrimp will keep cooking after you remove it. Finally, add the ciabatta slices until crisp, maybe 1 minute each side.
4. Cut the ciabatta into 1-inch cubes. Add to the bowl with shrimp, along with the broccoli. Drain the raisins and shallots and add to the salad. Drizzle with reserved dressing and pine nuts. Mix well and serve. Yields: 4 servings.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Up in the Air

This seems to be a place I'm spending a lot of my time lately. The 6:00 am flights are kind of a drag at times when the alarm goes off at 4:00 am, but it is awe-inspiring to see the sunrises . . .

. . . and the sunsets from up in the air.

I always loved the view from the top when you're above the clouds. It looks like a big marshmellow-y carpet that I want to run on. Granted that probably wouldn't end well for a number of reasons, but it doesn't diminish the allure for me.

I've spent a lot of time waking up in new cities . . .

. . . and finding new acquaintances in close quarters, like these lovely critters caught in between the plane window panes.

It's always great to get home, but it's often not a well-stocked one (except for alcohol). It can be a bit exhausting too to fly all over the place so the idea of spending all day in the kitchen making a tasty spread seems like more energy than I can muster some days. After ordering pizza for 3 days in a row, I finally realize that I have to make a change. . . .

And then it's frozen dinner time! That's right, it seems like some days all the cooking energy I can expend is to push 3:00 on my microwave and watch the plastic tray go around and around like a zombie.

Thankfully Trader Joe's has some pretty good options. This one has been in high rotation of late. The finished product always looks better on the box though, doesn't it?

The good news is that since I started microwavin' I've got more time for . . . . ;-)

Happy June, y'all! [Can you believe it's already June?!]