Suggestions for steaming supper, anyone?

I have this idea for a steam powered summer dinner party for four -- one person per burner on my stove.

Inspired by Martha Stewart's Steamed Seafood Medley (watch the video on this page too, I think it's interesting how she puts it all together, it looks fun) recipe, I would build four identical stacks of bamboo steamers, one for each guest. After a few minutes of steaming, I'd take the top layer off the steamer and serve the appetizer, then a few minutes more and the next course, on and on down the steamer. Martha reminds me that the things that take the longest to cook should go on the bottom of the steamer and those that cook the fastest should go on top.

I went to Chinatown yesterday, looking for soup bowls and steamers. I didn't find soup bowls I liked and I realized I wanted to think more about a steamer before I bought one.

In keeping with the steam theme, I'd make a steamed pudding dessert. While standing in line at the grocery store check out earlier in the week, I found a recipe in Rachel Ray's magazine for a pudding that is cooked in apple cider steam. I'm not ready for fall-ish cooking ideas like that just yet, but it might be great for September.

One problem with this dinner idea is that I don't have four bamboo steamers. I don't even have one! They seem cumbersome to store in my small kitchen, so I'm wondering if I should invest. As an alternative, I could try cooking it all in one big steamer, or doing it in batches, but that seems to take a lot of the ease and excitement out of the process.

Also, is it just me, or does food that is steamed get cold very fast? I don't know how it's possible that food heated in different ways gets colder faster, but last night I steamed some broccoli for dinner. I sware that from the time I took it out of the pot, put it on my plate and brought it to the table, it was cold already.

I have more questions: freshness, fish and flavor. Good fresh fish, I find, is very expensive in New York City. If I would buy three different kinds of fish for four people -- it would get to be on the expensive side. In my experiments I've found I really have to concentrate on flavor when I steam. When you cook with butter or oil, you can count on those flavors. When you brown things, you get carmelization. Here it's ingredients in their most pure form.

Mr. S posted a comment on here encouraging me to steam summer sqaush. It was an elegant, simple take on one of my favorite vegetables.

Any more steam advice?


Two darn hot suppers

Humidex be damned, I'm in the mood to cook. Here's what R* and I had for dinner so far this week. Both the gazpacho and the scrambled egg salad took less than 15 minutes to make. They weren't hard to shop for and I barely had to touch the stove.

Last night, we made gazpacho, working roughly from Craig Claiborne's simple recipe from 1968 which Amanda Hesser reprinted in The New York Times a few weeks ago. I mention these Time's food writers past and present by name because I read Hesser's Cooking for Mr. Latte over the weekend and I just started Claiborne's memoir yesterday afternoon.

I left the office last night, determined to making the gazpacho just as Craig intended. I printed out the recipe and headed out to the grocery store.

Thought they aren't the recipe, the fruit stand on 34th street had some great looking avocados so I picked one up. I thought avocado be a great garnish for the gazpacho.

When I got home I realized the green pepper I had carefully selected at Gristides (NYC chain grocery store produce is gross, but works in a pinch) got lost somewhere between my after work shopping trip and my kitchen. My green pepper must be wandering the 6 train somewhere, but in a forgotten crisper drawer I found a yellow pepper from the farmer's market that was willing to substitute. I roughly chopped the pepper and threw it into the food processor with the cucumbers and tomatoes in the food processor.

I used champagne vinegar instead of the wine vinegar the recipe suggests, since champagne vinegar seems more mild and would allow the flavors and acid notes of the perfect fresh tomatoes to come through. I sometimes get confused or just annoyed when TV chefs remind you to use a "good vinegar" instead of just "vinegar." They don't take the effort to explain the difference.

The recipe said to use the blender, but after my blender disaster, I decided I'd stick to the trusty Cusinart food processor.

The recipe called for a couple of pieces of fresh bread. I forgot to buy bread, but I had some breadcrumbs I made a few weeks before. I used them. This is a recent cooking revelation of mine: home made fresh breadcrumbs taste so much better than the store bought ones in the can -- try it. All you do is grind the bread up in the food processor, dry them out on the counter or in the oven and you're done.

After spinning it all together in the blender or in my case the food processor, the recipe suggests putting the whole slushy mess through a strainer. I think this would refine the soup and pull out the tomato skins and bigger pieces of cucumber pulp.

I had intended to follow this step, strain out all that pulp, but R* and I were already eating our gazpacho-slush straight out of the food processor. There was something comforting about eating this soup as is.

"A country-style soup," I said. "Rustic."

"Like baby food," R* said, "but it tastes really good."

I ladled the soup into our bowls, adding a bit more water, while R* cut the avocado into a beautiful fan. With some cheese and crackers and a bubbly rose, this was a great dinner.

Monday night, I was feeling less inspired (hence the bad photo). Still, we ended up with a good quick hot weather supper. I call it Scrambled Egg Supper, but maybe there's some fancier references to this somewhere? Though I don't love the stuff, I tossed some mesclun mix from Gourmet Garage with some Dijon dressing and a local tomato. I made a ring of salad around the outside of our dinner plates.

Meantime, I whisked 4 eggs with salt, pepper and cream (left over from my ice cream making adventures). I poured the eggs into a non-stick pan on medium high heat. As soon as the eggs hit the pan, I lowered the heat and once they were half cooked, I turned the heat off. Don't over cook your scrambled eggs, people

I put the scrambled eggs in the center of a plate, surrounded by the salad. For a great finish, I crumbled some Grana Padano cheese on top of the whole thing. I never tried Grana Padano before, but it was featured at Gourmet Garage as a mild alternative to Parmigiano-Reggiano and I remembered all the ads for Grana Padano on Lidia's PBS show, so I tried it. The dry crumbly texture of the cheese goes very well with gently scrambled eggs and with some rose wine.

How about you? Are your kitchens closed until we at least get down to 90 degrees? Would you ever serve eggs for a summer supper?


I don't understand salad anymore

I'm sick of the preamble about the heat that seems to stick to the start every conversation today. The more you talk about it, the hotter it seems to get, but as it gets warmer and warmer, I wonder what everyone else is cooking for dinner? It's easy enough to say salad. But really, salad?

Do you hate salad? I get to the point where I do. (I'm not talking about potato salad, egg salad, pasta salad. I'm still into the mayonnaise side of salad, if they can really be called salads.)

I feel the same way about green salad that I do about Star Wars: I don't get it, other people are all over it, but I just stand their nodding and wondering what I'm missing. Washed pre-bagged salad tastes like eating drycleaner bags to me. And "that mesculn mix" is just that: this mess of expensive leaves, it used to taste special, but now its wilting from over-exposure. Ubiquitous mesculn mix, like the cosmo, seems totally '90s to me. Is it that my tastes have changed or has the quality of this spring mix stuff declined?

The greens from the organic stand at the Saturday Grand Army Plaza farmer's market are a crisp exception. They have coolers full of beautiful leaves -- miniature kale and all kids of good stuff. I promise I will pay more attention to their stand this Saturday, even if they are a bit snobby. The problem, I've noticed, is that their leaves only last for a day or two max. You have to get the leaves home and right into the fridge. I put a paper towel in the back with the to sop up any excess water. That seems to extend the life of the leaves bit.

Another obvious alternative is to buy greens the old-fashioned way and wash them and cut them up. Sure, I could do that, but being real . . . at the end of a long day, this seems like too much effort for not enough flavor.

On the last episode of Jamie Oliver's show (it's on in re-runs in the middle of the night on Food TV and I DVR it) he made a Crunch Salad with baby carrots and radishes and sprouts and best of all -- no lettuce. Then he coated it all in a rich, creamy dressing. That looked good and made me long for his knife skills and the assistants he must have to get that many great vegetables together. R* said he likes sprouts and ate them often when he was in Australia. I ordered some sprouts from FreshDirect, so I'll give them a try tomorrow.

Here at my office building the fire safety warden just came over the emergency broadcast speakers: "Conservation is key on this brutally hot day." He wants us to turn the lights off in unoccupied areas of the building. We've done that already, of course.

I'm a bit worried about the possibility of a power cut, as R* and his English friends call them, over the next couple of days. Let's see what happens . . . and I'll distract myself by thinking about what to cook.