Shaved Fennel and Mushroom Salad

Shaved Final Salad

After a wonderful three week vacation, I have returned to Boston to start a whole new adventure — graduate school.  Who knows what this will do to my cooking habit… Will I have so many hours in the house that I can finally make some headway on my Cookbook Challenge?  Or will the piles of books form a barricade between my  study and the kitchen across the hall, severely affecting my ability to prepare any sustenance beyond Red Bull and Power Bars?  Only time will tell.

Does that mean that today I have a spectacular three course meal to share — one that will hold everyone over until next May?  Nope!  We’ve got a heat wave going on in Boston, and I’m not turning on the oven for any reason!  So instead, I am featuring another wonderful summer salad — one that laughs in the face of all the lettuce-obsessed acacia wood bowls out there.  Rather than start with leafy greens and haphazardly add ornamental tomatoes or what have you, this salad rests on a far more flavorful and refreshing foundation.

When I was first introduced to this atypical salad — during a cooking course in Paris — I thought I would hate it.  To me, fennel meant ‘licorice-flavored’ and white mushrooms were meant to be eaten cooked in a pound of butter, if at all.  Yet somehow this combination just works.  Simple, elegant and refreshing.  To jazz it up a bit, though, I would consider adding some chopped hard-boiled egg or a drizzle of premium balsamic vinegar.

Shaved fennel salad 2

Shaved Fennel and Mushroom Salad
(Serves 2-3)

1 bulb fennel, cored then sliced as thinly as possible with a knife or mandoline
4 large white mushrooms, sliced as thinly as possible with a knife or mandoline
Parmigiano-Reggiano, shaved with a vegetable peeler, to taste
Juice of 1/2 a large lemon (or more to taste)
Fleur du sel or other good sea salt, to taste
A couple of tablespoons of fruity, rich olive oil

Mix and toss ingredients together. Garnish with a couple of fennel fronds, if desired.

Shaved fennel and mushroom salad

Suffering? Succotash!

Edamame succotash

After over a month of awful, rainy weather, summer has come on us full-bore.  We are finally seeing the sun, and feeling the heat and humidity that is so familiar to those of us in the Northeast.  Yet after this year’s June, I truly welcome a bit of sweltering.  Especially since I’m able to escape to the cool breezes of the coast for a sail or a dip in the Atlantic as often as I want.  Trust me, I am savoring the dwindling days of my vacation…

When I think about this time last year, I remember how lucky RJ and I were to have had access to plenty of fresh bluefin tuna — the perfect summer entree.  We grilled it, poached it in olive oil, made it into burgers and, of course, ate it raw.  Despite the many blog posts, I have not yet broached the topic of side dishes.  When straight-off-the-boat tuna comes your way, you don’t want your side dish to overpower the subtleties of the fish or contrast unfortunately with your chosen flavor profiles.  Our first tuna of 2009 came to us a couple weeks ago.  I had just arrived home after work, and RJ got ‘the call’ — we had bluefin to collect!  My sweet husband drove an hour north and an hour back to deliver the sweet red meat to our table.  I called my sister and her girlfriend over, and whipped up the following salad.  I have never appreciated summer so thoroughly.

Roasted Corn and Edamame Salad, from via Self Magazine [Printable Recipe]

2 ears fresh corn, unhusked, or 1 1/4 cups cooked corn kernels (I used defrosted frozen ones)
1/2 c. shelled edamame
1/4 c. chopped red onion
1/4 c. small-diced red bell pepper
1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbs. light mayonnaise
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. finely chopped or grated ginger
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

If using fresh corn ears, soak them in cold water about 30 minutes. Heat grill on high. Grill corn in husk, 10 to 15 minutes, turning once. Let cool. Remove husks. Cut corn from cob into a bowl; combine with remaining ingredients. Cover and chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.


The Ultimate Feast

Pig Kahuna

Speaking of birthday dinners, as I did in my last post, we just had another birthday around here and boy, was it a biggie!  RJ turned 30 this past weekend, and what did I get my dear husband who eats nothing but meat?  A pig roast!  To be specific, 62 pounds of dressed pork, turning slowly over a low charcoal fire for over 6 hours.

Words can hardly express how phenomenal the entire experience was. RJ had no idea what I had been planning for the past 3 months, and with some wonderful subterfuge his friends and I managed to get him to his mother’s beach house with narry a clue!  His face as he came in the driveway was priceless — astonishment, pleasure and a bit of embarrassment at the number of people we gathered together for the big day.

Though the span of the afternoon is a story in itself — torrential downpours, epic tournament of cornhole, and finally fireworks on the beach — for the purposes of the food blog I’ll stick to the pig.

The pig arrived at around 2 o’clock, dressed (meaning that her internal organs had been removed).  Dave, of The Pig Kahuna, rinsed her thoroughly with fresh water, and inserted the rotisserie spit into the mouth and out the…uh…well, use your imagination.  A couple extra rods were inserted laterally for stability as well — and the pig doesn’t look happy about it!  The final preparation step was to sew her back together and to tie her legs around the spit.


The “Oinkmaster 8000”, Dave’s glorious roasting contraption, was loaded with charcoal and lit.  We waited until the coals were at a low burn, measured only by feel.  Dave said that if he couldn’t hold his hand over the fire at the level of the pig for 6 seconds, then the coals were too hot.  Soon, dear Arnold (our name for the pig, which soon became Arnoldine when we found out she was a Miss Piggy) was mounted on the rotisserie and began her slow roasting.


For the six hours she turned, the pig was regularly spritzed with white vinegar.  Though Dave has experimented with cider vinegar and even balsamic, he has found that 6 hours of cooking makes cider vinegar bitter and balsamic vinegar black.  After an hour and a half on the spit, Arnoldine began to self-baste, releasing delicious juices that dripped down over her shoulders and legs.


In three hours, her skin started to get golden, and we watched as it bubbled over the heat of the coals.  With more time, the leg joints began to loosen and the skin split in several places — the beginnings of tenderization.  Somewhere around 4 1/2 or 5 hours in, my brother dared my sister to eat one of the eyeballs, and she did.  She advised that the pig needed more time…


Finally, after six hours, Dave began the final process — the trick to a perfect roast pig.  The motor that had kept Arnoldine on a steady rotation was stopped and the crowds gathered around to watch Dave crisp the skin.  He added more charcoal to the fire and the flames began to rise up a couple inches from the coals.  Making quarter-turns of the spit, he let each side of the pig sit over the fire for a decent interval.  We saw the skin crisping and crackling, with the juices dripping into the fire creating an atmospheric hiss for the dramatic final moments.

Pig Roast

When the pork ready to serve, Dave asked RJ to aid in the dismounting.  They each took one end of the spit in their bare hands (the low heat left the ends of the spit at only 75 degrees or so), and moved a mahogany-toned Arnoldine to the serving table.  Freed of her metal trappings, the pig nearly fell into perfect serving pieces right in front of us.  Dave offered us bites of the tenderloin (smoky from the more direct fire), the shoulder (nearly white and completely juicy), and the belly (from whence the bacon comes…) to compare the various cuts.  We also sampled the pig skin, which crunched like savory candy.  By now, the crowds were getting rowdy, and everybody’s mouths were watering.

The pork was delectable — succulent and rich when unadorned, and tangy and spicy when doused with Dave’s special barbecue sauce.  Though we had about 65 guests, the pig carried over into lunch for 10 the next day.  As the birthday boy’s wife and party hostess, I was also designated the “keeper of the head”.  Those in the know, Dave said, always go for the pig cheeks — I guess now I’m in the know!  I think I gave my mother-in-law a heart attack, however, when she opened the fridge to find a whole pig’s head staring out at her (with one eye, no less).


All I can say is “wow”.  RJ had a wonderful birthday, complete with (an excess of) meat on a stick, and all of our guests enjoyed watching Arnoldine turn and learning from Dave, the Pig Kahuna himself.  The question is, what can top RJ’s 30th birthday when he turns 40?  Perhaps we’ll have to look into a cow…