Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Graduation Rant and the Start of the Backyard-Dining Season

As of today, there are only twelve days until my graduation.  That's less than two weeks...where did the last twenty go?!  I know that I've technically been graduated since January and I already have my diploma (even though it's sitting in the envelope unopened in my room), but there's something about the ceremony that is going to make the whole done-with-college thing much more real.

And with graduation rapidly approaching, I realize that I'm not the least bit prepared - mentally or physically.  Just a few things to do: plan a trip up to school to purchase my cap and gown, find out when/where/how to pick up my tickets, pick up my tickets, buy a cute graduation outfit, buy new shoes to go with cute graduation outfit...actually as I write this, I'm thinking about more and more things that I need to do which is 1) stressing me out, and 2) probably boring you, so I'm going to stop to spare us both.

Alright, I lied, one more thing - I've decided that I'm going to cut out coffee, alcohol, and sweets from my diet, and I'm going to make sure that at dinner I eat small portions and don't go back for seconds.  At least until graduation.  Thing is, I think that I eat really healthy, but I don't feel as good as I want to, or think I should.  So, I decided that I'm going to try out this new way of eating and see how it goes.  If it works, than I'll extend it past my May 12th deadline.  However, graduation day I am popping a bottle of bubbly.  No question.  If there isn't a better excuse for champagne than graduation, than I don't know what is.

Graduation rant over.  

This morning I slept in far too late, but I'm blaming it on the fact that it was rainy and grey out, and tricked my brain into thinking it was still night-time.  Soon after waking up, stumbling out into the living room, and laying semi-awake on the couch for a bit, my mom (who had taken the day off) asked if I wanted to run some errands and pick up ingredients for dinner.  It looked terribly chilly out, so a put on my coziest sweater, big wool socks.  The sun just started to sneak through the clouds when my mom and I headed out.  The sun mixing with the wet ground and pavement made the air thick and humid - I immediately regretted the sweater and wool socks.

When we got to the grocery store, it was another five degrees warmer and the ground almost completely dry.  Not only did this change our menu thoughts, but we decided that this might be the perfect night to start the backyard-dining season.  Nothing says summer like sitting in the yard eating dinner while the sun slowly sets over the river, then leaving the table un-cleared and moving over to the fire pit to take in the warmth and relax after a long day and nice meal.

Tonight, we decided on fish tacos with a mango-strawberry salsa, and ginger brandy roasted plantains.  Fish tacos are a summer staple in the Confoy house, but I decided to spice things up with the salsa - introduce some new flavors and, of course, mix the sweet and savory.  I like using talapia because its light and has a sort of tropical feel (it could just be the name), though any other white fish would work fine.  Two small filets were just enough for the four of us.  I marinated them in a little olive oil, garlic, paprika, salt and pepper, before grilling them on the George Foreman.  
I'm not a fan of hard taco shells - I've gotten hurt one too many times with a jagged piece of taco shell.  I opt for a soft corn tortilla or small taco wrap.  We served mashed avocado, halved grape tomatoes, and chopped cilantro on the side, so that everyone could personalize their own taco.

The plantains were my mother's idea.   I've never cooked them before, but my mom had used them once instead of potatoes to make french fries, and they were delicious.  Quick note about plantains: if you want a starchier potato-like plantain, use the green ones; if you want a sweet banana-like plantain, use the brown-black ones.  For our dinner, we chose to go on the darker side, but didn't get one that was completely black - I wanted a nice balance between the sweet and savory in the plantain itself.  And with the addition of the ginger brandy, a little honey, and salt, they maintained their balanced integrity.  

Dinner was fresh, bright, balanced, and the perfect meal to christen the backyard-dining season.
Mango-Strawberry Salsa
1 ripe mango, chopped (on the verge of minced)
1 cup strawberries, chopped (again, almost minced)
½ small red onion, minced
2 serrano chilies, de-seeded (or leave them in for more heat)
1 lime, juice and zest

+ Place all ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix well until everything is combined.  Serve immediately, or cover and place in fridge allowing the juices to release and flavors to meld.

Ginger Brandy Roasted Plantains
2 black plantains, split long-ways
¼ cup ginger brandy
¼ cup water
2 tbs honey
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
½ tsp salt

+ Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
+ Place plantains, cut side up, in a baking dish.  Cover with brandy and water.  Drizzle honey and grate the ginger over the plantains, making sure each is coated.
+ Cover and bake for 15 minutes.  Then, flip the plantains over, and bake for another 15 minutes.
+ Broil the plantains to finish for about 5 minutes, or until the tops begin to brown.

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