Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Back from the beach! Tomatoes and tacos...

I am back from vacation. And partially out from under that post-vacation pile of stuff to do.

Two weeks at the beach can really sap my desire to do any more work. Ever. :)

And two weeks in a beautiful beach house where you are expected to do only minimal work has really spoiled me. I spent the first couple of days back just dealing with excess garden produce (so what do you do with a bunch of 7-pound zucchinis? Fling them into a faraway field!) and weeding flower beds (didn’t I do that before we left?) and cleaning the house (ditto). Now, it’s hedge-trimming, gutter repair, and scraping loose paint to prep the wood siding on the kitchen addition to be painted. I WANT TO GO BACK TO THE BEACH. *whimper*

In addition to zucchini, there were about 20 pounds of tomatoes in the garden. Normally I would buy a couple of more bushels to supplement, fill every large stockpot I have with homemade spaghetti sauce, and can. However, there was too much else to do this week. So I simply roasted the chunks of tomato with garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper then scraped this into freezer containers for a quick marinara base for winter meals. I freeze whole leaves of fresh basil and all I will need to do is thaw a container of the roasted tomatoes, add a little tomato paste to thicken the juices as it simmers, and toss in basil (sliced into strips while still frozen). Served over pasta, we will be able to close our eyes and almost think that it’s summer again. That is, until we open these eyes to a dreary winter landscape out of the window.

Before being roasted:

And after they came out of the oven:

Another use for the tomatoes this past week was for an incredibly quick pasta sauce. SautĂ© garlic and finely chopped onion in olive oil until softened, add chopped tomatoes and allow to cook for just a couple of minutes, add a handful of shredded basil and a splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar. Serve over whole wheat linguine. Sprinkle with shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. It can’t be more simple or delicious.

Another way I’ve used these tomatoes is to toss hot (whole wheat) fettucine with pesto and add a couple of finely diced tomatoes. And maybe some cooked shrimp. Incredible.

I have to make more pesto. Pine nuts are available at our local Sam’s Club for a much better price that in the Italian grocery store and I bought a bag and they keep in the freezer for a year. I made 2 pint jars before going on vacation and there’s enough fresh basil in the herb garden to make at least twice that much. Pesto uses up a lot of basil, but I also planted a lot!

I took a jar to the beach house and made a few meals with it there as well. Grilled chicken breasts stuffed with tomatoes and mozzarella and spread with pesto before serving are yummy.

Okay, beach house cooking. We adore our house so much that we don’t want to spend much time away from it, so our activities are done in the day, maybe including having lunch out at a restaurant, and we will then return in late afternoon for rum drinks on the deck. I’ll make dinner with the windows thrown wide open to catch the wonderful sound of the surf, and we either eat at a table just inside those windows or, if the bugs aren’t too annoying, we will eat on the deck.

The first year we went there I brought almost all of my groceries for 2 weeks, not knowing what kind of stores were in the area. That was pretty stupid. Since realizing that most grocery stores carry almost everything we need for a few weeks’ worth of meals (even the smallest one has decent “basics”) I simply pack spices, oils, vinegars, basmati rice, my own pancake/waffle mix, plastic containers of flours & sugar, a couple of bottles of vinaigrettes and marinades which I make a few days before we leave, some packaged and canned items and enough groceries to get us through the first couple of days. I dislike grocery shopping and would rather not do this on my first days of vacation.

For the last couple of trips, our first meal at the beach house was Beer-Marinated Chicken Tacos. I make the marinade the day before we leave and have the chicken marinating in it, in the cooler, as we travel. After the unpacking is done, we usually head to the beach with a container of daiquiris on ice to toast the start of vacation, then it’s very simple to put together dinner. Make guacamole, chop tomatoes, heat tortillas, grill chicken—done! J

I love the kitchen in this beach house. Mostly because I can open the windows and hear the waves and the seagulls, but also because it’s quite well-equipped.

Who wouldn’t love cooking in this kitchen?

I take my own knives (sharpened prior to leaving) and a few other things like a silicone whisk and basting brush, potato masher (for the guac), microplane, scale, and shrimp deveiner. Everything else I could possibly need is there. Last year I made use of the slow-cooker for the first time (for pulled chicken, an Eating Well recipe) and was impressed. I had never used a crock-pot before. This year we were expecting guests to join us for a few days and, since we knew that they would arrive in the early evening, I made a Vietnamese Chicken Curry in the crock pot. I didn’t have to be in the kitchen cooking just after our friends arrived, the curry was kept hot until dinner time (all I needed to do was soften rice noodles and chop some cilantro and cashews for garnishing) and a snap to get it on the table. I may have to buy one of these things… Oh darn. I need a new piece of kitchen equipment!

Beer-Marinated Chicken Tacos

Serves 6

Ingredients for the Marinade:
1 cup dark Mexican beer (I use Black & Tan most often, but you really do need a dark beer)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Ingredients for the Guacamole:
2 ripe Haas avocados
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

12 corn tortillas

2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped

Place chicken breast halves in a large, shallow plastic container. Mix the marinade ingredients in a small bowl and pour over chicken, turning to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 8 hours, turning the chicken occasionally.

Prepare the grill and cook the chicken breasts until the meat is firm and the juices run clear, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once halfway through grilling time. While the chicken is cooking, make the guacamole. Cut the avocados lengthwise around the pits, twist the halves apart, and remove the pits. Scoop the flesh into a medium bowl. Add the lime juice and salt. Using a potato masher or the back of a spoon, mash the ingredients together. Stir in the chopped tomatoes. If not using immediately, press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole to prevent browning.

Preheat a dry, heavy skillet and heat the tortillas, turning once after about 15 seconds, for a total of 20 seconds or until soft and pliable. Keep warm in a towel or a tortilla warmer.

Arrange the sliced chicken inside the tortillas. Divide guacamole between the tortillas. Fold. Serve warm.