Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Big "O"

So here's (one of ) the weird thing(s) about me. I HATE sports as a general rule, but I just LOVE the Olympics! So much so that four years ago, Cyd and I were camping on Cape Cod, and I actually drug us from our tent in Shawme-Crowell State Park into Sandwich, MA to find a sports bar just so that we could watch the women's gymnastic finals! Normally, I wouldn't be caught dead in a sports bar...unless the wings were truly exceptional. ;-)

So I have been glued to the t.v. lately, sometimes watching gymnastics until 2am! And last night, I made an international, polyglot dinner to celebrate all the nations of the world coming together to compete on the global stage! I didn't really mean to be all over the map with my dishes--it kinda just worked out that way. But everything was might tasty, so I wanted to share the recipes with you good people, in a spirit of peace and good sportsmanship. ;-)

Our pre-function came from sun-drenched Italy in the form of garden-fresh bruschetta--the first batch of the year! I never use a recipe for that. I just halve and de-goo some garden tomatoes (this time, I used the super-sweet orange Sungellas and the tangier red Subarctic Plenty), then chop them along with a little onion, several cloves of minced garlic, a glug of olive oil, a generous splash of good balsamic, a chiffonade of mixed basils, and salt and pepper to taste. Then I serve it on garlic toasts (crostini) or bagel crisps or even Triscuits in a pinch (the new Olive Oil and Black Pepper ones would be a fine choice). So delicious! We could easily eat this every night before dinner until the tomatoes are done.

Surprisingly, we had a second appetizer last night (or perhaps it was a side salad?), also to take advantage of the garden's bounty. You see, I grow the tomatoes and peppers, but my neighbor, Ken, grows the green beans and cucumbers for us to share. I don't really understand him, because he gets all excited in the spring to plow and plant, and he does most of the watering for both of us all summer long. But he hates to weed (don't we all?), and he never seems to harvest anything he grows! I went out there yesterday, and he had picked a dozen or maybe fifteen big cucumbers and just left them to rot on the ground! I "rescued" six or eight of them and brought them inside to decide what to do with them. They were oversized and, thus, very seedy. So I halved them, scooped out the seeds and cores, and then cut them very thinly on a mandoline-type slicer. Often times, I enjoy simply pickling cucumber slices in the fridge with white vinegar, a couple cloves of garlic, and maybe a sprig or two of dill if I have it. But yesterday, I remembered a student that I had in class years ago who did her informative speech on kimchee (Korean pickled cabbage), and she made a dynamite cucumber kimchee that she brough to share with everyone. I am not fond of many cabbage dishes, so I had never tried kimchee, though I do love almost anything pickled. It was SO GOOD! Fresh and spicy and fabulous! Who knew kimchee could be made from nearly any vegetable? From cabbage to cucumbers to turnip greens to name it! Kimchee just means "pickles" in Korean. And of course, every person has their own favorite recipe. Here's mine:

Fresh Cucumber Kimchee

6-8 large pickling cucumbers, peeled, cored, seeded, and sliced very thinly
1 medium carrot, peeled and thinly julienned or shredded
4 green onions, thinly sliced or chopped
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon red chile paste (start with 1/2 teaspoon and taste)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

sesame seeds to garnish (black ones look so pretty and very Asian!)

Mix everything except the sesame seeds together. Cover and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours to let the flavors meld* (tastes even better after a day or two). Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve as a condiment or a summer salad side dish (ooh, that alliteration!). Cyd said it might be wrong, but she'd like it on a hot dog! Tee hee.

*Traditionally, kimchee is fermented. If you prefer, leave the kimchee out at room temperature until it smells as sour as you like it, then refrigerate.

If you think Korean pickled condiments are strange, wait until you get a load of what we had for our entree! Recently, I was searching online for for different kinds of dill pickle recipes, and I ran across the oddest thing--a Polish pot roast made in a pressure cooker with--wait for it--dill pickles! Well, I don't have pressure cooker, but I just had to try a recipe with dill pickles used in a savory way, and I figured that the roast might do just as well in the crock pot. Good heavens, let me tell you, the roast turned out INCREDIBLE! It was fall-apart moist, and oh-so-flavorful. And the juices from the meat, combined with beef broth, white wine, and a sour cream finish, made for the most luscious sauce in which to bathe a pile of golden egg noodles. Cyd said it was the best pot roast that she's ever had! Just for fun, I told her there was a mystery ingredient and made her try to guess it, but she couldn't. When I finally told her about the pickles, she marvelled that you couldn't really pick them out of the mix, but it all came together in a magical way. Gotta love those crazy Poles! I bless Mrs. Gee, whoever she is; this recipe is a definite keeper and destined to be classic in this household!

Mrs. Gee's Polish Pickle Pot Roast
(Source: adapted from
Recipe Jungle)

2 tablespoons peanut oil (I used olive oil)
1 beef arm roast or chuck roast, about 1 1/2 - 2 -inches thick (I used 4 lbs. of chuck)
*salt, pepper and granulated garlic
1 large onion, small dice
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely diced
1 cup Rhine wine (I used Chardonnay because that's what I had open)
1 cup beef broth
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon coarse grind black pepper
*I also added one tablespoon paprika, because it seemed right and good.
2 large Polish dill pickles, coarsely chopped
1 large can sliced mushrooms (fresh mushrooms would be better)
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup sour cream

Add the oil to large heated skillet. Season the roast liberally with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic. Brown the roast on all sides. Remove the meat to a platter and set aside. Add the onions and garlic (and fresh mushrooms, if using) to the pan and saute until they begin to take on a little brown color. Add the wine, broth, salt, pepper, paprika, pickles, and (canned) mushrooms to the pan with the onions and garlic and stir well to blend.

Add the meat to a slow cooker and cover with the sauce. Place the lid on the crock pot and cook on high for 3-4 hours (or on low all day) until almost falling apart. Remove the meat from the slow cooker and set aside. In the meantime, combine the flour and sour cream together in a small bowl. Stir some of the hot liquid from the crock pot into the sour cream mixture, then pour the mixture into the pot and stir to blend. Cook on high for awhile until sauce thickens. Add the meat back to the pot to rewarm (it's even better if you let it simmer in the sauce for another hour or so).

Serve over potato pancakes or mashed potatoes or egg noodles.

From Eastern Europe, we head back to Asia for dessert. Now pay careful attention, friends. If you glean nothing else from this post, take note of this! After making two appetizers, the pot roast and a side of egg noodles, I didn't have much patience left for a fussy dessert. My original plan was to make homemade ice cream, but the recipe I had in mind was awfully involved. However, when I was Googling it to print, I ran across a much simpler and equally as tantalizing David Lebovitz recipe for Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream. It has only three ingredients, but it is just AMAZING stuff! I cannot get over how good it is. It took all the restraint in the world to keep me from eating it all in one sitting! Cyd was not as delighted, I must admit, but then again, she doesn't like coffee-flavored desserts. It's odd, because she's a total Starbucks addict, and she could eat sweetened condensed milk with a spoon, but she doesn't like sweetened coffee. That's what Vietnamese coffee is--strong coffee mixed with sweetened condensed milk. So fine...that's just more for me! Make this TODAY, coffee lovers, and you will bless me (and David L.) for it! In fact, enjoy it while watching women's gymnastics tonight. GO TEAM USA!

Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream
(adapted from
Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz)

1 can (1 1/8 cups) sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup dark roast ground coffee
1/2 cup half-and-half
pinch salt

Brew a very strong coffee with 1 1/2 cups of water and 1/2 cup of ground coffee.

Whisk together the condensed milk, brewed coffee, half-and-half, and salt. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the fridge or, to speed things along, in an ice bath. Freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions, then transfer to another container to harden in the freezer for at least two hours before serving.

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